Tag Archives: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Jan. 11: How he was diverted

Daylight is good at arriving at the right time, but January 11, 1969, was always going to be that gray.

London was rainy that Saturday morning, a desperately needed day off for the Beatles, who finished spending five consecutive packed and charged days at Twickenham Film Studios, the final one witnessing George Harrison quitting the band after lunch.

At least George woke up to a little good news: The soundtrack to the film Wonderwall, his excellent first solo effort, cracked the Billboard 200 LP charts in the United States, where the January 11 issue of the magazine placed the LP at a very modest No. 197. (It would eventually peak at No. 49, on March 1, 1969). His presently erstwhile band’s eponymous double album remained the best-selling LP in the country, while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 56) and Magical Mystery Tour (75) remained on the top half of the charts. Bearing a sound retrospectively of so long ago, these two 1967 releases remained relevant to record-buyers.

(Still, George had one up on Paul McCartney, whose own 1967 release — the soundtrack to The Family Way, ostensibly the first “solo” release by a Beatle, albeit with little participation from Paul himself — did not chart at all.)

The same January 11, 1969, issue of Billboard shared the news of an impending Beatles “personal appearance” filmed for TV one week hence.

Meanwhile, the Beatles have finally agreed to make a personal appearance on Saturday (18) in a show which will be filmed for TV transmission. It will be the Beatles’ first public appearance since August 1966 in San Francisco, and the first in Britain since May 1966. The show, before an invited audience, will be in the London area and will feature many songs. (Fourteen new tracks were left over from the double album.) There is also a strong possibility that Apple will issue a live album of the show. Production will be by Michael Lyndsay-Hogg. [sic]

As we’ve heard on the Nagra tapes throughout the sessions so far, the show’s date and location had remained completely fluid and in constant state of negotiation to that point, beyond the fact the Beatles were now short a guitarist. We could charitably say 14 White Album leftovers wasn’t far off, although that was probably guesswork on Billboard’s part.

Left unspoken on the tapes was the Beatles Book’s competition (as described in the January 1969 issue), in which 50 winners would earn invitations to the group’s live show on January 18. The magazine said winners would receive details “no later than Saturday, January 11.” But it was the 11th, and no one had been alerted.

George was ready for his own victory, a weekend away from the band with the chance to rest and reset his private and professional problems. Then an unplanned and very personal appearance ended any search for serenity.

From George’s diary:
“Got up – John and Yoko came and diverted me at Breakfast”

George’s diary entry for January 11, 1969. From the Living in the Material World book.

To paraphrase George himself from the Beatles’ chart-topping album, we don’t know how he was diverted. We can only guess what John Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke about with George.

It’s notable, however, that the couple made the effort to intercept George as one of their very first activities that day — George probably wasn’t up at dawn, but it was still what he considered breakfast time. John didn’t offer George any cooling-off period in what could have been an attempt to make amends as much as it may have been a power play on John’s part, a multifaceted attempt to rein in George.

“I’m phoning Eric [Clapton], and he’ll be in Monday to replace you,” one could imagine John saying, with Yoko looking on. “And the others are happy to go along with the change! You should have heard them jamming with Yoko yesterday.”

That’s only a guess at what John could have told George. He could have simply said, “I’m really sorry, please come back,” but we don’t know that either.

We do know the result of the visit: Any apology on John’s part for their presumed midday argument wasn’t good enough, or George, no matter what, was never going to be receptive the day after the walkout. Instead, he would continue his holdout.

Separately, any attempt by Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr to contact George is conspicuous by its absence, a contrast notable in its own right.

The single line about John and Yoko’s visit is the lone January 11 entry in George’s diary.

It’s possible this is the day George threw out Charlotte Martin and reconciled with wife Pattie Boyd. It may have been the day he wrote “Wah-Wah.” But we don’t have any evidence either way, we just know those events happened in this narrow period while George was away from the band.

It’s unclear what Paul was doing Saturday. It’s possible that if he stayed in, he watched the Rolf Harris show at 7:30 p.m., when Vera Lynn performed “Good Night” on BBC-1, as promoted by Dick James the day before.

Ringo didn’t bother listening to a cover of the track he sang to close the White Album. Instead, he was tuned to the ITV murder mystery, which was on at the same time.

jan 11 1969 TV

Saturday night’s TV listings

“Did you see ‘[Whatever Happened To] Baby Jane?’ on Saturday?” Ringo asked Michael Lindsay-Hogg on Monday, January 13, as captured by that day’s Nagra tapes. “Great film.”

The 1962 film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is a dark thriller revolving around a tortured celebrity sibling rivalry. The mixed-up state of the Lennon-McCartney-Harrison dynamic and its internal rivalries had devolved into its own tortured state by this point.

When the calendar turned to January 12, three of them — John, Paul and George — were Sunday driving, separately arriving, on their way to Ringo’s home.

Previewed on Friday before George’s departure, this meeting didn’t occur Saturday, as it was initially discussed. And when they gathered Sunday, it wasn’t exclusively an Apple business meeting as originally scheduled, but it also turned into a rescue mission to get George back to the Get Back sessions and make the Beatles whole again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Let it be first

Like so many of the outtakes on the “sessions” discs unearthed and unleashed on the most deluxe version of the Beatles eponymous double-album, this newest version of “Let It Be” — the oldest recording of the song — is acutely alive and profoundly captivating.

As performed on September 5, 1968 — the day after recording their iconic performance of “Hey Jude” for Frost on Sunday — here’s the world’s greatest tea-room orchestra:

Fifty years in the books, and Beatles history still has room for an edit.

In some ways, this one-minute, 18-second cosmic jam capturing the band in medias resbetween takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — is just what should be expected, even if its very existence is still something of a minor surprise. A White Album-era version of “Let It Be” felt apocryphal, despite established knowledge rooting it in fact. And so it is that the disjointed, driving performance sounds like it’s out of time — it was.

Let’s dig in on some finer points:

Brother Malcolm, Paul and George Martin during the White Album sessions in 1968

Brother Malcolm, Mother Mary and the lyrics of “Let It Be”
Notably, the lyrics of the song hardly advanced in the three months between September 5, 1968 and January 3, 1969, the first recorded performance of “Let It Be” at the sessions that would ultimately bear its name.

Here’s Paul grooving alone at the piano for the song’s debut on the Nagra tapes:

The lone addition, lyrically: “In my darkest hour, she is standing right in front of me.”

“She,” of course, is Mother Mary, who presumably was in the very original lyric sourced from Paul’s dream about his mother but was absent in the 1968 early attempt. That featured “Brother Malcolm,” a nod to do-it-all assistant Mal Evans. The reference to Mal was inconsistent over January 1969 but endured to the very end of the sessions. Here are the Beatles on the final day of the sessions, January 31, 1969:

It wasn’t until a few days into the sessions at Savile Row, on January 25, 1969, that most of the verses had been added. But Paul started teaching “Let It Be” to others in the band on January 8, when we hear Paul naming chords to the others to learn. That’s also when Paul disclosed that, even at this early stage, he planned to have Aretha Franklin cover the song.

Interludes
Students of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions have heard this sort of thing several times before, someone in the group veering into an original, a cover, an improvisation between songs, during a transition during a rehearsal or purely as an aside.

Some of these drop-in songs were even the same for the White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions:

And just as future songs were sampled and explored during jams in 1968, they were in ‘69 too. And probably long before that as well. A few examples:


Divine intervention
This initial iteration of “Let It Be” may not have had “Mother Mary” but it did feature the hand of “God.”

The September 5 session of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the one that featured Eric Clapton as the Beatles’ guest on lead guitar. That places Eric at the origin of “Let It Be,” and he can be heard adding a few guitar licks to the improvisation. (Listen to the very end and you can hear George close the track imploring his friend to don his headphones: “Cans on, Eric.”)

A full 31 years later Eric would get to play the song again, joining Paul on stage at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Paul was inducted for his solo career, but the show closed with, naturally, “Let It Be.”

Clapton didn’t take the solo — that’s Robbie Robertson of the Band, the group whose sound the Beatles sought to emulate during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

This same induction ceremony honored producer George Martin, who happened to miss the September 5, 1968, session whilst on vacation.

Times of trouble?
Even Paul called the White Album “the tension album.” John said worse in the early ’70s. Ringo literally left the band for a few weeks in the summer of ’68.  Four Beatles, each recording in a separate studio — we all know the stories.

But while history is static, perceptions are variable.

The 2018 reissue’s promotional campaign works to dispense with some of the darker sides of the session, from Giles Martin’s interviews to the numerous dismissals of dysfunction in the lovely hardbound book packaged with the deluxe edition. Indeed, there’s plenty of laughter and carefree spirit throughout the White Album outtakes. The outtake set even begins with laughter among John, Paul and Yoko, as if to hammer the point home.

The Get Back/Let It Be sessions inherit the same sour reputation, yet it would be very easy to compile 50 tracks from January 1969 filled with laughter, chatter and the indication that nothing could ever tear these guys apart. And I bet if and when we do see a formal reissue campaign of Let It Be (which I suspect will be attached to a larger Abbey Road/”Beatles in ‘69” re-release), we’ll see that very recalibration of Beatles history. More “Suzy Parker,” and not quite so many calls for a divorce.

And that’s OK. I’ve long posited that things weren’t necessarily so bad — or at least that much worse — for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions than in the period immediately before and after. Naturally, the reality lies somewhere in between. Neither the White Album nor Let It Be are outliers — that’s just how the group was post-1967.

On January 7, 1969, the day before the rest of the Beatles learned the chords to “Let It Be,” George Harrison made it clear: “Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same…  [the Beatles had] “been in doldrums for at least a year.” That takes the group to before their trip to India in February 1968.

Together at the beginning of that trip, the individual Beatles returned to England separately. For the final stage of their career, they produced enduring music, though they may be parted.

3 Comments

Filed under Extra