Tag Archives: whistle

Jan. 7: Bangers and mashups

OK, stick with me here.

Nearly 46 years ago, somewhere between lunch and the resumption of the day’s writing session-cum-rehearsals for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” it sure sounds like Paul McCartney may just have invented the mashup, or at least a rough approximation.

Really!

This is not a medley, sampling, sound collage or musique concrete a la “Revolution No. 9” and others before it. This is turn-of-the-21st century-style mashup: Think The Grey Album, Girl Talk or the Beatles’ own Love with elements of two or more songs layered on top of each other.  The kind of stuff Paul got roped into a few years back before an audience, he and George performed live to tape decades earlier in a little bit of completely obscure history.

(The uploader’s caption is wrong as it’s obviously Paul reciting the lyrics, but it’s the right clip).

That would be 1967’s “When I’m 64” (written a decade earlier as one of Paul’s first songs and described here by Paul as the “beautiful geriatric Beatles song”) sung atop “Speak to Me,” which would ultimately lead off Jackie Lomax’s debut album, as produced by George and released two months later.  We already heard George briefly play a more proper version of “Speak to Me” to John a few days earlier.

As Paul’s “When I’m 64” vocals eventually drop out – and his mouth clicks chime in – we go from a forgotten moment of debatable history to one that would have a lasting impact on wax: the debut of Maxwell’s actual Silver Hammer, the anvil, as ordered before lunch.

The band comfortably eases out of “Speak to Me” with a fun and increasingly polished run through of “Oh! Darling” – polished for this point in the sessions, for sure –  the second time they played the song in a few hours, and with John having rejoined the group back on guitar. The song is essentially complete and by all accounts should have been by now part of the core considered for the live show at this early stage. It doesn’t get any further attention this afternoon as Paul immediately returns to “Maxwell’s” for the better part of another hour. This initial launch into the song is captured in the Let it Be film, spliced in from the point where Mal strikes the anvil.  It’s a truncated slice of the song, and in the film we end up getting thrust into the Shockrick Shocks incident, which actually occurred four days earlier.

Paul doesn’t introduce any new wrinkles yet in this first go-round after lunch. He’s pleased, though. “It’s catchy enough, then,” he says after the first full take. He soon boasts of the dramatis personæ and vibe of the song, “It’s so cartoon … such caricatures.”

Paul remains a delightful caricature of himself, remaining fixated on the whistles that color the song throughout. “We want a mic for John and George on this ’cause the whistle on this,” is Paul’s first and primary direction to the crew. George’s initial concern in the early going of the post-lunch session is getting the song’s timing and cues down, especially for the sake of Mal, who wielded the hammer. Not that George didn’t try to give his drummer an additional bit of work.

“I’m sorry, George, the hammer’s too heavy for me,” Ringo says to laughter.  As it turned out, Ringo would end up carrying that weight after all, striking the anvil in July, when the group properly recorded “Maxwell’s” for Abbey Road.

By Paul’s thinking, the roadie was the man for the job.

Mal’s more like Maxwell, anyway. … He should be very scholarly. Very straight, in a striped tie and a blazer, sort of. Big chrome hammer. That’s how I see him anyway. [He’s] Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, in fact.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison, medical student, as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Sparked by a question from George about the repeated of “bang, bang” in the chorus, Paul runs through the song structure again with the usual caveat: “I haven’t written the last bit.”

That’s fine with George, who thinks he knows how the song goes. “I just know it in my head, rather than the words, because the words are not in the right order anyway.”

Loose as he can be, Paul repeats the song structure: “It’s like two verses (scatting and singing) Bang, bang. … Clang, clang. … Whistle. … That’s nice fellas.”

As work continues, George shows a bit of concern with his own instrumentation.

George: To the man that’s producing me, whenever I play bass, because I don’t know anything about it, I don’t know what the sound is. I just plug it in and play it. So if somebody knows how to get the sound or record it. I mean Glyn’ll have to do that if he’s around. So you can mention that to him.

That’s some pretty self-deprecating talk from George, but he really has few bass credits under his belt to this point.

Straight out of the Small Faces’ playbook, John ad libs a narrative introduction to the song, laying out Maxwell Edison’s origin story, with Paul picking up in the middle.

John: Let me tell you the story about Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. He got it from F.D. Cohen, the pawnbroker from Bayswater.

Paul: Maxwell was a young boy just like any other boy, and he might’ve lived a life like any other young boy’s life had it not been for some certain unforeseen circumstances.

And … whistle!

Given that the band spent more than an hour on the song of about five hours of recorded tapes this day, it’s no surprise it was a very early contender for the live act. So much so, George began offering up suggestions on how to stage it, beyond costuming for the band and Mal. There’s a practical side to his suggestions, too.

George: I think we can do it with lots of people singing the chorus, ‘Bang, bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’ but it’s very difficult for me to whistle and sing and keep in sync. … It should be like the end of [Hey] Jude.

John:  ‘You all know it, join in, gang, because we don’t know it.’

George: We could just project it up, have the chorus projected up there.

We’re not sure what Paul thinks of that idea, since there’s whistling to be done, and no joke whistling, please.  “Really, do it like it’s straight,” he says, telling George how the notes of the chorus solo goes. That’s a whistle solo, not a guitar solo, mind you.  Paul does work on improving the song, spending a few minutes crafting a harmony based on a short, partial climb up a scale “with jumps on the hammer,” in his words. It’s pretty and adds to the carnival-like atmosphere the song has to this point.

For the final takes of the day of the song, the rest of the group still doesn’t have the song’s structure completely down, and Paul resorts to vocal cues to alert when the whistling solos come. John asks Paul to shout out “blow it, boys” at the appropriate time. Paul can’t help but repeat his helpful reminder: “It should be very straight, the whistling.”  He really does keep saying this, to a near obsessive state, and at no point is he kidding about it.

The “Maxwell’s” rehearsals for the day end with a final, full run through. The song’s basic elements are there: new harmonies, whistle solos, the anvil and a full strong structure. What it lacks is a complete set of lyrics, but Paul isn’t sweating it, concluding with a simple, “OK, that’s Maxwell’s.”

While the song did progress with the work on Jan. 7, there was a noticeable missed opportunity shortly after lunch as a lead-in to the mashup sequence. For a few brief moments as the group warms up, a sloppy yet sincere take of “Maxwell’s” features Ringo on vocals, and it sounded like the perfect fit. Paul’s song eventually drove the other three Beatles to fury; giving Ringo an extended vocal role could have changed a little corner of Beatles history.

As the sessions continue, John takes the reins for the next song, one that not only has its lyrics set, but the instrumentation as well.

“Should we do ‘Across the Universe?’ We almost know that, don’t we?”

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Jan. 7: Joke whistlings

From the Let It Be film

Mal at work. From the Let It Be film

If there’s a tape of Paul and John asking Mal Evans to manage the alarm clock in “A Day in the Life,” it hasn’t surfaced. Likewise, we never hear John telling George Martin he wanted to “smell the sawdust” in adding the fairground feel to “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

But among the days’ worth of Nagra reels covering the Get Back sessions on Jan. 7, 1969, as the band lurched toward what became at least a temporary split later that week  — this is Tuesday, and George walks out on Friday —  we do get to hear  play out in real time the origin story of unique and memorable instrumentation to appear later on Abbey Road.

Unremarkable in the moment, Paul’s suggestion, made for the second time in three days, Mal “should have a hammer. … an anvil” comes about 20 minutes into the day’s work on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

Like, on steel. You know, a [bang, bang]. So it sounds silver, steel.

Sprouting from a short rehearsal of “I’ve Got a Feeling” with a quick touch of “Oh! Darling,” the “Maxwell” session on Jan. 7 runs for more than an hour on the tapes, straddling both ends of a lunch break. It’s far and away the longest time spent on any single song this day.

The key to appreciating the “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” rehearsals is to view them completely in a vacuum. In a sense, it’s incredibly frustrating to think of the time spent on this when George has “All Things Must Pass,” for instance, withering to group disinterest. Or that John has a skeleton of what would become “Gimme Some Truth” two years later, unfinished — a song tinkered with briefly this very day. Paul himself could have spent the extra time on “Oh! Darling,” which purportedly had interest from other bandmates at this very specific moment in time. So on its face, just listening to this portion of the tapes is infuriating, because WHY IS PAUL MAKING US LISTEN TO “MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER” FOR HOURS??? STOP KILLING JOAN!!!

But in a vacuum — and with the understanding that all of The Beatles’ musical children are beautiful and deserving of love — this is a very instructive and iconic moment in the history of the song, and we see significant progress in the song’s overall development. This, even though Paul himself admits he hasn’t finished writing it.

The band hit the ground running with the song, having already spent time on it Jan. 3 (when Paul also made reference to getting a hammer for the song, but didn’t follow through as he would today), but it’s a bit of a bumpy start as Paul is still reminding the rest of the group of the chords — the alignment is Paul on piano, George on bass and John on a jaunty guitar.  When Paul remarks he “doesn’t like the waltz” drum pattern that coming out of the chorus into the verse, Ringo laughingly bemoaned, “it’s the only bit I remembered in the whole piece!” It’s just an early reminder and reflection that the song was Paul’s priority and his alone, something that would continue into the song’s recording for Abbey Road six months later.

Paul doesn’t always play it straight, hamming it up lounge-singer style, delivering cringe-worthy tongue clicks and scats along where he still needs to write lyrics. Sure, he’s completely contradicting his own instructions moments earlier as they worked on “I’ve Got a Feeling” — “We should start off by doing everything we’re going to do on the thing. Like if you’re going to do the ‘oh yeahs’ innit, you’ve got to do ‘em how you’re going to do it.”  It wasn’t the first (or last) time he wouldn’t take his own advice, either.   But here it probably shows the more advanced, but unpolished state “I’ve Got a Feeling” was in, the song in true rehearsal stage, while “Maxwell’s” was clearly an unfinished product.

Like on so many of these tapes, and especially on Paul’s songs — which more often seem to be delivered to the band incomplete  — we get an incredible windows into Paul’ s songwriting technique. As he plays along on piano, he’ll hum a suggested bassline.  Without notice, he’ll change it. Once he gets a certain part down — whether it’s a drum pattern or a whistle — he’ll interrupt and make clear it’s what he’s looking for. Until he decides to change it again. That’s in contrast to George’s songs, which more often are closer to complete and accompanying parts are set in George’s mind. While John wasn’t nearly as productive as Paul or George during the sessions, we’ve seen how he’s more willing to get open input from the rest of the band.

What Paul’s looking for here is a far more whimsical production than what surfaced on Abbey Road months later. It’s not just the tongue clicks. Paul’s looking to go all out, proposing ukulele solos and looking to Ringo for some “razzmatazz there on the cymbals.”

Then there’s the whistling. There was plenty of whistling in these early takes of “Maxwell’s.” But lapsing into caricature, Paul — interrupting an unrelated question from George — explains just what he’s looking for from his band.

If we do a solo, whistling, we should try and do like a real whistling solo, ’cause it is a bit much if it’s those joke whistlings.

The man was nothing if not a perfectionist. Of all the things that would put the song over the top, Paul was sure here it would be insincere whistling. Just to make sure everyone knew he was serious, during a subsequent stab at a part whistled in unison between verses, Paul barks out “straight” just to make sure any joke whistlings didn’t sneak its way in.

In all, the song was definitely coming together nicely. Incomplete, it still had shape and vibrancy, and the rest of the group beyond Paul gave every indication they were enjoying performing it, despite continued confusion at times over cues.

It was in this context Paul suggested a figurative bell to add to his literal whistles.

We should have a hammer. … Mal, on an anvil. Like, on steel. You know, a [bang, bang]. So it sounds silver, steel.

Wearing bow ties for this one.

Paul doesn’t just see the anvil as part of the instrumentation. It gives Paul the excuse to think more broadly about the song in the context of the live show. “We’ll all be wearing bow ties for this one, blazers.”  The Beatles were on the verge of breaking up earlier this day, and now Paul’s suggesting costume changes during a performance of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Moods swing rapidly at Twickenham.

The group is in a jocular mood — probably as much as we’ve heard to this point on the tapes — as the band laughs, whoops and hams it up during the final takes of this portion of the “Maxwell’s” rehearsals and as they head out for lunch.

They’d return with full stomachs and pieces of steel.

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