Tag Archives: White Album

TMBP Extra: Oh what joy

With birthday posts previously produced for Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, it’s about time we righted a wrong, and completed the set with the man born as Richard Starkey. Like the others and in the spirit of this blog, here’s a look at Ringo Starr’s life as it straddled the big days circled on the calendar in 1968 and 1969.

Ringo Starr, 1969

How did you spend your 29th birthday? Ringo Starr, the eldest Beatle, spent July 7, 1969, at EMI Studios on Abbey Road — like he spent so many of days in his 20s — laying down the drum track for “Here Comes The Sun.” We’ve all been stuck working on our birthdays, but this doesn’t sound like a bad gig, if you can get it.

Yet, 11 months earlier, Ringo gave up that gig, walking out on the Beatles during the White Album sessions.

From the Anthology book:

I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider. I went to see John … I said, ‘I’m leaving the group because I”m not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.’ And John said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

So I went over to Paul’s and knocked on the door. I said the same thing: ‘I’m leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I’m out of it.’ And Paul said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

I didn’t even bother going to George then. I said, ‘I’m going on holiday.’ I took the kids and we went to Sardinia.

He famously returned two weeks later after to a flower-covered drum kit as the sessions continued (they never stopped recording, with Paul filling in on drums for a few songs).

Still, Ringo’s time away was fruitful, spent on Peter Sellers’ yacht, where the captain told him stories about octopuses on the seabed.

A couple of tokes later with the guitar — and we had ‘Octopus’s Garden’!

Ringo’s relationship with Sellers — a member of The Goon Show, beloved by the teenage future Beatles, and whose novelty records had been produced by George Martin — dated back a few years and would benefit the drummer in several ways in the decade’s final years. In November 1968, Ringo took advantage of a Sellers’ market, moving into the actor’s former Brookfield House estate in Elstead, Surrey. Just a couple months later, the two would co-star in a movie. But first, Ringo had another movie to film with the Beatles.

Ringo’s resistance to go abroad during the Get Back sessions — he was most insistent of any of the Beatles — led to the beauty of the rooftop performance. This blog’s entire purpose is to tell that story.

Musically, Ringo did Ringo things in the January 1969 sessions, and as a songwriter, he continued work on “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) and also brought a few unfinished songs to the table, too.

But the sessions were just a warm-up for what came next at Twickenham Studios, where Ringo — teamed up with Sellers — filmed The Magic Christian, his first true starring role (Ringo had a small part playing a Mexican gardener in Candy, which was released in this period, too). This took time, with filming running from February into May. The film would be released in December 1969.

Let It Be — the film and the record — wouldn’t see a release until 1970, a few months before Ringo turned 30. But the Beatles weren’t finished yet in the wake of those sessions. “Octopus’s Garden” would be formally recorded in April 1969, although recording for Abbey Road, to this point sporadic, wouldn’t get into full swing until July.

In December 1969, Ringo said in an interview with the BBC that “I want to be a film actor. I don’t want to be like Cary Grant or one of them who, like, really do the same performance in everything, and the story is the only thing that changes.”

Ringo & Barbara at their wedding

That may be the biggest takeaway in the career of Ringo Starr between July 7, 1968 and 1969 — because he did look at life beyond, or at least in addition to, the Beatles and rock and roll. Without the songwriting gifts of John, Paul and George, Ringo applied his natural charm to film, and was finally able to step fully out into the spotlight and marquee, without other Beatles to his side, or front. And while he was successful in the early 1970s with his solo career, he remained active on the screen, too, even if it wasn’t to that same critical or commercial success.

If you judge success by the bigger things in life, however, Ringo’s foray into film couldn’t have been any more fruitful. A few months before his 40th birthday, in 1980, Ringo filmed Caveman, starring alongside model Barbara Bach. After meeting on the set, they would wed a year later, and have been together ever since.

 

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TMBP Extra: Songs for everyone

It was only 100 hours before the Beatles would return to the studio together, and the charts on both sides of the Atlantic on December 29, 1968, were a perfect illustration of why there really wasn’t any rush for them to do so.

billboard_122868

December 28, 1968 issue. Image from http://bapresley.com/silverthreads/

That day, the White Album retained the top spot in the British charts for the fifth straight week in the midst of a run that would see the double LP at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks and eight of nine. After a few weeks’ climb, it hit No. 1 in the United States a day earlier, on December 28, taking a much slower slog to the top. That climb vaulted the Beatles past Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman LP, the previous week’s No. 1 that was sunk to the runner-up position, and one of four records the country music star had in the top 30.

The Beatles owned multiple shares in the Billboard album charts, too, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 63) and Magical Mystery Tour (85). The latter would provide the title track for Sergio Mendez’s Fool on the Hill LP that sat at No. 11 this week 48 years ago.

Even with the White Album entrenched atop the British charts, there was plenty of Beatle-related materials moving off the shelves, with the Best of Cilla Black (No. 21) featuring four Lennon/McCartney credits and Jose Feliciano’s Feliciano! containing three Beatles covers and sitting one notch behind the Liverpudlian chanteuse (and higher at No. 7 in the U.S.).

The first post-Christmas LP chart in the U.K. was predictably littered with greatest hits and other compilations, with about a dozen such records in the top 50. Four Simon & Garfunkel records were simultaneously on that chart, with a few soundtracks and two separate live LPs recorded at London’s Talk of the Town (Tom Jones and The Seekers).

On the U.S. singles chart, Motown dominated with the label holding the top three spots: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & The Supreme’s “Love Child.” While “Hey Jude” the Beatles smash may have been fading, dropping to No. 15, “Hey Jude” the soulful Wilson Pickett cover was rising, hitting No. 43 on its way to eventually peaking at 23. That’s Duane Allman with the epic lead guitar part.

Even though the Beatles didn’t release singles from their albums (a tradition scrapped in time for their final LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be), their presence was made on the U.K. top 50 without charting a single song of their own (”Hey Jude” dropped out a week earlier). Marmalade’s sugary cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” stood at No. 7 en route to the top spot the following week, while the Bedrock’s more authentically Caribbean-sounding version of the same song was at No. 30. That cover, produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith, would peak 10 notches higher a week later. On its way down the charts was Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” dropping to No. 39 on its last week on the charts it had topped about six weeks earlier.

Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin fell to No. 24 in the U.K. with former No. 1 hit “Those Were the Days,” as produced by Paul McCartney (it was at No. 25 in the U.S., down from it’s peak at No. 2).

What held the top spot in the British charts? It was a song written by McCartney, but not that one.  Mike McCartney, Paul’s brother under his stage name Mike McGear, wrote “Lily the Pink” with fellow Scaffold members Roger McGough and John Gorman. The song remained at No. 1 for a second consecutive week, part of a run that saw the comedy folk song reign atop the charts for four of five weeks. “Lily the Pink” had no shortage of future and contemporary star power: Elton John, Graham Nash and Tim Rice provided backup vocals, while Cream’s Jack Bruce laid down the bass line.

The Beatles wouldn’t be absent from the British charts for too long. Exactly five months after December 29, 1968, “Get Back” — which Paul developed out of a jam on January 7, 1969, and was written in the studio throughout the month during the sessions that would bear its name — would debut at No. 1 in the U.K.

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TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the 73rd anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 47th anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.

George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career,  one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.

George’s 25th year began in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.

Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).

With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.

That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.

Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1992), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.

Sorry, I missed the punctuation. That’s thanks in part to “Something.” 

There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them.  February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1969, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.

You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise, finally, from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.

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TMBP Extra: Celebrate anything you want

Three years ago in this space, we celebrated Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday with a brief look back at the period between June 18, 1968 and 1969, a stretch that straddled the Get Back/Let It Be sessions that we explore here. On the occasion of the diamond jubilee of John Lennon’s birth, we’ll do the same thing people have done for more than 50 years: compare John and Paul, and as usual, with much different results.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Birthday Cake

Smile, John, it’s your birthday!

Forty-seven years ago today — October 9, 1968 — was John Lennon’s 28th birthday. The Beatles were primarily in the mixing stage of the White Album. John was in the midst of a divorce with Cynthia. Nine days later — there’s that number that follows John around — he and Yoko were victims of a drug bust at their home as they were handling the difficult release of Two Virgins.

In the coming months, the White Album was completed and released, the Beatles assembled in January 1969 for a monthlong writing and recording session and they subsequently recorded and completed Abbey Road (along with other songs, like John’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” a No. 1 hit). Those achievements fell in the same period as between Paul’s 1968 and 1969 birthdays. So what’s different for John and in the time frame that’s shifted by four months?

Yoko, obviously, and her dramatically increased role in John’s life, replacing Paul as his primary collaborator. It wasn’t just her, but what she enabled John to be willing to do. John with Yoko creating their own art and performance outside of the Beatles — bed-ins, experimental music, films, publications — all things that grew from being an outlet away from the band to becoming a full replacement for the band that Paul was expending his energy to keep together and internally manage. Like John and Yoko, Paul got married, too, and started his own life with Linda, increasingly spending time at his farm in Scotland. The Beatles were his band.

Three weeks before the Get Back sessions, John formed the Dirty Mac for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus in December 1969. His bed-in recording of “Give Peace a Chance” was released within days of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in June 1969. Two weeks before the release of Abbey Road in September 1969, his first iteration of the Plastic Ono Band took the stage in Toronto.  Upon his return on Sept. 20, he told the rest of the Beatles he quit the group. He wouldn’t perform together with the other three Beatles again. Ten days later he recorded “Cold Turkey.”

All of the Beatles by this point had their own lives, marriages, projects outside the band.  For John, the Beatles had become the outside project in a wildly tumultuous period coinciding with his divorce, his immersion into Yoko, a use of harder drugs and a willingness to move on past Paul. All the factors are related. This may not have been John’s greatest period as a pop music songwriter, at least in volume, but given the variety of artistic pursuits and chances he was willing to take — including the biggest one of all, replacing Paul with Yoko — it was a remarkable period in John Lennon’s career and life.

On August 28, 1969, Linda gave birth to Mary, Paul’s first child. On October 9, John’s 29th birthday and the end of the period we’re recalling here, Yoko miscarried.  They would have their first child together, Sean, exactly six years later, on October 9, 1975.

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TMBP Extra: White anniversary

On Nov. 22, 1968, The Beatles graced us with The Beatles, ie., the White Album. It’s as brilliant on a listen today as I’m sure it was then. Yet, less than six weeks after it hit stores, John, Paul, George and Ringo were at Twickenham writing and rehearsing songs that would eventually populate Let It Be, Abbey Road, All Things Must Pass, McCartney and sporadically on other releases.

whitealbumThe Get Back sessions story – what we’re telling here via the Nagra reels — can’t be told completely without the context and seen through, in part, the lens of the rocky White Album sessions. Ringo left the band three months into recording The Beatles. It took only eight days for George to flee the group at Twickenham. Just listen to the group’s own words on Jan. 7, 1969.

Paul: The past couple of months, it’s been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.

George: The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year.

Perhaps to snap out of those doldrums, the group flirted with the idea of a live show to promote the White Album into the new year – ie., 1969 – but that idea soon fizzled. That flirtation and subsequent search for a live show scenario, however, was a prevalent theme all January 1969 long with the rooftop show the ultimate answer.

Of course, another important connection linking the White Album and the Get Back sessions are the songs. And not just wacky takes like this:

Or this:

The Get Back sessions continued the White Album’s larger focus on playing together as a band (further distancing themselves from Sgt. Pepper) and ostensibly served as a writing lab and demo venue for Abbey Road, the clear bridge between the two records. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Something” both dated to 1968, while “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” were rehearsed in the White Album demo session at Kinfauns. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (and “Everybody Had a Hard Year”) and “Don’t Let Me Down” similarly dated to 1968.

So while proximity (1968 vs. 1970 releases) and the ultimate productions do a lot to blur some of the relations between the White Album and Let It Be (via the Get Back sessions), the anniversary of The Beatles’ release offers as good an opportunity as any to briefly mark those ties.

To celebrate, here’s “Revolution,” filmed at Twickenham nearly four months to the day before the band returned to the same soundstage to begin the Get Back sessions.

 

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Jan. 7: Have a divorce

A wandering discussion ostensibly about the staging of a Beatles live concert prior to the full-band session on Jan. 7, 1969, was light-hearted no longer as the conversation eclipsed the half-hour mark.

The pressure of the clock and calendar is very real if this thing was going to pull together the way it’s being planned — insomuch as it’s being planned at all — and Paul makes clear to everyone else just how dire the situation is.

Start caring. Now.

Paul: If we’re going to do the show here, we’re going to have to decide today. …If we’re going to do these songs, we’re going to have to learn the chords.  … We’ve got to learn the words, certain basic things we’ve just got to do if we’re going to do it.

There’s only two ways. And that’s what I was shouting at the last meeting we had. We’re going to do it, or we’re not going to do it.  And I want a decision, because I’m not interested enough to spend my fucking days farting around here while everyone makes up their minds whether they want to do it or not.

I’ll do it. If everyone wants to, then all right. It’s just a bit soft. It’s like a school, you’ve got to be here. And I haven’t. We’ve all left school, and we don’t have to come. But it to a scene where you do have to come.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: The first thing to get together is yourselves totally. And then we all follow with our kit bags and our cameras.

It’s not the first time this conversation Paul compared the experience to school. And as made clear in every great Beatles biography, we know how much these four men cared for their responsibility to the classroom.

Things are right back where the discussion started out the “Get Back” introduction earlier that hour. Paul loves this band and doesn’t think anyone else has nearly the level of commitment anymore.  And he’s right.

Keeping the Beatles as a performing unit, much less determining how their live show would come off, is not a small issue here, but a minor mystery —  the band’s initial, planned timetable for a live show – does become clear in this exchange as Paul continues.

“Five days before [the show] is a week from now,” Paul says, “and that means by the time a week from now comes, all these songs we’ve got we’ve got to know perfectly. And then five days, we really, really get us to know them.”

calendarBeautiful! The early timeline is clarified and confirmed: Five days from this is Jan. 12, a week before Jan. 19. Falling within the estimate drawn from their discussion the prior day — Jan. 18-22 —   this pinpoints the original plan for concert day.

Flash forward to the rooftop, when they ended up playing just five complete songs. Do the math, and the Beatles end up on the same timeline originally proposed here.

(Turns out they already know those five songs by Jan. 7 — the just-written “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.”)

A conversation between Georges Harrison and Martin about a Jackie Lomax session is held as Paul and Lindsay-Hogg’s continuing discussion on the urgency of the schedule.

As far as the director is concerned, the session’s first day  – the abbreviated gathering on Jan. 2 – was the best musical day yet. So at least to him, the entirety of the sessions so far as been a study in deterioration.

“If people aren’t interested, I lose interest,” Paul says.” We can’t blame our tours … and so on and so on.”

“The past couple of months, its been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.”

“What, agony?” Lindsay-Hogg asks.

“Just the whole idea of, “Do you want to do it?’” Paul says.

"And that’s the whole joke of it. After it all came about we all phoned [Neil Aspinall] individually, saying things like, 'Could you get them together.'" -- Paul McCartney, Jan. 7, 1969

“And that’s the whole joke of it. After it all came about we all phoned [Neil Aspinall] individually, saying things like, ‘Could you get them together.'” — Paul McCartney, Jan. 7, 1969

Paul relates a story of every Beatle phoning Neil Aspinall individually, with each asking the Apple Records manager and band confidant to reassemble the group.

“Instead of asking each other, we went to Neil asking what are the lads doing. You know, we should just have it out.”

It’s a damning indictment of where the band’s interpersonal communication — a reflection of their desire — stood post-White Album in late 1968, before the sessions at Twickenham would even begin.

George steps back into the conversation with a key admission and seemingly parameters for an endgame for the Beatles.

George: Like you said, ‘Well I’d like to do this, this and that. And I’d like to do this … and I’d like to do that, and I’d like to do that. And we end up doing something, again, that nobody really wants to do.

Paul: If this turns into that, it should definitely be the last for all of us. Because there just isn’t any point.

MLH: That would be sad, as an audience.

Paul: It’s stupid. But it’s even more stupid the other way. To go through it.

George: ‘Cause this time you could using for what you want to be doing: creating, instead of doldrums, which it always is.

The word struck a nerve with Lindsay-Hogg, who was keeping a diary of his recent experiences.  “‘Doldrums’ is the word I used. The doldrums have been coming like to a ship on a calm sea.”

“The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year,” George says.

Thus, at least to George – and no one disagrees – The Doldrums include the launch of Apple, the trip to India and the entirety of the White Album sessions, and could well stretch back into late ’67. How about Aug. 27, 1967, when Mr. Epstein died, as the genesis?

Today, Lindsay-Hogg – only seven months John’s senior — opts to step into that vacuum as manager/father figure.

“We all need you,” Lindsay-Hogg says as George cheekily accompanies him with an off-the-cuff rendition “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the background. “And it is communication. If you all can’t get it together, that’s really very sad. Maybe what we should do now is let you play a little and you all have lunch together.

“So should we leave you for a while?”

With Lindsay-Hogg gone, the group fiddles around, seemingly ready to begin the day’s work, musically. Then George steps in and steps up for himself.

“What I was saying about the songs is … I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound] there its gone. And slowly I can bring a couple out because I can get it more like how it should have been then.”

“It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong as long as the four of us notice it,” Paul says as George, now incredulous, sure thinks it does matter what is going wrong as he’s so often wronged.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

“And instead of just noticing it, to turn it to put it right,” Paul finishes.

But George is done.

“We should have a divorce.”

Paul admits he’s almost done.

“Well, I said that at the last meeting. But its getting near it.”

A deadpan John — mostly silent in the exchange so far — injects a laugh line, asking in the context of the divorce, “Who’d have the children?”

“Dick James,” answers Paul, referring to Northern Songs’ co-owner. (The music publisher would, coincidentally, make an in-person appearance at Twickenham about 72 hours later, immediately before George left the group).

Paul gets in one final point, and directs it squarely at John. He would have liked more input beyond the well-timed zinger.

Just because it’s so silly of us at this point in our lives to crack up. It’s just so silly, because there’s no point. We’re not going to get anywhere we want to get by doing that. The only possible direction is the other way from that. But the thing is, we’re all just theoretically agreeing with it, but we’re not doing it.

You’re doing it with your thing with you and Yoko. But it’s silly to come in and [be] talking down to us, when actually your way out is not to talk — rather than talk down to us, which you’d have to do. And you wouldn’t. And remember, I think I’m talking down to you, too. … We’re sort of talking down to each other.

George wants a divorce. Paul is desperate for John to show up. Nobody wants to be there and they’re running out of time to salvage what time they’ve already spent working on their product at Twickenham.

This moment, right here on Jan. 7, would be the moment that would make the most sense for the Beatles to break up, go on hiatus, something, anything. Everyone’s tugging at the band-aid. But no one is willing to provide the last rip.

All the arguing, backbiting, rash decisions they would be so well known for in their eventual breakup wasn’t second-nature yet. So they do the only thing that really is: play music together.

“OK,” Paul continues, and picking the song most obvious to begin with. “‘I’ve Got a Feeling.’ One-two-three-four…”

And John immediately goes into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” as the take quickly breaks down in laughter.

“How does it go?” John asks.

And then, astoundingly, the day’s sessions begin in full, starting with about 20 minutes (on tape) of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

What on earth to make of all of this?

Having “compared it to a marriage a million times” (John, from 1976, as quoted in the “Anthology” book), it stands that the band’s ultimate split would be a “divorce.” George asked for it Jan. 7, 1969, and eight-plus months later John would ask for the same thing.

“I want a divorce, like my divorce from Cynthia,” John is famously quoted as saying late September 1969 in Phillip Norman’s “Shout!”  “It’s given me a great feeling of freedom.”

The Beatles were Paul’s band, by the time they were at Twickenham, after first being John’s. The Beatles weren’t George’s — as critical and brilliant he was — and thus it wasn’t his place to ask for a divorce. He could just leave — which he would a few days later — and in that way he absolutely held sway over the band’s future, engineering Billy Preston’s arrival and the shift into cozy 3 Savile Row. Conceding to George things nobody else was wed to but having him in the Beatles beat not having George in the Beatles. But there was no getting around his junior membership, in a sense.

Even in suggesting a divorce, George was immediately met with Paul basically saying, “Me too.” But since Paul wasn’t ready and John was silent on the issue, the divorce wasn’t going to happen.

It’s clear the group’s momentum and motivation as things stand on Jan. 7  is founded on nothing. It sounds as if getting anything done post-Sgt. Pepper was a miracle.  Epstein is missed, and it’s become plainly obvious. Based on their brutal descriptions of the White Album sessions, it’s amazing, in retrospect, they finished the LP, much less recorded as many songs as they did for as many months as they did.

Paul’s right — these guys are indeed “on their own at the holiday camp.” They’re four men pushing 30 who don’t know life beyond the extremes of childhood and being a Beatle.  A day earlier, in the wake of the “I’ll play if you want me to play” argument, it sounded like it was an option for the group to remain as one in name, at least. Now, even that seemed out of reach.

The Beatles reached a pivot point on Jan. 7 to commit or bust, and, against all reason based on their arguments, they chose to commit.  To what, nobody seemed to know.

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TMBP Extra: Christmas time is here again

1968_sleeve_back

Quick quiz: When the Beatles convened Jan. 2, 1969 at Twickenham for the Get Back/Let it Be sessions, what was their most recent record release?

It wasn’t the “Hey Jude” single, which was still on the charts , but came out the end of August 1968. It’s not the White Album either — that came out at the end of November.  The soundtrack to the Yellow Submarine film was released nearly two weeks into the January 1969 sessions, with songs that had long been recorded.

Check the solo discographies, even, and you come close —  but not close enough. Two Virgins — cut in May — came out a week after the White Album. John also participated in the Rock & Roll Circus on Dec. 11, 1968, but that recording wasn’t released until 1996. George’s Wonderwall Music was close, too, released Nov.1, 1968 in the U.K. and Dec. 1 in the U.S.

The answer, a giveaway by now thanks to the post title and above image, is the Beatles’ Sixth Christmas Record, recorded post-White Album sessions in November 1968 and released Dec. 20, 1968, less than two weeks before the band assembled at Twickenham in Jan. 1969, and while the band was in active discussions planning out the film and potential shows.

There’s no need for a play-by-play breakdown of the recording, since if you’re at this blog, you either already have heard it or, if not, you really should just click and listen — it’s less than eight minutes long.

Does it portend anything musically for the band? Well, no, not at all.

It’s odd and experimental in (most) places. But perhaps more relevant, this is the first of the fan-club-only Christmas releases, which date back to 1963, in which the group wasn’t actually a  group, with each of the four members submitted their own message for inclusion. How separate were they? It was an international affair with George literally phoning it in from L.A., while the rest of the band put their respective pieces together from their homes.

Alas, they were forced back together again days later at Twickenham, but by the time their following (and last) Christmas album came out in Dec. 1969, they’d be done recording as The Beatles, separately or together, altogether.

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TMBP Extra: They say it’s his birthday

Like the many millions of Beatles-focused blogs, of course I need to recognize the 70th birthday of Paul McCartney.

I’ve wrestled with just how. This blog is a niche, focused on January 1969’s Get Back/Let It Be sessions and its reasonable relations (the Let It Be album and movie). June 18 is half a year away from January, so there’s no direct tie to the timeline.

The easy way out is to post a relevant video of Paul from the sessions, pluck out some classic tune, and I just leave it there.

But I got to thinking about June 1969, a few months after the sessions, and just what the band was doing. And the answer was… nothing.

“Get Back” — the single — was already a hit. The Get Back album was alive and being worked on by Glyn Johns.  A couple of songs for Abbey Road were worked on, but not extensively. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was quickly written and recorded in April and released the end of May.

But June? No studio time.

Come July 1, the full recording sessions for Abbey Road would formally begin. Before September was out, it was in stores. Think about that. It took less than three months for the vast majority of Abbey Road to be recorded. It took me about three months to bang out 10 posts for this blog.

So with nothing going on June 18, 1969, I backed up a year to the same date in 1968. There was no recording session that day, either,  but the band was about three weeks into the White Album sessions, with “Revolution” “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Blackbird” having been worked on to that point.

And yet again, like I always am by the Beatles and keep finding myself as I work on this blog, I’m left marveling at things I already knew but didn’t think much about. Between Paul’s birthday in 1968 and 1969, the band recorded the vast majority of the White Album, the entirety of what would become Let It Be and had gotten Abbey Road under way (with most of the songs already written) — not to mention recording and releasing things like “Hey Jude,” too. Tack on three more months, and over 15 months we had all three albums in the can. Remarkable. (And that’s just what they did on vinyl — they also built Apple, had personal lives, side projects, etc.).

So where does that leave this post? Well, back to the start I think:  Pluck something from the sessions and leave it at that.

So for Paul’s 70th, here’s one of the greatest of them all, and the song from which this blog’s name came from, “Let It Be.”

Happy birthday, Paul!

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Jan. 3: Quizzical

Well before it was derided by John as more “granny music,” George as “so fruity” and Ringo as “worst session ever” (in reference to the Abbey Road recording),  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on Jan. 3, 1969, was simply “the corny one,” a song The Beatles had yet to rehearse so many times that it literally caused bandmembers to refuse to participate or go ahead and quit the band.

Written in October 1968, just too late for inclusion on the White Album (per Lewisohn) — but apparently never rehearsed then — we hear it for the first time as Paul doodles on the piano to start the Jan. 3 sessions.

With Paul in novelty-song mode for much of the White Album (a planned topic of a post for the distant future, when I’m done with the Nagra timeline), this tune would have fit like a glove on that record.  And, perhaps it’s in retrospect, but it didn’t fit at all with Get Back/Let it Be, at least what we’ve heard in these first few days.

Hours after the piano sketch, we get to hear the full band tackle the song for the first time in rehearsals that clock in at less than 35 minutes.

It’s an interesting contrast with the “All Things Must Pass” rehearsals that had just occurred earlier in the day. George played and sang his heart out, clearly exasperated and desperate for the band to appreciate the song. Paul, meanwhile, is slogging through “Maxwell’s.” He knows he band will learn it, even if they hate it (and they will in time!).

While George is desperate to bring “All Things Must Pass” to the band, he’s fully aware no one is listening.

Paul, meanwhile, laughs, scats the lyrics, has an extremely relaxed demeanor, especially impressive given the long day that’s near to ending.

This clip, from the film, captures the some of this pretty well, with Paul barking out chords. The first 45 seconds or so are indeed from these Jan. 3 sessions, with the edit coming right as the anvil hits.

With Paul in instructional mode, George is proactive in offering suggestions to the harmonies as well as guitar licks. Again, quite the opposite experience from “All Things Must Pass,” where the other members of the band did little to add to the song George brought to them.

The origin of the song’s most notable feature — the anvil — is discussed  by Paul during one of the takes.

“Originally, I was trying to get a hammer, which we might get Mal [Evans] to do. A hammer, like on an anvil. A big hammer on an anvil.

You can’t make it with anything else. Bang, bang!”

As they had done earlier in the sessions on “Don’t Let Me Down” and “All Things Must Pass,” the band shakes  up the lineup as the “Maxwell’s” rehearsals progress, with Paul shifting to piano and George taking over on bass, preferring the six-string. At one point, Paul asks George for his bass to sound like it was “from those movies” — a shivering sound during the “Joan was dead” bit.

It’s a fun, bouncy song at this point, none of the weight of the Moog on the Abbey Road version, and a circus-like groove from the rhythm section. There is the old-timey movie feel to it in a way that “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello captures.  It works for whatever the song at present is.

In something of a telling, but confusing exchange, George asks about the seemingly incomplete state of the lyrics. At this point, all we’ve heard in both the early solo piano sketch and the afternoon full-band rehearsals are just the two verses and the chorus.

To my ears, this is what they say:

Paul: There’s only two verses. … But I don’t really know where it goes after that.

John: Finish three of them. You need another one, yeah?

George: Do the words, like, resolve the story?

Paul: Well, they will do.

George: I mean, there’s no more to write?

Paul: No, no not more to write.

Here it seems Paul is content to have the song’s lyrics stay as they are in truncated form — no P.C. 31, testimonial pictures, Rose, Valerie or the judge — and perhaps the musical arrangement alone is what he plans to finish.

Again, the contrast with “All Things Must Pass” is fascinating. “Maxwell’s” isn’t brand-new — it’s a few months old — but it’s still incomplete. If anything, “ATMP” is newer, and it’s a finished product when it was brought to the band.

Really, I  think what we’re learning here George is a saint — he not only brings polished work to the group only to have it passively embraced, he’s busy working to improve everyone else’s songs. Sure, we know he actually quits the band in a few days, but you’d have to think this is a pattern that appeared on prior records, but we only have tape of these sessions to hear it.

Further, and it’s a point I’ve obsessed on before, but why bring an incomplete song to a session that seemingly had a purpose and endgame, a live show soon to be recorded? Shouldn’t everyone be bringing their best material to the table? Was “Maxwell’s” — and we know, ultimately, on Abbey Road it didn’t change that much musically and would only get the extra verse — really something worth spending valuable time on when we know what great stuff Paul had in the bank already (“Two of Us,” “Long And Winding Road,” “Let it Be,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” etc.)? They’re rehearsing an incomplete song, they’d have to get back to it regardless. Paul makes a brief mention of where an orchestra would come in — clearly he was thinking beyond just the live rock show.

At least this early version of “Maxwell’s” gives us the memorable lines: “Back in class again/Maxwell is an ass again” and “She tells Max to stay/when his ass has gone away.”  Alas, never to make the final cut.

With the end of the “Maxwell’s” sessions, the band wraps it up for the day, a Friday.  The day’s tapes end with the band saying their goodbyes and, the working stiffs they were,  agreeing to reassemble Monday at 10 a.m.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Tell me why

Something I never completely got my head around is why the Get Back sessions had to happen when they did, in the beginning of the new year, 1969. And in such a disorganized state, to boot.

The timeline is stunning, really, when you look back on it, even in the context of the music industry not being what it is today, when you can go years and years between records.

Consider: On Jan. 2, 1969, the Twickenham sessions got under way. “Hey Jude” was recorded five months earlier (July 31, 1968), released four months earlier (Aug. 26, 1968) and had just finished runs at No. 1 around the world. The White Album was released SIX WEEKS earlier. Six weeks!

The members of the band couldn’t have been bored — John and Yoko were doing the concept art thing, George  and Bob Dylan were writing together only weeks earlier in late November (he’d show off “Let it Down” on this day). Paul and Linda were a little less than two months from marrying. Ringo had just appeared in “Candy” and was soon to be in “Magic Christian.” They had stuff going on!

And again, I know, the industry is different today than it was then. But even considering that, there really wasn’t that much reason for the Beatles to rush into the studio in January 1969. It’s just what they did.

Famously, the goal here was to rehearse fresh material for a film or TV special, culminating in a concert before a live audience. New material. Six weeks after they put out a double album.

But there they were, at the Twickenham sound stage on Jan. 2. Six weeks after they released the White Album (did I mention that?). And despite the rush to be there, sessions beginning in the morning like it was an office job, they still didn’t really have the the session’s raison d’être lined up. There was no agreement on a venue to actually perform the concert.

A little more than halfway through the day’s recordings, Glyn Johns and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discuss with Paul — in addition to the state of his beard — the potential venues for the culmilation concert. Legend has local clubs, African amphitheaters and the like in the mix, but from discussions on the first day of the sessions, it’s clear that it’s most likely going to be a soundstage. Twickenham itself is an option, and seemingly Paul’s preferred one (“Just as well stay here”). Another option pitched is Intertel Studio in Wembley, where the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was recorded a mere three weeks earlier.   The venue received raves — “It sounds like a good live studio.”

Amazingly, at that moment elsewhere at Twickenham– and sure, who knows if he was in the room at the time, out having a smoke, grabbing a bite or in the bathroom — was John Lennon. But he was never consulted (on tape, at least) about what he thought of Intertel. And he only performed “Yer Blues” there a mere three weeks earlier.

But even though it was a potential concert venue following the rehearsals there, everyone hated Twickenham.  PAs hadn’t even been set up (they were arriving later that day). John was suggesting they move into a corner of the room — Ringo was too far away. “This place sounds terrible,” Paul said.

Said Lindsay-Hogg to laughter, “I think the thing to do is just be very flexible about every aspect of the enterprise.”

As a director, Lindsay-Hogg was naturally eyeing a dramatic scene. A Tunisian open-air amphitheater was famously pitched, the Beatles to play at dawn. “Snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around,” Lindsay-Hogg visualized.

It was never going to happen, no matter what. Paul put it straight right there on Day 1. “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”

The stage is set at Twickenham as the opening credits roll in “Let it Be.”

Lindsay-Hogg hoped to change minds. “Let’s see what we all feel in a day or two… instead of making anything hard and fast.”

There would be no budging. “Ringo definitely doesn’t want to go abroad,” Paul said, “so that means we don’t go abroad. Maybe we go abroad next time… [but] it would be nice to find some way to do it out of doors.”

Like John wasn’t even considered when discussing a venue he played just weeks earlier, Ringo didn’t state his case in person, only via proxy. It did really sound like it was the first time the topic of concert venue was seriously discussed immediately between the director and the film’s principals, and it was after they had already began the sessions.

Thus, there they were on Jan. 2, starting 20 days of rehearsals culminating in a concert that had absolutely no parameters decided outside of the band scheduled to perform.

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