Tag Archives: Wonderwall Music

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: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartneyJohn Lennon and Ringo Starr, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 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 1982), “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, it 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 and capitalization. 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 1968, 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, with a fleshier version also on the 2019 Abbey Road anniversary deluxe edition.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise 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.

6 Comments

Filed under Extra

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 (one exception aside).

1 Comment

Filed under Extra