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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3kkhrt2qVw

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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Jan. 7: Pulled their socks up

Everybody had a hard year? If we’re talking about the Beatles, that’s a fair appraisal just a week into 1969.

As rehearsals were set to get fully under way January, 7, 1969, the group openly discussed breaking up. Instead, moments later, they were trying to hammer out the details of “I’ve Got a Feeling” for more than 20 minutes before launching into an extended session dedicated to Paul’s pet “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”paul

The out was right there for them; the group was in agreement that a divorce was not unreasonable. But while we don’t know for certain, (unless this particular discussion was filmed and we can see for ourselves if the footage is ever released), it doesn’t even sound like anyone moved out of their chairs, much less high-tailed for the exits. Paul left the band during the recording of “She Said, She Said” in 1966 and Ringo split during “Back in the USSR” in ’68. But this cry for divorce, so much more severe than a walkout of a single member, didn’t immediately lead to much of anything. Nobody budged January 7, 1969, after the early takes of “Get Back,” and status quo reigned.

As tension melts and the group trades chatter for chords, it quickly becomes clear little that had led to the group to the brink had actually changed.  Paul may not enjoy his role as band leader — “I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss’” — but he’s not letting that job go, either, despite any prior protests from George or anyone else in the group.

Arranger/producer Paul made plain his preferences for “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and anything else they were to tackle going forward in preparation for the live show.

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. No use singing ‘em quiet now if you’re planning on doing them loud on the night.

Paul certainly sweats the details and is quick to dictate the construction of the song, asking John to keep the chord sequence before the chorus “kind of tight,” barking “riff” to George at the appropriate times and working on the balance of “oh yeahs” with “oh noes.” Even Ringo wasn’t spared; he received explicit directions, too: “Don’t go into the swing at the end,” Paul said as he vocalized the closing drum pattern.

Overall, special focus was paid to the transition to “Everybody’s had a hard year” and the subsequent section. Paul pushes George to add “something recognizable” just prior to the bridge (“All these years I’ve been wandering around”).

The vibe, meanwhile, is generally agreeable throughout, and there’s certainly no indication that moments earlier the band was basically trying to figure out the right way to break up.  While no songs were particularly tight by this stage of the sessions, there’s a definite, steady progression here with “I’ve Got a Feeling, ” a song that had seen time each day thus far at Twickenham. The group works their way through at least one complete take (tape cuts, as usual, keep any claim here from being definite).

Content with the state of the song, and with a lengthy pivot to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” imminent, the band detours briefly into a pair of apparent improvisations that wouldn’t be heard from again (the bluesy “Woman Where You Been So Long” and the especially catchy, Little Richard-inspired “Oh! Julie, Julia”).

John cuts off the jam to ask Paul to launch into “Oh! Darling,” an admitted favorite of John’s up to his death 11 years later. Paul was again in instruction mode here — there was no solicitation for advice on working out kinks, rather the song was set and merely needed to be taught.

Paul had already played the song twice at Twickenham — both times solo at the piano for Lindsay-Hogg (“Sounds great, Fats Domino!” the film director said on the 6th), but it was without any further accompaniment and probably without the full band even in the building.  This is the first full-band take of the song, which, despite the need for Paul to shout out chords and generally sounding in a rough state, seems to have had at least some off-tape rehearsal at some point. With John’s enthusiasm for the song only helping the cause, it’s not unlikely to think “Oh! Darling” could have been a viable option for an extended live show, were it to have actually been staged. Alas, with the rooftop featuring Paul only on bass, and the setlist short, it wasn’t meant to be, but the song certainly found a happy home on Abbey Road.

With just single take achieved, George (largely off-mic) thinks beyond “Oh! Darling.”

“‘Maxwell’s’ would be even better to go on.”

Even Paul’s skeptical as the band readies to lay down the silver hammer.

You never know.”

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TMBP Extra: All that lies ahead

As I write this, it’s Friday, Jan. 31. About three-and-a-half weeks ago was Jan. 7. Check your own personal calendars, news headlines and the like. It’s not that long ago. That matters to me, and this blog, because this is where the Beatles come in.

Flip (or click) back several calendar pages – 45 in fact – and we’re at January 1969, dominated by the Get Back sessions. Jan. 31 marked its final day, a short day dedicated to nailing for film and for tape usable takes of Paul’s non-rooftop-suitable “Two of Us,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” (The clips appeared in the movie prior to the rooftop show, but were in fact filmed the next day).

What of Jan. 7? That’s where we left off last in the session timeline, at a genuine pivot point.  George suggested the group “have a divorce,” Paul said he’d thought about that, too. The Doldrums. It hung over the band.

So what happened between Jan. 7 and Jan. 31, 1969, to recast the sessions? Well, I’m not going to give it all away at once. What else would I blog about, the recording of Sentimental Journey? (That actually seems like an interesting, star-studded, intercontinental story, but I digress.) Three and a half weeks is such a short period of time, in relative terms, and we know that the group was on the brink Jan. 7. By Jan. 31 so much memorable musical output was in the bank and in the works. Factor in that there’s 10 ½ days without George after his walkout and more than a week without any rehearsals at all, and I’m left grasping at superlatives.

To wit: From Jan. 7-13 and Jan. 21-31, 1969 (18 days, and that includes weekends not spent in the studio):

  • Paul wrote the majority of “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Get Back” and debuted future solo tracks “Another Day,” “Teddy Boy” and “Back Seat of My Car”
  • George wrote: “I Me Mine,” “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something,” as well as “Wah-Wah” at home during his break from the band.
  • Everything you hear on “Let It Be,” plus “Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded.
  • We saw the birth – and if not the birth, than at least the studio debut – of Abbey Road’s “I Want You,”  “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
  • We have the rooftop show, too.
  • The Beatles even found time to meet with Allen Klein for the first time.

And I feel like I’m understating what happened.

So, there’s just a little bit of food for thought before I return to the timeline (soon!). Context is everything, and with January here and now gone, it provided the perfect chance to put into focus how much these guys got done throughout the madness they, for the most part, created themselves.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 7, 1969 recap

paul-at-pianoBlogoversary week wraps with a look back at my posts about today in Nagra tapes history: Jan. 7, 1969, coverage of which is still in progress.

  • Still they lead him back: Jan. 7 begins with a proper debut for “The Long and Winding Road,” poignant and revealing given the mood at the sessions and the prior day’s tension.
  • Sing a lullaby: “Golden Slumbers” debuts, and the day-old “Carry That Weight” isn’t all a hurting Paul fits it with that morning.
  • Signature song: It’s the origin story for “Get Back,” the song perhaps most identified with these sessions, featuring Paul, George and an absent Jackie Lomax.
  • Power Hour: Putting Paul’s Jan. 7, 1969, morning session in context, 44 years later.
  • On their own at the holiday camp: As Mr. Epstein’s ghost lingers, what motivates The Beatles in January 1969? The group openly questions that very thing.
  • Taking the easy way out, now: The Beatles, comfortable as a studio-only band and admittedly shy to perform live but also fed up playing together, get a pep talk as they try to find the desire to stage a concert.
  • Ain’t got no ‘pow’: Still searching for the elusive hook to their live show, the Beatles recall a misguided fan-club show, consider their lack of charity and foretell one of rock’s iconic moments.
  • Entertainment is almost enough: In which the Beatles are asked to embrace showbiz, because “you may never do another television show.” Perhaps a captive audience is the answer.
  • Have a divorce: The Beatles’ frustration with each other and the state of the group — an issue they admit dates back more than a year — reaches a tipping point as a conversation that began with the continued search for a live venue concludes with the band’s future in question.

The Jan. 7 story continues with more on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Across the Universe” and more. Stay tuned!

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TMBP Extra: Everybody had (another) good year — 2nd Blogoversary

opening

Work begins anew for the Beatles. From the opening scene in Let It Be.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were working stiffs like the rest of us* 45 years ago today, when those four, joined by a film crew, headed back to work after New Year’s.

The hours they put in over the subsequent month has stood the test of time, as documented on the Let It Be album and film, and with the results of their labor also eventually surfacing on Abbey Road and various solo albums.

But you all knew this.

I did too before I started this blog, two years ago today. But I just didn’t know how deep the story ran and how much more there was to these sessions. Especially with so much of our knowledge of this era couched in the record’s tumultuous production and release a year later and the breakup that preceded it.

A few days ago, I rewatched the Let It Be film (I’ve been watching it every few weeks in spurts as I write, but this was purely for “leisure,” having a few beers with my wife, who wanted to see it again). Knowing what I know now, both in my own immersion in the tapes and researching what is available about the sessions (far less than you think), I’m struck by what really got me interested in the tapes in the first place: You see all of the results, but absolutely none of the motivation.

Why did they move from Twickenham to Apple all of the sudden? Who’s this guy showing up to play keyboards? Why are there so many covers, and so many songs we’d see later on Abbey Road? What’s the deal with playing on the roof? Was that the first choice for the concert they allude to really late?

The movie creates more questions than it answers. And of course, that’s a part of what makes listening to the tapes so captivating.

Finding answers is also what makes for some really deep blog posts. In 2013, I wrote 13 posts on the timeline (of 19 total posts last year) covering a little less than 3 1/2 hours on the tapes.

Wait, what?

Yes, a mere 3 1/2 hours of conversations and rehearsals were able to form the basis of 13 posts — and more than 17,000 words therein. But talk about memorable moments in just those 200-plus minutes:

It makes you wonder what kind of film Michael Lindsay-Hogg could have made if he had his way. This drama is writing itself. And with a great soundtrack!

Cheers to you all!

Cheers to you all!

And to think, we’re only at the middle of Jan. 7.  There’s a heck of a way to go, and I can’t wait to dig in.

I can’t say enough for the support I’ve gotten from readers, be it in comments, over Twitter, Facebook and from other blogs. It’s been amazing to share this experience — and communicate with — Beatles fans as passionate and curious as I am. I want to especially thank and point back to Hey Dullblog, Kenwood, A Mythical Monkey, Ultimate Classic Rock  and the York Beatles Appreciation Society for linking to me over these years. It really makes this all the more fun to know people are reading and enjoying it.

And the most special thanks to my wife, Dianne, for being my editor and putting up with my “child-like wonder” at Paul’s playing the songs he introduced Jan. 7, 1969, live daily in 2013.

Here’s a recap of the first few days:

What’s next? More of the same in 2014. Happy New Year!

*- Full disclosure: While I may be a working stiff, I actually have the day off. But back to work Saturday!

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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 Saville 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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Jan. 7: Entertainment is almost enough

"I don't mean [play] for Jimmy Saville kids. I mean for kids with broken legs. Really, kind of 1944 Hollywood musical, Bing Crosby kids. "

“I don’t mean [play] for Jimmy Saville kids. I mean for kids with broken legs. Really, kind of 1944 Hollywood musical, Bing Crosby kids. ” — Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Jan. 7, 1969. (Photo of Beatles with Jimmy Saville)

The conversation took a very silly twist before taking a sober turn.

A half-hour or so into Tuesday‘s wandering discussion attempting to define the framework for a live show, it was suggested that if the Beatles didn’t play for sick children, they should play at an orphanage. Or maybe it’s a show of all dedications.

“What’s the most charitable thing anyone can do?” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg asks before suggesting the band perform mass murder. “There are certain judicious murders in the history of the world which are very charitable.”

Paul then expands on his equally farcical — presumably farcical, at least  —  idea of playing at the Biafran airport amid the Nigeria-Biafra War. That is,  after they “rescue all the people.”

“Say we were doing it in an airport, you couldn’t stop all the people coming and going — they’ve all got planes to catch. So like you’d get a lot of people all the time, going for planes. … It’d be a scene.”

And so would a children’s hospital before an incapacitated captive audience. “They can’t get up and walk,” Paul says. “Except for the finale, when John walks up to the little girl. … aaah — she gets up and walks!”

Work your magic, John.

Alas, if only John can cure this process and heal the band. Lindsay-Hogg says he wants this to be better than any rock-and-roll show ever staged. And it’s not only because he wants to be proud of his product.

“You may never do another television show.”

It’s a bitter pill, but clearly Lindsay-Hogg knows the band is hanging by a thread here, just days into the Twickenham sessions. Feel free to read more into what George is playing low in the background during this part of the conversation: “I Shall Be Released” and “To Kingdom Come,” both by The Band.

“They just sound like that album in their house, in their living room,” George tells Mal as Paul and MLH go over (again) the possibility of filming the concert at Twickenham.

George then brings up a point not yet broached — will the Beatles be the only band on the bill? The last time they put on a TV special — Magical Mystery Tour, just over a year prior — The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performed during the strip-club scene, and Traffic was filmed but left out of the final edit.

So padding out the bill wouldn’t have been that unusual a thought, especially in the light of the Rolling Stones’ recently filmed Rock & Roll Circus and its own dazzling lineup. Then again …

“Are we going to have other people or just us —  John, Paul, Jeff and Richie?” George asks. “But then, you’re getting the bit where The Who steal the show.  But …   let the best man win.”

Lindsay-Hogg believes in his boys, saying, “If anyone can hold an hour, it’s you.”

George admits he isn’t so sure, but Paul has no doubt. What he’s struggling with is getting any semblance of a fire lit under the band.

“I don’t see why any of you — talking to whoever it is not interested —  get yourself into this then,” Paul says after Ringo says something difficult to hear, but likely being “not interested” in traveling. “What’s it for? Can’t be for the money. Why are you here? I’m here ’cause I want to do a show. But I really don’t feel an awful lot of support. Is anyone here because they want to do a show?”

Lindsay-Hogg wants to do a show. Meanwhile, haven’t we already heard this conversation several times already at Twickenham these first few days?

“Mal is right,” Lindsay-Hogg says, referring to comments from the roadie moments earlier. “Entertainment is almost enough. It’s where to put the entertainment.” Lindsay-Hogg also pushes the potential multimedia package the sessions could yield: an album, a documentary and the live concert, and George acknowledges it could be a bounty .

But he adds a caveat.

“If we can get the enthusiasm and really strength to do it.”

“All the ideas like hospital, orphanage, charity is part of it,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “It should be great, great showbiz, because that’s what’s going to make people happy. …  A smile on the lips of a small boy in France or a tear in the eye of a big girl in America is what we want.”

Part of the problem here is that Lindsay-Hogg is either wildly misreading the gravity of the situation at hand  or overreaching in setting up a diversion. Certainly it’s the latter, he’s no dummy. The Beatles are in dire straits. It’s out in the open. He’s lucky to have them in the studio together in any capacity. I’m not sure there was a stage anywhere on earth — plenty were mentioned, for sure —  that would have created any greater spark than they already had within them.

History made it clear. The group traveled a few dozen stairs at 3 Saville Row to the roof, where they did create magic. But that magic wouldn’t have been any more enchanting had they staged the same show at Sabratha, Biafra, George’s house or the Twickenham soundstage. Their hearts, collectively, were in it to a specific point, and that’s what bore out on the roof.

But more on that later.

The conversation keeps going, and even gets more depressing and deflating next post.

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Jan. 7: Ain’t got no ‘pow’

When we left the gang at Twickenham in the last post on the timeline, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was wrapping up his “pep talk,” imploring The Beatles to challenge themselves make a show worth staging. After saying he didn’t know what would make the production unique, Paul asks for a “bad example.”

“The bad example is going away,” Lindsay-Hogg replies.

An overseas adventure has been nixed several times already, and was about to be again. But less than a week into the sessions at Twickenham, the director wasn’t ready to let his dream concert die.

How could the band resist playing in the fresh, open air?

MLH. Pow, there you are. And pow, what are you going to do with it? And pow, it’s going to be fantastic. That was pow, you see. And we ain’t got no pow at the moment.

Paul: The only thing about that is [pause], we don’t want to go away. A group decision.

For George, the refusal to go overseas goes beyond Ringo’s veto. The logistics would be overwhelming.

It’s going to be the same thing as here, but it’s a bit nicer place to be in, George says. “It’s going to be even more complicated, trying to plug in all mics and tapes and all that crap, video. …”

Complications are all the more reason to go that route, Lindsay-Hogg says. Go big, and don’t put together a show like Cream’s. And if Lindsay-Hogg is going to stage a Beatles extravaganza, he’s made clear he wants precisely 2,000 Arabs in the audience. Apparently, no more, no less.

MLH: Visually, the thing that worries about here, it’s going to make it look like Cream, with a couple shots held a bit longer. .. If we went away, we’ve got the enormous plus of the visuals. Think of a helicopter shot over the amphitheater, with the water, with the lights. Torchlit, 2,000 Arabs. Visually, it is fantastic. Therefore, that was a challenge. And you see, I just myself am trying to think of any other framework to put us in to make it work. But it does really need a framework. And it doesn’t need to be done in just the back of an auditorium.

George, those kinds of obstacles are kind of good. I don’t mean this in any sense of discipline. I know you’ve done it all, but maybe you haven’t been there. Its  a very difficult thing once you are, you to create false obstacles, because what you’ve been trying to do for five years is eliminate obstacles.

You don’t want to play the show in straitjackets, that’s the wrong kind of obstacle. … At the moment, it is too soft.

Caged Beatles perform at the Palais Wimbledon, Dec. 14, 1963

While they never played in a straitjacket, The Beatles did play from inside a “cage.”

Paul’s memory of a night in Wimbledon steered the conversation to a Beatles gig in late 1963, when they played a fan-club show that included a meet-and-greet with the 3,000 fans.

** For a longer, but silent look at that night, check this newsreel (un-embeddable, unfortunately): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeTczCaZcck **

In his 2006 memoir John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me: The Real Beatles Story, Beatles PR man Tony Barrow  recalls the event.

After these close encounters with the Fab Four, the fans were treated to a special stage show in the main ballroom area where an over-protective Palais management had constructed a high-walled metal cage inside which the group were to perform on an extended makeshift stage beneath a huge banner that screamed: WIMBLEDON PALAIS WELCOMES THE BEATLES. Welcomes? The cage didn’t make it look like that!

The Beatles threatened at first to walk out unless the whole intimidatiing barricade was demolished and there were mutterings about “prison conditions” and “more like a zoo than a dance hall”. Eventually, for the sake of their fan club members, they went on and gave an enthusiastic mini-concert. During this, as the crowd surged forward pinning those with a place in the front row against the cage, John remarked in a loud stage whisper: “If they press any harder they’ll come through as chips.”

At Twickenham, George remembers the night as “hell.” And no wonder Lindsay-Hogg is having a problem getting traction for a “different” kind of Beatles show, when their past is  dotted with experiences like this.

Despite calling that night “terrible,”  Paul offers an opening.

“But that kind of thing gave that particular show a different thing, because it was like playing to a hospital,” Paul says. “Playing to a thing. Like a fan club, like a hospital.”

Lindsay-Hogg brings it back to the “Hey Jude” promo.

“‘Jude’ to me is a tear-jerker the way we did it, with black and white and the postman and old mothers, and the children and the bellboy and the guy who adjusted his spectacles at one point.  I think part of your music is tear-jerky.”

Paul latches on. After all, he just ripped off a pair of brand-new tear-jerkers earlier that morning in “The Long and Winding Road” and “Golden Slumbers.”

“Really would be great for us to get something, a serious intent,” Paul says. “Say we were all very charitable.  Which we’re not, particularly. But say we were really sort of charity nuts…” And then the tape cuts off, before picking up after a roll announcement.

The group had in fact done a few shows for charity — the Royal Variety Performance most famously for its jewelry-rattling. It wasn’t until their solo careers when charity work and concerts became part of their fabric, led by George and his pioneering Concert for Bangladesh.  Now, desperately searching for a catch, they stumble into the idea of playing for a greater cause merely because it would be a unique hook.

A remark by Lindsay-Hogg about pop-culture heroes sparks an animated monologue from Paul about a recent telecast of “Late Night Line-Up,” a live, late-night talk show with a focus on the arts that wrapped BBC2’s programming day. The particular episode — Paul described at once as “incredible” and “wasn’t very good, but it was pretty good” — saw students given the keys to the show, with one segment featuring the camera zooming in and out on a man watching himself on a monitor drinking tea  as “Revolution” plays in the background.

Praising the anarchic quality of the show, Paul finds inspiration.  “It’s that kind of opportunity we’ve got for an hour.”

The potential of doing a political broadcast — like “All You Need is Love” — appeals to George for the moment, but he realizes “whatever we have to say to do with anything is always incidental, hiding behind the chords of the tune.”  Unspoken, it’s perhaps an acknowledgement the current crop of potential songs for performance lack the clear-cut message of “All You Need is Love.”

A joke from Paul about the potential of staging the show at the Houses of Parliament  — “we tried for the [Rock and Roll] Circus; they didn’t go for it” was Lindsay-Hogg’s reply — led to another thought that was quickly passed over.  But it foretold one of the greatest moments in popular music history, one which was only three-and-a half weeks away.

London police visit 3 Saville Row at the conclusion of Let It Be

London police visit 3 Saville Row at the conclusion of Let It Be

“We should do the show in a  place we’re not allowed to do it,” Paul suggested. “We should trespass. Go in, set up and then get moved, and that should be the show. Get forcibly ejected still trying to play numbers. And the police lifting you.

“You have to take a bit of violence.”

Lindsay-Hogg simply brushed it off.

“It’s too dangerous.”

The lengthy early Jan. 7 discussion resumes in the next post, here on They May Be Parted.

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TMBP Extra: Tea-room orchestra

beatles-frost-hey-judeLast Monday brought the news of the death of longtime TV interviewer David Frost.

There are far better places to read about his life and career, including the several times he hosted and interviewed The Beatles together and individually. But a specific moment in Beatles history with a tie to Frost, one touched on several times on this blog, is worthy of its own post.

It was 45 years ago today — Sept. 8, 1968 — ITV’s “Frost on Sunday” variety show debuted the “Hey Jude” promotional video, which was filmed four days prior.  The performances — they filmed three complete takes of a dozen attempts total — along with the rooftop show nearly four months later, marked the only times The Beatles would play together to a live audience after they stopped touring in 1966.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had last worked with the group that same year  directing “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” was hired again for the shoot at Twickenham. And with the formal introduction is Frost, who is serenaded, primarily by John, with the show’s theme song (which, as it were, was written by George Martin).

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. But because it’s so good, make it 1,001:

The “greatest tea-room orchestra in the world” really does stage an inspirational, iconic performance. OK, so they weren’t really live, playing with an actual orchestra in the house over a recorded track with Paul double-tracking himself in parts and adding freshly scatted vocals during the extended outro. Musician union rules had forbid a strictly lip-synched act.

It’s a new generation of Beatlemania on display here in this new phase of the Beatles’ career. Gone are the screaming fans drowning out the group, instead replaced with the 300 guests encircling then and joining the coda’s chorus. Lindsay-Hogg captures the fresh, optimistic tone of the song, and the band’s jubilant mood, with a clip to match. Things almost get out of control, but never do. It’s perfect.

(For a fun bit of frivolity and another bit of Get Back session foreshadowing, listen in during the coda in the above clip for Paul quoting “The Weight” by The Band – they were already serving as a bit of inspiration).

A great first-hand account of the day from audience member Marc Sniden — the “geek with the horn-rimmed glasses and school blazer behind Ringo” — was published in a 2009 article in the Liverpool Daily Post.

They just walked in holding their guitars, then walked round and shook our hands saying, ‘Hello, I’m John’” he says, still incredulous at the memory. “It was the days of screaming, but nobody screamed. We were suddenly in the presence of God. That’s the only way I can describe it. These people had changed history. We grew up with them.

To alleviate the boredom, John started to play a song on his acoustic guitar. “Everyone went, ‘wow’,” says Marc. “Filming started before we could ask what it was. When it was later released, we realised it was Back in the USSR. That was strange.”

Marc says they were almost telepathic as a band. But, as the afternoon wore on, even they became fractious.

“Paul had been banging away on the piano and John was swearing a lot, asking ‘Haven’t you got it yet?’ to Lindsay Hogg,” says Marc. “After take 12, Paul said, ‘I think that’s enough’.”

Marc Sniden (right)

While the song gave The Beatles a monumental hit song to launch Apple Records, the experience of the performance also had its own significant repercussion: The band was open to playing before an audience again.

“They hammed it up, putting in some naughty lyrics about George Martin,” Sniden said. “It was all jokey, they were very relaxed.”

The director took notice.

“They were jamming and having a good time and having a better time than they thought they were going to have,” Lindsay-Hogg said in Steve Matteo’s 33 1/3 book on Let it Be. “So they sort of thought maybe there is some way they can do something again in some sort of performance way.”

And thus, the seed of the idea for the Get Back/Let it Be sessions was planted, before they’d even completed recording the White Album. The Beatles would be back at Twickenham with Lindsay-Hogg and producer Dennis O’Dell in less than four months time. The clip would be a cited repeatedly on the Nagra Tapes as a benchmark for what they were trying to achieve, be it the composition of the audience, the focal point of the camera or the location of the show.

Just a footnote in Frost’s long career, the “Hey Jude” promo filming proved to be a pivotal moment in The Beatles career.

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Jan. 7: Taking the easy way out, now

We pick up the scene where we left off from the last post, Jan. 7: On our own at the holiday camp, as The Beatles and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg wrestle with the question of the band’s motivation in the post-Brian Epstein era and struggle to find a live-show venue amenable to all parties.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg continues the discussion by posing a question to John, Paul, George and Ringo that seems like it has an obvious answer. After all, since Candlestick Park in Aug. 1966, The Beatles quite famously haven’t staged a concert, instead embracing all the luxuries being a full-time studio band offers.

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

The conversation picks up here, if you want to keep score at home:

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this point in their history.  Paul responds, speaking over the director, saying that an audience indeed should be involved with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish with this project.

“I think we’ve got a bit shy,” Paul says before the cameras. “I think I’ve got a bit shy of certain things, and it is like that.”

Lindsay-Hogg, who so badly wants to stage a grand return before an audience for the group, again suggests departing from their past experiences. Get back to where you once belonged? Not now.

MLH:  Maybe the difficulty is also getting up in front of an audience with all you’ve done in front of audiences, and trying to get something as good, but maybe not the same thing. And that’s a very hard thing to get back. In other words, you mustn’t think of getting back what you had.

The audience has indeed grown up along with the Beatles — who are all in their late 20s by now. Paul says they’re all searching for a  “desire” to perform and achieve.

And just then, Paul comes out and reminds everyone how little they enjoy working together.  After all, just three months earlier they were together at EMI Studios to finish up the White Album sessions, so the memory’s fresh.

“With all these songs, there’s some really great songs, and I just hope we don’t blow any of them,” Paul says. “Because, you know often, like on albums, we sometimes blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood, and you say, ‘This is how it goes, I’ll be back,’ and we’re all just ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ [sounds of guitars].”

So there’s just a little more proof that the Get Back sessions weren’t the specific spark that led to The Beatles’ breakup. They had already been known to mail it in on occasion for a few years now, and Paul wasn’t shy to admit it.

But Paul’s remarks didn’t drop like a bomb — they were simply acknowledged silently as the conversation resumed, with Lindsay-Hogg’s continued insistence to use a specific live-show idea as a rallying point.

1968, White Album sessions: " ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ " (Photo by Linda McCartney)

1968, White Album sessions: “You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.” (Photo by Linda McCartney)

George Harrison wouldn’t bite. His response is damning, striking at the essence of the debate of what The Beatles are, post-White Album. Are they a cooperative? Each others’ backing band? Something in between?  And what should they be, in their eyes?

What they definitely aren’t, according to Harrison, is an effective live group.

“Really, I don’t want to any of my songs on the show, because they just turn out shitty, ” he says. “They come out like a compromise. Whereas in a studio, then you can work on them till you get them how you want them.”

So for a live show, George just wants to be the band’s lead guitarist, nothing more.

Paul, audibly disgusted at that remark, is having none of it, still believing in The Beatles.

Last year, you were telling me that ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ … But you’re saying before the show is finished, and before we’ve done it … letting forth this word of, ‘They’re going to come out a compromise.’ …

I really think we’re very good, and … if we think that we want to do these songs great, we can just do it great. Thinking it’s not going to come out great, you know, that is like meditation. Where you just get into a bummer, and you come out of it, you don’t go through it.

Paul hits George where it hurts, referencing his beloved meditation.

Paul continues, hitting home the point that even he’s fed up, too, but it shouldn’t mean avoiding whatever challenge they’re setting up for themselves.

Paul: [Presumably to Ringo]: So you’re sick of playing the drums, we all got to say, ‘We’re sick too, pat pat.’ It’s all the same and go through it. There’s no use just saying, ‘Well, fuck it.’

MLH: … What’s wrong about doing the show here [Twickenham] is it’s too easy. Like, when we were in the car looking at locations at the glorified boutiques … then Dennis [O'Dell, film producer] said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham,’ and Neil [Aspinall, Apple manager]  said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham, because it’s so easy.’ … I think that’s wrong.

I don’t mean we should put obstacles in our way,  but also in a funny way, like you were talking about Brian [Epstein]. … We should have some force to resist.   But just doing it  in the backyard …  it’s too easy.  And we’re not fighting it. There’s no balls to the show at all, I’m included. There’s no balls to any of us at the moment. And that’s why I think we’re all being soft about it.

Credit the director for recognizing the dire straits at hand. He’s right: Without a show at this point, the sessions would effectively have no real purpose and would cease. Obviously, no one wants to be there merely to start recording a new album, with the possible exception of Paul.

“If you all decided to do a show, it should be the best show,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “You are The Beatles, you aren’t four jerks.  And that’s really my job. Because when you’re playing your guitar, they’re not going to be thinking about those millions of unwashed.

“I think we’re all being soft. It’s all too easy.”

Laughing, Paul asks what kind of obstacles would the director suggest the group face.

Well, I don’t know,” Lindsay-Hogg replies, “But that was the pep talk for the morning.”

With hindsight, we can call out Lindsay-Hogg’s instincts. The Beatles had the knack to make the “easy” way work and deliver something iconic. After all, a little more than three weeks after this conversation, the band merely climbed from the basement studio at 3 Saville Row to the roof of the five-story building for the much-debated live show. George, as he suggested on this day, was just the guitarist, and none of his songs were played.

Later the same year, The Beatles took the easy way out again, naming their subsequent album after the street they recorded on — Abbey Road — and shooting their cover  just outside the studio’s door.

For The Beatles, sometimes easy worked.

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