As we will be heading to Texas for some visiting and for Worldcon this week, we will return with Blogging the Beatles and other posty goodness upon our return.
Thanks for waiting! 🙂
As we will be heading to Texas for some visiting and for Worldcon this week, we will return with Blogging the Beatles and other posty goodness upon our return.
Thanks for waiting! 🙂
The spring of 1968 was a turning point for the Beatles, in that they were, possibly for the very first time, going it completely alone. While Brian Epstein’s position seemed to be receding into the background once they quit touring, he had always been their anchor on the business end of things. Now they were free to do what they wanted to do…which of course is always a double-edged sword. The creative freedom they now let them go down any musical avenues they so chose…but with that came the possibility of writing half-baked songs that said little to nothing to anyone except themselves. Their financial status let them try out different things, such as the Apple Boutique, possible electronics and media interests…but considering that they knew next to nothing about economics, many of those interests fell flat rather quickly. They soon realized that perhaps it was time to back up and focus on what they did best: the music.
This stretch of time was also an attempt to get their heads cleared as well. The insanity of the first half of the decade and the frustrations and lack of direction in the previous year were now behind them; with George Harrison’s suggestion, they chose to go along with their “spiritual enlightenment” and head off to India to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh. Under more normal circumstances, this may have been a good idea; this extended vacation would not only give them time to “come back down to Earth” but also to refuel themselves creatively and find a new direction. However, it wasn’t nearly as clear-cut.
John’s relationship with Cynthia was on a dangerous decline. While Cynthia chose to remain strong, be a mother to Julian, and attempt to stay positive, John on the other hand had grown more frustrated and claustrophobic; it was quite evident that they were two completely different and mismatched people. John had also started meeting with Yoko Ono at this time, first as friends but slowly becoming lovers. One telling moment of this change was during the initial train out of the city that would bring the band members and their wives to the airport; at the last moment, just as the train had finished boarding, the band hurried on…but in the rush, John had sprinted ahead and jumped on, leaving Cynthia behind. Paul, on the other hand, had had enough with Jane Asher’s flightiness. By the middle of 1968 they had broken up and gone their separate ways. They had both taken the trip to India, but it was evident that they were hanging in different social circles, and, like John and Cynthia, they weren’t the best match for each other.
That isn’t to say it was all marital difficulties. At this time George and Patti were getting along well, and Ringo and Maureen were doing just fine. However, the main issue with the India trip was that, had it been personal decisions by the four members rather than a group decision, there may have been more leeway in the relationship between them. It was evident that Ringo was not entirely excited about the India trip–he being more of an “I’ll come along because everyone else will be there” sort of person–and left after only a few weeks for personal reasons: Ringo’s delicate digestive system could not handle the rich Indian delicacies, and Maureen could not stand the weather and the constant bother of insects.
Which left John, Paul and George. Out of the three, it was obvious that George was the most dedicated. Paul was open-minded but not completely enthusiastic. John, on the other hand, wanted to be dedicated but could not bring himself to George’s level. Eventually John and Paul would sneak off during hours they should have been meditating, visiting each other’s cabins and writing songs just like in the old days. It has never been proven exactly what caused John to leave India so abruptly, though there were rumors that the Maharishi had been caught flirting with (and possibly assaulting) some of the female visitors. John would eventually dismiss this, stating that he had been wanting to leave earlier anyway and had used that rumor as a valid reason, whether or not it was true.
That said…despite their semi-foiled plans, it wasn’t a complete disaster. During those few months in India, they had written over three dozen songs and were itching to get back into the studio to record them. They even had a new focus: this next project was going to be the anti-Sgt Pepper album, full of solid rock songs with no pretext. They weren’t going to write any more psychedelic songs, nor were they going to head into the studio with no plan “and see what popped up.” As John would say, they’d done all that already…it was time to record another rock album.
Early in May, they reconvened at George’s house, Kinfauns, in Esher, to record a number of demos of the songs they’d written during their trip. The backlog of songs was so rich and varied that, even after recording thirty-three of them in the studio, they’d whittled the playlist down to an even thirty. A number of demos would be held back until the next two projects in 1969, and some would end up on solo albums. Two songs of George’s, “Circles” and “Not Guilty”, would not see the light of day until he re-recorded them nearly a decade later. The songs varied from straight-ahead rock to sing-along folk, from quiet balladry to frenzied guitar freak-out and musique concrete. There would not be any single specific genre here.
Album: The Beatles
Released: 22 November 1968
The Beatles, often referred to as “the White Album”, is indeed a sprawling album and not an easy one to listen to if one is used to the more compact and poppier albums they’d released. It is, however, an interesting work of art, even down to the visual level. There had been a number of names kicked around for this project, but as the sessions wore on, it became evident that having it self-titled would make the most sense. This was a new look at the band: it wasn’t the psychedelic Beatles of 1967 or the moptops of the early 60s; this was a rock band writing and recording songs that were unlike anything they’d done previously. The anti-Sgt Pepper idea had also extended to the point that, instead of the fantastical color splash of that album, this album would be the exact opposite. Hiring artist Richard Hamilton, the packaging would be thus: a completely white cover, with the band’s name lightly embossed, and a unique (but not exactly limited) serial number printed on it. The cover, in fact, looked exactly like vinyl bootlegs of the time, which often had no printed label save for a stamped title or a low-quality photocopy of the track listing taped to it. The packaging included a fold-out poster with printed lyrics on one side and a collage of Beatle pictures on the other (including two semi-nude Beatles, much to many fans’ surprise). Initial runs and some later reprints also included four portraits of the band taken by John Kelly. The album itself, however, remained as simple as possible; the gatefold opened up to small grayscale versions of the portraits, and a simple listing of the songs, nothing more.
All the true magic lay within, on the vinyl.
Track 1: Back in the USSR
The album starts off with this tight Beach Boys-influenced rocker and possibly one of the strongest songs they’d recorded during these sessions. On the other hand, the sessions for this track–22 and 23 August, much later in the project–were also one of more acrimonious for the band. Specifically, Ringo, having spent a goodly amount of session time for the last few albums sitting around waiting for the other three to finish squabbling and figure out what they were going to play, had finally had enough and quit the band. He would be gone for about two weeks, finally returning on 5 September (to much love and apologies from the band). However, his absence meant that someone else would need to play the drums. In this instance (and with the next track), it fell to Paul. Paul was actually a very adequate drummer with a great sense of time and rhythm, and it shows here. Unlike Ringo’s style, which is more laid back and unobtrusive, Paul lays down a quick-paced thundering beat. The threesome would be overdubbing themselves on multiple parts here, each playing a bit of bass and guitar.
[Interesting side note: it’s said Beach Boys vocalist Mike Love actually suggested singing about the girls in Russia, as a joking reference to their own “California Girls”. Mike was part of the group that visited India and became good friends with the band. Check out the bootleg track “Spiritual Regeneration”, which is another Beach Boys pastiche and a birthday song for Mike.]
Track 2: Dear Prudence
This track, also recorded during Ringo’s absence, is a gorgeous and deceptively simple track written by John. Story goes that Prudence Farrow (actress Mia’s sister) was such a devout follower of the Maharishi at the time she would rarely set foot outside, and this song was written as a way to get her to socialize more, that she needn’t meditate so completely and obsessively. Also of note is a new fingerpicking style that John learned from pop-folk singer Donovan (another India visitor). John enjoyed playing this style once he’d figured it out, and would use it on many future Beatles and solo tracks. Paul is once again the drummer here, with John on the cyclical fingerpicking riff and George playing a wonderful lead melody that complements John’s.
[Another in my top picks of Beatles songs…I love the melody, and it’s some of John and George’s best guitar work.]
Track 3: Glass Onion
When John wanted to be a smartass, he certainly would never hold back; he’d go for the jugular each and every time. This track is a biting response to all the obsessed listeners who would read way too much into the Beatles’ lyrics, specifically the supposed hidden messages sprinkled throughout the Sgt Pepper album. Just as he’d written “I Am the Walrus” as a completely incomprehensible lyric on purpose, this was more direct–he name-drops multiple previous Beatles song here, from “The Fool on the Hill” and “Fixing a Hole” and even the recent single “Lady Madonna”. The line “Here’s another clue for you all/The Walrus was Paul” was originally just another wiseass lyric, but it would soon take on new meaning when the somewhat ridiculous “Paul is Dead” urban legend took hold a year or so later.
Musically it’s not too adventurous, though there’s a lot of sinister-sounding chord changes here that try to evoke tension–a great balance to the admittedly silly lyrics, making one wonder whether John’s being serious or just playing us for fools. An interesting alternate mix, made before orchestral overdubs, is heard on the Anthology 3 compilation, with odd sound effects (bell rings, glass shattering, and sports announcer sound bites) added throughout.
Track 4: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
One of the more jubilant tracks on the album, this one has somewhat of an interesting recording history, starting on 3 July. It being one of Paul’s original songs written in India, its original, more acoustic version is more of a plodding singalong that hints at having been sung live while there. John, on the other hand, openly hated this song (having called it “his granny music shit” at various points), despite delivering tight “la-la-la” background vocals. After five days of attempting this version, John came in wasted the next evening–always a bad sign, as he would be in prime form for relentless spite–and sat down at the piano. Giving Paul a glare, he hollered “This is how we do it!”…and proceeded to play the much faster, piano-driven and reggae-tinged version you hear today.
Apparently this version not only broke the tension that had been mounting, but on 9 July they added a bunch of banter to the mix, including much laughing, clapping and other noises. Of note is a bit of studio silliness: at 1:35 during “…Desmond lets the children lend a hand”, John responds with an “Arm!” and George with “Leg!” nearly off mike; this happens again at 2:27 with Paul’s “…Molly lets the children lend a hand” with George this time responding with “Foot!”
Track 5: Wild Honey Pie
One of the shorter songs in the Beatles’ catalog, clocking in at a mere fifty-five seconds, this was a quickly recorded experiment of Paul’s while John and Ringo were busy elsewhere, and George was away on a quick three-day trip to Greece. Many studio experiments were thrown around at this time, and many of them were shoehorned into other songs (such as Paul’s “Can you take me back…” from the “I Will” session being added on to the end of “Cry Baby Cry”), but this little bit was Paul’s attempt at layering multiple sounds on top of each other. Thus the multiple guitars using the tremolo arm (aka, the whammy bar) and multiple Pauls howling away. It very nearly did not make the cut, but apparently George’s wife Patti enjoyed it so much they kept it.
Track 6: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Another campfire singalong-style track from India, this track of John’s is an acid comment on an American visitor to the ashram. While John was his usual abrasive self to those he didn’t know well, he took a particular dislike to this person and his mother. Story goes that they completely missed the point of what life at the ashram was about, having brought a ridiculous amount of luggage and having gone out tiger hunting (and being quite proud of a particular kill he’d made)–to put it bluntly, they weren’t there for the spirituality, but to say they hobnobbed with the Beatles and the Maharishi.
The recording for this track was incredibly quick–“I’m So Tired” from Side B was recorded and finished on the same night as well–and includes not just the four Beatles but Ringo’s wife Maureen and Yoko Ono singing background (with Yoko adding the mother’s line “Not when he looked so fierce”), and associate producer Chris Thomas kicking off the prerecorded flamenco riff on the Mellotron that opens the song. It’s played quite loosely–perhaps like many of the other India songs, it retains its organic feel–and with only three takes recorded, it nevertheless feels complete, even as it breaks down into banter and noise at the end.
Track 7: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
George’s first of four (out of six!) compositions for this project makes its appearance here. It’s a haunting track based on the I Ching, specifically the Eastern philosophy that everything is related to everything else (unlike the Western philosophy of coincidence). Taking a book from his mother’s shelf, the first words he saw was “gently weeps” and proceeded to write the song based around that phrase. Lyrically it’s fascinating–upon first listen, it sounds like he’s distancing himself from everyone else–while you’re doing X, I’m doing Y (“…while my guitar gently weeps”). It even sounds downright accusatory (especially the “I don’t know why…” passages). But in the context of spiritual interconnectedness, it’s more of a sad dirge–it’s not he who is distancing himself, it’s everyone else who is distanced because they are unaware (or unenlightened), and he desperately wishes it otherwise.
The released take is actually the third version recorded. The first was a demo recorded 25 July, featuring only George on guitar and harmonium, made specifically as a guide for the rest of the band. A second version was attempted on 16 August, but remains unreleased (even as a bootleg) at this time. The version here was started 5 September, the day after Ringo’s return to the band. There’s a menace behind this version, every instrument played hard and tight to add to the raw tension (even Ringo’s drums are mixed quite loudly). Eric Clapton, a close friend of the band, was asked to play the solo on this track, which was slightly altered with a bit of wobble to make it sound more “Beatle-y”, recorded on 6 September. Due to contractual reasons, Eric was never officially given credit for the solo, but it’s widely known that it was in fact him.
Track 8: Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Side A ends with another John song, this time offering a track made up of four separate song fragments he’d come up with in India, and it’s a fantastic example of just how detailed and complicated their compositions could get. Because of its fragments, the lyrics to the song are itself fragmented; it’s less a linear lyric as it is a metaphorical one. The first segment (“She’s not a girl who misses much…”), played in fingerpicked style and heavily flanged, all while switching time signatures all over the place, adding to the creepiness of the lyrics. This segment gives way to a sudden switch to a short multiple time signature section (“I need a fix…”, sung by Paul and John in a wavering octave) with Ringo keeping a slow but steady 6/8 beat, plodding along for just a few bars before it halts…only to jump back in again in with the faster third segment (“Mother Superior jumped the gun”) lasting four bars but switching multiple times (6/8, 6/4, 6/8, 7/4), then switching smoothly back to a 4/4 time with the final segment (“Happiness is a warm gun…”). Even this last segment is complex, as the band suddenly plays in 6/8 time during John’s “When I hold you in my arms…” passage, while Ringo is still in 4/4. It’s by no means their best song, but compositionally, it’s one of their most fascinating.
* * *
The band played a big hand in the production and sequencing of The Beatles, and the first eight tracks could be seen as a hint of what to expect on the next three sides. While there were some genuine pop hits here, such as “Back in the USSR”, as well as some true gems like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, there were also the extremely experimental tracks such as “Wild Honey Pie” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. Ending the first side with that song in particular (only to open up Side B with the light and bouncy “Martha My Dear”) really puts across the notion that all is not as it seems on this record. In fact, a full-album listen often hints at a slow yet distinct descent into chaos and unrest. It may start peppy, but it certainly doesn’t stay that way. This would confuse many fans and critics back in 1968, and the album initially received very mixed reviews…it would take quite a long time for anyone to warm up to this one.
Next Up: The Beatles, Side B
After the confusion, frustration and lack of direction that ended the previous year, the band started 1968 with a few concrete plans in the works: they would agree to film a cameo on 25 January for the Yellow Submarine movie that would be released that summer (though the soundtrack would not be release well until January of 1969); they would take a few months off to head to India for vacation and Transcendental Meditation; and they would also, on their own, work on various personal projects.
The year started off with George flying over to EMI’s studio in India for five days to continue working on abbreviated ragas for the movie Wonderwall. The movie itself is an extremely trippy film by director Joe Massot about an extremely eccentric British scientist who meets and becomes infatuated by his new neighbor, a flighty model aptly named Penny Lane. It’s definitely of its time, filled with the barest of plots, corny British slapstick humor, and a hell of a lot of psychedelic visuals (you can find it uploaded in parts on YouTube). It’s extremely dated and nonsensical, but it’s also fascinating in that the entire score was written by George. It’s been said that he only composed the music and was not on the album itself, though that’s been up to question, as some of the music credits are pseudonyms (Eddie Clayton = Eric Clapton, Richie Snare = Ringo Starr) and some performers, supposedly including Monkee Peter Tork, are on the album but uncredited. Unlike Paul’s The Family Way score which he only wrote, Wonderwall Music is considered the first Beatles solo album, as he had produced the Indian ragas personally. The rock tracks are relatively inconsequential, though there are a few songs in there (such as the mellotron-heavy ballad “Wonderwall to Be Here” and the flanger-heavy “Party Seacombe”) hint at songs George would have written at the time. At the start of the year, however, he was focusing solely on the Indian ragas for the album, and while there he had come up with the idea for “The Inner Light”. Most of the backing track for that track would be recorded at that time, with more work done on it later.
Given that their planned group trip to India had been postponed a number of times and finally penciled in for March, they found themselves with a bit of extra time, and chose to work on a few new songs. These four songs could not have been more different from each other: the piano boogie “Lady Madonna”, the electric “Hey Bulldog”, the dreamy acoustic “Across the Universe” and the raga-esque “The Inner Light”. Putting these side by side shows just how differing each member’s writing had become. Paul’s “Madonna” was a continuation of his love for American R&B; John’s “Bulldog” is an infectiously groovy rock track; his “Universe” hinted at his burgeoning interest in spirituality; and George’s “Light” was a fast-paced Indian track and is nearly a solo track, only featuring John and Paul singing harmony on one line. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come; by the time they returned from India, they had a laundry list of new songs that felt more like solo tracks rather than band compositions. Perhaps in their attempt to remain optimistic, they may have viewed this is maturing into their own. In a way it did foster more serious attempts at songwriting–especially for George–and in the process they were able to see themselves as individuals rather than a four-man unit. This ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword; on the one hand, during 1968 and 1969 they wrote some of their most memorable songs…but it also caused them to drift further apart from each other.
Despite the troubles on the horizon, the band kept one thing in mind throughout: they were still recording musicians, and it was important that they keep that as top priority.
* * *
Single: “Lady Madonna”/”The Inner Light”
Released: 15 March 1968
With the India trip looming, it was decided that they would release two of these new songs as their latest single. “Hey Bulldog” was out of the running, as it had been written specifically for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, and George’s “The Inner Light” would be the b-side. That left it up to “Madonna” or “Universe”–a Paul song or a John song. After much argument and debate, Paul’s track was considered more radio-friendly and upbeat, and therefore chosen for the A side. “Universe” would be held until a later time.
Side A: Lady Madonna
Paul’s piano boogie was inspired musically by Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues” (the single of which, interestingly enough, was produced by George Martin) as well as by Fats Domino. The lyrics themselves are straightforward: a week in the life of a frazzled, overburdened and possibly single mother trying to make ends meet. It’s not a sad lament like “Eleanor Rigby”, however…this is a celebration of perseverance. Despite Paul’s daily list of things going wrong (papers not coming, socks needing mending, exhaustion of a never-ending day), the mother is strong and carries on the best she can.
Melodically it’s a step up from some of Paul’s previous tracks from Magical Mystery Tour, as if he’d given this track extra life. The melody never stays in one place; even though its home key is A (a note which Paul hits repeatedly on the piano), it shuffles everywhere, blues-like, as if to underscore the constant rush of the song’s subject. It’s played quick and tight with just two guitars, piano, bass, and brush-played drums; the only extra is a sax solo played by jazz musician Ronnie Scott.
There were two versions of a promotional film made for this track, filmed on 11 February at Abbey Road. This was actually the day they were in the studio to record “Hey Bulldog”, so in 1999 when the Yellow Submarine Songtrack compilation was released, the footage for the “Lady Madonna” video was re-edited to match “Bulldog”, creating a new video in the process.
Side B: The Inner Light
George’s new song was the last of his raga-inspired Beatles tracks and is more in the South Indian Karnatak style rather than the North Indian style, thus the lighter sound and the absence of sitar and tamboura (a lot of the tracks from the Wonderwall Music soundtrack are similar in sound, if not in pace). The lyrics were inspired by a suggestion from Sanskrit scholar Juan Mascaro in a letter to George that he might try writing a song based on the words found in the Tao Te Ching. The end result is an almost word-for-word quoting from the “Viewing the Distant” passage (Chapter 47 or 48, depending on which version), a meditation on transcending the physical in order to know the ways of heaven. George took this short passage and repeats it twice–changing the pronoun in the second verse from “I” to “you”, thus including the listener. It’s a simple track melodically and lyrically, but it’s a beautiful piece of work, especially considering that so few English musicians (let alone rock musicians) were recording this kind of music at the time.
* * *
This is a curious single, placed neatly between the psychedelia of the Pepper and MMT-era songs and the darker rock of The Beatles. It’s more straight ahead than the former, and much more upbeat than the latter. It could also be seen as a companion piece of their next single, as both were stopgaps between two epic albums. But ultimately it was seen as a stripping away of the imagery that had permeated the band and their music in 1966 and 1967. This was a band fully in rock band territory, without the frills and without the pretension.
* * *
Single: “Hey Jude”/”Revolution”
Released: 30 August 1968
The next single was recorded about halfway through the sessions for their next album, The Beatles, and an unprecedented release on multiple levels. They’d already worked on nearly a single album’s worth of tracks by late July (having started the sessions on 30 May) when Paul had written (assisted by John) one of his most popular and widely loved songs ever. On the flip side was a relentless and overtly political rant by John that was essentially a complete musical overhaul of a much more peaceful earlier version. It was also one of the very first releases on the band’s new label, Apple Records. Both tracks broke multiple rules as well: the A side was an astonishing seven minutes long, almost unheard of for a pop single, and the B side’s guitars were recorded directly into the mixing board and pushed so far forward the needles were constantly in the red, also unheard of (and deeply frowned upon by EMI). It would become one of their best-selling singles ever.
Side A: Hey Jude
Hey Jude was written by Paul about John’s son Julian, who at that time was stuck in the middle of the disintegrating marriage of John and Cynthia. Paul had become somewhat of a de facto uncle to the boy, looking out for him and being there for him when things were getting bad. It’s a tender and simple ballad of caring, telling Julian that things might be bad, but would eventually get better. John was somewhat aware of this, though he had interpreted the lyrics in a slightly different way as well: he knew his relationship with Cynthia had been a miserable mistake, and his new and budding relationship with Yoko Ono was the right thing. John had also read the lyrics to mean that Paul was giving him the go-ahead.
The recording history of the song is about as long as the song itself; it was started on 29 July at Abbey Road, with twenty-three takes between that day and the next. However, these takes were purposely rehearsals. They had already planned on a few days’ worth of recording at Trident Studios for recording proper. The reason for this was that Abbey Road was still functioning on four tracks at this point, and the band was itching to record on more than the limiting four tracks. EMI had in fact purchased an eight-track board a short time earlier, but in its infinite wisdom (or more to the point, its stodginess and not wanting rock bands to play with it just yet) had not set it up. So from 31 July to 2 August they worked at Trident Studios to lay down the finished product. The end result took a surprisingly short amount of time–the basic tracks were laid down on 31 July in one take, with three successive “takes” being overdubs of additional instruments on the first take. Additional overdubs and the orchestral score were added on 1 August. [NOTE: An interesting overdub at 2:59 is due to Paul hitting a bum note on the piano; it’s very faint, but you can hear him say “Oh! Fucking hell…” The band decided to keep it in to see if anyone would notice!] A stereo mix was finished by 2 August.
The dynamics of the song are subtle but fascinating. It harkens back to their simple pop songs of the early sixties in a I-V-IV chord structure with a bridge containing a descending chord progression. The song slowly builds in anticipation and life, starting only with Paul accompanying himself on the piano. Ringo’s entrance is a simple fill in an unexpected place–not until the first bridge–and was apparently due to him being late in returning to his kit, but it works because it adds to the gradual sonic ascension of the track. This section of the song lasts for roughly three minutes and ends on a spirited “better, better” crescendo, and switching to the now-famous four minute “nah nah nah, Hey Jude” coda. The ending is one long musical celebration of spirit and emotion, simple in melody but deeply heartfelt, underscoring the whole uplifting theme.
A promotional film was made for this, again directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. It was a low-key live-with-tape performance with a crowd of well-behaved fans surrounding them, shot at Twickenham Film Studios. The video link above contains the film in addition to an introduction by British tv host David Frost.
[This is of course one of my top favorite Beatles songs for that reason alone–out of all the songs the band recorded, there were few that were as emotionally moving as this. I happened to see Paul live in 2002 (and will be seeing him at Outside Lands this coming weekend), and I can safely say that hearing an entire audience sing along to the last half of this song is one of the most moving things I’ve ever experienced.]
Side B: Revolution
John’s song has an equally storied background. The original was a much slower and more metaphorical version recorded on 30 May (which has its own story, which I’ll touch upon when I cover Side Three of The Beatles). John’s lyrics were his first overtly political words put to tape, though at that point he was still attempting to find his way. Though he was now following his love for avant garde art, he hadn’t quite become the anti-establishment person he became later. Thus the original was more hesitant, more about finding a peaceful answer to his antiwar beliefs. By 10 July, however, he’d become more aware of how he felt about not just the war, but politics and revolution in general. This single version was more confrontational and emotionally raw–it was now an accusation against those who chose to revolt against the establishment: he understood their reasoning, but did they really have a backup plan to replace the old regime? He thought not, and in true vindictive Lennon fashion, he chose to call them out on it.
The band used the original slower version as a template, as both are melodically exactly the same. The difference is that it’s now turned into a no-holds-barred rocker, and the indecisive “count me out/in” of the album version is now the pointed “count me out”. Musically it’s played as loudly and as fiercely as possible, in effect one of the loudest songs the band had ever recorded to date. Two heavily distorted guitars (created via two preamped guitars plugged directly into the mixing console and pushed as high as possible) saturate the entire song along with Ringo’s thunderous drumming, also mixed high and heavy. The result is a wild outburst of anger and raw feeling, and a sign of things to come for the band, both together and solo.
A promotional film was made for this track the same day and location as the “Hey Jude” clip; it’s a simple performance of the four singing along to tape, though there are a few embellishments, such as Paul and George singing the “shoo-be-doo-wah” of the album version, and John once again using the indecisive “count me out/in” lyric.
* * *
Both singles could be seen as an introduction to the band’s new organic sound that would be heard on The Beatles, but more to the point, they could also be seen as the beginning of a new stylistic direction in their songwriting. They had tried many different songwriting styles, from the pop of their early tracks to the folk of 1964-1965, to the eclectic pop/rock of 1966, and into the psychedelic sounds of 1967. By 1968, they had decided to return to a pure rock sound, and given their expanding musical knowledge they were able to create their own unique brand in the process. There were hints of old-school influences in the songs again, but they were new interpretations rather than straight imitations.
Recording for The Beatles would continue until 14 October–by far the longest stretch of sessions for one Beatles album. There were thirty-two songs recorded, all but two making it to the final release, with even more songs from the India trip left unrecorded until Abbey Road, or even further on to their solo albums. The sessions were alternately tumultuous and free-spirited; the songs were alternately brilliant and half-baked. Critics and fans alike weren’t quite sure what to make of it, but over time it became a highly regarded (if flawed) masterpiece.
Next Up: The Beatles, Side 1
[As mentioned, since the album is thirty tracks long, I will cover the release in four installments, covering one side at a time.]
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