Walk In Silence 1

I’d say the music that I connected to most at the time was classic rock.  I’d grown up listening to it, and started my music collection with the Beatles.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy other genres or station programming…I had a passing interest in the poppier Top 40 sounds, especially from about 1983 onwards, when it updated its sound and included multiple genres.  But thanks mainly to WAQY 102.1 FM out of East Longmeadow and WAAF 107.3, originally out of Worcester, I found myself listening to a lot of classic and AOR rock.

Looking back, I think part of it may be due to the quality of the production and the creativity of the music.  It didn’t necessarily need to be a genius creation, it just had to have something that caught my attention somehow.

That would mean John Bonham’s thunderous drums and John Paul Jones’ synth strings on the epic “Kashmir” — the first rock song to completely blow my mind — or the Beatlesque* sounds of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”.  Or it could be the countrified twang of Eagles.  Even the bubblegum fun of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On the Run” counted, thanks to their catchy guitar riffs and high-pitched harmonies.


I often say The Beatles’ 1967-1970 compilation is ‘officially’ the first album I ever owned, but that’s not entirely true.  I will admit that claim actually belongs to Shaun Cassidy’s Born Late, which I’d gotten for Christmas in 1977.  I kind of consider that a trial run, though…in December of 1977 my music collection was pretty much a reflection of what I thought album collecting was about at the time: pop music and buying whatever was popular at the time.  Why did I have my mom buy that Shaun Cassidy album?  Who knows.  I think it was because he was one of the Hardy Boys on TV at the time, and he was all over the covers of teen magazines at the time.  David’s little brother, also a musician and an actor and a heartthrob!  Buy it now!  Hell, I was six years old at the time, I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t even know I was breaking a perceived gender role at the time by liking a young pop star’s music.  My parents may have side-eyed me (more on the quality of the music than the gender role, that is), but I didn’t care.  Even then it was about the music.

All that changed in 1978, when two things happened.

First, the much maligned movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring the insanely popular Bee Gees (another favorite band, thanks again to an older sister) and Peter Frampton (a huge pull, thanks to the fantastic Frampton Comes Alive album and his mindblowing use of the talkbox guitar effects on “Do You Feel Like We Do”).  I originally went because I liked the singers, but my mom had hinted that I’d enjoy the songs they’d be singing here.  It’s painful to watch now, but at the time it was silly and a lot of fun.

Second, I was made aware of an annual tradition on WLVI, channel 56 (6 on our dial), one of Metro Boston’s independent television stations (decades before it became an affiliate of The CW).  On a summery Sunday afternoon they’d play Yellow Submarine, the 1968 animated Beatles movie.

I knew the Beatles in passing, of course.  In the 70s, who didn’t?  They’d only broken up a few short years before and were enjoying healthy solo careers at that point (especially Paul McCartney).  Their music was still getting heavy rotation on the radio at the time.

[I should probably interrupt here and state that there was a third event that took place in 1978 that changed everything, even though I wasn’t quite aware of it at the time.  That event is the overwhelming change in radio listening habits in the United States.  It was this year when people began listening to music on the FM dial rather than on AM.  There are many and varied reasons for it — the acceptance of rock radio as a valid genre rather than an underground interest, and even the fact that home stereos were becoming more affordable.  By the time 1978 rolled around, we’d had a stereo in my parents’ bedroom that as soon moved to my sisters’ bedroom, where it got much higher use.  I ended up with a cheap hand-me-down kids’ record player where even to this day, I can still remember the loud nasally wrhirrrrrrrr of the motor.  I’d get the old stereo when my sisters upgraded, and finally getting my own sometime around 1983.]

So yes, it was in 1978 when I finally, officially, owned my first record, and also picked up on my first musical obsession.  Over the next four or five years, I searched and found all the Beatles-related records I could find.  Some of the albums I purchased were new (usually bought at Mars Bargainland, the department store outside of town), but many were found used at garage sales, town fairs and elsewhere.  First came the albums, then came the singles.  I believe I got Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road early on, because I was already familiar with most of those songs from the Sgt Pepper movie.  Revolver was another early one, thanks to familiarity with some of its tracks as well.  Imagine an eight-year-old  hearing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the first time — I had no idea what I was listening to, but it certainly was amazing!


I’m explaining all this, even though it has nothing to do with college radio, because this early obsession is a major reason why I latched onto it as closely as I did.

Even as the pop music of the seventies and eighties slowly morphed from one genre or style to another, I found myself irrevocably obsessed over it all.  I knew bands and their discographies almost as well as other kids my age might know who played on what NFL team and for how long.  Their stats were performance ratings and signature moves; my stats were release dates and what labels released them.


* – Beatlesque: usually means evoking psychedelic melodies of 1967, dreamlike whimsy, three-part harmony, and often attempting to sound like something from either Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road.

Blogging the Beatles 55/56/57: post-breakup releases, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”

When the Beatles officially broke up in 1970, the world didn’t so much end as it soldiered on, just as it was supposed to.  It was truly the end of an era–the band that defined the sixties pretty much stayed within the confines of its decade, and its four band members moved onto newer and more personal phases of their musical careers. There were of course many fans who wished it were otherwise, that the four would iron out their differences and reconvene, but it was not to be. They’d already started focusing on their own personal projects as early as 1966, perhaps thought about splitting up when Brian Epstein died in 1967, and definitely started doing things on their own by 1968. It was time for a new chapter in their lives.

John Lennon had already made a name for himself separate from the band via his music, his art and film projects, his personal politics, and his relationship with Yoko Ono. By 1970 he’d created his own ersatz group, the Plastic Ono Band, whose members shifted with whoever happened to be available at the time. This was less of a group than it was merely an umbrella name that he only use whenever he felt like it. After three experimental albums with Yoko and one shaky live album, his first post-band project would be the harrowing, brutally honest John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released in December of 1970, his “primal scream” album wherein he exorcised as many personal demons as he could–his lack of parental guidance, his distrust of idolatry–but it also gave us the gorgeous “Love”. John would follow up the equally personal but much less abrasive Imagine, the dangerously political Some Time in New York City, and the lost-weekend trio of Mind Games, Walls and Bridges and Rock & Roll before deciding to call it a day. In 1975 he would give up the public life so he could raise his on Sean. It wasn’t until 1980 that he and Yoko would come back recharged with enough material to release two albums: the lovely Double Fantasy and, after his unfortunate assassination that December, the equally fantastic Milk and Honey in 1984.  His legacy still lives on separate from the group, seen as many things: an innovator, a misguided cynic, a downright bastard, and a loving husband.

Paul McCartney would have the most prominent and prodigious post-Beatles career. He followed up his official solo debut McCartney (1970) with an equally creative album under both his and Linda’s name, Ram, in 1971. Soon after that he created a new band named Wings, which, after a few bumps in the road (live, as well as with the releases Wild Life and other early singles), he soon hit his stride. He understood and accepted the fact that he could write a good, catchy pop song at the drop of a hat, and released a long string of singles and albums, starting with 1973’s ballad “My Love”, the killer James Bond theme “Live and Let Die”, and Red Rose Speedway. He followed this up with a string of hit singles and albums: Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Light, “Jet”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Listen to What the Man Said”, “Let ‘Em In”…all the way up to 1979’s danceable hit “Goodnight Tonight”. The band would break up during the 1980-1981 period for various reasons, some personal, some public–but Paul soldiered on into the 80s with another string of hits. This era may have also been chock full of albums and singles, but by 1986 and Press to Play his star seemed to be waning a bit. He briefly returned to the limelight with the excellent Flowers in the Dirt in 1989, using new backing players and working closely with Elvis Costello on a number of tracks. More well-made but indifferently-received albums and singles followed, including a fantastic electronica-based side project called The Fireman, but it wasn’t until 1997’s Flaming Pie that he was back in the limelight. That album, inspired by the Beatles’ Anthology project as well as his relationship with Linda during the last few years of her life before she succumbed to cancer, gave fans not only a fresh and updated sound but melodies steeped in nostalgia. His output would slow down from here on in, but he would never completely stop. Last year’s unexpected album New was a lovely treat and a great example of a man who simply loves the craft of music, regardless.

George Harrison’s solo career may have been bumpy, but he never let that stop him. Having created an impressively large backlog of as-yet-unrecorded songs, some rejected by John and Paul for Beatle work, he released the impressive three-disc All Things Must Pass in November of 1970, and it still stands as one of the best post-breakup albums. His following output did lean towards the spiritual side, but it didn’t always smother the end result with proselytizing. For every “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” and “My Sweet Lord” there was “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)” and “All Those Years Ago”. There were a few misses here and there, but he was always true to himself, rarely if ever writing a throwaway song that he’d later be embarrassed by. By 1982 and Gone Troppo, however, he’d decided to let go of the music for awhile, focusing instead on his private life and his film production company Handmade Films. It wasn’t until 1987’s brilliant comeback Cloud Nine that he came back into focus, not just with that album but the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, who would release a much-heralded self-titled album the following year. By 1992, however, he’d only released the Live in Japan as a follow-up, and would not release any further solo albums in his lifetime. He had been working on a final album, 2002’s Brainwashed, before his death from cancer in 2001.  His son Dhani had played a significant role in those final recordings, and his legacy lives on in his son, who now sings and plays guitar in his own band, thenewno2.

Ringo Starr, on the other hand, would have the most interesting and varied post-band career. After a one-two punch of albums in 1970 (Beaucoups of Blues and Sentimental Journey) recorded more for his own (and, supposedly, his mother’s) enjoyment, he would release a number of albums chock full of fun pop and rock songs, starting with 1973’s Ringo. This album featured not only an incredibly large and varied number of cameos from his musician friends, it would also feature music and even separate performances alongside a few of his former bandmates. They would always show up on his releases, writing a song or two or playing guitar on a few tracks. He too caught the film bug, becoming an actor for a number of odd, quirky films such as Candy, The Magic Christian (filmed during the final Beatle days), Son of Dracula, and more. His last major role would be in the b-movie farce Caveman in 1981, but he would continue to show up in other productions, from Paul’s 1984 Give My Regards to Broad Street, the kid’s show Shining Time Station, and multiple cameos in other places. His solo albums would become somewhat scattered from the early 80s onwards, but he more than makes up for it by his consistent touring under the “All-Starr Band” moniker, playing beside all his musician friends in a hit-filled revue.

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The Beatles’ music itself never really fell from the spotlight in the 70s, for varying reasons. As EMI owned their music for a long time to come, they would occasionally release compilations to satisfy public demand and keep the band in the limelight. Starting with 1973’s dual compilations 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (aka the “red” and “blue” albums respectively, for their colored covers that reproduced the iconic Please Please Me/Get Back photos), there would be at least one new compilation every couple of years all the way up to 1982’s 20 Greatest Hits. Some of them, like Rock n’ Roll Music, were obvious cash-ins, but others such as the excellent Love Songs (featuring the brilliant Richard Avedon band photo from a 1967 issue of Look on its cover and inlay) and the curious Rarities made up for it. There were always hints of more rarities being publicly released, such as the aborted Sessions album in 1985, but they never came to pass. By the mid-80s, there was a distinct lack of any new output, and for obvious reasons: the Beatles were finally coming to compact disc!

In 1987 into 1988–most likely to tie in with the “20 years ago today…” Sgt Pepper theme–EMI/Capitol once and for all decided to release the entirety of the Beatles canon on CD. And even more excitingly, the albums were finally going to be released worldwide in their British formats, ridding collections of the endless overlaps and superfluous releases. All the non-album singles were to be collected onto two additional albums called Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2. The vinyl and cassette releases would follow suit, and any previous international and US releases would be considered in the past tense. These releases would remain the last word in Beatles music from here on in.

Sometime in 1992, the remaining Beatles had decided to reconvene to work on a documentary of the band’s history. This had been a background project almost since their breakup in 1970, but in the 90s interest had returned. They would be interviewed by musician-cum-tv-personality Jools Holland and filmed all over the place, from Paul’s Sussex studio to George’s Friar Park mansion to Abbey Road Studios itself, finally telling the real story behind the band after all the years of speculation and confusion. The documentary, simply named The Beatles Anthology, would be a multi-episode documentary as well as a three-volume, multi-cd collection, and a book. By 1994 they were doing much of the post-production on the project, and all three had decided that they were going to work on some incidental music. That idea, however, changed when they felt that they may want to work on a true Beatles project again. George Harrison and Neil Aspinall (their former road manager and later business manager) had known of John’s penchant for demoing his music in the late 70s, and asked Yoko for assistance. She handed them rough tapes of four tracks, two of which would become the all-new Beatles tracks in over two decades.

This would pose a bit of a problem, however: how to record as the Beatles, when it simply wasn’t the Beatles without all four members?

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Credit: beatlesbible.com

Credit: beatlesbible.com

Single: “Free As a Bird”
Released: 4 December 1995

“Free As a Bird” started life as one of John’s countless demos that he recorded throughout the 1970s, this one arriving sometime in 1977 during his tenure as stay-at-home dad at their Manhattan apartment, the Dakota. It’s somewhat of a slow and meandering song, but it’s got all the qualities of a true Lennon original: it contains a number of fascinating chord changes, its lyrics are wistful and heartfelt, and despite its somewhat somber melody, it’s truly a hopeful tune. And once the other three fleshed it out into a complete song, it contains some of the most breathtaking sounds and production since the days of Abbey Road. Ably co-produced by former Electric Light Orchestra frontman and fellow Traveling Wilbury (and huge Beatles fan!) Jeff Lynne, it is one of their strongest tracks ever, and with good reason: this is the Beatles of 1994-95, influenced not only by their old sounds but by their combined solo output. It’s equal parts Abbey Road, Double Fantasy, Flowers in the Dirt, Traveling Wilburys, and Time Takes Time, all in one four-and-a-half minute track.

The answer to the above problem was in the form of a few cassettes from John’s demo collection, handed over from Yoko to Paul. The band took this project very seriously; if any of the members disliked what they heard, they would not release it. There was also the trick of taking a homemade recording of somewhat dubious quality, and supplementing it with a full band in the studio. They would rely on their old studio tricks for this: the recording would be processed to as clear quality as possible, vocals beefed up by Paul and George, and the arrangement would be supplemented by bridges and a few different chord changes by them as well. The new lyrics turned the theme from one of John’s “I feel just fine at home doing little at all” lyrics into an altogether different one; it now became a wistful song of remembrance–similar to John’s “In My Life”, it became one of both sadness and hope.  And luckily, all three members felt the end result was fantastic.  Even Ringo commented that “it sounds like them” (meaning his old band)!

A whimsical video was created for the song, directed by Joe Pytka, and was originally used as a supplemental piece to the Anthology television airing. The video is chock full of visual cues of Beatles songs and history. We see shots of the band at the Cavern, all the lonely people crossing the Liverpool docks heading for work, eggmen making their deliveries, pretty nurses selling poppies from a tray, a long and winding road, a helter skelter…the list goes on, eighty to a hundred visual cues coming up throughout. It’s a fantastic feast for the eyes and a hell of a lot of fun for the fan who has waited decades for this moment, to hear and see something new again.

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Credit: beatlesbible.com

Credit: beatlesbible.com

Single: “Real Love”
Released: 4 March 1996

After recording “Free As a Bird”, they chose the somewhat easier track “Real Love”. This one was nearly complete and its demo version had already been released officially on the soundtrack to the 1988 documentary Imagine John Lennon, and they did not need to spend nearly as much time working on it. Once again they’d needed to clean up the cassette and punch up John’s singing by having Paul sing alongside, and John’s guitar playing was supplemented by both Paul and George. It’s not nearly as strong a track as “Free As a Bird”, but it’s definitely catchier and therefore received more airplay than the previous. John’s composition is lighter and brighter, perhaps influenced by the more positive songs he’d written for both Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey, and the end result with the rest of the band is very indicative of the poppier sound of perhaps Rubber Soul. It definitely sounds like an earlier-era track composition-wise. Though the band did enjoy working on this recording as well, it seemed they were not as excited about it as the previous one, perhaps due to the fact that it was for the most part an almost-complete track; at this point they were merely session men completing it.

The video for this track showed up on a later episode of the Anthology airing, and is a much more straightforward visual. Half of it contains footage of the three members recording the track at Paul’s studio in Sussex, the other half being a mystical visual of a white piano–hinting at the same one connected to John and seen in the “Imagine” video–rising up from a pool of water and flying up into the air alongside other instruments and objects. A slow motion sequence of the band’s profiles shows up about halfway through, using footage from John’s film Smile and supplementing it with the slowly smiling faces of Paul, George and Ringo.  It’s an uplifting performance, and in its own way it’s a heartfelt nod to their long-missed, much-loved best friend and former bandmate.

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“Free As a Bird” would be the lead-off track on the first Anthology cd, which would be released 21 November 1995, and “Real Love” would lead off the second volume, which was released on 18 March 1996. The two other possible “new” tracks, “Grow Old with Me” (originally on Milk and Honey) and “Now and Then” (unreleased but found on many a bootleg) were not followed up on, although a brief tryout was attempted on “Now and Then” but never recorded. The third Anthology cd would arrive on 28 October 1996, sans any new track. These two songs would remain the last new Beatles tracks recorded and released.  The three volumes however did contain a shockingly large amount of previously officially released recordings, including at least a dozen or so tracks that were recorded for albums but ultimately left off.  This series pretty much clears out the closet, leaving only a scant few remaining tracks unheard by the public.

The Anthology project effectively turned Apple Records back into a living entity, and a long stretch of projects began in earnest. In 1994, we were treated to a fine collection of songs recorded during their frequent visits to BBC Radio (a second volume would arrive years later in 2013). In 1999, a major remastering of the 1968 film Yellow Submarine would be released, and would also treat fans to an altogether new experience: its tie-in album, Yellow Submarine Songtrack, released 13 September of that year, would be the only collection of Beatles tracks completely remastered to multiple tracks. The result is a bit odd, as many of the songs were originally on four tracks and thus sounds a bit empty, but on the other hand, the songs were finally given a lot of breathing room and one can hear many different facets otherwise unavailable.

On 13 November 2000 the new compilation 1 arrived, a collection of songs that would hit Number One on the charts either in the US or in the UK (or both). Exactly three years later, the album Let It Be…Naked popped up, a fascinating look at the band’s final album reimagined without Phil Spector’s overwrought meddling. Some songs retained their Spectorization, such as the creative editing/lengthening of “I Me Mine”, though others like “The Long and Winding Road” and “Across the Universe” finally saw the light as intended, without the sappy strings and choruses.

In 2004 and 2006, Capitol released the two The Capitol Albums box sets, containing the first eight American albums (minus A Hard Day’s Night, originally released on United Artists Records) in their unique remixes. Also in 2006, right around the same time as the mash-up craze, the famed dance/performance troupe Cirque du Soleil created a show called Love, containing nearly all-new mixes and mashups of Beatles tracks and spearheaded by George Martin’s son Giles.

On 9 September 2009, the world was treated to something even better: official Beatles remasters. Although their albums had been lightly touched up and slightly modified over the years as deemed necessary, mainly by George Martin, they had never had such a complete overhaul starting from the original master tapes. They were a significant improvement over the original cd masters–cleaned up and clarified, properly balanced and equalized, prepared for the new generation fans and audiophiles. Both the stereo and mono mixes were given the process and released in glorious box sets reproducing the original album covers, and in some cases even their inner sleeves. The 1987 cd editions were phased out and replaced by the stereo versions of these albums, which have become the standard.

In 2012, the Beatles’ catalog finally got its electronic day in the sun as mp3s, available exclusively (and some say ironically) through iTunes, which later in the year releases a special collection of the band’s loudest tracks, fittingly entitled Tomorrow Never Knows. At the end of 2013 an odd iTunes-only release created solely to circumvent copyright issues sneaks out called The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963, filled with Please Please Me-era alternate takes and BBC recordings. And lastly, the US discography gets another box set release in 2014 (on my birthday, no less). The US Albums is a curious release in that it faithfully reproduces all the albums unique to the US, this time including A Hard Day’s Night as well as The Beatles’ Story (a 1964 documentary album), Yesterday and Today, and Hey Jude, right down to the inner paper sleeves…but contain all the remastered versions, rather than the US remixes that were evident on the 2004/06 box sets.  It’s generally a box set for completists, but it’s well worth it for those interested.

And lastly, Paul and Ringo themselves are continuing to play Beatles songs live on tour to this day.

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And in the end…

The band may have broken up over 40 years ago–a year before I was born–but it’s evident that their legacy lives on, as strong and healthy as it always has been. They may not show up on the radio nearly as often as they may have in the 1970s and 1980s, but they continue to be one of the most-loved, most influential, and most important bands in the genre of rock music. Other bands have come and gone that are of equal status, of course. Other bands have also changed the face of music in one way or another, have inspired countless wannabes to pick up an instrument or write a song of their own. The Beatles are merely one of the first in a long line, founding fathers in this particular format of popular music.

They’ve influenced me, inspired me, frustrated me, and been part of my life’s soundtrack since I was around five years old. They’re still one of my top favorite bands ever. When I started writing this series, I made it a point to also learn how to play a number of the songs on guitar. I expected to just know a few more songs in the process, but instead I actually started learning a number of things: unconventional chords, interesting chord changes, how the parts of a melody work together, and how a number of sometimes completely disparate parts make up a unified whole. That last part in particular is of interest, as it made me think more seriously about my writing in general. In seeing how the Beatles deftly created their songs, I now saw how I could make my own prose better. In seeing how they created not just a number of songs but a complete and cohesive album, I now all the moving parts of my stories and make them a complete and cohesive novel. And lastly, I even learned how to listen to music even closer, to not so much analyze it as figure out how they put it together, the flourishes, the creative timing, the dissonance and the dualities.

The Beatles were one hell of a creative band, and in retrospect, I think that simple point is why they’ve stayed with me all these years.

Blogging the Beatles 53/54: “Let It Be”/”You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and Let It Be

By early 1970, all four members of the Beatles were already busy with their own solo projects. By the end of 1969, John had already come out with four albums–three of them experimental noise recorded with Yoko, and the fourth being a live album he’d recorded in Canada with a hastily gathered all-star band–as well as two big singles, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey” (with “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” to be rush-released in early February 1970). Ringo had recorded an album of standards called Sentimental Journey that would be released in March. George had only snuck out a single experimental album in May 1969, Electronic Sound, but by the end of 1970 he’d have a triple album release of All Things Must Pass.

Paul, on the other hand, had chosen to lay low. He’d been recording himself, and had only chosen to release his debut solo release, McCartney, when he was good and ready. As luck would have it, however, the original release date of Let It Be would originally conflict with McCartney, and it was only through stubborn will and frustration that he would win out, pushing the final Beatles album out a month. The decision was not without acrimony, however. On Paul’s side, he’d planned the 17 April release date for some time, and was not informed of the Let It Be release date until he’d already made concrete plans. On the other hand, the other members argued that he should move the date, considering the band’s release was more important. Paul would eventually win the debate, it was a bitter victory. John and George had sent Ringo, the always amicable best-buddy to plead one more time…only to have Paul explode at him in a rage. He wasn’t so much angry at Ringo, per se…it was more that they’d been so coy about breaching the subject and sending someone else. And it ended up being one of the final wedges that split the band. Perhaps not entirely due to this event but certainly related to it, when promotional copies of McCartney were sent out, he’d attached a self-scripted Q & A, which contained vague but telling news: he really didn’t see the Beatles recording anything else anytime soon. He hadn’t exactly come out and said they’d broken up…but he hadn’t dismissed the idea, either.

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Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “Let It Be”/”You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”
Released: 6 March 1970

By March, the planned Get Back project had gone through multiple revisions, and was now being given to Phil Spector to see if he could do anything with them. In the meantime, they chose to release the next single from the sessions as sort of a precursor to the eventual album. This particular single was recorded at the recently built (and rebuilt, to working order this time) Apple Studios, in the basement of their Savile Row business office, with George Martin stopping by to produce. It was recorded on 31 January, technically the final date of the Get Back sessions, and a day after their ersatz “live” rooftop concert the previous day. This session was primarily to record tracks they would not have been able to perform up on the roof; it was a sort of “live in studio” performance instead. Three songs would be recorded and finished after multiple takes, and would all eventually show up on the album.

It was also at this time that the end result of the sessions had changed its name to Let It Be, not just to coincide with the latest single (and one much closer in date than “Get Back”), but also because of the change in the related film/performance project. The filming, originally planned as a “band at work” documentary to release alongside a potential television special, had turned into a full-blown feature film documentary instead. The idea of “getting back” to their roots was now obscured enough that a new title was necessary. This single would have been the first official mention of the title, its picture single cover saying as much.

Side A: Let It Be
Paul’s lovely piano piece dates back to late in the sessions for The Beatles (Paul was noodling around on the piano with this piece at least around 15 September 1968), and finally gets its full, gorgeous release here. It’s a solemn ode to his long-departed mother Mary, who’d been a nurse and midwife and definitely a force of nature in the McCartney household in his youth. She was strong and independent, but she was also deeply caring to everyone she loved, and she’d deeply affected Paul in that way. The lyrics are said to be very indicative of her, a solid emotional anchor when everything around was chaos (which makes sense, considering when Liverpool had gotten bombed in the early 1940s, she would gladly offer assistance to any wounded civilians).

The performance here is strong and heartfelt, with Paul on grand piano, John on bass, George on guitar, Ringo on drums, and their guest Billy Preston on organ. Interestingly, however, by this time their “no overdubs” policy had pretty much been dropped, so any tweaking on the music was given the go-ahead. On 4 January 1970, George Martin added a simple orchestral backing quite similar to “Hey Jude”, with the orchestra playing minimal notes. Also during that session, George Harrison dubbed on a guitar solo to replace the one he’d recorded on 30 April 1969. This solo is how one can tell the difference between the single version and the album version, as otherwise they are exactly the same: George’s solo is much slower and more meandering here.

Side B: You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)
This would most likely have to be the most curious of Beatles b-sides, and for many reasons. Originally started way back on 17 May 1967 during the Yellow Submarine sessions, it was dropped and returned to on multiple occasions as time and interest warranted. It’s somewhat similar to their cabaret/pantomime Christmas recordings of that era, recording the same melody and lyric (the entirety of it being “You know my name” and “look up the number”, natch) in varying music styles. The May ’67 recording was the crunchy and boisterous first segment; it was revived on 7 and 8 June of that year with additional styles added, with Rolling Stone member Brian Jones playing an admirable alto saxophone solo. It wasn’t until 30 April 1969–the same day George overdubbed the above solo–that John and Paul revived it once more, this time on a later-aborted plan to release it as the b-side to “What’s the New Mary Jane”, itself to be a Plastic Ono Band single. It was eventually edited down from a nearly six-minute track (its nearly full version is available on Anthology 3) and used as the b-side to their final single. Perhaps an odd choice, but an interesting one nonetheless, as each song balances the other out quite nicely.


This would be the final Beatles single in the UK canon, at least until whatever became of the Anthology sessions of 1994. However, the US chose to release one last single after this, the equally strong ballad “The Long and Winding Road” with George’s “For You Blue” as its b-side. Either way, this is a fine choice for a final single–despite everything, the band soldiered on and delivered a highly memorable and much-loved release.

*     *    *

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Album: Let It Be
Released: 8 May 1970

For those who have not followed the history of the band and only know them by their releases, this album is somewhat of a let down, especially after the brilliance of Abbey Road. Its many flaws are apparent; some of the songs only reach jam session-level professionalism, others are tightly played but weak in melody, and others suffer from the Spector-ized bombast of overproduction. It’s not entirely a soundtrack to the movie’s tracks, either; some were recorded at Twickenham, others at Apple after filming had ended, and there are many overdubs and edits, despite the album’s liner notes commenting otherwise. Still, it’s an interesting collection in and of itself, and there are fine moments that rose out of the troubled sessions.

*   *   *

Side A

Track 1: Two of Us
Paul’s folky traveling song may have originally been inspired by his northern travels with Linda Eastman, but it can also easily be seen as a return to the folky singalong of “Love Me Do” in a way. With Paul and John dueting on vocals and Martin acoustics (George is on bass and overdubbed electric guitar, Ringo on drums), it’s a lovely example of the band recapturing their early to mid-60s folk-based sound. The lyrics are simple, maybe even a little silly and self-deprecating, but that’s part of its charm…it’s supposed to be that way. The album version was one of the songs recorded “live in studio” on 31 January 1969, and it’s actually a different take on their original version, which was much more electric and upbeat. [This version can be heard in part in the Let It Be film.]

Track 2: Dig a Pony
John’s first offering isn’t one of his best–he’d dismissed this one as “garbage” later on his career”–but it’s certainly up his alley in terms of quirkiness. This one of the few tracks recorded on the roof of the Savile Row Apple building, and after a quick false start (which you can see in the movie–Ringo yells “Hold it!” so he can quickly stub out his cigarette and pick up his drumsticks), it kicks into a quick 6/8-time introduction that has little to do with the main melody, which is a much slower 3/4. The song itself is a sort of blues, but its constant and unexpected chord changes give it an off-kilter ambience, which fits nicely with the odd wordplay. The lyrics don’t really mean much, an attempt at playing with as many differing and strange variations of “You can do anything if you set your mind to it”. The verses are balanced out with an “All I want is you” passage which may or may not serve as a chorus, and borrows the melody from the introduction. Again, it’s not one of John’s best, but it’s an interesting attempt nonetheless.

Track 3: Across the Universe
The first Spectorized Beatles song makes its appearance here. This is also a strange choice of track, as the version here is the early 1968 recording massively remixed and overdubbed with orchestral and choral layers and slowed down to its original speed. The band did practice full versions during the Get Back sessions, but the original was used instead. One reason was that a portion of the track does show up in the movie, but the other is that John’s donations to the album are so slim here that they felt this would be a good addition. The album version is the most well known version, and does have its own dreamlike quality similar to the No One’s Gonna Change Our World version, and though the strings and chorus sound like overkill now, it does in fact sound more polished and cleaner than the latter.

Track 4: I Me Mine
George provides his first of two tracks for the session here, and it’s one of his most personal and scathing. It’s partly inspired by his ongoing studies in Indian philosophies, but more to the point, it’s his second track in just under a year, just after “Not Guilty”, that’s squarely (but obliquely) aimed at John and Paul. By early 1969 he’d about had enough of his two leading bandmates’ egos, having passed over so many of his songs, only to work on half-baked tracks like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or some such. The result is short (just under two minutes in the original April 1970 studio recording), but in those few minutes he spares nothing, all but singing “yes, it’s all about you, isn’t it?” This is also one of the tracks on the album that actually benefits from Phil Spector’s remixing; he repeated one full section to lengthen it by another thirty seconds or so, and the horns are only added to the back end of the verse. It’s one of the rare times where Spector truly understood how the Beatles worked with overdubs.

Track 5: Dig It
This fifty-second snippet is part of a much longer jam recorded at the Apple studio on 26 January, much shorter than even the four minute version shown in the movie. There’s not much to say here other than it’s a three-chord repetitive riff echoing Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” but much bouncier, and featuring Billy Preston on organ and George Martin on maracas. John’s ad-libbed vocals don’t go very far other than riffing on the Dylan line and listing off random famous names. The only excitement here is John’s silly ad-lib at the end (taken from an earlier version of the same jam), which dovetails nicely with the next song on the album.

Track 6: Let It Be
Paul’s lovely piano ballad makes a return here. Again, it’s features the same backing tracks as the single version, though Spector tweaks this one as well. The orchestration has been punched up, some effects have been added, and a few of the lyrics have gotten slightly rearranged, especially near the end. A livelier guitar solo (recorded 4 January 1970) played by George is used here instead. The two versions are so similar that it’s quite hard to tell the two apart other than by George’s solo, but this one seems much more complete.

Track 7: Maggie Mae
The first side closes with a forty-second leftover from the Apple studio jams, which they would often rely on for warming up. On 24 January 1969 this particular morning’s warmup featured a number of their old skiffle favorites from their Quarrymen days, including this old standard about a prostitute who would rob her clients. It dies out rather quickly, but it’s a fun little aside nonetheless.

Side B

Track 1: I’ve Got a Feeling
The second track on the album to be culled from the rooftop concert, it’s a catchy track equal parts Paul and John. John kicks off the song with his excellent fingerpicking style he’d honed so carefully during sessions for The Beatles, but it’s Paul’s offering of the main “I’ve Got a Feeling” melody that drives the track. John’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year” (a Beatles demo that never got recorded) and “Watching Rainbows” (the origin of the fingerpicked riff, and found on many bootlegs) is a perfect counterpoint to Paul’s melody. An almost unintelligible bridge pops up twice in the middle of the track, a pounding, climbing riff, only to stop cold and be brought back down to earth by George’s quick solo guitar drop. [That drop may have been quite the source of contention during the sessions; soon after a run-through of this track in the movie, Paul and George quietly argue until George delivers the infamous “I’ll play whatever you want me to play” remark.] This is probably the strongest song of the entire rooftop concert.

Track 2: One After 909
Paul mentions this old track (probably written around 1957 and attempted but never released in 1963) in the film as one of the “Lennon-McCartney Originals” they wrote in the pre-fame days. They dismiss it as a rather corny lyric, but chose to include it in the sessions as part of their warmup jams of old favorites. While the original from way back when was a bluesy rocker, the album version, recorded as part of the rooftop concert, is more of a honkytonk country track. It’s played very loosely, perhaps a little too much so, as their performance sounds less than enthusiastic. On the other hand, it’s obvious that they’re having fun playing this old gem.

Track 3: The Long and Winding Road
Paul’s slow piano ballad may have been a hit single in the US and a much-loved track for many, but it has one of the most troubled of histories of any Beatles track. Musically, it’s inspired by Paul’s drives with Linda through the sparse landscape of Scotland, to and from his farmstead near Kintyre, and the original version, heard in the film and later on the 2003 release Let It Be…Naked, is actually quite lovely. It’s very sparsely arranged, with Paul on piano, John on bass, George on quietly-strummed guitar, Ringo on delicate drums, and Billy Preston on organ, including quite a moving hymn-like solo. However…the album version is the end result of an increasingly unstable Spector, who added such cloying and overbearing orchestral and choral overdubs that it turned a decent ballad into a horribly over-the-top schmaltzy track. The version is so precious that it enraged Paul to the point of quitting the band once and for all. He’d asked to have it redone without the overdubs, but his request was ignored and the version was the one released. Paul sued Allen Klein (their ersatz manager at this time, but more of a financial manager if anything) and the other three to dissolve the company they’d only created a few years before, and used Spector’s mishandling of the track as one of the major points. He’d hated Klein for some time and had never trusted him (John and George liked him, and Ringo was his usual ambivalent self), but he’d chosen to be the bigger man for some time…but this blatant mishandling had been the final straw. No other track in the Beatles catalog has this sound, and thankfully so.

Track 4: For You Blue
George brings things back to normal with an easy, fun twelve-bar blues track recorded at the Apple studio on 25 January. It’s jangly and lightly played, with George on acoustic guitar and vocals, John on a slide guitar (the slide used was actually a shotgun shell!), Paul on restrained piano, and Ringo playing soft but tight drums. It’s clear they’re all having fun playing this track–it’s evident even in the movie, where all four are full of smiles as they play. Lyrically it’s a simple love song that could easily have fit in with the lyrics of their early years, but the highlight is George’s asides of “Go, Johnny, go!” and “Elmore James has got nothing on this, baby!” during John’s spirited slide solos.

Track 5: Get Back
The album ends with another version of their early 1969 single. It’s exactly the same take, though expertly rearranged by Spector here to sound like a different one. He adds a bit of studio chat, including a tongue-in-cheek rewrite of the lyric from John (“Sweet Loretta Fart, she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan”), and instead of the breakdown at the end of the single version, he treats that as the end of the song and edits the classic ending line of the rooftop concert and the movie itself: ” “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition!” This is a bittersweet line, considering it’s a play on their very early days of auditioning for shows, as well as the very last lines heard by the band on vinyl as they broke up. Saving the track for last was a brilliant move, as it leaves the listener on a high note. It’s a reminder that, despite the band’s history (and the dodginess of the album itself), the band remained as true to their goals as entertainers and accomplished musicians.

*      *      *

Let It Be is often seen as a flawed masterpiece, and not exactly a fan favorite, due to its unhinged performances and lack of inspired musicianship. It’s glaringly obvious that this was an album of tracks where Spector was given, in the words of John a year later, “…the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it.” Glyn Johns had done what he could, and the Get Back version of session does sound admirable if extremely disjointed, but John had a point–the band had been in a bad place and going in a bad direction after sessions for The Beatles, and no one was really in the mood. They’d been trained so soldier on despite their mental and emotional states, however, as that was the norm for the music industry in the sixties. Had they truly taken time off, time away from each other, and especially after sessions for Sgt Pepper back in 1967, perhaps things would have turned out differently. As it stands, however, the era of 1968 into the first half of 1969 was a band on the wane.

That said, the album itself does have merit. There are many interesting tracks that, if taken in a chronological context, serve as a middle ground between the angry and organic The Beatles and the slick and poppy Abbey Road. Many of the tracks here could fit on either album. “Two of Us,” “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” would have fit nicely on the former; “Let It Be” would have been a brilliant standalone single on par with “Hey Jude”; the non-Spectorized “The Long and Winding Road” and “I Me Mine” would have fit on the latter; “Get Back” could have remained a great standalone single as well. This view would also make Abbey Road the final album, which also makes sense, considering its own deliberate finality.

It also has been given much love over the years as well; in 1988, Slovenian industrial band Laibach recorded their own interpretation of the album (minus the title track) in a multitude of interesting ways, including a disturbingly dark “Get Back”, an operatic “Two of Us”, and an angelic “Across the Universe”. Many of the tracks have been covered over the years, and Paul himself has revisited “Get Back”, “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” many times during his solo tours. It’s by no means their best album, but as Beatles albums go, it’s still a solid one, despite its faults.

It would be the last new Beatles album released during their career, and the last release of their official canon, but it was by no means the last release ever. In 1973, Capitol released the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 compilations, and for the next ten years they released various further compilations, each one a solid mix. In 1987 these compilations were all out of print and the entire catalog finally released on compact disc, with only the two Past Masters volumes serving as a compilation, collecting all non-album tracks. Still…these were all albums of previously released tracks. There would be no more new Beatles tracks.

At least, not until twenty-five years later, in 1995.

Next Up: the Anthology series, and the “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” singles

Blogging the Beatles 51/52: No One’s Gonna Change Our World compilation and The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record

The next two items in this series are more curiosity pieces than actual Beatles canon, and were both released pretty much as afterthoughts at this point in the band’s history.  One was a leftover from early 1968, and the other a final fan club release cobbled together out of unrelated solo recordings.  Both were released in the last days of 1969, one week apart, some months after the band had unofficially split up.  Fans at this time had no idea of the band’s true status, other than the upcoming Let It Be film and album and some solo endeavors, so if anything, they must not have expected anything was up, other than a few random holiday season releases.

The last time all four Beatles would be in the studio together was back on 20 August 1969, finishing up major editing and mixing work on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, though they would enter Abbey Road separately over the next few months for one thing or another.  John would come in a few weeks later in a failed attempt to mix and release “What’s the New Mary Jane” as a Plastic Ono Band single, and again a few weeks after that to work with Paul on finalizing “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” as its possible b-side.  Ringo would also show up in early December to work with George Martin on his television special With a Little Help from My Friends.  And in early 1970, Paul, George and Ringo would return to work on a few last-minute tweaks to a few Let It Be tracks.  Other than that, however, they would no longer record together collectively as the foursome they once were.

*     *     *

Album: No One’s Gonna Change Our World
Released: 12 December 1969

In early 1968, actor and comedian Spike Milligan–lead member of the venerated Goon Show crew–fashioned a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund.  He’d asked the band for a musical donation, and given the band’s adoration of the Goons, they willingly bent one of their cardinal rules:  the Beatles will never allow their music to be released on any various-artist compilation.  The album would contain a fascinating and vast mix of singers and musicians, from The Bee Gees, Cilla Black, The Hollies, Lulu, Cliff Richard, and more.  Given the Beatles’ status, they would of course get top billing, not to mention have the album name borrow (and slightly change) one line from their track.  The album itself was delayed for quite a time, originally to be released in late 1968 but held off until December 1969.  It remains the one compilation album that the Beatles willingly donated their time and music to.  [There have been various soundtracks featuring Beatles recordings since, but they have all been Beatle-related documentaries, such as Imagine John Lennon and The US vs John Lennon, or the Cirque du Soleil production Love.  To this date they have not let any band recordings show up on any non-band related soundtracks or compilations.]

Side A, Track 1: “Across the Universe”

The fourth and final track recorded before the band’s trip to India finally makes its appearance here.  The track very nearly showed up as a bonus track on a possible EP containing the new Yellow Submarine tracks, but after that idea fell by the wayside, the track lingered until it was gladly given to Milligan for his pet project.  It’s a gorgeous, dreamy song of John’s, though it’s one of his that he was never fully happy with.  Like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, he had a specific sound in his head that he wanted, but could never adequately reproduce or even describe.  He absolutely adored the lyrics, however, claiming them to be one of his best poetic works.  Oddly inspired by irritation via a conversation he’d had with Cynthia (apparently she’d been going on about something, and after they’d gone to bed, the opening line “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” popped into his head), he instead turned it into a deeply spiritual lyric taken from the band’s growing interest in Transcendental Meditation.

The track itself is light and almost completely acoustic, mainly featuring consistent rhythm guitar strumming from John, with the occasional noodling from George on electric guitar with light tremolo and wah-wah effects.  Paul shows up on piano and Ringo on  percussion, though they are so deep in the mix they’re barely noticed.  The song itself is lovely; its home key is a high D chord and there is a semblance of a melody, though, like “I Am the Walrus”, he uses multiple melodic phrases to achieve it.  Also fascinating and extremely rare is the fact that two young girls are featured on the track as well:  Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, two “Apple Scruffs” (the small but loyal group of hangers-on outside the studio who would cheer the band on as they arrived and left the studio) were brought in to sing the high-register part of the chorus “nothing’s gonna change my world”.

This track, recorded in early February, would go through multiple versions before its two major releases.  The first, remaining close to the original February sessions, would have wildlife sound effects added on 2 October, would be released here.  There were attempts to put some rather experimental sounds on the mix, such as the band humming, George featuring heavily on tambura, and a plethora of backwards effects–this version would show up on multiple bootlegs over the years.  It was later decided by Glyn Johns, the producer tasked with creating a Get Back album in January 1970, to clean up the original, take out the two girls, and use that as a John donation to the album (his output was rather thin by this point).  Finally, in late March/early April, Phil Spector had taken over the project and created an altogether different version, the one that shows up on the Let It Be album.

*       *       *

Single: The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record
Released to the Beatles’ Official Fan Club: 19 December 1969

Like the previous fan club Christmas single, this last outing was created out of separate solo recordings and put together by Kenny Everett.  This one is even more of a hodgepodge of directionless, unscripted recordings from the four.  Gone is the humor and the silliness of previous recordings.  Any humor seems a bit forced.  There’s not really much exciting here, other than a home recording of John and Yoko talking to each other at Tittenhurst, a bit of riffing and chatting from Paul, a song and a shameless plug of The Magic Christian from Ringo, and only a quick hello from George.

Taken in the context of the previous recordings, it seems kind of a sad and wistful end to a fascinating career.  On the other hand, it’s four men who are fast approaching their thirties and taking their life and their fame more seriously.  John and Yoko are clearly in love with each other here, sometimes cloyingly so, but they clearly enjoy each other’s company.  Paul’s segments are somewhat reminiscent of his 1968 message, a simple acoustic song and a thank you to the fans; at this point it’s believed he was working on tracks for his solo debut McCartney, so there seems to be a bit of distraction in his voice.  Ringo, on the other hand, clearly enjoys the holidays after all these years and still offers a bit of lighthearted humor and an old standard or two.

This would be the last new Beatles fan club release; by December of 1970 they had publicly and officially broken up.  That year’s release for the fans would then be a semi-official compilation of the previous seven recordings on solid twelve-inch vinyl.  The UK version, titled From Then to You, would have a simple white card cover with a printed label pasted on.  The US version would be slightly more exotic, using past pictures of the band and named The Beatles Christmas Album.

*      *      *

At this point, the band had completed almost all the projects that they had set out to do in the past year.  They were leaving very little behind; all told, there is an extremely small number of songs that were recorded and completed in studio during their time together that would not be released.  Many of those songs would remain in the vaults for years, only surfacing on inferior-sounding bootlegs, until the Anthology series arrived in 1995-96.  That left only one project to be released: the Get Back sessions.  That title would remain so until early spring of 1970, when they would finally be released in May under the name Let It Be, alongside the film of the same name.  The project was so fraught with personal and musical issues, that hardly anyone in the band wished to work on it.  Eventually they would hand it to the famed producer Phil Spector, who would turn questionable recordings into quite the interesting final chapter of the band’s existence.

*      *      *

Next Up: “Let It Be”/”You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and Let It Be

Walk in Silence: End of Year Wrap-Up and Plans for 2014

Hi Gang!

I’m sure you all are awaiting the next few Blogging the Beatles posts from me, and granted, I will definitely get to them in the next week or so.  You know how the last few weeks of the year are…a lot of last-minute running around, catching up on things, holiday errands and whatnot, and the end-of-year/end-of-quarter insanity that happens at work.

Over the last day or so I’ve also been building up a classic old-fashioned best-of-year compilation: I may not be committing this music to tape or cd like in the past, but considering it’s been twenty-five years since the first year end compilation I did, I felt it prudent to work within the confines of the original: I’d work in batches of forty-five minutes, as if I were creating this mix on ninety-minute tapes like the ones I’d buy at Radio Shack.  I’d also focus more on the sequencing–over the past few years, I’d basically build a file full of mp3s, jumble them up using random shuffle, and do some final tweaking with songs I wanted in certain positions.  This time out, I’m building the playlist song by song, with specific placement for certain songs.

I’d mentioned on Twitter that I’d chosen We Sing and Dance As We Go: The Singles 2013 for this year’s compilation; this is actually a nod to the first one I made in 1988.  The title comes from Wire’s “As We Go” from their Change Becomes Us album from this year, which closes out Tape 1 at 89 minutes 20 seconds.  The first one had the title of Does Truth Dance? Does Truth Sing?: The Singles 1988, which comes from Wire’s “A Public Place” from their A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck album, which ends Tape 1 on that year’s compilation.  This past year has definitely been one of retromania–college rock bands from the 80s releasing new product, new bands from today releasing sounds very similar to the 80s vibe, and a hell of a lot of impressive reissues and box set retrospectives as well.  I will most likely cover a number of these at the start of the new year.

But yes…as noted on Twitter, I will be posting the playlist for We Sing and Dance As We Go: The Singles 2013 as soon as I complete it.  I will also be working on a year-end post as well.


So!  In other news, I have a few more posts to go for the BtB series:

No One’s Gonna Change Our World (featuring “Across the Universe”) and The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record

–“Let It Be”/”You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and Let It Be

–The new songs “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” (of course I was going to include those!)

Once those are done, I will, as mentioned previously, be ramping up on the music posts here at Walk in Silence.  I plan on posting some kind of record review, whether it’s from the 80s heyday of college rock or something new that just came out.  I’m hoping to get at least one post up per week, but if I can manage another one at some point, that’s fine too.  I’m looking forward to writing up some new articles in the new year, and I hope you’ll enjoy them.


Happy Holidays! 🙂

Blogging the Beatles 49/50: Abbey Road and the “Something”/”Come Together” single

By spring 1969, it was clear that the Beatles as a band was coming to a close.  There were many and varied reasons for this, but in all honesty, it really came down to four guys, three of them close friends since 1957 or so, finally moving on and going their separate ways.  The band, for all intents and purposes, had run its course of a decade-plus years, and now the four men had grown up into separate individuals.  John, having long grown out of the allure of being in a rock band and finding new love and hints of stability, couldn’t wait to move on.  Paul, even though he’d been the de facto manager of sorts in trying to keep the band together, now felt the urge to do his own thing.  George, always in the shadow of his two older and more prolific bandmates and their sometimes volatile relationship, hungered for his own musical endeavors separate from the rest of the band.  Ringo, the latecomer (a close friend since at least 1960, he joined the band in 1962) and friend to all, even had his own distractions: he had a taste and natural ability to acting and had active roles in multiple movies.

Even though the results of the Get Back sessions had been a disaster, they still planned on releasing it at some point; however, they had all decided (but not officially claimed) that if the Beatles were to dissolve, they wanted to go out on a high note.  They asked George Martin to produce, who adamantly stated that he’d do so only if they recorded the way they used to: with direction, creativity, and a distinct lack of volatility.  The band agreed, and returned to the studio.

The new project would be an interesting mix of new, old, and recent-but-unfinished.  Though the majority of the album would be recorded in summer 1969–mostly between 1 July and 29 August, at Abbey Road–a few songs received a kickstart early on.  Despite the slow erosion happening within and outside the band, the group as always had a never-ending itch to create.  The genesis of some songs popped up during the Get Back sessions, such as “Octopus’ Garden” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.  Others dated back to snippets from the India trip and The Beatles sessions, such as “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”.  These were added to a small but significant list of completely new songs as well.  A handful of these songs would be started in fits and starts before July, in between the many various personal appointments going on, such as Ringo’s filming and George’s surgery and recovery of having his tonsils removed.  Even John’s unexpected car accident and recuperation caused slight delays and his lack of input.  Mundane reasons to be sure, but perhaps this signaled that health (both physical and mental) were finally being taken seriously.  The nonstop limelight of the sixties were giving way to the hide-for-awhile-between-releases seventies.

*      *      *

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Album: Abbey Road
Released: 26 September 1969

The Beatles’ final recorded album (and penultimate album release) may have been seen as somewhat of a sell-out to some critics of the time, and for varied reasons.  It’s the most lush-sounding and intricately-crafted album of their career.  This was a rarity in that it was recorded only in stereo (any monaural versions are not true and separate mono mixes like their previous works, but fold-downs of the final stereo mix), and on an eight-track mixing board as well, which gave them a lot more aural room to play with.

The title itself is an obvious homage to the studio that had treated them so well since 1962, even as they are walking away from the building on the iconic front cover.  [Abbey Road Studios is behind those trees to the left, just behind George’s head and the “28IF” Volkswagen.]  All four would eventually return to the studio to work on future solo projects, but as a band…privately, it was agreed that this would very well be the last project done as a full band.  It only stood to reason that they go out the way they came in.

*    *    *

[Note: Due to recent copyright arguments on YouTube, I unfortunately can’t post any video links this time out. Chances are the links for the previous Blogging the Beatles posts are dead too. Sorry about that! ]

Side A

Track 1: Come Together
The album kicks off with a startlingly swampy blues song from John. Originally inspired by Timothy Leary’s run for California governor against Ronald Reagan (Leary’s theme was “Come together, join the party”), this track shows immediately how well the four could play together when they put their hearts into it. The basic track for the final version (take 6) had all four doing what they do best: John singing some of his most offbeat lyrics, George delivering some great blues riffs, Paul slinking away on bass, and Ringo playing subdued yet intricate drums. The song itself really doesn’t have any meaning other than the possible self-parody John was known for, but that doesn’t really matter–the fact that it’s got one killer blues groove going is enough to make it memorable.
[On a personal note, this was probably one of the first Beatles songs I was aware of, having heard Aerosmith’s cover of it on the radio before I went to see Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a kid.]

Track 2: Something
Another relatively new song follows, this time one of George’s all-time best compositions. It’s a gorgeous love song (though per George, not about Patti–his aim was to write a love song with Ray Charles in mind as singer) that takes its own time unraveling, and its deliberate meandering only adds to the song’s excellence. By this time George had become quite adept at song structure, and this one is a great example: it starts quietly and sparsely, most of the tune relying on the lyrics to carry it. It isn’t until the second verse that George Martin’s strings come in to complement the melody. By the end of it we’ve hit the first bridge, the strongest of the sections, with each instrument building up in force and emotion before his second refrain of “I don’t know, I don’t know…”, bringing it all back down to quiet contemplation and a bluesy and Claptonesque slide guitar solo. In the last ten seconds of the song he hints at another bridge refrain, only to end the song on a high positive note instead. All in all one of his best tracks.

Track 3: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Paul’s first offering for the album was originally a late entry to The Beatles but missed the deadline. It re-emerged briefly during the Get Back sessions (the band performs a run-through with Mal Evans on anvil in the Let It Be film) until it finally popped up in early July. Paul may have gotten a bit of flack from the other three during the sessions for this song, most likely due to his three-day attempt at trying to get as perfect as possible, much to the others’ annoyance. John actively disliked this song much like he did with “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, as it’s a very slight, twee song–another of his “Granny music” songs, as John would say. Still, Paul’s obsessiveness with this song actually makes sense on an interesting level: for a science-y sound he used a recently-purchased Moog synthesizer, which back then was a keyboard surrounded by a confusing bank of knobs, plugs and wires, so Paul must have wanted to take his time to make sure the sound worked with the song rather than it being an intrusive wall of bleeps and blats. [Even rock band keyboardists who were adept at using one, like Ray Manzarek and Keith Emerson, found it unwieldy at times.] It can be somewhat of a cutesy, cloying song, but it still works as an interesting composition, very much along the lines of Paul’s Sgt Pepper era tracks.

Track 4: Oh! Darling
Paul’s next track could easily sit alongside “Come Together” as one of the band’s best blues tracks. It popped up near the end of the Get Back sessions (you can hear a bluesier jam version on Anthology 3), but got a major boost on 20 April. The basic track is a wild and dirty jam–tighter and more melodious than “Yer Blues” but equally as fierce–with a surprising twenty-six live takes with all four playing loud and hard. Paul would then try numerous takes of his vocal, which he did on purpose: he wanted a raw-throat sound to his voice and would come in early so he could belt it out on his own. The end result is a down-on-my-knees heartbreaker of a track that sounds like it could have been recorded late at night in a packed smoky bar.

Track 5: Octopus’ Garden
Ringo offers one of his own tracks here, a light-hearted and fun track inspired by a cruise he’d taken in 1968. As with most Ringo songs for the Beatles, it doesn’t venture too far melodically, though by 1969, he had enough confidence and strength in his singing voice (quite possibly due to his recent foray into acting) that his delivery is quite strong here. It’s a nice summery song with John delivering some lighthearted fingerstyle guitar, Paul plinking away on the piano and minimal bass, and George supplying licks possibly inspired by slack-key guitar. The three also offer a lighthearted (and silly, during the solo) backing vocals that complement the song well.

Track 6: I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
The first side ends with a quite sinister track from John that ends up being the second longest track in their catalog at 7:47. It shares an interesting quality with a few other long tracks in their discography in that, in certain versions, they have an extended final section. “Hey Jude” features its famous four-minute fade out, and the early version of “Revolution 1” featured the same. The only difference here is that, unlike the “Hey Jude” coda featuring a different musical refrain than the rest of the song, we’re treated to the final arpeggiated riff here in the first few seconds of the song. Musically it may sound a bit corrupt and morally questionable–the minimal lyrics pretty much suggest a lecherous need for the focus of his desire–but all that aside, it’s one of the most powerful and dynamic tracks they’ve ever done. George and John both play lead blues riffs here and Paul chases along with a fascinating array of trickling bass lines. Billy Preston also makes an appearance here, playing a wonderful run of riffs on his organ. The song also changes tempo multiple times, going from a rock beat to a rhumba beat to a slithery dirge, until it finally hits the final arpeggio section again. At this point the riff doesn’t let up–it only gets darker and angrier and louder. A wash of white noise slowly enters the picture just past the five-minute mark, adding to the apocalypse until the last few seconds are about to take over and then–nothing. In a brilliant move from John, they chose not an ending or a fade-out, but a cold edit into silence, which leaves us gasping at the end of Side A.

Side B

Track 1: Here Comes the Sun
The second side starts off with a complete one-eighty from where we left off on the previous side, with a joyous, lighthearted song from George. Written on an uncharacteristically warm and sunny April day in 1969 at a house owned by Eric Clapton (and it had indeed been a long and cold winter in the UK that season), he’d decided to play hooky from the tedious day-to-day business at Apple and relax. Everything about this song is bright, from George’s delicate arpeggios and sing-song keyboard work, Paul’s upper-register bass playing (he only goes low during the “sun, sun, sun, here it comes” bridge), and even Ringo’s tight and quiet drumming. [John was laid up in the hospital due to a car accident from early to mid July, so he does not feature here.] It’s not overt, but the arpeggiated triplets are borrowed from the common codas for Indian ragas, especially with the wind-down “1-2-3 / 1-2-3 / 1-2 / 1” phrasing. This track also hints at George’s later solo work, especially from Thirty-Three and 1/3 forward, where he felt free to pursue his lighter, more spiritual side.

Track 2: Because
John’s next offering is a hauntingly gorgeous track featuring some of John, Paul and George’s best harmonies ever put to tape. Supposedly inspired by the chords to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and played on electronic harpsichord by George Martin (with John echoing the melody on guitar), it’s an extremely trippy and strange paean to…something, we’re not sure what. That’s not as important, though, as the vocal delivery by the three men is the most important part of the track. Recorded and overdubbed twice more so it features nine voices, the vocals carry the entire track through its just short of three minutes. The listener is still not entirely sure what the song is about, but that doesn’t matter, because it was absolutely lovely to listen to.

Track 3: You Never Give Me Your Money
The “Abbey Road Medley” official starts here with Paul’s not-so-subtle ode to their new manager, Allen Klein. [While John and George liked the man and Ringo was ambivalent as usual, Paul actively disliked and distrusted him.] That aside, it could also be considered an ode to working class suburbia, the ennui and frustration of being too broke to do anything but wish one was elsewhere. It’s a fascinating song of three separate parts: the slow and pessimistic arguing of lovers–the motif which is borrowed later on near the end of the Medley; the bustling daydream of hopes deferred played almost in boogie-woogie style; and finally the rocking and grooving finale of optimistic escape. Each section sounds completely different from the other two, even though it’s played straight through with very little change of instruments. It’s one of Paul’s strongest and most adventurous tracks of the latter period of the band.

Track 4: Sun King
John returns with a quiet and unassuming song similar to two others of the era: this is the second song highlighting quite detailed harmonies (similar to “Because”), and it also features the lazy F#m7-to-E riff inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”–the same phrase he’d used just a few months earlier on “Don’t Let Me Down”. The vocals are lovely, but the lyrics have even less meaning than “Because”, featuring just a few straight phrases and a lot of ersatz Spanish-sounding phrases. It ends at just shy of two and a half minutes, giving way to the next track in the medley.

Track 5: Mean Mr. Mustard
The next track segues in perfectly, right on beat and key, though it’s one of John’s leftovers from the Esher demos for The Beatles. It’s a slight and silly song about a miserly man who refuses to spend his money on anything (apparently inspired by an article he’d read). It could be seen as a filler track–and John quickly wrote this one off as a dud–but there’s some interesting bits here. First off, instead of a normal twelve-bar blues riff, the back half of the phrase goes up to D instead of down to A, giving it a bit of added flavor. The last few bars of the song are also done in 3/4 time rather than 4/4, as if to speed up the feel of the track. The song ends with a return back up to D–originally to segue into the short acoustic “Her Majesty”, but changed to segue perfectly into the next track instead.

Track 6: Polythene Pam
Another of John’s Esher demos for The Beatles, this one hints back at their early career and lives. There’s quite a lot of silly wordplay here–not the weird and purposely obtuse stuff John would write later, but his earlier, pun-filled works–and it’s sung in a very thick Scouse accent. The four are playing with gleeful abandon here, with a lot of guitar whoops and surfy licks, all with Ringo laying down a rumbling beat. As with the previous, the last phrase of the track changes chord here in order to lead us into the following track.

Track 7: She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
Paul returns with another extremely strong track, this one inspired by their erstwhile fans that hung around the studio and sometimes his house around the corner on Cavendish Avenue, in which one had actually broken into his house at one time. It’s a quirky song, not quite a love song but not quite a story song either; it’s a bit of both, a man and woman at odds with each other and yet entwined in each other’s fate. There’s some great playing here as well (both this and “Polythene Pam” were recorded in one go), with extremely tight vocals and instrumentation.

Track 8: Golden Slumbers
Another song from Paul, partly inspired by Thomas Drekker’s “Cradle Song” (and possibly inspired, though never proven, by Paul’s lingering wish for the band to go on as it once had), it’s a short and simple piano-based piece, but its dynamics are fastinating, as it starts out as a soothing lullaby but turns into an urging plea for a respite. This build from soft to loud carries the song over to the next track.

Track 9: Carry That Weight
Recorded alongside the previous track, it takes off from the heightened power of the previous track with all four members singing the chorus in unison. This is the most intriguing song on the album despite its short length, as it features multiple motifs from earlier tracks on the album: an extra verse from “You Never Give Me Your Money”, and the arpeggios from “Here Comes the Sun.” Though Paul stated the song was about the frustrations of running Apple at the time, John and many others saw it as a commentary on the band themselves–even though they were on the verge of breaking up, they knew that whatever they did separately would never equal what they had done together as a band.

Track 10: The End
A hard edit after the final arpeggios of the previous song brings us to the penultimate track of the album, and the only song that features a solo from all four members of the band, even Ringo, who hated drum solos (and gets his out of the way first thing). Each guitarist then shows off their one of their signature styles: Paul with his bright and full notes; George with his bluesy bended notes; and John with his hard and crunchy riffs. This builds up gradually until it stops short and all instruments drop away except for Paul’s quiet piano, hovering for a few seconds before the final coda kicks in.

And it’s one hell of a heartbreaking coda: it’s a final goodbye to everything that the band endured in the sixties–all its ups and downs, highlights and misfires, pleasures and pains, successes and failures, celebrations and losses, and everything in between, summed up in one line: …and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. One short angelic “ah-aah”, and the song…and the band…is done.

Track 11: Her Majesty
…and not to be left on such a morose note, an almost thrown away track formerly wedged between “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” gets added as a last wink and nod to their fans. Paul’s short acoustic ditty is a bit of an afterthought and thrown on by Abbey Road tape operator John Kurlander and forgotten until the final mix listen. The band enjoyed the surprise, and decided to keep it in. The cover for the first editions of the album had already been printed and did not mention this song, and so was considered an early example of a “hidden track” on a rock record.


If the Beatles wished to go out on a high note, or at least finish their career as a band with their best work to date, Abbey Road certainly did its job. It’s not considered their best album overall, though it’s quite high up on an extremely high number of critics’ lists, but given their history and the place they found themselves in at the end of the sixties, it can definitely be considered their best output at that time.

Over a surprisingly short stretch as a recording band–just about seven years, from late 1962 to mid-1969–they’d touched upon so many fascinating and disparate musical styles, from Tamla and Motown to blues to country to folk to pop to psychedelia to hard rock and beyond. It only made sense that Abbey Road become a swan song of their own voices and styles–this was the band as themselves. It was also an album similar to The Beatles in a way; it was the sound of four different men’s styles, gelling miraculously where the previous album failed to do so.

All four members would be working on solo releases by the end of the year, and their initial solo work would carry hints of what they’d given to this album. John’s post-avant garde albums would feature both hard-edged and plaintive work, indicative of his personality; Paul would be free to continue on his poppier and more melodic work; George, finally free from John and Paul’s shadow, would shine through with excellent songwriting and guitar work; and even Ringo would shine with some of his best singles–often aided by the other three, in one way or another.

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Credit: thebeatlesbible.com

Credit: thebeatlesbible.com

Single: “Something”/”Come Together”
Released: 31 October 1969

Unlike previous single releases, the band had no leftover tracks they wished to release, and so they chose to feature two of the strongest songs from Abbey Road here.  They felt that George’s “Something” was the stronger track, and gave it the “apple skin” side, giving John’s “Come Together” the “core” side.

Side A: “Something”
As mentioned in an earlier post, this track popped up late in the sessions for The Beatles, but George felt strongly enough about this track that he felt it would work better on their next project (or possibly a solo release, considering the situation).  The phrase “something in the way she moves” was borrowed by label mate James Taylor, but the rest was all George’s creation, and it’s lovely.  An interesting bootleg version lasted a surprising eight minutes, with a lengthy piano coda at the end played by John (whose instrumentation is all but obscured in the final version).  This coda would be dropped, but John would end up using it for the track “Remember” from his Plastic Ono Band album the next year.

Paul would revive this song much later from about 2002 onwards, playing it mainly on ukulele, as a loving tribute to George.

Side B: “Come Together”
John’s great bluesy rocker actually got him in legal trouble in 1973; the line “Here come old flattop/he come groovin’ up slowly” sounded way too similar to the line “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me” from Chuck Berry’s single “You Can’t Catch Me”, and was soon sued by Morris Levy and Big Seven Music Corp, that song’s publishers. Wishing to avoid any further problems, they settled out of court with John agreeing to record a handful of other songs held by that publisher. The sessions for those songs would be infamous and troubled in their own way, mainly by drugs and drink (John and a host of friends, including Harry Nilsson), an unstable producer (Phil Spector), and a relationship breakdown (John and Yoko), but by 1975 he made good on his agreement and released Rock ‘n’ Roll, his last recordings before semi-retiring for five years.

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For the Beatles, these recordings would most likely be considered their last original work as a band. They hadn’t exactly broken up or informed anyone that they had done so, but they had chosen not to say anything for the time being. The wedge had been planted the previous year, but the arrival of Allen Klein had been the final nail in the coffin. They may have met up occasionally for business meetings or Beatles-related issues, but by this time they were no longer a recording entity. The only thing left at this point would be to set their affairs in order–and perhaps release whatever became of the Get Back sessions–but other than that, the band was pretty much over at this point.  All that remained was the music.

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Next Up: No One’s Gonna Change Our World and The Beatles’ Seventh Christmas Record

Blogging the Beatles 47/48: the “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko”/”Old Brown Shoe” singles

In 1969, it was obvious to those around them, and especially to themselves, that the band was splintering badly. The events of 1968, from the good but misguided intentions of the India trip, to managing themselves after Brian Epstein’s passing, to the unveiling of Apple Corps, to the protracted and often solo production of nearly three dozen songs over the course of five and a half months…it was too much, too soon, and too disorganized. Patience and tolerance was deteriorating. John, Paul and George had been best mates and constant companions for over ten years at that point, knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses…and especially what set them off.

The Get Back project had been another of Paul’s ideas; given that their sound’s evolution had expanded as far as it could possibly have taken them by 1967, and that their attempt at a more organic sound for The Beatles ended up more disjointed than cohesive, perhaps it was time to start over again, start from the beginning. Become a foursome again, play simple rock and roll that had influenced them so deeply in the late 50s. It had also been a good couple of years since their last touring performance. The semi-live performances of “All You Need Is Love” in 1967 and “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” in 1968 had somewhat rekindled the happier memories of playing live–just the four of them rocking out and having fun. Upon their next meeting in late 1968, Paul suggested perhaps playing out again. George emphatically nixed the idea–he wasn’t about to relive the frustration of getting mauled by fans and not being able to hear himself play, let alone sing, even if the PA systems had improved since then. John was interested, but in his own way, refused to say yes or no…and he was by this time distracting himself with multimedia art installments with Yoko. Ringo, ever the nice guy, would go with whatever the other three agreed on.

Okay, touring was out. Perhaps a one-week appearance somewhere? A one-off show? A television special?

That last suggestion had merit. It provided the least amount of preplanning and production. It would another fulfillment on their United Artists contract, it would keep them in the spotlight…and perhaps it would force them to behave more maturely in each other’s presence.

Rule Number One: No overdubs (or at least no obvious multitracking). The music would contain only the four members playing, forcing them not just to become a cohesive unit again, but would rekindle their ability to counterpoint each other’s playing, an ability that they had in spades back when they started but had lost over the course of the last few years. Any additional sound effects would possibly be played by their assistant Mal Evans, and any additional keyboards would be played by their friend and labelmate Billy Preston.

As they say, the best laid plans…

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Credit: thebeatlesbible.com

Credit: thebeatlesbible.com

Single: “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down”
Released: 11 April 1969

The Get Back project had pretty much ended by the end of January–not so much with a bang, but a whimper. Jamming and rehearsing at Twickenham Film Studios had been arduous and frustrating; it seemed obvious that the band was not happy at all there. After moving to their new Apple Studios, they worked a week or so more until the end of the month, still disjointed but somewhat more cohesive now. Regardless, there were a good handful of usable songs somewhere in that mess, enough to cobble into an album and perhaps a single or two. Many of the filmed rehearsals included a full-band performance that could be used as a promotional film. Even their semi-planned “live” performance on the roof of 3 Savile Row on 30 January might have carried some gems.

Side A: Get Back
One usable song was a great shuffling jam that quickly became a fan favorite, and it has quite the interesting history. Its genesis came from an untitled bluesy jam on 7 January, borrowing a lyric from George’s “Sour Milk Sea” (“Get back to where you should be”) and changing it slightly. A few days later, inspired by UK Cabinet minister Enoch Powell’s wildly extremist ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech from April 1968, Paul wrote a scathing satire of anti-immigration and pro-discrimination. Two versions of these lyrics surfaced, the slower, more Elvis-inspired “Commonwealth” and the more visceral, angry “No Pakistanis”. The latter is much closer to the released final version. By the time a serious full take was laid down, the immigration satire had been dropped, or at least severely dialed back; the final lyrics seem more of a commentary of the band itself, letting go of the extraneous and returning to the source of your happiness.

The single version was recorded on 27 January in their Apple Studios after much studio rehearsing on the 23rd. Many versions were recorded at this time, including an ever so slightly different take that would eventually surface on the Let It Be album. This version would suffice as a tight single until they had something down for their next release. It was quickly produced and released just a few months later, much like their stopgap album-only singles. By this time they knew it would take awhile for the special-turned-movie and album to surface (not to mention they’d washed their hands of it by then). Despite its dark history, to this day it’s still considered one of their biggest late-era hits, and Paul has revived it numerous times on his tours.

Side B: Don’t Let Me Down
Though it’s often commented that John’s role in the Get Back sessions was minimal–in essence, he was pretty much phoning it in at that point–it’s not to say that his songwriting had deteriorated. Personally he was dealing with a hell of a lot of personal demons, many of which were threatening to take over his public life if not his sanity. In this instance Yoko became a saving grace for him, an anchor he’d desperately needed for years. In response, “Don’t Let Me Down” was written as a desperate plea; he was hopelessly in love with this woman who could help him find his inner peace–this song is him down on his knees, begging that, for once in his life, the thing closest to his heart would not break him.

The track is an incredibly sparse blues track (its F#m7-to-E riff influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, interestingly enough, and used again later in “Sun King” on Abbey Road), with just the four playing their usual instruments and supported by Preston on electric piano. Despite its bare essentials, it still comes across as an incredibly heartfelt track. The vocals are rough in tone yet tight in delivery, and Paul and George’s countermelody in the bridge is phenomenal.

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As this would be the only release to surface (for now) from the Get Back sessions, it was just enough to tide over the curiosity of the fans and the critics, many of whom had heard quite a few rumors about what they were up to but were yet to hear anything substantial. Despite the trainwreck the project ended up being, very few seemed aware that anything was wrong. These two songs sounded like a logical extension of the organic sound of The Beatles, so no one seemed surprised by the bare sounds. It would be a little over a year before they’d eventually hear and see what really had transpired in that month.

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Credit: beatlesbible.com

Credit: beatlesbible.com

Single: “The Ballad of John and Yoko”/”Old Brown Shoe”
Released: 30 May 1969

Right around the same time the “Get Back” single had been released, John was itching to get back in the studio to record his next song about his ongoing relationship with Yoko. After many setbacks and a long and arduous divorce settlement, the two had finally gotten married in March, recording and filming all along the way. The sounds turned into their third avant-garde outing Wedding Album, their filming turned into Honeymoon, and the story fodder for their next single. It also served as the kicking-off point for their next album project–one that would be their last as a foursome, but one that would be done right this time, back at Abbey Road with George Martin back behind the finally-installed eight-track boards.

Side A: The Ballad of John and Yoko
The lyrics to this song tell the story, pretty much verbatim, of the trials and tribulations of trying to get married when you have so many things going against you. John and Yoko’s quest to tie the knot had been filled with roadblocks. Due to their drug bust earlier in 1968 as well as their vocal anti-war stance, several government agencies were refusing to let them enter their countries, or at least were making it hard for them to do so. Many critics and fans thought John had gone off the deep end, many having seen and/or heard Yoko’s weird performance art. Despite all that, they chose to soldier on, until the band’s assistant Peter Brown (who had been Brian Epstein’s assistant before then) informed them that they could at last get married in Gibraltar. The second half of the song also mentions one of their Bed-Ins for Peace, in which they would stay in bed all day, inviting any critic and reporter to speak with them about their peace movement. An admittedly silly idea for a war protest (they were fully aware of its ridiculousness–that was partly the point), but in the context of the song it also serves as a cutting jab at those same critics and reporters who were already writing them off as whackjobs.

Musically, this is quite fascinating: it’s only John and Paul playing everything here, as George was on holiday and Ringo was in the middle of filming The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers. It’s a quick song that only took about eleven takes on 14 April, one take which includes a breakdown mid-song where John yells to a drumming Paul “Go a bit faster, Ringo!”, to which he replies “Okay, George!”. It also serves as the return of engineer Geoff Emerick, who had left in disgust during the sessions for The Beatles some months earlier.

Due to its lyrics, it did of course have its own run of trouble; many stations refused to play it because of the use of “Christ” and “crucify” in the lyrics, but that would not stop the single from being a hit, reaching #1 in the UK and #8 in the US.

Side B: Old Brown Shoe
George serves up a rocking b-side to this single, the final version recorded on 18 April. It’s almost his own take on Paul’s “Hello Goodbye”, an exercise in opposites, but more on a metaphorical level.  He lets himself go wild here, foregoing his usual oblique lyrics and inserting witty and sly riffs about having a relationship while being a full-blown pop star.  A full band plays here, delivering an extremely tight and detailed performance. Most obvious is Ringo’s drumming here, strong and to the fore, playing snare on the unexpected upbeat for nearly the entire song (he switches only briefly on the bridges, where he plays on the downbeat instead). George also delivers a powerful, heavily treated Claptonesque solo. There’s some confusion as to who’s playing bass–most say it’s Paul, but George has also claimed it was him playing instead, but there’s some great tandem bass and guitar riffing going on here. John originally had a rhythm guitar riff on this song, but it did not make the final cut, his only surviving parts being backing vocals.

Compared to many of George’s previous songs, this one sticks out as an incredible leap forward in composition. His abilities had been hinted at, especially on Revolver and The Beatles, but here we finally hear just how strong his songwriting really is. By this time he had quite the backlog of tracks just waiting to be put down on tape, but as most Beatles albums were primarily Lennon-McCartney productions, he was willing to hold back. By the end of 1970, free of his band, he would deliver many of these gems on his first true solo album, All Things Must Pass.

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This single was an unexpected turnaround both for the band and for their fans. Having expected the groggy, spare sounds of the previous album and single, they instead heard a grand production, clear and glorious. It might just be possible that after a year or so of questionable releases, they’d rebounded, found their magic, and were rearing to go again. This was released so quickly after “Get Back”, which was still high in the charts at the time, that perhaps that possibility was a reality. The truth was somewhat different, but no less magical: the fantastic Fab Four had returned.

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The latest single now released, they felt positive about the next project. It would be a true back-to-basics studio record–perhaps not the barebones attempt of Get Back, but more like the albums they’d been recording a few years previous. This would be more like a logical progression after Rubber Soul or Revolver, bypassing the high experimentation and psychedelia of Sgt Pepper and the meandering Magical Mystery Tour. In a way they were going to write off The Beatles and Get Back as steps in the wrong direction, even though many of the tracks on the next project were in fact coming from the sessions for those two albums. The truth, however, was more straightforward: they knew there was a real possibility they were about to go their separate ways, and decided that their last effort would be their absolute best ever. They returned to Abbey Road and asked Martin to produce them one last time, in order to bow out in the best way they could.

Next Up: Abbey Road and the “Something”/”Come Together” single

Blogging the Beatles 45/46: The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record and Yellow Submarine

After the release of The Beatles on 22 November 1968, the band was at a crossroads. The recording of the double album did have its high points that brought them together as a cohesive unit and as friends, but on the same token there were also many days of frustration, aggravation, and barely-contained animosity. Again–there are many and extremely varied reasons for these cracks to start showing, and each could be valid reasons for the eventual breakup in early 1970. They were no longer the nutty Fab Four of the cartoons and movies, nor were they any longer an endlessly-touring band like they were in the early ’60s. They’d grown and matured, married and split up, had their own ongoing projects apart from the band, and to top it all off, they were also ersatz businessmen running Apple Corps. Things were changing, whether they wanted them to or not.

Having finished everything that needed doing, the four went their separate ways for the holidays, spending time with their loved ones. They would eventually meet up again near the end of 1968 to throw ideas around for their next project. Spirits were flagging, and something desperately needed to be done to turn it around. Paul eventually hit on the idea of returning to touring, which was nixed pretty quickly, though they eventually thought that perhaps a television special might work. When they’d filmed the promotional film for “Hey Jude” in front of a small audience, all four had enjoyed the experience, and felt that might be a possible move.

In the meantime, however, they had a few recordings that needed releasing before they could start anything else.

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Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record
Released to the Beatles’ Official Fan Club: 20 December 1968

The band of course had always thought of the fans, regardless of their internal squabbles. In late 1968, however, it was time for another fan club recording, and no one was ever around long enough to have the entire group in the studio to record a season’s greetings like in the past. So for this year, each member donated their own separate recordings, this time edited and produced by radio personality and close Beatle friend Kenny Everett, and released the week before Christmas.

The nearly eight-minute recording might seem a bit disjointed at first listen–Ringo seems to be the only one here in high spirits, playing silly recording tricks; Paul donates an acoustic Christmas song, and John reads two of his wordplay poems (the first, “Jock and Yono”, seems to be a veiled grumbling towards the other three about not accepting Yoko’s consistent presence in his life), and George just seems tired, saying little but bringing in a nervous Tiny Tim to perform their “Nowhere Man” in his own strange, inimitable way. The only thing that keeps it together is the studio sound effects brought in by Everett, such as dropping in heavily treated bits of tracks from The Beatles and throwing in a very bizarre “Baroque Hoedown” by Perry & Kingsley in amongst the solo recordings. It’s kind of a sad and somber outing, but at the same time it’s creatively done, just enough to dismiss the prevailing mood at the time.

*      *      *

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: jpgr.co.uk – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Album: Yellow Submarine
Released: 17 January 1969

The band’s next album, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, was released amidst a bit of fan and critic confusion; why had not they released this album in July 1968 alongside the film’s release? And furthermore, why were we treated to only four new songs, two retreads, and a full side of George Martin’s film score? It wasn’t the quality record the fans and the critics had come to expect of the band, and while the film remains wildly popular with fans new and old, the album is considered more of a curiosity piece than anything else. The delay in release was actually the band’s decision–they weren’t all that excited by the film project itself (though they did enjoy watching it), and were more focused on The Beatles and its related singles and wanted those released first. Furthermore, the film would not get a stateside release until late November, a week or so before The Beatles was set to be released.

Regardless, the fans were finally able to hear four of the songs they’d worked on throughout the film’s production in 1967, amidst the Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper projects. Because of the age of these tracks, they sound more upbeat and lively than the tracks heard on The Beatles, and in effect closer in sound to the other tracks featured on the album (“Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love”) and in the movie (such as 1965’s “Nowhere Man”, 1966’s “Eleanor Rigby” and the various Sgt Pepper tracks used).

The movie itself is quite impressive, given its relatively simplistic plot: an idyllic Eden going by the name of Pepperland, where all is music, peace, love and positivity, is attacked and subsequently taken over by the monstrous and disturbingly psychotic Blue Meanies. It’s up to a lone survivor, Old Fred, to escape in the Yellow Submarine–itself the ship that brought their ancestors to this land–and find help. Eventually Old Fred picks up the four Beatles (and the diminutive but resourceful Nowhere Man who they pick up along the way) and brings them back to Pepperland, where they eventually seize the day and return the land to its glory.

The script is filled with humor, so much so that I personally discover a new joke or line each time I see it, and I’ve been watching the movie since the late 70s. There are a lot of musical puns–Pepperland’s ancestors arrived ‘four scores and thirty-two bars ago’, for instance–as well as a bevy of Beatles references, such as Old Fred’s stuttering pleas using the lyrics to “Help”, and John and Paul referencing “A Day in the Life” while in the Sea of Holes (J: “Hey, this place reminds me of Blackburn, Lancashire.” P: [rolls eyes] “Oh, boy…”). Then there’s the local puns (“Can’t help it, I’m a born lever puller.”) and wordplay (“Frankenstein!” “I used to go out with his sister.” “His sister?” “Yeah, Phyllis.”).

The story isn’t all laughs, of course. If one is familiar with the history of World War II and postwar Britain, there are some rather chilling allegorical visuals going on as well. Post-attack Pepperland is literally a gray and sad place void of color, with many of its buildings and statues destroyed by enemy fire, much like the bombed out cities of Britain. There’s even a hint of Nazism prevalent in the latter half of the film, with many fearsome foot soldiers (literally–they have guns coming out of their shoes) always marching through the area and capturing any runaways. [Perhaps the most visceral use of this is when a Blue Meanie nearly captures the Beatles, staring them down and asking “Are you bluish…? You don’t look bluish…”] It’s only when the Beatles release the local version of them–Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–from their anti-music bubble that peace and love, not to mention brilliant rainbows of color, is returned to the land. The allegory here isn’t overt, and most likely does not translate to its younger fans, but it is used here cleverly so that the Blue Meanies are truly believable antagonists and not just weird and scary characters.

The film’s creators were also able to seamlessly integrate the music into the film’s plot without interrupting the events like they may have in the previous films featuring the Beatles. The double-delivery of “Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby”–the hit double-sided single from August 1966–serves as the opening credits and scene setter after the prologue, with the former showing the titular vessel traveling/flying through various landscapes looking for help, and the latter showing a squalid, urban Liverpool and finally finding help in the form of Ringo. A fantastic rotoscoped sequence in the Foothills of the Headlands features John singing and dancing to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Even an outtake snippet of 1965’s “Think for Yourself” gets a quick appearance when the band sings the “Have you got time to rectify all the things that you should” line to wake up Lord Mayor.

The soundtrack may have been an afterthought to the band, but it was quite an important piece to the film itself.

Side A

Track 1: Yellow Submarine
The Revolver track and single is used as the theme song here, setting the tone for the entire movie. The song had always been a simply written but effective story-song about a mythical submarine and its inhabitants, but in the context of the movie, it perhaps hints that these submariners may have in fact been Pepperland’s ancestors. If one notices, the entire opening credits are played against a black background, never showing too much color, tying in the war-torn Pepperland in with the dirty back alleys of Thursday morning Liverpool. In effect, the theme song not only lifts the spirits, but brings hope.

Track 2: Only a Northern Song
Interestingly, this track was originally recorded for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band right around the same time as “A Day in the Life”, but left off that album as it did not fit thematically. [Well, it could in a roundabout way, it being a very George-like snide remark about being a contracted writer for Northern Songs Ltd–the band’s music publishing company–and could be seen as a Sgt Pepper Band member grousing…but on the other hand, it’s too cynical of a song, compared to the others.] Despite its somewhat odd placing in the movie as the musical segment during their trip through the Sea of Science, the movie relies on the song’s aural strangeness to fit in with the scientific visuals of oscillator waveforms, atomic orbits, and mathematical shapes. Only then do we notice how creative the band was with this track; there are dissonant chords galore in the second half of each verse, and with the chorus we’re treated to a lot of minor chords where we’re expecting major ones. We’re also treated to an incredible amount of heavily-treated studio noise from a bleating trumpet played by Paul, an echoed glockenspiel played by John, and a number of tape effects.

Track 3: All Together Now
This short and incredibly simple song from Paul was originally written as a possible contender for the Our World BBC project (“All You Need Is Love” won out), but it catches the spirit of the movie wonderfully. Recorded in a quick nine takes on 12 May 1967, it’s meant to mirror the childlike singalong of “Yellow Submarine”, and is used as an initial sendoff when the boys first head out and familiarize themselves with the ship. It’s used again at the end of the film during the live shot epilogue. The band themselves don’t mime to it, but they do give it a good countoff as the song starts.

Track 4: Hey Bulldog
John’s rocking number was one of the last songs to be recorded before they headed out on their trip to India, and engineer Geoff Emerick recalled that this was most likely one of the last songs they did as a truly cohesive (and content) unit. It’s got an incredibly tight and crisp sound, with John pounding out an a great blues riff on the piano, a searing guitar solo from George (utilizing a recently purchased distortion pedal here), an amazing bass line from Paul, and stellar drum work from Ringo. The song was written specifically for the movie, and shows up in the latter half of the film in an almost vaudevillian sort of way–the Beatles and the Sgt Pepper Band manage to get a three-headed guard dog onto their side while singing this song and playing (and hiding inside) an upright piano. The scene works within the context of the movie, showing how the force of the Blue Meanies is deteriorating, but at the same time it does feel as though it interrupts the flow of the film. Because of this, it was edited out of the US version and replaced by a few other quick scenes, and not seen again in the US until the 1999 restoration and release.

As an aside, Paul’s barking at the end appears to have been influenced by a track he’d recorded with Paul Jones a few days previous called “The Dog Presides” (he played drums on that track, which also features then-Yardbirds Jeff Beck and Paul Samwell-Smith), which features an actual dog barking. Being in a playful mood (and seen on the video created for the song, itself shots from the ‘Lady Madonna’ promotional film), Paul and John riffed on the barking during the fadeout of this track which was kept for the final mix.

Track 5: It’s All Too Much
George’s second donation to the soundtrack is a blissed-out free-for-all firmly cemented in the G chord and refuses to budge, but its true spirit lies in the lyrics and the performance. The lyrics are quite indicative of their 1967 period–it was recorded late May/early June–and it’s another rare song not recorded at EMI (it was put down at De Lane Lea Music in Soho, London). Fitting in quite nicely as the love-and-peace-for-all final theme to the movie, the lyrics are all about just that–there’s just so much positivity here, it’s too much to take in. The emotion is intensified by brilliantly emotive playing from the band, from George’s explosive, feedback-laden intro and the trio’s heartfelt vocal delivery, to the heraldic horn riffs played as the song slowly fades out.

Track 6: All You Need Is Love
John’s song for the Our World special makes a second appearance here on this album (third if you count the US Magical Mystery Tour album), but the song serves as the turning point of the film, where the Beatles finally save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. A wild tête-à-tête between John and the Dreadful Flying Glove unfolds, as John continually undermines the Glove’s attacks by literally spouting the song’s lyrics at it. It is eventually crushed and chased away by a tangle of a word cloud, the Blue Meanies begin their retreat, and joy returns to the land. It’s a bit of a silly ending, but it’s wonderfully fun and upbeat, mirroring the song’s meaning in the process.

Side B — Orchestral Score composed by George Martin
Track 1: Pepperland
Track 2: Sea of Time
Track 3: Sea of Holes
Track 4: Sea of Monsters
Track 5: March of the Meanies
Track 6: Pepperland Laid Waste
Track 7: Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

While none of these tracks feature any Beatles, nor were any of them written by the band (except the last track, in which the melody to “Yellow Submarine” is used as a motif for the piece), I place them here because they are part of the album proper, and also because they are great examples of the fact that Martin was a wonderful composer in his own right, not just a scorer for Beatles songs. Each track works excellently within the movie, from the pastoral “Pepperland” to the sinister “Sea of Monsters”, the latter of which contains a number of important sound cues within that scene. [This includes a phrase of Bach’s “Air on the G String”, used in the movie while the Punching Beast lights up a cigar. Cleverly, this was a nod to a series of commercials for Hamlet Cigars in the UK.]


As this album was considered more of a stopgap and a filler release until their next project, it’s not considered one of the band’s more important releases. In fact, the response to the album was so mixed that they contemplated releasing the four previously unreleased songs as an EP, appending the still-unreleased “Across the Universe” as a bonus sixth track. They went so far as to creating a mono mix for these tracks, but as they ended up not following up on this, the mixes were never released until the 2009 box set The Beatles in Mono was released, appearing on the box’s version of the Past Masters release.

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By the time this album was released, the band were already at work on their next project–or the beginnings of one, anyway. At the beginning of January, while still deciding what to do, they convened not at Abbey Road but at Twickenham Studios, where they would start rehearsing while being filmed for the potential television special. Tensions were dangerously high, and despite moments of levity and hilarity, the four men had started getting on each other’s nerves. One infamous moment was caught on film and is seen in Let It Be, with Paul and George arguing about a riff, at which point George glares at him saying “Look–I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to,” in a light voice underscoring just how irritated he is. Despite all the animosity, however, they soldier on, eventually moving over to the brand new Apple Studios in the basement of their Savile Row offices. That last week and a half raised spirits somewhat, especially since they were in a warm recording studio and not a cold and challenging film studio, but the damage had been done.

The project, dubbed Get Back from Paul’s shuffling rocker single which came out that April, as well as a thematic name for their “getting back” to the simplicity of the four of them playing with minimum overdubbing, didn’t so much come to a close as it fell apart. By this time George Martin wanted little to do with the project. The tapes were given to Glyn Johns, who created one version of the album but but was never released, though it did become a well-circulated bootleg, thanks to unofficial copies floating out to the public. Frustrated and unhappy with that version as well, they chose to shelve it until a later time. It wasn’t until 1970 when film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg completed the film and the tapes had been drastically remixed and overdubbed by Phil Spector, that it was released under the title Let It Be.

In the meantime, the band members continued to go their separate ways. A few singles leaked out in the first half of 1969, but that was about it. It looked like it was the end, until the four decided…if they were going to break up–and all signs showed that they were indeed headed in that direction–they certainly didn’t want to go out on a dud like Get Back. They instead chose to reconvene one last time at Abbey Road, and record their last official studio album.

Next Up: the “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John & Yoko”/”Old Brown Shoe” singles

Blogging the Beatles 44c: The Beatles, Side C

Credits: covermesongs.com

Credits: covermesongs.com

Album: The Beatles
Released: 22 November 1968

[Picture: The John Kelly portrait inserts as found inside the album, taken in the autumn of 1968. Kelly states that he took the portraits of John, George and Ringo at their new Apple Corps offices in Savile Row, while Paul’s picture was taken at his home in Cavendish Avenue.]

On a more personal note: I believe this was the last album I bought to complete my Beatles album collection. I had nearly every other US release, including Beatles ’65 which I found in the wrong cover (it was hidden inside a copy of the US Hey Jude compilation that I bought for fifty cents somewhere). The first copy of The Beatles I had was only the second disc, found for a dollar sans cover at a tag sale on the Templeton MA commons. I picked a new copy up probably a few months or a year later at the local department store, so in that interim, I got to know the ‘weirder half’ of this album before I’d heard the more straightforward former half. I only knew a few tracks at that point–“Back in the USSR”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are featured on the 1967-1970 compilation–so hearing them in their proper context was a rather interesting experience.

In addition to that, since I was by then familiar with the Blue Album compilation, it took me a bit of time to get used to hearing those tracks in their proper chronological order. They are in fact so, but I was unaware until much later that “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”, found before the three above songs, were recorded during the same sessions as the album. More so were the singles that appeared after the White Album tracks on that compilation–“Get Back”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, “The Ballad of John & Yoko” and “Old Brown Shoe” showing up before the Abbey Road and Let It Be tracks. While these four tracks weren’t recorded during sessions for The Beatles, they were recorded and released in early 1969, before either of those later albums were released. Even though I would quickly become familiar with and prefer their late 60s output, it was also the era that I knew about least in terms of the band’s history. It was because of this that my Beatles collecting would soon branch into the numerous books that are out there.

Given that pretty much anyone can write about the band at this point, what with the ridiculous amount of information and resources out there to do so, I did pick up a few that were of some help such as Nicholas Shaffner’s The Beatles Forever, and a great book about Beatles bootlegs by Charles Reinhart called You Can’t Do That (this is the book that made me hunger for all the unreleased stuff, even if it was mostly subpar). There’s a lot of chaff and a lot of repeated info–not to mention a lot of contradictory info–that can be found in these. It wasn’t until the late 90s that I came across Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions that I knew I’d hit paydirt–this book, along with his The Complete Beatles Chronicles released soon after, are absolutely brilliant tomes about the band’s whereabouts as well as the major details of what was recorded, and when and how it evolved. Lewisohn could be considered the premier Beatles chronologist, as he is one of the very few who have talked with all four members exclusively about their history, not to mention that he’s also one of the extremely rare few who were given carte blanche on all their session tapes. I’ve been using these two books almost exclusively during this blog series, and they are highly recommended for any Beatles fan who doesn’t own them already. He’s due to release a new book series called The Beatles: All These Years that I am eagerly awaiting.

So without further ado…

Side C

Here’s where the band has, for the most part, put away their acoustic guitars (save for a few remaining tracks) and turned up the volume. From here on in, we’re going to hear a harder, edgier band putting down some of the rawest tracks of their career.

Track 1: Birthday
This track seems to have been inspired by the spirit of rock and roll, come to think of it. On paper it’s a simple blues riff in A that Paul made up right there in the studio along with simple celebratory lyrics, but the band simply bashed the hell out of it on 18 September. It just so happened that on that night, the band stopped recording halfway through so they could skip over to Paul’s house in Cavendish Avenue (roughly about a quarter mile away and a quick walk) so they could watch the television premiere of the classic 1956 rock movie The Girl Can’t Help It. It must have stirred some memories of their early days starting out, as you can hear the wild party atmosphere they subsequently laid down on this track. Paul and John share dual duty on lead guitar here with George playing bass, and Ringo hammering away on his kit. Paul delivers one of his strongest, loudest vocals since “Long Tall Sally” here. Overdubs include piano backing by Paul, backing vocals from John, Paul and George along with Pattie Harrison and Yoko Ono, and handclaps by everyone involved (including Mal Evans).

It may be a simple blues riff indeed, but it’s one hell of a powerhouse, and still gets heavy play on classic rock radio. It was even referenced in John Hughes’ teenage romp Sixteen Candles (Anthony Michael Hall riffs on it briefly during a scene). It’s even been known to be played and/or sung in lieu of the old standard “Happy Birthday” at certain birthday parties at this point!

Track 2: Yer Blues
One of the most peculiar sessions for this project, and for the band itself, took place on 12 August in a small annex upstairs off the Studio Two control room at Abbey Road. The room itself was actually a large store room that contained various bits and bobs used for recording, which were quickly moved to insert the foursome and the barest of instrumentation. With just John and George on lead, Paul on bass, and Ringo on drums, this track went through fourteen takes (three additional “takes” were actually reductions of previous takes to be used for final editing) and captures the band laying down some fierce blues riffs. John wrote this as sort of a parody of the British blues scene as well as Dylan’s more obtuse lyrics, but on its own it’s a fantastic piece. It’s raw and dirty, it’s sloppy and there’s a horrible edit at 3:17 in, but it’s the band at their live best; even Ringo has mentioned that this session reminded him of their early Hamburg days.

Track 3: Mother Nature’s Son
Paul features on a third solo track here, recorded on 9 August after the rest of the band had gone home for the evening (they’d been working on George’s “Not Guilty” for the last few days, still unhappy with the results). Recorded in one evening in twenty-five takes (number 24 being the best), it featured Paul primarily on guitar, later overdubbing himself on second guitar and minimal drums, and George Martin adding brass to the latter half of the song. With lyrics inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures they sat in on while in India, it’s an absolutely gorgeous pastoral track unlike any of the other acoustic-based songs on the album. Paul’s guitar work here is simple yet effective, though the guitar countermelody he uses in the solo starting at 2:12 is breathtaking. Interestingly, this track would fit quite nicely on Paul’s first solo album, McCartney, which would be released a year and a half later, so this track could also be seen as Paul’s true venture into his own sound apart from the band.

The history of the track, however, does carry a downside: during the overdub session on 20 August (the same day he recorded “Wild Honey Pie” alone), he was working solo with Martin, when John and Ringo stopped by for a few minutes while working on finishing up “Yer Blues”. John apparently could not stand when Paul worked alone without the rest of the band, and per engineer Ken Scott, ‘you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.’ It would be one of many moments that would eventually cause an irreparable rift within the band. [Taking this event objectively, neither party is solely to blame. Paul was often impatient, especially when he wanted to try something new and fun, and would often go off and try it by himself. John, on the other hand, could be extremely jealous at times and was often frustrated by Paul’s distractions, making him feel he was not fully in charge.]

Track 4: Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
It’s quite hazy what this song is really about…it could be a reference to one of the Maharishi’s lectures that mentioned “everybody’s got something to hide…”; it could be about John and Yoko’s budding relationship, in which he felt they had nothing to hide but everyone else felt paranoid; it could even be about his growing drug dependency and his slow fall into heroin addiction. Either way, this track from 27 June is quite a wild ride. Playing with their normal lineup here (John on rhythm, George on lead, Paul on bass, Ringo on drums), they manage to lay down a hell of a lot of noise with the overdubs (handclaps by all, and a hand bell played by Paul within an inch of its life).  The song is relatively simple, though the bare intro of guitar and drums is played off-beat to catch you off guard.

Track 5: Sexy Sadie
John’s departure from India had not been a peaceful one. Depending on who you ask (and which biography you read), he was either bored and/or disappointed in what the Maharishi had to offer and was looking for a way out, or he left in disgust as rumors began building that the Maharishi had sexually assaulted some of the female guests. Either way, the man had not risen to John’s admittedly heightened expectations, and eventually he wrote a song about his disappointment. It was never recorded or even rehearsed in this form, of course, though on 19 July when they started recording this track, there is a brief passage on the tapes where John shows Paul the original opening lines, starting with “Maharishi, you little twat…” Suffice it to say, he chose to be the better man and made the lyrics more obscure, focusing on a fictional woman disappointing him instead.  The bitterness is still quite present, however.

Track 6: Helter Skelter
In late 1967, Pete Townshend had sold up the Who’s latest single, “I Can See for Miles” , as ‘the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song [the band] had ever recorded.’ The Beatles, of course, always took such bravado as a personal challenge; they’d done so with Sgt Pepper as a response to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, among other things. This time out, Paul took the bait and wrote the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song they’d ever recorded. Partly a response to growing comments that he always wrote ballads, Paul set out to write the most sinister song he could.  The phrase “helter-skelter” itself is British slang for a chaotic mess, but it’s also the name of an amusement park slide; using the double meaning as a metaphor, the lyrics alongside the noise give the sense that he’s not just warning us of impending chaos, he’s reveling in it.

The recording history on this track is fascinating as well: The first three takes on 18 July were all of epic length: Take 1 was 10:40, Take 2 was 12:35, and Take 3 was a phenomenal 27:11. At this point the song was nowhere near as loud and cacophonous–an edit of the slow, bluesy Take 2 can be found on Anthology 3–but the dark and sinister feeling was definitely present. It wasn’t until 9 September that they tried again and came up with a much shorter but much louder end result with Take 21. Paul is on lead here, with John on bass and George on rhythm. They play so damn hard on this take that, in the last minute or so of the song, it’s clear that their guitars have gone distressingly out of tune, which only adds to the insanity. This was also the final take with Ringo, exhausted and in pain, finally screaming out the iconic “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!!!” at the end of the take. Overdubs containing vocals, handclaps, and Mal Evans creating even more noise with blurts of a trumpet were added the next day, and the final version is possibly one of the scariest songs by any band at that time.

Track 7: Long, Long, Long
Not a second goes by after the last crash of Ringo’s drums on the previous track as we’re dropped into one of the quietest tracks the band ever recorded. Often considered one of George’s most underrated songs, it’s a lovely ballad in a very slow 6/8 time that contains some really fine dynamics. The verses as well as the music contained therein are always delivered quietly and plainly on guitar and Hammond organ, sometimes with beautiful harmony added here and there, and counterbalanced with loud crashing fills from Ringo at the end of each line. The bridge (“So many tears I was searching…”), built up via a stuttering tense drum fill and interestingly underscored by George’s guitar, is an exclamation of emotion; it’s George stating what he had gone through before finally finding love in the person (or deity?) the song is about. He calms down briefly, delivering another few words of devotion. After the final heartfelt “oh, I love you…”, it lands on a quiet C note. What happens next is unexpected and interesting: during this session, the low C that Paul happened to hit on the organ just happened to resonate the bottle of Blue Nun wine sitting on top of it. Fascinated by this unexpected bit of physics, they tried it again and inserted it at the end, creating a coda invoking a swirling chaos of spirit released. Lastly, it ends on an unresolved, sighing D-minor chord–the energy may have seeped away, but that one chord hints that there could have been more. A lovely end to the song, and to the third side of the album.

* * *

By this time we’ve been brought to heraldic highs, demonic lows, and everywhere in between on this album. The listener has either become wary, thinking the Fab Four had finally gone off the deep end and recorded the equivalent of navel-gazing prog rock, or they’ve become fascinated by the sheer breadth and magnitude of their work. They somehow pulled it off on these three sides, with maybe a few fillers but nary a song that falls completely flat. So how the heck are they going to tie this all together? What could they possibly give the listener on the final side?

Next Up: The Beatles, Side D