Coming Soon: When We Was Fab — Blogging the Beatles Solo Years

Others have commented: it’s going to be the Beatles’ solo years next!  This one’s gonna be a long series, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be featuring it on specific days…maybe offering it every other Wednesday or something.  We shall see.  This may take some time for me to build up a backlog, as there are quite a few releases to plow through — and I’m not going to include the multiple reissues that have taken place over the years.  One last note: I’ve already decided this is going to be chronological, just like the previous series, so this means we’ll be visiting all four solo discographies at the same time.  I will also be featuring multiple releases per post, or else I’ll be posting until 2019!

Until then, I’ll be providing the usual music posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Thanks for joining in!

2015: In Which You’ll Be Seeing More of Me Here

Hey all!  Didn’t expect to see three entries in two days from me, did you?  Well, I can’t promise that’ll be the norm from here on in, but this year I’m planning on being more consistent with my blogging.  Starting today, you should be seeing an entry from me by each Thursday of the month, talking about my favorite subject: music.

I’ll be hitting on things such as new and current releases and reissues, as well as hitting on older albums and bands I’d like to talk about.  I’d also like to expand on the genres too, as a change of pace.  I don’t have too many concrete plans for this other than reviews, so I’m as curious as you are to see where this leads.

Also, in other news…

I’m proud to announce that I have not one but two self-published projects I’m planning on releasing into the world sometime this year as well!  I’m thinking epub at this point, although print could be involved, depending on which self-publishing company I end up working with to produce and release it.  These are two projects I’ve been working on over the last few years; one is complete and the other is about three-quarters of the way done.

The first will be a book version of Blogging the Beatles, the series I started here a while back, in which I listened and talked about the Beatles’ discography in chronological release order.  I had so much fun writing it, and learned so much musically as I studied the songs, that I felt it would be perfect for an ebook.  I’ll be revising it and adding new items as I do so, and hope to have this one out at least by midyear.

The second will be Walk in Silence itself.  This one’s the biggie.  I’m about three quarters of the way done on the more personal side of the story, with revision number two to add in more about the music.  This one may roll into 2016 if other issues pop up, but the aim is to get it out into the wild by autumn 2015.

Of course, releasing books about popular music could be tricky considering the rights involved, but since I’m not directly quoting the music but only commenting on it, I think I should be okay.  These are both books focusing on my love of music, in particular about a band and a genre that inspired me and shaped who I am.

See y’all on the flip side, kids!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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