GETTING NASTY: A Rutle Remembers

Al Sussman pays tribute in Beatlefan #242 to Neil Innes, creator of the brilliant Beatles musical parodies used by The Rutles in addition to playing the band’s Lennon figure, Ron Nasty. Innes was a member of the legendary Bonzo Dog Band (which appeared in “Magical Mystery Tour”) and also appeared with Monty Python over the years, including at the Concert for George.. Here, we offer excerpts from two interviews with Innes that were published in Beatlefan. First up, Juan Agueras and Ricardo Gil spoke with him recently for an interview originally published in  Beatlefan #145. …

the rutles

From left: Eric Idle, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey and Neil Innes as The Rutles.

Beatlefan: Do you remember the first time you met George Harrison?

Innes: We, Bonzo Dog Band, were at Abbey Road recording a thing called “My Brother Makes a Noises With The Talkies,” a very old 1920s thing, very early jazz thing. I came down the corridor, I saw some doors open. It was all before I met any of The Beatles. There they were wearing sunglasses, pointed shoes, and I said: “They record here too, don’t they?” A little later I went down to listen outside the studio to see what they were doing. It was “I Want to Tell You.” Some other day I was with George, on the piano outside the kitchen, and I said to George: “I’ve always loved that bit when the F goes over the E [in that song]. He picked up a guitar and he went with the intro — when was the last time he had played it? It was uncanny. I started playing the piano with him. Amazing musician, I couldn’t do that, he picked it up absolutely perfectly.

Beatlefan: Then came “Magical Mystery Tour”?

Innes: Most people liked the Bonzo Dog Band. We were making fun of it all, all the time, in the middle of the ’60s. And there we were, in “Magical Mystery Tour.” We met George then. We had a big party. We had a huge jam session with most of The Beach Boys. George was playing saxophone. We spent some 20 minutes doing a version of “Oh! Carol.” He simply found a couple of notes and made them work, no soloing. There were 20 people onstage! We all had a good time together. We were all of the same age, sort of middle 20s men, I guess the same sense of humor. We just kept in contact, really.

Beatlefan: Could we talk now about “Rutland Weekend Television”?

neil innes 1970

Neil Innes in 1970.

Innes: I made a television show with Eric Idle called “Rutland Weekend Television.” For the BBC2. Rutland is the smallest county area in England, and therefore it would have the smallest amount of money. So, these television shows had to be very cheap. The BBC liked this idea, not too much money. In 1974 I was playing with Monty Python. So, it was in ’75, possibly. We did two series of that. Basically, Eric Idle wrote the sketches and I wrote some songs. I also came up with visual ideas to go with the songs. And because everything on the show had to be cheap I thought it could be a good idea to do a parody of “A Hard Day’s Night.” It was black and white, it had these speeded up sections in which there were those very cheap jokes. And for that we needed some kind of songs. The actors had to dress up, and with some wigs on we could be The Beatles running around. So I wrote this very simple song — you know, it is like a list of “I feel good, I feel happy, I feel sad” — and I needed a middle eight. But it’s basically a list, a terribly lazy song. The middle bit is a little more interesting, musically speaking. So we did this and Eric said: “Oh, I like this idea because I’ve got another about a documentary filmmaker who is so boring that the camera runs away from him.” So we put the pieces together and we came up with the name of The Rutles, which comes from Rutland — it is terrible, I hate that name! I like words. This word should have two t’s … but never mind.

Beatlefan: How did the whole project evolve?

Innes: Then Eric went to New York to attend “Saturday Night Live” and he took me with him. We shot this clip of the song for “Rutland Weekend Television.” And the people liked it and they sent letters with Beatles albums in with Beatles names crossed out and Rutles written in. So we said: “Let’s do the whole story.” Then I did another song —- we got the money to do the film for American prime time television. They told me: “Can you write, by next Thursday, 20 more Rutles songs?” I said: “I don’t know.” Anyway, I tried it and that is how it came about, the story of The Beatles, with George Harrison supporting us. He thought it was time for a bit of a laugh. You know, somebody was offering The Beatles $20 million to get back together again. It was kind of “Let’s tell the story in a funny way.” Of course, everybody realized it was funny because we pretended that The Beatles didn’t exist, that The Rutles existed instead. It was such an obvious lie. These mad people, where are they from? So it was like a parallel universe. And there’s real Beatles footage, not of The Beatles themselves but of newsreels and the like, cut into the film. And our cameraman and the director were very clever when matching all these things. So lots of skillful people were involved, not only in the music, but also in the photography and in putting it all together. It was so close to the real Beatles story that nobody needed a script. George was giving us inside stories, Mick Jagger too, Paul Simon — so it was like a party for everybody. All these people were put together by George Harrison.

Beatlefan: Were George Harrison and Eric Idle friends?

Innes: I was obviously working with Eric, and he and George became friends. Both their marriages had gone at the same time, so they were “boys together on the town.” And in fact it was quite funny because George used to tease Eric by saying “My wife ran off with Eric Clapton, and not some actor from Hampstead.” George and Eric came down to see me in my van, when we were playing together. George actually did some things on Rutland Television, too.

neil nasty 2

Innes as Ron Nasty.

Beatlefan: What was it like making “All You Need Is Cash”?

Innes: There was a lot of fun. It was very hard work because most of the time we were just making it up. And we had a rough idea of what we were going to do in that scene; then we sort of — for example, with Leggy [the manager of The Rutles] I said “no,” they said “yeah.” And of course, at the end it was perfect. I mean, it all was made up all the time. And when I was in the bath, with Chastity, and the water is turned on, and the camera is turned on, I said to myself: “What’s gonna happen?” I said to Eric: “What are you doing? Thank you, Eric.” [So I said] “We’re sitting here, getting wet … ” We talked about it, we were desperately thinking of something to say. And then I said that civilization is an effective sewage system and we hoped that by the use of plumbing we could demonstrate it to the rest of the world. You know, we made it up at the time. We had lots of things like that.

Beatlefan: Did you and George ever play together on a record?

Innes: I wanted George to play ukulele on [the Rutles sequel album] “Archaeology”, ’cause I had written a ukulele song, a bit of a tease for George. I showed him the lyrics and asked him: “What do you think of this song?” He immediately faxed something back saying: “Yeah, there shouldn’t be any problem putting a tune to that. But here’s one I wrote earlier.” And then sent me one of his. I used to tease him about “Something in the way she moves.” I said to him: “You’re so lazy. You couldn’t even think of a rhyme, and then you put a guitar — [Neil sings the guitar lick intro]. We used to have a lot of fun.

Beatlefan: We can’t forget the film “Life of Brian.” Tell us something about it.

Innes: George came in and saved Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” He raised the money because the Rank Organisation pulled out because they thought it was blasphemous, too risky. So the film was made six months later than it should have been and I had to make a television series of my own, so I hardly did anything in the film because I was working on something else. Even though I had big credit because I had already made the animated credits. I only did one morning filming. Anyway I had a very nice weekend in Tunisia just in the last week of filming. That is when The Rutles started, just by accident. We all thought at that time it was a good idea, just for having fun, really.

older neil innes

Innes in his later years. He died in December, 2019, at age 75.

Beatlefan: But above all, you were close friends. What was the role of the garden in George’s life?

Innes: My wife is a very good garden designer. She’s won gold medals in the Chelsea Flower Show. And George has such a fantastic garden and we went down there and both of us were helping with the garden, especially with Olivia’s kitchen garden, for years. I don’t know as much about gardening as Yvonne does, obviously. George is a natural, brilliant garden designer. George’s garden is very difficult. It is huge. It was built by this Victorian millionaire called Sir Frank Crisp. There’s a Japanese garden in it, and then there’s a rockery — it’s just silly, something very difficult because if you want to buy some plants for it, you don’t need one tray, you need 20 trays. George spent hours trying to get the garden right, and he got it. The garden is fantastic. There were people taking care of the trees because there is so much stuff there. And there you have, in the fireplaces written “Sir Frankie Crisp,” and “Ring out the old, ring in the new; bring out the false, bring in the truth,” which he turned into a song. And all of the light switches, the brass, with little faces of monks, with the nose [as the switch]. I mean, that was there. George simply wanted to be safe.

Beatlefan: You witnessed his last days . . .

Innes: George and I were very close friends. When he knew he was sort of disappearing, he dropped an e-mail: “We’re fine,” telling us he was doing whatever. I was really so shocked. It was in August that some reporter wanted to interview me about George. They were looking I think for some kind of obituary. I had been writing this song called “Friends Till the End of the Line.” It was about three friends, about some other people. I had been away to finish the song. Then I came back to London and I saw the thing on the news: “Beatle George is dead.” I couldn’t believe it. I really thought he was getting better. Well, I don’t really like telling sort of private things to anyone [but] when George was in Switzerland, he had no hair, he had with him this little movie camera. He turned it around himself and he started to sing: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” George was fantastic. A great person. The more you look into life, the more courage you need to sort of keep going. He had courage. He was spiritual, but he wasn’t mystical — because he has this wonderful sense of humor as well. He was a very very special human being. We all miss him. There’s lot of stuff he’s still giving us, things to listen to and remember, to keep it in our hearts. You know, I close my eyes and I still see him, looking gallant, grinning horribly right now as I am saying these words.

Beatlefan: Who were behind the [Concert for George] tribute to George Harrison?

Innes: Very much Olivia and Dhani were in control and they put Eric Clapton in charge. But the whole concept was of Olivia and Dhani. So they got the Ravi Shankar Orchestra, Anoushka — and they were all fantastic. The first half was absolutely fantastic. And I wanted to do that song, but nobody wanted to do any song apart from George’s ones. I ended up doing the thing with Monty Python, singing and then turning around with the bareback sighting. It was my idea to have a good laugh about that as well, because we decided to take our trousers off, and not many people can say to have done it at the Royal Albert Hall. I think it was a good moment. Then we had Tom Hanks, who was like a little school boy, he couldn’t wait to put his Canadian Mounted Police suit and come out and sing “I’m a Lumberjack.” So there was a lot of happiness and a lot of sorrow, and a lot of love that evening. And I thought Paul McCartney was great as well. Paul was there for George. He really went in and did it. Even though they finished with “Wah Wah,” which is not exactly an appropriate song — you know, George was fed with The Beatles songs [when he wrote that one].

 

Ken Sharp also talked with Innes. These excerpts are from an interview originally published in Beatlefan #55 and #56, December 1987 and February 1988 ….

 

bonzos

The Bonzos in The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” film.

Ken: How did the Bonzo Dog Band wind up in “Magical Mystery Tour”?

Neil: Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike, was in a group based in Liverpool called the Scaffold. And we’d actually bumped into each other at various venues and … thought it would be fun to work together some time … because we were both doing a similar thing — they were a little more literary, but just as absurd as we were. And because [The Beatles] were making “Magical Mystery Tour,” Mike said to Paul, “Why don’t you get the Bonzo Dog Band?” And Paul said, “Well, what do they do?” [And Mike said] “You ought to go and check them out.” And we were checked out. And the next thing we knew it was “Would you like to be in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’? Which was quite exciting, because we’d heard they were making it. And we thought, “Oh, yeah, why not?” And when we heard it was going to be the strip scene — which was part of their story, it wasn’t any of our doing — they said can you come up with a song? And we thought, what’s suitable? Oh, well, “Death Cab for Cutie,” that’ll do. And we did it. George said afterwards it ought to be a single. I said, “Oh, come off it. No one’s going to take this seriously at all.”

Ken: It’s ironic that you appeared in that and later you were involved with The Rutles. …

Neil: Well, yeah. The Beatles, after all, were our same age. And, to their great credit, didn’t really go insane, you know, with a lot of insanity around them. And to have a laugh and drink with, they were basically a rock ’n’ roll band.

Ken: And you also worked with Paul, who produced “I’m the Urban Spaceman” under a pseudonym, Apollo C. Vermouth.

Neil: Yeah, we weren’t going to have any of this kind of cheap success by dropping names in any way. It was so funny, actually, because when Paul turned up — he’d met [Bonzo member] Viv [Stanshall] in a nightclub and Viv was moaning about it, and Paul said, “Well, I’ll come and do it.” … Anyway, he turns up and … Paul is Mr. Magic. You know, going around being nice to everyone and putting everyone at their ease. And he sat down and started playing the piano, [saying] “I’ve just written a song.” … That was the first time, I think, anyone heard “Hey Jude.” He hadn’t even recorded it. … He was great. And he got the double-track drums and things like that. And played ukulele on it. And when Viv wanted to do that thing on the end with a garden hose and a plastic funnel, the engineer said it can’t be done and [Paul] said, “Oh, yes it can. Put a microphone in each corner.” And that’s what had to be done. And the guy who was producing us at the time, his wife was a very forceful woman, and she came up to [Paul] when he had the ukulele and said, “Well, what’s that? A poor man’s violin?” And he said, “No, it’s a rich man’s ukulele.”

neil as nasty

Innes played a John Lennon parody, Ron Nasty.

Ken: How did The Rutles come about?

Neil: Well, “Rutland Weekend Television” [was an Eric Idle TV series for the BBC] and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing it with him. … [Looking for something inexpensive to make, I thought] I’ll do a Beatles spoof called “I Must Be in Love.” And I got into it a bit, and that’s how The Rutles were born. Eric went to host “Saturday Night Live” and at that time somebody was trying to get The Beatles together again, offering $3 million and a killer whale, or something, and [“SNL” producer] Lorne Michaels came on and set it all up. He said. “Well, people have been saying $3 million and Eric said he could do it for $300 so reluctantly we gave him the money and he went back to England … and the upshot is, he hasn’t got The Beatles back together again, but he’s got The Rutles.” And it had a sufficient impact for them to think about doing the whole story. Lorne got NBC to actually put prime-time money into it. …

Ken: How did you come to write some of those songs? Were there certain Beatles songs you were listening to? Because you really captured all the songs … you really distilled it.

Neil: Well, all of a sudden there I was with people saying, “We’ve got the go-ahead, we need 14 Beatles songs.” And I thought, “Oh, great, oh God. If I go listening to Beatles songs, I’m going to be nowhere.” So from my own memory of being someplace else listening to this and that, I started to write songs based on different eras they went through. … The hardest ones I found to write were the teenaged ones, you know, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” kind of things. Then I had to really remember what it was like the first time I put my hand inside a girl’s bra. You know, it’s that sort of excitement. Adolescent love is terribly serious and it’s really difficult to write, married and two children. … So I wrote them all without listening to a damn thing. And then I think I had another good idea, which was to get the band together, the ones who were playing it, which was everybody except Eric, who doesn’t really play, and Ollie Halsall was the fifth Rutle, Leppo. … We went to a place in Hendon and rehearsed for two weeks. … And so we went into the real studio and made the recordings and only when we went into the studio did we listen to particular [Beatles] tracks, having laid down our tracks, to listen to the production. That’s when we had, “There’s bongos in there! I never knew they had bongos in there before. Better stick some bongos on,” and things like that. And then it still sounded too good with the modern equipment. We put it through two passes through a compressor to sort of ruin it a bit. And it took a fortnight to make the album. The only thing to come in under budget was the music.

Ken: What about [the Lennon parody] “Cheese and Onions”? You appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and did that song [before the Rutles film].

Neil: That track turned up on a [Beatles] bootleg album. … I was rang up by a reporter from the NME saying, “There’s a bootleg Beatle album and there’s one song on there that’s identical to a Rutles track!”

Ken: You mentioned Ollie Halsall. He plays on the record …

rutles 2

The early Rutles. Eric Idle (left) as the Paul McCartney character mimed while Ollie Halsall actually sang on the recording.

Neil: He sings, actually. Eric mimes to him.

Ken: “With a Girl Like You” is Ollie singing?

Neil: Yes.

Ken: What other songs does he sing?

Neil: “Get Up and Go.” That’s it. But Rikki [Fataar, who played Stig, the George character] sings the ones he sings.

Ken: How did John Halsey [who played Barry Wom, the Ringo character] come into the picture?

Neil: John was sort of a mate of mine. … A very nice drummer and a real character. And he appeared in “Rutland Weekend Television” a few times doing other things as well. We worked together quite a lot.

Ken: You mentioned “Get Up and Go” [the film’s “Get Back” parody]. The re-creation [in the film] of the rooftop “Get Back” sequence from “Let It Be” is so incredible, down to the clothing and hairstyles.

Neil: I know. But the difficult thing was, why Ringo had on a red plastic mac and John was wearing a fur coat, it was a bloody cold day [when The Beatles filmed their rooftop concert]. The day we were filming it, it was scorching hot! It was most uncomfortable, with glued-on wigs and beards and things.

Ken: Besides George [who was a fan of The Rutles and appeared briefly in the film], what was the reaction of the other Beatles to The Rutles?

neil innes 2009

Innes in 2009.

Neil: The official thing I heard was John was fascinated and kept watching it. Allen Klein actually owned up and said, “Yes, I do talk to myself in the mirror” [like the character Ron Decline in the film]. Ringo liked the happy bit and not the sad bit. It was too close. That was the big thing about The Rutles. The real story was too sad to tell. I feel very sorry for Neil Aspinall, who actually put together a very informed and balanced, well-made film of the whole period [“The Long and Winding Road”]. I don’t know whether it’s seen the light of day or not, but George had a copy and showed it to Eric and I. And after Leggy [Brian Epstein] dies, it’s miserable. You feel, what a downer. And so it was a way of telling the story without downing the audience, skipping over the sad bits. So I think Ringo was too much reminded of the real breakup. And Paul had an album out at the same time as The Rutles came out and was forever saying, “No comment” about The Rutles. He had dinner at some award thing at the same table as Eric one night and Eric said it was a little frosty. But they all agreed to release Shea Stadium footage and other footage [for use in the Rutles film] and things like that, and said good luck to you. Because I think they all wanted the record put straight a little bit, even if it was slightly cockeyed.

Ken: It’s a legend that will last a lunchtime.

Neil: Certainly is. With pudding and tea. And biscuits.

 

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The Abbey Road Medley at 50 Years: A Perfect Beatles Goodbye

An edited version of this article by Tim Hatfield about the “Abbey Road” medley appears in Beatlefan #242. Here is the unedited version, complete with academic notes and references.

The Beatles' Last Photo Shoot August 1969 (1) copy

I’m a Beatles fan.  There are still a lot of us, and not even all of us are now in their 70’s, as I am.  I’ve been a fan since that Sunday night in February of 1964 when a bunch of guys crowded into our freshman dorm room and watched on the Ed Sullivan Show as they won over an entire nation in mourning after our young President was murdered. I was more of a fan when I got to see the Beatles perform live in Cincinnati – twice! In August of 1964, then two years later when it didn’t matter to me that John Lennon had said in an interview that they were more popular than Jesus.  Objectively, that may have been true, but it teed off a lot of people.  Not me.

 

Flash forward to 2011, when as a recently retired college professor I audited my colleague Paul Vance’s “Beatles as Musicians” course at Winona State University in Minnesota.  He knew that I was still a big fan, and that my favorite Beatles “song” was the medley of songs that made up most of the second side of the Abbey Road album.  And the more I’ve thought about the medley, it has seemed to me that it was a microcosm of the important elements of the Beatles’ complete body of work, as well as a view into some of their history as a group.

 

I’ve let those thoughts about the medley percolate for these eight years, until now, 50 years after the release of Abbey Road.  There were a lot of momentous things going on in the summer of ’69 – Apollo 8 on the moon, Woodstock – so it may have been easy to overlook what would be the final album produced by the Beatles.  But it, too, has left a lasting mark on the culture; it certainly has stayed with me all these years. Let me discuss some of those basic elements from the Abbey Road medley and all the Beatles’ previous albums, with representative examples from both.  The elements will include harmonies and wordplay, unique characters in the songs, and experimentation with instrumentation and multiple musical genres.

 

Background

 

Although Abbey Road was released before the Let It Be album, the work on Abbey Road was done after the chaotic, acrimonious sessions that resulted in Let It Be.  The Beatles were all but finished as a group, and their personal and professional relationships were in tatters.  But it seems that they decided that Let It Be was not the ultimate piece of work that they wanted to leave to the world.  It took assurances from them to their producer George Martin that if he was willing to produce another album for them, they would commit to the kind of true collaboration that had marked their early career.  In a Rolling Stone interview, Martin recalled this: “They said, ‘Let’s try and get back to the way we were in the old days, and will you really produce the next album for us?’ … We were really amicable and really friendly. We really did try to work together” (Greene, 2016). In his 2014 book, Hunter Davies affirmed Martin’s view: “And surprisingly, despite all the chaos and confusion, the splits and splinters in their personal and professional lives, they went out on a high.  George Martin has said he thought it was their best album” (Davies, 2014, p. 333). They did work together; they did go out on a high.  Abbey Road, culminating in the medley, was the Beatles’ final collective gift to the world.

 

Preceding the medley was George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”  Its presence may be indicative of the group’s commitment to a final, inclusive, positive collaboration for the album.  The high quality of Harrison’s work speaks for itself, but throughout the life cycle of the Beatles his contributions were typically considered secondary to the songs of Lennon/McCartney, and often were ruled out of albums even when they were superior to some of the Lennon/McCartney songs that were included instead (e.g., think about the White Album).  So here, the very intentional decision to begin the last side of the last album to be created by the Beatles with George Harrison’s sweet, lyrical reminder that the sun would, indeed, keep coming up and that things would be all right may have been a supportive symbolic statement about George and his work, as well as a heads up that this album was coming from a unified band.  Abbey Road, though including the lengthy medley, is not just an album cobbled together from “Paul songs” and “John songs.” The artful melding of multiple song fragments from both John and Paul, however, resulted in the medley.

 

And, as an aside, I would like to think that I am not the only person who wishes the medley of songs was the last to be produced by the Beatles.  For whatever the reason, though, the impish “Her Majesty” was the final track on side B side of Abbey Road, literally the last song of their last album [Michael Starr’s biography of Ringo mentioned that the song was added by Apple engineer John Kurlander (2015, p. 210)].  But at least “Her Majesty” was playful, it was fun, in a way evoking the playful, fun days early in the band’s career, captured so well in the brilliant film A Hard Day’s Night and evident in every freewheeling press conference during those heady early days when it was fun and exciting to be a Beatle.

 

Harmonies and Wordplay

 

The tight, 3-part harmonies so prevalent in Beatles songs from the very beginning of their career was highlighted in the first sung notes of “Because,” the first song of the Abbey Road medley.

 

Beginning with an extended “Ahhhhhh” over a harpsichord accompaniment, the 3-part harmony was tripled into a 9-voice choir before launching into a series of musical puns, reminiscent of one of their earliest hit tunes, “Please Please Me,” including at the same time some double entendre evoking 60’s pop/drug culture:

 

Because the world is round it turns me on….
Because the wind is high it blows my mind….
Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry (1)

Each of the remaining songs contained moments of the same kind of close harmonizing.  In “You Never Give Me Your Money” this was most evident in the second verse:

 

I never give you my number
I only give you my situation
And in the middle of investigation
I break down

 

“Sun King” opens with another three-part harmony “Ahhhhhh” and the tight harmony continues throughout, until the end when “John reverted to singing gibberish” (Davies, 2014,p. 349).

 

The John and Paul duet to begin “Mean Mr. Mustard” splits into a harmonious “Such a mean old man,” then continues into the second verse when the narrative begins to describe “His sister Pam….”

 

“Polythene Pam” is a John Lennon solo, with harmony in the background vocals, including a “She Loves You”-like “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The following “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” mirrored that form, with Paul singing solo above background harmonies until the layered “Didn’t anybody tell her” to the end of the song.

 

And, true to “The End,” the sweet harmonizing completed the medley with this rhyming couplet:

 

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

 

Prior Harmonies

 

You’re invited to reflect on your own favorite examples of harmonies in Beatles songs, but here I just want to highlight the fact that harmony was, indeed, a core component of the Beatles’ sound throughout their career They clearly didn’t invent harmonizing in vocal music.  For example, barber shop quartets from a century earlier were all about harmonizing.  As young boys living in World War II-era England, the not-yet Beatles must have had some awareness of the Andrews Sisters’ harmonies over the radio.  And as teenaged aspiring musicians, when they were listening to and absorbing every kind of popular music they could get their hands on, the sweet two-part harmonies of Don and Phil Everly (think “Dream”) and others were duly absorbed as they developed their own sound.  But what is significant is that the quality and prominence of the harmonies in the Beatles’ body of work took pop music to another level.

 

“Love Me Do,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and the title track from the Please Please Me album are some early examples of the inclusion of two or three-part harmonies.   “All I’ve Got to Do,” “All My Loving,” “Please Mr. Postman,” continued this on the With the Beatles album, during the early days of the band’s career when their original music was liberally interspersed with covers of other artists’ songs.  Beatles for Sale included “I’m a Loser,” “Baby’s in Black,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “Every Little Thing,” and “Eight Days a Week.”

 

The Hard Day’s Night album notably included “If I Fell,” “I’ll Be Back,” and “Things We Said Today.”  And one year later Help, another album attached to a movie, had the title song, “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Tell Me What You See,” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” as additional examples.

 

During the middle Sixties, when the Beatles began to experiment boldly, they were no less committed to close harmonies. 1965’s Rubber Soul includes “Nowhere Man,” which begins with several bars of a cappella harmony just as the group began “Because” in the medley, as well as “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl, “I’m Looking Through You,” and the haunting “In My Life.”  A year later, Revolver included “Here, There and Everywhere,” “She Said, She Said,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “I Want to Tell You” (the latter of which diverged into more dissonant harmony).

 

The watershed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, while remembered for so much more, stayed true to the Beatles’ harmonies.  “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Lovely Rita,” the refrain in “Good Morning Good Morning,” and the title song and its reprise are good examples.

 

Immediately following in that same year are the title track of Magical Mystery Tour, “Your Mother Should Know,” “Penny Lane,” and the tour de force “All You Need is Love.”

 

1968’s White Album, the two-album set re-released with outtakes in 2018, although containing what seem to be a greater proportion of individual efforts than other albums, does continue the harmony tradition, beginning with the background vocals in “Dear Prudence” and including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Birthday,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Revolution 1,” and “Savoy Truffle.”

 

And even during the interpersonally unharmonious final months of the Beatles, vocal harmony was still very present in their music. “Two of Us,” “I Me Mine,” “One after 909,” and “Get Back,” which also was performed as part of their final live performance on the Apple Records roof, are noteworthy.

 

Prior Wordplay

 

Although not as present in their songs as the harmonizing, the Beatles’ clever use of language also sets their body of work apart from that of other artists.  As above, I am not attempting to provide an exhaustive list of every example of clever wordplay from among the Beatles’ more than 200 songs, but instead representative examples of them.  As mentioned above, this began early in their career.  Indeed, their very name, thanks to creative spelling, morphed an insect into something rhythmic, musical (and, perhaps, influenced the naming of other “animal” groups with alternative spellings – e.g., the Byrds and Monkees).

 

From their earliest albums, the wordplay is present.  One clear example is the repetitive, though different meanings of “please” in “Please Please Me.”  Grammar check software often highlights the redundancy, but the polite adverb “please” precedes the request to behave in a way that satisfies or makes one happy – the second “please.” Concise, clear, creative.

 

Some of the background vocals on Rubber Soul’s “Girl” were even playfully naughty, with a repetitive, staccato “Tit tit tit tit tit tit tit…” underlying this verse:

 

She’s the kind of girl who puts you down
When friends are there
You feel a fool
When you say she’s looking good
She acts as if it’s understood
She’s cool, ooh, ooh, ooh

 

On Revolver, George Harrison’s “Taxman” in just a few seconds skewers the British tax system, which profited greatly from the Beatles’ huge popularity and success:

 

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

 

The following song on Revolver, the melancholy “Eleanor Rigby” describes the title character, one of the many “lonely people,” in this way:

 

Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door

 

John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus” on the Magical Mystery Tour album briefly self-cites “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Lady Madonna” with the lines “See how they fly, Like Lucy in the sky, See how they run.” Repeatedly in the song, as well, there are clever (some would say strange or trippy) language and images, including invented words like “Goo goo g’joob,” “crabalocker,” “textpert,” and “snide” as a verb:

 

Sitting on a corn flake
Waiting for the van to come…
I am the egg man
They are the egg men
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob….

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun

If the sun don’t come, you get a tan

From standing in the English rain….

Semolina Pilchard

Climbing up the Eiffel Tower

Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna….

 

On the same album (and on the flipside of the “I Am the Walrus” 45) Paul McCartney’s “Hello Goodbye,” was an entire song of point/counterpoint words and phrases.  And at the conclusion of the huge collaborative effort on “All You Need Is Love,” broadcast live around the world, John Lennon inserts one of the verses most associated with the Beatles when they first became world famous: “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The White Album may be a highwater mark of Beatles’ wordplay.  It opens with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” which includes a reference to Georgia, one of the republics of the former Soviet Union and now a country, when referring to the desirable girls in the country.  The references to the U.S.S.R. girls are also a clever homage both to the Beach Boys for their earlier “California Girls,” as well as to Ray Charles’ 1960 hit “Georgia on My Mind” (“Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind”).

 

“Glass Onion,” the third song on the White Album, has multiple self-citations of previous Beatles songs.  Indeed, as described in the website TheBeatlesBible.com,

 

“Glass Onion” was John Lennon’s answer to those who looked for hidden meanings in The Beatles’ music. It was a song deliberately filled with red herrings, obscure imagery and allusions to past works. Fully aware of the power of The Beatles’ own mythology, and with a general dislike of those who over-interpreted his work, Lennon deliberately inserted references to “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Fool on the Hill,” and “Fixing a Hole” (Gooden, n.d.).

 

I told you about the walrus and me, man
You know we’re as close as can be, man
Well here’s another clue for you all
The walrus was Paul.

 

I told you about strawberry fields,

You know the place where nothing is real

 

Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet, yeah

 

I told you about the fool on the hill

I tell you man he living there still

 

Fixing a hole in the ocean

 

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” borrowed the colorful language “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, bra’” from Jimmy Scott, a Nigerian conga drum player friend of Paul McCartney (Goodden, n.d.).  While not qualifying as original clever wordplay by the Beatles, it is one example of the wide net employed by the band to gather ideas for songs during their career.

 

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” also on the White Album, was vilified in some quarters because the assumption was that it promoted the shooting of illicit drugs.  John Lennon stridently denied this, noting that he wrote the song after George Martin showed him a newspaper headline promoting guns (Goodden, n.d.).  And the terrible irony does not escape me that years later John Lennon himself was murdered with a warm gun.

 

Just three songs later in the White Album, Paul McCartney’s gentle metaphor “Blackbird” stood in support of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, when so many people were actively involved in moving beyond “waiting for this moment to arise.”

 

The White Album’s next song also included some biting social commentary about social class in George Harrison’s “Piggies.”  While it opens with the reference to “the little piggies crawling in the dirt,” accompanied by barnyard pig grunts, it quickly morphs to human “piggies,” both poor and rich:
And for all the little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in

And while the lower class ”piggies” are in the dirt, the upper class “piggies” not only keep them there, but ultimately are caught up in their own greed, which can put them at odds with the other “bigger piggies,” even to the point of cannibalizing each other:

Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts?
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt….

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon

 

John Lennon’s “Come Together” on Abbey Road’s A Side reprises his inspired Lewis-Carroll-like wordplay from “I am the Walrus”:

 

Here come old flat top

He come grooving up slowly

He got joo joo eyeball

He one holy roller

He got hair down to his knee

Got to be a joker he just do what he please

 

He wear no shoeshine

He got toe jam football

He got monkey finger

He shoot Coca Cola….

 

The Let It Be album notably includes “Across the Universe,” with the Sanskrit mantra “Jai guru deva, om.”  It is one of John Lennon’s favorite pieces of work because as poetry the words can stand by themselves:

 

Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me

 

Unique Characters

 

Unique, vivid characters were the centerpieces for many Beatles songs, going back to early in their career, and figuring prominently in a couple of the songs in the Abbey Road medley.

 

The two songs in the medley featuring vivid characters refer, in fact, to siblings: Mean Mr. Mustard and “his sister Pam,” Polythene Pam.  Mr. Mustard, a down and out guy, “sleeps in the park…in a hole in the road” while “saving up to buy some clothes” and hiding “a ten-bob note up his nose.”  His sister Pam, on the other hand, a “go-getter,” has a job in a shop and continues to reach out and do kind things for her brother, like taking “him out to look at the queen,” which he thanklessly responds to by “always shout[ing] out something obscene.”

 

Pam, a colorful character in her own right, is “attractively built,” a “killer-diller” when she’s “dressed to the hilt” in her “jackboots and kilt” that can even attract the attention of the “News of the World.”

 

Vivid characters, fully realized in just a few verses of these two songs.

 

Prior Unique Characters

 

Early in their career, when the Beatles’ albums were a blend of some of their original work and covers of songs from other (mostly American) artists, the characters in the songs were typically generic, referred to with personal pronouns (you, she, me) rather than proper names.  This did not diminish the appeal and popularity of the songs by any means – consider “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving,” “Love Me Do,” “What You’re Doing,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “Till There Was You.”  One notable exception was their cover of Arthur Alexander’s 1962 song “Anna,” which was on the Beatles’ 1963 Please Please Me album.

 

This basic pattern continued through the group’s two movie albums, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!  In the former, virtually every song has a reference to an unnamed love object – a special “you,” as in “When I get home to you…,” “I should have known better with a girl like you…,” “If I fell in love with you…,” “You can’t do that.”

 

Although not a universal element in every song on the Help! album, the continued general references to a “you” or a “she” are there, plus one warning to another “you” (in “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl”): “I Need You,” “It’s Only Love,” “You Like Me Too Much,” and “Tell Me What You See.”  As they had done before, the Beatles ended the B side of Help! with an example of a direct loving reference to a woman, thanks to Larry Williams’ 1958 song “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”

 

Beginning later in 1965, with the Rubber Soul album, direct references to characters began to appear more and more in the Beatles’ songs.  The unnamed girl in “Norwegian Wood” was the centerpiece of John Lennon’s storytelling, and Paul McCartney’s “Michelle” directly named the object of his affection, although some have said that the French lyrics in the song were an attempt to impress his real-life love at the time, Jane Asher.  Revolver (1966), although not having received nearly the acclaim of the following year’s Sergeant Pepper, is seen by some as the true beginning of the Beatles’ most creative, groundbreaking period.  And in Revolver, besides the generic narrative about a greedy “Taxman,” there were two narrative songs about specific characters.  One, the lonely figure “Eleanor Rigby,” is fictitious.  The other, the drug-friendly M.D. “Doctor Robert,” also may be fictitious, but over the years there has been significant speculation about whether he was an actual person (Rybaczewski, n.d.).

 

The monumental Sergeant Pepper album in 1967 (Rolling Stone called it the best album of all time) (Runtagh, 2017) was replete with direct references to specific characters, beginning with the title song.  John Lennon’s son Julian’s drawing of an elementary school classmate inspired the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as well as the controversy about whether it was a veiled ad for LSD (Runtagh, 2017).  The story of a runaway girl was the impetus for making her the haunting “she” of “She’s Leaving Home.”  A 19th century poster describing an entertainment provided all the details for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”  A parking meter maid, “Lovely Rita,” starred in that song.  And multiple newspaper articles provided the material for, arguably, one of the most famous popular music songs of all time, “A Day in the Life.”

 

The Beatles’ meditation retreat in the Indian ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga proved to be a very generative time for material for the 1968 double White Album.  “Dear Prudence” was about the shy younger sister of Mia Farrow, also present at the ashram.  The lead character in “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” was another attendee, who told the story of his tiger hunt.  “Mother Nature’s Son,” though not named, was inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures about nature (Goodden, n.d.).  “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” told the story of Desmond and Molly Jones, he with a “barrow in the marketplace” and she as a “singer in a band” as they build a life together.  And “Sexy Sadie” (check the cadence when changing the lyric “Sexy Sadie” to “Maharishi”) reportedly is about the Maharishi himself, a reflection of John Lennon’s ultimate disillusionment with the man.  Other songs in the album referred to actual persons from the Beatles’ life experiences.  “Martha My Dear” is seen by some as a means of Paul McCartney’s working through the breakup with his longtime girlfriend Jane Asher, although McCartney said years later that it was about his pet sheepdog. And the beautiful “Julia” is John Lennon’s tribute to his mother, who died when he was a boy.  The iconic title character of the “Hey Jude” single, perhaps the most famous concert singalong song of all time, was Paul McCartney’s empathetic gift to a very young Julian Lennon after after his parents’ divorce. On Abbey Road’s A Side, the murderous Maxwell Edison cut a wide swath with his now-famous silver hammer.  Finally, the Let It Be album included “Maggie Mae” as well as “Get Back,” about Jojo as well as Loretta Martin, she of the high heeled shoes and the low-neck sweater.

 

Experimentation with Instrumentation and Musical Genres

 

The Beatles are an object lesson of the importance of being students of all types of music, and of continuously integrating their learning into their body of work.  This not only involved their writing and performing different types of music, but also their ongoing inclusion of very diverse instrumentation.  Early naysayers about the Beatles pointed out that they were “just another” band with three guitarists and a drummer.  True enough.  But while most bands remained within the rigid confines of that model, for the Beatles it was just a point of departure for the many places their creative genius took them, culminating in the Abbey Road medley.  As will be pointed out in the next section, some examples of diverse instrumentation can be traced back to some of the Beatles’ earlier work, and accelerated significantly beginning in 1965. The same can be said for the inclusion of very diverse musical forms.  Indeed, when writing about the White Album alone, Jon Parales’ piece (2018) cited a raft of musical genres:

 

The album’s variety is its own statement of purpose, extending the “Sgt. Pepper” idea that the Beatles’ music was no longer bound by format, era, or style.  The songs confidently acknowledge and parody influences and peers: blues, country, doo-wop, parlor songs, 1920’s jazz, psychedelia, musique concrete, orchestral easy listening, Baroque harpsichord, bossa nova, Jamaican bluebeat, English brass bands, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys.  For the Beatles in 1968, it all was fair game (p. C6).

 

“Because,” the first song in the Abbey Road medley, is perhaps most memorable for its harmonizing rather than for any complicated instrumentation.  A harpsichord, Moog synthesizer, and very unobtrusive guitar and bass provided the accompaniment for the song, inspired by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  “Yoko was playing Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and John asked her ‘to play some of the chords in the reverse order – and the resulting sounds inspired him to write ‘Because’ ” (Davies, 2014, p.347).

 

“You Never Give Me Your Money” begins with a piano solo before the first two verses, after which the song abruptly changes tempo and style to a vaudevillian sound through the mention of “that magic feeling,” accented by chimes.  The song ends with the repeated child-like “One two three four five six seven, All good children go to heaven,” a channel marker bell (an homage to the harbor in their native Liverpool?), and the chirping of crickets, another example of musique concrete introduced earlier in their career.

 

“Sun King” – a reference back to George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” which immediately precedes the medley?  The initial lyric is identical, plus the additional word “king.” – veers into playful pidgin Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and invented language that John Lennon described in this way:

 

We just started joking, you know, singing “quando para mucho.” So we just made up, ah, Paul knew a few Spanish words from school, you know.  So we just strung any Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something. And of course we got “chicka ferdy” in. That’s a Liverpool expression…(Giannella, 2010).

 

A brief drum riff bridges “Sun King” into the first of three consecutive narrative songs performed with no additional instrumentation to the Beatles foursome, just as they had at the beginning of their career.  “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” describe the characters and the situations on some detail, before giving way to the much more florid, complex rock band with symphonic backup structure of the remainder of the medley.  “Polythene Pam’s” final lyric even revisits the Beatles’ earliest successful days, reprising the iconic “Yeah, yeah, yeah” from “She Loves You.”

 

“Golden Slumbers,” which Hunter Davies (2014) noted began with two original lines by Paul McCartney, then referenced a 1603 poem by British writer Thomas Dekker (p. 354), is more reminiscent of the Beatles’ increasing complexity as a group beginning in the mid-1960’s.  After some brief piano chords preceding the initial lyric “Once there was a way,” a string ensemble is introduced, to be joined in the following “Carry That Weight” and “The End” by a brass section and timpanist which swelled the ranks of the total musicians to more than 30.  Chan (2009) noted in his extensive Beatles World website that the session musicians played 12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 1 string bass, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 bass trombone, and timpani.  Midway through “Carry That Weight” the orchestra reprises the “You Never Give Me Your Money” theme, with additional accompanying lyrics by the Beatles.

 

The melodic bridge to “The End” is followed by three brief lines of lyrics, then solos by each of the Beatles, including the first ever by Ringo:

 

For the first and only time on a Beatles record, Ringo played a drum solo, reluctantly, on “The End,” the album’s last track (notwithstanding the twenty second “Her Majesty,” added by Apple engineer John Kurlander) (Starr, 2015, p. 210).

 

As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of “Her Majesty” after the medley does not negate the power of medley’s concluding rhyming couplet, followed by a final harmonious “Ahhhhh” (mirroring the initial harmony in “Because”) over the guitar and orchestral crescendo. Davies (2014), like myself, believes this is a potent career-ending moment for the Beatles:

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make

 

Paul said he wanted to finish, like the Bard, with a couplet, then exit left.  Interesting that he went out on words, with a final lyrical flourish.  Words did matter to them (Davies, 2014, p. 355).

 

In addition, the critical importance of the concept of love in the Beatles’ body of work underscores the significance of the “love couplet” being the final statement by the group.  Other writers have explored the pivotal nature of the theme of love in all its forms in the Beatles’ music – innocent young love, yearning love, joyful love, unrequited love, lost love.  And it is no coincidence that the wildly successful Beatles partnership between George and Giles Martin and the Cirque du Soleil is called, simply, LOVE.

 

Prior Experimentation with Instrumentation and Musical Genres

 

Even in the “three guitars and drums” early Beatles albums there was some additional instrumentation, in part because George Martin, their producer, collaborator, and an excellent keyboardist, had their backs.  On the Please Please Me album, Martin inserted piano riffs on “Misery” and “Please Please Me,” as well as celesta fills on “Please Please Me” and “Baby It’s You.”  Also on that album, John Lennon played the harmonica on “Chains,” “Love Me Do,” and, most memorably, in the introduction to “Please Please Me.”

 

With the Beatles, also out in 1963, also included George Martin, both on a Hammond organ (“I Wanna Be Your Man”) and piano (“You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Not a Second Time,” and John Lennon’s cover of Barrett Strong‘s “Money”).

 

1964’s Hard Day’s Night was another step forward, beginning the title track with a robust, memorable chord, and including a 12-string guitar and spritely electric piano solo. “I Should Have Known Better” began with an extended harmonica riff.  The undergirding drone-like piano on “Any Time at All” brought another new sound, and the very prominent acoustic guitar on “And I Love Her,” “Things We Said Today” and “I’ll be Back” did likewise.  Finally, George Harrison also played a 12-string guitar on “You Can’t Do That.”  That same year Beatles for Sale included some country and western covers, their own “Baby’s in Black” which was also country influenced, and on “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” experimented with double-tracking John Lennon’s vocal.

 

During this time besides their EMI records in Britain, Beatles songs also were released on a series of Capitol Records in the USA.  This is mentioned here because on one of them, Something New in 1964, the German version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from the group’s Hamburg days was included.  Although there are only a handful of Beatles songs with some lyrics sung in languages other than English, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” is the first.

 

1965 was a pivotal year in the Beatles’ evolution as musicians, with the release of both the Help! and Rubber Soul Albums.  The title track of Help!, released at the time of their second film of the same name, began in the Capitol version with a big band flourish that included a sitar, then launched into a brief cover of the theme from the James Bond movies before the Beatles sang one word.  The song itself early on took the form of a layered round of lyrics:

 

When…

When I was younger, so much younger than today

I never needed…

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

Now…

And now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

And now I find..

And now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors….

 

“The Night Before,” the second song on the album, began with a major electric piano riff over the guitars.  The album includes another covered country tune, “Act Naturally,” sung by Ringo, and a skiffle-influenced song “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” sung by Paul.  And in a first glimpse of things to come on future albums, Paul’s mournful “Yesterday” included the accompaniment of a string quartet.

 

Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood” includes very prominent sitar work by George, the unique, very audible deep intakes of breath (toking?) by John on “Girl,” and several verses sung by Paul in French, as mentioned earlier, on “Michelle.”

 

1966’s Revolver, seen in retrospect by some as the true creative breakthrough for the Beatles as opposed to the more acclaimed Sergeant Pepper a year later, begins with a grunted “One, two, three, four, one, two” before the biting “Taxman” critique begins. The next song, “Eleanor Rigby,” is a chamber piece, with an ensemble of violins, viola, and cello taking the place of all the traditional rock band instruments.  Immediately following is George Harrison’s “Love You To,” demonstrating the influence of his interest in Indian music with the inclusion of traditional Indian instruments sitar, tambura, and tabla to go with the guitar and bass.

 

Changing gears completely, the sweet “Here, There, and Everywhere” is spare and harmonious, with some of the only discernible percussion being the Beatles’ gentle finger snaps near the end of the song.  What could be considered a children’s singalong song, “Yellow Submarine,” follows, and includes an oom-pah band interlude and a musique concrete channel marker bell (like the intro to “Sun King”) plus verbal commands being given and received by the submarine crew members.  “She Said She Said,” inspired by an actual trippy experience with an American actor at a California party, featured intricate sitar-like electric guitar work by George.

 

Side 2 of Revolver begins with “Good Day Sunshine,” featuring George Martin’s introductory piano chords and spritely honky-tonk piano solo.  “For No One” is another chamber piece, with Paul playing bass, piano, and clavichord; it also includes counterpoint and a long solo on a French horn.  “Got to Get You into My Life” incorporates a trumpet introduction and trumpet and saxophone riffs.  And finally, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is both very Indian influenced, avant garde, and conceptual.  Both the sitar and tambura were on display, along with lyrics inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, plus a variety of musique concrete nature sounds and tape loops, played both forward and backward.  As a conceptual piece to complete the Revolver album – i.e., to have it revolve completely — the guitar solo from “Taxman,” the first song on the album, is played backwards on “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Vance, 2011).

 

“Rain,” the B side of the Beatles single “Paperback Writer,” also produced in 1966, included both slowed tape loops and a backwards voice track of some of John Lennon’s lyrics.

 

What Revolver foretold of the Beatles’ intense focus on studio creativity, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band transformed into an art form that popular music had never experienced before.  The conceit that the Beatles were no longer the Beatles, but instead a different band altogether, was in and of itself, a new form of popular music.  Beyond that, there were no limits as to musical genres, instrumentation, and orchestration.  The “new” band was introduced on the title track as if it were in concert, preceded by the murmuring of an audience as they launched into their self-introductory song, complete with four French horns backing them up.  This was followed with “A Little Help from My Friends,” sung by Ringo (or his alter ego, Billy Shears) and the controversial “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which the Beatles steadfastly maintained was not an LSD song.

 

“Fixing a Hole,” about a mundane home repair, utilized harpsichord accompaniment, and the haunting “She’s Leaving Home” harked back to Baroque chamber music with a chamber ensemble of violins, violas, cellos, double bass, and harp taking the place of guitars, bass, and drums [A good friend reminded me that when Sergeant Pepper came out, the American composer Ned Rorem said “She’s Leaving Home” was “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote,” and that Leonard Bernstein likened the Beatles to Robert Schumann (The Telegraph, 2000)].

 

The content of the last song on the A side of the album, “Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was lifted almost verbatim from an antique 1843 poster found by John Lennon, and the Beatles’ standard instruments are augmented with two different organs, bells, tape loops, glockenspiel, and harmonium.

 

George Harrison’s only song on the album is the first track on side 2 of Sergeant Pepper.  “Within You Without You” follows in the footsteps of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an homage to George’s continued interest in Indian music and spirituality.  With the exception of overdubbed strings, only Indian instruments (and no participation by the other three Beatles) were used on the more than five minute track, accented at the end by a musique concrete laugh track to lighten the mood of the piece (Goodden, n.d.).

 

“When I’m Sixty-Four” was in stark contrast, an old-fashioned British music house-sounding song with a clarinet duet introduction and flourishes, plus a well-placed chime.  “Lovely Rita,” the next song, included all the Beatles playing combs with paper, a memorable honkytonk piano solo by George Martin, and some playful musique concrete moaning and groaning by the band at the end of the track.

 

An even more pronounced inclusion of musique concrete immediately followed, with the crowing of a rooster to announce “Good Morning, Good Morning.”  Two saxophones, a trombone, and French horn were featured, Paul contributed a particularly savage guitar solo, and considerable time and effort was put into the musique concrete section at the end of the song, which ended with a chicken’s cackling, John’s whispering “Bye,” and a countdown into the reprise of the title track.  The recording engineer Geoff Emerick reported that John Lennon had requested

 

the sound of animals escaping and that each successive animal should be capable of frightening or devouring its predecessor! So those are not just random effects, there was actually a lot of thought put into all that…[it] features a cat, dogs barking, horses, sheep, lions, elephants, a fox being chased by dogs with hunters’ horns being blown [author’s note: and, thanks to headphones, the sound of the pounding horses’ hooves running right through your head], then a cow and finally a hen (Goodden, n.d.).

 

The reprise of the title track, a more up tempo version than the first song on the album, segued directly into what many consider (and what many others have written about in detail) the Beatles’ creative masterwork, “A Day in the Life.” It was a true collaboration of Lennon and McCartney, the melding of two quite different songs (not unlike the combining of partial songs for the Abbey Road medley) with what amounted to a full symphony orchestra to augment the band.  The languid reading of the news of the day by John, on the one hand, coupled with the peppy, practical recounting of the beginning of the day by Paul, on the other hand, made for a unique, if not revolutionary pop song.  The transition between the two, a growling crescendo after the first “I’d love to turn you on” and the ringing of an alarm clock, was mirrored at the end of the song, again following “I’d love to turn you on,” by a huge, cacophonous ascending crescendo ending in a resonating piano chord that took almost 40 seconds to fade out, then silence, then ten rapid repetitions of “Never could be any other way” as a second fade-out.

 

Magical Mystery Tour, begun just days after the completion of Sergeant Pepper, was for a TV movie of the same name.  Four trumpets played flourishes on the title track, and a flute and a recorder were included in the instrumentation for “The Fool on the Hill.”  The instrumental “Flying” featured John on mellotron, with the all four Beatles chanting “ahhhhhhhh” for the incidental music for the movie.

 

George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” featured him on Hammond organ, which was double tracked in part.  “Your Mother Should Know” is an homage to the old Busby Berkeley music-house tunes, heavily keyboard influenced with both organ and piano.”

 

“I Am the Walrus” had a major string section, clarinet, French horns, and 16 additional backup singers comprising the ensemble for the trippy lyrics and the lengthy symphonic fade out accompanied by taped conversational voices.

 

“Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” variations on the theme of childhood places remembered by Lennon and McCartney, respectively, were quite different stylistically and considered by some to be competitive pieces by the two songwriters.  “Strawberry Fields” began and ended with the mellotron and was dreamy/avant-garde/psychedelic in tone, with a false ending followed seconds later by cacophonous swirly-sounding mellotron, trumpet, and snare.  It was one of the favorite songs that John Lennon wrote.

 

Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane,” immediately following, is in stark contrast: an upbeat remembrance of a boyhood street, the barber shop there, and the mundane goings-on of the neighborhood.  Also heavily orchestrated with woodwinds and horns, it has a memorable little riff of tubular bells by Ringo preceding an extended piccolo trumpet solo.

 

The final track on the album is “All You Need is Love,” recorded in the summer of 1967, and arguably the song heard in live performance by the most people in history (some estimates were as high as 400 million) because it was performed on a satellite feed to the TV networks of 25 nations late in June of that year.  A symphonic ensemble played several bars of the national anthem as the introduction to the song – not “God Save the Queen,” but France’s “Marseillaise” – and for the live broadcast a rock Who’s Who including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, and Keith Moon were at Abbey Road studio singing along with the chorus. The conclusion of the song was a long fadeout that included trumpet and saxophone flourishes, strings playing the main theme of “Greensleeves,” the repetitive “Love is all you need” lyric, and two reprises of the iconic “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

 

The White Album, previously cited as a major repository of Beatles lyric wordplay, also has several noteworthy examples of divergent instrumentation and musical genres.  “Martha My Dear” begins with a McCartney piano exercise, and has a British music hall sensibility and a major interlude by a brass band, including a tuba.  “Blackbird,” on the other hand, is a spare production, with McCartney’s acoustic guitar accompaniment to his single voice track.  “Piggies” features a harpsichord and is interspersed with musique concrete pig grunts throughout. “Yer Blues” truly was a primitive blues song with very basic instrumentation by the four Beatles, and even recorded in a tiny, acoustically imperfect room at Abbey Road to enhance the raw feel.

 

“Helter Skelter” was an effort to make a loud, primitive, raw rock and roll song, and succeeded to the point that at the end of the song Ringo’s final utterance was “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”  The Beatles were pleased with how the song came together; but, unfortunately, the chaotic song also was picked up as a motivating anthem by the notorious psychopath Charles Manson and his family of killers.

 

“Honey Pie” revisits the old music hall/vaudeville style of “Martha My Dear,” even to the point of engineering an old-fashioned megaphone-tinged voice with the verse “Now she’s hit the big time,” overlaid with the scratchy sounds of early phonograph records.  A jazzy 1920’s-sounding saxophone and clarinet interlude completed the package.

 

“Revolution 9,” the longest track on all the Beatles albums, was arguably also the most controversial in that it was the most obvious departure from their popular sound into the avant-garde.  It was totally comprised of tape loops — music, conversations, crowd noises and chants, random sounds, a car crash — played forwards and backwards in a chaotic manner.

 

And as chaotic as “Revolution 9” was, the White Album ends with John Lennon’s sweet, lushly orchestrated lullaby for his son Julian, “Good Night.”  Sung by Ringo, and with no instrumental or vocal input from the other Beatles and no traditional rock band instrumentation, the gentle lyrics were accompanied by the orchestra and a group of back-up singers.

 

Finally, when comparing Side A of Abbey Road with the medley, it would be inaccurate to say that the medley reprised the Beatles’ previous body of work.  Although many of the song fragments that were stitched together into the medley had been written previously, the album in its entirety was crafted in the summer and fall of 1969.  Still, the harmonies and wordplay, the vivid characters, the diversity of styles were also evident throughout Side A – the staccato lyrics of “Come Together”; George Harrison’s love song “Something”; “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” the unlikely upbeat tune about a psychopathic killer; McCartney’s soulful, bluesy “Oh! Darling”; the kids’ song “Octopus’s Garden,” sung by Ringo; and the dense, relentless “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

 

To come full circle, all the elements were evident in the brilliant Side B medley.

 

The Medley as a Window into the History of the Beatles as a Group

 

This final section should be considered simply speculative, not comparative as the rest of this piece has been.  At the risk of appearing to take part in the kind of parlor game of ferreting out hidden meanings in Beatles lyrics that John Lennon particularly despised, I would like here to point out several parts of the medley that may point toward the group’s real-life experience.  In most cases I am taking the lyrics quite literally, and invite the readers to consider which historical connections from the medley they themselves think may be most valid.

 

“You Never Give Me Your Money” has been discussed in the literature previously, however.

 

You never give me your money

You only give me your funny paper

And in the middle of negotiations

You break down

 

I never give you my number

I only give you my situation

And in the middle of investigation

I break down

 

Interpersonal issues aside, it is well known that the business side of the Beatles/Apple enterprise was a major headache for the band members, particularly after the death of their manager Brian Epstein.  They were artists, not accountants or business managers, and their frustration with the “corporate” side of being Beatles was frustrating at least, if not debilitating for the band’s continued viability.

 

The next section of the same song changes focus:

 

Out of college, money spent

See no future, pay no rent

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go

 

I associate this with the band’s early days, especially during their time in Hamburg, working long hours for little money, but with open-ended time to work on their craft and to be creative, which kept their hopes up so that, despite having “nowhere to go” they still had “that magic feeling”:

 

But oh, that magic feeling

Nowhere to go

Oh, that magic feeling

Nowhere to go

Nowhere to go

 

The bridging guitar section of the song moved them forward toward the hoped-for success:

 

One sweet dream

Pick up the bags and get in the limousine

Soon we’ll be away from here

Step on the gas and wipe that tear away

One sweet dream

Came true today

Came true today

Came true today (Yes it did)

 

Their dream did become a reality, they did graduate from gritty subsistence living in Hamburg and playing at the Cavern in Liverpool to limousines, jets, and unimaginable worldwide acclaim and success.

 

The “Mean Mr. Mustard”/Polythene Pam”/”She Came in through the Bathroom Window” section of the medley was simply story-telling from the band’s experience.  The former was based on a person in a news story; the second on a woman from the Beatles’ club days; the third on an actual incident that happened to Paul.

 

“Golden Slumbers” makes me wonder about the band’s wish/need to get back to a more simple, restful, “real” life, away from all the Beatles hype and the madness inherent in such a public life.  Could that have been the “homeward” cited here?:

 

Once there was a way to get back homeward

Once there was a way to get back home

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

Golden slumbers fill your eyes

Smiles awake you when you rise

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

Once there was a way to get back homeward

Once there was a way to get back home

Sleep pretty darling do not cry

And I will sing a lullaby

 

A more simple, peaceful life could have been considered “golden,” with a lullaby appropriate for a new period of life, now in its infancy.

 

“Carry That Weight” seems to me so transparently to relate to the crushing weight of fame that the Beatles had to face increasingly as their career progressed.  The constant scrutiny, the ever-increasing expectations for them to come up with brilliant “next things,” the second-guessing of everything they said and did, had to be a significant counterpoint to the material success, the glitz and perks of being so successful and famous.

 

Boy, you gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

 

The melody of “You Never Give Me Your Money” reappears here, and to me seems to link the interpersonal weight of the Beatles existence with the previously-cited joyless business side of being Beatles.

 

I never give you my pillow

I only send you my invitation

And in the middle of the celebrations

I break down

 

Offering someone “my pillow” implies a more personal, even intimate relationship; sending “my invitation” is more formal, businesslike.

 

And while the world at large is still celebrating the Beatles and their creative influence and greatness, wasn’t it clear by now to the band members themselves that the group was dying, on borrowed time, “breaking down?”

 

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

Boy, you’re gotta carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

 

The reprise of the “carry that weight” chorus, given what came before in the medley, not only reinforced the enormity of the burden of fame, but also could have been sung with the knowledge that, with the disbanding of the group, the burden was about to be lifted.

 

It is fitting, then, that the next, last song of the medley is “The End.”

 

Oh yeah, all right

Are you gonna be in my dreams

Tonight?

 

Given all that the Beatles had been through together, how could they not have been in each other’s dreams?  And on balance, despite the feverish, acrimonious final months of the group before intentionally coming together for their final positive collaboration on Abbey Road, the dreams would be positive, not nightmarish.  And the repeated “Love you, love you” verse immediately preceded what I would like to think is akin to the kind of extended jam that the Beatles doubtless spent hours doing as they got to know each other when they first came together as a group.  Each band member – even, as noted earlier, the reluctant Ringo – played an extended solo, until their love for each other and their legacy to the world – love – was enshrined in the couplet that completed the medley:

 

And in the end the love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

1     Unless otherwise noted, throughout the paper many of the lyrics were downloaded from Chan, D. (2009).  Dale Chan’s Beatles World. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.thebeatleshk/MIDILyrics/Albums.html or Davies, H. (2014). The Beatles lyrics. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

 

2     Unless otherwise noted, throughout the paper information about instrumentation in Beatles songs was downloaded from Goodden, J. (n.d.). The Beatles Bible: Not quite as popular as Jesus. Retrieved May 20, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.beatlesbible.com  

 

3     The author is very grateful to his talented musician friend Rich MacDonald for very astute and helpful clarifications about musical concepts and definitions.

 

References

 

Chan, D. (2009).  Dale Chan’s Beatles World. Retrieved March 21, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.thebeatleshk/MIDILyrics/Albums.html

 

Davies, H. (2014). The Beatles lyrics. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

 

Giannella, M. (1993 and revised 2010).  The Beatles: Information for hardcore collectors of Beatles music.  Retrieved September 4, 2014 from the Worldwide Web:  http://beatlesong.info/mg/sun_king_deciphered.html

 

Goodden, J. (n.d.).  The Beatles Bible: Not quite as popular as Jesus.  Retrieved May 20, 2019 from the Worldwide Web:  http://www.beatlesbible.com

 

Greene, A. (March 13, 2016).  Beatles Producer George Martin Dead at 90. Retrieved March 13, 2016 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/beatles-producer-george-martin-dead-at-90-20160309

 

Pareles, J. (2018, November 8). Deep inside the White Album, 50 years later. New York Times, p. C 6.

 

Runtagh, J. (2017, May 18). Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” at 50: Remembering the Real “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Retrieved February 19, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/beatles-sgt-pepper-at-50-remembering-the-real-lucy-in-the-sky-with-diamonds-121628

 

Rybaczewski, D. (n.d.).  Beatles music history: The in-depth story behind the songs of the Beatles!  Retrieved April 24, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: http://www.beatlesebooks.com/dr-robert

 

Starr, M. S. (2015).  Ringo: With a little help. Milwaukee, Wi: Backbeat Books.

 

The Telegraph, “Comment” (September 10, 2000).  “The Beatles: Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.” Retrieved September 4, 2019 from the Worldwide Web: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/4254793/The-Beatles-Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da.html

 

Vance, P. (2011, March 15). Lecture: Undergraduate course The Beatles as Musicians. Winona State University, Winona, MN.

 

 

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Why the skimpy bonus material on the ‘Abbey Road’ deluxe box?

Beatlefan reader Mike Edsall discusses his mixed feelings about the “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary deluxe edition.

The “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary set.

First, let me state where I’m coming from. I am a first-generation Beatles fan who owns close everything they’ve ever released, both group and solo, and I’ve read several hundred books about them.  So, I know a lot, but, admittedly, I do not know everything. I’ve been buying bootlegs since 1972, I loved the “Anthology” collections, and, I totally get off on between-takes dialogue, outtakes, alternate mixes, etc.

A long-time prayer of mine (since I read Mark Lewisohn’s “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” book) was answered by Apple Corps when they included the “Go a bit faster, Ringo!” and “OK, George!” exchange between John and Paul, respectively, with “The Ballad of John And Yoko” in the new “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition.

Yes, I absolutely love the content found in the box set. It truly is thrilling to listen to, and, I am grateful it has been made available.

Box set producer Giles Martin, son of Sir George Martin. (Photo: Alex Lake)

Yet, I do not believe that Apple, Giles Martin and Sam Okell deserve an automatic pat on the back.

True, it’s incredible to listen to this “Abbey Road” material, and, yes, it sounds fantastic. The sound quality is undeniably superb. But, I feel that the quantity of “sessions” material is lacking.

Overall, regarding content for price, I’d rate the “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition as being good, but not great.   Despite the wonderful material, it’s disappointing.

I believe that the Super Deluxe Edition could have, and should have, been much better. I really think that this was a missed opportunity.

For the White Album Super Deluxe Edition box set, we got two CDs for the album itself, a CD with the Esher demos (which clocked in at a healthy 75:22), and three CDs of sessions material, with those discs clocking in at 52:03, 50:49 and 55:34, respectively. Note that those three sessions CDs could have fit comfortably onto two CDs. So, while I loved what I heard, I just wanted more of it.

For me, this time around, it’s the same story. But, it’s worse.

The “Abbey Road” box has the remixed album on CD1, and CD2 and CD3 give us sessions material. Those two discs clock in at 43:47 and 42:16, respectively, with their combined time being a paltry 86:03; that is just 6 minutes beyond the capacity of a single CD!

Sorry, but that is chintzy and skimpy. Apple at least should have maxed out those two sessions discs.  We could/should have been given an additional 74 minutes (or so) of alternates.

Box sets by other artists are far more generous with content quantity.

Beatles fans are willing to pay for what they want.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, The Beatles are one thing that I truly don’t mind throwing my money away on! However, I do mind feeling that I am being short-changed. It shows a lack of respect for Beatle fans.

Here is one way to look at it:

If you buy the “Abbey Road” Deluxe Edition  (the 2-CD set), you get a CD2 (basically an alternate “Abbey Road”) that has sessions content totaling 51:53, which is drawn from the two sessions CDs included with Super Deluxe Edition box set.

The only content exclusive to the Super Deluxe Edition that purchasers of the Deluxe Edition are missing is:

  • Seven tracks that clock in at just over 34 minutes (half of that is “The Long One,”, which is fantastic, of course!)
  • The book (which is beautiful)

The Deluxe Edition currently is selling for about $20, while the Super Deluxe Edition’s price is about $85.

Is the latter actually worth the difference in cost? Are those seven extra tracks plus the book worth the extra $65?

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that fans should not purchase the Super Deluxe Edition. It clearly is a must-buy for any Beatles fan, and, there was absolutely no way that I would not have bought this new release!

The point that I am trying to make is that the Super Deluxe Edition could have been much better. It could have been great.

It makes you wonder: Does Apple have a self-imposed policy/rule where only one alternate version of a particular song can be given to us in a box set?

It sure seems that way. (Yes, I realize there are a few exceptions in this new box.)

In that light, here are some examples of what I am complaining about:

Working on the album that became “Abbey Road.”

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is a hybrid fabrication that combines a Trident Studios take with a later reduction mix. Why not just give us a Trident Studios version plus the reduction mix? (Note: My own rule is this: authentic, nonfabricated takes of songs are always preferable.)

I love having the complete George Harrison demo of “Something” (since the “Anthology 3” version mixed out the piano), but I don’t think that it should have been used as the alternate representation of the song. The Feb. 25, 1969, demo is George’s one-man-band demo of the song. The box set also should have included a full-band take of “Something,” such as Take 37 (without the later-overdubbed orchestration), which evolves into a (OK, not so great) jam, a take that has been bootlegged for decades (albeit in mono and minus the jam).

Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” was shortchanged on this release. What we get is a partial take that, while it clocks in at 1:43, actually has only 1:10 of music before it breaks down after Ringo messes up the lyrics. I do like this version, but, why not also give us a later complete take, such as the one that’s been bootlegged for decades (again, only in mono), which has a single-tracked lead vocal and no backing vocals or sound effects yet in place?

Over the past 10 years, as a consequence of the release of Rock Band, many creative Beatles fans have made available, via the Internet, their own alternate mixes of “Abbey Road” songs. Some sound very close to the original mixes, while some do not. The latter mixes could have been used as a guideline to provide us with other ways to hear — and, better appreciate — the music of “Abbey Road.” And, since Apple created the Rock Band Beatles mixes itself by providing discrete channels (i.e., they have the raw material that the mixes are derived from), they easily could have mimicked or even outdone those creative folks on the Internet.

For example, the box could have an instrumental mix of “Here Comes the Sun” that allows Harrison’s Moog playing to be heard clearly, and, its subtlety more appreciated. (I would have loved an instrumental “Abbey Road” CD in the new box set!)

It also could have included a mix of “Here Comes the Sun” with only acoustic guitars and vocals; a stripped-down mix of “Something,” with, say, just the vocals and Paul McCartney’s great bass guitar; an instrumental version of the complete Side 2 medley; a vocals-only version of the medley; a vocals and piano version of “You Never Give Me Your Money”; a mix of “Oh! Darling” with vocals, bass, and drums only; perhaps even some session highlights blocks for a few songs, as in the “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” box sets.

There are many other possibilities but, then again, I’m not looking for that much more. I’m not looking for something akin to a Bob Dylan “Bootleg Series” volume where every possible take for every song is represented. That would be overkill, and not commercially viable.

My expectation was simply this: The sessions CDs would be maxed out at close to 80 minutes. What we were given is not even close to that!

What gives, Apple? Do you think that was generous? It isn’t!

I am sure that some people reading this will dismiss it by playing the old some-people-are-never-satisfied card. But, I really don’t think what I’ve suggested above is that unreasonable.

My expectations were simple: If you’re going to give us two sessions CDs, you should fill them up.

Yes, I am grateful to be given the opportunity to hear these “Abbey Road” alternates and outtakes.

But, seriously, we get two sessions CDs that are each just a notch over being half full?

Other artists routinely seem to be able to max out their box set CDs’ contents. Why not The Beatles?

Mike Edsall is hoping for better decisions with the “Let It Be” anniversary reissue.

Surely, there must’ve been additional — and very worthy — material available for the sessions CDs in the Super Deluxe Edition box.

I am hoping that Apple will do a better — and a more complete — job with the (likely) upcoming “Let It Be” box set.

At a minimum, that set should include the Glyn Johns “Get Back” album, which was scheduled for release in July/August 1969, and actually was announced to the media. Not a single note should be changed on it! “Get Back” also doesn’t need to be remixed; just give it to us as it is!

(Many of us have had the “Get Back” album on bootleg for three-plus decades. That iteration of the album was detailed by Mal Evans in the July, 1969, issue of Beatles Monthly, and then reviewed by Frederick James (aka Tony Barrow) in the August, 1969, issue of the same magazine. That version of the album is the only legitimate version, and should be included in a box set.)

Another item that’s a must for the box set is Ethan Russell’s “Get Back” photograph book, which was included in the original U.K. boxed edition of the “Let It Be” album in 1970.

I think we all realize that the “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition box is intended to be the definitive representation of the album.  While I love the sessions material that’s included, I just don’t think we were given enough of it.

I am keeping my fingers crossed for a great “Let It Be” Super Deluxe Edition.

Mike Edsall

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Seeing McCartney Up Close at the Garden Remains a Thrilling Memory

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King looks back at Paul’s 1989 return to touring. …

Robbie McIntosh was lead guitarist in Paul McCartney’s 1989-90 tour band. (MPL)

As I write this, I’ve spent the evening trading memories with my brother Tim and my buddy Al Sussman about where we were 30 years ago Wednesday night.

Unlike most dates three decades in the past, Dec. 11, 1989, is easy to recall, because we were attending the first New York City show of Paul McCartney’s first world tour in 13 years.

Paul had opened his first post-Wings tour in late September in Norway, and a mini-leg in North America, stretching from Nov. 23 to Dec. 15, saw him doing 14 shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and NYC.

Macca opened a four-show stand at the Garden on Dec. 11, 1989.

Macca, who was 47 at the time, was backed by a band that included lead guitarist Robbie McIntosh (formerly of The Pretenders), guitarist-bassist Hamish Stuart (of Average White Band), drummer Chris Whitten (who later toured with Dire Straits), keyboard wiz Paul “Wix” Wickens (still a mainstay of Paul’s shows 30 years later) and wife Linda, also on keyboards (usually introduced by her husband as “Gertrude Higgins!”).

Ostensibly, the tour was to promote McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” album, though it didn’t get underway until several months after the LP had been issued. And, most of the buzz about the tour concerned him leaving behind his Wings era reluctance to do Beatles songs. Eighteen of the 32 songs Paul did at the Garden were from his Fab Four days.

After a relatively quiet 1980s, the Paul McCartney World Tour was quite the “comeback” for Macca. It also set a new standard for major-act tours. As Beatlefan Senior Editor Brad Hundt, who saw Paul in Chicago in early December, recalled, “He sure pulled out all the stops with that tour — the free programs, the opening film, the press conferences in almost every market. And, while we take it for granted now that he plays lots of Beatles songs, it’s easy to forget what a thrill it was that half the show consisted of Beatles songs. Plus, he brought back the Hofner bass!”

In fact, the Hofner, which Paul had not played in concert since The Beatles, took on positively iconic status in the 1989-90 show.

Concertgoers were given a free tour program on the Paul McCartney World Tour.

Looking back from today, when touring acts seem determined to pry every last dime from concertgoers’ pockets, those attending the 1989-90 McCartney tour were greeted by a lavish, free 100-page program waiting in their seats. And Paul used the tour as a way to spread a pro-ecology message, as the group Friends of the Earth was on hand at all the stops.

Oh, and tickets to the New York shows were just $28.50, no matter where you sat. The Garden’s 18,000 seats per concert (with no seats sold behind the stage) were all snapped up in hours. We managed to get upper level seats (what Al called “blue heaven”) for the Dec. 14 show through the public sale, but those also were the days when McCartney took special care of his fans, and so it was through the Fun Club that we obtained seats on the floor for the Dec. 11 concert.

I recall there was some problem (with the show setup) that prevented us from sitting in our original Fun Club seats that first night, so they moved us forward to even better seats! We ended up on about the fifth or sixth row, center.

Considering that, up to that time, I’d only seen Paul in concert twice (with Wings) in Atlanta, and we’d had seats so far from the stage that we had to use binoculars, the up-close Fun Club seats made that first 1989 show I saw something special.

While I think the show and the band improved markedly over the ensuing eight months of the world tour, the thrill of that first night would still rank it among my top two or three shows.

I knew Macca had a winner midway through the first show when I glanced to my left and saw my brother up on his feet, waving his fists above his head and shouting himself hoarse. He’d come with me really just for a holiday in New York, with the McCartney concerts a nice bonus for him. (We’d come up from Atlanta a couple of days earlier and soaked in Christmas season in the Big Apple.)

After the concert, though, Tim, who was just a casual Beatles-McCartney fan, offered this unsolicited opinion: “That was a terrific show!”

The preshow film put together by Dick Lester of “A Hard Day’s Night” fame wasn’t all that great — it was mainly a quick retrospective of Paul’s Beatles and solo years,  winding up with 1989 with footage of the spring rebellion in China (footage of a lone student facing off with a tank drew cheers) and the aftermath of the Valdez oil spill. Then, as a synthesizer started droning, the word “NOW” appeared, and the screens filled with footage of the band wearing their dark military-style tour jackets (embroidered with the tour’s end-of-the-Cold-War flower-and-sickle emblem) as the actual band members appeared from stage right.

The set list for the 1989 Garden shows went like this: “Figure of Eight,” “Jet,” “Rough Ride,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Band on the Run,” “Ebony and Ivory” (with Stuart doing the Stevie Wonder parts), “We Got Married,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (with Reprise),” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Put It There,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Things We Said Today,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “This One,” “My Brave Face,” “Back in the USSR,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twenty Flight Rock,” “Coming Up,” “Let It Be,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude,” and, for the encore: “Yesterday,” “Get Back” and the “Abbey Road” medley of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End” (possibly the most perfect concert-ending song ever).

Although critics were puzzled by McCartney’s decision to open the show with a song from the “Flowers” album that most of those in attendance didn’t know, instead of opting for one of his classics, I thought it was an incredibly ballsy move. Hardcore fans could appreciate what a fine number “Figure of Eight” was, and even my brother, who’d never heard it before seeing it in concert, commented on how much he liked the song.

Of the “Flowers” numbers performed on the tour, the one most improved from the album version was “We Got Married.” The playing and staging were first-rate, and the song benefitted from the harder edge it got in concert. McIntosh did a superb job on the lead guitar solos, as he did throughout every show I saw. It’s noteworthy that, while Stuart and McIntosh both wore the now-standard wireless guitar hookups, then coming into vogue, Macca was still plugged into his amp with an old-fashioned cord!

The 1989 band: Paul “Wix” Wickens, Chris Whitten, Linda and Paul McCartney, Robbie McIntosh and Hamish Stuart.

A humorous new wrinkle added the first night at the Garden (and repeated the next night) had Macca and Hamish huddling at one end of the stage while Robbie was playing his guitar solo in “We Got Married” at the other end. Suddenly, they ran together across the stage, sliding to a halt on their knees at McIntosh’s feet, and McCartney gingerly reached up in mock awe and touched the guitarist on the sleeve.

In general, the 1989-90 band could run rings around any of the Wings lineups, and the addition of keyboard wizard Wix made the group much more versatile.

I think the fact that McCartney obviously enjoyed playing with this band enhanced the audience’s enjoyment. The horseplay of the guitarists and the silly grins and jokes exchanged by Macca and Stuart as they shared a mic contributed a feeling of unity, and an intimacy, to the presentation.

Despite McCartney’s often corny introductions, it was a well-staged show. Some might have thought the rising piano in “Fool on the Hill” to be a bit of cheap stagecraft, but, truth be told, it’s the same as a line of dancers kicking in unison, or an ice-skater doing a spin  — an unnecessary frill that nevertheless is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

I was amused that one of the NYC critics reviewing that first Garden show complained about the bringing up of the house lights during “Can’t Buy Me Love.” He obviously didn’t understand what was going on between McCartney and his audience — the singalong of that tune provided an unabashedly joyous moment of nostalgia. And, if much of the evening was about sharing warm memories, that moment when we could all see each other dancing and singing along had to be the pinnacle.

At the show’s end, someone up front gave McCartney a dozen roses, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a guitar pick, which he gave to them in return. Whitten came out and threw four drumsticks to the crowd. McCartney headed offstage, then stopped, and, as an afterthought, looked around for something else to give away, grabbed one of his towels, and threw it into the audience.

We later learned that Dick Lester was backstage before the Dec. 11 show, which was preceded by a charity dinner. The charity crowd also attended the show, and those folks were obvious on the floor, resplendent in their furs and suits. Among the big names said to be in attendance: Robin Williams, Patty Hearst, Ralph Lauren, Glen Close, Jane Pauley, James Taylor and Paul Stanley. Also, Paul and Linda’s kids Mary, Stella and James were there.

The next day, I attended Macca’s New York press conference, where he said that, because of the charity crowd, he felt he had to work harder that first night.

Paul McCartney did four shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden in December, 1989.

We were back at the Garden three nights after the first performance, and it was still a good show, though the severe angle of our view of the stage, and the fact that we were sitting in the rafters, did diminish the thrill just a bit.

I think it was after that second show that Tim and I decided to walk back from the Garden to our hotel (at 50th and Lexington). At first, there were lots of people walking with us, but gradually the crowd grew thinner and thinner, until we were about the only ones on the street. It was after midnight, starting to snow, and we were regretting our decision to walk. Luckily, a taxi came down a side street just then, and we hailed it and took it back!

The Paul McCartney World Tour would continue until mid-1990, encompassing 104 concerts in 13 countries. I saw 11 shows on that tour, starting with the two at Madison Square Garden and winding up at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh in July. In between, I also saw Paul perform in London, Atlanta, Miami and Philly.

I think one of the most impressive things about the 1989-90 tour was that Macca and his band put on a show that you could see time after time and not get tired of, despite a song list that changed little, and McCartney’s rather canned stage patter, which varied hardly a word from one night to another.

Of course, hardcore fans can be expected to see show after show without losing their enthusiasm, but even Tim seemed to enjoy his fourth concert on that tour as much as he did his first.

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‘What’s My Name’: Previewing Ringo’s Latest Homespun Album

Bill King takes an advance look at Ringo Starr’s new album release …

Ringo’s new album.

Ringo’s “What’s My Name,” due out Oct. 25 (but made available digitally in advance for review), is aptly described in the liner notes provided by the record label as “the latest in a series of heartfelt and homespun records that Starr has produced in his home studio” featuring “a distinguished, ever-changing yet often repeating cast of musical characters and friends.”

“What’s My Name” certainly has its worthwhile moments, and at least three high points that stand out, but, overall, it isn’t as good an album as his previous two releases, 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise” and 2017’s “Give More Love.”

That’s mainly because there’s not as much variety in its musical stylings. I had been encouraged by Ringo’s foray into a bluesier sound last time, along with the inclusion of a straight-out country number on “Give More Love,” but the new album is all pretty much standard post-Mark Hudson Ringo, very reminiscent of the previous self-produced work he’s done with engineer Bruce Sugar since 2010.

Paul and Ringo with Nancy and Barbara.

Most of the advance publicity about the album has centered on him teaming up with Paul McCartney to record the 1980 John Lennon demo “Grow Old With Me,” and this new version of the love song, inspired by the poetry of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, certainly is the album’s best track. It features a string arrangement by former Lennon producer Jack Douglas and Daniel Cole that differs from the orchestration George Martin did at Yoko Ono’s request for the 1998 “John Lennon Anthology.” Ringo’s brother-in-law, Joe Walsh, also provides stylish guitar. And, McCartney contributes some tasty bass (you couldn’t mistake those fills for any other bassist). But, if you were expecting Paul to share the vocal with Ringo, you will be disappointed. His backing vocals on the middle break, and the final “God bless our love,” are so understated  that you probably wouldn’t notice them if you didn’t know he was on the track.

Lifted from the album as the second digital single, “Grow Old With Me” has a charming video that utilizes Lennon’s handwritten lyrics.

The two other strongest tracks on the album are the upbeat numbers “Magic” (written with longtime All Starr Band member Steve Lukather) and “Thank God for Music” (written with freelance producer-writer Sam Hollander, a newcomer to Ringo’s musical posse). The very nicely arranged “Magic” has distinctive piano chords, a fine guitar solo by Lukather, and a very catchy chorus. “Thank God for Music” is a high-energy track that makes great use of the female backing vocalists that Ringo likes so much these days, and harks back to the “Ringo” era in its sound. It’s also the closest Ringo comes to his usual autobiographical number on this album, with its “from Liverpool to L.A.” lyric.

Ringo in concert in Los Angeles. (Photo by Bob Gannon)

Not quite as memorable, but in the album’s second tier of pretty good songs, are the simple, midtempo restatement of Ringo’s positive philosophy, “Life Is Good” (inspired by a T-shirt company Ringo has teamed up with for a fundraiser), and the album’s other overt message song, “Send Love Spread Peace,” which has another catchy chorus, and benefits from the organ playing by Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.

Pleasant, but not very memorable, are “It’s Not Love That You Want,” a typical latterday Ringo number cowritten with Dave Stewart, and “Better Days,” an upbeat, horn-backed rocker contributed by Hollander.

However, the remake of the Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want),” which Lennon sang when The Beatles covered it, is a misfire, due to the rather heavy-handed autotuning of Ringo’s vocal throughout. I realize they were trying to come up with a different approach for a very familiar and oft-done number, but it doesn’t really work.

Ringo in a recent New York concert appearance. (Photo by Bob Gannon)

And, the weakest tracks, unfortunately, are the album opener (“Got to Get Up to Get Down,” done with Joe Walsh and Edgar Winter, and featuring Joe handling a couple of the verses, along with more vocal processing) and the closing title song, lifted as the first digital single. The latter is a sort of rock ’n’ roll travelogue  written by frequent All Starr Colin Hay and featuring the timeworn concert audience bit (“What’s my name? RINGO!”). Both tracks rock convincingly, but there’s not much else to them. Just lyrics shouted out to pounding drums and squalling guitars.

Overall, I agree with Beatlefan Senior Editor Brad Hundt, who said recently he thinks it’s time for Ringo to shake up the format of his albums, bring in an outside producer (or several producers, like on “Time Takes Time”), or do that country album he’s long been talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed most of Ringo’s self-produced work, but much of it is starting to sound the same. It’s time to turn the page.

Bill King

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Exclusive: Track Listing and Credits for Ringo’s Upcoming ‘What’s My Name’ Album

Beatlefan has learned advance details on Ringo Starr’s forthcoming album.

Paul McCartney joins Ringo on “Grow Old With Me” on the new album. (Photo: Variety)

Ringo Starr’s new album will be released Oct. 25, as Beatlefan previously reported, and is titled “What’s My Name,” according to two informed sources.

The sources also confirmed that the track listing we published Aug. 26 on SOMETHING NEW: The Beatlefan Blog was correct, with one minor difference in one title.

Ringo at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

The album was recorded at Ringo’s Roccabella West Studio (in the guest house behind Starr’s Beverly Hills home) and at United Recording Studios in Hollywood. It was produced by Ringo and recorded, mixed and edited in Pro Tools by Bruce Sugar. The sources also confirmed the album participants previously reported by Beatlefan: Paul McCartney, current All Starr Band members Steve Lukather and Colin Hay, Joe Walsh and Dave Stewart.

Here’s a rundown on the album’s tracks:

“Gotta Get Up” (previously reported by the working title “Got to Get Up to Get Down”), written by Ringo and his brother-in-law, Walsh. The track features Ringo on drums and vocals; Walsh on guitar and vocals; Edgar Winter on clavinet, synthesizer and vocals; Nathan East on bass, Sugar on synthesizer and backing vocals by Richard Page, Warren Ham (of the current All Starr Band), Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel.

“It’s Not Love That You Want,” written by Ringo and frequent collaborator Dave Stewart. Ringo provides drums, percussion and vocals; Stewart plays guitar; East is on bass; Jim Cox plays piano; Benmont Tench (of the Heartbreakers) plays clavinet; Sugar provides synth horns; and background vocalists on the track are Wagner and Amy Keys. Ned Douglas provided additional engineering.

Ringo’s new album is a mixture of original tunes and cover versions. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

“Grow Old With Me.” This is indeed a cover of the John Lennon song, and it is slated to be the first single lifted from the album. Ringo is on drums and vocals, McCartney is on bass and background vocals, Walsh plays guitar, Cox is on piano and Allison Lovejoy plays accordion. There’s also a string quartet on the track: Rhea Fowler and Bianca McClure on violin, Lauren Baba on viola and Isiaiah Gage on cello. The string arrangement is by former Lennon producer Jack Douglas and Daniel Cole. The assistant engineer on the string session was Wesley Seidman.

“Magic,” written by Ringo and Lukather. Ringo provides drums, percussion and vocals; Lukather is on guitar and piano; John Pierce plays bass; Sugar plays synthesizer; and the backing vocalists are Page, Ham, Wagner and Kimmel.

“Money,” by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. This is a cover of the very first Motown hit, which The Beatles also covered. Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Lukather plays guitar; East provides bass; Sugar plays piano, organ and synth; and the backing vocalists are Maxine Waters and Julia Waters.

“Better Days,” written by Sam Hollander, an American songwriter who has written and/or produced hits for the likes of Fitz and the Tantrums, Panic! at the Disco, Train, Weezer and One Direction. Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Grant Michaels plays piano; Peter Levin is on organ; Kaveh Rastegar plays bass; Pete Min is on guitar; James King plays horns; and backing vocalists are Zelma Davis and Garen Gueyikian. Ringo and Hollander produced the track.

Ringo’s “What’s My Name” is titled after his frequent question from the stage during concerts. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

“Life Is Good,” written by Ringo and Gary Burr, who was a member of Ringo’s side band, the Roundheads. Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Lukather plays guitar; East is on bass; Tench plays organ; Sugar plays synthesizer; and the backing vocals are provided by Page, Ham, Wagner and Kimmel.

“Thank God for Music,” written by Ringo and Hollander. Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Lukather is on guitar; Cox on synth bass, piano and organ; Sugar on synth voice pad; and Maxine Waters and Julia Waters provide backing vocals.

“Send Love, Spread Peace,” written by Ringo and Gary Nicholson, another frequent collaborator, going back to “Never Without You” and on through “Shake It Up” on Ringo’s last album, “Give More Love.” Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Steve Dudas (also of Ringo’s Roundheads) on guitar, East on bass; Tench on organ and piano; and Wagner and Keys on backing vocals.

“What’s My Name,” written by Colin Hay of Men at Work fame and a current All Starr Band member, takes its title from Ringo’s frequent question from the stage to concert audiences. Ringo is on drums, percussion and vocals; Hay provides guitar and backing vocals; Lukather is on guitar; East plays bass. Ham is on harmonica; and the backing vocalists are Maxine Waters and Julia Waters.

As for how the album sounds, he’s not exactly an objective source, but Lukather recently tweeted: “Ringo’s new record is a killer.”

— Bill King

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Ringo Rumor: New Album features Macca, Walsh, More

Unconfirmed reports indicate that a new Ringo Starr studio album, possibly titled “What’s My Name,” is due for release Oct. 25. 

Ringo winds up his 30th anniversary All Starr Band tour Sept. 1 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Guest performers on the new album are said to include Paul McCartney, current All Starr Band members Steve Lukather and Colin Hay, Ringo’s brother-in-law Joe Walsh and frequent collaborator Dave Stewart.

Here’s an unconfirmed track listing that is circulating: “Got to Get Up to Get Down,” “It’s Not Love That You Want,” “Grow Old With Me,” “Magic,” “Money,” “Better Days,” “Life Is Good,” “Thank God for Music,” “Send Love, Spread Peace” and “What’s My Name.”

Meanwhile, Beatlefan London Editor Simon Rogers and reader Bart van der Loojj report that Jack Douglas said during International Beatleweek in Liverpool on Sunday that he produced the lead single off Ringo’s new album, featuring Paul and Ringo sharing vocals. Douglas added it was sensational. Van der Looij added that Douglas said Walsh is on the new single. Paul also is said to play bass on the track, according to another source. It hasn’t been confirmed, but speculation is centering on the track being John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me.” (See clarification from Douglas below on his role in the track.)

Ringo joined Paul onstage at Dodger Stadium in July, prompting speculation Paul will return the favor for the All Starrs’ tour closer. (Photo: Variety)

Also, as was reported in Beatlefan #239, a reunion of the living former members of the All Starr Band is planned for the finale of Ringo’s show Sept. 1 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, which will mark the 30th anniversary of the All Starr Band. Ringo already confirmed to our Peter Palmiere at his birthday celebration that Nils Lofgren is on the list of those expected to attend, and he said he’s trying to get as many All Starrs as possible, though he declined to confirm any other names.

ASB musical director Mark Rivera reportedly is flying in from New York City for a closed rehearsal planned for the day before the show. The last time they did a closed rehearsal like that was before Ringo’s 70th birthday, when the surprise onstage guest was McCartney. Ever since Ringo joined Paul onstage for his tour closer at Dodger Stadium July 14, there’s been widespread speculation that Macca will return the favor. (See update below.)

They both also are expected to attend a press launch for the “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary edition in London, sometime in September.

UPDATE: Tom Frangione reports the “With a Little Help From My Friends” finale at the Greek Theatre show featured just a few former All Starrs: Lofgren, Walsh, Richard Page, Wally Palmar, Edgar Winter, Eric Carmen and Jim Keltner. No McCartney.

UPDATE 2: In case you haven’t checked the comments below, one has been posted by Jack Douglas that says: “I did not say I produced Ringo’s track. I did say I was a part of the track. How I was involved will be clear when the track is released. Ringo produces his own stuff and does an excellent job of it.”

— Bill King

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