The Beatles and Motown

The Beatles with Mary Wells.

The Fab Four and Hitsville USA made a great combo, as Kit O’Toole recounts in this expanded version of an article published in Beatlefan #250.

When The Beatles first conquered the U.S. in February, 1964, they forever changed American music.  British groups impacted the charts like never before, folk artists like Bob Dylan “went electric,” and psychedelia later would infiltrate pop. The formidable songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, as well as George Harrison’s rapidly growing composing skills, also signaled a new era for rock: self-contained bands, or artists who composed their own music. This posed a threat to the Brill Building writers and other professional songwriters who, until The Beatles’ arrival, had dominated the American market. Yet one label managed to compete with The Beatles during the 1960s, becoming not only the most successful independent record company in history, but also the most successful Black-owned business in America.

Motown, founded by songwriter and entrepreneur Berry Gordy, broke down barriers between R&B and pop music by fusing various music genres, such as symphonic elements, jazz, rock, psychedelia, funk and pop; writing lyrics with universal meaning that were clever, intelligent and memorable; and emphasizing strong beats, using percussion and bass (foreshadowing disco and hip hop).

The Beatles learned from the Motown Sound, covering their early songs and emulating Smokey Robinson’s smooth singing style and eloquent songwriting techniques. In turn, Motown artists thanked The Beatles for their support by covering their songs.  Motown, founded in 1959, and The Beatles would prove to have a symbiotic relationship. 

The Birth of Motown

By the fall of 1957, Gordy had tried several careers: boxer, owner of a jazz record store, and an employee at the Ford motor plant. With a wife and kids to support, he needed to settle on a lucrative profession, and fast. His true passion remained music, specifically songwriting.  Fortunately, he lived in Detroit, which was experiencing a musical renaissance in the 1950s; thanks to acclaimed music programs in high schools and a plethora of music clubs and theaters, the city teemed with talent and enthusiastic audiences. 

Gordy frequented many of those clubs, hoping to find artists willing to record his compositions. One such venue, the Flame Show Bar, offered him a unique opportunity to mingle with artists and their managers: his sisters, Anna and Gwen, headed the photo and cigarette concession stands.  Gordy would become friendly with Flame house band members Maurice King and Thomas “Beans” Bowles, Earl Van Dyke and James Jamerson — all of whom later would lbecome Motown studio or touring musicians.

But, another connection would prove key in starting Gordy off on his music career: Al Green, Jackie Wilson’s manager. Chatting with Green at the Flame, Gordy pitched his songs; the manager told Gordy to stop by his office the next day.

That meeting resulted in the pairing of Gordy with another songwriter, Roquel “Billy” Davis (who wrote under the pseudonym “Tyron Carlo”), and they would go on to pen the Wilson classics “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops.” 

It was during this time that Gordy developed his songwriting formula, as outlined in Gerard Early’s “One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture”:

  • Always use present tense
  • Never overdo the hook
  • Make sure the song has a hummable melody (something faintly resembling an already familiar melody)
  • Find originality in the song’s concept, how the lyrics are phrased, and in its rhythm
  • Singer should serve the song, the song should not serve the singer

While writing for Wilson, Gordy also met another aspiring songwriter and performer who auditioned for Green: Smokey Robinson, who brought his group the Miracles. Green turned them down, but Gordy was taken with their sound and felt Robinson held great potential as a songwriter. The two would form a lifelong friendship and become business partners, as Gordy transitioned from songwriter to business owner.

While Gordy enjoyed these early successes, he learned a hard truth: as a songwriter, he earned a fraction of the money the main performer, the producer and the label owner made. At first, Gordy believed he could profit more as a producer, so he would rent studio space, record artists, and broker deals with record labels for distribution. Once he learned that he still earned little money, Gordy (with Robinson’s encouragement) decided to form his own company. In 1959, with an $800 loan from his family trust, he formed the Tamla label, based on his experience working at the Ford plant; namely, production could be organized efficiently and automated for the highest quality. Everyone would have their own roles and, with few exceptions, never would overlap (e.g. composers wrote songs, producers produced, and artists recorded their vocals and played their instruments).  Gordy also founded a publishing company, Jobete, to ensure ownership of the songs. As the label grew, he formed the subsidiary label Motown, shifting groups there and retaining solo artists on Tamla. By 1960, Gordy incorporated the company as the Motown Record Corp. 

The record credited with kicking off Motown is Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me,” first issued on Tamla in 1959 and marking Berry’s debut as songwriter and producer. It became a Top 30 pop hit, and peaked at No. 6 on the R&B charts, a very promising beginning for the upstart label. The company’s next single, however, would make a much bigger dent on the charts (and set the tone for the Motown sound): “Money (That’s What I Want),” the Barrett Strong track that peaked at No. 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and No. 23 on the Hot 100 chart. While Tamla released the record locally in 1960, “Money” was distributed nationally via his sister Anna Gordy’s label, Anna Records, through a deal with Chess Records. Gordy and Strong wrote the majority of the song, although, according to Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved,” his then-secretary, Janie Bradford, contributed the lines “Your love give me such a thrill / But your love don’t pay my bills.” 

Around this time, Berry said, the distinctions between “white” and “black” music were becoming fuzzier. R&B was black, pop was white. But, with the rock explosion and Elvis Presley’s popularity, that difference began to change, and “Money” represents that shift.

As Tamla/Motown grew, so did its talent roster. The Funk Brothers, its formidable house band, drew from the local talent playing in Detroit jazz and blues clubs. Hank Cosby (saxophone), Benny Benjamin (drums), Jamerson (bass), Van Dyke (piano), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (percussion), and Robert White, Joe Messina and Eddie Willis (guitars), are just some of the many names that comprised the group that played on every recording. Playing in what they called the “snakepit” (the basement studio of Hitsville, USA in Detroit), they were expected to crank out three to four songs during every three-hour session. An average workday consisted of two of these three-hour sessions, occasionally three or four.  Due to their vast expertise, they could handle songs thrown at them at such a rapid rate, even though they often had no prior knowledge of the tracks’ titles or their intended performers.

Motown’s assault on the charts began in 1960, when “Shop Around” by Robinson and the Miracles became the label’s first million-seller and peaked at No. 2 on the pop charts. Co-written by Robinson and Gordy, the track (originally intended for Strong) showcased Robinson’s silky voice and clever lyrics, and the Funk Brothers’ trademark sound.  The following year proved even bigger, with the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” zooming all the way to No. 1 on the pop charts. From then on, the label boasted an enviable amount of talent: Mary Wells, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder. The in-house songwriters proved to have an ear for making hits, with the legendary team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, as well as Norman Whitfield, Ashford and Simpson, and, of course, Robinson, penning classics that competed with — and even influenced — the British invasion groups.

Motown’s original headquarters.

What Is “The Motown Sound”?

The “Motown Sound” also became a key element of their success, and much of it resulted from budget constraints, adapting to a small space, and transistor radios. For starters, Studio A’s live room was just a simple rectangle, with ceilings only slightly taller than average — not exactly a cavernous space like Abbey Road’s Studio 2. The Steinway grand piano dominated the space, leaving relatively little room once mics, chairs and music stands were set up, and the numerous cables dangling from the ceiling earned this space the nickname “the snake pit.” But, despite its relatively modest facility, Motown kept up with the cutting edge of recording technology. Starting off with a primitive two-track setup, Hitsville graduated to a three-track format in 1961, before moving to eight-track in the mid-’60s and 16-track by the end of the decade.

The move to more tracks did a lot to shape the Motown Sound, and the difference can be heard clearly by comparing an early song like “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas with the fuller sound of “Cloud Nine” by the Temptations. Track limitations on the former required the tambourine, snare and hi-hat all to share a single mic, while the latter features dedicated tracks for auxiliary percussion, multiple guitars and backup vocals. Due to space limitations, there was no room for a vocal booth, so they made one out of the hallway that led from the control room to the stairs that took you into the studio. There were no windows, so they couldn’t see the singer, and had to communicate via microphones. They had to place the first echo chamber in the downstairs bathroom, so a guard was positioned outside the door, so no one flushed during recording. Later they adopted an attic area for an echo chamber, which made the voice sound fatter and gave the recording a bigger sound. Later, a German electronic echo chamber called EMT was installed in the basement. 

In addition, because there was no room for large amps in studio, the guitars and bass were plugged right into the console and were heard through the room’s one speaker. Before a session, the guitar players would adjust their volume to a level they were never to exceed. These necessary adaptations led to the prominent sound of Jamerson’s bass, as well as the rhythmic guitars, both signatures of Motown records. 

Another factor involved consumer technology. By 1965, more than 12 million transistor radios were being purchased a year. In addition, in 1963 about 50 million radios had been installed in car dashboards. Shrewdly, Gordy geared his music toward these mediums. Chief engineer Mike McClain built a small, tinny-sounding radio designed to approximate the sound of a car radio. The high-end bias of Motown recordings can be traced partially to this technique, thus adding another dimension to the label’s distinctive sound. 

Overall, Dennis Coffey, a guitarist who joined the Funk Brothers later in Motown’s history, summarized the essential elements of the instrumental sound in his 2004 autobiography “Guitars, Bars, and Motown Superstars”:

  • Percussion: occasionally using two drummers with gospel tambourine and bongos
  • Guitar backbeat: sharp-sounding guitar part played high up on neck along with snare drum (beats two and four)
  • Funky, melodic bass sound
  • Songs themselves: innovative, jazz-style chords, melodic chord changes
  • Lush orchestra with horns and strings
  • Vocalists have a slick, urban sound
The Beatles with Berry Gordy.

Motown Invades the UK and Encounters the Beatles

While Motown records were not distributed under their own label n the U.K. until 1965, Gordy struck a deal with Decca’s London American imprint to release records as early as 1959’s “Come to Me.”  Thus, The Beatles heard and purchased 45s such as “Money” and “Shop Around,” although these singles initially had little impact on the British charts.  They did, however, receive airplay on pirate radio stations, where The Beatles and members of the Rolling Stones were listening keenly to American records.

Before Gordy could sign a better distribution deal, The Beatles were about to introduce the British public to Motown. On March 7, 1962, the group recorded their radio debut on a BBC show, entitled “Teenager’s Turn — Here We Go,” at the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester, the first time The Beatles appeared on BBC radio. In front of 250 people, the band performed three songs: “Dream Baby,” “Memphis” and “Please Mr. Postman.” When the group launched into the final song, it marked the first time the song — or any Tamla Motown song — was played on the BBC.  The Beatles may not have realized it at the time, but the group broke the Motown Sound to the wider British listening public. 

Because of that, Gordy could negotiate for a better distribution deal. After a short-lived deal with Philips’ Fontana imprint, Gordy signed a longer term agreement with Oriole Records in September, 1962, under which 19 singles were released over a yearlong period, including “Do You Love Me” by the Contours, “Fingertips” by Stevie Wonder and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” by Marvin Gaye. 

After Gordy had established Motown and several subsidiary labels, he signed what he hoped would be a more lucrative deal, licensing his labels to EMI for U.K. distribution.

One of The Beatles’ first indirect brushes with Motown, interestingly, was through Geoff Emerick; as he detailed in his autobiography “Here, There, and Everywhere.” One of his earliest jobs was remastering American records sent to EMI for U.K. distribution. “My job was especially demanding when Tamla Motown material came in. I was always striving to match their full, bass-rich sound, but I found that I couldn’t ever do it successfully, which was quite frustrating,” Emerick wrote. “It took me a long while to realize that the reasons had to do with the equipment we had at EMI, which was not up to the standard of American equipment.”

Back on American soil, Gordy welcomed a special visitor to Hitsville in early 1964: Brian Epstein. As he described in “To Be Loved,” Epstein wanted to tell Gordy how much he and The Beatles loved the Motown Sound, “telling us of the great influence it had had on them.”

A few months later, Gordy received a call from a representative for Epstein. The Beatles wanted to record three Motown tracks for their second album: “Money,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Please Mr. Postman.” While Gordy was pleased to hear this, he was not thrilled with the offer: a discounted rate on the publishing royalty. Rather than pay Motown the standard 2 cents per song, Epstein’s office offered 1.5 cents. At first, Gordy turned down the offer flat, but the same man phoned the next day, stating Gordy had until noon to decide on the discounted publishing royalty rate. Gordy called Robinson, national sales and promotion manager Barney Ales and siblings Robert and Loucye Gordy into his office. After vigorous debate, Gordy reluctantly agreed to the discounted rate, deciding the potential sales were worth it. 

“Everybody was jubilant that I had given in, including me — until about 2 o’clock that same day, when we got the news,” Gordy wrote. “Capitol Records had the albums in stock at their distributors and were, at that very moment, sending them out to radio stations and stores. The Beatles’ new album with our three songs on it, had already been recorded, mixed, mastered, pressed and shipped.”

Gordy may not have been pleased initially with the royalty rate, but the decision proved be a savvy one.

After failing to achieve more hits, Motown finally achieved a U.K. hit with Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” the single peaking at No. 5 in June, 1964. The Beatles declared themselves fans, calling Wells “their sweetheart,” and inviting her to open for them on their brief British tour from Oct. 9 to Nov. 10. A key element to Motown’s success in England proved to be The Beatles, whose Motown covers on “With The Beatles” further exposed British audiences to the label. To capitalize on the success, Gordy sent the label’s biggest stars — Wells, the Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Miracles and the Temptations — on a promotional tour of the U.K. in October of that year. The Supremes’ November “Top of the Pops”appearance propelled “Baby Love” to No. 1, finally bringing Motown its first massive U.K. hit.

British audiences received Motown groups enthusiastically; in turn, the Supremes demonstrated their mutual admiration by releasing the album “A Bit of Liverpool” and posing for promotional photos imitating The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” album cover.

Still frustrated with Motown’s slow growth in the U.K., Gordy requested a meeting with a meeting with Tamla-Motown Appreciation Society founder and journalist Dave Godin in Detroit to discuss how to make better inroads with Britain. Godin suggested a specific brand to distinguish Motown; thus, Gordy launched the Tamla Motown label under the EMI umbrella in 1965. To coincide with the launch, as well as the release of the new label’s single, the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the Motown Revue embarked on a 21-date leg of their package tour.  A “Ready Steady Go!” special, entitled “The Sounds of Motown,” hosted by Dusty Springfield, featured the Supremes, Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Gaye.

It was during the Motown Revue package tour that Gordy finally met The Beatles in person. As Gordy describes in “To Be Loved,” he took his father and kids to meet the group. “While taking photographs together, I told them how thrilled I was with the way they did our three songs in their second album.  They told me what Motown music had meant to them and how much they loved Smokey’s writing, James Jamerson’s bass playing and the big drum sound of Benny Benjamin,” he said. Gordy appeared impressed by their knowledge of all the Motown artists, noting how John Lennon pronounced Marvin Gaye’s name as “Guy” In his Liverpudlian accent. While Gordy’s kids remained starstruck, Gordy’s father was less so. “Pop pulled two of the Beatles aside, telling one of his stories about how hard work pays off. I tried to rescue them by telling Pop we had to go, but they said they wanted to hear more,”

When Wells departed the label, Brenda Holloway initially was groomed to be the next “first lady” of Motown (soon to be displaced by the Supremes). Her first hit, 1964’s “Every Little Bit Hurts,” launched her career. By 1965, her hit-making prowess had faded a bit, but her single “Operator” performed well enough to earn her a spot opening for The Beatles on their 1965 U.S. tour (a recording of her performance is part of the Shea Stadium show).

At just 19, Holloway clearly appreciated the opportunity.  In a Sept. 25, 1965, interview with KRLA Beat, Holloway enthusiastically proclaimed her love for the group. “[They are] real nice. They’re down to earth. They’re just people — that’s why I like them. They’re very friendly and I like them a whole lot!” 

She shared some amusing anecdotes: “Ringo borrowed my hairdryer to do his hair.  We had pillow fights. George usually started them and then everyone joined in. And Ringo would walk down the aisle of the plane saying: ‘Fasten your seat belts. Only doing my job!’” 

Holloway added that “Ringo’s hair is the prettiest. He doesn’t have too much to say to anyone. Except one night he and the drummer from the King Curtis Band got into a long discussion on God and religion.” 

After the tour ended, she said, “If they’d been crabs or mean I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I miss them now that the tour is over.” 

The tour would prove to be the highlight of her performing career; Holloway found more success as a backing vocalist and songwriter. 

McCartney with the Supremes.

The Supremes Meet The Beatles

Despite The Beatles’ enormous popularity, Motown managed to hold its own in the 1960s. The Supremes, the label’s most successful act, proved to be The Beatles’ biggest competitor, in terms of No. 1 hits.  In an Aug. 28, 2019, interview with Gold, Mary Wilson described a friendly rivalry. “I didn’t really think about it much then, but sometimes they would be No. 2, and we would be No. 1. Sometimes they were No. 1, we were No. 2,” she said.  “So, we did have this thing going on. It was never really, as you said, a competition between us. Maybe our producers and all. I think they may have said, ‘Oh, boy, this female group is No. 1. We better get another hit record out there.’”

Wilson said the Supremes met The Beatles briefly during their first 1964 London visit, but their 1965 New York encounter proved much more memorable.

While in New York to tape an “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, a meeting with The Beatles was arranged.  “We wore smart, elegant day dresses, hats, gloves, high heels and jewelery, as well as fur jackets, Flo (Florence Ballard) in chinchilla, me in red fox and Diane (Diana Ross) in mink,” Wilson recalled. “We entered The Beatles’ suite, perfectly poised. Apparently, other people had been up to visit them earlier, including Bob Dylan and The Ronettes. The first thing I noticed was that the room reeked of marijuana smoke, but we kept on smiling through our introductions.” 

Wilson felt unwelcome, that The Beatles were largely distant. “Paul was nice, but there was an awkward silence for most of the time. Every once in a while, Paul, George or Ringo would ask us about the Motown sound, or working with Holland-Dozier-Holland, then there would be silence again. … John Lennon just sat in the corner and stared.”  The Supremes couldn’t wait to leave. 

Years later, while Wilson visited Harrison in England, he told her, “We expected soulful, hip girls. We couldn’t believe that three black girls from Detroit could be so square!’”

McCartney with Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes.

Motown’s Influence on The Beatles

As previously noted, The Beatles most likely first heard Motown records as early as 1959, when Decca first issued early singles such as “Come to Me.” Ringo Starr stated in the “Anthology” documentary that “when I joined The Beatles, we didn’t really know each other, but if you looked at each of our record collections, the four of us had virtually the same records.  We all had the Miracles, we all had Barrett Strong and people like that. I supposed that helped us gel as musicians, and as a group.” 

As McCartney learned the bass, he listened to the melodic bass lines of Jamerson, even though he didn’t even know his name for many years. Jamerson’s jazz-influenced playing and distinctive bass lines in tracks such as the Temptations’ “My Girl” expanded the possibilities for bass players, teaching McCartney to avoid stagnant, clichéd lines (for examples of Jamerson’s inventiveness, listen to Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or the Four Tops’ “Standing in the Shadows of Love”). 

As Mark Lewisohn notes in “Tune In: The Beatles All These Years,” when Ronnie Spector first met the group, she was shocked at how they “knew every Motown song ever put out.”

Robinson and the Miracles were a particular influence, as demonstrated on the “Please Please Me” track “Ask Me Why.” From Lennon’s falsetto to the backing vocals to the dramatic bridge (“I can’t believe it’s happened to me / I can’t conceive of any more misery”), Robinson and the Miracles’ style resonates throughout the track. 

Indeed, as George Martin said in “Anthology,” “In the early days, they were very influenced by American rhythm-and-blues. I think that the so-called ‘Beatles sound’ had something to do with Liverpool being a port  …  They certainly knew much more about Motown, about black music, than anybody else did, and that was a tremendous influence on them.”

The Beatles would prove it with the B-side of the U.K. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single, “This Boy,” a close-harmony track that Harrison described as ”a song John did that was very much influenced by Smokey. … If you listen to the middle eight of ‘This Boy,’ it was John trying to do Smokey,” he told Timothy White in “George Harrison Reconsidered.”

However, “With The Beatles” demonstrates not only their love of Motown, but their ability to cover and make the songs their own. “Please Mr. Postman” features a harder beat and Lennon’ raspy, harder-rock vocal, yet retains its R&B roots. “Money (That’s What I Want)” also receives a harder treatment, once again utilizing Lennon’s hard-charging style. Yet, the similar bluesy piano remains, as does the essential soul of the original. While “You Really Got a Hold on Me” has a slightly harder-rocking sound than the Robinson original, The Beatles’ largely remained faithful to the arrangement.  As Ian Mac Donald wrote in “Revolution in the Head,” “Lennon offers a passionate lead vocal, which makes up in power what it wants for nuance beside the exquisite fragility of Smokey Robinson. If the final score is a draw, that is remarkable tribute to The Beatle’  versatility as interpreters.” 

To demonstrate their mastery of the Motown sound, “All I’ve Got to Do,” with Lennon’s soulful lead vocal and Harrison and McCartney’s backing harmonies, has all the makings of a perfect girl-group, Marvelettes-like track. 

“A Hard Day’s Night” finds them exploring more sounds, with the Motown influence lingering in the opening drumbeat and chords of “Tell Me Why.”  In “The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul,” musicologist Walter Everett notes that the “Help” track “You’re Going to Lose That Girl’ owes a lot to the Motown Sound, particularly in its “Motown-based responsorial backing vocals by Paul and George.” He cites Jacqueline Warwick’s analysis of backing-vocal girl groupisms, where she fantasizes Motown choreography for the song: “It’s easy to picture Paul and George shimmying and wagging their fingers if only they hadn’t instruments to contend with.” 

Also, in a 1980 interview, Lennon described “When I Get Home” as “another Wilson Pickett, Motown sound … a four-in-the-bar cowbell song.”

While known primarily as a folk-influenced album, “Rubber Soul” does contain some elements of Motown.  McCartney once described “You Won’t See Me” as “very Motown-flavored. It’s got a James Jameson feel,” according to Keith Badman’s “The Beatles: Off the Record.”  Indeed, the “la la” backing vocals could come straight out of a Supremes record.  And, “Drive My Car” contains the kind of clever lyrics that Robinson or Gordy might have written. 

The Beatles also wanted to emulate the Funk Brothers’ sound, specifically the deep bass.  Emerick recalled McCartney approaching him with a special request during the “Paperback Writer” sessions. “Paul turned to me. ‘Geoff,’  he began, ‘I need you to put your thinking cap on.  This song is really calling out for the deep Motown bass sound we’ve been talking about, so I want you to pull out all the stops this time. All right, then?’” 

Emerick described how often he and McCartney would meet in the mastering room to listen to “the low end of some new import he had gotten from the States, most often a Motown track.” He then brainstormed an idea: using a loudspeaker as a microphone. “I was able to achieve a good bass sound by placing it up against the grille of a bass amplifier, speaker to speaker, and then ruling the signal through a complicated setup of compressors and filters.”

While “Paperback Writer” may not seem to be derived from Motown, the bass sound was inspired by it.

One of the most obvious Motown tributes, “Got to Get You into My Life” on “Revolver,” represented The Beatles diving head-first into soul. In a 1968 interview with Jonathan Cott, Lennon described it as “our Tamla Motown bit. You see, we’re influenced by whatever’s going. Even if we’re not influenced, we’re all going that way at a certain time.”  The horns, the lush production — all reflected Motown at its best. 

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” may have been firmly rooted in the psychedelic age, but as Steven Stark notes in “Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World,” all the album’s songs follow one element of Gordy’s songwriting — all are in the present tense, a tactic that directly engages the listener.  While that may not have been intentional, it might have resulted from years of listening to Motown lyrics.

In turn, Motown songwriters and producers were listening to The Beatles’ 1967 psychedelic sounds, and songs like the Supremes’ “Reflections” and the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” soon followed. 

During the recording of the White Album, while recording a take of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the version broke down when Harrison tried to emulate Robinson’s falsetto vocals. “It’s OK,” he laughed. “I tried to do a Smokey, and I just aren’t Smokey.”

Motown was present elsewhere, however: McCartney’s melodic bass on the irregular time changes of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” would make Jamerson proud. 

Motown also clearly was on their minds during the “Get Back” sessions. Among the many song fragments The Beatles performed were such Motown hits as Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” the Miracles’ “I’ve Been Good to You,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “The Tracks of My Tears,” the Shirelles’ “Love Is a Swingin’ Thing” and Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).”

Years later, McCartney revealed during a 2015 talk at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts that Motown also taught him what to avoid in music. “I mean, you’d hear like the Supremes and Motown, Diana Ross’ group, those records are very similar,” McCartney said. “‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ or ‘Baby Love,’ they’re all very similar things. We wanted to avoid that. So, I think that was one of the good things for us, because we just kept on going and never sort of did the same song twice.” 

While Motown did change its sound in the late 1960s and early 1970s — Whitfield served as an essential catalyst — the production-line model Gordy adapted from the Ford motor plant clearly did not suit The Beatles.

McCartney with Stevie Wonder.

An Enduring Love Affair

Numerous Motown artists covered Beatles hits, although none had as much success as Wonder with his soulful rendition of “We Can Work It Out.” Appearing on his 1970 album “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” it was released as a single in 1971. The single reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning him his fifth Grammy Award nomination in 1972, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Almost 20 years later, Wonder would perform that version as McCartney was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. As he gave his acceptance speech, McCartney noted how “Fingertips” inspired The Beatles back in the early 1960s. 

Wonder performed his cover again when McCartney was awarded the Gerswhin Prize by the Library of Congress in 2010, and once more at the Grammys Beatles tribute in 2014.

After The Beatles disbanded, the group still expressed their love of R&B. Harrison’s admiration for Robinson never dimmed, illustrated by “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” the “Extra Texture (Read All About It)”track intended as a companion piece to “Ooh Baby Baby.” His most compelling tribute, “Pure Smokey,” from “33 1/3,” outlines why Harrison held Robinson in high regard: “I wrote ‘Pure Smokey’ on ‘33 1/3’as my little tribute to his brilliant songwriting and his effortless butterfly of a voice,” he told White.

On “Cloud Nine,” Harrison gave Robinson one more shoutout on the track “When We Was Fab,” singing, “And you really got a hold on me.”  Starr covered “Where Did Our Love Go?” for his 1978 “Bad Boy”album, and “Money (That’s What I Want)” for 2019’s “What’s My Name.” 

Lennon may not have recorded Motown covers, but his personal jukebox included “First I Look at the Purse” by the Contours and several tracks by the Miracles: “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Shop Around,” “Who’s Lovin’ You,” “I’ve Been Good to You” and “What’s So Good about Goodbye.” 

As for McCartney, not only did he cover Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” during his 2010 concert at New York’s Apollo Theatre, he visited the Motown Museum in Detroit in 2011 and volunteered to pay for refurbishing the studio’s 1877 Steinway grand piano. After work was completed in August, 2012, McCartney and Gordy played it together during a September charitable event at Steinway Hall in New York City. The piano now sits in Studio A at Hitsville USA in Detroit.  McCartney also collaborated with two Motown artists: Wonder, on both “Ebony and Ivory” and “What’s That You’re Doing,” as well as a guest appearance on Wonder’s 2005 album “A Time to Love”; and Michael Jackson, on the “Thriller” duet “The Girl Is Mine” and the “Pipes of Peace” tracks “Say Say Say” and “The Man.” 

Clearly, The Beatles and Motown owe a great deal to one another in terms of musical influence and exposure to wider audiences.  In a “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever”DVD reissue, Robinson and original Temptations member Otis Williams discussed the relationship between Hitsville USA and the Fab Four. “They were the first huge white act to admit, ‘Hey we grew up with some black music. We love this,” Robinson said. Wilson added, “We knocked down those barriers, and I must give credit to The Beatles. It seemed like at that point in time white America said, ‘OK if the Beatles are checking them out, let us check them out.’” 

As for The Beatles, Motown influenced them as songwriters, vocalists and instrumentalists, as a group and as solo artists — truly a two-way relationship. 

Kit O’Toole

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More on Our Favorite Solo B-Sides

Quite a few unique tracks have shown up on the flip side of solo Beatles singles through the decades. In Beatlefan #248, we flipped over many solo singles and presented some of our contributors’ favorite B-sides. However, due to space limitations, we weren’t able to run everyone’s complete comments. Here is an expanded version of what they had to say, including some second and third choices!

Brad Hundt:

George Harrison: “Isn’t It a Pity” is a highlight of “All Things Must Pass,” and that has to be considered his strongest B-side. A majestic song that ranks among Harrison’s best. In his solo career, George did put out some B-sides that were not included on albums at the time, but unfortunately most of them were throwaways, along the lines of “I Don’t Care Anymore” or “Zig Zag.” However, “Deep Blue,” the B-side to “Bangla Desh,” is an endearingly simple acoustic number written in the wake of his mother’s death in 1970. It’s a treat.

Ringo Starr: “Snokeroo,” the B-side of “No No Song” in the United States, was such a good tune it was released as an A-side in the U.K. — probably not a bad call, considering that it was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who were at the zenith of their popularity in 1975. After that, Ringo’s best B-side would have to be “Early 1970,” which detailed Starr’s feelings about his bandmates just after The Beatles’ split.

John Lennon: Many of John’s B-sides were Yoko compositions, and, in many instances, the B-sides showcased some of her best work. A prime case is “Sisters O Sisters,” the flip side of 1972’s “Woman Is the N***** of the World.” A feminist anthem set to a reggae beat, it’s one of the best tracks on John and Yoko’s “Sometime in New York City.” Another top-tier Yoko track that ended up on a Lennon B-side is “Listen, the Snow Is Falling,” on the flip side of 1971’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Of the Lennon B-sides that feature a Lennon composition, “What You Got,” the flip side of “#9 Dream,” would not have sounded out of place at all on the radio in 1975. Considering that some promotional singles were pressed for “What You Got,” it seems likely that Lennon himself and the powers that be at Capitol/EMI in those days recognized its commercial potential.

Paul McCartney: There are so many McCartney B-sides, it’s hard to narrow it down. The overall best would have to be “Let Me Roll It,” which was the B-side of the “Jet” single in 1974. Classic solo McCartney, it’s been a mainstay of Paul’s setlists through the years. In the 1970s, McCartney and Wings put out a series of top-notch B-sides that were not released on albums, including “Sally G,” “C Moon,” “The Mess,” “Little Woman Love,” “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” and “Country Dreamer.”

Later on, the CD-single bonus tracks that accompanied “Off the Ground” were, in many cases, superior to the songs that ended up on the album. “Long Leather Coat,” the animal rights offering that was on the “Hope of Deliverance” B-side, is a foot-stomping McCartney rocker in the tradition of “Hi Hi Hi” and “Junior’s Farm.” 

Wings, circa 1979.

Simon Rogers:

Paul McCartney always has kept in mind The Beatles’ work ethic of giving value for money by offering exclusive B-sides. For me, the tracks “Girls School” and “Sally G” stand out, but, in the U.K., “Girls School” was a double A-side with the track “Mull of Kintyre.” 

So, for me, there really was no  contest for my fave McCartney B-side and, in fact, one of my favorite McCartney songs of all time, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.”

The song was the result of a bet Paul made with the members of  Wings — whoever could write the best song over the weekend would get the B-side of his next single. Paul, of course, won, with this slice of power pop.   

Recorded in January, 1979,  it is pure class, and it simply beggars belief that this was a B-side. It’s also amazing that “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”/“Goodnight Tonight” were not included on the album “Back to the Egg.” This B-side features some simply wonderful vocals from Paul and some great melodic bass playing.

George with Ravi Shankar.

For George Harrison, “What is Life.” George has some really great B-sides, such as “Writings on the Wall,” “Deep Blue” and “Miss O’Dell.” But, for me, the standout is “What Is Life.” The song has some very personal memories. I was lucky enough to see George play his only U.K. concert at the Albert Hall on the 6th April, 1992. I managed to fight my way down to the front of the gig just as George started playing “What Is Life.”

What amazed me was the fact that, after reading for years that George hated touring, when I made eye contact with him, how much he was actually enjoying singing this song. I will always remember his smile as he sang.

Certainly, it’s one of the highlights of his “All Things Must Pass” LP.

For Ringo Starr, “Early 1970.” Ringo sometimes is overlooked, but, if you look closely, there are some great and some frankly strange Ringo B-sides. From the spaghetti Western-themed “Blindman” to the disco romp of “Devil Woman” to the live favorite “No No Song.”

But, I must admit I really have a soft spot for the tongue-in-cheek “Early 1970,” which sums up Ringo’s feelings for his fellow bandmates just after the breakup. It originally was recorded under the title of “When Four Knights Come to Town” in October, 1970, during the sessions for the “Plastic Ono Band” album. 

Ringo seems closest to George and John, with Paul coming very firmly third. Any record that features Ringo showing his prowess on the guitar and piano must be worth a listen. A track that always seems to put a smile on my face.

For John Lennon, “Move Over Ms. L.” There is no contest for what my favorite Lennon solo B-side, and it’s this wonderful rocker. Recorded for John’s LP “Walls and Bridges,” it was supposed to fit between “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradise)” and “What You Got” on the second side of the LP.

John decided to remove it from the track listing just before the album went to press. He later rerecorded it in October, 1974. It has the honor of being the only Lennon nonalbum B-side. Keith Moon, drummer of The Who, would record a version for his “Both Sides of the Moon” LP.

John and May Pang.

Al Sussman:

John Lennon, “Move Over Ms. L.” An enjoyable rocker from the “lost weekend” era. 
George Harrison, “Deep Blue.” The bluesy B-side of “Bangla Desh” stems from a sad time in George’s life (the death of his mother) but is still an enjoyable listen.
Ringo Starr, “Early 1970.” Ringo’s musical “state of the (dis)union” commentary, which was the B-side of “It Don’t Come Easy.”
Paul McCartney, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.” The B-side of “Goodnight Tonight” was a typical piece of expert Macca songcraft that Mark Lewisohn reported is one of McCartney’s own favorites. 

Clint Ard:

John: “Move Over Ms. L.” This one wins by default, as it was the only nonalbum B-side of John’s career.  However, it is a fine rocker, with some pointed lyrics toward Yoko: “Well, now to err is something human and forgiving so divine / I’ll forgive your trespasses, if you forgive me mine / Life’s a deal, you knew it, when you signed the dotted line.”

Fortunately, John and Yoko did forgive each other’s trespasses and were reunited for the last six years of his life. This was the B-side of John’s cover of “Stand By Me,” but it failed to make either the “Walls and Bridges” or “Rock and Roll” albums. Strangely enough, Keith Moon recorded a cover version!  

Paul and Linda and the Wings tour bus.

Paul: “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.” So many great B-sides from Paul (& Wings), but this one sticks out for me. The B-side of the disco-flavored “Goodnight Tonight,” I felt this song better foreshadowed what was coming on the “Back to the Egg” album. Still, I can’t really imagine it on that album, either. It truly is an original song, meant to be heard all on its own. It opens and closes with great harmonies from the band, and, in between, really delivers a terrific tune. A great bass line and fine guitar work by Laurence Juber and Denny Laine. My favorite lyric is “Come on river, flow through me.  Don’t be stopped by insanity.”  Many claim that Paul released better quality songs on his B-sides than on his albums. This song is a perfect example of that. 

George: “Miss O’Dell.” A real charmer of a song from the B-side of “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” I really enjoy the lightness of the tune, and how George did not take it too seriously. In fact, he ends up laughing in the middle of the verses more than once. It features some quirky lyrics, such as “And the smog that keeps polluting up our shores is boring me to tears.”  A nice acoustic song, with rhythm backing by Klaus Voormann and Jim Keltner.  More cowbell!  

Ringo: “Down and Out.” The B-side of one of Ringo’s greatest songs, “Photograph.” Not included on the 1973 “Ringo” album, but it sure sounds like it would fit right in. A very catchy tune that is easy to sing along to, and gets stuck in your head. The lyrics aren’t particularly meaningful, but I’ve always wondered what fire Ringo was looking at here: “Looked in the fire, what did I see? I saw someone looking at me.” A little spooky, actually. Gary Wright contributes some nice piano and even gets a shout-out from Ringo. The horns add a nice punch to the song, as well.    

Steven Prazak:

John: “Beef Jerky.” Although a throwaway track to some, it’s actually one of the most composed and complex Lennon tracks, even without a lead vocal on top of it. Love all the time signature shifts, the quasi-“Cold Turkey” guitar riff transitions, the horn charts, and, hands-down, the funkiest refrain ever laid down by a Beatle. The flip side of “Whatever Gets Thru the Night,” I played “Beef Jerky” countless times on Waffle House jukeboxes throughout the South. 

Paul: “Secret Friend.” Ten and a half minutes of arpeggio’d and pitch-shifting piano loops, rhythm box and speed-accelerated Macca vocals that sound like they’re coming from deep within a jug of water. A beguiling little melody that fits somewhere in the “ambient” scheme of things. So many fans speak disparagingly of this track, but I love it! Pretty daring for 1980, too! Suffice it to say, I spun this tune quite a bit more than its “Temporary Secretary” A-side.

George: “Isn’t It a Pity.” My personal favorite from “All Things Must Pass,” and as luck would have it, all 7+ minutes are replicated on the flip of “My Sweet Lord” (here in the colonies, that is). What a melody, and a PERFECT production from both George and Phil Spector. And, it’s all verses, too — no chorus or refrain. Another “Waffle House” favorite!

Ringo: “Just a Dream.” The disco-flavored “Ringo the 4th” is no one’s favorite Ringo album, and this non-LP B-side (the disco-flavored flip side of both 1977’s “Drowning in the Sea of Love” and “Wings” 45s) probably won’t change anyone’s mind of that best-forgotten LP. But, there’s no denying that “Just a Dream” is a really great song, despite all the disco trappings heaped on it. Much like the Bee Gees’ disco-era songs have been reappraised for their composition and craftsmanship, I think Ringo’s “Just a Dream” deserves a similar revisit.

John in 1975.

Kathy Urbanic:

John: My favorite John Lennon solo B-side is “Beautiful Boy” (1981, A-side “Watching the Wheels”). The song, written for Sean, is one of the most touching in John’s catalog and a tribute to the loving father he had become. The lyrics on the verses are simple and childlike, as father talks to son and calms his fears. On the chorus, they change perspective, as John marvels at the life he has helped create. The bridge, with a reference to his sailing trip to Bermuda, is poignant now, expressing his happiness at the thought of watching Sean come of age. The melody moves from a nursery-rhyme quality on the verses to a joyful chorus and bridge, beautifully arranged with the sounds of a Tibetan wishing bell, a steel drum, and ocean waves. It’s no surprise that both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono picked “Beautiful Boy” as the one Lennon song they would take to a desert island.

In second place is “Woman,” released in 1981 as the B-side to “Starting Over.” John wrote many love songs for Yoko, but “Woman” rises above the rest, conveying a depth of emotion and a maturity about relationships. He himself said the song was “the grown-up version of ‘Girl.’”  Words, music, and arrangement work together seamlessly, creating a Motown/early Beatles feeling with one of John’s most affecting vocals.

Paul: Among the dozens of songs Paul McCartney has released as a solo artist, my favorite B-side is “Mamunia” (1974, A-side “Jet,” released prior to the “Jet”/“Let Me Roll It” pairing, also released in 1974). Any of the songs on Paul’s acclaimed “Band on the Run”would make a fine single release, but “Mamunia” has a special charm. Inspired by a visit to Tunisia, it weaves lyrics ostensibly about rain around an Arabic word meaning “safe haven.” Like John Lennon’s “Rain,” “Mamunia” uses rain as a metaphor for life’s problems. Taking, as usual, a lighter approach than John, Paul creates an infectious melody, with African echoes and bright harmonies that make this a great singalong. “Mamunia” is one in a long line of underrated McCartney gems.

Second for me among Paul’s B-sides is “Let Me Roll It” (1974, A-side “Jet”). Its dramatic, bass-fueled opening pulls the listener into a fine vocal that rises in strength and intensity. On their own, the lyrics are unexceptional, but they fit the sensual feel of the music.  “Let Me Roll It” has shown up frequently in Paul’s concert set list, and rightfully so. (The song is just one example of the ways in which the solo Beatles inspired one another; Paul lifted the title phrase from a line of George Harrison’s “I’d Have You Anytime.”)

George: The George Harrison B-side that wins my vote is “Apple Scruffs” (1971, A-side “What Is Life”), his ode to the devoted fans who kept vigil outside Abbey Road Studios. Of the four Beatles, George took the kindest interest in them, sometimes stopping to have a word or taking tea out to them on cold days. His tribute to the girls who braved wind, rain and security guards for a glimpse of a Beatle is whimsical and affectionate, punctuated by a harmonica that evokes street music. As many times as I’ve heard the song, I always wipe away a tear when George sings the last verse: While the years they come and go / Now, your love must surely show me /That beyond all time and space / We’re together face to face, my Apple Scruffs.” Like so many first-generation fans, I was an Apple Scruff in spirit, hanging out at Abbey Road in my heart.

Second to “Apple Scruffs,” I love George’s B-side “Miss O’Dell” (1973, A-side “Give Me Love”). The song is a delight, with clever lyrics and a playful arrangement, featuring harmonica, acoustic guitar and a cowbell. Each verse paints a different scene, from Bangladesh to an ocean-front home in California, as George waits for an overdue call from former Apple employee Chris O’Dell. Midway through, he dissolves into giggles and laughter, guaranteed to raise a smile on any listener. At the close of the song, he leaves a telephone number — Garston 6922 — that was Paul McCartney’s number on Forthlin Road in Liverpool. “Miss O’Dell” is George at his cheekiest. 

Ringo: “Early 1970” (1971, A-side “It Don’t Come Easy”) is my favorite of Ringo Starr’s B-sides.  One of his own compositions, the song features George Harrison on slide guitar and, according to some researchers, John Lennon also participated in the recording session. The tune has the country music vibe often identified with Ringo, and the lyrics are a charming sketch of his three former bandmates: Paul raising sheep on his farm in Scotland, John organizing bed-ins for peace with Yoko, George and Pattie settling in at Friar Park. With its autobiographical lyrics, “Early 1970” foreshadows compositions to come, such as “Liverpool 8” and “The Other Side of Liverpool.” When it was released, it brought hope to fans reeling from The Beatles’ breakup, assuring us that Ringo, at least, wanted to keep making music with the other three.

Runner-up in my affections among Ringo’s B-sides is “Step Lightly” (1974, A-side “Oh My My”), from the marvelous “Ringo”album. Another of his compositions, the song is light and bluesy, embellished on the instrumental bridge by the sound of tap dancing (credited to “the dancing feet of Richard Starkey, MBE”). Ringo’s songs are not covered often, but “Step Lightly” has been recorded by David Hentschel (1975) and the Beatles cover band Suburban Skies (2015). After the success of this single, and two others from the album, John Lennon sent Ringo a telegram: “Congratulations. How dare you? And please write me a hit song.”

Richard S. Ginell:

George: “I Don’t Care Anymore.” The title says it all — the lackadaisical spoken intro, the hoarse voice, the bored delivery, the goofy jaws-harp over the guitar, the raw sound quality, the publishing company (Oops Publishing Ltd.). For candor alone, this one is in a class of its own. It was the B-side of “Dark Horse” in the U.S. and “Ding Dong” in Europe, which is where I found a copy last year in Oslo, Norway.

John: “Do the Oz.” This weird little screamer is a B-side, but not for a Lennon single per se; rather, it’s the companion piece for Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band’s “God Save Us.” While Lennon leaves the vocal to Elliot on the A-side, that’s John yelling over a lumbering heavy metal drone laced with Yoko’s electronically treated caterwauling. It’s just credited to the Elastic Oz Band, and it sank unnoticed somewhere below the Hot 100 in 1971.

Paul: “The Mess.” While most record buyers and McCartney fans of 1973 swooned to the No. 1 hit A-side “My Love,” I flipped the single over and rocked on to the unsung B-side, “The Mess.” It’s the first edition of Wings unleashed live in Antwerp, grinding through several changes of pace in hard rock fashion as Paul treats his voice with echo delay. That’s as far as the track got until it finally turned up in the archive CD edition of “Red Rose Speedway” more than 40 years later — and, for me, it beats anything on the originally-released album.
“Secret Friend.” The third single from “McCartney II” was not released in the U.S.; it came out in Britain as a 12-inch single. So, Americans never heard this wonderful, sprawling electronic samba that occupied the B-side of the goofy “Temporary Secretary.” Paul found an irresistible groove on his drum machine and just let it run for over 10 1/2 minutes, pasting a compressed vocal on top. It resulted in one of his longest, and certainly most offbeat inspirations — not to be heard in the U.S. until it wound up on the “McCartney II” archive CD edition. It was a memorable pickup for me, since I bought it at a flea market in Birkinhead, England, right across the Mersey from Liverpool.

“Check My Machine.” Another bit of solo Beatle lunacy in the spirit of “You Know My Name” — with Yosemite Sam thrown in. McCartney once said that “You Know My Name” was his favorite Beatles song, and this is the closest thing I can think of as a sequel. Again, nowhere to be found on an album until the “McCartney II” archive edition came out, and running twice as long there.

Ringo: “Coochy Coochy.” The B-side of the title track of “Beaucoup Of Blues,” Ringo’s 1970 excursion to Nashville, is a swinging jam session with the crack Nashville sidemen assembled by Pete Drake, whose pedal steel guitar figures in the mix. It didn’t make its way onto the album until the CD edition in the 1990s, yet for me these 4 minutes and 48 seconds of exuberant Ringo vocals and joyous jamming eclipse anything on the LP. Of all of the solo Beatle B-sides, this is my favorite. A 28-minute version of “Coochy” is rumored to exist; I anticipate hearing that just as many Beatles fans are lusting after the 27-minute version of “Helter Skelter.”

Bruce Spizer:

John: It is a bit of a problem to pick favorite John B-sides, because so many of them have Yoko on the flip side. “Move Over Ms. L” was the B-side to “Stand By Me.” This track is an all-out rocker reminiscent of Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie” (unlike the recording of the song on Lennon’s “Anthology” set, which has a Western swing feeling). And, for those wanted to get up and dance, there’s always “Do the Oz,” which was the B-side to “God Save Us” by Bill Elliot and Elastic Oz Band. The B-side features John singing and Yoko wailing. 

Paul: Paul McCartney has put out many quality B-sides pulled from albums, but I limited my choices to outright B-sides. “Oh Woman, Oh Why” was the flip side to and opposite of the carefully crafted pop tune “Another Day.” It developed out of a studio jam with lyrics that are “Hey Joe” in reverse, with the singer getting shot, instead. I also like “Girls School,” which is a silly rocker that was the B-side to “Mull of Kintyre” in the U.K. (although the A-side in the States). 

George: My favorite George B-side is “Miss O’Dell,” a delightful throwaway song, with George laughing through parts of his vocal and giving out Paul’s old phone number at the end (Garston 6922). It makes for a perfect pairing with “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” His worst is a tune whose title appears to describe George’s attitude toward recording this particular B-side, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” which was on the back of “Dark Horse.” 

Ringo: His most interesting and charming B-side is “Early 1970,” with Ringo singing about his bandmates and his own limited musical abilities on guitar, bass and piano (“if it’s in C”). This B-side to “It Don’t Come Easy” was written during the time The Beatles were breaking apart. At its end, Ringo sings “When I go to town, I want to see all three.” His worst B-side is “Blindman,” which was the flip side to “Back Off Boogaloo.” I doubt many people flipped the disc over to hear this muddy-sounding dirge more than once. 

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Previewing Ringo’s ‘Zoom In’ EP

Ringo Starr has a new five-track EP, “Zoom In,” due out March 19 from Capitol/Universal. Here, Bill King provides a preview. …

When Ringo Starr released his most recent album, “What’s My Name,” in 2019, he said he thought it probably would be his last, but that he wasn’t giving up recording.

True to his word, Ringo hasn’t done an album since, but he has joined Paul McCartney and others in issuing recordings made during the pandemic, releasing the self-produced “Zoom In,” consisting of five new tracks. He’s calling it an EP.

Is half a new Ringo album better than none?

Yes, of course. It’s always good to hear from Ringo again. But, does this new release rank with his best solo releases?

No, it does not.

Still, it’s a pleasant, if all too brief, outing, and it does have a couple of moments that stand out, with the opening and closing tracks being the strongest.

That first track is “Here’s to the Nights,” which was issued as a digital single just before Christmas. The track, running 4:05, is

an ode to friendship written by Diane Warren (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”).

Joe Walsh is among the friends joining Ringo on “Here’s to the Nights.”

Ringo is joined by a host of famous guest vocalists (who can be seen in the music video): Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (of Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, Finneas, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola.

(It’s worth noting that McCartney only occasionally is audible in the mix. It’s also noteworthy that one of Ringo’s most frequent musical partners of recent years, Dave Stewart, is absent this time around.)

The track is a stately, string-backed pop number that features some tasty guitar from Lukather, and a catchy singalong from the celebrity chorus: “Here’s to the nights we won’t remember with the friends we won’t forget.”

A favorite moment for me is at the very end, where Ringo, not primarily known as a vocalist, sustains the final note longer than you’d expect, before finally laughing, as if to say, “You didn’t expect that, did you?”

Next on the EP, which was recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West home studio in Beverly Hills, CA, between April and October, 2020, is the title track, “Zoom In Zoom Out,” a midtempo song that lopes along with a slightly bluesy backing. The 3:57 number was written by Jeff Silbar and Joe Turley.

It’s another message song, with the message this time being “we’re all in this together” and “love is what it’s all about.” As Ringo sings, “Zoom in to get a new perspective / Zoom out to see we’re all connected.”

The lyrics are a little out of the ordinary: Not many pop songs mention Galileo, or include a couplet like this: “Shift your paradigm / Seek and you will find.”

The EP’s third track, running 3:07, is “Teach Me to Tango,” written by Sam Hollander and Grant Michaels, with Ringo also getting a composing credit. He added a drum fill, along with his vocal, to a pre-recorded track the team sent him.

It starts out with a Latin flavor, as the title might lead you to expect, but, unfortunately, it’s mostly a pretty pedestrian midtempo rocker. Not much of a message here, other than “You gotta live it up / Until you get what you want, my friend.” The track comes to an abrupt ending.

Next up is “Waiting for the Tide to Turn,” a 3:54 track with a laid-back reggae beat. It was written by Ringo and his longtime engineer and co-producer, Bruce Sugar. The lyrics are a bit on the nose, as in “just play some reggae music and it will be a better day.” It also includes mentions of Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert and Burning Spear.

The EP winds up with another summation of Ringo’s philosophy, “Not Enough Love in the World,” a midtempo pop-rock number written by longtime All Starr Band member Lukather and Joseph Williams, who also arranged it. The longest track, at 4:16, it has a pretty catchy chorus that will stay in your head afterward, and a nice guitar solo by Lukather.

Ringo recorded his new EP in his home studio in Beverly Hills.

Overall, this is not a scintillating collection, but it is an enjoyable listening experience.

In explaining that he didn’t want to do another full album, Ringo has said that he wanted to get away from co-writing all the songs. Whereas on the best of his post-Mark Hudson albums, 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise,” Ringo co-wrote every number — teaming up with the likes of Lukather, Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Richard Marx and Van Dyke Parks — he takes only two co-writing credits on “Zoom In.”

It’s not the lack of Starkey writing credits that’s holding this mini-collection back, though; it’s the fact that none of these songs truly is memorable. That may be because the writers involved are a level down from some of his past collaborators.

For example, Ringo also did a reggae number, “King of the Kingdom,” on his “Give More Love” album, and it was much superior to the reggae track on this EP. The difference is that, on the earlier number, he was writing with Van Dyke Parks, rather than Sugar.

If Ringo wants to continue doing EPs, rather than full albums, but doesn’t want to work that hard at coming up with new songs, I think he’d be better off re-recording some of his older material, as he did on “Ringo 2012” and in the bonus tracks for “Give More Love.”

Or, perhaps he could tackle some of the oldies from his youth, as he’s also done occasionally in the past.

I’d also love to see him explore the blues-based material that he flirted with on “Give More Love” with the track “Standing Still” and others, or renew his old love affair with country music, as he did with “So Wrong for So Long” on that album.

In fact, a five-track Ringo country EP sounds like a great idea.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a slamming of “Zoom In,” because I have enjoyed listening to it quite a few times. It’s an amiable, respectable effort — just not very exciting.

We know Ringo can do better, but the bottom line is that it’s good to have him still putting out new recordings, even if they’re not breaking any new ground. As long as he’s still at it, there’s always a chance he’ll come up with something that matches his best work from the past.

William P. King

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Catching Up With Macca

Paul and some of his guitar collection. (Mary McCartney)

Paul McCartney did a lot of press to promote his recent “McCartney III” album. Here are highlights of some of those interviews. …

Talking with the BBC, Macca addressed his off-and-on gray pandemic beard, saying, “what I do is, I grow it for a couple of weeks and then I get fed up with it ’cause it gets itchy, so I shave it off.”

Asked about working alone, he said: “If you’re on your own, you can have an idea and then very quickly play it. Whereas, with a band, you’ve got to explain it. Sometimes that’s great… but when you’re just noodling around on your own, there’s just a sense of freedom.”

Considering the undertain future of live concerts, he was asked had he thought about the possibility he might never be able to play live again. “Yes, definitely,” he said. “I look back at the last gig I did, which was at Dodger Stadium in LA, and we didn’t have a very good night. I must say, I was thinking ‘Uh-oh, what if that was the last gig?’

“But it would be great, wouldn’t it, to be in a crowd and be able to go crazy and listen to a live band again. I was imagining that the other day — instead of doing the songs, you’d just be standing there going ‘This is great, isn’t it?’”

McCartney was asked whether any of the new songs are informed by the pandemic. “Yeah, I think so, a couple of the newer songs,” he answered. “There’s one called ‘Seize the Day’ — that had echoes of the pandemic kind of thing when the cold days come, we’ll wish that we had seized the day, kind of thing. So that was just reminding myself and anyone listening that yeah, we better grab the good stuff and, you know, try and get on through the pandemic. But it certainly helped me, you know.”

Of his wider feelings about the worldwide crisis, he reflected: “I hate it. You know when you turn on the news, the lead story is going to be how many people died. That’s depressing, after a while. But in truth, what kind of saw me through a lot of this was, I remembered that my parents, my mum and dad, Jim and Mary were in World War II.

“They survived — they survived the bombing and the losing people left, right and center and yet they came out of it with incredible spirit and so us kids in Liverpool, we grew up with this really, you know ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s roll out the barrel,’ with this great sort of wartime spirit that all the people had, because they’d had enough. And so I was brought up in a lot of that, so it’s kind of good to draw on that and think well, if they could do it, I can do it.”

Asked about his thoughts on Sir Peter Jackson’s forthcoming “The Beatles: Get Back” film, Macca said: “I love it. I said to him when he was going to trawl through all the footage — like about 56 hours or something — I said ‘Oh God, it’s going to be boring’ because my memory of the [original 1970] film was that it was a very sad time, and it was a little bit downbeat, the film.

“But he got back to me he said ‘No, I’m looking at it,’ he said, ‘It’s a laugh – you guys, it’s just four guys working, and you can see you making up songs.’ George wondering about the lyrics of ‘Something in the Way She Moves’ or me trying to figure out ‘Get Back’ and he’s shown me little bits and pieces of it and it’s great, I love it, I must say because it’s how it was. It just reminds me of — even though we had arguments, like any family — we loved each other, you know, and it shows in the film. It’s a very warm feeling, And, it’s amazing just being backstage with these people, making this music that turned out to be good.”

Macca in the studio. (Sonny McCartney)

In his interview with Loudandquiet.com, McCartney was asked if he could write a song every day if he wanted to. “I think so,” he said. “The secret for me is having a bit of time. This afternoon I haven’t really got anything on, and my guitar is sort of sat here looking at me, saying, ‘Why am I over here?’ But it’s time. I think if I was stuck and needed to write a song every day, maybe I could. 

“I kind of play every day, one thing or another. A mate of mine said, ‘Guitars is best.’ I mean, they are. They’re great. You can form a good friendship with a piece of wood and metal. I was always lucky as a kid to have one, and when the world was against you, you could go off into the corner with your guitar and you could make things right. It’s the magic of music, because it comes out of nowhere. It does strike me occasionally — I’ll think, ‘This is great, because I’ve really learned chords, and I can really go between them.’ I can remember a really long time ago finding it really difficult to go between E and A and B, and don’t even talk to me about B7. I was just thinking the other day, “No, I can move between chords. I’m getting pretty good at this.”

Asked about his 8-minutes-plus track “Deep Deep Feeling,” recorded during lockdown when he was staying with daughter Mary and her family, he explained: “That was one of the songs that I’d actually started last year. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a bit of time when I’ll go into the studio and just make something up, and so I try to just do something that I haven’t done before. This was one of those that I didn’t finish. To me, what it was about was, sometimes — I don’t how it happens of even what it is — when you’re feeling real love towards someone, sometimes it can manifest in a tingling over your whole body, and it’s a pretty funny feeling, and you almost don’t like it — ‘What the hell is this?’ — like you’re about to be beamed up into a spaceship or something. On this song I was fascinated with the idea of that — that deep, deep feeling when you love someone so much it almost hurts. That was the start of that, but after I made it I thought, well, this isn’t for anything. It’s certainly not a 3-minute single. What became nice about working in the studio was that in the evening Mary would be cooking, because she loves to cook, and we’d be sitting around before dinner, and she’d say, ‘Well, what did you do today then?’ and I’d go, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll play it for you.’ And I always wanted it to keep going. I just wanted it to go on forever. It’s a bit indulgent, and I was a little bit worried about that — I thought I really needed to cut it down, but, just before I did that, I just listened to it, and I thought, ‘Y’know what, I love this, I’m not going to touch it.’”

Macca also elaborated on the closing track, “When Winter Comes,” recorded years earlier with Sir George Martin. “I made a track called ‘Calico Skies’ a while ago [for the 1997 album “Flaming Pie”], which George produced. And at the same time, because I was in the studio and had an extra minute or so, I had this other song, so I said, ‘let me knock this one off.’ That was ‘When Winter Comes’, and I mention George because it was on a George Martin-produced session, but it is just me on the guitar. It was nearly going to be a bonus extra that was going to be on a reissue of ‘Flaming Pie,’ but I’d just been reading that great book on Elvis, ‘Last Train to Memphis,’ and it mentioned a song and said you’ve probably never heard it because it was buried as a bonus on the B-side of an album. So, I thought, no, I’d rather have this one as a proper track. And we finished the album with it because it was the reason for doing the whole thing, because me and my mate Geoff Dunbar, who’s an animation director, were talking about making an animated film to that song.”

Asked if he’s still seeking to innovate, Sir Paul said, “There’s a lot of things in my life that I’m surprised at. People say, ‘After touring for all these years, don’t you just hate it? Aren’t you fed up?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not.’ I suppose I am still looking for something new, but it’s not that important. The more important thing for me is getting into a studio and thinking, what can we do now. It doesn’t have to be something new, it can be something old. And on this record, actually, I had a couple of guitars that I’ve not played much, and we got them out — this old Gibson, this beautiful thing — and I’m like, ‘How have I not played this!?’ and that led me into a track. But I still enjoy what I do very much, and it all comes out as clichés — ‘I feel very lucky’ — but it’s true. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was plug a guitar into an amp and turn it up for that thrill, and it’s still there. So, it’s not so much that I’m looking for something new, more that I’m looking for something to do to keep me off the streets.”

McCartney conducted a media blitz for his “McCartney III” album. (Mary McCartney)

In an interview on paulmccartney.com, Paul was asked if he uses his phone to record song notes. “Yes, I do, a lot — and it’s embarrassing! To think, when we started off all those years ago, John and I had to remember everything! The only things available for home recording were the big Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorders, and of course you had to be very rich to have one, so we didn’t have them.

“We always had to remember what we’d written that day. We’d write the song, go away, and all we’d have is a little piece of paper with the words on, and then later on we’d have a drink and think, ‘What the hell was that song?! … Oh God! Forgotten it!’. I’d wait a minute, thinking John would probably remember, and often one of us would wake up first thing in the morning and luckily have the song in our head again. So, in the studio you were always playing something that you remembered, that you knew and that was finished. 

“Nowadays with iPhones, you put a little sketch of an idea or a little bit of a riff, maybe just two lines of a song and think ‘I’ll finish that later’. My phone is full of little sketches, some of which I pulled out during lockdown and thought ‘I’ve really got to finish these’. So, I did. 

“But yeah, I’m always on my iPhone, always putting ideas down. And the double-edged sword means it’s good because you can remember your ideas. But it’s bad because you don’t finish them. You’ve got to force yourself to come back and finish. Fortunately, I had an opportunity during this time to do just that.”

McCartney also told Britain’s Uncut magazine that “McCartney III” allowed him to explore his backlog of unfinished songs. “The problem with iPhones is that you can have an idea — “Doo do doo do come on bam bam” — and you think, ‘That’s good, I’ll finish this later.’ Then you realise you’ve got 2,000 of these ideas on your phone! ‘Oh, God! Am I ever going to get round to them?!’ So, lockdown allowed me to get round to a lot of them. Bu, I do have a list of songs that I started but didn’t actually finish or release.”

Asked if he ever mentally consults John Lennon, he replied: “Yeah, often. We collaborated for so long, I think, ‘OK, what would he think of this? What would be say now?’ We’d both agree that this new song I’m taking about is going nowhere. So instead of sitting around, we’d destroy it and remake it. I started that process yesterday in the studio. I took the vocal off it and decided to write a new vocal. I think it’s heading in a better direction now.”

Asked about George Martin, he said, “He was brilliant to work with. He was like a doctor when you’re ill. They have a way of not getting you angry. ‘Sure, let me just take your temperature.’ George was like that. I’d disagree with one of his ideas, and they were often very good ideas, and instead of having a barney, he’d say, ‘Maybe we could just try it and if you don’t like it, we’ll lose it.’ Then I’d go, ‘Oh, OK.’ He was clever that way. He’d get you to try things.”

“McCartney III” is informed by the pandemic, but radiates Macca’s innate optimism. (Mary McCartney)

He told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly that while his wife Nancy would like to clean out the closets, as many people have done during lockdown, he’s “just short of a hoarder. What happens is, we’ll be going to throw an old book away and I’ll say, ‘Just let me check through it.’ And there, on the third page, will be the original lyrics I scribbled down to one of my songs. So, I say, ‘This is why I don’t throw things away!’ That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.”

In an interview with the Times of London, Macca was asked whether The Beatles ever experienced any mental health problems. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “But you talked about it through your songs. You know, John would. ‘Help! I need somebody,’ he wrote. And I thought, ‘Well, it’s just a song,’ but it turned out to be a cry for help. Same kind of thing happened with me, mainly after the break-up of the band. All of us went through periods when we weren’t as happy as we ought to be. Ringo had a major drinking problem. Now he’s Mr. Sober of the Year! But you know there were a lot of things we had to work through, but you’re right — you didn’t talk about mental health. It was something really that, as four guys, you were more likely to make fun of than be serious about. And the making fun of it was to hide from it. But having said all that, we were reasonably well adjusted, I think.”

In his interview with the New York Times Sunday Magazine, McCartney was asked if there are aspects of “McCartney III” that represent creative growth. “The idea of growing and adding more arrows to your bow is nice,” he said, “but I’m not sure if I’m interested in it. The thing is, when I look back to ‘Yesterday,’ which was written when I was 21 or something, there’s me talking like a 90-year-old: ‘Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.’ Things like that and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ have a kind of wisdom. You would naturally think, OK, as I get older I’m going to get deeper, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s a fact of life that personalities don’t change much. Throughout your life, there you are.”

Asked how central to his life those 10 years as a Beatle are, he replied: “Very. It was a great group. That’s commonly acknowledged. … It’s like your high school memories — those are my Beatles memories. This is the danger: At a dinner party, I am liable to tell stories about my life, and people already know them. I can see everyone stifling a yawn. But the Beatles are inescapable. My daughter Mary will send me a photo or a text a few times a week: “There you were on an advert” or “I heard you on the radio.” The thing that amazes me now, because of my venerable age, is that I will be with, like, one of New York’s finest dermatologists, and he will be a rabid Beatles fan. All of that amazes me. We were trying to get known, we were trying to do good work and we did it. So to me, it’s all happy memories.”

Asked if his processing of Lennon’s death has changed over the years, he said, “It’s difficult for me to think about. I rerun the scenario in my head. Very emotional. So much so that I can’t really think about it. It kind of implodes. What can you think about that besides anger, sorrow? Like any bereavement, the only way out is to remember how good it was with John. Because, I can’t get over the senseless act. I can’t think about it. I’m sure it’s some form of denial. But denial is the only way that I can deal with it. Having said that, of course, I do think about it, and it’s horrible. You do things to help yourself out of it. I did an interview with Sean, his son. That was nice — to talk about how cool John was and fill in little gaps in his knowledge. So, it’s little things that I am able to do, but I know that none of them can get over the hill and make it OK. But you know, after he was killed, he was taken to Frank Campbell’s funeral parlor in New York. I’m often passing that. I never pass it without saying: “All right, John. Hi, John.”

The interviewer pointed out that, while McCartney frequently is asked about Lennon, he rarely is asked about George Harrison.

“John is probably the one in the group you would remember,” he said, “but the circumstances of his death were particularly harrowing. When you die horrifically, you’re remembered more. But, I like your point, which is: What about George? I often think of George because he was my little buddy. I was thinking the other day of my hitchhiking bursts. This was before The Beatles. I suddenly was keen on hitchhiking, so I sold this idea to George. … Exeter and Paignton. We did that, and then I also hitchhiked with John. He and I got as far as Paris. What I was thinking about was — it’s interesting how I was the instigator. Neither of them came to me and said, ‘Should we go hitchhiking?’ It was me, like, ‘I’ve got this great idea.’ … My theory is that attitude followed us into our recording career. Everyone was hanging out in the sticks, and I used to ring them up and say, ‘Guys, it’s time for an album.’ Then we’d all come in, and they’d all be grumbling. ‘He’s making us work.’ We used to laugh about it. So, the same way I instigated the hitchhiking holidays, I would put forward ideas like, ‘It’s time to make an album.’ I don’t remember Ringo, George or John ever ringing me up and saying that.”

Asked if he remembers the last thing he said to George, Paul replied, “We said silly things. We were in New York before he went to Los Angeles to die, and they were silly, but important to me. And, I think, important to him. We were sitting there, and I was holding his hand, and it occurred to me — I’ve never told this — I don’t want to hold George’s hand. You don’t hold your mate’s hands. I mean, we didn’t anyway. And, I remember he was getting a bit annoyed at having to travel all the time — chasing a cure. He’d gone to Geneva to see what they could do. Then he came to a special clinic in New York to see what they could do. Then the thought was to go to L.A. and see what they could do. He was sort of getting a bit, ‘Can’t we just stay in one place?’ And I said: ‘Yes, Speke Hall. Let’s go to Speke Hall.’ That was one of the last things we said to each other, knowing that he would be the only person in the room who would know what Speke Hall was. Anyway, the nice thing for me when I was holding George’s hands, he looked at me, and there was a smile.”

Asked if he could share a Beatles story that hasn’t been told before, he said, “So when we did the album ‘Abbey Road,’ the photographer was set up and taking the pictures that ended up as the album cover. Linda was also there, taking some incidental pictures. She has some that are of us — I think it was all four of us — sitting on the steps of Abbey Road studios, taking a break from the session, and I’m in quite earnest conversation with John. This morning I thought, I remember why. John’s accountants had rung my accountants and said: ‘Someone’s got to tell John he’s got to fill in his tax returns. He’s not doing it.’ So, I was trying to say to him, ‘Listen, man, you’ve got to do this.’ I was trying to give him the sensible advice on not getting busted for not doing your taxes. That’s why I looked so earnest. I don’t think I’ve told that story before.”

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In the Studio With George Harrison

Eoghan Lyng looks back at the recording of “All Things Must Pass” in this bonus to our 50th anniversary coverage of the George Harrison album. You can find much more about “All Things Must Pass” in Beatlefan #247. …

Though commonly disparaged by Beatles fans and Beatles themselves, especially Paul McCartney, “Let It Be” remains an epoch of a record. It was the first Beatles album of the 1970s, and was finished off by veteran producer Phil Spector.

Spector, whose fingerprints are all over The Beatles’ final studio release, had entered into their sphere by invitation of John Lennon. Delighted with the producer’s work on his fiery “Instant Karma,” Lennon invited Spector to sift through the chaotic residue that was The Beatles’ early 1969 recordings. Yet, it was George Harrison who had invited Spector to the “Instant Karma” sessions, having bumped into him at Apple’s offices, so it was no surprise that Harrison and Spector would work together on an album.

It was Harrison who had made the earliest moves to record a completely solo studio album within The Beatles’ group structure. An instrumental tapestry of Eastern and Western textures, Harrison’s “Wonderwall Music” was a worthy accompaniment to Joe Massot’s idiosyncratic film. And, then, there was 1969’s “Electronic Sounds,” Harrison’s blow-by-blow guide to the workings of a Moog-3 synthesizer. This experiment was considered solely an experiment, described by Harrison as “avant garde a clue” on future CD issues.

Harrison in the studio recording his debut solo album.

Whatever feelings he held for his odd 1969 release, his view of 1970’s “All Things Must Pass” was altogether more positive.

“I didn’t have many tunes on Beatles records,” Harrison admitted in 1992. “Doing an album like ‘All Things Must Pass’ was like going to the bathroom and letting it out.” 

Harrison had found The Beatles’ most recent recording sessions troubling. After the “Get Back”/“Let It Be” sessions, the guitarist channeled his feelings into the storming song “Wah Wah.” His fury, even in 1970, was palpable: “Everybody had gone through that,” Harrison said in the “Beatles Anthology.” “Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row, as well, was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’ So, I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote ‘Wah-Wah.’”

Harrison had had a tough time pitching songs to The Beatles. Engineer Geoff Emerick recalled “Isn’t It a Pity” being passed over for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and again the song wound up rejected during the “Let It Be” sessions. “I’d Have You Anytime,” written by Harrison with Dylan’s help, had been a contender for recording by The Beatles since November, 1968.

Harrison hinted at the falling-out in his autobiographical book “I Me Mine,” writing that “It was that period — the problem of partnerships.”

Keyboardist Billy Preston had joined The Beatles’ 1969 sessions, bringing an influence Harrison thought comparable to Eric Clapton’s on the White Album. Together, Harrison and Preston collaborated on Doris Troy’s eponymous Apple album, released in September, 1970. Troy, discussing her work with author Simon Leng, could see the influence that gospel music had on Harrison: “I think he had been involved in soul music for years — he listened to it, he loved it, and that’s what made him want to do it. I wasn’t actually introducing him to the stuff; he already knew it. The Beatles as a whole listened to black music; a lot of their soul and feelings came from American music.”

Harrison spent April, 1970, in America, visiting Bob Dylan. Guesting on Dylan’s “New Morning” sessions, he added guitar patterns on the yearning “If Not for You,” a crisp rendition heard years later on Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991.” Harrison, absent from the version heard on “New Morning,” would return to the song himself on his first solo album. His guitar playing had turned another leaf, as he developed a signature style that may have been inspired by Delaney Bramlett.

“One time he asked me if I would teach him how to play slide,” Bramlett recalled, “and, later, George said I’d taught him how to play it. Well, he did make that statement — but I didn’t teach him anything. George already knew how to play guitar, he just wanted to know my technique, what I thought about it, and what I did. All I did was teach him my style of playing.”

Harrison had a backload of songs from his Beatles days.

Bramlett and Harrison had worked together in 1969 on a tour by Delaney & Bonnie, a group for whom Harrison had tremendous fondness.

For his solo recording sessions, Harrison had a producer in Spector who supported his songcraft. Spector traveled to Harrison’s Friar Park estate in early 1970 to hear Harrison’s demos, and was impressed by the material he had assembled.

“It was endless,” Spector admitted in the documentary “Living in the Material World.” “He had literally hundreds of songs, and each one was better than the rest. He had all this emotion built up when it was released to me.”

More artist than arranger, Spector’s production work was typified by a style known as “wall of sound.” The 1963 album “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” showed this indomitable style at its purest, as an array of vocalists, percussionists and musicians translated his ideas into massive soundscapes.

As it happened, Harrison also felt the need to work with an array of musicians, liberating the guitarist after 10 years of singing beside Lennon and McCartney. John Leckie, an engineer-producer whose later work with XTC, the Stone Roses and Radiohead was likened to The Beatles, thought the approach had a positive effect on Harrison.

“Phil Spector was fantastic,” Leckie told the website We Are Cult in 2018. “Very funny man, one of the first gigs I had. I think Phil brought a lot out of George Harrison, saying let’s have all our mates in, 24 people playing on it, rather than just four Beatles. Eric Clapton brought the Derek and the Dominoes guys along, so there were was a lot of great guitars and equipment, very peace and love. I don’t know who else could have produced it; maybe Chris Thomas, who did White Album stuff and was something like George’s assistant, but Phil was great.”

The sessions, beginning at the end of May, 1970, took place at Abbey Road Studios. Running over 100 minutes, the resulting triple album boasts 19 Harrison originals. Dylan is credited on two tracks, while writers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter were co-credited on the jaunty “It’s  Johnny’s Birthday,” since it was based their song “Congratulations.” Ringo Starr is credited on drums, alongside session players Jim Gordon and Alan White. Phil Collins — soon to join progressive rock band Genesis — recorded congas for “Art of Dying,” although his contributions were not used on the final track. Returning to the album in for a reissue in 2001, Harrison made a point of appreciating the drummer in the liner notes.

Spector encouraged Harrison to distance himself from the more direct textures of The Beatles’ milieu, and to position himself at the center of a production style that was broad in texture, tone and presence (Harrison later described the approach as “like Cinemascope.”)

George with wife Pattie in 1970

Spector penned Harrison a letter, dated Aug. 19, 1970, in which he suggested “strings and horns” for “Isn’t It a Pity,” and offered his opinion on what “Let It Down” was lacking: “The vocal group (Eric and Bobby) on the “Let it Down” parts sounded okay. The ‘Moonlight Bay’ horn parts should be out the first time and very, very low the second time they play that riff, I think. Perhaps at the end, near the fade, a wailing sax (old rock and roll style) played by Bobby Keys would possibly add some highlight to the ending and make it totally different from the rest of the song. It’s hard to explain, but some kind of a screaming saxophone mixed in with all that madness at the end might be an idea. Anyhow it’s something to think about.”

Harrison later expressed some reservations about how the album sounded, and remembered Spector with discerning criticism in years to come. Harrison was shrewd, stoic, workmanlike, while the mercurial producer — nominally a perfectionist who drove his artists to near artistic frenzies — found his time in England a more difficult period.

Recalling the process in 1987, Harrison praised the album’s sophisticated sound, but considered Spector’s drinking habit problematic.

“I literally used to have to go and break into the hotel to get him. I’d go along the roof and climb in the window, yelling, ‘Come on! We’re supposed to be making a record!’” Harrison recalled. “He’d say, ‘Oh! OK.’ And then he used to have 18 cherry brandies before he could get himself down in the studio. I got so tired of that, because I needed someone to help. I was ending up with more work than if I’d just been doing it on my own.”

“Phil was an incredible guy, a genius, but he is uncontrollable,” bassist Klaus Voormann agreed. “I think he broke his arm in the Apple control room — George was doing some overdubs, Phil came in and was completely drunk and just fell over backwards. And, in the end, George got irritated by it, and Phil sort of disappeared. So, George finished the album.”

Clapton was a frequent guest at the sessions. Joining Harrison on the elegiac “My Sweet Lord,” the guitarist is one of several acoustic players heard on the final mix. Badfinger frontmen Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Joey Molland each contributed guitar backing, over which Harrison could play his sharp slide guitar. Complete with a verse in Sanskrit, “My Sweet Lord” — inspired in part by “Oh Happy Day” — proved atypical among the rock singles released that year. For Harrison, the message was one that proved true to his heart and soul. More than that, the song epitomized the more spiritual tone of the album.

“He just lived by his deeds,” Spector recalled in 2011. “He was spiritual, and you knew it, and there was no salesmanship involved. It made you spiritual being around him.”

Spreading himself between the roles of singer, songwriter and musical director, Harrison opted to work very closely with the many musicians involved I the album.

“George would go around to each musician and make a point of showing each what he was doing,” Molland remembered in 2015. “He’d sing the arrangement to them and talk about the part they were going to play.”

An alternate version of the album cover shot.

John Barham, the album’s orchestral director, was impressed with the detail Harrison laid out for the work: “I stayed at Friar Park while we did the preparatory work for the orchestrations of ‘All Things Must Pass.’ We discussed arrangement details, as George wanted them to be finalized before the session. George didn’t want any surprises at the last moment in the studio — he didn’t like last-minute changes, and preferred things to be well thought out in advance.”

Still, spontaneity was evident in the sessions, particularly on the songs that appeared on the record’s third disc. Among those was an impromptu performance labeled “Jam 3” at EMI on July 2, 1970. Complete with Clapton’s guitar, Jim Price’s fiery saxophone and Bobby Whitlock’s placid keyboard, the song was renamed “Out of the Blue” on the finished product.

Cognizant of Lennon’s 30th birthday, Harrison also led his bandmates through a thunderous number designed to celebrate the event.

Harrison made an effort to maintain a relationship with Lennon, as his former bandmate was attempting to complete his own inaugural work in the fall of 1970.

“George Harrison had a Ferrari, a 330 GTC,” EMI engineer Andy Stephens recalled, “which was dark blue, with a cream interior, and it was parked out the front of the studio. And stuck to his windscreen he had a little vase holder with a little plastic flower in it. He took it out, walked into Studio 3 and said, ‘Happy birthday, John.’ He gave him the plastic flower and they had a hug. Yoko had brought in this present for John, which was a sensory box. It was about twice the size of a shoebox, with lots of holes in it. You had to put your finger in — one hole would be warm and mushy, one would be wet, one would have a pin in it. John had such a ball with it.”

No doubt influenced by the camaraderie he still shared with Lennon and Starr, Harrison posed for his album cover seated between four garden gnomes. He felt the album portrait gave his audience an alternative view of the Fab Four. As he put it: “Originally, when we took the photo, I had these old Bavarian gnomes, which I thought I would put there, like kinda … John, Paul, George and Ringo.”

Completing overdubs on the album in September, 1970, Harrison’s own musical contributions included slide guitar duties, lead guitar patterns and vocal performances. On “My Sweet Lord” were a shimmering collection of voices curiously credited to the George O’Hara-Smith Singers. It was, in fact, Clapton and Whitlock joining Harrison as the chorus.

Not long after the album’s release, Harrison was sued in February, 1971, for allegedly infringing on Ronnie Mack’s song “He’s So Fine” with “My Sweet Lord.” By 1976, Harrison was deemed guilty of “subconsciously” plagiarizing the melody. The accusation and the court proceedings were the basis for his tune “This Song,” which called into question the legitimacy of the lawsuit questioning his integrity. “It’s difficult to just start writing again after you’ve been through that,” Harrison admitted to Rolling Stone. “Even now, when I put the radio on, every tune I hear sounds like something else.”

However, Harrison nonetheless spoke highly of his triple album in 2001. Supervising a 30th anniversary remastering, Harrison penned an essay for the re-issue that summed up his feelings.

“It’s been 30 years since ‘All Things Must Pass’ was recorded,” he wrote. “I still like the songs on the album, and believe they can continue to outlive the style in which they were recorded. It was difficult to resist re-mixing every track. All these years later, I would like to liberate some of the songs from the big production that seemed appropriate at the time, but now seem a bit over the top with the reverb in the wall of sound. …

“Still, it was an important album for me, and a timely vehicle for all the songs I’d been writing during the last period with The Beatles. I began recording just months after we had all finally decided to go our separate ways, and I was looking forward to making the first solo album of ‘songs’ (as opposed to ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Electronic Sounds’ which were instrumental).”

— Eoghan Lyng

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Paul’s pandemic album: Not top-drawer McCartney, but not bad

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King reviews Paul McCartney’s forthcoming “McCartney III” album. …

Photos for the new album were taken by McCartney’s daughter Mary.

I have to admit that the first time I listened to “McCartney III,” my reaction was not all that positive.

However, this is Paul McCartney — master of the stealth earworm that burrows into your head whether you want it to or not, so repeated listening sessions have upgraded the album in my estimation.

While not top-drawer McCartney, this third of his all-solo homemade collections is not bad.

Still, after just one hearing of the self-produced album, which Macca recorded earlier this year during lockdown (or “rockdown,” as he calls it), I initially told a few friends that, of the three “McCartney” albums, I would rank this one third, noting: It’s rockier than “McCartney II,” but the vocals and songs are less interesting. It’s about on the level of the first two Fireman albums, and nowhere near as good as most of “Egypt Station,” I said.

I thought the last third of the album — “The Kiss of Venus,” “Seize the Day,” “Deep Down” and “When Winter Comes” — was stronger than the rest. A couple of the other tracks have potential, I said, but they feel underdeveloped.

The front cover of the “McCartney III” album.

Basically, after that initial listening, I thought the main problem with the album was that it was missing the catchy/hooky melodies that always have been Paul’s strong suit, and I agreed with a couple of my friends who said they missed the rich harmonies that usually are a hallmark of McCartney albums.

A lot of “III” sounded like tracks made up as he went along, as opposed to recordings of properly written “songs.” Also, a couple of the lengthier tracks were in need of trimming — too repetitive. 

And, to me, the production was a little bit artificial/processed sounding. I knew it was all Paul on instruments and vocals, multitracked, but you can do that and still manage to make it sound like a song being performed by a group live in the studio. This mostly doesn’t sound like that. (UPDATE: When I reviewed this album, I did not have access to the credits. It turns out that McCartney was joined by guitarist Rusty Anderson and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. of his tour band on one of the tracks, so this album is not 100% solo Macca.)

McCartney’s vocals on the album tend to be heavily multi-tracked or falsetto, but that’s not surprising, considering the current state of his voice.

There’s a lot of interesting music on the album, I told my friends, and nothing that’s awful, but also nothing that made my ears really perk up.

Of course, I noted, “it’ll probably grow on me with repeated listening sessions (most of his albums do).”

And, sure enough, it did.

After living with the album for not quite two weeks, my initial observation that it’s lacking any of those instantly hummable, beautiful McCartney melodies still stands.

But, rather than rank it a clear third among the “McCartney” albums, I’d now say that, while it lacks anything as instantly memorable or pretty as “Every Night,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Waterfalls” or “One of These Days,” it never sinks as low as some of the forgettable instrumentals on the first album, or the electronic noodling on the second.

The strongest tracks on this new album can’t match the strongest tracks on the first two, but it’s the most consistent of the trilogy; the weakest tracks on “III” are not as weak as the worst tracks on “McCartney” and “McCartney II.”

The album opens with “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” a lengthy, mostly instrumental track that features a distinctive electric guitar riff and rhythmic playing of muted guitar strings. The main problem with this one is that it comes to a natural end point … and then continues self-indulgently for quite a bit longer. The 5:18 track would have been much better if trimmed by a couple of minutes.

Next up is the best of the early selections, “Find My Way,” an upbeat pop-rock number (somewhat reminiscent of “New”) in which Paul offers guidance for dealing with anxiety as he spouts familiar phrases like “We never close, I’m open day and night,” and “I know my way around …. I walk towards the light.” This track, which has a false ending, could have developed into something, but, here, it feels a bit like an elaborate demo.

One of the quirkier selections is “Pretty Boys,” a midtempo acoustic guitar number whose backing consists mainly of a repetitive riff, with not much of a melody. It appears to be an effort to flip the usual sexualizing of women by focusing on the titular “objects of desire,” whom the camera loves but who are treated like bicycles for rent. This one would not sound out of place on “Egypt Station.”

“Women and Wives” is a piano-based track sung in Macca’s “Lady Madonna” voice that implores, “Hear me women and wives / Hear me husbands and lovers / What we do with our lives / Seems to matter to others.” The song, unfortunately, won’t matter to many people, as it’s not a very memorable tune.

McCartney once again plays all the instruments on this album.

“Lavatory Lil” is a loosey-goosey, rougher number built on a bluesy guitar riff. It’s about a woman who appears to be a gold digger. Macca’s spokesman has denied British tabloid speculation that it’s about his ex-wife, Heather Mills, though Paul said in his Uncut Magazine interview that the subject is one of those people who “screw you over,” and he decided to write a song as revenge. With lyrics like You think she’s being friendly, but she’s looking for a Bentley” and “She’s acting like a starlet but she’s looking like a harlot / As she’s slowly heading over the hill,” this is a level of Macca bitchiness we’ve rarely seen. Still, it’s not a great number and, while some reviewers have found it reminiscent of the “Abbey Road” Side 2 medley, I don’t see that at all.

The album gets a bit heavier with “Slidin’,” a slow rocker with an insistent guitar riff and a lyric that appears to be about flying (or, perhaps, the common dream of flying). Played live onstage with his band, this one could be a powerful concert number. (UPDATE: This is the track where Paul is joined by Rusty and Abe.)

The album’s longest track, running 8:28, is “Deep Deep Feeling,” a rather haunting Fireman-esque mini rock suite. It does run on a bit, but mostly manages to stay interesting, as it keeps morphing, with lots of layered sounds and multitracked vocals. “Sometimes I wish it would stay / Sometimes I wish it would go away / Emotion” is the most memorable refrain. There’s another false ending, of course.

The strongest section of the album kicks off with “The Kiss of Venus,” a romantic acoustic guitar ballad sung mostly in a somewhat frayed falsetto. It has a memorable spinet/harpsichord-sounding keyboard element, too.

One of the two strongest numbers is “Seize the Day,” which has the closest thing on the album to a typical McCartney chorus. This one sort of sums up Macca’s personal philosophy: “It’s still alright to be nice.” It also shows the 78-year-old getting a bit bittersweet and reflective, as he sings: “When the cold winds come / And the old ways fade away / There’ll be no more sun / And we’ll wish that we had held on to the day / Seize the day.”

My favorite selection on “McCartney III” is the sexy r&b track “Deep Down,” which has a slinky organ backing that’s bolstered by bashing drums and synth horns. (I think it would sound even better with real horns.) There’s not a lot to it lyrically (it’s mostly about wanting to “get deep down” and party), but it has one of the album’s better vocals (augmented by some seductive “woooos” in the background).

We get a brief reprise of the opening “Winter Bird,” followed by the album’s final track, “When Winter Comes,” an acoustic outtake from 1992 that Paul co-produced with the late George Martin. Although it has the album’s best vocal performance (no surprise, since it dates from 28 years ago), this one didn’t knock me out on first listen. However, it’s the selection that most gets into your head, and you might find yourself humming it afterward. Lyrically, it’s in “Ram” territory, a charming pastoral ode to farm life that you could just take at face value, or, at this late date (and as this particular album’s closer), it could be viewed as Paul coming to terms with aging. As he sings: “When summer’s gone / We’ll fly away and find the sun / When winter comes.”

Overall, it’s not an album you’re likely to fall in love with right away, but it is one that rewards return visits.

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More Pie!

Tom Frangione sends along this wrapup of the extra “Flaming Pie” stuff floating around out there that he did for Joe Johnson’s BeatleBrunch …

flaming pie box set

 

Well, if the five CDs and two DVDs in the newly released Archive Collection edition of Paul McCartney’s 1997 masterpiece “Flaming Pie” left you hungry for more, you’re in luck … If you know where to look!

As has become practice when these beautiful deluxe editions are released, it pays to keep an eye on Sir Paul’s official website, www.paulmccartney.com  As of this writing, there’ve been three bonus tracks posted and available for download:

  1. “Somedays”:the beautiful acoustic ballad, presented in stripped down fashion, without the orchestral backing
  2. “Calico Skies”:the complete song, performed beside a campfire (don’t worry, those aren’t vinyl crackles!) as seen in the DVD “In The World Tonight”
  3. “Beautiful Night”:the complete, six minute version of the song recorded with Phil Ramone and Billy Joel’s band in 1986. A shortened 4-minute version of this song is included in one of the “Oobu Joobu” spots on the “Flaming Pies” bonus disc in the box set.

Now, you’d think that’d be reward enough for the vigilant fans scouring the internet, but there’s one other track that was made available exclusively on rollingstone.com as part of the pre-release promotion for the new set. This time it’s an alternate instrumental version of the “Young Boy” B-side “Broomstick,” performed with Steve Miller.

Don’t worry … we’re not done yet. The next two are what detectives call “hiding in plain sight”.

Disc 2 of the box set ends with a home recording of the album’s original closer, “Great Day.” Or does it? Make sure you don’t eject the disc till the clock runs all the way down, and an additional 30-second instrumental of the song awaits.

Similarly, yet differently, the track list for Disc 3 shows a rude cassette version of “Heaven on a Sunday.” But, after some dead air comes an interesting minute and a half of Paul and Ringo vamping on the track “Beautiful Night.” Definitely worth the wait!

So, there’s at least six slices of additional pie out there for the ravenous. We’ll have to wait and see if any more get served up, but it’s worth pointing out that the DVDs contain loads of maddeningly short studio snippets of Paul demoing the album’s songs; but one — the title track — appears in complete form.

HEAT IT UP!

Tom Frangione

 

 

 

 

 

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When did The Beatles break up?

This is the complete, unedited version of Duncan Driver’s article excerpted in Beatlefan #243.

john george paul get back

‘… don’t you know that you can count me out, in.’

— Sung by John Lennon on the song ‘Revolution I’ (1968).

One of the most astute observations made by historian and biographer Mark Lewisohn is that ‘the Beatles began to break up the day they got together.’ As with many divorces, differences that would become irreconcilable were present from the very beginning of their union: the decision to freeze George out of the Lennon-McCartney writing credit; Paul’s tendency towards bossiness and his refusal to be bossed around by anyone (except, perhaps, by John); most especially John’s rush to embrace and haste to discard new fads and sources of inspiration. Equally true of relationships that fall apart was the fact that happy and hopeful periods occurred until the very end: whether that end really was the end remained uncertain until later than you might think. As Ringo confirmed in The Beatles: Anthology, ‘There was always the possibility that we could have carried on.’ The reasons why the Beatles broke up are complex and fascinating, but it is beyond the scope of this article to explore them in great detail. Instead, it investigates how and when they broke up, recognising the process as iterative and the reasons as ubiquitous.

The first incarnation of the band that called itself ‘the Beatles’ could easily have disintegrated in late 1960, when an under-age George was deported from Hamburg and Paul and Pete (Best) were jailed for arson. Despite such dramatic events happening in a single day, nobody from the band bothered to contact each other for a fortnight, Mona Best (Pete’s mother) stirring them to action with a series of new-year phone calls. Lewisohn argues in Tune In that another break-up was imminent just a year later: by late 1961 the Beatles had achieved all that Liverpool offered and they could easily have stagnated had Brian Epstein not entered their story, elevating their presentation and exposure to a professional level. On the brink of unprecedented success in 1962, John speculated in a television interview about how long the group might last, considering a ten-year lifespan unrealistically ‘big-headed’. Fast-forwarding to Christmas 1966, a reporter who buttonholed each Beatle arriving at Abbey Road (then EMI Recording Studios) was clearly concerned by potential signs of disharmony and lethargy, asking ‘Are the Beatles going to go their own way in 1967?’, ‘What’s all this about the Beatles are going to do less together in the new year?’ and ‘Do you foresee a time when, in fact, the Beatles won’t be together and that you’ll all be on your own?’ John, George and Ringo each dismiss these entreaties, confident (at least for the camera) that they aren’t yet tired of each other and that the British public need not be concerned about the demise of the band. Behind closed doors, things may have been a little different. Earlier that year Paul had stormed out of the final recording session for Revolver, leaving George to play bass guitar on ‘She Said She Said’. There may not have been any serious intention to quit attached to this fit of pique, but it presaged Ringo leaving sessions for The Beatles (the White Album) in 1968 and George doing the same nine days into recordings for what would become Let it Be.

It is these January 1969 sessions that many focus on when investigating the break-up of the Beatles. Better documented than any of their other projects (and so subject to more intense speculation), 150 hours of nagra audiotape recorded every joke, comment and argument for posterity, the subject of ‘divorce’ being raised more than once. On January 7 (just six days into sessions), the band discussed the sour atmosphere at their Twickenham location, George reflecting that ‘the Beatles have been in the doldrums for at least a year’ before admitting, ‘we should have a divorce.’ Paul, usually the most enthusiastic Beatle, agreed: ‘Well, I said that at the last meeting. But it’s getting near it.’ John – uncharacteristically withdrawn until this point – joked, ‘Who’d have the children?’, but it is Paul who supplied the punchline: ‘Dick James’ (their music publisher). The discussion is surprisingly frank: nobody sounds angry or bitter. Hearing their dialogue, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t the first time they’d explored going their separate ways. Even more surprising is how they chose to spend the rest of the day: working collectively and enthusiastically on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, one of the true Lennon-McCartney collaborations of this period.

george pattie get backThree days later, George spoilt a lunch break by announcing that he was ‘leaving the group.’ John’s single-word question isn’t ‘What?’ or ‘Why?’, but ‘When?’, again suggesting that George had re-opened an ongoing conversation. ‘Now’ is George’s answer, delivered in a drawl before the parting quip, ‘See you ‘round the clubs.’ The effect on John is galvanising. Despite what he’d say later about the misery of the Let it Be sessions and his own desire to escape them, George’s departure turned on John’s bandleader switch: ‘I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday we ask Eric Clapton to play on it … the point is if George leaves, do we wanna carry on the Beatles? I say yes.’ It’s left for Paul to become unusually quiet at this point, noodling away on the piano in the background. An emergency band meeting was held two days later (without the nagra tapes running) at which George re-affirmed his decision to leave. The band met again on January 15, George agreeing to re-join on the condition that sessions move from Twickenham to the Beatles’ own studio in the basement of their Saville Row building.

As with the marked swing from despondency to enthusiasm evident on January 7 when the band began rehearsing ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, the move from Twickenham had an ameliorative effect on morale. Billy Preston’s arrival on January 22 also appears to have injected energy into proceedings, the arrangement for ‘Get Back’ (earmarked as the next single) coming together in just one day. Footage from these sessions included in the Let it Be film and in The Beatles: Anthology would appear to vindicate the claim that these late January sessions were a noticeably happy and remarkably productive couple of weeks, yielding not just the bulk of recordings issued as Let it Be but which also introduced the majority of songs from Abbey Road as well as some that would achieve fruition on future solo albums. So much for the claim that Let it Be documents a band breaking up: on the penultimate day of the month they can be seen enjoying every moment of live performance on the Apple office rooftop, decidedly passing their audition. Indeed, Paul was moved to send Ringo a postcard the next day on which was written (in block capitals), ‘YOU ARE THE GREATEST DRUMMER IN THE WORLD. REALLY.’

However close to ‘divorce’ they may have gotten in the early days of 1969, simple facts demonstrate that they did not break up at the time: less than a month after their rooftop performance they began recording ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, marking the beginning of the cohesive and focused Abbey Road sessions. A spanner was thrown into the works of what George Martin called ‘a very happy album’ on May 9, however, after a playback of material from the January sessions. An argument developed over the appointment of Allen Klein as the Managing Director of Apple Corps. Klein had wined and dined John (and Yoko) earlier that month, winning them over in the course of an evening; John had subsequently convinced George and Ringo to climb on board with Klein, but Paul had demurred signing the management contract. Paul remembers the argument in the Anthology this way:

The other three said, ‘You’ve got to sign a contract – he’s got to take it to his board.’ I said, ‘It’s Friday night. He doesn’t work on a Saturday, and anyway Allen Klein is a law unto himself. He hasn’t got a board he has to report to. Don’t worry – we could easily do this on Monday. Let’s do our session instead. You’re not going to push me into this.’

They said, ‘Oh, are you stalling? He wants 20%.’ I said, ‘Tell him he can have 15%.’ They said: ‘You’re stalling.’ I replied, ‘No, I’m working for us; we’re a big act.’ I remember the exact words: ‘We’re a big act – The Beatles. He’ll take 15%.’ But for some strange reason (I think they were so intoxicated with him) they said, ‘No, he’s got to have 20%, and he’s got to report to his board. You’ve got to sign now or never.’ So I said, ‘Right, that’s it. I’m not signing now.’

It’s hard not to see this from both perspectives. Paul raised real concerns about Klein’s motives and the Beatles’ bargaining power, while the accusation of ‘stalling’ appears legitimate: if Paul was happy to sign the contract on Monday, why not sign it on Friday? Reading between the lines of this, it would seem that the other three were forcing Paul’s hand, trying to get him to declare intentions he may have been cagey about. Speaking elsewhere of this three-against-one situation, Paul referred to it as ‘the crack in the liberty bell’, an excellent metaphor for The Beatles’ business differences that had begun to overshadow their music. Indeed, the metaphor is so strong that it’s worth extending to make a point about that music: the bell may have been cracked, but it had never produced a better sound.

ringo george john studioThere has been much discussion in recent years about the extent to which Abbey Road was the Beatles’ intentional swan-song, a final unified effort made possible because everyone involved knew it to be final. Allan Kozinn has written assiduously about this in issue #241 of Beatlefan, and so the arguments for and against the claim will not be resuscitated here. It is true that the album works well as a final artistic statement, ‘The End’ closing the Beatles’ career with the neatly Shakespearean couplet, ‘And in the end, the love you take / Is equal to the love you make’. What tends to be forgotten when this is pointed out, however, is that ‘The End’ is not how Abbey Road ends: after 17 seconds of silence, the final note of ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ is heard, before Paul sings his little ditty about ‘Her Majesty’. Famously, the final ‘D’ of this short piece of whimsey is cut, effectively ending the album on an unresolved note. The original track sequence for the album, moreover, identified Side B as Side A and vice versa: Abbey Road was going to end with ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, also a song that ends abruptly. For all the talk of Abbey Road tying a neat ribbon around the Beatles’ body of work, then, it must be acknowledged that the album’s aesthetic insists on that work as unfinished, perhaps even suggesting that the Beatles’ career is far from certain – neither continuing as before, nor completely over. As Ringo’s confirmed in the Anthology, the door was self-consciously open to ‘possibility’.

After completing Abbey Road and conducting what would be their final photo session on August 22, another suggestion of a 3-1 split in The Beatles (with Paul in the minority) may be the fact that John, George and Ringo attended the Isle of Wight concert together on August 30-31 and Paul did not. The grain of salt to take this with, however, is that Paul’s first child (Mary) had been born just two days earlier. Reading his absence as a sign of disharmony is speculative, especially as the band (minus Ringo, waylaid in hospital with an intestinal complaint) would meet on September 8 to discuss arrangements for their next album and a potential Christmas single. Given Ringo’s absence, the meeting was taped (and subsequently reproduced in Anthony Fawcett’s One Day at a Time: John Lennon). John chairs the meeting and proposes that he, Paul and George each bring their four best songs to the as-yet-unscheduled recording sessions. This, John admits, is an attempt at equality recognising George’s recent flowering as a songwriter and driven by guilt at how he and Paul had ‘carved up’ the Beatles’ extant empire between themselves. A meekly quiet Paul considers such strict rationing of album space to be ‘like the army’ before John and George begin a loaded exchange about effort expended on Harrison compositions in contrast to Lennon-McCartney offerings. John’s voice appears defensive and hurt as it claims that George tended to prefer the contributions of ‘Eric or somebody like that’ to those of his bandmates. There is a pregnant silence before Paul, almost inaudibly, whispers ‘When we get into a studio, even on the worst day, I’m still playing bass, Ringo’s still drumming, and we’re still there, you know.’

On September 12, the promotor John Brower phoned the Apple office to offer John and Yoko tickets to the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival scheduled for the following day. To his surprise, John accepted on the condition that he could perform at the event, a condition that Brower did not hesitate agreeing to. George recalls this in the Anthology:

When the Plastic Ono Band went to Toronto in September John actually asked me to be in the band, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t really want to be in an avant-garde band, and I knew that was what it was going to be.

He said he’d get Klaus Voormann, and Alan White as the drummer. During the last few years of The Beatles we were all producing other records anyway, so we had a nucleus of friends in the studios: drummers and bass players and other musicians. So it was relatively simple to knock together a band. He asked me if I’d play guitar, and then he got Eric Clapton to go – they just rehearsed on the plane over there.

Again, Paul may not have been asked on the understanding that his family were still adjusting to the arrival of a baby, and it is likely that Ringo was convalescing. George’s refusal is more revealing of rumbling within the Beatles’ ranks, especially his stated objection to John’s choice of extra-curricular projects (and their ‘avant-garde’ collaborators). When speaking to Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone in 1970, John remembers this as the day at which he decided to leave the Beatles:

john torontoWe were in Apple and I knew before I went to Toronto, I told Allen [Klein] I was leaving. I told Eric Clapton and Klaus that I was leaving and I’d like to probably use them as a group. I hadn’t decided how to do it, to have a permanent new group or what. And then later on I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to get stuck with another set of people, whoever they are.’ So I announced it to myself and to the people around me on the way to Toronto the few days before. On the plane Allen came with me, and I told him, ‘It’s over.’

The next day, John regretted having agreed to perform at the festival, but was convinced by Eric Clapton that it was too late to back out. During the flight back to London, on 15 September, John confided to journalist Ray Connelly that he had decided to leave the Beatles, asking him not to print this news just yet.

It was on September 20 that John made the sudden decision to inform Paul and Ringo of his intention. The band (minus George, who was visiting his mother) were present at the Apple office to sign a new contract with EMI/Capitol guaranteeing an increased royalty of 25% (up from 17.5%). A series of black-and-white photos from this event depict John (Yoko at his side), Paul and Ringo gathered around Allen Klein’s desk. One shot features John pretending to sign the document on Klein’s back as Paul feigns kissing his hand as though paying his respects to a Mafia Don. A band meeting followed at which Paul made a series of proposals for the future. He remembers this in the Anthology:

I’d said: ‘I think we should go back to little gigs – I really think we’re a great little band. We should find our basic roots, and then who knows what will happen? We may want to fold after that, or we may really think we’ve still got it.’ John looked at me in the eye and said: ‘Well, I think you’re daft. I wasn’t going to tell you till we signed the Capitol deal’ – Klein was trying to get us to sign a new deal with the record company – ‘but I’m leaving the group!’ We paled visibly and our jaws slackened a bit.

I didn’t really know what to say. We had to react to him doing it; he had control of the situation. I remember him saying, ‘It’s weird this, telling you I’m leaving the group, but in a way it’s very exciting.’ It was like when he told Cynthia he was getting a divorce. He was quite buoyed up by it, so we couldn’t really do anything: ‘You mean leaving’? So that’s the group, then…’ It was later, as the fact set in, that it got really upsetting.

Again, the prospect of breaking up is likened to a divorce. It is interesting that John’s admission seems to have left him ‘buoyed’, another case of excitement at leaping into the unknown with both feet. It is partly because John’s announcement appears to have been unplanned and instinctual (‘I wasn’t going to tell you’) that the other Beatles may have held out hope of a return to the fold. The decision itself had been made just seven days earlier, and John certainly had a history of turning cold on what he had recently been hot for. Consider his request to play at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival and then his attempt to renege on the deal just one day later, his commitment to transcendental meditation in India and sudden departure amid accusations of inappropriate behaviour on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s part, or his vocal enthusiasm for but failure to complete Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy. It was certainly conceivable that John would change his mind about leaving The Beatles, and the lack of any public announcement about his decision could be put down to a ‘wait and see’ attitude on behalf of the other three or a recognition by John himself that public silence allowed him to keep his options open. We must remember that this was the man who, a year earlier, had sung ‘you can count me out, in’, admitting to a mercurial nature.

                             *            *            *

macca 1970 3However much he may have been holding out hope for a change of heart, there is no denying that John’s request for a ‘divorce’ ‘got really upsetting’ for Paul, who decamped to his remote Scottish farm with his family and was so little seen or heard in the ensuing months that rumours of his death began to spread. John busied himself with ‘avant garde’ projects for the rest of the year, George toured as part of the Delaney & Bonnie band and Ringo set to work on Sentimental Journey, a solo album of old standards. On January 3 of 1970, Paul, George and Ringo convened at Abbey Road to arrange and record George’s song, ‘I Me Mine’ for inclusion on Let it Be. George can be heard alluding to John’s absence on take 16 as he jokes ‘You all will have read that Dave Dee’s no longer with us, but Micky and Titch and I would just like to carry on the good work that’s always gone down at Number 2 [recording studio].’ John’s absence could be put down to the fact that he was in Denmark at the time, trying to win a custody battle over Yoko’s daughter, Kyoko. It is quite possible, however, that if he were in London and available he would still have been reticent to participate in the session. His decision to leave the band may have held firm, or if it were wavering he might still have thought twice about showing up for one of George’s songs, a tendency alluded to in the September 8 meeting in 1969. The ‘threetles’ (minus John) finalised the song ‘Let it Be’ the next day with new vocal, guitar and bass parts.

On January 5, whilst still in Denmark, John and Yoko gave a press conference at which John stated that ‘we’re not breaking up the band, but we’re breaking its image’, adding that the group would gather together and record an album before too long, if only for the money. John may have been putting a positive spin on what was still a serious intention to leave, but his comment about ‘breaking the image’ rather than the band cannot be dismissed as an outright lie. For one thing, it matches comments he had made in the January 1969 recording sessions about wanting the increasingly claustrophobic foursome of The Beatles to become a looser collective of ‘Beatles and Co.’ associate artists like Billy Preston. Paul had said much the same thing to Life in November of that year: ‘We make good music and we want to go on making good music. But the Beatle thing is over. It has been exploded…’ In concert with John’s comment about the break-up of the ‘image’ rather than the band, Paul seems to be suggesting that the myth of mop-topped fab four unity no longer existed, but that the possibility of music reflecting the band’s ‘real’ selves as distinct contributors to a shared identity remained possible. John would re-iterate this position to the BCC on February 6, stating that he ‘wouldn’t destroy [The Beatles] out of hand’ and that their current hiatus could prove either ‘a rebirth or a death’.

A little earlier that year (January 15), John and Yoko sent a curious postcard to Paul and Linda (McCartney) that read, ‘WE LOVE YOU AND WILL SEE YOU SOON.’ It is hard to know what to make of this: is it evidence that the bond between the two Beatles was still strong, or does it offer re-assurances of cordial relations at a time of strain? As it happens, Paul was not waiting aimlessly for John’s return. Having borrowed a four-track tape machine from EMI, he had been making experimental home recordings, likely unsure of whether the music might develop into a Beatles or solo project (or nothing at all). It is revealing that ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘Every Night’ – the two most substantial songs to be released on McCartney – were not recorded at home on this rudimentary equipment, but professionally at Abbey Road on February 22 and 23. The dates are auspicious because it was not until February 6 that John released ‘Instant Karma!’, his first solo single to reach the top 5 of the UK and USA charts. Paul’s decision to make use of his old band’s preferred studio and to focus on these stellar compositions (the first of which had been brought to The Beatles in 1969) was likely a response to the quality of John’s new material. John would later describe the creative rivalry between his old writing partner and he as two men ‘scar[ing each other] … into doing something good’, and this is a prime instance.

george 1970George, who might be considered conspicuously quiet over the early months of 1970, had encouraging words to say about the future of the group on March 11, when interviewed by the BBC:

I certainly don’t want to see the end of The Beatles. And I know I’ll do anything, you know. Whatever Paul, John, Ringo would like to do, I’ll do it. As long as we can all be free to be individuals at the same time.

I think that’s just part of our life, you know, is to be Beatles. And I’ll play that game, you know, as long as the people want us to.

This hopeful attitude appears to have been vindicated by at least one event 6 days later: on March 17, George held a birthday party for his wife (Pattie) at their new home in Henley-on-Thames. Apple staffer Chris O’Dell later recalled this as ‘a great success. Ringo and Maureen, Paul and Linda, John and Yoko … were all there.’ O’Dell’s statement was not a hasty press release aimed at papering over increasingly-visible cracks with lies or half-truths, but a personal reflection made after the event, and so it would seem to represent an accurate impression of good relations between the four Beatles, all present in one location in March 1970. When interviewed by the BBC on March 25, Ringo confirmed that the band were still very much together, blaming the British press for stirring unwarranted controversy around them. This doesn’t square with comments he made four days later, however, when appearing on Frost on Sunday. The titular host asked whether The Beatles were likely to record together again, Ringo admitting that this was doubtful. Had submerged arguments resurfaced in the intervening days?  It is one of the minor mysteries of this uncertain time. Perhaps the discrepancy between Ringo’s statements is yet another case of uncertainty itself: things between the Beatles being fine but not fine, hopeful then doubtful, cohesive yet disintegrating, in very quick succession. If so, it supports this article’s claim that the lived experience of the period for John, Paul, George and Ringo was indeed one of doubt more than certainty; claims they would make later about the band having already broken up being susceptible to the selection of evidence that supports this view and forgetful of evidence suggesting otherwise.

Indeed, Ringo would again claim to the BBC that the Beatles would likely work together again on the morning of March 31, 1970. It was also on this day that a problem with potential release dates was identified at Apple, McCartney scheduled for April 10 and Let it Be for April 24. Without Paul being present, a decision was made to push the release of McCartney back to June 4, prioritising the group effort over a solo album. John was careful in communicating this decision to Paul, handwriting a note on which appeared these words:

Dear Paul, We thought a lot about yours and the Beatles LPs – and decided it’s stupid for Apple to put out two big albums within 7 days of each other (also there’s Ringo’s and Hey Jude) – so we sent a letter to EMI telling them to hold your release date til June 4th (there’s a big Apple-Capitol convention in Hawaii then). We thought you’d come round when you realized that the Beatles album was coming out on April 24th. We’re sorry it turned out like this – it’s nothing personal. Love John & George. Hare Krishna. A Mantra a Day Keeps MAYA! Away [sic].

The note was placed in an envelope, on which was written ‘From us to you’ and it was hand-delivered by Ringo to Paul’s house in St John’s Wood. Ringo would later remember what occurred next in an affidavit submitted in court in 1971:

I went to see Paul. To my dismay, he went completely out of control, shouting at me, prodding his fingers towards my face, saying: ‘I’ll finish you now’ and ‘You’ll pay.’ He told me to put my coat on and get out. I did so.

Paul’s account of their exchange in the Anthology is consistent with this, and both versions suggest that its intensity was out of character (‘it was the only time I ever told anyone to GET OUT!’). Clearly, the 3-to-1 situation had left Paul feeling increasingly isolated and overlooked, his lashing out at a bandmate almost a ‘fight or flight’ response to decisions made about his solo work by the three Beatles who had had nothing to do with its creation. It is not hard to feel sympathetic towards Paul here, but we must also recognise that if the hiring of Allen Klein was ‘the crack in the liberty bell’, and if John’s request for a divorce on September 20, 1969 seriously impacted the Lennon-McCartney relationship, then this was a third event that risked damaging The Beatles irreparably.

On April 9, Paul (surely mulling over recent events in the relative isolation of his family home) phoned John at Dr Arthur Janov’s private London hospital, where he was undergoing Primal Scream therapy. John would remember the conversation this way:

Paul said to me, ‘I’m now doing what you and Yoko were doing last year. I understand what you were doing’, all that shit. So I said to him, ‘Good luck to yer.’

mccartney album shot 1970Paul having won the previous month’s battle around release dates for albums, Apple staffers spent much of the same day packing review copies of McCartney with unusual ‘question-and-answer’ sheets intended to be a replacement for the normal round of interviews that attended an album’s release (Paul would later say that he was not capable of facing the press at the time). Derek Taylor had sent the questions to Paul at home, and Paul had supplied written responses to them (though Taylor would later confirm that those questions specific to the Beatles had been added by Paul himself). As the albums arrived on Fleet Street news desks and their inserts were read, rumours that Paul had left the Beatles began to swell. Mavis Smith, assistant to Derek Taylor, released a statement assuring the press that this was ‘just not true’. The Daily Mirror, however, confidently ignored this, preparing the headline ‘PAUL QUITS THE BEATLES’ for the next day.

When considering Paul’s responses in the questionnaire and their relationship to this headline, it is important to recognise that the words ‘I quit’ do not appear anywhere but in the Mirror’s sensationalist reportage. There has been a tendency in discussion of this questionnaire to conflate Paul’s words with the way they were received, interpreting a few of his statements as an unequivocal announcement that The Beatles had indeed reached the point of ‘divorce’. An objective consideration of Paul’s answers in the questionnaire, however, reveals that equivocating is exactly what he is doing: neither confirming nor denying a split, acknowledging that he is unhappy with the state of the band but recognising that relationships between its four members were far from over. The most relevant aspects of the questionnaire to this article are as follows:

Q: Will Paul and Linda become a John and Yoko?
A: No, they will become Paul and Linda.

Q: Did you miss the other Beatles and George Martin? Was there a moment when you thought, ‘I wish Ringo were here for this break?’
A: No.

Q: Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?
A: No.

Q: Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?
A: Time will tell. Being a solo album means it’s “the start of a solo career…” and not being done with the Beatles means it’s just a rest. So it’s both.

Q: Is your break with the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones?
A: Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don’t really know.

Q: Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?
A: No.

It is understandable that Paul did not wish to see his marriage in terms of John and Yoko’s relationship, preferring instead to ‘ram on’ towards a unique identity. Not missing the other Beatles or their producer could easily be put down to the fact that the album under discussion was very different to the band’s work, much more of a family affair. At the risk of comparing Paul and Linda to John and Yoko, it was in some respects an answer to their 1969 Wedding Album: however much Paul might love his bandmates, he could be forgiven for preferring the company of his family during the honeymoon period of his marriage and the birth of his first child. Not planning a new album or single with the Beatles could be read as evidence that the band were defunct, but it should be remembered that long-term planning was never the Beatles’ modus operandi, even at their most cohesive. Indeed, the two projects that had suffered the most in the Beatles canon (Magical Mystery Tour and Let it Be) were problematic largely because of this preference for spontaneity over planning. Paul states in his next two answers that he is ‘not … done with the Beatles’ and that he doesn’t know whether the ‘break’ with the group is ‘temporary or permanent’. These are both far from being a declaration of independence. He may not have been able to foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney would again become an active partnership, but John and Paul’s song writing had been growing more distinctly individual for some time. Even on ‘happy’ albums like Abbey Road, certain songs belonged solely to Paul and others to John, despite the co-credit.

mirror page horizPaul’s private phone call to John might suggest an intention to leave as firm as John’s had been, but what he chose to announce publicly was considerably more tempered. He may have been trying to let the band’s fans down easy, but the fact is that his questionnaire remains another example of a Beatle declaring himself out-but-in. As Derek Taylor himself would state in a press conference on April 10, ‘He says himself he doesn’t know whether the break is temporary or permanent: that’s the truth.’ If Paul’s ‘self-interview’ marked a point beyond which The Beatles could not continue, it had less to do with the intent of the piece and more to do with its unfortunate effect. John’s response (‘Paul didn’t quit, I sacked him’) appears to reference the Mirror headline more than any of Paul’s statements, and perhaps Paul’s phone call to John the day before led him to assume a more direct connection between the ‘self-interview’ and its surrounding publicity than there actually was.

It would appear as if a regrettably unanticipated but intense period of jealousy, resentment, defiance and anger followed the events of April 9 and 10, further delineating Paul from the other three Beatles, who continued to work happily with each other over their various solo projects in 1970. Paul may have had little or no contact with them for some time after his phone call to John on April 9, but the final nail in the band’s coffin would not be hammered until the very last day of the year, on which Paul filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles’ partnership. George had floated the idea of ‘divorce’ nearly two years earlier; John had requested this of his bandmates eight months later. Not all divorces are acrimonious, but those involving as much money and contractual obligation as The Beatles’ seldom end without the need of lawyers. A courtroom battle was, in one respect, the natural end-point of the ‘trial separation’ that had played itself out over 1970. It was almost as if Paul was responding directly to George’s original proposal and John’s direct request. It’s easy to imagine him thinking, as he signed the legal papers, ‘You want a divorce? You got it. This is how it happens.’

Dr Duncan Driver is an Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra in Australia. His PhD research investigated aspects of Shakespeare studies and movements in literary criticism, leading to articles for Melbourne Scholarly Publishing and Iona College’s Shakespeare Newsletter. More recently, Duncan has published “Writer, Reader, Student, Teacher” in English in Australia, “Poetry and Perspective” in Idiom, “Reflecting Windows: The Blade Runner Films in the English Classroom” in Screen Education and ‘Wordsworth’s ‘We Are Seven’” in Changing English. He is currently co-authoring a book on English teaching in secondary schools to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2020.

 

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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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