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Friday, September 23, 2016

And I Love Her

It's a bit surprising that when it came time to record a fresh batch of songs for the soundtrack of the group's first feature film, Paul McCartney only brought in one new composition.  Yes, his hit Can't Buy Me Love was used in the movie - twice - but it had been released as a single well in advance and was not originally intended for the film.  Yet, while John Lennon clearly dominated the soundtrack in terms of the quantity of songs, the quality of Paul's offering cannot be denied.  And I Love Her is one of his minor gems - his first ballad, in fact.

The song was still unfinished, however, when the Beatles first attempted to record it on February 25th, 1964.  Take two, the only complete take that day, can be heard on Anthology 1.  While John is already playing his rhythm part on acoustic guitar, George's lead is electric and Ringo is on his full drum kit.  It wasn't until midway through the session on the following day that Ringo switched to bongos.  Producer George Martin and music publisher Dick James thought the song was pleasant but repetitive, so they urged Paul to flesh it out a bit.  During a subsequent tea break, a bridge was quickly written by John and Paul and added to the song.  This middle eight plus George's simple but sublime work on a classical acoustic guitar provided the perfect final touches.  The master take was achieved on the 27th with Paul double-tracking his vocal line and an overdubbing of claves played by Ringo.

The song is used only once during one of the television rehearsal sequences in the middle of the film A Hard Day's Night.  It is played at a slightly slower tempo and Paul sings solo...mostly - he is still curiously double-tracked in places.

The boys only played the song one more time.  They recorded it for the BBC radio program Top Gear on July 14th, returning to the original instrumentation of electric guitar and drums on that occasion.  This version can be heard on On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.  Some sources claim that And I Love Her was part of the 5-song set performed live on the television variety show Blackpool Night Out on July 19th, 1964 but a listen to the surviving audio tape of that program disproves that claim.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All You Need Is Love

All You Need Is Love is best understood when considered as a song to be seen and heard by the entire world on the first global satellite TV show ever presented.  When the Beatles were chosen to represent the UK on the program Our World, they were told to keep the message simple.  John Lennon did just that, writing lyrics that he felt could not possibly be misinterpreted as anything other than a worldwide call for peace and love.

The group was naturally nervous about performing live for the first time in almost a year, let alone appearing before the largest audience ever assembled at the time.  Leaving nothing to chance, it was decided that a backing track was necessary to ground the performance, thus making the TV spot a fascinating glimpse into an actual work-in-progress.

Work began on the backing track on June 14th, 1967 at Olympic Sound Studios.  John banged out the basic chords of the song on a harpsichord, Paul played a double bass and George picked up a violin for the first time in his life.  Amazingly, all of these parts were kept in the final mix of the recording.  Overdubs of more conventional instrumentation and layers of backing vocals were added at Abbey Road Studios over a number of days before June 25th, the date of the broadcast.

It is worth the effort to seek out the Beatles' segment from the original Our World broadcast on YouTube.  It is presented in glorious black and white and lasts just over six minutes in length, starting with the boys in mid-song adding more backing vocals.  A camera in the control room then picks up producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush as Martin cuts the singing and orders the tape rewound and the orchestra brought into the studio.  TV announcer Steve Race makes such silly comments as "'ll notice the musicians are not rock and roll youngsters.  The Beatles get on best with symphony men."  Once all is set, the tape plays the backing track and the magic begins.

The pack of friends and rock luminaries sitting on the floor around the Beatles look rather bored during the early parts of the proceedings, but once the orchestra starts playing Martin's clever score and the singalong begins, the party atmosphere kicks in and the Summer of Love officially has its anthem.

Later that night, John rerecorded his lead vocal, Ringo added a drum roll to the introduction and a new mix was made so that the song could be rush-released as a single.  With such unprecedented publicity, it came as no surprise that the record was an instant worldwide number one bestseller.

Friday, September 16, 2016

All Together Now

After months of recording for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles immediately began working on some other projects before that monumental album was even released.  One of these projects required coming up with a few original songs for the soundtrack of an animated feature film based on their 1966 hit Yellow Submarine.  The group's manager Brian Epstein had worked out this agreement with United Artists in the hopes of finally fulfilling their three-picture deal with the studio, yet the boys still agreed to it only reluctantly.

Instead of spending days or even weeks on an individual track, as they had done on most of the tracks for Sgt. Pepper, they quickly dashed off a couple numbers to satisfy the film's producers.  On May 11th, 1967, they started, completed and mixed for mono the Lennon-McCartney collaboration Baby You're a Rich Man in six hours at Olympic Sound Studios (though intended for the film, and briefly used in it, this song soon became the B-side of a single and never made it onto the original soundtrack album).  The next day, May 12th, they reconvened at Abbey Road Studios to record a new McCartney offering.

All Together Now sounds deceptively simple, especially given its lyrics, but the gradual acceleration of the song had the potential to be quite tricky.  Yet the Beatles and their studio guests who joined in the singalong pulled it off in only nine takes, plus overdubs.  The recording was completed and mixed for mono within a mere five and a half hours.  This is all the more remarkable considering that producer George Martin was not even present to oversee the proceedings - engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush manned the control room alone that night.

The song is used early in the film soon after the submarine voyage commences.  As brief as the song is, an even shorter version of it is used at the end of the movie.  Though they do not actually sing it or even mime to it, the Beatles met at Twickenham Film Studios on January 25th, 1968 to film a short live action sequence to set up the reprise of the song.   

Monday, September 12, 2016

All My Loving

All My Loving follows All I've Got to Do alphabetically in the Beatles catalog and in sequence on both the UK album With the Beatles and the US album Meet the Beatles!  Unlike the song which precedes it, this number was added to the group's live act and it figures prominently in the band's initial impression on American audiences.

The composition is by McCartney and it was the last song to be recorded on the very productive day of July 30th, 1963.  Overdubs allowed Paul to double-track most of his vocal and harmonize with himself on the final verse (in live performances, George would sing the melody line in the final verse, freeing Paul to sing the high harmony).  He plays a walking bass line while John delivers a fast, relentless rhythm guitar part and George adds a country-flavored guitar solo which had been worked out in advance.

The lyrics are a variation on the tried-and-true rock and roll theme of a musician staying faithful to his love while on the road - ironic, of course, given the stories of the Beatles' exploits on tour, though these were hushed up at the time.  This was the first of many songs that Paul wrote inspired by his relationship with actress Jane Asher.

The boys first performed the song in the UK on the TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars almost a month before the album With the Beatles was released.  It soon became a staple of their act for the next year.  Of course, the most famous performance was as the opening number of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964.  Although the group had been featured on US television programs on tape a few times leading up to this live show, this was surely the first time that the greatest number of Americans saw and heard the band play, and it is still considered to be one of the most historic moments in television history.  This performance is presented on Anthology 1, including the end of Sullivan's introduction which is immediately drowned out by the screaming audience.

Another performance is available on Live at the BBC, recorded shortly after the boys returned from America and broadcast on a special Easter edition of their own program From Us to You.  There is no studio audience, thus this version is somewhat lacking in excitement, yet this performance and the Ed Sullivan version are remarkably consistent when compared with the original recording.

The exception is from the August 23rd, 1964 concert on Live at the Hollywood Bowl which is played at a breakneck pace.  This fine package, maligned and neglected for many years, is now available in a remastered edition and is receiving rave reviews.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

All I've Got to Do

The Beatles had recorded most of their first album Please Please Me in one incredibly productive day in February of 1963.  By the middle of that year, they were the toast of Britain and there was no need to rush the production of their second LP.  Two sessions in July yielded eight fresh recordings, but the group's hectic schedule kept them from returning to the studio until September 11th.  On that date, they began work on three new titles, but only this one would be complete by day's end.

The master of this fine Lennon composition was laid down in fifteen takes, eight of them being false starts and one being an overdub.  This is fairly remarkable for a tune that the other three Beatles had presumably never heard before.  John played the song for them and they then figured out their arrangement and perfected it, all in the space of about two and a half hours.  This was the dawn of the boys becoming recording artists instead of performers.  Like a few of the other original compositions on this album, All I've Got to Do would not make it into their live act.  In fact, apart from their work on the song on this day, they never played the song again.

That is a shame because the song itself is a hidden gem, little known to those unfamiliar with the band's early albums.  John stated in interviews over the years that he was consciously trying to write in the style of Smokey Robinson here, but the song also bears resemblance to two cover versions of tunes he had sung on the group's debut album.  Anna (Go to Him) and Baby It's You both featured similar heartfelt vocal performances from John and variations on the jerky, stop/start patterns that he incorporated into this composition.  Ringo executes those tricky patterns and leads the band through the uneven number of measures (a Lennon trademark over the years) deftly, though achieving that may account for the high percentage of false starts.

It is worth noting that there is some disagreement concerning the date that this song was written.  A few sources claim that Lennon actually wrote it back in 1961 and even had it copyrighted at that time, but most believe that it was composed close to the date of its recording in '63.  This certainly seems more likely since Paul in particular would not have been unaware of the song if it had been sitting around unused for a few years.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Act Naturally

In June of 1965, the Beatles were putting the finishing touches on the non-soundtrack side of the album Help! and Ringo still did not have a vocal spotlight.  Months earlier, John and Paul had written a song for their drummer that might have actually been slated for the film.  The problem was that it was downright dreadful.  If You've Got Trouble was only given one take plus overdubs before it was scrapped.  The lyrics were lame and the performance by the band was uncharacteristically clunky considering the fact that the boys usually churned out a few masters every day at this point in their career.

On June 17th, the final day of recording for the album, Ringo chose to do a country and western tune called Act Naturally.  His previous two featured numbers had been covers of rockabilly songs by Carl Perkins, but this was pure C&W - a song that Buck Owens had taken to the number one spot on the country chart.

Of course, everyone was in on the joke.  Ringo had been singled out by many critics as the best actor in the group after his performance in A Hard Day's Night.  Thus, the new film had deliberately centered around Ringo, though his role was really not any bigger than those of the other three Beatles.  The choice of Act Naturally was a perfect tongue-in-cheek response to all of that attention, not unlike the group's witty retorts at their press conferences.

Yet, while the choice of the song may have been a joke, the recording was not.  Every member of the band, especially Ringo and George, had a great love of rockabilly and country, and it shows in their earnest, straightforward approach to the material.  George's twangy guitar and Paul's high vocal harmonies are delightful, presented without a hint of irony in them.

The song was first issued in August of 1965, placed at the top of side two on the UK version of Help!, thus letting discerning fans in on the joke by making it the first thing they would hear after listening to the soundtrack numbers on side one.  In the US, the song was held in reserve for release as a single in September.  Ringo had been immensely popular with American fans since the dawn of Beatlemania in early '64 and Capitol Records was planning on giving him the A-side of the single, though that honor ultimately went to a little ditty called Yesterday.

The group added the song to their live act (the only song they ever added which they had not performed in their pre-fame days according to Dave Rybaczewski in his excellent in-depth story on for the remainder of 1965.  You can find the very first performance at Blackpool Night Out on YouTube.  Ringo introduces himself in a typically self-deprecating manner.  "Here he is, all off-key and nervous, singing Act Naturally - Ringo!"

Monday, August 29, 2016

The songs from A to Z - Across the Universe

Cover of the 1969 charity album featuring the first release of Across the Universe
In search of a new topic for my renamed blog (I finally realized that The Beatles in Mark's Life was a little too precious), I have decided to go to a tactic used by many other writers and look at the group's recording output in alphabetical order.  This will take me out of my usual chronological pattern and necessitate jumping back and forth throughout the band's career.  In each instance, I will take a look at every recording I have of each particular song to give either a sense of the composition's development or simply the differences and similarities of the various versions available.  And, while some entries will be rather lengthy, others will be quite brief (there's only so much one can say about Wild Honey Pie).

For starters, we have a song that has already had its own entry; a composition that has spawned numerous versions, most from the same basic recording - Across the Universe.

The sessions for this number took place on February 4th and 8th, 1968.  Lennon had brought this composition in as a potential single to be released while the Beatles were in India studying Transcendental Meditation.  He was never entirely satisfied with the group's recording of his song, however, and opted to relegate it to the Abbey Road archives for the time being, thus allowing McCartney's Lady Madonna to serve as the in absentia single.

The final track on Anthology 2 is take two of this song, giving us a tantalizing sense of a more ethereal sound than that of the finished recording.  John's guide vocal reveals that he had yet to figure out his breathing pattern in the long, tricky phrases he had written.

Take seven, the master, was markedly different (and, in my judgement, not an improvement over the earlier take), featuring tamboura, tone-pedal guitar, backing vocals by John, Paul and George and some additional high harmonies provided by Gayleen Pease and Lizzie Bravo, two Apple Scruffs, the nickname given to the ever-present fans outside of Abbey Road Studios.

It just so happened that comedian Spike Milligan was present as a guest of George Martin at the February 8th session.  Milligan was a founding member of The Goons, whose recordings had been produced by Martin, and the Beatles were huge fans of the groundbreaking comic troupe.  Milligan was assembling a charity album on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund and asked if he could use the unreleased song on it, a request which Lennon readily okayed.

That album would not appear for almost two years.  (In the interim, the Beatles almost released the song as a bonus track on a Yellow Submarine EP, but that package never saw the light of day.)  In October of 1969, Martin prepared the recording for the charity album, adding wildlife sound effects to the intro and outro, as well as speeding up the entire track.  Though Lennon was not present at that time, it can only be assumed that he approved these changes.

On December 12th, 1969, the album No One's Gonna Change Our World - its title coming from a variation on Lennon's lyric - was issued in the UK.  It was not released in the US, though the new song by the Beatles did get some airplay.  Frankly, it sounded like an odd throwback to the summer of '67 (remember how quickly music progressed in the 60's) and fans could be forgiven if they thought the female harmonies had been provided by Yoko Ono.

Less than a month after this release, Glyn Johns was at Olympic Sound Studios preparing his second attempt at a Get Back album.  Since Lennon was seen briefly strumming Across the Universe in the upcoming documentary, manager Allen Klein mandated that the song had to be included on the tie-in album.  Johns therefore returned to the same master used by Martin and stripped it of the wildlife sound effects, the tone pedal guitar part and the Beatles' own backing vocals, while keeping the high female voices, though these are pushed somewhat to the background.  Best of all, he returned the recording to its original speed.

The Get Back album was never officially released and only a few months later, the same material was handed over to Phil Spector to produce what would now be known as an album titled Let It Be.  Spector deleted all of the backing vocal parts, reinstated some of the tone pedal guitar and added a massive orchestra and choir.  And he decided to slow down the original recording.  This is the version that is by far the most well-known.  Having just listened to all of them in order of their release, I can say that this one sounds absolutely lethargic in comparison to the others, yet Lennon always declared that he was happy with Spector's work.

Finally, there is the redundant Let It Be...Naked version from 2003.  Producers Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse start off on the right foot by using the original tempo.  They also eliminate the tone pedal guitar and all backing voices, but they slowly add echo and a strange background noise that may be one of two backwards overdubs made on February 4th, 1968 but not used on the master.