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Thursday, May 31, 2012

LET IT BE - side two

I've Got a Feeling - This is the last Lennon-McCartney collaboration on a single song.  The bulk of it belongs to Paul; John's unrelated section merely uses the same backing before it serves as a counterpoint to Paul's section when they sing simultaneously at the end.  John provides some harmony in the early section before Paul cuts loose for a vocal solo during the bridge.  Producer Phil Spector chose a rooftop performance of the number, but Anthology 3 allows us to listen in on a studio runthrough days earlier which falls apart before the final verse.

One After 909 - On first hearing this song, I could have sworn I'd heard it before.  I hadn't, of course, but the reason it sounded familiar is because it comes from the earliest days of the Beatles.  Lennon says it was one of the first songs he ever wrote and, in fact, the group had recorded it way back on March 5th, 1963 at the same session which produced their third single From Me To You b/w Thank You, Girl.  Anthology 1 presents a sequence of takes from that session, giving a good indication of why it wasn't released at the time.  The tempo is slow and George's guitar solos are definitely lacking in quality.  The Let It Be version is played at a brisk pace at the rooftop concert, with the band giving a truly inspired performance.  John and Paul's shared vocal reveals the true joy of the moment, keyboardist Billy Preston plays some tasty licks and George's solo is impeccable.

The Long and Winding Road - Despite the controversy surrounding the released version of this recording, there is no denying that this composition by McCartney is magnificent, combining his usual innate sense of a great melody with some of the finest lyrics he ever wrote.  I once again have to wonder, as I did with the single Let It Be, how he could let this song lie unreleased for so long.  On Anthology 3, the basic January 31st, 1969 performance by the Beatles and Billy Preston is presented.  Phil Spector decided the recording needed a massive orchestra and choir, so he overdubbed both on April 1st, 1970.  According to all reports, this was the last straw for Paul, resulting in the actual demise of the group.

Under manager Allen Klein's new agreement with Capitol Records, the American label was able to release this song as a single a week before the album came out, giving the Beatles their twentieth number one in the US during their career.

For You Blue - The Beatles only worked on this Harrison number for one day during the sessions, but it made the cut for the album, probably because of its playful quality.  Paul plays honkytonk piano and John tackles a slide guitar.  A different take appears on Anthology 3; the liner notes on that CD also indicate that George overdubbed a new vocal onto the album version on January 8th, 1970.

Capitol Records chose this song for the B-side of the single The Long and Winding Road.

Get Back - McCartney's original title song for these sessions had been released as a single a year earlier than this album.  Spector used the same performance as that single minus its coda, but surrounded it with chatter from the rooftop, creating the illusion that this was a different take.  The album (and the group's career) ends appropriately with John's comment "...I hope we passed the audition."

Paul's solo album McCartney was released in April of 1970, against the wishes of manager Allen Klein and the other Beatles.  They had tried to persuade Paul to delay his release, fearing that it would hurt sales of Let It Be.  Not only did an angry Paul ignore their pleas, but he issued a press release which stated, in effect, that the Beatles were no more.  Instead of hurting sales, this announcement produced a great deal of anticipation among fans.  Knowing that it would be the final release, advance orders in the US alone reached 3.7 million.  It was released worldwide in May of 1970.

A final irony - though some of the songs bore little resemblance to the way they were actually performed in the film Let It Be, the album earned the Beatles an Oscar for best soundtrack.                 

Friday, May 25, 2012

LET IT BE - side one

The single Instant Karma! by the Plastic Ono Band looms large in the story of the Beatles.  Lennon's exercise in writing, recording and releasing a song as quickly as possible resulted in legendary American producer Phil Spector's involvement with Let It Be.  Spector produced John's single, and John and George Harrison, who played on the record, were so impressed with Spector's work that they decided to give him the tapes from the Get Back sessions to see if he could produce a suitable album from the more-than-a-year-old tapes.

Between March 23rd and April 2nd, 1970, Spector assembled his package.  Unlike Glyn Johns, whose rejected Get Back albums matched the tone of the film - unpolished and, sometimes, unflattering - Spector cleaned up the tracks and, in a few instances, fabricated performances that the composers, particularly McCartney, never envisioned.

Two of Us - The album opens with some spoken nonsense from Lennon followed by this gentle number from McCartney.  Because the original premise of these sessions was to play live with no overdubs, the Beatles forced themselves to do things they had not done for some time, such as sing a duet.  Paul and John perform most of this song in that fashion, with Paul singing the bridge solo.  To create the effect of a fadeout, the band simply gets quieter at the end, with John wistfully whistling.  An early runthrough is available on Anthology 3, but this version was recorded on January 31st, 1969, the final day of work on the project.

Dig a Pony - This unusual Lennon composition was mistakenly listed as I Dig a Pony on early US copies of the album.  The song is a midtempo rocker with typical Lennon wordplay.  John sings it with some occasional harmony from Paul.  Again, an early take of the song is on Anthology 3.  The album version is from the famed rooftop concert on January 30th.  Spector curiously decided to delete the "All I want is" sections from the opening and closing of the performance.

Across the Universe - In the film Let It Be, John plays this song at the earliest sessions at Twickenham Film Studios.  Since there were no proper recordings done at those sessions, Spector was forced to return to the original February, 1968 master.  Not wanting it to sound like the recent World Wildlife version (derived from the same master), he deleted many of the instrumental overdubs, as well as the Lizzie Bravo-Gayleen Pease harmonies and the backing vocals by the Beatles.  Whereas George Martin had decided to speed up the original tape, Spector opted to slow it down.  Finally, he added an orchestra and choir.  In Ray Coleman's biography Lennon, John says, "He did a really special job."

I Me Mine - Harrison is seen in the film playing this composition about the ego, which also had no actual take available, so George, Paul and Ringo gathered on January 3rd, 1970 to record the final song attributed to the Beatles during their career.  Since the number only ran about a minute and a half, Spector decided to repeat portions of it in order to stretch it out.  Orchestra and choir were also added.

Dig It - Just a snippet of a long, meandering jam credited to all four Beatles, but really led by John.  Spector chose what is by far the best section, but wiped Paul's simultaneous vocal from the mix.  John's falsetto comment at the end is from another runthrough of Dig It recorded a few days earlier.  His reference to Hark The Angels Come is a perfect segue into the title song.

Let It Be - This is the same take as the single with numerous differences.  Spector went with George's hard-edged guitar solo from January 4th, 1970 and gave George Martin's brass and cello overdubs more prominence.  He also applies heavy echo on Ringo's drums.  And, for some reason, he repeats the refrain one more time at the end.

Maggie Mae - Another song snippet - this time, a Liverpool ditty about a lady of the night.  John and Paul share the vocals before the performance simply falls apart.  This public domain number is the only cover version recorded and released by the group since Act Naturally on Help!  They actually covered quite a few songs at these sessions, some of which can be heard on Anthology 3.  At one point, according to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, an entire album of such material was considered, but, like many other ideas floating around at the time, it was soon forgotten.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let It Be b/w You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)

In early 1970, Michael Lindsey-Hogg's documentary of the January '69 Get Back sessions was nearing completion.  Since the song Get Back had been released as a single almost a year earlier, it was decided that another McCartney composition would replace it as the title of the film.  And, in anticipation of the film's release, that song would be issued as a single.  Though they may not have realized it at the time, it would turn out to be the final official single in the group's catalog.

Let It Be - This inspirational hymn-like composition was a very personal one for McCartney, as it was based on a dream he had of his mother, who had died of cancer when he was a teenager.  It is difficult to understand how he could let this recording lie dormant for so long, but the title came to represent something very different from what he intended - the general attitude of the group as their partnership finally came to an end.

The version presented on Anthology 3 is from January 25th, with the band feeling their way through the song.  On January 31st, the day after the famous rooftop concert, they gather for the definitive version, although it was later subjected to numerous overdubs - the first song from these supposedly live sessions to get such treatment.  The line-up for the basic track features Paul on piano, Ringo on drums, George on guitar, John on bass and Billy Preston on organ.  In April of '69, as Glyn Johns was assembling his first attempt at a Get Back album,  George decided to re-do his guitar solo, giving a mellow performance well in keeping with the overall feel of the track.

After the Get Back album was rejected by the group, the recording went untouched until the new year, when Johns was ready for a second attempt.  On January 4th, 1970, Paul, George and Ringo went into the studio and added several overdubs to the song.  This marked the last day that any of the Beatles worked together as a group during their career.  George re-did his guitar part yet again, this time delivering a stinging solo.  Ringo added more drums and producer George Martin scored a brass and cello overdub.  Finally, Paul and George (and, according to at least one source, Linda McCartney) sang backing vocals.  However, Glyn Johns ignored all of these new additions and stuck with the first guitar overdub from April, but the Beatles once again rejected his proposed Get Back album.

In preparing the song for release as a single, Martin also chose the mellow April guitar solo, but used all of the other new additions, although he kept his brass and cello overdubs mixed quite low.      

You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) - This comedy number by Lennon has the longest recording history of any song by the Beatles.  The group spent three days working on the backing track, which is composed of five different sections, on May 17th, June 7th and June 8th, 1967, sandwiched around the release of Sgt. Pepper.  The track then lay dormant for two years, until John, Paul and assistant Mal Evans added vocals on April 30th, 1969 - the same day that George recorded the first guitar overdub for Let It Be.  Again, the song was forgotten until John edited it down from six minutes to a more manageable four minutes for release as the A-side of a Plastic Ono Band single on November 26th of '69.  That single (backed with the even more bizarre What's the New Mary Jane from the "White Album" sessions) never materialized.  Ultimately, the song was chosen for the B-side of this final single.

The song is a wacky delight, with Paul turning in an especially outrageous vocal part in one section as lounge lizard Dennis O'Dell.  Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was invited to the June 8th, 1967 session and unexpectedly showed up with a saxophone, which he played on two sections - the cheesy ending and a ska-like piece which was completely deleted when the song was edited for release.  It can be heard on Anthology 2, which also happens to be the only stereo version of the song.

The single was released in early March, 1970.  It hit number one in the US, but peaked at number three in the UK.    

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Across the Universe

Like a few other songs released at the end of the Beatles' career, this much-loved composition by Lennon has a long and complex history.  It merits its own entry here due to its unique first release a few months after the single Something/Come Together.

Across the Universe was recorded in February of 1968 at the sessions specifically designated to create a single which would be released while the group was in India.  Lennon was unhappy with the recording of his song and pulled it from consideration; the ensuing single thus became Lady Madonna b/w The Inner Light.  But what, exactly, was wrong with the recording?  John simply felt that it never quite achieved what he was hearing (but could somehow not communicate to the group) in his head.

Anthology 2 presents take two, which has become my favorite version.  John is still learning how to sing the song, with its tricky meter and breathing patterns.  George plays what sounds like an autoharp, but is probably the high end of the strings on his sitar.  The take is more ethereal than any that followed, suiting the lyrics perfectly in my opinion.  The basic track of the master, take seven, is not significantly different, but overdubs changed the recording in a number of ways.  John and Paul decided that high female harmonies would be a good idea, so Paul went outside and brought in two of the always-present Apple Scruffs to sing on the track.  Thus, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease found their way into Beatles lore.  John, Paul and George added backing vocals and John played a tone pedal guitar part, completing the track.

The song almost surfaced a year later, when plans to release a Yellow Submarine EP with Across the Universe as a bonus track were briefly considered.  At some point, the group agreed to donate the song to a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund.  When the release date for that album was imminent, producer George Martin added bird sound effects to the beginning and end of the track, and for some reason, he decided to speed up the entire recording by a semi-tone.  Other acts, including the Bee Gees, the Hollies and Cilla Black were represented on the collection, but landing the Beatles was such a coup that the album was titled No One's Gonna Change Our World, slightly altering the lyrics of Lennon's refrain.  It was released on December 12th, 1969.

Less than a month later, producer Glyn Johns was in the studio creating a different version out of the same master recording.  The plan for a Get Back album had not died, especially since the documentary film of those January '69 sessions was nearing completion.  In that film, John was seen playing Across the Universe, so it would have to appear on the accompanying album, but there was no proper recording of the song as it was performed in the film.  Glyn Johns returned to the master and eliminated the Beatles' backing vocals, almost (but not completely) removed the female harmonies, and presented the song at its original tempo.  His work went unused, however, as the Beatles once again rejected his proposed Get Back album.   

The World Wildlife Fund version of the song later appeared on both the UK and US versions of the  compilation Rarities.  One more version of the song would be created before the group officially disbanded. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Something/Come Together

It was common practice in the music business in the US to release a single made up of songs from a previously released album - not so in the UK.  By 1969, the Beatles' company Apple was in such disarray that they were actually cash-poor.  So, purely to make some money, their new manager, Allen Klein, decided to issue these two songs from Abbey Road as a double A-sided single worldwide.

Something - And so it was that George Harrison got his one and only A-side on a single in the group's official catalog.  The fact that it was the finest composition of his life is purely coincidental.  In Mark Lewisohn's book The Beatles: Recording Sessions, producer Chris Thomas claims that George played this song for him the day he recorded Piggies for the "White Album" in 1968.  Anthology 3 has his demo from February 25th of '69, including some additional lyrics in the bridge which were later dropped.  He gave the song to Joe Cocker, even playing guitar on Cocker's version, which was recorded before the one by the Beatles, but released later.  The opening lyrics are taken directly from the title of a song by James Taylor, who was an Apple recording artist at the time.  Overall, the lyrics are wondrous in their simplicity and universality - so much is left unsaid.  And the melody has to be the most beautiful that George ever wrote.  No less an authority than Frank Sinatra declared it to be "the greatest love song of the past fifty years," - a span which would encompass his entire recording career.  Despite this praise, when singing it in concert, Sinatra would mistakenly introduce it as a Lennon/McCartney composition. 

The Beatles first recorded the song on April 16th, the same day as George's Old Brown Shoe, but this version was scrapped, and a remake was begun in May.  Billy Preston joined the group for the backing track, which included a long, extended coda not unlike the ones for Hey Jude and I Want You (She's So Heavy).  This coda, too, was eventually (and wisely) scrapped.  Overdubs were added over the next few months, with most of them done in Lennon's absence, so the bridge features the unique vocal blend of George, Paul and Ringo.  While producer George Martin did score an orchestral part for the recording, the highlight of the piece is the complex interplay between George's guitar and Paul's bass in the instrumental break.  Paul's playing is brilliant throughout, sometimes threatening to overshadow the work around it, but never quite crossing that line.

Come Together - Also the opening track of Abbey Road, this composition by Lennon is the most forward-looking recording of the Beatles, creating a sound that others emulate to this day.  Like George on the other side of the single, John nicked the first line of his song; the publishers of Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me were not as forgiving as James Taylor, and Lennon wound up recording Berry's tune as part of a lawsuit settlement for his 1975 album Rock and Roll.  The rest of the lyrics are Lennon at his most obscure - read what you will into them.

The track is stripped-down, yet highly-polished rock.  Take one on Anthology 3 gives us the basic track of Ringo on drums, Paul on bass, George on guitar and John singing a guide vocal, providing handclaps and occasionally adding tambourine.  His tragically ironic repeating of the phrase "shoot me" at the top of each verse is in the clear; the final mix buries it under his heavily-echoed handclaps.  The tasty keyboard lick was Paul's invention, but accounts differ as to whether he or John plays it on the recording.

In the UK, the single was released a month after Abbey Road.  That, and the fact that it was such an unusual move, probably contributed in keeping it from reaching the top of the charts.  In the US, it followed the album by only a week.  It charted for sixteen weeks, finally hitting number one - but which song achieved the feat?  The 1982 Capitol compilation 20 Greatest Hits only contains Come Together.  In William Dowlding's book Beatlesongs, Come Together gets credit for hitting the top spot and Something is listed as peaking at number three.  But a look at the Billboard charts from the time reveals that the single only hit number one after the chartmakers decided to combine the statistics for both songs for some reason.  This is why both appear on the 2000 collection 1.