Follow by Email

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.                  

No comments:

Post a Comment