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Thursday, May 15, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side two

With an orchestra for the Hey Jude promotional video
Cry Baby Cry - After rehearsing this Lennon number the previous day, the group pretty much nails the basic track here on take 1.  It would require several more takes before John was happy enough with a performance for the master version, but everything is already in place here, including John's vocal style.

Blackbird - Much the same can be said of this solo performance by McCartney.  This is take 4, yet Paul recorded 32 takes before he was satisfied with the result.  He plays around a bit with his phrasing, there are some variations in his guitar work and the order of the verses, but it is essentially the same song we all know from the album except that it lacks the bird sound effects and double-tracking, and it fades out.

Sexy Sadie - This is take 6 of Lennon's well-disguised rant against the Maharishi.  Though the verses are complete and his singing style is the same as in the master version, it would require two remakes and many more takes before the Beatles achieved that master.  The tempo here is very slow - lethargic, in fact - and John repeats one of the bridges and a few verses before the track fades out, making it a bit longer than the version on the "White Album."

While My Guitar Gently Weeps - One of the best tracks on the entire Anthology series is this sublime demo of one of Harrison's greatest compositions.  George accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and gives one of the simplest and most beautiful vocal performances of his life.  Paul is also present and plays some chords on an organ starting at the second bridge.  And an added bonus is a final verse that was cut before the Beatles and Eric Clapton recorded the heavy, electric master version.

Hey Jude - A bit of verbal and musical banter between John and Paul (akin to what they would do throughout the Get Back sessions six months later) precedes this run-through of McCartney's majestic composition which would serve as the group's next single.  John and George seem to be figuring out what to play as accompaniment at this point, but Ringo knows his role already.  This early take fades out soon after the coda begins.

Not Guilty - Another standout track of the Anthology is this Harrison composition that mysteriously did not make the cut when John and Paul worked out the running order of the album, possibly due to some oblique references in the lyrics to the growing disharmony within the group, yet the Beatles had spent a few days and laid down a record 102 takes of George's tricky arrangement before arriving at this master, with the final minute containing some of the most unique and best ensemble playing they were capable of - and that is saying quite a lot.

Mother Nature's Son - Take 2 of this beautiful tune by McCartney features the composer on acoustic guitar.  Like Blackbird, it would require many more takes of the basic track - 25 - before Paul felt that he had gotten it right, yet it is fully realized in this early attempt.  Also like Blackbird, this would be a solo track with Paul ultimately playing all instruments except for a few brass musicians performing an arrangement by producer George Martin.

Friday, May 2, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side one

Naturally, the third and final Anthology collection covers the last years of the group's career, from mid-1968 to the bitter end.  The first three sides (or CD1) include a wealth of material from the sessions for the sprawling double album The Beatles, and the other three sides (CD2) deal with the interconnected Get Back/Abbey Road/Let It Be projects of 1969-70.

A Beginning - The Threetles chose not to enhance a third John Lennon demo for release following Free as a Bird and Real Love, so this collection opens instead with an orchestral piece from producer George Martin.  Mark Lewisohn's liner notes state that this was recorded as an introduction to Ringo's composition Don't Pass Me By, and while that may be the case, this music is clearly heard in the film Yellow Submarine in the sequence right after the main titles as the sun rises over the city (London? Liverpool?) skyline.

Happiness is a Warm Gun - The group convened in May of '68 at George's house in Esher before proper sessions began for the "White Album" to record demos of the many songs they had already written.  Lennon had only the middle sections of this number at this point, including a "Yoko Ono no, Yoko Ono yes" piece which was thankfully not part of the eventual master.

Helter Skelter - The Anthology briefly jumps ahead to the actual sessions to present an early take of McCartney's anarchic rocker, done here at a slow, deliberate pace as part of an extended jam.

Mean Mr. Mustard - The next six numbers are from the Esher demos, with each composer taking the time to double-track his tunes.  This Lennon song would not resurface until the Abbey Road sessions in mid-1969.  It has an extra section here which would not make the master.

Polythene Pam - This Lennon piece would also become part of the Abbey Road medley more than a year later than this recording, minus some of these lyrics.

Glass Onion - The final Lennon demo is a song that would make the cut for the "White Album."  John only had the first verse at this point, repeating it twice and slowing it down seductively the last time around before throwing in some double-tracked nonsense at the end.

Junk - McCartney's first demo is this lovely tune that he would not record properly until he made his first solo album.  It would have been a welcome addition to the "White Album" in place of a throwaway track such as Wild Honey Pie.

Piggies - Harrison's demo is this nearly-completed social satire.  A slight change in the lyrics from "cut their pork chops" to "eat their bacon" and the addition of a musical coda were all that it was lacking at this time.

Honey Pie - The final demo is this wonderful Tin Pan Alley number from McCartney.  Though the lyrics are incomplete, this recording has a little percussion and some vocal interjections in the background from John.

Don't Pass Me By - This is the basic track of Ringo's first solo composition featuring only the composer on drums and Paul on keyboard (every reference I've found says he's playing piano but it sure sounds like an organ).  The vocal was overdubbed a day later.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - Here is a finished master comprising three days' work on a slicker and slightly faster version of this love-it-or-hate-it song by McCartney, which was almost released as the B-side of a single to accompany the Sessions album in 1985.  The backing vocals and the saxophone parts are somewhat different, there are a xylophone and congas on the track and the sound has quite a bit of echo overall.  A few days later, the group would start recording the remake we all recognize.  

Good Night - The last item on side one is a rehearsal of this Lennon composition sung by Ringo.  All of the Beatles and producer George Martin can be heard encouraging the drummer before George counts him in and he sings along with a piano (Paul?) and simple percussion.  The Anthology crossfades into Martin's lush orchestration from the master at the end.