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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Golden Slumbers

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight was recorded as one continuous number right from the very first take.  Since I have already covered Carry That Weight in a previous post, some of this information will necessarily be redundant, and the post itself will be rather short.

Like the other Beatles, Paul McCartney never learned to read music, even though he made some attempts to do so over the years.  While sitting at the piano in his father's house one day, he found a music book with a song called Golden Slumbers.  He liked the lyrics by a contemporary of William Shakespeare named Thomas Dekker, but as they were set to music that he could not decipher, he decided to make up his own tune.  He wrote a single verse to open the song, then used Dekker's words as a refrain before repeating his own verse one more time, the whole composition running only about a minute and a half in duration.

The basic track, consisting of Paul on piano, George on bass and Ringo on drums, was laid down on July 2nd, 1969.  Over the next two days, numerous overdubs were added, most of them to Carry That Weight.  Vocals were also overdubbed, with only Paul singing in the Golden Slumbers section of the track.  He deliberately chose to work against the lullaby aspect of the lyrics, using a strident voice to deliver Dekker's words.

The final overdub featured a thirty-piece orchestra recorded on August 15th, with producer George Martin conducting his own impeccable arrangement.  On the album Abbey Road, the song appears after the only true break in the side two medley, almost as if it is the beginning of a second movement in the overall structure.    

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Glass Onion

John Lennon began writing Glass Onion in 1968 to both mock and confuse those who sought to find deep meaning in the lyrics of the Beatles' songs.  Of course, the group had opened themselves up to such scrutiny when they decided to print all of their lyrics on the back cover of the Sgt. Pepper album in 1967.  They continued the practice later that year by printing the lyrics of the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack tunes, including I Am the Walrus, an early attempt to befuddle fans which only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire.

Lennon chose not to be obscure the second time around, making direct references to his songs Strawberry Fields Forever, I Am the Walrus and, interestingly enough, three songs by Paul - Lady Madonna, The Fool on the Hill and Fixing a Hole.  Plus he throws in the deliberately misleading line, "Well, here's another clue for you all.  The walrus was Paul."

When the Beatles met at George's house in May of 1968 to record demo versions of the songs proposed for the "White Album," Lennon only had one verse written as can be heard on Anthology 3.  He plays it three times through, double-tracking his acoustic guitar and vocal, occasionally slipping into gibberish when he forgets his own words, and slowing down significantly in the middle of the verse the last time around.

At some point during the summer, he and Yoko stopped over at McCartney's house for some help in completing the song.  This had been the songwriting duo's process for a few years, though it was now happening much less frequently.  It is, in fact, surprising to learn that it was still going on at all at this late date, but Paul specifically recalls this visit, and claims to have made a few small contributions to the lyrics.

The Beatles did not begin work on the track until September 11th, during producer George Martin's extended holiday from the ongoing sessions for the album.  Young Chris Thomas sat in as producer in the interim.  With John on acoustic and George on electric guitars, plus Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, they recorded thirty-four takes of the basic track before settling on take thirty-three as the best.  The next evening, September 12th, John recorded his lead vocal and Ringo added tambourine.
More drums were overdubbed on the 13th, as well as a piano part played by Paul.  One tiny little detail was added during a session on the 16th by having Paul play a four-note phrase on recorder after the reference to The Fool on the Hill.

John returned to the song on September 26th and compiled tapes of sound effects on four separate tracks - a ringing telephone, breaking glass, a soccer announcer shouting, "It's a goal!" and an organ playing one note.  He inserted these sounds into the song at various points and ended it with the breaking glass and the soccer announcer repeating several times for the fadeout.  The mono mix made of this version can also be heard on Anthology 3.

Once George Martin returned from his holiday and heard the track, he suggested that he could write an arrangement that would serve the song better than the sound effects, and John actually agreed.  So, on October 10th, 1968, a string octet recorded Martin's score, which takes the track to an eerie place unlike the previous version, especially in its ominous fadeout.

We always hear stories of the group's disintegration beginning in earnest during the five-month long sessions for this album, but the basic track on this and many other songs from this period has all four Beatles playing together as well as ever.  John's acoustic guitar can barely be heard in the mix, but the sharp jabs of George's electric guitar and Ringo's drums are tight and precise.  And Paul's bass rarely sounded nastier.  All of this, combined with Lennon's acknowledgement of his partner's work in the lyrics, presented a unified effort on their most disjointed and most fascinating album.   

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Girl

November 11th, 1965 was the last day scheduled for work on the album Rubber Soul - it had to be in stores in time for the Christmas rush! - yet three more tracks were necessary to complete it.  Luckily, McCartney came in with one composition (You Won't See Me), Lennon brought in another (Girl) and there was an unfinished track left over from the Help! sessions in June (Wait).  Plus vocals had to be added to I'm Looking Through You.  The Beatles entered the studio at 6pm with a long night ahead of them.

It was around 11pm by the time You Won't See Me was finished and attention was turned to Lennon's sublime offering.  The basic rhythm track consisted of Paul on bass, Ringo playing his drum kit with brushes and John's acoustic guitar sounding unusually high due to a capo placed well up on its neck.  They managed to nail it on just their second attempt.  For his lead vocal part, John already knew that he wanted his sharp intake of breath to be heard in each chorus, so he made sure that engineer Norman Smith, working for the last time with the group, captured it properly.

Overdubs included Paul and George's naughty backing vocals, Ringo crashing and quickly muffling a cymbal throughout the instrumental section, and three different guitar lines played by George, though one played through a fuzz box was not used.  His simple counter melody on acoustic guitar appears in the second half of the song, but was supposed to play throughout.  A double time counter melody also plays in the instrumental section on acoustic guitar, though for years I thought it was on sitar.  In any case, it adds a decidedly old-world flavor to the number, having the effect of a mandolin.

McCartney helped finish up the composition, but there is no question that Lennon was now at the peak of his powers, writing a world-weary love song that somehow shifted into social commentary.  He acknowledged that the final verse with its "pain would lead to pleasure" lyrics was a jab at the Catholic Church and old-fashioned values.  This new maturity belied the image of the four lovable moptops, and was a part of the transformation of the Beatles from stage performers to full-time studio musicians.

Though it was only an album track, Girl was strong enough to be chosen for the overview of their career on the Red Album in 1973.  Just a few years later, in 1977, it appeared on Love Songs, and was even considered for a single b/w You're Going to Lose That Girl in conjunction with that compilation.  Promotional copies were pressed along with a picture sleeve, but it was never officially released.  Needless to say, these are extremely rare and worth a good deal of money today.   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Getting Better

"It's getting better," was drummer Jimmy Nicol's standard response whenever John, Paul or George would ask him how things were going during his brief stint filling in for an ailing Ringo on the first leg of the Beatles' 1964 world tour.  Recalling this a few years later, McCartney set about writing a song with that title for the album-in-progress Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

On March 8th, 1967, a day off in the midst of the sessions for that album, Hunter Davies, who had recently been commissioned to write a biography of the group, was present as Paul and John worked on the song.  He witnessed first-hand the unique give-and-take of the songwriting duo in action, as John added lyrics which provided a sobering backstory to Paul's optimistic song.  Though the credit for the composition remains largely Paul's, there is no question that John's contributions to it are substantial.  While most of these are serious, as in the "I used to be cruel to my woman" section, some are humorous, such as the backing vocal response "It can't get no worse."

The group met the day after this writing session to work out the basic track.  With the release of the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper, we can now listen to take one from that day which features Ringo on drums and George on electric guitar, John playing a distorted bass guitar and Paul on an electric piano.  Paul also sings a guide vocal off mike, but this take was clearly just for the instrumental backing.  It breaks down before the third verse and we hear Ringo admitting that he keeps forgetting to play a certain bit, thus revealing that there was rehearsal time before the tapes began rolling.

The group committed seven takes to tape before Paul felt that they had arrived at the best.  On top of that, five reduction mixes were made (bringing the total to take twelve) before he was satisfied that overdubbing could begin.  That process began the next day, March 10th, with the most prominent overdub being a droning tamboura part played by George during the third verse of the song.  Producer George Martin also played a piano at some point, actually striking the strings to make the sharp strident sound heard on the master.  After the other Beatles had left, Paul remained to overdub his bass line, making sure that John's bass part from the previous day was toned down in the mix.

They did not return to the song until March 21st, which turned out to be one of the most infamous recording sessions of the group's career.  Hunter Davies was once again present as John, Paul and George gathered around a microphone to record their vocals.  Davies could not hear the backing track playing in their headphones, only their voices in the room, and he was shocked at how raspy and out-of-tune they sounded.  John became more and more distracted and eventually made his way up to the control room.  Feeling that some spring air would do him good, George Martin took him up to the roof.  When Paul and George learned of his whereabouts, they quickly ran up to retrieve him.  What Martin and Davies did not realize was that John was on LSD and could easily have wandered off the exposed edges of the building.

Needless to say, the vocals were completely redone two days later on the 23rd.  Completing the overdubs on this date were some handclaps, an additional electric guitar and a conga drum played by Ringo which, like George's tamboura part, also first appears during the all-important third verse.

The new stereo mix created by Giles Martin for the 50th anniversary edition beautifully presents each sonic component of this surprisingly complex recording, thus adding fuel to the long-standing debate over whether the mono mix is the only true way to listen to what the group and George Martin originally intended. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Get Back

The stated intention of the sessions of January 1969 was for the Beatles to get back to their rock and roll roots and create a batch of new material, culminating in a live performance which would be recorded and released as an album without any overdubs.  Paul McCartney duly began work on a song with the title Get Back early on during the Twickenham Film Studios portion of those sessions.

The first set of lyrics for this song had a decidedly political bent to them, mocking the anti-immigrant stance popular at the time in England.  John even believed that Paul was directing the line "Get back to where you once belonged" at Yoko, who had by now become a permanent fixture by his longtime partner's side.  Wisely, the easily misconstrued "No Pakistanis" verse was dropped and the lighthearted, nonsensical verses about Jo Jo and Loretta were adopted instead.

Yet the lyrics have little to do with the success of this song.  It is the galloping forward motion provided by Ringo, Paul and George on rhythm guitar, the lighter-than-air lead guitar of John and the superior keyboard work of Billy Preston that help to sell this number as pure, unadulterated fun.  Get Back was probably rehearsed more than any other song at these sessions, and it shows.  By the time they settled on the idea of an abbreviated rooftop concert, this was considered to be the flagship song of the project.  They played it three times that day -  first as a warm-up quickly followed by a full out performance, and as the closing number of the 40-minute set.

In March of 1969, while engineer Glyn Johns was assembling a Get Back album, he found a great take of the song from the rehearsals at Savile Row Studio from either January 27th or 28th (I see differing accounts all the time), which was then chosen to be the A-side of a single credited to The Beatles (with Billy Preston).  Johns also used this take for the two unreleased Get Back albums, even adding more of the coda for the end of those albums.  This picks up exactly where the fadeout occurs on the single and continues through some forced "ho ho ho"s from Paul before fading out again.

For the Let It Be album, producer Phil Spector gave us the same exact take minus the coda to close out that album.  He cleverly added some studio chatter before the song and some remarks from the rooftop afterwards to make it appear as if it were part of that January 30th performance.  We finally did get to hear a bit of that actual performance on Anthology 3, featuring John and George's amps being temporarily shut off and Paul ad libbing about the police shutting down the show.

When the single was released in April of '69, it was touted as being "the Beatles as nature intended," even though Glyn Johns added a bit of reverb to the mix.  The 2003 album Let It Be...Naked presents a pristine mix of the track without the reverb and also without the coda.  The song appears on many more collections including the Blue Album, Rock and Roll Music (the Phil Spector version), Reel Music, 20 Greatest Hits (US & UK), Past Masters Volume Two and, naturally, on 1.

The video compilation 1+ offers two looks at the song.  The first film was made to promote the single in 1969.  According to the liner notes, it used footage from all three performances of the song on the Savile Row rooftop, though all we hear is the single.  The second was created to promote Let It Be...Naked in 2003.  Set to the cleaned-up version of the song from that album, it utilizes footage from the film Let It Be and shows the song being rehearsed at both Twickenham Film Studios and in the Savile Row Studio.  It also manages to use shots featuring many of the other important people involved in the work - Mal Evans, George Martin, Glyn Johns and, most delightfully, a dancing Billy Preston.    

Friday, October 20, 2017

From Me to You

On the morning of March 5th, 1963, the Beatles posed for a number of publicity photographs outside EMI House in Manchester Square in London.  They then reported to Abbey Road Studios to begin the real work of the day - recording both sides of their third single.

Only five days earlier, the letter column From You to Us in the New Musical Express newspaper had provided John and Paul with the inspiration for the song that would turn out to be the A-side of that single.  On a leg of the Helen Shapiro tour traveling from York to Shrewsbury, they crafted this true Lennon/McCartney collaboration before the bus even arrived at its destination.

With the band on their usual instruments, the basic track was achieved in seven takes.  John then overdubbed some harmonica parts at producer George Martin's suggestion since the harmonica had been featured on their first two singles.  Martin also insisted that John and Paul wordlessly sing along with the harmonica melody in order to punch up the introduction of the song.

Upon its release in April, From Me to You truly catapulted the Beatles to national prominence.  It spent seven weeks at number one due, at least in part, to tireless promotion by the band.  They played this song more than any other in their many appearances on BBC radio, in addition to multiple performances on various television programs.  They even briefly had their own radio show called From Us to You, which used a variation of the original lyrics as its theme song.

Though wildly popular in the UK, the song went relatively unknown in the US, even after Del Shannon released a cover version.  As the Beatles' second single on Vee-Jay Records in May of '63, it did next to nothing on the Billboard chart, stopping at number 116.  Once Beatlemania arrived here in January of 1964, Vee-Jay re-released it as a B-side to Please Please Me, but it just missed the Top 40, peaking at number 41.
Capitol Records somehow managed to overlook the song throughout the group's entire career.  In 1973, it finally appeared on the greatest hits package commonly known as the Red Album.  A cardboard insert in that compilation mistakenly listed the song as a track from the American Help! LP (astute observers will note that it is not the only error in that insert pictured above), but the From Me to You Fantasy featured on Help! is merely a deconstruction of the song by Ken Thorne as part of his score for the James Bond parody.  This music plays about midway through the film during the beginning of the small Paul sequence.

In 1994, Live at the BBC gave us the opportunity to hear the From Us to You theme song - a rarity that I'm sure most of us Americans never even knew existed until then.  A year later, Anthology 1 presented a fantastic performance of From Me to You done in late '63 for Swedish radio.  This lacks John's harmonica, but the overall drive is stronger than that on the single thanks no doubt to the presence of an enthusiastic live audience.

Of course, the song appeared on several compilations over the years including A Collection of Beatles Oldies, 20 Greatest Hits (the UK version), Past Masters Volume One and the 2000 worldwide bestseller 1.  And the video compilation 1+ gives us their rendition of the number at the famous Royal Variety Performance from November of 1963, a pivotal moment of Beatlemania.

Monday, October 16, 2017

For You Blue

George Harrison was really hitting his stride as a songwriter in late 1968/early 1969, yet Lennon and McCartney continued to treat him as a junior partner in the firm known as the Beatles.  Never was this more evident than during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions at Twickenham Film Studios in January of '69 when George offered such compositions as All Things Must Pass, I Me Mine and Let It Down to the group, only to be given short shrift time and again by the senior partners.  Small wonder then that he walked out of those sessions in frustration on January 10th.

Even after his eventual return and the resumption of those sessions at Apple's Savile Row basement studio, only one of his songs was given serious consideration.  For You Blue had been auditioned on a few occasions at Twickenham, and the band actually returned to it with gusto on January 25th.  Though this would be the final time that they would work on the tune, it appears to have been one of the most enjoyable days of the entire project.  (Note: While keyboard player Billy Preston had joined the proceedings by this date, he was somehow not present for this number.)

The song itself is a simple 12-bar blues except, as George himself has pointed out in interviews, the lyrics are upbeat, running contrary to what a listener should expect of a traditional blues number.  The lineup features Ringo on drums, George on acoustic guitar, Paul on piano and John playing a lap steel guitar and, as can be seen in the film Let It Be, using what appears to be a shotgun shell as a slide.

Anthology 3 allows us to hear an early take of the song from February 25th, possibly the very first (none of the takes at these sessions were properly numbered).  Paul plays an intro on piano (which sounds normal at this juncture) before the others join in.  There are some slight variations in the lyrics and John plays a solo during the instrumental break but Paul does not.

George wanted the piano to have more of a hontytonk sound, and so, at some point, Paul ran strips of paper through the strings to accomplish the desired effect.  In fact, every other version of the song that I have heard has this distinctive piano sound.  George also seems to have been disappointed in his vocal performance for some reason.  Thus, a full year later, on January 8th, 1970, he re-recorded his vocal part as Glyn Johns was assembling his second attempt at a Get Back album.  This new vocal line includes the silly ad libs during the instrumental section of the song.

The first of three versions of the best take comes from that unreleased Get Back album.  Johns uses George's new vocal initially, but opts for the original live one after the instrumental break and completely omits the ad libs.  The Phil Spector version from the Let It Be album sticks with the new vocal line throughout, but oddly buries George's acoustic guitar part for most of the song.  The 2003 Let It Be...Naked version nicely brings everything to the forefront in a fresh mix.

In addition to its appearance on the Let It Be album, For You Blue was chosen by Capitol Records to be the B-side of the single The Long and Winding Road, released a week before the album in the US.  And, of course, we briefly see the group working on the song in the film Let It Be.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

For No One

This brilliant, sad, haunting ballad about the end of a relationship was originally titled Why Did it Die.  It was written by McCartney in March of 1966 while he was in Switzerland on a skiing holiday with his girlfriend Jane Asher.  Like Eleanor Rigby, which also appeared on the album Revolver, it showcases Paul arriving at the height of his powers as a songwriter, even though his subject matter is uncharacteristically downbeat.

Whether or not John and George attended the session on May 9th, there would have been nothing for them to do except watch as Paul on piano and Ringo on his drum kit made ten takes of the basic track before Paul was satisfied.  Onto take ten, Ringo overdubbed some light cymbal work and a tambourine part as Paul added his bass line and played a keyboard called a clavichord, which belonged to producer George Martin and sounds very much like a harpsichord to most of us casual listeners.

Paul returned to the track on May 16th to record his plaintive vocal.  The crowning touch came a few days later on May 19th as French horn player Alan Civil reported to the studio.  Accounts differ as to who came up with the part he played.  Civil claims he came up with it himself after hearing what Paul wanted, but Paul, George Martin and even engineer Geoff Emerick in his book Here, There and Everywhere say that the part was written out for him, with McCartney and Martin jokingly pushing the horn player to hit one note higher than his instrument was supposed to be capable of reaching.  It took several attempts, but Civil delivered an exquisite performance.  For his unique contribution, he received the rare reward of having his name appear on the album cover.

The song appears on both the British and American versions of the LP Revolver.  Though it cannot be deemed a group effort, For No One certainly adds to the eclecticism of this superb album, the Beatles' finest.  After their career, it was chosen for the compilation album Love Songs.  And Paul himself decided to record a new version of the song for his 1984 film Give My Regards to Broad Street.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Fool on the Hill

The song The Fool on the Hill is a pure and simple delight.  The story of The Fool on the Hill, both its recording and the filming of its sequence for Magical Mystery Tour, is a confusing mess.

McCartney had the basic song as far back as March 29th, 1967.  Hunter Davies, the group's official biographer, was present as John and Paul met on that date to write Ringo's song With a Little Help from My Friends for Sgt. Pepper.  At one point, Paul played The Fool on the Hill for John, who merely remarked that Paul should write down the few lyrics he had, to which Paul replied that he would not forget them.

Not long afterwards, on April 11th, Paul was returning from a trip to the USA with the idea for a film called Magical Mystery Tour.  On the pie chart he sketched out on the airplane, he outlined the breakdown of the action with Fool on the Hill followed by a question mark appearing in one of the pie wedges - exactly where it would fit in the finished film, as it happened.  Other than the title tune, it was the only song mentioned by name.

Curious then that it was not among the batch of songs recorded by the group before filming began.  Only a solo demo by Paul was committed to tape on September 6th.  This demo can be heard on Anthology 2, revealing that the lyrics were still in flux.  After two weeks of principal photography, filming was considered to be complete, yet no sequence had been shot to incorporate The Fool on the Hill.

The Beatles then convened to make the first full recording of the song on September 25th, 1967.  Three takes were laid down with Paul on piano and John on acoustic guitar before they had the best.  Take three was bounced down to become take four and overdubbing commenced.  The overdubs included Paul's all-important part on recorder, Ringo on drums and Paul's lead vocal.  According to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, John and George played harmonicas somewhere on the basic track, yet the take four available on Anthology 2 does not have any hint of the harmonica part heard on the released version.  (It does bear noting, however, that the Anthology series featured a fair amount of tampering with the original tapes.)

Confusion reigns over what occurred on the next day, September 26th.  Some parts recorded the preceding day were erased and new overdubs added, according to Lewisohn in his 1988 book, stating that "it was almost a re-make."  According to his liner notes in 1996 for Anthology 2, it was a re-make.  In an excellent blog, Dave Rybaczewski claims that it was not a re-make, etc. etc.  All we know for certain is that by the end of the session the song sounded considerably different from the previous day's attempt, plus Ringo had added maracas and finger cymbals, and Paul had overdubbed a bass line and re-recorded his lead vocal, as well.

On September 27th, Paul double-tracked his vocal in a few places.  Weeks later, on October 20th, the final overdub for the number featured a score for three flutes by producer George Martin to complement Paul's recorder part and the song was finally complete, except for what sounds like a flock of seagulls (another Mellotron tape?) late in the song.  It was wisely edited down from 4'25" to 2'57" in duration at the mixing stage.  And the harmonicas - whenever they were recorded - are very prominent in the finished product, especially in the stereo mix.

The film Magical Mystery Tour was well into the editing stage by this time, but a sequence for The Fool on the Hill had yet to be added.  What happened next is a perfect illustration of the naive manner in which all of the Beatles conducted their business after the death of manager Brian Epstein.  In his book The Love You Make, Apple employee Peter Brown reports that he received a long distance telephone call from Paul on October 30th.  Paul had taken a camera crew to Nice, France and, with no passport and no money, had somehow talked his way through customs in both England and France.  Upon arrival, however, it was discovered that they did not have the proper lenses for the camera and Brown was asked to locate and ship them immediately.  Brown estimates that this one sequence wound up costing 4000 pounds, or 1/10th of the film's total budget.

I must admit that the sequence - showing Paul on a hill or small mountain around sunset - is beautifully shot.  A 2012 reissue of Magical Mystery Tour also contains an alternate sequence for the song, with Paul overlooking Nice, then walking among the locals in a marketplace and spinning about on a busy boardwalk.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Flying

As the Beatles began recording songs for the soundtrack of their film for television Magical Mystery Tour, they knew that they would also need some instrumental music for sections of the program.  In the past, such music had been provided by George Martin (A Hard Day's Night) and Ken Thorne (Help!), but for this particular project the boys had taken it upon themselves to control every aspect of the production.

So, on September 8th, 1967, they met at Abbey Road Studios and laid down the basic track for a tune called Aerial Tour Instrumental.  It would become the first song credited to all four Beatles, though Paul McCartney claims that he wrote the simple theme.  The basic track had Paul, George and Ringo on their usual instruments and John playing chords on an organ.  By take six, they had arrived at the best, so overdubbing began.  George added a mellow countermelody on guitar during the second half of each verse as John played Paul's simple theme on the Mellotron for the second and third verses.  The third verse of this instrumental also incongruously included the voices of all four Beatles singing the melody in unison as a simple "la la la."  According to engineer Geoff Emerick in his book Here, There and Everywhere, it was Paul's idea to have Ringo's voice most prominent in the mix, thus sounding unlike any previous blend of the Beatles' voices.

All of this came in at a little under two minutes, but a jazz saxophone recording found among the Mellotron's many sound effects was added, as well as several minutes of doodling on the Mellotron, some of it recorded backwards.  The group returned to the track on September 28th, adding a bit more Mellotron, guitar and maracas.  John and Ringo then overdubbed a number of tape loops over the swirling Mellotron section of the piece, stretching it out to somewhere between nine and eleven minutes in length.

Once it came to the mono mixing stage, however, the song was cut back to just the three verses and a tiny fraction of the effects section, omitting the saxophone tape entirely and coming in at a modest 2'16".  By the time that the stereo mix was done in November, the song was now known by the title Flying.
It is played early on in the film as the patrons look out the right side of the bus and the countryside changes colors in classic psychedelic fashion.  When the BBC broadcast the film in black and white on Boxing Day of 1967, this sequence was, of course, quite unremarkable to the audience.  Some of the film used, by the way, came from none other than Stanley Kubrick.  Magical Mystery Tour producer Denis O'Dell somehow got the legendary director to give him footage that was shot for either Dr. Strangelove or 2001: A Space Odyssey according to various sources.

The original double-EP of Magical Mystery Tour released in the UK credits the song to Harrison/Lennon/McCartney/Starkey.  My copy of the American LP lists the credit as Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fixing a Hole

This McCartney composition was partly inspired by a farmhouse in Scotland, which Paul had purchased at the suggestion of his long-time girlfriend Jane Asher in 1966.  The farmhouse had not only a leaky roof, but also a dreary wall that Paul, Jane and another friend took the time to decorate with colored pens that Paul bought in the nearby village.  From these unlikely inspirations came a song about states of mind akin to Lennon's Rain.

A little help in the writing of the song came not from Lennon, however, but from the band's assistant Mal Evans.  According to Mal in an interview shortly before his death in 1976, Paul asked him if he would be okay with not getting credit as long as some royalties came his way.  The ever-loyal roadie agreed.

The recording is notable for being the first taped by the Beatles at a studio not owned by their label's parent company EMI.  All three studios at Abbey Road were booked on the evening of February 9th, 1967, so the boys reported to Regent Sound Studios elsewhere in London.  As an employee of EMI, the group's usual engineer Geoff Emerick could not attend this session, but their producer George Martin, now a freelancer, could.  Regent provided the services of one Adrian Ibbetson as engineer for the evening.

Paul led the band through a series of rehearsals, choosing to sing a guide vocal (unusual during the Sgt. Pepper sessions) while playing a harpsichord.  With Paul at the keyboard, John picked up the bass guitar, leaving Ringo on drums and George limited to maracas.  The first proper take had this unusual lineup.  This take was then bounced down onto another four-track machine and called take two.  Another take, called take three, featured the same lineup.  This take is now available on the 50th anniversary edition of the album.  The tempo feels slightly faster than the version we all know, and Paul plays a few different fills on harpsichord as well as singing a number of simple variations in his lead vocal.

They did not return to the song until February 21st at Abbey Road Studios with Geoff Emerick back in the engineer's seat.  They chose to record a new take one, intending to superimpose it onto take three of the Regent tapes.  This idea was abandoned and they went back to Regent's take two (which was actually identical to Regent's take one, remember), with Paul overdubbing his vocal here and there, and supplementing John's bass line a bit as George Martin did the same thing to Paul's harpsichord part.  John and George also supplied some backing vocals, but the most important addition was George's superb lead guitar line.  While it contains some of his best playing on the album, it does have the feel of being rather precisely constructed by Paul.

Though Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band famously took months to record, Fixing a Hole stands out as being one of the simplest and most straightforward pieces on the album.  Yet it fits in seamlessly alongside the much more complex recordings, more for its subject matter than for its not-very-psychedelic instrumentation (the old-fashioned harpsichord is the only "exotic" instrument present on the track).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby

Like Dizzy Miss Lizzy, many critics have dismissed this song as a weak choice to close out an album, yet the Beatles themselves had a great fondness for their cover of this Carl Perkins rockabilly number, and there are quite a few versions of it available from various stages of the group's career.

The Beatles were familiar with the song, but did not add it to their live act until their stints in Hamburg in the early 60's, when the need to fill the countless hours of performing caused them to play anything and everything they knew.  It immediately became a showcase number for George both as a singer and guitarist.  On the brink of stardom during their visit to West Germany in December of 1962, they played the song one last time for those local fans, as you can hear on any of the multiple releases of the Star Club tapes.  They were notoriously loose and goofy on this farewell night.  After playing the song at a frantic pace, Ringo, still somewhat new to the group at this time, pushes them through no less than four false endings!

As their fame increased, their shows became much shorter, and George found himself limited to one vocal spotlight per performance.  His latest album track - such as Do You Want to Know a Secret or Roll Over Beethoven - became his moment at the microphone.  Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby was still played on occasion on BBC Radio programs like Pop Go the Beatles, but that was about it...

...until the evening of October 18th, 1964.  In an effort to finish work on their fourth album, the boys stayed in the studio all day, churning out eight titles, including the A-side of their next single.  They turned to familiar tunes from their old stage act for the final three songs, rapidly recording them in only a few takes.  Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby required just one take, with a bit of double-tracking on George's lead vocal and a tambourine overdub.

Producer George Martin selected this number to close out the album Beatles for Sale.  Perhaps the tempo of this recording, a bit slower than any live performance, accounts for the disdain many have for it.  It does lack the ferocity of previous album-closers like Twist and Shout or Money (That's What I Want), plus it has a ridiculous amount of echo, making the track sound as if it is being played in an empty, cavernous hall, but Capitol Records in the US agreed with Martin's assessment of the song, placing it at the end of the album Beatles '65.  The American label even included it on the rare EP 4 by the Beatles.

The song soon returned to the group's live act, first surfacing on a November 17th recording for the BBC Radio program Top Gear.  This same recording was reused a week later at a November 25th session for another BBC Radio offering, Saturday Club.  This performance, which is very close to the album version recorded a month earlier, can be heard on the 1994 release Live at the BBC.

It remained George's spotlight number for the 38 performances of Another Beatles Christmas Show from December 24th to January 16th in London, as well as the European and American tours of 1965. The two shows on June 20th, 1965 in Paris were recorded and broadcast, thus providing material for bootleggers.  The band's pace is brisk and George is in fine form both vocally and instrumentally on one such bootleg tape in my possession.

For me, the most remarkable performance of the song is from the historic Shea Stadium concert on August 15th, 1965.  The sonic wash of screaming fans permeates the recording as the Beatles play on, sounding heavier than they ever had up to this point in their career.  The 1996 release Anthology 2 allowed us to hear this for the first time, perfectly capturing the awesome essence of Beatlemania at its peak.

And we have yet another version of the song on this year's Live at the Hollywood Bowl release, which now includes this song from the group's August 30th, 1965 appearance at that venue.  By the time of the December '65 British tour, however, the song was finally retired from the set list and replaced by George's Rubber Soul composition If I Needed Someone.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

On June 26th, 1968, this became one of the first songs to be worked on for the sprawling double album The Beatles.  It was also the first written in reference to Lennon's blossoming romance with Yoko Ono, who was now a permanent fixture by John's side, even in the studio.  While the group had certainly had a number of visitors attend sessions over the years, this was unprecedented, resulting in a considerable amount of discomfort and tension that would not dissipate during the remainder of the band's career.

Whenever the tapes started rolling, however, that tension was set aside as the four individuals who comprised the world's most famous band came together and functioned superbly as a unit, as they always had.  On that first night, they had the luxury of simply rehearsing the number innumerable times, tightening the arrangement over the course of several hours.  They returned the following evening and began a series of proper takes, with John and George on electric guitars, Ringo on drums and Paul alternating between a fireman's bell and a chocahlo.  The previous night's rehearsal paid off, as they required only six takes before arriving at the best basic track.

In his book The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn reports that the song was 3'07" in duration at this point.  Perhaps the most extreme case of the Beatles speeding up a track then occurred as a reduction mix made the track come in at 2'29".  And an additional 5 seconds would eventually be lopped off by a later reduction mix!  This accounts for the furious pace of the finished product as it appears on the album.

July 1st saw Paul overdub his bass line and John record his lead vocal for the first time.  He decided to re-record his vocal on July 23rd.  He and Paul then overdubbed layers of backing vocals, especially near the end of the song with the multiple calling out of the simple phrase "come on."

This raucous number is little-known and often overlooked (how on earth was it not included on the Rock and Roll Music compilation?), yet it stands as one of the hardest-rocking tracks the group ever recorded.  And it remains a testament to a claim that Ringo has made many times over the years - though the "White Album" sessions were often contentious, the Beatles did get back to being a band on quite a few occasions during that tumultuous period.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Every Little Thing

The album Beatles for Sale was not the rush job that many would have us believe.  A few songs were recorded in August of 1964 and, when the group returned to the studio on September 29th, there was no sense of urgency yet.  They spent a good portion of that day working on two songs, Every Little Thing being one of them, that would be leisurely (by 1964 standards) reworked and completed in later sessions.

The band laid down four takes of the basic track on the afternoon of the 29th.  While Paul and Ringo played their usual instruments, John and George switched roles, with George on acoustic rhythm guitar and John on electric lead guitar.  And, though the composition is primarily Paul's, John and Paul share the lead vocal with John's voice actually more prominent in the mix.  At this stage, John reportedly played many more guitar phrases throughout the song than on the final version, and Paul attempted some different vocal harmonies, as well.

They returned to the song for the entire afternoon session on the 30th, recording five more takes before they were satisfied.  John refrained from playing his guitar on these takes as he had done the day before, instead overdubbing it onto take nine.  Overdubbing also included Paul adding a secondary bass part, as well as some occasional low notes on piano and, most intriguingly, Ringo pounding out a few dramatic accents on timpani during each chorus.

I consider this tune to be one of the group's hidden gems.  While it is buried on the middle of side two on Beatles for Sale, it stands out a bit more as the final track on the American compilation album Beatles VI.  Though the lyrics are simplistic for this stage of McCartney's development as a songwriter, the melody is catchy, the performance by the band is crisp and the fadeout alone is sheer delight.

They never played the song live, but George referenced it during the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 when talking about oldies ("but goldies," someone mutters) that the group should consider for the grand upcoming concert that was to conclude that project.  "I'll tell you which is a good one," he said.  He then played John's opening guitar passage before he and Paul sang a snippet of the song.  This brief exchange can be heard on the bonus Fly on the Wall disc from the 2003 release Let It Be...Naked.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The End

This one song managed to not only tie up the long medley on side two of the album Abbey Road, it also neatly tied up the group's career in little more than two minutes.  Whether composer McCartney and the other Beatles actually had that in mind at the time is doubtful, but there is no question that the song serves perfectly in that capacity.

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight had already been recorded and had deliberately been left open-ended.  Now, on July 23rd, 1969, John counted the band in to provide the link to those previous tunes and bring the medley to a satisfying conclusion.  Seven takes were required before they got the basic track just right, especially Ringo's brief drum solo.  The drummer hated such solo displays, which were becoming all the rage at the time, so the others eased his mind by continuing to play bits on guitar and tambourine which would later be eliminated from the master.  These were not erased, however, and Anthology 3 allows us to hear how it all sounded in the studio on that day.

They did not return to the track until August 5th, with vocals being added for the first time.  Two days later, on August 7th, Paul, George and John strapped on their guitars and recorded the famous guitar duel in one incredible take according to engineer Geoff Emerick in his book Here, There and Everywhere.  Emerick even claims that during this final moment of brotherhood, Yoko was not even by John's side, as was usually the case.
Once everybody got used to Yoko's bed in the studio, it was apparently not off-limits to Linda, Mal and others.
Overdubs of bass and more drums were recorded on August 8th.  A 30-piece orchestra was then assembled on August 15th for overdubs onto the last three songs of the medley.  Producer George Martin, always up to the task, scored a majestic swelling crescendo for The End.  One last touch was added on the 18th when Paul played a short burst on piano to connect the guitar duel section to the rhyming couplet.

Ah, that couplet...  While Martin had encouraged McCartney to "think symphonically" when constructing the medley, at the time that he was composing this particular number, Paul was also in a Shakespearean frame of mind.  And, though his couplet is not strictly Shakespearean (each line has only eight syllables instead of the ten of iambic pentameter), Paul manages to sum up all that has come before just as the Bard did at the end of his plays.

Though several tracks for the album had to be completed over the next few days, The End was the last united effort by all four Beatles.  It contains all of the elements they had displayed over the years - they start out by playing together with their unique feel for one another, they each get to shine instrumentally for a moment, they then seamlessly incorporate their producer's complementary orchestration, and John, Paul and George give us one last taste of their innate ability to blend their voices in that distinctively beautiful three-part harmony.  Few artists in any medium have ever given the world a more fitting farewell.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eleanor Rigby

The headstone pictured above is in the graveyard at St. Peter's, Woolton, very close to the spot where Paul first saw John and his band the Quarry Men at the Woolton Fete in 1957.  Yet McCartney claims that he got the name from two other sources - Eleanor Bron, the band's co-star in the film Help! and a shop he saw in Bristol called Rigby & Evens Ltd.

The greater debate, however, concerns who contributed to the song and how large those contributions were.  Lennon claims that Paul only had the first verse and that he (John) wrote the rest.  Most others agree that in the course of a brainstorming session at John's house one evening Ringo came up with the "darning his socks" line and that John's old Liverpool school chum Pete Shotten suggested having Eleanor and Father MacKenzie's stories intertwine in the final verse, an idea which John immediately dismissed but which Paul eventually embraced.

Once again, all arguments aside, the results are what matter, and Eleanor Rigby stands out as one of the finest accomplishments in the entire Beatles catalog.  The storytelling device would be used often by McCartney as the years went by, but he rarely wove a tale so bleak as this striking commentary on loneliness and alienation.

Paul met with producer George Martin early on during the sessions for the album Revolver to play the composition for him and to discuss how he wanted it to be arranged.  Martin's score was prepared by April 28th, 1966 as they met at Abbey Road Studios with the eight musicians who would perform the arrangement.  These musicians were horrified as engineer Geoff Emerick placed the microphones much closer to the strings of their instruments than was normal in order to capture their sound as never before.

On the following day, Paul taped his lead vocal and John and George their brief backing vocals.  The track was then considered to be complete until Paul decided to add a second vocal line of himself singing "Ah, look at all the lonely people" during the final chorus.  This addition was recorded on June 6th.

The song was not intended to be a single, but manager Brian Epstein wanted a single to accompany the release of the album Revolver, so the number was chosen along with Yellow Submarine to appear simultaneously in both formats.  The double-A sided single went to number one in the UK, but this song only reached number eleven in the US while the flip side climbed to the number two spot.

The two songs were forever linked together when the animated film Yellow Submarine used Eleanor Rigby to great effect in a sequence depicting life in an English seaport city.  While the song did not appear on the original Yellow Submarine album in 1969, it was remixed and remastered for the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack.  Between those two releases, Anthology 2 in 1996 treated us to a strings-only version, allowing us to truly appreciate the brilliance of George Martin's score as well as Geoff Emerick's engineering genius.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Eight Days A Week

Where did McCartney first hear the phrase?  From a chauffeur driving him over to John's house for a writing session?  Was it another Ringo-ism?  According to at least one source, the phrase appears in the American film For Those Who Think Young released in June of 1964.  Regardless of where he got them, the words "eight days a week" inspired Paul to come up with the best pure pop number on the album Beatles For Sale.

Paul wasn't aiming for an album track, though; he was thinking of the song as the group's next single.  The sessions for the album-in-progress had yielded two strong contenders from Lennon so far - No Reply and I'm A Loser - but these weren't really the stuff of singles from the Beatles in the latter half of '64, especially on the heels of the buoyant songs from A Hard Day's Night earlier in the year.  Eight Days A Week would fit the bill perfectly.

But first, there was the little matter of writing and recording the song.  The session on October 6th, 1964 was entirely devoted to the number, in part because Paul and John did not have the arrangement completely worked out in advance, particularly the introduction.  Anthology 1 gives us a few variations of the intro including cascading "ooh"s by Paul and John, and a long, single "ooh" before we hear the full take five.  This, too, has variations such as the way they sing the title line and some aggressive drum fills by Ringo.

Take six began with the instrumental introduction we all know (though played at full volume, of course) and had the boys settling on the way they wanted to sing the title line.  After a brief break, multiple takes of overdubs began, the most notable being the handclaps and John's double-tracked vocal line, which is curious since the composition is primarily by McCartney.

They were still uncertain about the introduction as well as the ending of the song, which at this point was quite abrupt.  At the start of a session on October 18th, Paul, John and George tried another take of "ooh"s as a new intro, but it was deemed insufficient.  In his book Here, There and Everywhere, Geoff Emerick credits his predecessor as engineer Norman Smith coming up with the idea of simply fading up the intro as it presently stood.  The band then approximated that introduction for a more rousing conclusion to the song.  Later in this same session, a new Lennon song called I Feel Fine was recorded and chosen to be the next single, so Eight Days A Week suddenly wound up as an album track.

Capitol Records knew a single when it heard one, however, so the American label kept the song off of the album Beatles '65 (the US equivalent to Beatles For Sale) and held onto it for a few months, releasing it in February of '65 where it promptly became a number one hit.

Lennon was always dismissive of the song, despite his part in helping McCartney write it and the fact that his voice is the dominant one in the final mix.  His opinion probably kept the number from making it into the group's live act.  The one and only time that they promoted the song was on an appearance on the TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars taped on March 28th, 1965.  They merely mimed their performance to the record and, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post, didn't even bother to plug in their guitars.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Drive My Car

In his 1988 book Tell Me Why, Tim Riley writes: "Drive My Car has the smooth bravado of a Jack Nicholson performance, grinning on the surface with wheels spinning like mad underneath."  I have used the first half of this quote before in my 2011 look at side one of Rubber Soul.  I repeat it here because it remains for me one of the most accurate and concise descriptions of any song in the entire Beatles catalog.

The smoothness of this track is due in great part to the slick line played in tandem by George on guitar and Paul on bass.  George had been listening to Donald "Duck" Dunn's bass line on the Otis Redding version of Respect and suggested a slight variation on it for Paul's consideration.  The two of them worked it out and, with Ringo on drums, attempted four takes - only the final one was complete.

Overdubs then began with John and Paul sharing the lead vocal and Ringo on tambourine and cowbell.  Paul also added a subtly dragging piano part on each chorus and played slide guitar for the solo.  The final touch had John, Paul and George providing the "beep beep"s.  All of this was accomplished on October 13th, 1965, which was only the second day of sessions for the new album.

McCartney had begun writing the tune when he arrived at Lennon's house some days before the band was scheduled to begin recordings.  He had some basic lyrics along the lines of "I can give you diamond rings," which Lennon rejected.  Once they replaced that with the line "baby, you can drive my car," they had the breakthrough they needed to tell a witty tale of unrequited love and the longing for fame and fortune.

The song was chosen to open the UK version of Rubber Soul, but Capitol Records kept it off of the American version.  Six months later, it finally did open an album in the US - the compilation "Yesterday"...and Today. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Don't Pass Me By

The first solo composition credited to Richard Starkey has a surprisingly long history.  Ringo had at least the basis for Don't Pass Me By when he joined the Beatles, and he reportedly played it for his new bandmates soon thereafter.  When asked if he was interested in songwriting during a radio interview in New Zealand on the group's first world tour in 1964, Ringo had John and Paul sing the chorus.  Yet they never seriously considered recording it until sessions began for the double album The Beatles in 1968.

In his book Here, There and Everywhere, engineer Geoff Emerick recalls that he and producer George Martin were taken aback on June 5th when work began on the number.  Ringo's songs were typically last-minute efforts as an album neared completion, but this was just a few days into the new sessions with only Lennon's Revolution 1 in progress at the time.  The only other member of the band to appear on the recording is Paul, who played a piano miked through an amplifier and a Leslie speaker thus making it sound like an organ.

Ringo and Paul made a mere three attempts at the basic track before the composer was satisfied, even though each of them lost count of the measures and made mistakes every time.  Ringo overdubbed a sleigh bell and Paul a second piano part before Ringo sang his lead vocal.  Unhappy with the attempt, it was erased and Paul added two bass lines instead.  The following day, these bass parts were wiped and Ringo sang and double-tracked a new lead vocal.  Paul then overdubbed a new bass line to complete the day's work.

They did not return to the track until July 12th, at which time a session musician was brought in to provide the distinctive country and western touch that the song required.  The arrival of fiddler Jack Fallon was quite a surprise; the Beatles recognized him as an agent who had booked them for one of their earliest appearances in the south of England on March 31st, 1962.  The irony, of course, is that Pete Best was still the group's drummer on that occasion, yet Fallon was now present to work on Ringo's song.  After his contribution was recorded, Paul overdubbed more bass and Ringo even played a little piano.

The final addition to the track occurred ten days later, on July 22nd, when Paul played an introductory piece for the number.  Once again, the piano was miked as on June 5th so that it would match up with the sound on the rest of the track.  Only eight seconds of his playing were chosen to be tacked onto the front of the song.*

Don't Pass Me By can be heard in several various ways.  The "White Album" was the last to be given a full mono mix, and it is significantly different from the stereo.  The mono is slightly faster, thus making Ringo's voice sound rather high, and Jack Fallon's fiddling at the end of the track is entirely different from what is heard on the stereo mix.  As the mono album was not released in the US in 1968, this version was included on the American album Rarities in 1980.  And the basic track from June 5th is available on Anthology 3 with Ringo's vocal from June 6th (featuring a spoken section edited out of the master), though the song fades out early just before the break in the full recording.

* Also on July 22nd, an orchestra recorded George Martin's arrangement for Ringo's other vocal spotlight on the album, the Lennon composition Good Night.  Furthermore, they supposedly recorded an alternate introduction for Don't Pass Me By scored by Martin, though this is clearly heard in the film Yellow Submarine just before the Eleanor Rigby sequence.  Given the title A Beginning, this piece is used to open the compilation Anthology 3.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Don't Let Me Down

Lennon's first great song of love for Yoko Ono was also easily his best new composition for the Get Back/Let It Be project.  It was rehearsed by the band in the beginning of January 1969 at the Twickenham Film Studios sessions.  The Fly on the Wall disc from the 2003 release Let It Be - Naked reveals that the chords of Lennon's Abbey Road song Sun King and the chorus of Don't Let Me Down are one and the same.  Another snippet on the disc lets us hear John and Paul structuring the song during these early sessions.

After a hiatus due to George's temporary walkout, the group reconvened on January 22nd at their new studio in the basement of Apple headquarters on Savile Row, where George recruited old friend Billy Preston to join in the proceedings.  No further proof of Preston's consummate skill is needed than to listen to the take of Don't Let Me Down that Glyn Johns selected for the unreleased Get Back LP.  This take is from Billy's first day sitting in with the Beatles and his part is already mostly in place.  The only exception is his brief solo after John's call of, "Hit it, Bill," that allows the keyboard player to ad lib his way through to the end of the number.

The take that became the B-side of the single Get Back was recorded on January 28th.  On every other version of the song that I have ever heard, George joins in the chorus, but he either did not sing on this occasion or his voice was somehow lost in the mix.

Phil Spector's decision to omit the song from the 1970 album Let It Be was remedied in 2003 on Let It Be - Naked, which presents an edit of the two rooftop performances of the number from January 30th, 1969.  The tempo here is a little quicker than on the familiar B-side and, though John continues his usual practice of changing lyrics as he goes, the playing by those around him is rock solid.  The film Let It Be includes the first of these two performances, with a group of men on the adjoining rooftop (and one fellow in a blue sweater in particular) making constant comments on the proceedings.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Don't Bother Me

The Beatles had already recorded two songs featuring George Harrison as lead vocalist for their second album With the Beatles when the young guitarist offered his first solo composition to the group.  Harrison had previously received co-credit with McCartney for the 1958 recording In Spite of All the Danger by the Quarry Men and shared billing with Lennon for the instrumental Cry for a Shadow, recorded in Hamburg.  Lennon and McCartney were now at their early peak as a songwriting team so it must have been quite daunting for the junior member of the band to step forward at this moment.

He reportedly wrote the song while sick in bed during the group's week-long engagement at Bournemouth in August of 1963.  Bill Harry of Liverpool's Mersey Beat paper had been urging George to try his hand at songwriting and so, worn down by Harry's insistence and with time on his hands, he came up with Don't Bother Me.  Now, he simply had to convince producer George Martin, manager Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James to allow him to record his maiden composition with the greatest act in British show business history.

September 11th was the next recording date scheduled for the album-in-the-works.  The band recorded four Lennon-McCartney songs before turning its collective attention to Harrison's number late in the evening session.  According to Dave Rybaczewski's in-depth look at the song, John took up some time trying to play his rhythm guitar through a new toy called a fuzz box before Martin nixed the idea.  This immediately established the lack of focus that John would display toward George's compositions throughout the coming years.  Four takes of the backing track and three of overdubs yielded unsatisfactory results for the time being.

They returned to the number at the start of the evening session on the following day, September 12th.  Beginning with the round number of take ten, they tried a few different arrangements before hitting the right one on take thirteen (you can even hear George say "Too fast" during the intro on the record, but he obviously changed his mind upon hearing it).  Several takes of overdubs brought the total to take nineteen, but the best overdubs were from take fifteen.  These included George double-tracking his lead vocal, Paul on claves, John on tambourine and Ringo on a loose-skinned Arabian bongo (as detailed in Tony Barrow's liner notes for the album).

Young Mister Harrison had learned his new craft well enough to land his number on side one of With the Beatles among those of the hottest songwriting team working at the time.  A few months later, Capitol Records placed it prominently at the top of side two on the breakthrough American album Meet the Beatles.  Though the group never played it live, Don't Bother Me was chosen to be one of three songs used in the discotheque sequence in the film A Hard Day's Night.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Doctor Robert

It has often been stated by music critics that the Beatles did not pad their albums with filler material (the one notable exception being the "White Album," which does have its share), but even the masterpiece Revolver has one less-than-stellar composition by John Lennon.  This is not to say that Doctor Robert is an awful song, but it is clearly not on a par with the other songs on this magnificent album.

It is notable for being one of the first compositions by the group to reference drugs, though most young fans hopefully missed this at the time.  Both Lennon and McCartney admitted that the song was an inside joke about an infamous New York doctor who gave vitamin shots laced with speed to celebrities, though the Beatles implied that he was British with the lyric "My friend works for the National Health."

The recording was made early on during the sessions for Revolver.  On April 17th, 1966, the band laid down several attempts at the backing track with the final one, take seven, hitting just the right groove.  This utilized the usual line-up of drums, bass and two electric guitars.  Overdubs included multiple extra guitar lines from George, maracas (also played by George), piano from Paul (though this was either buried or omitted from the final mix) and a harmonium part played by John for the mock-solemn bridge.

Two days later, on April 19th, they concentrated solely on the vocals.  John's lead was recorded with ADT (Artificial Double Tracking).  Paul provided a strong harmony vocal from the second verse on, and George joined the others for the bridge, completing the job.  All in all, it was a relatively simple recording compared with most others from these sessions.

This song was soon sent along with two other Lennon compositions to Capitol Records for inclusion on the compilation album "Yesterday"...and Today, released in June.  Whether those in charge planned it or not, the recording's fadeout/full stop served to nicely set up Paul's famous ballad Yesterday.  On the UK album Revolver, released in August, producer George Martin deliberately chose to have this faded ending lead into the fade up of Harrison's I Want to Tell You.

Like most of the band's recordings from 1966 on, they never performed the song live. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Do You Want to Know a Secret

George Harrison taped his first official lead vocal during the afternoon of February 11th, 1963 as part of the group's incredible all-day session recording the bulk of the album Please Please Me.  He was understandably nervous and his voice was shaky even on the keeper, take six, but his bashful charm helped him carry the song that John Lennon had written for him.  Overdubs of John and Paul's backing vocals and Ringo tapping sticks throughout the bridge completed the simple recording.

Lennon had been inspired by the memory of his mother Julia singing the song Wishing Well from Disney's first full-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  This may seem to be an unlikely source for a brash young rock-and-roller, yet it only serves to demonstrate that Lennon and McCartney had a broad musical knowledge even at the start of their songwriting partnership.

It was not an automatic choice for George or the Beatles, however.  Lennon famously recorded a demo of the song in late '62 for fellow artist Billy J. Kramer in a Hamburg bathroom stall and pulled the chain on the toilet once he had finished.  Kramer did wind up recording the song with his backing group the Dakotas a month or so after the Beatles, and his version went to the top of the charts in the UK (number one on some charts and number two on others).

After the Beatles recorded the song, they included it as George's vocal spotlight in their stage act for the next few months of 1963.  He also performed it on multiple TV and radio appearances made by the group during this period.  By the summer, they felt the song had run its course and replaced it with George's faithful cover version of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven.

The American label Vee-Jay Records initially released Do You Want to Know a Secret on the album Introducing...the Beatles.  Once Beatlemania reached the US, the label chose the song as the A-side of a single in March of 1964.  American fans bought this single in such quantities that it went all the way to number two on the Billboard chart, an impressive feat for young Mr. Harrison.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

The second Larry Williams number recorded by the Beatles for Capitol Records on May 10th, 1965 was this screaming rocker.  The boys laid down two satisfactory takes of Dizzy Miss Lizzy before turning their attention to Bad Boy, but they did such a scorching version of the latter song that producer George Martin thought they could do better on the former and so, much to John Lennon's chagrin, they returned to it for several more takes.  The final one, take seven, proved to be the keeper.  Overdubs of John on Hammond organ, Ringo on cowbell and a second lead guitar line by George completed the recording.

Both songs appeared in June on the American album Beatles VI.  While never intended for a British release, Dizzy Miss Lizzy was surprisingly chosen to close the UK album Help!

Though the group had not played the song in years, they displayed a new-found love for it, recording  it on May 26th, only a few weeks after the studio version, for their final BBC program The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride.  This performance is available on the 1994 collection The Beatles Live at the BBC.

They then revived it for their historic Shea Stadium concert on August 15th (pictured above) and kept it in the set list for the remainder of the 1965 American tour.  The 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl presents a version created by editing together two separate performances from August 29th and 30th of 1965.

The band may have had a great fondness for the song, but this enthusiasm is not shared by many fans.  The repetitive guitar riff played by George can be unfavorably compared with fingernails on a chalkboard after a while.  He does manage to find a bit more variation in the live performances than he did on the studio recording.  In fact, by the time of the Shea Stadium show, he has already figured out that it is not necessary to play the riff incessantly throughout every verse.

Lennon had such an affinity for the song that he once again revived it for his appearance in Toronto with the Plastic Ono Band in 1969.  Though John can only remember about half of the lyrics, Eric Clapton redeems the number by making the guitar riff more palatable than George ever did.      

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dig It

The Beatles were masters of producing well-crafted, highly-polished recordings.  Even in their most experimental works, an overarching structure was usually evident.  When it came to loose jamming, however, their results were often lacking, especially when compared to the inventive instrumental byplay exhibited by many of their freewheeling contemporaries.

This is not to say that they did not let off steam by jamming on occasion.  I have a bootleg of them going on at length after a take of She's A Woman in 1964.  12 Bar Original was a failed attempt at an instrumental album track from the Rubber Soul sessions.  Following the months of concentrated work on Sgt. Pepper, they sometimes wasted entire evenings in the studio during the spring of 1967 playing long unstructured jams, much to the dismay of producer George Martin and other Abbey Road staff members.

During the Get Back sessions, the band and their guest Billy Preston frequently lapsed into idly playing many of their favorite oldies.  But on January 24th, 1969, they did something completely uncharacteristic and launched into an attempt at an extended jam called Dig It led by John.  This version featured a slide guitar, although it would be completely forgettable if not for John's comment, "That was Can You Dig It by Georgie Wood.  And now we'd like to do 'ark the Angels Come," at the end.

Two days later, they had another go at it with John and George on their guitars, Ringo on drums, Paul on piano and Billy on electric piano.  Linda Eastman's 6-year-old daughter Heather joins in vocally early on and George Martin handles a percussive shaker.  Otherwise, the group rambles on tediously for twelve and a half minutes playing the same old riff with John ad libbing and Paul adding a half-hearted, out of tune complementary vocal.  On film, George and Billy, sitting side by side, do seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

When assembling both Get Back albums, producer/engineer Glyn Johns used the final four minutes of the second version, then tacked on Lennon's comment from version one.  This preceded Let It Be on his proposed May '69 line-up and The Long and Winding Road on his revised January '70 line-up.  For the Let It Be album, producer Phil Spector wisely trimmed down this section to less than a minute, using what is truly the only clever wordplay from the entire number.  He then used Lennon's comment to segue directly into Let It Be.

In 2003, the Let It Be...Naked album stuck the final half minute of version one, which includes John's now-famous comment at the end, onto the bonus disc Fly on the Wall.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dig a Pony

An assistant kneels before John with the lyrics to Dig a Pony
When the Beatles reported to Twickenham Film Studios on January 2nd, 1969 to begin rehearsals for the Get Back project, Dig a Pony was one of the first songs that they worked on.  On the one hand, it was pretty much standard procedure for the group to concentrate on a Lennon composition at the outset of sessions for a new album.  On the other hand, this was surprising given that Lennon brought very little new material to this entire endeavor.

Once the sessions moved to Savile Row on January 22nd, the song was well-rehearsed as you can hear on Anthology 3.  By this time George's guitar solo is prearranged, something that had also been standard procedure from early on in the group's recording career.  Either John flubs some lyrics near the end or he had not quite finished writing the final verse yet, but otherwise the arrangement is set.

Much the same can be said for the runthrough on the 24th, which Glyn Johns used for his Get Back albums.  The erstwhile producer tacked on Lennon's "We'll do Dig a Pony straight into I've Got a Fever" remark from the 22nd onto the beginning of this track.  And John fumbles the lyrics at the same point as he did on the 22nd.  It should also be noted that the "All I want is..." phrase at the top and bottom of the song is in place on both of these versions.

The ultimate performance of the song was, of course, from the famous rooftop concert on January 30th.  The boys only did the number once in the middle of their set, but they were clearly warmed up and fully enjoying the moment by the time they attacked it.  John made sure that an assistant held the lyrics up for him to see as he played and sang what is easily the best version of the song.  Phil Spector wisely chose it for the Let It Be album.  He lopped off the "All I want is..." bits, but he did keep in the false start and a little of the chatter at the end.

When the Let It Be...Naked album was assembled in 2003, the rooftop performance was once again chosen.  The ambient chatter before and after is gone and, strangely, Spector's omission of the "All I want is..." phrases is used.

I have to admit that this has always been one of my least favorite Beatles tracks.  Though I can now appreciate that the arrangement is quite tight, it always struck me as being rather sloppy.  And the wordplay feels lacking somehow when compared to other Lennon compositions such as I Am the Walrus, Glass Onion or even Cry Baby Cry.  Had the group not been committed to doing a live album with no overdubs, it would have been interesting to hear how this song might have been more fully developed in the studio.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Devil in Her Heart

In this one instance, it can truly be argued that had the Beatles not recorded Devil in Her Heart there is a good chance that the song would be lost in obscurity.  And I daresay that this track is probably unfamiliar to most casual fans of the Beatles, as well.

Devil in His Heart was the B-side of the one and only single released by a girl group out of Michigan called the Donays, who soon thereafter broke up.  It appeared on a small Detroit label, was picked up by a New York label and even made it onto the Oriole Records label in the UK, though it never made the charts anywhere.  The NEMS record store in Liverpool, however, which was owned by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, stocked at least one copy of everything that was released, so the single was sitting in the bins and just happened to catch the attention of the band, who were constantly on the lookout for new material.

The boys' affinity for girl group numbers had led them to a great vehicle for George.  By October of 1962, the Beatles were working the song into their live act, but when it came time to record their first album in February of '63, their more recent discovery Chains resulted in this song being overlooked.

The number came back to mind, however, on July 16th, 1963 when the band recorded an astonishing eighteen titles for editions eight, nine and ten of their BBC radio program Pop Go the Beatles.  They were constantly mining the riches of their pre-fame stage repertoire for these shows, playing songs that had influenced them alongside their own current hits.  The recording made on this date of Devil in Her Heart, which is available on the EP Baby It's You, seems to indicate that they had not performed the song for some time, as they mess up the lyrics more than once.

Only two days later, they were scheduled to begin work on their second album and, with this song now fresh in their minds, they decided to commit it to tape.  A mere three takes were all that were required to achieve the basic track, with everyone playing their usual instruments and George, John and Paul singing live.  George then overdubbed a few guitar bits and double-tracked his lead vocal during the verses, and Ringo added maracas.

Performances of the song continued to be rare, though, with Chains, Roll Over Beethoven and even Do You Want to Know a Secret more often serving as George's vocal spotlight.  The group did return to the number one more time for the BBC on September 3rd, 1963 - a date when they went themselves one better and recorded nineteen titles for editions thirteen, fourteen and fifteen of Pop Go the Beatles.  This performance is available on the collection On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dear Prudence

Prudence Farrow, Ringo and Maureen Starkey
Like The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, the song Dear Prudence was written by John Lennon about an incident that occurred during the group's stay in Rishikesh, India.  Prudence Farrow, the younger sister of actress Mia, had spent days locked away in her bungalow meditating until John and George had persuaded her to come out.  Also at this time, John was learning the finger-picking guitar technique of Donovan Leitch from the singer-songwriter himself and his friend Gypsy Dave.  These elements combined to help Lennon write one of the most beautiful compositions of his career, either as a member of the Beatles or as a solo artist.

Sadly, Ringo did not play on the track, as it was recorded during the two week period when he quit the Beatles in the midst of the sessions for the "White Album."  John, Paul and George had already completed McCartney's song Back in the USSR in the drummer's absence and, on August 28th, 1968, the trio reported to Trident Studios to take advantage of its eight-track capabilities and begin work on Lennon's composition.

This thirteen hour session resulted in only one take but, as Mark Lewisohn points out in his book The Beatles: Recording Sessions, this is deceptive, as it must have taken numerous attempts to arrive at this one take.  John perfected his finger-picking guitar line, George provided a lead guitar part and Paul played the drums.  John and George overdubbed at least one more layer of guitars onto the one take.

The work continued at Trident on the 29th with John singing and double-tracking his lead vocal and Paul adding his bass line.  The backing vocals featured the unusual line-up of John, Paul, George, their assistant Mal Evans, Paul's cousin John and Apple artist Jackie Lomax.  Handclaps and a tambourine completed the day's work.  Paul provided two more overdubs on the 30th - a piano part and, reportedly, a flugelhorn, which I am still unable to pick out in the final mix.

Starting with John's gorgeous opening guitar picking, each component of this recording drives the song forward as it is brought in, helping it to build in intensity until it reaches its peak then quickly reverts back to the opening guitar phrase as it fades away.  Paul's drumming is an essential part of this, especially in the climactic fourth verse where he demonstrates a touch of the great feel that Ringo was always justifiably famous for.