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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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Day Tripper

Just days after starting sessions for the album Rubber Soul, the pressure was already on Lennon and McCartney to come up with a new single.  With only a few compositions in hand, they turned to a song that John had begun, finished it off at his house and brought it into the studio on October 16th, 1965.  It took hours for the Beatles to work out the somewhat tricky arrangement before recording commenced.

Once the tapes were rolling, however, the boys needed a mere three takes before they had the basic track.  (And take three was the only complete take - takes one and two had both broken down.)  George plays the signature guitar riff which continues throughout the song, with John, Paul and Ringo playing the usual instrumentation of rhythm guitar, bass and drums.  John and Paul then added their joint lead vocals and double-tracked those vocals with George occasionally joining in.  In addition, George overdubbed another guitar part, including a solo, and John played tambourine.

On November 1st or 2nd, the group mimed a performance of the number, complete with go-go dancers during the intro, for the television special The Music of Lennon and McCartney.  On November 23rd, they went a step further, filming multiple mimed performances of several of their hit songs to be sent to television programs worldwide in lieu of live appearances.  Among these were two standard versions of Day Tripper with the group in their usual formation, plus a rather silly one in which they stand behind cardboard cut-outs of a train and a plane.  Ringo even takes out a saw and cuts away parts of the train in the middle of the song.

Day Tripper did make it into the band's live act for their final tour of Britain in December.  They returned to the number on May 1st, 1966 for their last appearance at the New Musical Express Annual Poll-Winners' All-Star Concert in Wembley.  And it remained in their stage act for their final world and North American tours, including their swan song at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cry Baby Cry

In his authorized biography of the Beatles, Hunter Davies describes a conversation with John Lennon about songwriting in which John revealed that he had an idea for a song based on an ad jingle that went "cry baby cry, make your mother buy."  This conversation took place some time before the group's trip to India in early 1968.  Donovan Leitch recalls that John returned to the song while in Rishikesh, working on the Lewis Carroll-like verses.  It was definitely finished by May and was, in fact, the very first demo recorded at George's house before the Beatles began sessions for the "White Album."

With so many songs having been written in India, a month and a half went by before the band returned to this composition to make a proper recording.  During an afternoon session on July 15th, they put some finishing touches on both Revolution and Ob-la-di Ob-la-da.  After a break, the lads reconvened at 9pm to rehearse Cry Baby Cry.  They spent six hours and as many as thirty takes getting the arrangement that John wanted, then broke for the day.  Unbelievably, these rehearsal tapes were re-used over the following days, wiping out some potentially fascinating glimpses into the process.

The rehearsals did pay off, however, as the official take one, recorded the next day and available on Anthology 3, demonstrates.  John sings a guide vocal and plays acoustic guitar, and Paul and Ringo play bass and drums as usual.  There is a brief instrumental introduction that would be eliminated by the master take, but many of the subtle touches that enhance the menacing mood of the piece are already in place.  By take ten, the master, George was adding some occasional notes from an organ to the mix.  Overdubs of producer George Martin on harmonium and John on piano were also added on this evening.

Overdubbing continued on July 18th, including a new lead vocal by John, backing vocals by Paul, a bit of lead guitar from George, tambourine from Ringo and more harmonium by George Martin.  The group also recorded some tea party sound effects heard during the third verse.  By this point, the song was considered complete, yet on September 17th, with eight-track recording now available at Abbey Road Studios, an eight-track copy of the master was made in preparation for more possible overdubs.  None were ever made.

During the twenty-four hour session on October 16th and 17th when John, Paul and George Martin determined the running order of the album, they made the inspired decision to tack an uncredited snippet from McCartney (generally known as "Can You Take Me Back") onto the abrupt end of Cry Baby Cry.  This piece perfectly matches the haunting mood of Lennon's song and creates a clever segue into the sound collage Revolution 9.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Richard Cooke III, his mother Nancy and the tiger
The time that the Beatles spent in Rishikesh, India in early 1968 was a particularly fertile one for the songwriting skills of John, Paul and George.  The hours of meditation plus many more hours sitting around with their acoustic guitars yielded a bumper crop of songs that would result in a double album later in the year.  John, however, also derived inspiration from a few incidents that occurred during his seven-week stay, including a tiger hunt by an American who came to visit his mother at the ashram.  Lennon lampooned the macho ritual by turning it into a jolly cartoon singalong with a cardboard hero.

The group met at George's house at the end of May to record demos of all of the songs they had ready to go once sessions for the new album commenced.  The demo for The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill  reveals that John had the composition pretty much set, yet the band did not get around to actually recording the song until months later when the sessions for the "White Album" were nearly over.

In fact, realizing that the finish line was in sight by the evening of October 8th, Lennon pushed the group to complete two of his songs in a marathon sixteen-hour session.  The bulk of the time was allotted to I'm So Tired before they turned their attention to Bungalow Bill around 4am.  With John and George on acoustic guitars, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, only three takes were recorded before John was satisfied with the basic track.

They then moved on to overdubs of John playing an organ, Ringo shaking a tambourine and Paul adding more bass.  When John recorded his lead vocal, the informal atmosphere of the session was preserved by having everyone in the room join in the chorus, including all four Beatles, Yoko and Ringo's wife Maureen.  Furthermore, John had Yoko sing a solo line and double one of his lines.

George Martin was back in the producer's chair, but young Chris Thomas, who had produced several tracks for the album while Martin was away on holiday, was present and was corralled into playing the most interesting overdubs on the track.  The Mellotron, that fascinating early version of the synthesizer, was used throughout the song, sounding like a mandolin in the verses and like a trombone during the repeated choruses at the end.  In addition, the intricate Spanish guitar part which opens the song came from a tape heard when depressing one of the Mellotron's keys, making it one of the earliest examples of sampling on record.    

Friday, January 27, 2017

Come Together

The song Come Together can be traced back to the day pictured above when LSD guru Timothy Leary and his wife Rosemary visited John and Yoko in Montreal on June 1st, 1969 during their second bed-in.  Leary was running for governor of California and the slogan for his campaign was "Come Together, Join the Party", so he asked Lennon if he would be so kind as to write a song that could be used by the campaign.  John had some ideas and did give Leary a tape with a simple "Come Together" theme.

Leary's campaign ultimately collapsed, but John took what he had written to the Beatles a little more than a month later in the midst of the sessions for the album Abbey Road.  Still recuperating from an automobile accident in Scotland, John had been attending the sessions for almost two weeks, but he did not participate until the day that the group turned its attention to his new composition.  He had transformed his attempts at a campaign song into something altogether different - a jam-packed stream of bizarre imagery not unlike I Am the Walrus.

On July 21st, the crack rhythm section of Paul on bass and Ringo on drums plus George on lead guitar learned their parts well and, with John supplying a guide vocal, they laid down eight takes of the basic track.  Take one, available on Anthology 3, shows that the band had already perfected the menacing groove that drives the piece.  One can also hear John's handclaps and his exclamations of  "shoot me" before each verse quite clearly without the massive tape echo that would be applied to the master.   Take six (by some accounts) or take eight (by others) was deemed best.  All of the takes thus far had been recorded on four-track tape, so the best was now transferred to eight-track tape in preparation for overdubs.

Most of the overdubs were done the following day.  These included John's lead vocal plus his rhythm guitar part, Ringo on maracas and the electric piano.  Again, accounts differ as to whether John or Paul played the electric piano, with engineer Geoff Emerick claiming that John watched Paul play the part, then played it himself on the recording.  Vocal harmonies were added on the 23rd and 25th, and more guitars were overdubbed on the 29th and 30th.

Of course, the Beatles never played the song live, but this is one of the only numbers by the group that John later performed, doing so at Madison Square Garden in 1972.  Perhaps the most interesting cover of the song is by Aerosmith for the otherwise dreadful movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Chains

Let's return to the same date and time as in one of my most recent posts - the night session on February 11th, 1963.  The Beatles were in the process of recording most of their first album on that day and they had just captured Ringo's featured vocal spotlight number Boys in only one take.  They then immediately turned their attention to a song that had been in their repertoire for little more than a month.  Like Boys, this composition was originally recorded by an American girl group - a somewhat obscure outfit known as the Cookies.

Chains was written by the Brill Building husband and wife team of Gerry Coffin and Carole King - yes, that Carole King.  The Beatles played several of that legendary team's numbers in their live act - you can hear them do Keep Your Hands Off My Baby and Don't Ever Change on Live at the BBC - but this was the only one that they would record as part of their official catalog.  As songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were great admirers of Goffin and King, and stated so in interviews.

It was George Harrison, however, who saw this song as a vehicle for himself and brought it to the attention of the Beatles.  The liner notes for On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 reveal that George bought the single at manager Brian Epstein's NEMS record store in December of 1962.  The group quickly learned the number and put it into their act, soon performing it at the BBC on January 16th as you can hear on the Volume 2 collection.

They did four takes of the song on February 11th, though it turned out that take one had been the best.  Like most of the recordings made on this day, they simply played it live in the studio with no overdubs.  One of the only additions that they had made to the Cookies' arrangement was a harmonica flourish by John during the introduction, which he manages to get in just before he has to begin singing (he does not play the harmonica on the BBC version).

Though George is the featured singer in the bridges, most of the song is sung in three part harmony by George, John and Paul.  This was, of course, one of the group's strong suits over their career, but this was the first time that their natural vocal blend was heard on record.  This would also be the first time that listeners would get to hear George's voice up front.  His other lead vocal on Do You Want to Know a Secret had been recorded earlier in the day, but it would appear later in the running order on the album.  His voice is already more assured on Chains, even though it is a bit rough after a long day of singing backing vocals on several other numbers.

The song remained in the group's repertoire throughout the rest of 1963.  They wound up playing it three more times for the BBC.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Carry That Weight

The big medley on side two of the album Abbey Road is really only a collection of unfinished songs all strung together.  These song fragments are completely unrelated to each other...with one exception.  Carry That Weight, which occurs just before the aptly-titled song The End, is a continuation of the piece which opens the medley, You Never Give Me Your Money.  It not only contains the third verse of that earlier song, it also briefly repeats the arpeggiated guitar phrase from the fadeout of that number.  By musically tying together the ends of the medley in this fashion, McCartney succeeded in "thinking symphonically" as producer George Martin had encouraged him.

John Lennon had been involved in a car accident in Scotland and would miss the first official week of sessions for the album.  So Paul, George and Ringo convened at the studio on July 2nd, 1969 to record the basic track for Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (both of these songs were connected right from the start) with Paul singing a guide vocal and playing piano, Ringo playing drums and George playing bass.  A listen to a bootleg of this basic track shows that the song cuts off immediately at the point where it would be joined to The End, making it quite clear that Paul already had a good chunk of the medley worked out in his mind.

Takes thirteen and fifteen were combined (there were only fifteen total takes) to form the basis for the master.  On July 3rd and 4th, George overdubbed his lead guitar and Paul added a rhythm guitar part plus his lead vocal.  Paul, George and Ringo then gathered around a microphone to record the rousing chorus.

On July 30th and 31st, additional vocals were recorded, this time including John (this was his only contribution to the song).  Also on the 31st, more drums were added to the mix, as well as a timpani overdub played by either Ringo or Paul.  The final touch came on August 15th when a thirty piece orchestra conducted by George Martin completed the work.  His arrangement encompassed all three of the final songs of the medley - Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End.

Though the tensions within the group were extremely high during this period, they worked together as well as ever throughout the July and August sessions for Abbey Road.  And the fact that all four Beatles agreed to sing the phrase "you're gonna carry that weight a long time" displays a remarkable self-awareness of what the future would hold for each of them.   

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Can't Buy Me Love

The second Can't Buy Me Love sequence in A Hard Day's Night
The only official recording session by all four Beatles outside of London took place on January 29th, 1964 at Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris.  The boys were in the studio specifically to record German versions of their two biggest hits She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.  This work was accomplished quickly and so, with a full hour left over in the session, they decided to start recording the A-side of their next single.

Among the songs that John and Paul were writing for the soundtrack of their upcoming feature film was one by McCartney that they felt was a sure-fire hit.  Producer George Martin agreed with their choice.  However, he suggested a different arrangement of the composition, opening it with the chorus instead of the first verse as Paul had structured it.  The tape started running and by take four they had the master.  But the song underwent a few more alterations in that brief time. 

Take two is presented on the 1995 album Anthology 1 along with George's improvised guitar solo from take one. Paul sings in a bluesier style and John and George provide backing vocals which echo some of the lyrics.  By take four, the guitar solo is pre-planned, the backing vocals are gone and Paul sings the song as we now know it.  Back at Abbey Road Studios almost a month later, on February 25th, Paul double-tracked his vocal and George did the same with his guitar solo, thereby completing the recording.

Only a few days later, on February 28th, the group performed the new number for the BBC for their program From Us to You so that it could be broadcast around the time of the record's release.  This can be heard on the 1994 collection Live at the BBC.  As on the record, Paul's vocal is double-tracked here.

The song is featured twice in A Hard Day's Night with the first instance being the famous romp in the field behind the theater where they have been in holding for rehearsals.  Later in the film, it is used again as John, Paul and George rush to the police station to rescue Ringo in time for their television performance.

Can't Buy Me Love became part of the group's stage act for the next two years.  The boys returned in June of 1965 to the city where the basic track had been recorded.  That initial visit had been for a lengthy three-week engagement and the Parisian audiences had been mostly unimpressed by the Beatles at that time.  A recording of one of the two 1965 concerts reveals that the crowds were much more enthusiastic the second time around, even going so far as to echo the chorus of this song during its performance.

This number was part of the set list at both the 1964 and '65 Hollywood Bowl concerts.  The 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (and the 2016 reissue Live at the Hollywood Bowl) contains the August 30th, 1965 performance featuring a somewhat heavier-than-usual guitar solo from George and with Paul's voice sounding quite raw.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Boys

Even before the Beatles became famous, John and Paul always dominated the lead vocals, though George was also highly featured in their stage act.  Drummer Pete Best had his own contingent of fans in Liverpool (and still does to this day) so he, too, got his moment in the lead vocal spotlight.  In 1961 and '62, he sang a number by the Shirelles called Boys.

Most people are familiar with the A-side of the single, the hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow, but leave it to the Beatles to focus on the obscure rocker from the B-side.  The lads were great admirers of American girl groups and worked many numbers from those groups into their live act, altering the lyrics as needed.  In this case, they made few alterations to the words, figuring rightly that the drive and energy of their performance was all that was necessary to carry the song.  When Ringo joined the band, he had no trouble inheriting the number, as he had already been singing it himself with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

On February 11th, 1963, the day that the Beatles recorded the bulk of their first album Please Please Me, producer George Martin wanted all four members represented exactly as they were in their stage act.  This insured that Ringo would get his customary spotlight number and he did not disappoint.  The band knew the song so well that they nailed it in one live take during the evening session.

Boys remained in the band's repertoire for most of 1963.  They performed it a total of seven times for the BBC, with the June recording for Pop Go the Beatles preserved on the 1995 EP Baby It's You.  This version features a full stop at the end as opposed to a fade out as on the record.  At the end of the year, Ringo's new vocal showcase I Wanna Be Your Man from the group's second album With the Beatles replaced it in their stage act.

In April of 1964, both Boys and I Wanna Be Your Man were recorded for the TV special Around the Beatles.  The performance of Boys did not make the cut, but you can hear it on the 1995 collection Anthology 1.  They omit a repeat of the first verse as the Shirelles did on the original, and they bring it to a full close after only one chorus at the end.

The song once again became Ringo's vocal spotlight for much of 1964.  The most well-known live version, recorded on August 23rd, 1964, opens side two of the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.  The group plays the song at a breakneck pace with only one chorus at the end, bringing it in at just under two minutes (including Paul's quick introduction).  This version also appears on the revamped 2016 re-release of this album, now titled Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

The Beatles last performed the number in October of '64 for the American television program Shindig.  Of course, Ringo has revived the song multiple times over the years with his All-Starr Band, even playing it for the 50th anniversary celebration of the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Blue Jay Way

George Harrison's contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack is one of those songs that fans either love or hate with very few in between.  Many have simply never been able to enjoy his immersion into Indian music and, though not a single traditional Indian instrument is used on this track, the influence is clear, especially in the droning effect achieved by staying on the same chord throughout.

The song was composed in a house on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills above L.A. on the foggy night of August 1st, 1967.  The house had a Hammond organ in it and, while waiting for friend Derek Taylor to arrive, George put it to good use, writing lyrics inspired by the situation.

The Beatles began recording songs for their upcoming film for television a few weeks later.  On September 6th, after hours of work on I Am the Walrus, the group turned their attention to George's composition.  A good deal of rehearsal resulted in the basic track being recorded in just one take, with Ringo on drums, Paul on bass and George playing a Hammond organ.  The next night, a reduction mix brought the song to take two before the addition of George's lead vocal.  Another reduction mix then brought the track to take three before John and Paul's backing vocals were added.  All of the vocals were subjected to an extreme use of ADT (artificial double tracking).

A mono mix of the song at this point was made on September 16th to assist in shooting the sequence in the film where George sits on the ground and pretends to play a chalk-drawn keyboard.  But the recording was not yet complete.  On October 6th, a cellist was brought into the studio at Abbey Road to add a part presumably scored by producer George Martin, once again getting a classically-trained Western musician to bend notes in an Eastern way, as he had done on his brilliant score for Harrison's Within You Without You earlier in the year.  A tambourine was also overdubbed at this session.

Several more attempts at a mono mix were made on October 12th with John Lennon sitting in as producer, but none of them were used.  The actual mono mix was done on November 7th after George Martin created a unique stereo mix by simultaneously playing the song backwards and mixing it into the forward-playing soundscape from time to time.  A few attempts to make this the mono mix as well were abandoned for some reason, so the two versions are substantially different.

The addition of the cello had also caused some rethinking of the song's sequence in the film.  Thus, the boys met at Ringo's house on November 3rd and shot new footage, with each of them taking turns pretending to play a white cello in the backyard, plus some scenes of them watching the original footage being projected onto the bare chest of assistant Mal Evans.