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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.