British rock before the Beatles—before the October 5, 1962 release date of “Love Me Do,” if you want to be specific—is often dismissed as practically worthless. Certainly on the whole it was usually much wimpier than the British Invasion, and than the rock being produced since the early-to-mid-1950s in the music’s birthplace, the United States. In pre-Beatles times, it was also infrequently heard outside of the United Kingdom, with only one just-about-rock tune becoming sizable hit in the US.
British rock wasn’t entirely hopeless during this period, however, even if it lacked much of a distinct style, or innovations on par with what the Beatles and scores of other groups would boast from 1963 onward. This survey doesn’t try to make the argument that pre-Beatles British rock was rich with classics or abundantly populated with overlooked discs that demand rediscovery. It does, however, point out ten really good records that are worth hearing, as well as some honorable mentions of other fine songs by the artists that made this limited cut. It’s not a best-of list in order of quality, and is instead as chronologically ordered by release date as I can make it.
Cliff Richard, “Move It” (August 29, 1958). Some of the selections on this list will be pretty obscure, or at least little known to the general public. Some of them will be pretty famous, and often at least a little known even to many non-UK rock fans. This debut hit by Cliff Richard is one of the most famous ones, and though he’d go on to have dozens of big UK hits for the next few decades, it’s still his best record. Urgent, exciting, and tense, it also boasts a considerably advanced lean, penetrating electric guitar sound for its era, not only for the UK, but from anywhere. Richard does a pretty good Elvis-styled vocal, but its most memorable feature is its opening descending guitar riff. As a Liverpool teenager, Paul McCartney got so excited when he figured out how to play it after seeing Richard’s backup band the Shadows do it on TV that he immediately bicycled to John Lennon’s house to show him.
Honorable mention: “Apron Strings” (April 17, 1959). Originally a very obscure single by American singer Billy The Kid, this swaggering rockabilly number was a highlight of Richard’s first album. Although the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and some other top British Invasion groups are justly acclaimed for discovering and recording some very hard-to-get American songs, it’s interesting to note that some buried US discs were getting that treatment by British artists much earlier. Richard did a considerably better job on the tune than Billy The Kid, too. While he wasn’t a match for the best early American rock’n’roll and rockabilly singers, Richard did quite a few decent rockers in the late 1950s and early 1960s (along with quite a few dreadful pop numbers and ballads), though many of them weren’t spotlighted as A-sides.
Vince Taylor, “Brand New Cadillac” (April 1959). Although Taylor was brimming with the right kind of rockabilly attitude, his vocal chops weren’t so hot. That didn’t stop him from singing with just as much zest as if he really were Gene Vincent, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Cochran, and such. While “Brand New Cadillac” might be an obvious choice considering it’s by far his most famous song (owing largely to a cover version by the Clash), it’s still his best effort, with an ominous guitar riff crossing rockabilly and spy music. The guitar was played by session musician Joe Moretti, more famous for his soloing on Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” (see listing below), who made an ace contribution here too. It’s also worth noting Taylor wrote the song, at a time when it was far less common for rock’n’rollers to pen their own material.
Honorable mention: “Jet Black Machine” (August 1960). Almost a follow-up of sorts in both theme and sound to “Brand New Cadillac,” this stop-start shaker became a British Top Twenty hit—Taylor’s only one. He’s most famous for being at least a partial inspiration for the Ziggy in David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. Also of note is that early Beatles associate Tony Sheridan plays guitar on his 1958 cover of Roy Orbison’s “I Like Love,” which rocks harder than and outdoes the original.
Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, “Shakin’ All Over” (June 1960). “Shakin’ All Over” is known the world over, but not necessarily by Kidd. It was a North American hit by Canadian group the Guess Who in the mid-1960s, and more famously, a mainstay of the live shows by the Who, who put it on their 1970 album Live at Leeds. Kidd’s original version was a #2 British hit, and a classic by the standard of any country, particularly owing to its skin-crawling guitar licks from Joe Moretti. It’s one of countless songs proving that although rock was in a somewhat fallow period at the beginning of the ’60s, there were plenty of tough energetic rockers. Like “Move It,” this too shows a very advanced guitar sound and tone for the period. It was the best cut by the best pre-Beatles British rock act, who were a substantial influence on the Who, though they never became known in the least in the US during their lifetime, in spite of quite a few other good records. The biggest shame for posterity is that no film footage of the band has made it into circulation, if any’s even preserved.
Honorable mention: “Please Don’t Touch” (May 1959). A frenetic debut also decorated with plenty of bolts of skittering guitar. There were some other really fine Kidd singles in the late 1950s and early 1960s too, most notably the edgy “Restless,” “Feelin’,” “Let’s Talk About Us,” and “Please Don’t Bring Me Down.”
The Shadows, “Apache” (July 8, 1960). The Shadows were easily the biggest pre-Beatles British rock group, and had hits almost everywhere in the world except the US. Why didn’t they make it in the US, with their twangy, moody, slightly country-influenced sound? Well, they mostly performed instrumentals, which didn’t hurt them at home. But that might have made it harder to crack the American market, where the Ventures were more successfully popularizing haunting guitar instrumentals with less of a country twang. “Apache” is their most popular hit, but still their best, sounding a bit like a rock’n’roll western theme. If you’re thinking “wasn’t this a hit in the US?,” you’re kind of right—it was a big hit, but not for the Shadows. Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann took it to #2 in the US with a similar arrangement that added the sound of pinging arrows.
Honorable mention: “Man of Mystery” (November 4, 1960). The Shadows had lots of big British hits in the first half of the mid-1960s, and made a scary amount of records, not even counting the many on which they served as Cliff Richard’s backup band. A lot of them sound kind of the same, but not as good as “Apache.” “Man of Mystery” was their follow-up hit to “Apache,” and about as good as any of them, with the dark and mysterious vibe that kind of title demands.
Billy Fury, “A Wondrous Place” (September 2, 1960). Fury is rated very highly by some historians and fans, some of whom point to his 1960 ten-inch LP The Sound of Fury as the best British pre-Beatles recording. I’m not on board with this, finding that record rather mild rockabilly, much inferior to the original US variety generated by Sun Records and other labels. I’m not big on his hits either, and he had about twenty of them in the UK between 1959 and 1965 without making the slightest impression in the US. This 1960 song, however, is a nice moody rockaballad, and better than the more orchestrated, melodramatic original version by American pop-rock-soul singer Jimmy Jones (of “Handy Man” and “Good Timin'” fame). To spoil the party more, it’s not as good as the Merseybeatish version by the British band the Cherokees from early 1965, produced by Mickie Most, who had much more success with the Animals, Donovan, and Herman’s Hermits.
The Moontrekkers, “Night of the Vampire” (September 1961). Easily the least celebrated item in this Top Ten, though it did brush the bottom of the British charts. Like a good number of records produced by Joe Meek, this made the most of both horror movie imagery and exotic-for-the-time sound effects. Here they’re complemented by spidery guitar licks, a lumpy galloping beat bringing to mind monsters stalking graveyards, and flourishes of sweeping organ. Contrived? Sure. Fun? That too.
Screaming Lord Sutch, “‘Til The Following Night” (December 1961). Sutch couldn’t sing very well, but that didn’t keep him from becoming one of British rock’s great characters, and one of its most eccentric ones. Specializing in rock’n’horror, he took obvious cues from ghoulish American rocker Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but gave it his own goofy twist. This is a tour-de-force of graveyard special effects by producer Joe Meek, the most important pre-George Martin British rock producer. But Sutch’s bands could rock pretty hard, and his ’60s records included session guitar by future stars Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Like Vince Taylor, he had the genuine rock’n’roll spirit, if not the vocal chops and originality that could have vaulted him into true stardom.
Honorable mention: “Good Golly Miss Molly” (December 1961). No, the B-side of ‘Til the Following Night” won’t make anyone forget Little Richard’s original. But it’s a testament to how hard and manically his bands could rock, though the “horror” sides of his ’60s singles were generally far more effective than his covers of early rock classics.
The Springfields, “Allentown Jail” (February 1962). Originally recorded in 1951 by pop singer Jo Stafford, this is a pretty deep cut even for Springfields fans, appearing on their LP Kinda Folksy. Featuring a pre-solo stardom Dusty Springfield, this trio were more folk-pop than rock or even pop-rock. But if only for Springfield’s presence, there’s enough of a rock connection to place it on this list. An uptempo number with swirling violins alternating between Springfield solo and group vocals, it’s a full-bodied pop production with a pinch of rock, though the song tells a story in the manner of a folk ballad.
At least two future folk-rock musicians were listening. According to Jerry Yester (then in the Modern Folk Quartet, which would move into folk-rock, and then in a later lineup of the Lovin’ Spoonful), he and Barry McGuire (then in the New Christy Minstrels) would “listen to that stuff, and it blew our minds. ’Cause we were still flat-out in folk music, and to hear this John Barry-[type] band behind the Springfields…we loved it.”
The Springfields had a few British hits, although “Island of Dreams” just misses the pre-Beatle cutoff as it came out in November 1962. Although it’s a bit corny in its blend of pop, folk, and country, it’s worth hearing for Springfield’s soaring solo vocal on the bridge, and is better heard on a less ornately arranged live TV clip from early 1963 that survives. The Springfields were also one of the few British acts to have a US hit before the Beatles, hitting #20 in 1962 with “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” which oddly did not chart in the UK.
Jet Harris, “Main Title Theme (From The Man with the Golden Arm)”(August 10, 1962). Jet Harris had been the bassist in the Shadows, and in 1962 started to release records under his own name, sometimes paired with ex-Shadows drummer Tony Meehan. He coaxed a remarkably thick sound for the era from his bass, making it, very unusually, a lead instrument on a handful of instrumentals he issued, some of which were big British hits in 1962 and 1963. The first of these was this moody, cinematic piece, whose chirpy brass combine with Harris’s booming bass to make this similar to early James Bond themes. Although it just misses a cutoff date since it was recorded on October 20, 1962 and released April 1963, the brooding “The Man from Nowhere” is even better. Harris’s career was derailed by a bad car accident in September 1963, and though he was very briefly in an early lineup of the Jeff Beck Group, he never got back into front line of British rock.
The Tornados, “Telstar” (August 17, 1962). A question almost guaranteed to win you points at whatever trivia game you might play: who was the first British rock group to have a #1 hit in the US? The Beatles were the second. The first was the Tornados, though their hit is more well known than the band. Producer Joe Meek’s crowning achievement, this mesmerizing futuristic instrumental still sounds like science fiction rock, from its opening launch to the twinkling fadeout, highlighted by eerie electronic keyboards. Why didn’t the Tornados become bigger? They were a primarily instrumental act, soon to be overrun by vocal groups like the Beatles, and didn’t tour the US when they should have capitalized on their hit.
Honorable mention: “Ridin’ the Wind” (October 1962). This came out on EP the same month as “Love Me Do” and I don’t know if its release date predated the October 5 one for “Love Me Do,” but at any rate, it must have been recorded before “Love Me Do” came out. Another spooky sci-fi rocker, not as distinctive as “Telstar,” but striking just the same, with a bit of a surf music feel. It made #63 as a single in the US a few months later—the only other time the Tornados made the American Top 100, though they had a few other British hits and many other records.
The Packabeats, “The Traitors” (November 1962). Easily the rarest item on this list (though it’s been reissued), this Joe Meek-produced instrumental came out the month after “Love Me Do.” Kind of a collision of the Shadows and the Tornados, it has infectious twangy guitar riffs, some of the ghostly electric keyboard riffs that were trademarks of Meek’s productions, and a cinematic sweep. It’s as good as the big British instrumental rock hits of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and acts like the Shadows and Jet Harris kept scoring high on the charts with these kind of songs through 1963. But that whole style was about to be swept away by the huge wave of new British vocal groups, the Beatles leading the charge.
Paul McCartney: The Lyrics is a very good book. It’s much better than I expected, since most books of rock lyrics just print the lyrics with some illustrations of no great consequence. This two-volume, expensive-but-worth-it production has a lot of text featuring detailed recollections from McCartney himself about his songs. It also has a lot of illustrations, but they’re pretty interesting and often rare or previously unpublished. A full reprint of my review of the book from my previous post of my favorite rock books of 2021 is at the end of this post.
This post, however, is not another review of Paul McCartney: The Lyrics. It’s sort of a fact-check on some of its text. It’s a good book, but it’s not perfect.
To quote from my review: “There are a few, if not many, factual mistakes that I’m surprised made it through the editing process…There are many, many Beatles fans besides myself who could have spotted such errors, and the essence and primary points of the stories could have been retained if they’d been fixed. Was it unimportant to McCartney and the publisher to make the relatively modest effort necessary to catch those?”
It doesn’t surprise me that Paul misremembers some incidents, and particularly gets some order of what happened when wrong. Some of these things happened fifty to sixty years ago. What does surprise me is that the publisher—a big one, with a very prestigious project—apparently didn’t care enough to do the kind of fact-checking that might be considered routine if this was a book on a major political figure or movement, rather than a mere celebrity musician who did more to change the world than most politicians.
So no, they didn’t ask me or, it seems, others who could have caught mistakes to go over the text. Not that I’m so special; there are probably thousands of fans who could have done so, and will while they’re reading the book. But here are ones I caught, if anyone’s interested in treating these as sort of corrective footnotes.
On page 64: Remembering recording “Can’t Buy Me Love” in Paris in January 1964, Paul muses, “The irony here is that just before Paris, we’d been in Florida where, if not love, money certainly could buy you a lot of what you wanted.”
To those not steeped in the history of Beatles recording sessions, it might seem like the mistake is that the hit was recorded in Paris, not London, where they cut almost all of their records. However, “Can’t Buy Me Love” was indeed recorded in Paris on January 29, 1964, while the Beatles were playing shows in the city for almost three weeks.
The error is the first of several chronological ones in the book that might seem trivial to plenty of people, but are certainly mistakes. The Beatles hadn’t been in Florida before this session. In fact, only George Harrison had been to the United States, and he didn’t go to Florida during his trip there (mostly to see his sister in the Midwest) in late 1963.
The Beatles did go to Miami in mid-February 1964, only a couple weeks after recording “Can’t Buy Me Love,” for a short vacation after their famous initial American appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and concerts in Washington, DC and New York’s Carnegie Hall. They also performed the last of their three Sullivan spots this month in Miami.
It’s odd that McCartney switches the order of events that did happen very close to each other, but where one (their first US visit) was much more famous and important to the group’s career than the other (their visit to Paris). There might be literally millions of Beatles fans who’d spot this switcheroo, which just shows that followers of celebrities often know more about such details than the stars who actually experienced them.
On page 91: “My favorite electric guitar is my Epiphone Casino. I went into the guitar shop in Charing Cross Road in London and said to the guy, ‘Have you got a guitar that will feedback, because I’m loving what Jimi Hendrix is doing.’ I’m a big admirer of Jimi. I was so lucky to see him at one of his early gigs in London and it was just like the sky had burst…
“The guitar shop staff said, ‘This is probably the one that will feedback best, because it has a hollow body and they produce more volume than a solid body guitar.’ So I took it to the studio, and it had a Bigsby vibrato arm on it, so you could play with the feedback and control it, and it was perfect for that. It was a really good little guitar, a hot little guitar. So that became my favorite electric guitar, and I used it on the intro riff to ‘Paperback Writer’ and the solo in George’s song ‘Taxman,’ as well as quite a number of other pieces through the years. I still play it today. That Epiphone Casino has been a constant companion throughout my life.”
Cool, but McCartney wouldn’t have seen Hendrix until late September 1966 at the earliest, which is when Jimi moved from New York to London. Hendrix did some gigs right away before the Experience formed, but my guess is Paul didn’t see him until at least a little later than September. “Paperback Writer,” however, was recorded quite a bit earlier, on April 13 and 14, 1966, during the Revolver sessions. “Taxman” was recorded about a week later. Either he wouldn’t have seen (and almost certainly not heard of) Hendrix before he used that Epiphone Casino on those songs, or maybe there were later recordings where he used it with a Hendrix feel in mind.
Although it’s not a mistake, it’s interesting that Paul refers to using this “on the intro riff to ‘Paperback Writer.’” That seems to mean that McCartney, and not George Harrison, plays lead guitar on at least part of the song. (In late 2022, the notes to the superdeluxe edition of Revolver clarified that Paul “used an Epiphone Casino hollow-body electric guitar for the propulsive riffs of ‘Paperback Writer.'” Harrison, according to the notes, “doubled the guitar riffs that follow each of the choruses.”)
According to Andy Babiuk’s quite thorough and authoritative Beatles Gear (as well as the Revolver superdeluxe liner notes), McCartney actually bought an Epiphone Casino guitar around December 1964, almost two years before Hendrix became known in London. Paul’s account from a July 1990 issue of Guitar Player might well be the more accurate one of how he was inspired to get the instrument, noting that British blues-rock great John Mayall “used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ type guy. You’d go back to his place and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say just check this out. He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton…he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone.”
Page 105: “I’d say to the other guys, ‘Let’s use a library sound of an audience laughing when “the one and only Billy Shears” is introduced to sing “With a Little Help from My Friends”’.” This is fairly minor, but the sound of an audience laughing is heard after the first verse of the title track from Sgt. Pepper, much earlier in the song. Audience noise is heard at various points throughout the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” track, but after the line referring to Billy Shears near the end, it’s more general chatter and screaming, not laughter. Of course to be picky, maybe Paul originally suggested laughter here, but they ended up using different audience noise instead.
p. 131: Paul places his meeting with Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher, author, and pacifist, in “I think, around, 1964.” This isn’t entirely a mistake as McCartney qualifies the date with an estimate, but the exact date of the meeting—meetings, actually—were June 18, 1966 and June 20, 1966, according to Russell’s wife’s appointment book.
It could seem unfair to pick on something like this, but this does matter to some historians, and not just music historians. I was asked by someone teaching a course on anti-war activism for details about the meeting, and these two years would have made a significant difference in accurately portraying the situation. American involvement in the Vietnam War, which McCartney has credited Russell with greatly increasing his awareness of, was considerably heavier and far more in the news in 1966 than 1964. Not to fault Paul for whenever he became more fully aware of the conflict, but 1964 would have been much earlier for someone of his age to have been clued in on the negative aspects of the war, and for McCartney to discuss this with Lennon, as he’s on several occasions remembered doing shortly afterward in the studio. That would have been as the Revolver sessions were wrapping up, and fit in the timeline of how the Beatles criticized US involvement in the war to the American press during their final tour in summer 1966, a couple months or so after Paul met Russell.
p. 179: A caption states “For No One” “was written in the Austrian Alps during the filming of Help! March 1965.” While this isn’t demonstrably untrue, the Beatles hadn’t even finished recording the Help! album at that point. It seems very unlikely they would have waited until Revolver to record it in 1966, not putting it on either Help! or the album they recorded in late 1965 between the two, Rubber Soul. Maybe Paul started writing it in March 1965 and it took a long time to complete, but that’s not what the caption or any other source states.
He seems to have mixed up his skiing trips, as according to Barry Miles’s 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, written with extensive input from McCartney, the song “was written in March 1966 when Paul and Jane were on their skiing holiday in Klosters, Switzerland.” In the same book McCartney confirms, “It was very nice and I remember writing ‘For No One’ there.”
Page 185: Discussing “From Me to You,” according to Paul, “We were on tour with Roy Orbison at the time we wrote this. We were all on the same tour bus, and it would stop somewhere so that people could go for a cup of tea and a meal, and John and I would have a cup of tea and then go back to the bus and write something. It was a special image to me, at 21, to be walking down the aisle of the bus and there on the back seat of the bus is Roy Orbison, in black with his dark glasses, working on his guitar, writing ‘Pretty Woman.’ There was a camaraderie, and we were inspiring each other, which is always a lovely thing. He played the music for us, and we said, ‘That’s a good one, Roy. Great.’ And then we’d say, ‘Well, listen to this one,’ and we’d play him ‘From Me to You.’ That was kind of a historic moment, as it turned out.”
Great, but the tour with Orbison took place in the UK between May 18 and June 9 of 1963. The Beatles recorded “From Me to You” on March 5, 1963, more than two months before the start of the tour. It’s back to Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now for a firmer date, as Barry Miles writes the song was composed “on 28 February 1963 in the tour bus traveling from York to Shrewsbury on the Helen Shapiro tour,” the Beatles’ first tour of the UK.
Certainly it’s quite possible Lennon and McCartney played Orbison songs they were writing during that subsequent tour. They could well have played him “From Me to You,” considering it was not only already written and recorded, but also that it was #1 on the British charts the whole tour, and the Beatles were playing it in concert every night. When Paul discusses “From Me to You” in Many Years from Now, he adds, “After that [italics mine], on another tour bus with Roy Orbison, we saw Roy sitting in the back of the bus, writing ‘Pretty Woman.’” McCartney seems to have conflated writing “From Me to You” on one tour and seeing Orbison writing “Pretty Woman” on another tour a few months later.
Orbison, by the way, didn’t record “Oh, Pretty Woman” until August 1, 1964. It seems unlikely he would have sat on such a strong number for more than a year, though of course that’s impossible to prove, and maybe he was just starting to write it and it took a long time to complete.
p. 389: Here’s a mistake for which McCartney probably can’t be held accountable. A caption to a picture of Paul with Wilfrid Brambell, who played his grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night, reads “With Wilfred Bramble.” The first sentence of the text for this entry (for the song “Junk”) spells Brambell’s first and last name right. Did anyone proofread that caption?
p. 639: Paul recalls the genesis of the title track for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and indeed the whole Sgt. Pepper concept, as follows: “I’d gone to the US to see Jane Asher, who was touring in a Shakespeare production and was in Denver. So I flew out to Denver to stay with her for a couple of days and take a little break. On the way back, I was with our roadie Mal Evans, and on the plane he said, ‘Will you pass the salt and pepper?’ I misheard him and said, ‘What? Sergeant Pepper?’”
McCartney visited Asher on her 21st birthday, which was in early April 1967. The last session for the Sgt. Pepper album was completed on April 3, although some remixing was done later that month. The first session for the Sgt. Pepper title track had taken place on February 1, by which time the song had certainly been written, and the concept probably starting to take hold. Other reliable sources have reported that Paul started to come up with the Magical Mystery Tour title song and film concept during the Denver trip, and maybe he mixed up the chronology of the conception of these two projects.
p. 639: Also in the entry for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” setting the context for how the album in part evolved from their retreat from live performances, Paul notes: “We had recently played Candlestick Park. That was a show where we couldn’t even hear ourselves; it was raining, we were nearly electrocuted and when we got off stage we were chucked into the back of a stainless steel minitruck. The minitruck was empty, and we were sliding round in it, and we all thought, ‘Fuck, that’s enough.'”
This was actually the Beatles’ last official concert, in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. It can be pretty chilly and foggy in San Francisco in the summer. Paul seems to notice this in a much-bootlegged tape of most of the show, announcing before the “Long Tall Sally” finale, “We’d like to say that it’s been wonderful being here in this wonderful sea air.” He also remarks “it’s a bit chilly” after “Yesterday.” As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly forty years, I can testify that it’s not rare for the summer fog to be so heavy it can almost seem like it’s drizzling.
But I can also testify that it rarely actually rains in San Francisco in the summer. And it wasn’t raining at Candlestick Park during this concert. I’m a bit hesitant to call this an outright mistake if Paul and the Beatles felt like it was raining. But no accounts of which I’m aware, and there are quite a few, of the concert report that the Beatles were in danger of being electrocuted. There are, for instance, quite a few in Ticket to Ride: The Extraordinary Diary of the Beatles’ Last Tour, by Barry Tashian, leader of the fine Boston group the Remains, who were a support act on the Candlestick bill. These include Tashian’s own memories, eyewitness reports from fans, and reprints of 1966 reviews of the concert in the San Francisco Examiner and TeenSet. None of them mention rain (although Tashian does recall that “on stage, a wild sea wind was blowing in every direction”), let alone danger of electrocution.
I believe Paul was actually thinking of a concert from just a few days earlier in Cincinnati. The Beatles were scheduled to play at Crosley Field on August 20, 1966, but the concert was canceled two hours after its scheduled 8:30 start time due to rain. The Beatles indeed feared they’d be electrocuted if they went on, George Harrison remembering in The Beatles Anthology, “It was so wet that we couldn’t play. They’d brought in the electricity, but the stage was soaking and we could have been electrocuted, so we canceled—the only gig we ever missed.”
In the 1972 book Apple to the Core attorney Nat Weiss, who worked on the Beatles’ business affairs in the US, remembered that McCartney in particular was upset by the incident: “We’d just been through a very bad experience in Cincinnati. The promoter had been trying to save himself a few cents by not putting a roof over the stage. It started to rain and the Beatles couldn’t go on because they would have been in danger of electrocution. They had to turn away 35,000 screaming kids, who were all given passes for a concert the next day. The strain had been obviously too much for Paul. When I got back to the hotel, Paul was already there. He was throwing up with all this tension.” (The Beatles did play in Crosley Field the following day, when the weather was clear.)
That would explain how that incident would be specifically cited when McCartney remembered how and why the Beatles decided to stop touring. But it seems very doubtful the near-electrocution he’s referring to took place in Candlestick Park. For that matter, the sliding around in a stainless steel minitruck might well have happened in Cincinnati rather than San Francisco, since Paul places this mishap after a show where “it rained quite heavily” in The Beatles Anthology.
It’s a little odd, though it’s not a mistake, that Paul doesn’t note the Candlestick Park concert was their final official gig, as it’s been cited as such in many, many historical accounts. He certainly must know it was, as he made a point of doing the last official concert held in Candlestick Park in 2014 before it was demolished, as a sort of homage to the Beatles having played their final show there.
p. 721: In the entry for “Too Many People,” the song that John Lennon interpreted as a jab at him and spurred his famous response “How Do You Sleep?,” Paul gives this account of one of the factors leading to the Beatles’ breakup and subsequent ill feelings between the pair: “The whole story in a nutshell is that we were having a meeting in 1969, and John showed up and said he’d met this guy Allen Klein, who had promised Yoko an exhibition in Syracuse, and then matter-of-factly John told us he was leaving the band. That’s basically how it happened.”
Not exactly, or at the least this drastically condenses the timeline of what occurred. As the recent Get Back documentary makes clear, John and Yoko had their first significant meeting with Klein in late January of 1969, near the end of the January 1969 recording sessions and filming that eventually produced the Let It Be LP and film. (The date of both January 26 and January 27 have been given for the meeting, though judging from the film and the companion book of dialogue from the sessions, January 27 seems more likely.) According to the Get Back documentary, the Beatles as a group had their first meeting with Klein on January 28, very shortly afterward.
It’s not too important whether or not the Beatles managed to first have a group meeting without Klein where “John showed up and said he’d met this guy Allen Klein.” Certainly, however, McCartney knew about Lennon’s interest in having Klein as the Beatles’ manager by January 28 at the latest. Certainly John wouldn’t have “told us he was leaving the band” at that meeting. He played in the Beatles’ last concert on the roof of Apple a couple days later, for crying out loud.
The meeting at which John said he was leaving the band is usually reported as having taken place in September 1969, not long after he’d done a concert in Toronto without the Beatles (on September 13) as part of the Plastic Ono Band. That’s almost eight months after the group meeting with Klein in late January, and they’d recorded all of Abbey Road in the interim. For what it’s worth, Lennon didn’t officially leave the band after that September announcement, at least publicly. The Beatles are usually considered to have split on April 10, 1970, when Paul’s intention to leave became public.
Also for what it’s worth, Yoko’s Syracuse exhibition didn’t take place until October 1971. It seems very improbable that Klein would have promised Yoko a Syracuse exhibition at their first or one of their first meetings, which took place back in late January 1969. Paul’s account makes it look like the first time John told him and the Beatles about Klein, he told them Klein had promised Yoko the exhibition.
Most of the mistakes noted in this post are apparent jumbles of chronology, understandable to a degree of events that happened more than fifty years ago, and not ones that are going to seriously disturb most readers or Beatles fans. This one, however, might be the most egregious error, significantly distorting the roles Klein and Lennon played in the Beatles’ breakup.
p. 847: Reinforcing the inaccurate chronology of the previous item, in the entry for “You Never Give Me Your Money,” Paul reports that “it was early 1969, and the Beatles were already beginning to break up. John had said he was leaving, and Allen Klein told us not to tell anyone, as he was in the middle of doing deals with Capitol Records. So, for a few months we had to keep mum. We were living a lie, knowing that John had left the group.”
Almost all of this is true, pretty much, though the split wouldn’t be final until spring 1970. Except that this wasn’t early 1969. It was September 1969 when John announced he was leaving, and Allen Klein convinced him (and, perhaps, the rest of the Beatles) not to tell anyone, since he was making a new deal for the group. Paul’s off by about half a year, and that’s not a trivial inaccuracy, since the Beatles would record Abbey Road during that time.
Do about a dozen errors (and maybe I missed some others might have caught) over the course of 875 or so pages make for a substandard volume? No, of course not, though I think they’re noteworthy enough to be cited in case no one else does. It doesn’t seriously impair the overall high value of the book, my full review following below, as promised.
Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, by Paul McCartney, edited with an introduction by Paul Muldoon (Liveright). The most well known book, perhaps by far, on this list, as it was a #1 New York Times best-seller. Just because it was commercially successful, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t good—kind of like the Beatles themselves. Crucially, it’s not just a book that prints the lyrics with some illustrations, though the lyrics of 154 of the songs he wrote or co-wrote are here, and there are lots of graphics. There’s also a lot of text in which McCartney discusses composing the specific tunes, often throwing in a lot of observations about influences, inspirational incidents and people and his life, and life in general. Most of the really well known songs he wrote (with the odd exception like “Hello Goodbye” and “Magical Mystery Tour”) are included, and there are some really obscure ones from both the Beatles days and his solo career, even reaching back to a late-‘50s number (“Tell Me Who He Is”) that was never released, and for which McCartney doesn’t remember the tune.
While some of these stories have been told a fair amount (and a few are even repeated with variations in the text), the commentary’s almost unflaggingly absorbing and entertaining, both for the information and the lively, witty way McCartney tells it. While I’m not overall interested in much of his post-early-‘70s solo career, even the notes on those are usually worth reading, as they usually have noteworthy stories and perspectives not specifically related to the songs themselves—quite a few of which from the previous decades, I admit, I’m not familiar with. Here’s one of the better examples of his wisdom, in discussing a character in “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”—“She found a ladder lying outside my house in London. As far as I recall, she stole a picture of my cotton salesman dad. Or robbed me of it. But I got the song in return.”
This doesn’t nab the #1 spot on my list since it does spotlight a good number of songs from a period of his career that doesn’t interest me (even if, as previously noted, the stories accompanying those usually do). A few (not many) notable Beatles songs in which he was the main writer—“I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “I’m Looking Through You” are a few others—are missing. And there are a few, if not many, factual mistakes that I’m surprised made it through the editing process. For instance, Paul remembers getting the title for “Sgt. Pepper” from a remark Mal Evans made on a plane ride back from visiting Jane Asher on her 21st birthday in Denver, although that was in early April 1967, and the song “Sgt. Pepper” had largely been recorded on February 1. There are many, many Beatles fans besides myself who could have spotted such errors, and the essence and primary points of the stories could have been retained if they’d been fixed. Was it unimportant to McCartney and the publisher to make the relatively modest effort necessary to catch those?
To get back to the book’s substantial pluses, the photos and illustrations are really good, and sometimes rare and unseen (though the absence of captions on some is frustrating). Besides pictures dating back to his childhood, there are plenty of McCartney’s handwritten lyrics, drawings, and letters. Most interesting to me of all were a few very early Beatles setlists, from around the late 1950s and early 1960s, listing some songs they haven’t been documenting as performing. And yes, this is an expensive (though not massively so) book, but it’s worth owning.
Portugal’s a small country, and if people can name one of its cities, it’s almost always bound to be its biggest, Lisbon. The second biggest city in Portugal, Porto, isn’t actually that much smaller than Lisbon, with a population of about 1.7 million in its metropolitan area. I visited Portugal (just Lisbon and the beach town of Sagres) about thirty years ago, but admit I gave little thought to Porto then or since.
That changed in November 2021, when I unexpectedly visited the city for a few days after an equally unexpected invitation to give a presentation on the Velvet Underground at the Porto Pop Festival. I hadn’t been out of Northern California for three years, though I love to travel internationally, and hadn’t been on a plane in all of that time either. Yet here I was in Porto over Thanksgiving weekend, knowing little about it beforehand, though I got to see a lot in my regrettably short four days there.
Porto isn’t just any old second city. Its core, as its looks-like-it-was-written-by-a-publicist Wikipedia entry quickly informs you, was proclaimed a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1996, and those designations aren’t just given out to any location with a lot of history. On the Atlantic coast, the magnificent Duoro River runs right through the heart of town. I’m not an architecture expert or aficionado, but the old buildings both stately and humble, narrow pedestrian-friendly residential and commercial streets, and waterside views are enough to keep you entertained for several hours of walking. Should you be in decent shape, it should be added, since a lot of the streets and hills are steep.
What of Porto’s modern culture? While what I could take in was limited by both my short stay and my need to be present at three nights of Porto Pop events, the city’s keen to put itself on both the international arts map and establish itself as a major tourist destination. There are hip esoteric record stores, if that’s your thing, as well as a wealth of restaurants, and while its native cuisine isn’t so vegetarian-heavy, there are plenty of places for vegetarians like myself to find something.
English is spoken fairly widely, or certainly by enough people to manage if you don’t speak Portuguese. Porto’s people are friendly, and the population already 90% vaccinated by the time of my visit, with most people still wearing masks outdoors as well as indoors. The calm atmosphere made for a welcome if temporary change from the US, where every day has seemed like Armageddon for the past five years or so.
The standout cultural attraction has to be the Fundacao de Serrvalves contemporary art museum, though you have to take a 45-minute bus ride from the city center to reach it. The pretty huge space stages major exhibitions, but that’s not even the primary reason to visit. Its massive sculpture park — it’s way too big to call a garden — has a dozen equally large-scale impressive modern sculptures, Claes Oldenburg being the biggest name represented. Sculptures aside, it takes a good one or two hours to take in the multi-level park itself, highlighted by an elevated “treetop walk.”
On the way back, the multi-floor Portuguese Centre of Photography is a worthwhile stop right on the bus route, and not just for its impressive exhibitions of pictures and photographic equipment. Unusually, it’s housed in a former prison:
This was, incidentally, the first of what’s hoped to be an annual Porto Pop festival. Unusually, these exclusively featured presentations by authors of rock music books. Here are a couple of the other authors at the event, which was entirely conducted in English:
I didn’t get to see everything I would have liked in Porto, missing one of its most-hyped sites, the Lello Bookstore (famed for its unusual and unusually large interior architecture). I’ll also want to check out the large Agramonte Cemetery if I’m able to make it back, though at least I got to check out a much smaller one about halfway between my hotel and the festival:
Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary has been widely and deservedly acclaimed for the eight hours or so of footage it presents, with some context, of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions. Footage taken during this month provided the basis for both the Let It Be movie and album, though the LP in particular didn’t come out quite as originally intended, or even as originally recorded.
This story has been told in many books and quite a few articles and films, if never in quite so much depth. Although not nearly as well known as the Get Back film (or even many other Beatles books), much of the music and dialogue from the many hours of existing recordings is aptly described and summarized in Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt’s mid-1990s book Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ ” Let It Be” Disaster. Even that book, however, couldn’t capture some of the glances, silent shots, and atmosphere revealed by Get Back’s footage.
This post isn’t going to try to summarize all of the interesting and important points and questions raised by what the Beatles were doing in January 1969. It isn’t even going to address all of the interesting points and questions raised by the material in the Get Back film. That would take more books, and this is just a blogpost. Having heard and thought about all of this for many years (and written about the 100 or so hours of music recorded by the group that month in a section of my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film), I’m just going to highlight some interesting things the documentary brought to light. Even if I’ve come across some of them in the past and didn’t remember all of them when watching the film (twice), I’ll still include them, if they’re of interest for other Beatles fans.
Like the film, I’m going in chronological order, separated by date:
As many fans know by now, in May 1968 the Beatles recorded a version of John Lennon’s song “Child of Nature” at George Harrison’s home. Along with many other demos from that session, it’s now available as one of the discs in the super deluxe edition of The White Album. It’s also well known that the song was reworked, with the same melody but entirely different lyrics, as “Jealous Guy” on Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine.
John was still thinking of having the Beatles record it as they ran through possible material at the Get Back sessions. It seems, however, that he had changed the title, though nothing else major about the composition. He was now calling it “On the Road to Marrakesh.” Sitting on the fence, it’s titled “On the Road to Marrakesh/Child of Nature” when the title and composing credit is flashed onscreen during Get Back, as it is for many of the songs performed in the film.
And as many who’ve collected Get Back-era bootlegs must have noticed, songwriting credits have now officially been assigned to the unreleased original numbers performed in January, even the ones that are improvisations, fragments, or mere scraps. Many of these are too insubstantial to merit official release, but you can see the details as the end credits roll for each of the three episodes. They’re also often (but not always) flashed onscreen when they’re performed in scenes in the documentary.
George Harrison on the compositions he’s offering for the Get Back project: “They’re all slow-ish. There are a couple I can do live with no backing.” He might have already been wondering if any would be deemed suitable by the group for the concert they were planning, where the thinking seemed to be tilted toward uptempo material. He might have been weighing whether he could do slow numbers like “Hear Me Lord” solo, though as it happened those and some others (like, most famously, “All Things Must Pass”) wouldn’t get released until his 1970 All Things Must Pass album.
Yoko is usually pretty immobile as she sits in on most of the sessions, even on the most energetic tunes, or one that’s obviously inspired by her, “Don’t Let Me Down.” She does animatedly move at some unexpected times, dancing to the early Lennon-McCartney number “Because I Love You So,” which like most of the early pre-recording contract compositions played at the sessions were doleful and unmemorable.
As “Gimme Some Truth” is played, a subtitle reads “John suggests an unfinished song that he and Paul have been working on.” That in turn suggests that Lennon and McCartney collaborated to at least a slight degree on this song, although it was credited to John alone when it appeared on Imagine. Paul does sing a part of it, indicating he might already have been familiar with the song from doing some work on it. In the larger picture, if this was the case, it suggests the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership wasn’t entirely dead by this time, as some accounts would have it.
John and Paul have been accused, probably with some merit, of to some degree undervaluing or even ignoring some of George’s songwriting efforts. Several sequences demonstrate, however, that they weren’t entirely uninterested or unsupportive of Harrison’s work. In an early run-through of “All Things Must Pass,” John suggests a minor change to the lyric, modifying “A wind can blow those clouds away” to “my mind can blow those clouds away.” “Okay,” George responds. John adds: “A little bit of psychedelia in it, you know. Social comment, like.”
George offers some surprising comments about The White Album, a record that’s often considered to have contained the first major seeds of the Beatles splitting and going their separate ways. “That was the good thing about the last album,” he tells Paul. “It’s the only album, so far, I tried to get involved with. It should be where if you write a song, I feel as though I wrote it, and vice versa.” This isn’t just intriguing because it’s a more positive view of the record than has usually been attributed to the Beatles. It also makes you wonder if George felt left out or relatively uninvolved with every record before The White Album, of which there were quite a few.
Another surprise from George: thinking that the Beatles could do some of their older songs for their proposed live concert, he says, “I’ll tell you which is a good one,” and plays a very brief excerpt of “Every Little Thing.” That’s one of the more, and maybe one of the most obscure, early Lennon-McCartney songs, heard on their fourth album, 1964’s Beatles for Sale. As they never played it in concert and George didn’t write it—and it wasn’t a single or even among their more popular LP tracks, although it’s good—it’s a pretty left-field pick out of the hat.
George talks about Eric Clapton’s guitar style for a bit: “He’s very good at improvising and keeping it going, which I’m not good at.” That fits very much with what Klaus Voormann, who met the Beatles in Hamburg in 1960 and remained good friends with George (and played bass on All Things Must Pass), told me in a 2021 interview: “That’s something that Eric says too. He says George is fantastic solo guitar player. He works out his little solos. It takes him a lot of time to do get it down, he’s not free on a guitar like an Eric, who can play around anytime. He plays a different solo each time. That’s not George. He composes a little song, and that’s his solo. And that’s a fantastic attitude, which I really like.”
It’s only the second day of sessions, but George enthuses at length about Billy Preston: “The best jazz band I saw was Ray Charles’s band…Billy Preston is too much. Billy plays piano with the band. Then he does his own spot where he sings and dances and plays organ solo…then Ray Charles comes on. He’s better than Ray Charles, really. Because he’s like too much. Because he plays organ so great. Ray Charles doesn’t bother with the organ now. He just, ‘I’ll leave it to the young guy, Billy.’ It’s too much.” This is a good nineteen days before Preston visits Apple and almost instantly joins the Beatles for the next ten days or so of sessions. It’s doubtful that Harrison already specifically had Preston in mind for this, but certainly demonstrates he was familiar with his contemporary work quite a bit before Billy turned up and made a major impact on the Get Back project.
It’s only the third day of sessions (they took the weekend off), but George is already moaning about the upcoming concert. Always the least enthusiastic of the group about the Get Back project, he thinks “we should forget the whole idea of a show.” Maybe the Beatles should have never embarked upon this if he was putting such a wet blanket on the idea so early on. Perhaps it was fueled by a feeling that it was rushed and ill-conceived, as he remarks at another point on this day, “We’ve only run through about four [songs, for a show planned in only about a dozen days]. We haven’t learned any at all.”
Paul says “we should do the show in a place we’re not allowed to do it. Like we should trespass, go in, set up, and then get moved, and that should be the show.” He suggests the House of Parliament as a possibility of a place where they’d “get forcibly ejected, still trying to play numbers, and the police lifting us.” Although it would be on the Apple rooftop, this is remarkably close to what actually happened on January 30, though the police wouldn’t use such force to stop the show.
Although Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg would help suggest the rooftop location, he thinks Paul’s idea of trespassing would be too dangerous. He suggests hospitals and orphanages as alternatives. John doesn’t seemed inclined to give Lindsay-Hogg’s notions serious consideration, saying he doesn’t think orphanages and police balls are going to do it.
In his typically buoyant, optimistic mood, George says “the Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year”—this four days after he told Paul the White Album was the first one he really felt involved with. “I don’t wanna do any of my songs on the show,” he declares, which couldn’t have elevated spirits. He even suggests a divorce, which he’d come close to initiating by quitting the band for a few days on January 10.
It looks like a recording, maybe an acetate, of “Across the Universe” is brought on to be played to the Beatles. Although a version had been recorded by the group in February 1968, it had yet to be released. As he didn’t have too many of his own new compositions for the proposed upcoming concert/album, John was looking toward things he’d written quite a while ago (like “Child of Nature”) but hadn’t yet released with the Beatles as possibilities. Although the Beatles had done a version a little less than a year ago, it seems like they and John in particular have forgotten the lyrics, hence the recording being played to them.
George brings “I Me Mine” in for consideration, reporting that he wrote the song the previous night, its rhythm inspired by a waltz he saw on TV as part of a ceremony. His sour comments from yesterday on the whole prospect of doing his songs or the show itself to the contrary, he proposes “I Me Mine” for the concert “because it’s so simple to do,” though they wouldn’t do it (or any Harrison compositions) on the roof. In fact, although “I Me Mine” would be on Let It Be, that version wouldn’t be recorded until early January 1970, and then by the Beatles without John Lennon.
Although he’s not the biggest insider in the Beatles’ circle, Michael Lindsay-Hogg sees Lennon and McCartney aren’t getting along as well or working together as much. “Paul and you are not getting on as well as you did,” he tells John.
Paul confronts John about his lack of new material: “Haven’t you written anything else? Haven’t you? We’re gonna be faced with a crisis,” thinking of the show they’re supposed to be doing of all-new songs in about ten days. Although Paul has the image of the most diplomatic of the Beatles and one who wants to avoid confrontation in favor of amiable discussion, in fact he was probably the one person most likely to challenge John when necessary.
George, never too gung-ho on the concert in the first place, is making his feelings uncomfortably public: “I just want to get it over with.” He also seems worried about the expense involved, pointing out they haven’t even made back the cost of the film used for Magical Mystery Tour, another endeavor in which he half-heartedly participated.
Ringo doesn’t say much during the January sessions, but tells Michael Lindsay-Hogg “we’ve been getting grumpy for the last 18 months.” That goes back to just after Sgt. Pepper, indicating the tensions eventually pulling the group apart have been brewing for quite a while.
Linda Eastman, who’ll marry Paul in a couple months, tells Lindsay-Hogg “I feel the most relaxed around Ringo.” “Me too,” Lindsay-Hogg responds. The inference here is that she and Lindsay-Hogg don’t feel as relaxed, or too relaxed overall, around John and George.
Paul infers here and elsewhere that the lead vocal on “Carry That Weight” is meant for Ringo, as he works on it on piano with Starr watching. He refers to it as a comedy or story song, and fills in a verse between choruses with scatting, Ringo singing along with the chorus. The verse, he says, will have lyrics about getting in trouble with the wife and getting drunk. The vision will have changed by the time it’s recorded for Abbey Road and welded to “Golden Slumbers,” with only the chorus surviving, sung not by Ringo on lead, but by all four Beatles in unison.
George is seen on drums briefly, probably just fooling around instead of intending to sub for Ringo if necessary, as Paul did on a few Beatles recordings.
Yoko again gets animated at an unexpected point, bobbing enthusiastically to a song (really a jam) the Beatles didn’t release, “Commonwealth.”
Yoko and Linda are seen (though not heard) chatting together in a quite friendly fashion, though they don’t have the public reputation of being friendly or getting along.
The Beatles work on one of the best of the many instrumental jams (most of which are dull and/or cacophonous) they play this month, “The Palace of the King of the Birds.” A different section plays over the end credits to episode one of Get Back, and while it might sound to viewers like incidental music specifically recorded for this documentary (especially since no information flashes on the screen as to what’s playing), it’s a genuine January 1969 Beatles recording. Rather than being the sluggish blues many of their jams are, it has a haunting, elegiac tone, spotlighting organ rather than guitar.
John’s honest and rather flippant about his lack of new material, remarking “I’ve done all of mine, both of mine.” If he’s just counting two songs, he might be referring to “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” (which incorporates his “Everybody Had a Hard Year” composition with the bulk of the song, which was written by Paul), though “Dig a Pony” had been tentatively played a couple times, and he’d revisited some songs he’d written earlier that had been passed over for release on Beatles records, like “Across the Universe” and “Child of Nature.”
On the day George quits the band for about five days, there’s a hint of his touchiness when he tells the others as they work on a guitar part, “You need Eric Clapton.” John and Paul hasten to tell him, “You need George Harrison.” Ultimately Harrison isn’t mollified, walking out in the middle of what was supposed to be a full day’s work.
John offhandedly suggests replacing George with Eric Clapton, perhaps out of anger with Harrison or trying to brush off the seriousness of the crisis. Remember, however, that Lennon had recently played with Clapton as part of the one-off lineup (with Keith Richards on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) with which he performed “Yer Blues” on The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus in early December 1968.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg asks John if anyone’s quit like George has. “Well…Ringo,” Lennon admits. Although it wasn’t public knowledge, Ringo had quit for about ten days the previous summer during the sessions for The White Album.
Lindsay-Hogg talks about the weakening Lennon-McCartney partnership with longtime Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall and producer George Martin. “John and Paul aren’t writing together much anymore, are they, really?” he notes. They were collaborating more than has sometimes been reported, but more in the sense of refining some of the other’s songs than actively writing together. George Martin realizes this, commenting that “nevertheless, they’re still a team.”
John, Paul, and Ringo briefly hug each other as the day’s work ends after George quits. This is one of the most crucial shots in Get Back. It illustrates their camaraderie and concern for each other at a moment of crisis in a way that doesn’t come across at all without the visuals when you’re listening to the audio bootlegs of the sessions, where they often discuss their troubles flippantly.
It’s the day after a group meeting that didn’t work out well, George walking out. As Paul, Linda, Lindsay-Hogg, and others talk in a group before John’s arrival, it’s evident they feel freer to discuss Yoko’s impact on the Beatles than they do when he and she are around. Linda says of the previous day’s group meeting, “She was talking for John, and I don’t think he really believed any of that.” Acknowledges Paul, for John “if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko.” Asks Lindsay-Hogg, “Were you writing together much more before she came around?” “Oh yeah,” McCartney responds.
Yet in the same conversation, Paul expresses much more sympathy toward the couple and positive vibes toward Yoko than he’s usually credited with. “She’s great, she really is alright,” he says. “They just want to be near each other.”
When John doesn’t show up or answer his phone, Paul seems to verge on choking up into tears – a moment that doesn’t come through, or certainly with anywhere near the same impact, on the audio tapes. “And then there were two,” he laments, though he’s informed that John wants to speak to him on the phone before a possible breakdown. Note John wants to speak to him, not Ringo or both Paul and Ringo, intimating these are the two guys ultimately calling the shots for the Beatles.
After John does arrive, signaling he’s willing to continue as part of the Beatles, he and Paul have a serious conversation in the cafeteria. Michael Lindsay-Hogg sensed something was up, and in his memoir Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond remembers asking “our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table.” According to a story in Sound & Vision on the making of Let It Be and how the footage was used in Get Back, this was done on both January 10, the day Harrison quit, and January 13.
Readers are all poised for the big revelation as to what was said and what went down on January 10 when Lindsay-Hogg dryly notes, “My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said.” Fortunately, twenty-first century technology enabled dialogue from the January 13 conversation to be retrieved for a scene in Get Back, where Lennon and McCartney talked over the crisis with more grave honesty than they seemed to have done in group settings.
There are too many points made in that conversation to recap in total in a post like this, and they’re not all about how George is feeling and trying to get him to rejoin, though that’s the most urgent issue discussed. Here are a couple of the most interesting samples. John tells Paul, “There was a period when none of us could say anything about your arrangements, ’cause you would reject it all…A lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are.” Paul tells John, “You have always been boss. I’ve always been secondary boss. Now I’ve been sort of secondary boss. Always.”
As the Beatles minus George leave for the day amid uncertainty as to whether the group will continue, Paul leaves his bass as kind of collateral for his intention to return tomorrow. “What greater faith could man have than to leave his list,” he says, referring to a setlist taped to his bass. It’s the setlist from the Beatles’ final tour, of the US in summer 1966, though it wouldn’t end up being their final performance of all.
As the Beatles struggle through rehearsals without George, Paul at one point utters, “Aimless rambling amongst the canyons of your mind.” This seems to refer to a song by the Bonzo Dog Band, “Canyons of Your Mind,” from their 1968 LP The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse. Paul would have been pretty familiar with this fine British comedy rock group as they appeared in Magical Mystery Tour, and McCartney had produced their 1968 UK hit “I’m the Urban Spaceman.”
There seems to be confusion about how many songs should be played for their concert (should it take place), or are ready to be played. The numbers eleven, twelve, and fourteen are all thrown out. John mentions a “choice of six.”
Perhaps unsure of whether the Beatles have enough for an album and/or concert, George Martin darkly jokes that Ringo can do a long drum break, though Starr was known for abhorring drum solos. “An hour and a half,” Ringo adds in similar gallows humor.
George Harrison’s rejoined the band after a productive group meeting on January 15, and checks out Apple’s new studio with engineer Glyn Johns (eventually credited as co-producer on the Let It Be LP). They’re unhappy with the equipment, the studio having legendarily been designed by Apple’s supposed electronics wizard, Magic Alex Mardas, though it doesn’t perform even the most basic of functions. This gets a little trainspotter-ish, but this is different than how it’s reported in Mark Lewisohn’s excellent 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions. Technical engineer Dave Harries (seen in a few Get Back scenes) told Lewisohn the Beatles “actually tried a session on this desk, they did a take, but when they played back the tape it was all hum and hiss. Terrible. The Beatles walked out, that was the end of it.”
From the way it’s presented in Get Back, it seems like the whole group might not have tried a take, and maybe Harrison and Johns did the basic determination that different equipment need to be moved into Apple. The story on the making of Let It Be in Sound & Vision, however, indicates there might have been a tryout session of sorts around January 17. As that article reports, “It took a day for Harries to get the system functional enough to make a recording, at which time the band did try to make a recording with it. ‘We did one take,’ says Harries. ‘They didn’t like it, and they just walked out, without saying a word. Then we got the word to bring our stuff in'” from EMI.
Beatles road manager/personal assistant Mal Evans shows a prototype of an instrument “Magic Alex” Mardas has invented to John. “It’s a combination of a bass and rhythm guitar with a revolving neck,” Evans tells Lennon. It’s not known whether the Beatles had a use or desire for this, or if it evolved into a finished product.
John and George stage a mock fight in Apple Studios, laughing and smiling. Much tension in the group’s obviously gone now that George has rejoined.
George opens a package of LPs including Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ Greatest Hits and Make It Happen. Although he’s not usually regarded as the biggest soul fan in the Beatles, he was getting back into rock and soul again after a couple years or so of concentrating more on Indian music. On the second day of the sessions, he’d sung lead on a fairly spirited if casual version of a Motown hit, Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike.”
At one point during the day, a list is presented of songs that seem to be under the most consideration for the upcoming show, if that was to take place. These were “All I Want Is You” (a working title for “I Dig a Pony”), “The Long and Winding Road,” “Bathroom Window” (a working title for “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”), “Let It Be,” “Across the Universe,” “Get Back to Where You Once Belonged” (a title later shortened of course to “Get Back”), “Two of Us (On Our Way Home)” (eventually simply titled “Two of Us”), “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Sunrise” (an odd alternate title for “All Things Must Pass”), and “I Me Mine.” Eight of these would eventually get on the Let It Be LP, and two others find a spot on Abbey Road, with “All Things Must Pass” waiting until Harrison’s 1970 album of the same name.
It’s strange, however, that the aforementioned list doesn’t include “Don’t Let Me Down,” which had already been extensively worked on, and would be part of the January 30 rooftop concert and the B-side of “Get Back,” though it didn’t make the Let It Be album. As to why “Across the Universe” seemed to drift out of the picture the rest of January, on the 23rd Harrison asked Lennon about whether the song would be used for the Get Back project. “No,” John responded, “‘cause it’s going out on an EP.” That seems to confirm he and/or the Beatles were planning an EP, as has been reported elsewhere, with “Across the Universe” and the four songs exclusive to the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. That EP never materialized, and a new version of “Across the Universe” did ultimately resurface as part of the Let It Be album, though not for another year or so, when Phil Spector did post-production on the Beatles’ 1968 recording of the song.
The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet LP is seen near John as the Beatles play. Maybe Lennon’s keeping up with the competition. It wasn’t a brand-new release, but was pretty recent, having come out on December 6, 1968.
Ringo’s seen playing bass on “Hi Heel Sneakers,” a rare and possibly unique glimpse of him playing the instrument with the Beatles, though he’s likely just fooling around with it briefly.
During a version of “Don’t Let Me Down,” John throws in references to Dicky Murdoch. This was a British comedian who wouldn’t be known to US audiences.
George says at one point, “We just need one more in the group,” in seeming acknowledgement of how their determination to record live without overdubs is leaving some gaps in the arrangements. He doesn’t specifically mention Billy Preston, but that’s probably in his mind when Billy visits the following day and is quickly invited to play keyboards on the sessions.
The Beatles were considering several locations for a live concert, despite George Harrison’s continued reluctance to do one, in part because of Lindsay-Hogg’s continued pressure to find an exotic setting. Amphitheaters in foreign countries and ocean liners were considered (probably far more seriously by Lindsay-Hogg than the Beatles), but another isn’t mentioned as much – Primrose Hill in London. That idea was abandoned when it wasn’t available.
John enthuses about watching Fleetwood Mac on TV, at a point where the group had some hit records in Britain, but weren’t too well known in the US. “The lead singer’s great,” he says, probably referring to Peter Green, the band’s most prominent guitarist/singer/songwriter in their early blues-rock days. “ He sings very quiet, he’s not a shouter.” Paul says they’re like Canned Heat; John says they’re better than Canned Heat. Certainly the influence of Fleetwood Mac’s then-current UK instrumental hit “Albatross” (which would reach #1 on February 1) is heard on “Sun King,” which the Beatles played in rudimentary instrumental versions during the Get Back sessions, though it wouldn’t be fully developed until it was recorded for Abbey Road.
This is the day Billy Preston starts playing on the sessions, making a significant impact on the Get Back project for the rest of the month. It’s noted in the Get Back documentary that he used to ask them to play “A Taste of Honey” when he met them in Hamburg back in 1962, when he was with Little Richard’s group. Maybe that was an influence in having the Beatles include “A Taste of Honey” on their first album, not recorded until early 1963.
Although George seems to have been the most active member in getting Billy into the studio, John’s quickly on board with Preston’s participation, telling him, “You’re giving us a lift, Bill…He’s the guy, and that solves a lot.”
John proposes, “We could do half here, and the other half outside.” That’s pretty much what happens—about half the material in strong consideration for the record is performed on the roof (and sometimes used on official releases), and about half is recorded in the studio.
“It will be the third Beatles movie,” John says of the film-in-progress. The Beatles owe United Artists one more movie (after A Hard Day’s Night and Help!), and maybe John sees this as a way to fulfill their contract. “And it will be a movie, you know, not a TV show,” he adds for emphasis. For that it probably has to be a theatrical release, not a TV show — which is also what eventually happens.
It’s only a week before the concert, but John says “we almost know three numbers, actually.” Obviously they’ve been working on a lot more than three songs, but maybe he feels only three are really down cold enough to do in live performance.
Beatles assistant Peter Brown tells John Lennon Allen Klein’s arriving in a couple days. So obviously Lennon knew Klein wanted to talk with him and the Beatles in advance of their first meeting on January 27, though the impression’s sometimes given in historical accounts that the meeting occurred more spontaneously.
At one point in Get Back, early Beatles manager Allan Williams is briefly seen at the day’s sessions. He’s not identified in the documentary, though he is in the companion book. What was he doing there? It’s not explained, though I’m guessing he was just dropping in for a visit. He was their pseudo-manager of sorts from around mid-1960 to some time in 1961 before Brian Epstein entered the picture, though he didn’t seem to have much direct contact with them after the Beatles moved from Liverpool to London in 1963.
Part of the group does what’s titled a “Freakout Jam” with Yoko Ono on vocals, the songwriter credits given to Ono, Lennon, and McCartney. “I’d like it to be part of our new LP,” recommends Lennon, and it’s hard to tell whether he’s joking or serious. Certainly it never gets seriously considered for inclusion.
George Martin’s role in these sessions is kind of uncertain. As Lewisohn writes in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “He was there for some sessions but not for others,” with engineer Glyn Johns seeming to sometimes take a producer role as well. Martin hasn’t been too positive in his memories of the sessions, feeling the group were falling apart and doing too many takes in search of the perfect live performance. On this date, however, he seems pleased with their progress, perhaps as a result of Preston having given them a life. “You’re working so well together now, let’s keep it going,” he advises them.
George Harrison unexpectedly sings a bit of the Four Tops’ 1966 chart-topping classic “Reach Out I’ll Be There” as they’re working on “Get Back.” “That’s what the song needs, it needs a catchy riff,” he feels. “Get Back” already had catchy riffs. Maybe the Beatles were making sure to be tolerant of all of his suggestions after his sensitivity to some criticism led to his brief walkout earlier in the month.
It’s only four months since it made #1, but George has to be reminded that “Hey Jude” was their last single. I don’t see this so much as a reflection of lack of interest in their output as evidence that members of big groups don’t pay as much attention to the chronology of events as many fans do. Lennon and McCartney would mix up the sequence of some of the Beatles’ album releases in subsequent interviews. “Which album is this?” asked Harrison with puzzled earnestness when he, Paul, Ringo, and George Martin were filmed listening to a take of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” for the bonus disc of the Anthology DVD.
John, the most impulsive Beatle (as will also be seen by his over-the-moon enlistment of Allen Klein as his manager after his first meeting with him on January 27), seems to infer Billy Preston should join the group when he announces, “I’d like a fifth Beatle…I mean, I’d just like him in our band, actually.” Paul, the more cautious and practical one, feels “it’s bad enough with four.”
The original idea behind the Get Back sessions was to play live as a band with no overdubs. About three weeks into the sessions, it’s becoming apparent that they’re reconsidering allowing for at least some flexibility. For “Child of Nature” aka “On the Road to Marrakesh,” John reveals, “I was gonna do a big ‘30s orchestra bit.” When he reworked it into “Jealous Guy” for Imagine, he would in fact use a lushly orchestrated arrangement. At another point, he says, “After we can stick it on,” meaning do overdubbing. “It’s cheating,” points out Glyn Johns. “Well, I’m a cheat,” John shrugs.
Maybe mulling over how the Beatles have to alter their usual lineup when they’re playing without overdubs, McCartney observes, “I quite like those ones where there isn’t a bass. We’ve done a few. ‘I’ll Follow the Sun.’” When he’s on keyboards on the sessions, however, John will sometimes take over on bass (most noticeably on “The Long and Winding Road”), though he doesn’t seem to have a good aptitude for the instrument.
George suggests putting “Two of Us” “on the B-side,” though it’s hard to telling if it’s a passing half-joke. John chips in, “Release it in Italy only, let’s just make a different single for every country.” Probably he wasn’t serious, but the Beatles were entertaining some odd and highly unusual ideas in the early Apple days, and it’s not out of the question that they would have considered this before some impracticalities or difficulties in enacting such a policy were pointed out to them.
As George plays slide guitar on “Her Majesty,” John jests, “That’s the cheapest one. If gets any good on it, we’ll get him a good one.” George would get good on slide guitar, but only after seriously applying himself to the technique for his 1970 solo album All Things Must Pass.
Ringo plays “Teddy Boy” with a towel on his drums. Even when I had the Kum Back bootleg as an eight-year-old in 1970, I thought the drums on this sounded kind of like hoofbeats, and this could explain part of that.
John remarks, “I don’t regret anything ever…not even Bob Wooler.” Bob Wooler was a DJ and MC at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and had done a lot to help advance the Beatles’ career in the early 1960s. On June 18, 1963, at Paul’s 21st birthday party in Liverpool, Lennon viciously beat up Wooler after the DJ suggested John and Brian Epstein, who’d recently taken a holiday together in Spain, might have had a homosexual affair. This incident got the Beatles some of their first, and unwelcome, publicity in the mainstream British news media. Although Lennon did send a telegram of apology to Wooler afterward, this offhand remark shows a more callous side of John than has usually been attributed to him, at a time he was starting to remake his public image over into one of a man of peace.
George Martin, in what might have been one of the rehearsals where the Beatles were trying his patience by doing take after take, is seen lying on the floor reading a newspaper. Yet although Martin, as previously noted, might not have been as directly involved with or enthusiastic about the Get Back sessions as virtually all of the others he produced for the Beatles, he was still doing some hands-on-work as a producer. He’s shown inserting a newspaper (maybe the same one he was reading) into a piano to give the instrument a honky-tonk “tack” sound on “For Your Blue.”
Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Glyn Johns, according to the Get Back documentary, are the ones who suggest to Paul the idea of doing a concert on the roof of the Beatles’ Apple building. Paul and Ringo go up with Lindsay-Hogg to check it out. Sometimes the concert has been characterized as an impulsive decision that day or the day before, but this shows the idea germinating a good five days beforehand.
Art dealer Robert Fraser is shown visiting the session on this date. Fraser was a friend to members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. When Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were busted for what most would consider very minor drug offenses at the Redlands home of Richards in February 1967, Fraser was also caught in the raid. Although Jagger and Richards had sentences overturned after spending very brief periods in jail, Fraser wasn’t as fortunate, in part because he was charged with the more serious offense of heroin possession. He served a sentence of six months hard labor, which he would have finished only about a year before he was filmed with the Beatles on this date.
In early spring 1970, Paul would quit the Beatles, in part because Phil Spector added orchestration and female voices to “The Long and Winding Road.” McCartney strongly asserted he hadn’t approved of these overdubs, telling the Evening Standard, “I was sent a remixed version of my song ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ with harps, horns, an orchestra and women’s choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” George Martin backed him up on this, telling Melody Maker, “John insisted that it was going to be a natural album, a live album, and he didn’t want any of the faking, any of the Pepper stuff, any production. … When the record came out, I got a hell of a shock. I knew nothing about it, and neither did Paul. All the lush, un-Beatle-like orchestrations with harps and choirs in the background—it was so contrary to what John asked for in the first place.”
However, one of the most interesting exchanges in Get Back indicates McCartney and Martin were at least considering orchestrating “The Long and Winding Road” back in January 1969, more than a year prior to Spector’s overdubs. George Martin says, “Paul’s thinking of having strings anyway.” George Harrison asks Paul, “Are you gonna have strings?” Paul replies, “Dunno.” Continues Martin, “It needs something a little more clinical.” Paul says he heard it in his head with “Ray Charles backing,” elaborating, “We were planning to do it anyway, with a couple numbers, just have a bit of brass, a bit of strings.”
George introduces a song he’s written the night before, “Old Brown Shoe,” which he enthusiastically describes as “happy, a rocker,” maybe feeling like he should come up with something upbeat and uptempo that’s more suitable for a concert than the more reflective, slower numbers he’s recently composed. He plays it on the piano, an instrument he doesn’t play nearly as much as John or Paul. “It’s great on the piano, because I don’’ know anything about it,” he explains. “It’s great, because I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the guitar.” Billy Preston plays guitar on some of the run-throughs, although he’s mostly known as a keyboardist. Although Paul (and John) have been criticized for not paying as much attention to George’s songs as their own, McCartney seems delightedly enthusiastic as he plays along with Harrison when George starts routining the number.
More indications Paul might not be wholly satisfied with the plain no-overdubs arrangement of “The Long and Winding Road” when he remarks, “I can’t sort of think of how to do this one at all…mind’s a blank.”
More evidence that George Martin sometimes took a conventional hands-on production role at the sessions when he tells the group, “Your speakers are very near to your mics, and they’re being picked up. So you get howl round…Why don’t you have the piano open for a start?” He does so in the tactful, gentlemanly helpful manner he’s usually remembered as bringing to his work with the Beatles. “I’ll fix you, lads, I’ll fix you,” he calmly reassures them at one point.
John expresses frustrations with playing bass: “I can’t even tell if I’m in tune or not. I’ll just have to guess what I’m playing.”
George Martin expresses frustrations with the Beatles’ endless-take-perfectionism as they try to get the best live performance: “Let’s all rehearse it well, and let’s just do one take, and that’ll be it. And we’ll do it again…and do it again…and do it again.”
The Sound & Vision article on the making of Let It Be, incidentally, offers some more insights into Martin’s overall role at the sessions. “I was booked by Paul to engineer it, to be the recording engineer,” Glyn Johns told the publication. “And I expected, therefore, George Martin to be producing. And, in fact, that wasn’t the case at all. He appeared on occasion, but he wasn’t involved with the production of the music at all. I was a bit embarrassed by the whole situation, because he wasn’t involved. But he was charming, and he put me at ease, and was lovely about it.” Adds cameraman Les Parrott in the story, “He was such a subtle gentleman. I never saw him telling Glyn what to do.”
In the same piece, George Martin’s son Giles offers his take: “Glyn was the constant. He was the young engineer, sort of producer, who’s there the whole time. My dad was told he wasn’t needed. I actually went through this with Paul once. They were essentially doing a live record. They’re doing a live show, they’re not doing a ‘record.’ Why would your A & R record producer come down to your rehearsal room? But he did appear. And when he appeared, interestingly enough, they did play more songs on the days he was there than when he wasn’t. And he had a pen and a pad. And the necessity arose for some organization, because it became so chaotic, in the fact that they hadn’t really done anything, he appears more and says, ‘Okay, listen, what are you actually doing here? What’s the idea?'”
John voices a more sympathetic ear to Harrison’s material than he’s often credited with: “I’m trying to get us to do one of George’s for the first batch.” Although none of George’s songs would be done on the rooftop, where, after all, they only performed five numbers (sometimes in multiple versions) in all.
John and Yoko have met with Allen Klein for the first time the previous evening, talking with him until two in the morning. He’s already enthusiastic, in retrospective over-enthusiastic, about Klein, telling George, “He knows everything about everything…He’s gonna look after me, whatever…He knows me as much as you do.”
Yoko says Klein “owns half of MGM.” This sounds like a wild exaggeration Klein might have made to her and John. According to Fred Goodman’s biography of Klein, Klein bought 160,000 shares in MGM. To bear with a long-winded explanation for a moment, according to Isadore Barmash’s book Welcome to Our Conglomerate—You’re Fired, when Kirk Kerkorian bid for a million MGM shares in July 1968, that would have given him 17% ownership. That works out to about six million total shares. Klein’s 160,000 shares would have worked out to about 2.7% of that.
At his meeting with Klein, Klein told John that the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus would be made into an LP and a book. The book wouldn’t appear; the LP (and its associated TV special) wouldn’t be available until 1995. Klein also told Lennon the LP would be issued “to buy food for Biafra.” If there were serious intentions to make it such a charitable project, they certainly weren’t realized.
Getting back to the music,John’s still talking about “On the Road to Marrakesh” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” as possibilities for the Get Back project. As noted earlier, “On the Road to Marrakesh” would be reworked into “Jealous Guy” on Imagine, and “Mean Mr. Mustard” wait until Abbey Road.
The lineup’s varied in interesting ways as they continue to work on “Old Brown Shoe.” At one point Billy Preston’s on guitar and Paul’s not there – most likely just doing something else for a bit, not out of a lack of interest in participating, since he played along so enthusiastically on January 27. At another point Preston takes over piano from George while Harrison just does vocals.
When George introduces his work-in-progress (and eventually most famous composition) “Something,” contrary to John and Paul’s reputation for not putting much effort into George’s songs, they give him a good deal of support and encouragement. Suggests John to George, who’s stuck on devising some lyrics, “Just say what comes into your head each time. Attracts me like a ‘cauliflower.’ Until you get the word!”
John, George, and Billy briefly fool around with a stylophone, a small instrument that looks like a toy. It’s most known for being used prominently on David Bowie’s first hit later in 1969, “Space Oddity.”
There’s a shot of Linda Eastman at a keyboard at one point while the Beatles are rehearsing. It’s not certain whether she’s trying to play along, but interesting in light of how she’d join Wings as a keyboardist in a couple years or so.
Onscreen text notes the Beatles have their first group meeting with Allen Klein on this date. However, they weren’t filmed there, and it’s not discussed in any of Get Back’s scenes.
Ringo accurately says the Beatles will do five or six numbers on the rooftop show planned for tomorrow; they’ll do five (though multiple versions of several of those five songs).
Glyn Johns, who’s had some interactions with Allen Klein since Klein has handled business affairs for the Rolling Stones and Johns has often worked on recordings for the Stones as an engineer, characterizes Klein as “very strange. Very clever.” John brushes aside this possible caution with “we’re all hustlers.” Ringo calls Klein “a conman who’s on our side for a change. All those other con men are on the other side.”
Johns seems to be trying to warn Lennon about Klein without getting on Lennon’s bad side, consider how animatedly John’s raving about Klein.
“He’ll ask you a question, and you’re halfway through answering it, and if he doesn’t like the answer or it’s not really what he wanted to hear, he’ll change the subject, right in the middle of a sentence,” Johns notes. “That bugs me a bit, actually.” In hindsight Lennon would have done well to pay more heed to Johns’s observations, given how John, George, and Ringo would eventually get dissatisfied with Klein and initiate a break with him in 1973.
Just a day before the rooftop concert, there’s a lot of back-and-forth uncertainty about doing a show or how they should do it. Paul seems to be getting cold feet. Although John concedes “we’re not ready to do fourteen” songs, he adds, “I think we’d be daft to not do it,” pointing out they’d need another month of work to be ready to do fourteen. Paul feels that “we’re not doing a payoff.” John urges seizing the moment: “We’ve only got the seven. Let’s do seven. We haven’t got time to do fourteen.” George, as always the keenest to wrap things up and move on, says they could already “make half a dozen films” with all the footage they have. Glyn Johns suggests doing the rooftop concert, and then the TV show later, maybe thinking a more polished performance could be filmed for television if they’re not satisfied with the rooftop show. Michael Lindsay-Hogg gripes that “there’s no story yet,” concerned the film he’s been working so hard on will be anticlimactic.
Paul’s frustrations with recent sessions come out: “I really feel like I’m trying to produce the Beatles, and I know it’s hopeless.” George Martin, the Beatles’ official producer, is right behind him as he says this; it’s not clear whether McCartney knows Martin’s there, or whether Martin’s hurt by the remark.
George again seems to put the whole enterprise in danger by complaining, “I don’t wanna go on the roof.” Ringo, who has by far the least to say of any of the Beatles this month, might come to the rescue by simply chiming in, quietly but firmly, “I would like to go on the roof.” John quickly adds, “Yes, I’d like to go on the roof.” Maybe Ringo did the most to rescue the plan, his opinion perhaps carrying more weight at that moment precisely because he was making his voice known at a time when he said little. This could be a point at which Ringo truly did “Carry That Weight” when it seemed in danger of being dropped.
A list is shown that seems to be of the most serious contenders for inclusion in the movie, whether filmed on the roof or in the studio: “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Get Back,” “I’d Like a Love That’s Right (Old Brown Shoe),” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be,” “For You Blue,” “Two of Us,” “All I Want Is You,” (indistinct), “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “One After 909,” “Bathroom Window,” “Teddy Boy,” “Dig It.” Of course a few of these wouldn’t make either the Let It Be film or LP, though “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” would be on Abbey Road, “Teddy Boy” on McCartney’s first album, and “Old Brown Shoe” on the B-side of “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” It’s interesting to see “I’d Like a Love That’s Right” as a working title for “Old Brown Shoe,” though the opening line of that song would actually be “I want a love that’s right.”
George Martin might not have been satisfied with these sessions in retrospect, but he declares “there’s no question we’ve got an album.” It wouldn’t come out until May 1970, and Martin would only be credited as a co-producer, with Glyn Johns and someone who wasn’t even there for these January 1969 sessions, Phil Spector.
George Harrison says “I’d like to do an album of songs” on his own, as “it would be nice, mainly to get ‘em all out of the way…to hear what all mine are like all together.” Although he knows he could give away some of the songs to other artists to do, as he’d done for Jackie Lomax in 1968 with “Sour Milk Sea” and would even consider doing for Joe Cocker with “Something,” he adds, “I’m just gonna do me for a bit.” However, he wouldn’t start the sessions for his first proper solo album, All Things Must Pass, until spring 1970.
Mike McCartney, Paul’s younger brother, is shown pretending to play a piano. In a November 2021 interview with me, he remembered, “I bought this bright orange shiny leather jacket, and I simply wanted to show it to our kid [Paul] and the boys.” Going to Apple Studios as a recording session was in progress, “I slipped in, closed the door quietly, and just stood at the back, and enjoyed ‘Get Back,’ a smash hit.
“Then suddenly I realized there’s a track right down the middle of the studio. There’s a big movie camera on it, and it started to come down towards me. God, how ridiculous – this is gonna see me at the back standing here in me lovely leather jacket. I’ve gotta do something. There was a piano on the right-hand side there, and this track went to the side of the piano. So I thought, well, I’ll get behind that and they’ll think I’m playing the piano.
“And it started to keep going. All the Beatles are playing, Billy Preston is playing on his organ on the left-hand side, I’m on the right. I’m thinking, it’s getting very near my piano, which had its lid closed. It was all last minute. I thought, Jesus, I better pretend to play the closed-lid piano and look as though I’m part of the group. It went right past me, so I had to be serious, playing the piano.
“I’ve been telling people that story all my life. I’ve asked Apple many times, Mike Lindsay-Hogg, and no one’s even acknowledged it. And the next thing is our kid said, ‘Oh, you’re in this film.’ ‘Am I? Oh? I wonder if it’s my bit.’ Then Peter Jackson’s right-hand lady says, ‘I’ll send you a photograph.’ There is me at the piano in me leather jacket. So I can now prove I’m part of that track.” (The story for which I interviewed Mike McCartney, about the new book of his photos Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool, can be read at https://pleasekillme.com/mike-mccartney/.)
Apple building doorman Jimmy Clark has a bigger and more colorful role than you’d expect as the police enter the premises to halt the proceedings. “They lock the door when they’re recording,” he blithely tells the cops as he stalls for time. “‘Cause other people keep trying to get on the roof.”
Author Richie Unterberger's views on vintage rock music; San Francisco Bay Area biking and hiking; socially responsible living; and baseball.