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Friday, January 16, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side four

The Get Back sessions of January 1969 are represented by the next batch of tracks.  As there were no proper recordings at the Twickenham Film Studios rehearsals in the early part of that month, all of these selections come from late January when the group reconvened at 3 Savile Row in their unfinished Apple Studios using borrowed equipment and adding keyboardist Billy Preston to the live proceedings.

I've Got a Feeling - This is the first official release of the take that engineer Glyn Johns used on both of his Get Back albums, neither of which met with the approval of the Beatles in '69 and '70.  The performance is quite good, featuring a particularly fine vocal by Paul on the bridge, but it breaks down before the final section.

She Came in through the Bathroom Window - McCartney debuted this composition at these sessions, though it did not surface until its appearance as part of the medley on Abbey Road at the end of the year.  This version is considerably slower and has some nice touches that I love, including John's harmony vocal on the chorus and George's pedal-tone guitar work.  After the take, Paul demonstrates what he terms a "classical" variation that he feels the song could use.

Dig a Pony - The Anthology chooses to give us a somewhat shaky runthrough of this Lennon tune - one not nearly as good as the rooftop version on the Let It Be album.  We do get to hear the "All I want is" line at either end of the song - something re-producer Phil Spector decided to edit out of that earlier release.  And John forgets his own lyrics in a few spots, which is not unusual for him, though the tricky wordplay of this composition makes it understandable in this instance.   

Two of Us - Another ragged runthrough - this time of a McCartney number.  The Beatles seem to be still working out the arrangement at this point, with no drumwork from Ringo before the bridges and some hesitant guitar picking the second time around.  Paul and John are also uncertain of which lyrics to sing at the beginning of some of the verses.  And the track is oddly faded out before it would come to a natural stop, as all of these live tracks were required to do.

For You Blue - The boys only spent one day working on this Harrison composition, yet they seemed to have a lot of fun doing so.  Paul plays an intro on piano on this take, though he does not take a solo during the instrumental break.  George's acoustic and John's slide guitar parts and Ringo's drums are pretty much the same as on the master.

Teddy Boy - McCartney tried to sell the group on this song on two separate occasions, both of which are represented on this combined take.  John grows bored at one point and starts calling out as if he were at a square dance in time to the music.  Paul would have to wait until he began work on his first solo album to make a proper recording of this little gem.

Medley: Rip it Up/Shake, Rattle and Roll/Blue Suede Shoes - Countless oldies were played during these sessions.  Few were complete versions and many were merely a line or two, but an extended medley occurred on January 26th.  Since there was no thought of releasing this jam, John and Paul's shared vocals are half-hearted in places, but the playing by the Beatles and Billy Preston is quite good on this sequence of tunes by some of their rock and roll heroes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side three

Glass Onion - This performance by the Beatles of this Lennon composition is the master version, but John decided to add sound effects to it during producer George Martin's extended holiday from the "White Album" sessions.  When Martin returned, he suggested a score for strings instead of the ringing telephone, breaking glass and shouts of "It's a goal!" - an idea John embraced.

Rocky Raccoon - Take 8 of this McCartney composition finds the basic instrumentation in place, but Paul is still making up lyrics here and there.  John suggests the line "he was a fool unto himself" for the spoken introduction before they start playing and Paul gamely gives it a try.  Rocky is from Minnesota on this take and Paul reacts to his verbal fluff "sminking with gin" instead of "stinking" among numerous other variations.

What's the New Mary Jane - For me, these are the most excruciating six minutes that the Beatles ever committed to tape.  The first couple of minutes are almost redeemed by some typical Lennon wit in the lyrics, but the tune he sets them to is mediocre at best.  The track then devolves into aimless, amateurish banging away on piano, guitar and various percussion instruments far too long for no good reason.  The decision to keep this mess off of the "White Album" must have been a no-brainer.

Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias - This track fades in on an impromptu version of a song McCartney wrote for Cilla Black's TV show.  As this occurred during a session for the basic track of his song I Will, Paul is on acoustic guitar with John and Ringo providing percussion.  Before resuming a proper take of the new composition, John's remark of "Los Paranoias" spurs Paul to ad lib a silly new song, which fades out after a minute.  All in all, this is a fun look at the creative synergy the group could still muster at its best moments.

I'm So Tired - This slow Lennon rocker was recorded in a single night.  The Anthology presents a version of the basic track made from three separate takes.

I Will - The Anthology now returns to the session for the basic track of this number - to the very first take, in fact.  The entire arrangement is already set, but Paul would not be satisfied until take 67 that he, John and Ringo had gotten it right.

Why Don't We Do It in the Road? - Take 4 of this McCartney number reveals that Paul originally sang one verse softly, switched to the howling voice he wound up using on the master, then continued alternating.  After several verses, he stops and asks, "What do you think?"  The next take would be the master, so the decision to stick with the strident voice throughout was made at this point.

Julia - Lennon's only solo performance as a Beatle was this beautiful tribute to his mother.  He starts singing here on take 2, but quickly stops and concentrates on his finger-picking.  When he begins singing again midway through the song, his playing breaks down.  This is followed by a fascinating exchange with Paul, who has been listening up in the control booth.  John is respectful and almost deferential to his longtime partner - a far cry from the disdain he would project in many future interviews.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 3 - side one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side six

I Am the Walrus - On September 5th, 1967, the group returned to the studio for the first time following Brian Epstein's death and recorded the basic track of this Lennon composition.  This is that backing track - take 16 - plus John's haunting lead vocal from the next day's session, and it is a stunner.  It is as bare bones as possible, featuring only drums, tambourine, electric piano and guitar, but even without producer George Martin's orchestration, the Mike Sammes Singers and the BBC radio performance of King Lear, it is every bit as mesmerizing as the finished master.

The Fool on the Hill (Demo) - Paul recorded this demo alone at the piano.  Melodically, the song is already complete, but the lyrics are far from it.  He opens the song with a musical variation of the "world spinning round" phrase, a nice touch which he dropped before the final version.

Your Mother Should Know - The group had already recorded the basic track of this tune a month or so earlier when Paul decided to do this remake.  It features the composer on harmonium and Ringo playing a military-style beat throughout.  Paul ultimately thought better of it and returned to the original version as the basis for the master.

The Fool on the Hill (Take 4) - This is a proper recording of the song with overdubs (one of them being Paul playing the recorder), though the lyrics are still a work-in-progress.  The interesting opening musical phrase is also still present, but this version would be scrapped and the entire song remade a day later.

Hello, Goodbye - Here is one of those Anthology creations combining multiple takes in a way that was never intended by the Beatles themselves.  Though we are able to hear portions of the song differently than we usually hear them, it is not that interesting to me except for George's very active guitar part, much of which was edited out of the master.

Lady Madonna - The same approach is taken with the early 1968 single, although there are not nearly as many layers of sound on this recording.  We do get a little extra bit of saxophone at the end of the number, as well as a final, hearty "Lady Madonna" from either Paul or John.

Across the Universe - The sessions that produced Lady Madonna also yielded this gorgeous Lennon number, though never quite to the composer's satisfaction.  This is take 2, which I feel is superior to either of the officially released versions - one produced by George Martin, the other by Phil Spector - in that it captures the gentle, ethereal quality of the song far better.  It features George on sitar and numerous other acoustic stringed instruments (is one of them an autoharp?) as well as some simple percussion.  The song is a difficult one to sing, and John is often running out of breath as he learns how to phrase it.  Had the group continued with this arrangement, Lennon might have been better pleased with the result.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side five

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Takes 1 & 2) - The first two takes of this Lennon composition quickly break down, but the fascinating stuff lies in between as Paul gives John some advice on how to sing the phrases of the song.  John, sounding almost embarrassed, laughs it off, yet a listen to the master version reveals how much respect he actually gave to his longtime partner.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Take 7) - This is the backing track of that master version with Paul on bass, Ringo on drums and producer George Martin on harmonium.  At the end, it switches to a new mix of the swirling calliope part from the master, although it fades out before coming to a full stop as the released version does.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - This Anthology track combines parts of takes 6, 7 and 8 including Paul on the Hammond organ, George on tamboura, plus guitar and drums.  John wrote the lead vocal part at the top of his range, and he strains to hit the notes on this guide vocal, singing the song in a staccato style.  Mark Lewisohn relates in The Beatles: Recording Sessions that Paul once again gave the composer some advice on how to sing his own song and John listened, resulting in a smoother, dreamier reading on the master.

Within You Without You (Instrumental) - We get to hear this collaboration from the two Georges - Harrison and Martin - minus the vocals, giving us a chance to savor the complex arrangement and interplay of Eastern and Western instruments so groundbreaking for its time.  The track is about twenty seconds longer than the released version due to a few extra measures between some sections.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - On April 1st, 1967, the band quickly recorded this faster version of the title song to round out the album after more than four months of sessions.  The master, take 9, features Paul, John and George singing in unison, but here on take 5, Paul sings a guide vocal solo.

You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) -The Anthology presents the wackiest of all Beatles songs in stereo for the first time.  It belongs at this point in the chronology because the instrumental backing for this comedy number was recorded in five parts in May and June of '67, though John, Paul and Mal Evans did not add vocals until April of '69, John edited it for release as a potential Plastic Ono Band single in November of '69 and it finally appeared as the B-side of the group's final single Let It Be in March of 1970.  We get to hear an extended opening section, one section that did not make it to the master version featuring lively off-beat syncopation and truncated versions of two familiar sections.  Paul's glorious lounge-lizard section is thankfully untouched. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side four

From the promotional film for Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberry Fields Forever (Demo Sequence) - John made countless demo versions of his haunting stream-of-consciousness song before the Beatles reunited after a three month break from one another.  He tries finger picking on this attempt, then stops, mutters "I canna do it" and strums instead.  At this point, he has not finished all of the verses or put the ones he has in their final order.  Also note that the line was originally "Let me take you back" rather than "down."

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 1) - On November 24th, 1966, the first day of sessions for the next album, the boys recorded this magnificent first take of John's now-complete composition.  Numerous overdubs indicate that they thought they had already achieved the master, but a month's worth of work still lay ahead of them.  John had indeed found the vocal style he wanted to use to convey the world-weary tone of the lyrics, but the instrumental backing would change dramatically over many attempts.  Paul's Mellotron was in place from the start (though he had yet to come up with the brilliant mood-setting introduction), but George's prominent slide guitar would give way to a more straightforward guitar sound overall.

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7 & Edit Piece) - Several days later, the Beatles once again believed they had completed work on the song using a new arrangement.  In fact, the first minute of take 7 is used in the master, the remainder coming from take 26.  We hear all of take 7 here, then Ringo's wild drum track which was overdubbed onto take 26 for the fade out/fade in/fade out at the end of the record.  Though still incomplete, this sequence of tracks is by far the best on the Anthology series at showing the development of a recording over time.

Penny Lane - In this Anthology amalgam of many different takes, we have Paul's lead vocal single-tracked, a wonderful overdub of cor anglais and trumpets (which was either omitted from the master or mixed so low as to be inaudible) in place of Dave Mason's piccolo trumpet solo, and Mason's full final phrase continuing into some crazy run-on playing from the Beatles before coming to a full stop with a comment from Paul.

A Day in the Life - Another combination of takes is presented here beginning with some pre-recording chatter from John and tinkering on the piano by Paul.  The verses are from take 2 and they include John's guide vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul on piano and assistant Mal Evans' echoed counting of the 24 measures where the first orchestral crescendo would eventually fit in to the song.  For Paul's bridge, we hear his vocal, piano and bass, plus Ringo's drums from take 6 before returning to take 2 for the final verse.  Finally, we do hear the second orchestral build-up followed by some chatter lead by Paul with the guests invited to that orchestral overdub session on February 10th, 1967.

Good Morning Good Morning - Those who think the Beatles didn't rock during their work on Sgt. Pepper should listen to the basic track of this Lennon composition.  Rhythm guitar, Paul's bass and Ringo's drums plus John's vocal are proof enough.

Only a Northern Song - Harrison's first offering for the album wouldn't see the light of day until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.  This is take 3, the basic track from February 13th, with vocals that were not recorded until April featuring many variations from the lyrics on the master version.