Compilation albums aren’t common on Music Nerds, and for a Beatle-nerd like myself, the opportunity to expound on the band’s entire trajectory is simply too much to ignore. The majority of the tracks on 1 are unavailable on other albums (aside from other compilations): standard 60s policy. Even when an album track was put out as a 45, the single mix was usually different.
1, by definition, focuses on their number one hits — 27 of them — songs that everyone with the power of hearing has heard a million times or more. The charts used as reference were the UK’s Record Retailer listing and the US Billboard Hot 100. This means the pivotal “Please Please Me” wasn’t valid for inclusion; and is why I personally prefer the NME chart, which had it on the topspot the day I was born. The most conspicuous other omission is that, while “Penny Lane” is included, its far more pioneering double-A-side partner, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, was inexplicably counted out. Whoever compiled the selection was evidently “living with eyes closed”…
This was the first budget-priced Beatles CD that EMI (bye-bye) condescended to issue and everything was specially remastered and processed for the occasion, if you’re into that kinda thing. The cover art is somewhat unimaginative, and there’s little in the way of sleevenotes (till now!) though the collection of international record covers included is fun. For a fuller repass of their career, “The Red” and “The Blue” (the 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations) remain untouchable.
The band’s road, although most definitely winding, was in fact relatively short: just eight years as a recording unit. 1 is a whistle-stop tour of the commercial highpoints, from the exponential curve of Beatlemania to the psychedelic peaks. If you truly love music, its impossible to ignore the indelible imprint that the Beatles made on it — irrespective of how much you actually like them or not.
Listening to the progression from track to track, you really get to appreciate how quickly and consistently the band evolved as composers and musicians: in itself no mean feat, given the chaos that surrounded them as they were writing The Rulebook of Pop, and chalking up an unrepeatable series of music industry ‘firsts’. Similarly, they always strove to avoid the safe repetition of tried-and-tested styles or formulae: something at very least a little different every time. For this reason, I’m going to work through the write-up chronologically to try and catch that sense of development. With so many volumes already written about the songs in this collection, I hope my contribution will add something fresh to the oft-cited technical crits and anecdotes.
And so, without further delay:
“Ladies and gentlemen, here they are — The BEATLES!”
The Beatles — 1: Track-by-track review
1. “Love Me Do”
The only number one status that “Love Me Do” can rightfully claim is its position in the Beatles’ discography. OK, it did make the topspot in America; but that was a full eighteen months after the fact, re-released on the back of their Stateside breakthrough, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, neatly coinciding with their make-or-break first tour in early 1964. In the UK it reached a respectable if not dazzling Number 17, in October ’62.
The freshly besuited foursome were the undoubted Kings of Northern England, but still remained virtually unknown in the Great Capital. Having being famously rejected by Decca (“Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein…”), manager Brian continued to tirelessly hawk their demo tape around the London studios, until EMI/Parlophone offered to sign the band on the strength of a live demo — with the condition that they changed their drummer. Exit the increasingly unreliable Pete Best; enter his longstanding stand-in, Ringo Starr.
Producer George Martin was keen for them to release “How Do You Do It” (later a hit for fellow-Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers), but with typical Scouse tenacity, Lennon and McCartney held out for one of their own compositions. Martin conceded, but insisted on using the pre-booked session drummer. Ladies and gentlemen: John, Paul, George and … Andy White?!! The less than impressed Mr Starkey was restricted to tapping the tambourine , but did get to retrieve the sticks for the LP version on Please Please Me, released the following March, following their final stint in the Hamburg clubs.
“Love Me Do” is a simple enough little number, scarcely hinting at what was to come — aside, perhaps, from its implicit catchiness and those ever-impeccable vocal harmonies. And the fact that it’s unmistakably them. The Stones’ Brian Jones was curious to know how John had bent the harmonica notes. He did it using the piston on a chromatic mouth organ: hardly blues, but an early indication of how the band resisted being tied down by genres, and would always experiment with anything that ‘worked’.
2. “From Me To You”
Originally intended as the B-side to “Thank You Girl”, the roles were subsequently reversed, and this became the single which truly established the Beatles as a musical force to be reckoned with. At the time, there was no standard national pop chart in the UK. According to the New Musical Express listings, its predecessor “Please Please Me” had made number 1, but the 1 compilation uses Record Retailer (and the US Billboard) as its yardsticks. Thus, officially in this context at least, “From Me To You” was the group’s first number one in a sequence unbroken until early ’67. Furthermore, it spent a whopping seven weeks on the topspot.
It was written on the bus on their tour with Helen Shapiro, which they had started as the support act and ended up headlining. A true Lennon/McCartney collaboration, they literally bounced lines and chords off one another; notebook and guitars on the back seat. The title was ‘subliminally’ lifted from the aforementioned NME’s ‘From you to us’ letters page.
Comparing it to the two previous singles, “From Me To You” clearly shows how quickly the band were progressing, both as composers and as musicians. The non-verbal intro, the sophisticated switches between verse and chorus sections and the tightly modulated ending are all now part of the rulebook of popular music, which they were making up as they went along. John’s non-blues harp, which he always regarded as ‘a gimmick’, still sounds out loud and proud.
3. “She Loves You”
The indisputable soundtrack to Beatlemania, a phenomenon which George Harrison always affirmed to have begun in Scotland (there being nothing better to do up there in those days…). From Ringo’s tumbling roll-in, to the key-shift for the closing ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, it was — according to McCartney — custom-written as the single they needed to put out at the time. Like “From Me To You”, it was a John/Paul co-write, this time touring with Roy Orbison. Writing in the third person was a deliberate attempt to get away from the tried-and-tested ‘iloveyouandyouloveme’ formula. The Beatles were never content to rest on their laurels, and their whole career was an ongoing quest to do something different from what had gone before.
‘The Madness’ (George’s term) had reached the point that, not long after the release of the first LP, the screams were beginning to render them inaudible on stage and the taxi-dodge getaway schemes were becoming par for the course. The energy levels squeezed into the 2 1/2 mins which make up “She Loves You” come across like the band’s adrenalin-charged reaction to the spiralling insanity that was starting to surround them.
I’ve heard plenty of people over the years laugh it off for its ‘naivety’, ‘simplicity’. I’ve still to hear anyone say exactly what they’d do to make it any better… Forget you’ve heard it seven million times, and listen to it — preferably on phones — and try to ignore the full-on intensity of the individual contributions, not to mention the integral incisiveness of the harmonies.
It number-oned twice in the same run and spent a total of 31 weeks on the UK chart, becoming the highest seller of ’63, and — up to that point — of all time, remaining the Beatles’ biggest-selling UK single 45 years on.
“And you know that can’t be bad…”
4. “I Want To Hold Your Hand”
Britain’s 1963 Christmas number one spot was assured by the million-plus advance orders for this single (another ‘first’). The continuing lack of response to the band from across The Pond, however, was a more prevalent concern, particularly with their first US tour booked for the New Year. The hype caused by an imported copy on a Washington radio station provoked Capitol Records to rush-release it on Boxing Day, with a huge (for the day) promo budget. And thus commenced Beatlemania, Stateside-style…
Such was the demand (1/4 million copies in the first three days alone) that Capitol had to get other companies to help with the pressing! The Beatles, already on American soil, breaking viewing records on The Sullivan Show and getting Murray the K ranting (along with just about everyone else), finally made the Billboard number one in February. Kings of the World, with an average age of 22.
Consolidating the energy levels set by “She Loves You”, and recorded in — gasp — four-track, it’s still hard to hear the opening guitar onslaught without mentally overdubbing the hysterical screaming. That’s probably why a live version is featured on Love, right after Uncle Ed’s immortal intro. Don’t worry too much about the lyric; just listen to the way they deliver it. And of course, there’re those infectious handclaps offsetting the shuffling hi-hats and snare-crack rolls. Just another one of those great little pop songs that John and Paul wrote “into one another’s noses”.
An early American admirer was Bob Dylan, who regarded them as cutting-edge musicians, being particularly wowed by their ‘wild’ chord sequences. He also mistook the line ‘I can’t hide’ for ‘I get high’; which is probably while he had a big bag of grass with him when they met in New York later in the year.
A certain Ms Slick, however, was less flattering about the overly-innocent lyrics. Ah, come on Gracie did you honestly believe that they’ve limited themselves to hand-holding?!!
5. “Can’t Buy Me Love”
With America now at their Cuban-heeled feet, 1964’s first single — released in March — maintained the headspinning pace to perfection. Deftly delivered 12-bar pop ‘n’ roll, threatening to fry what passed for speakers back then. Paul’s vocal is probably his raunchiest since “I Saw Her Standing There”. Early takes have John and George singing support, but it was quickly decided that no backing was required, “No-no-no, n-o-o-o!” Macca was still in great voice when he retackled it on his 2003 tour.
It went directly to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. On the back of the breakthrough of “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, canny Capitol had re-released the band’s previous 45s and by mid-April the Beatles held the top five positions of the Hot 100: a first that has yet to be seconded.
Composed in the George V Hotel in Paris during their ‘Mersey Beaucoup’ stint at the Olympia Theatre in January, the backing track was also recorded in the French capital. You can still hear parts of Harrison’s original solo under the Abbey Road overdubs, picked up by the microphones. And man, what a cracking solo it is!
As the band’s most current hit, it’s hardly surprising that director Dick Lester decided to feature the track in the movie A Hard Day’s Night. It actually crops up twice, but the fire escape/sports pitch sequence, cut like what would later become known as a ‘promo video’, is one of the most memorable scenes in the film. “Sorry we ‘urt yer field, mister!”
6. “A Hard Day’s Night”
CHANNNNGGG!!! If their first movie was a cinefied version of the Beatles’ routine reality, then the title track sums it up more or less perfectly. A rollercoaster mix: Ringo’s surrealistic title (previously pilfered by Mr Lennon In His Own Write), George’s crazy opening chord, John and Paul sliding the lead vocal effortlessly back and forth.
John knocked it off in a night, scribbling the lyrics on the back of a birthday card, as soon as the movie’s title was confirmed towards the end of filming; mainly to get one up on Paul. By the following evening, it was in the can: though Macca had been duly handed the high vocal. However acute they may have become, interbeatle rivalries always took second place to song quality.
Like the band themselves in the film, the track never stands still. The dual and double-tracked vocal gives it an exuberant urgency, egged on by Ringo’s constantly shifting beat patterns and varied percussion — check the way he lays into that cowbell in the bridge! George’s guitarwork is impeccable throughout (though the proto-psychedelic closing arpeggio is Lennon’s).
Another Beatles’ first: “A Hard Day’s Night”, the single and the album, held the topspot on the British and American charts simultaneously in Aug ’64. “Everything seems to be right!”
There’s a wonderful cover of the song, also produced by George Martin on Parlophone, featuring Peter Sellers as Larry Olivier as Shakespeare’s Richard III. Still absolutely hilarious!
7. “I Feel Fine”
John Lennon maintained till the end of his life that “I Feel Fine” featured the first intentional guitar feedback on any record, and who am I to argue? That’s what Music Nerds comments are for. George Harrison cited that he (John) discovered the phenomenon accidentally while setting up for an early run-through of the song and henceforth experimented with every conceivable form of it during subsequent takes. On my old crackly vinyl copy of “The Red”, if you turn it right up, you can hear John — I think — at the beginning, saying (?) “I’m goin’ home”, or maybe “It’s gonna hum”. On the CD version, and on 1, it’s been eliminated.
Written round the picky riff (‘borrowed’ from an old favourite, “Watch Your Step” by Bobby Parker), “I Feel Fine” became 1964’s Christmas number one in Britain and the States. It was recorded during the Beatles For Sale LP sessions and appeared on the American Beatles ’65 album. The doubled guitar ostinato was achieved by John and George playing simultaneously, on amped acoustic and electric guitars respectively. Its insistency is a fine counterpart to Lennon’s ballsy vocal and George and Paul’s sublime high harmonies. Close your eyes and you can almost see them standing there: Lennon swaggering like a cowboy, the other two leaning into their shared mike, “telling all the world”.
McCartney’s bouncy bassline, which underpins the whole kaboodle, warrants mention as an indicator of how he was beginning to really come to terms with and experiment with his instrument. Ringo Starr has been much maligned as a drummer over the years (though rarely by other drummers), but no-one else has ever played cymbals like the man!
8. “Eight Days A Week”
By the end of 1964, the Beatles were exhausted. You can see it on their faces on the sleeve of Beatles For Sale, on which it opened Side 2; unreleased as a single in the UK, but their first chart-topper of ’65 in America.
A résumé of the band’s ’64 agenda confirms that they had indeed been working (like a dog) the equivalent of an eight-day week throughout the year: 2 LPs and a movie, 2 tours of the States, gigs around Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, a British tour, innumerable TV and radio sessions, and the honouring of all their pre-mega bookings in venues like Thimblemill Swimming Baths, Smethwick.
I think you can hear the tiredness a little in this song, too. The title was actually pilfered, by Paul, from a comment by one of their drivers. John, who co-wrote it, was never fully convinced by the song. Certainly, if you listen to the Anthology pre-takes, they had something of a struggle to get it together. The fade-up intro overrode early “ooooooo” vocal attempts, as did its repetition as the ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t help loving the track — and by almost anyone else it would be a premier league classic, but amongst the jewels of 1 it does come across slightly lacklustre. The ploddy offbeat rhythm seems to reflect the band’s state of fatigue, and even the vocal’s a bit flat (not musically, of course, but in terms of enthusiasm). The Beatles always strove for perfection: Lennon, at least, recognised that they didn’t quite attain it every time.
9. “Ticket To Ride”
The early Byrds often cited the Beatles as 50% of their raison d’être (Dylan, naturally, being the other half). The mighty jangling 12-string electric intro for “Ticket To Ride” demonstrates that the respect was mutual. George’s Rickenbacker was accompanied by Paul McCartney’s electric lead for the outing. Newly-wed Ringo was on fine form (allegedly coached for the task by McCartney, whose basswork on the track was also some of his finest to date). Recorded in mid-February (though not released till April), it seems to chime in the changes which the Fabs would be undergoing in 1965.
Seemingly rested from the fatigue that ended ’64, it all comes together here. Incisive vocals all round, and the tempo-changes between verses and bridge are impeccable. The accelerated volley of “my baby don’t care” at the finish were John’s ‘favourite bit’ on what he regarded as one of the band’s ‘heaviest’ compositions.
Originally billed as a taster “from their forthcoming feature film Eight Arms To Hold You”, the snow-scene it accompanies in the subsequently retitled Help! movie is a classic sequence. “Seemingly safe in the sheltering Alps”, and very certainly stoned out of their increasingly longer little mop-tops!
The title track for The Beatles’ second film was, like “A Hard Day’s Night”, snaffled by John. It would be great to know how a track called “Eight Arms To Hold You” would’ve sounded, if they’d stuck to the movie’s working title!
In later interviews, Lennon claimed that he was forced to up the intended tempo to make the song sufficiently commercial; and that it was written as a genuine cry for help, though he hadn’t realised it at the time. Given the continuing intensity of the mayhem which surrounded the band, keeping their “feet back on the ground” can’t have been easy, and their lives had undoubtedly “changed in oh so many ways”. John’s lack of direction during his self-professed ‘Fat Elvis Period’ was what was starting to make him personally “feel so insecure”.
In retrospect, the almost disorientating pace of the track maybe added to the intensity of his feelings and the plea of the lyric. Certainly he didn’t settle for half-measures in his attack on the vocal; and the upfront backing, instrumental and vocal, drive it along frenetically.
There have been many covers, from Deep Purple to the Damned, the Big O to Bananarama, but — in the humble opinion of this writer — the definitive version (musical and cinematographic) is the Rutles’ “Ouch!”
“Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs…”
Thus ran the original filler-lyric to a tune that had come to Paul McCartney in a dream. Wouldn’t you just love a long-forgotten recorded fragment to show up in the Abbey Road studio vaults sometime?!!
Macca was convinced that he must’ve dreamt an existing melody. Everybody he asked failed to identify it, and asked what he was going to do with it. Good question! As the song evolved, John, George and Ringo informed him that they had nothing to add, leaving him and producer George Martin to it.
It was Martin who suggested the strings to accompany the solo acoustic guitar. Paul agreed, provided it wasn’t ‘too Mantovani’. The matching downstepping of voice and viola was inspired, and John was a particular admirer of the ‘bluesy cello’. I tried hating the song for years, but finally gave up being bugged when it gets stuck in my head: what a relief to no longer “need a place to hide away”.
Like “Eight Days A Week”, it was unreleased as a single in the UK at the time (at the other three Beatles’ insistence). EPs, however, were a different story; and it did finally get issued as a 45 years later, coinciding with the Singles box set. As it was being pressed for the US market back in ’65, there was some discussion as to whether it should go out as a solo effort. Paul refused flatly, though has subsequently suggested that the writing credit should be adjusted to McCartney/Lennon. Seems a bit superfluous to me, really, but there you go.
It holds the Guinness record as the most covered song of all time — by anyone, not just the Beatles — with somewhere in the region of 3,000 versions having been recorded. Whether you love or hate “Yesterday”, with so many takes on it knocking around, it certainly “looks as though they’re here to stay”.
12. “Day Tripper”
Recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions, this non-album single was released as the world’s first double-A-side, accompanied by the following track on 1, “We Can Work It Out”. It notched up yet another Xmas number one for the band in Britain; just missing out in the States, where it peaked in the New Year.
The Beatles, MBE — and (all but Paul) LSD — were comfortable enough in the studio by this time to begin to really test the limits of its technology. Furthermore, given the restrictions of playing live at the time (using the stadium tannoy at Shea, for example) it gave them the opportunity to actually hear what they were doing!
“Day Tripper” is a stormer: the persistent, looping guitar riff provides a precursor to what would become knownas ‘psychedelic’; underpinned by Paul’s bass tangents and John thrashing the tambourine to back up Ringo. George’s piercing guitar breaks, which accompany the vocal harmonies between verses, is — as are the harmonies — almost excruciatingly exquisite!
The dual meaning of the lyric was entirely intentional on Lennon’s part: “she’s a prick-teaser”, a day tripper, a part-time hippie. Similarly, the new perspectives provided by turning on to acid are proclaimed: “It took me so long to find out, an’ I found out!” Maybe in giving McCartney the lion’s share of the dual lead vocal, John was hoping that he’d finally get round to ‘broadening his horizons’ like the rest of them had already done.
13. “We Can Work It Out”
The world’s first ‘Double-A’, twinned with “Day Tripper”, “We Can Work It Out” was the side which got most radio-play on release in Dec ’66. Much has been made of the ‘stylistically contrasting Lennon and McCartney sections’, often rather superficially (Macca the optimist, Lennon the cynic…). There are some pretty acidic perceptions in Paul’s part: “You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright”, to pick out but one. And John’s “no time for fussing and fighting” could be taken as a pioneering ‘all you need is imagine…’ Maybe it’s just the way their writing relationship was going at the time: collaborating rather than co-writing. It worked out fine in this case, anyway, as did their vocal crossover.
The collaboration and crossover in its studio construction was meticulous: an unprecedented 11 hours were spent on the track —unthinkable for a simple 45 in those days, but Messrs Martin, Emerick et al were going to have to start getting used to it! Coming as it did between the Rubber Soul and Revolver LPs (‘Parts 1 and 2’, according to George Harrison), the Beatles — always technically curious — were now clicking into full-experimental mode. Lennon’s washes and waves on the pedal harmonium are a notable example.
It was George himself who decided that John’s acoustic needed no back-up from him, and duly picked up the tambourine (sounding like he had a reet good time, t’boot!) He also suggested the tempo-shift to accompany the keychange between sections.
Macca did a great job with it, solo acoustic, on his 2002-3 tour. One I hadn’t expected him to play in Barcelona, anyway! It’s on the Back In The World album if you want to check it out.
14. “Paperback Writer”
The channel-panning, double-tracked vocal intro alone was a surefire indication of the shapes of Beatles things to come. Released a few months ahead of the Revolver album (which it didn’t appear on), “Paperback Writer” heralded its distinctive echoey, spacious sound — and the band’s expanding compositional horizons.
It was their first non-love song to be released as a single, and the mike-boosted bass and generally boosted attack of the other instrumentation (and vocal) are sure indicators of how comfortable the group had become in the studio: and how diligent, thorough and creative George Martin and his assistants continued to be. The B-Side, “Rain”, featured the first backward recordings on record, another trick which would be oft employed by just about everyone in the forthcoming psychedelia era and beyond.
The song should maybe have also been taken as a signal that the band’s days as a live-act were becoming numbered. Though it was attempted during their ’66 tour, it was always — according to George — ‘pretty crummy’. At the end of August, as sick of the pointlessness of playing to a barrage of screams as of the technical limitations, the Beatles played what was to be their final gig, at Candlestick Park, SF.
To avoid the grind of TV appearances for publicity purposes, promo-films were issued for both songs, miming in the ornamental greenhouse at Chiswick House (except for Ringo, who just sits round trying to look cute). They were directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was later responsible for the filming of the Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, as well as the Let It Be movie.
15. “Yellow Submarine”
Ringo Starr’s only vocal lead on a Beatles 45; and one of their most pervading themes, if primary school music classes are anything to go by. My mum and dad claim that it was the first song I ever joined in with on the radio. Not the coolest of musical debuts, perhaps, but hell: I was only three at the time (though I still can’t resist playing ‘air trombone’ for the marching band break).
Released alongside the Revolver LP, as a double-A with “Eleanor Rigby”, its kiddie singalong simplicity masks the complexity of its composition. Nothing on Revolver was as straightforward as it might have sounded! The nautical sound-effects were thrown in by all and sundry, using whatever they could find lying round the studio (and the bathroom!) and the military band was filched from EMI’s library collection. There’s also more than a hint of psychedelia in the lyrics. John had previously described how George’s house turned into a big submarine during their first LSD trip the previous year, after being spiked by a less than ethical dentist. That perspective kicked in further when the song became the title-track for the acid-tinged animated movie a couple of years later.
Paul was mainly responsible for the writing, indicating his eternal desire to appeal to all audiences (children, in this case). Lennon and Donovan also threw in a few lines during the voyage, and the all-aboard chorus reputedly included Patti Harrison, Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull and the band’s faithful roadies Neil (who was probably rolling the joints) and Mal (who banged the big-bass drum).
16. “Eleanor Rigby”
“Yellow Submarine’s” double-A shows another facet of Macca’s ongoing quest to become ‘the complete composer’, a man for all tastes. Like “Yesterday”, the track has none of the band playing on it (not even Paul this time), although Lennon and Harrison do sing backing vocals. A double-tracked string quartet provides the only instrumentation, though it was originally composed on piano. The sophisticated structure (once again the fruit of George Martin’s efforts) really helps to reflect the way McCartney’s writing was maturing. There’s a ‘strings only’ version on Anthology, which Martin subsequently interwove with the vocal mix to marvellous effect forty years later, on Love.
Where did “all the lonely people” come from? George Harrison actually contributed the line and Paul was quite convinced that he had invented the names, having tried out various combinations during the song’s evolution. It was discovered years later, however, that both Eleanor Rigby and someone called McKenzie, like the sock-darning priest in the song, have their tombstones in a Liverpool graveyard which he and John had hung around in together during their teenage years.
Just a memory lapse, or inspiration from the great beyond? Either way, it had Macca rattled for a while, and has left us with another wonderful song for good measure!
17. “Penny Lane”
The band’s first release of 1967, on my 4th birthday, was double-A’d with its ‘Liverpool twin’, the hugely innovative “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Producer George Martin considered the coupling to be ‘probably their greatest single ever’ and always regretted their not being used on the subsequent Sgt Pepper album. I still find it incomprehensible that the latter track isn’t part of the 1 compilation.
Having said that, it’s only thanks to a single week on the topspot in the States that either of the pairing was eligible for inclusion: in the UK it was held at No 2 by the distinctly unhip and unhippie Engelbert Humperdinck crooning “Release Me”!
Although not as overtly psychedelic as John’s drifting trip back to ‘the town where they were born’, McCartney’s jolly hometown tribute isn’t without its tints of surrealism, such as the macless banker “in the pouring rain” “beneath the blue suburban skies” (in November, if the Remembrance Day poppies are any indication). It also incorporated numerous pieces of recording trickery, most notably the speeding up of the vocal and the piccolo trumpet.
Macca’s insistence on take after take to ‘get it right’ would become increasingly typical of his obsessive approach to studio work from that time on. No fewer than six piano parts were laminated into the final mix, courtesy of John, Paul and George Martin. George Harrison clanged the firebell, and a curious collection of other instruments “come and go” to help fix the Merseyside scene firmly in your ears and in your eyes.
It was “meanwhile back” in London, however, that they filmed the promo-clip. “Very strange…”
18. “All You Need Is Love”
Hot on Sgt Pepper’s heels, a month or so further into the ‘Summer of Love’, Lennon’s peace people anthem remains the mantra of its age. Beatle memories are fuzzy over whether it was specifically written for the Our World broadcast — for which the BBC had commissioned them to contribute — or if it was a ‘work in progress’. Either way, its emission to during the world’s first satellite link-up got the word across to an estimated 400 million viewers. George Harrison described it as ‘a good piece of PR for God.’ “There’s nothin’ you can do that can’t be done”.
The simplicity of the chorus message belies the enormous complexity of the song’s structure: weird shifts between time signatures, and — of course — the wonderfully wacky orchestration. George Martin has always been well-renowned for his schoolmasterly straightness, but his surrealistic scoring of a hotchpotch of the French national anthem, “Greensleeves”, Bach and Glenn Miller (amongst others) caught the fun and frivolity of freshly bloomed flower-power to perfection! “Nothin’ you can say, but you can learn how to play the game”.
The orchestra played live for the broadcast, while the Beatles played and sang over a pre-taped instrumental backing (John’s harpsichord, Paul’s double-bass and George’s violin [!], for example.) George Martin taped the performance to use as the record master. The Who’s Keith Moon can be seen trying desperately to distract Ringo, whilst Jagger and Clapton are amongst the clap-along hippies on the studio floor. It was revamped considerably for the single release a couple of weeks later, with Lennon re-recording his vocal (presumably to “learn how to be you in time”) and further ambient touches added, ensuring that “there’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be”. Must be why you still get a waft of incense every time you hear it…
“Altogether now: ev’rybody: it’s e-a-sy!”
19. “Hello Goodbye”
“Yellowmattercustard, crabalockerfishwife” may well have demonstrated more inventive wordplay than “yes-no, stop-go, high-low”, but both McCartney and Martin insisted that “Hello Goodbye” was a more commercial proposition for a 45 than Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus”. With Brian Epstein no longer around to mediate, Macca’s strong-arm began to flex its muscles increasingly within the band.
His often annoying obsessiveness in the studio similarly continued to grow. Compare the single to the take on Anthology, before the strings were added, and with George’s far fierier guitar licks. ‘OK, just once more, lads…’ Having said that, the infectious “heyla-loha” coda is said to have been born from an improvisation during recording — so “goo-goo-g’joob!” McCartney used it as the perfect if perhaps predictable opener for his Back In The World shows during 2002-3.
In this particular case, his nose for a hit didn’t deceive him: the single spent seven weeks as the UK chart-topper, a feat unmatched since “From Me To You”, notching up yet another Christmas number one in the process. In America, it opened ’68 on the topspot, where it stayed for three weeks. Mighty though The Walrus was, and more enduring he may be, I’m not sure he would’ve cornered the market quite so effectively at the time. Anyway, whatever the antagonisms, The Egg Man doesn’t look to be having such a bad time in the promo-clips, larking around in his Pepper suit in one and, dressed as a Ted, jiving with Paul in another.
20. “Lady Madonna”
Paul’s Fats Domino foray has never had me entirely convinced as part of the Beatles’ catalogue: especially as a single. The bouncy piano-driven rhythm seems a little at odds with the trials and tribulations of the ‘every mother’s daughter’ detailed in the lyrics, though McCartney has always expressed his satisfaction with the vocal, singing outside of his habitual range. In any case, the original Mr Boogie-Woogie was impressed enough to record his own version — which can only be taken as a compliment!
The arrangement is as meticulous as one would expect from Macca at the time: in addition to his own rollicking bass, George’s buzzsaw guitar part is a killer, whilst Ringo throws in more of his oft-copied yet never matched flourishes. The “see how they run” breaks, delivered with such effortless tightness, were Lennon’s contribution: and allowed him to get at least a snatch of “I Am The Walrus” onto an A-side! Ronnie Scott’s saxwork, considered ‘too jazzy for pop’ back then, was restored to more of its Anthology pretake stridency on the 2006 Love mix.
21. “Hey Jude”
‘Hey Jools, don’t take it bad’ were originally intended as ‘words of wisdom’ for Julian Lennon, in the midst of John and Cynthia’s divorce proceedings. Yet when John first heard the song, he was convinced it had been written for him: ‘Hey dude…’ This time he had no arguments with the choice for the debut release on the newly-formed Apple label, being the first to acknowledge the track as “a masterpiece” (though his flipside, “Revolution”, certainly had a strong case for double-A status). J.L. Jr., too young to realise the song’s significance at the time, paid 25 grand for the handwritten lyric in a memorabilia auction years later.
Remarkably, the recording of the epic apparently went reasonably smoothly (despite the fact that you do pick up Lennon cussing himself for fluffing a line just before the singalong). What can you say? The warmth and integrity of each Beatle’s contribution(s), with the incessantly shifting 36-piece orchestral textures behind are a jacuzzi for your ears; the extended playout — ad-libs, handclaps ‘n’ all — remains a masterclass in the art of control. Hats off once again to George Martin for his arrangements. In his ‘remix’ for Love, you get more of an idea of just how many individual parts actually summed up to its gloriously stately whole.
The big problem was, that according to the technology of the day, seven minutes were simply three too many to be pressed onto 7″ format. What the hell: the EMI engineers, not for the first time, managed to make the machinery do things it wasn’t designed to do in order to accommodate the needs of the Beatles.
The promo-film was a live rendition over the recorded orchestra backing, with visiting TV presenter David Frost thinking he was being hip by introducing the band as ‘the greatest tearoom orchestra in the world.’ There are some pretty dodgy fashion-victims in the audience as well, but the Fabs look — and sound — like they had a fab time!
Covers of “Hey Jude” abound but, to my mind, amongst the most worthy are the one by Wilson Pickett, and a Vegas live cut by King Elvis himself. Both “let it out and let it in” in their own unmistakable styles, without losing any of the original’s majesty; which is what cover versions should be all about. Neither, however, manages “to make it better”.
It also remains a staple part of McCartney’s live repertoire: how not with that built-in altogether now singalong?
C’mon let me hear you ev’rybody, yeah: “naaaa-naa-naa…”
22. “Get Back”
Get Back was the working title of the album and movie (and, as the Rutles would point out, the lawsuit) which turned into Let It Be. The original concept was to record the band rehearsing for a one-off live show. The pending break-up chronicled in the film, not to mention the production wrangles over the LP which allowed Abbey Road to leapfrog it in release, gave a radically different picture.
“Get Back” — the song — did manage to keep to the back-to-basics intentions of the project, and is still a kicking little rocker. Its evolution is well-charted in bootleg form and it did, of course, get to be performed live; with the bumbling British Bobbies attempting to break it up at the end of the legendary Apple roof-show. Ringo still expresses his disappointment that they didn’t try to forcibly remove him from his drumstool! Phil Spector spliced in the final coda from the movie soundtrack for his album mix along with various other adjustments when he eventually condescended to return the tapes, which he allegedly stole from the studio.
Billy Preston’s electric piano (and probably his role as mediator) earned him a full credit on the label: the only Beatles collaborator ever to attain such status. The single was also the band’s only 45 to enter the charts at No 1, in the UK at least. In the States, it was their first stereo 7″.
23. “The Ballad Of John & Yoko”
The true-to-life tale of the world’s most (in)famous newly-weds: the marriage on Gibraltar, the Amsterdam Honeymoon Bed-In, the peace-pranks in Vienna and London. It was recorded solely by John and Paul, working together in response to Lennon’s inspiration flash. For this stint in the studio, at least, they managed to set aside their virtually habitual antagonism as they built the track between them. It was rush-released little more than a month after “Get Back”, so as not to let its contemporary relevance cool. The Montreal Bed-In anthem “Give Peace A Chance” was introduced into the public’s consciousness the following month, credited to the ‘Plastic Ono Band’.
George was ‘on holiday’ (presumably taking a breather from the cauldron), so Lennon seized the chance to layer-on two lead guitar parts. Ringo had likewise escaped, with the excuse of filming The Magic Christian, giving McCartney his debut as drummer. When you consider the rhythm and bass guitar, the piano and percussion which also help to swing this busy little funky blues thing along, you start to get some idea of what a feat of production construction it must have been; yet it still somehow managed to capture the spontaneity of the brief reconciliation that spawned it.
The “Christ” lyric inevitably stirred up the American WASP nest, which had never entirely forgiven Lennon for his ‘bigger than Jesus’ comments, circulated out of context back in ’66, leading to the ‘Beatle Burnings’, Klan marches and such like. Many radio stations vetoed “The Ballad” and Lennon himself stated that there were US copies pressed with the ‘blasphemy’ erased by reversing it. I have no other evidence for this than the composer’s often less than lucid recollections and would love to know if it’s true. Anyone out there have a spare copy?!!
The only Harrisong to be afforded Beatle A-Side status: and what a song it is!
Little Georgie had, inevitably, stood for years in the songwriting shadow of the dynamic duo who had overshadowed Lieber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Rogers & Hammerstein and pretty much any other songwriting partnership you could come up with. And so when Ol’ Blue Eyes himself introduced “Something” as ‘my favourite from the Lennon/McCartney songbook’, he must’ve known he’d finally really made it! Michael Jackson was also under the same misconception when Harrison met him years later.
So just what is it about George’s lovely lovesong to his first wife Patti which makes it maintain its magic, long after she left him for Eric Clapton? It was actually penned during the White Album sessions, and comes second only to “Yesterday” in terms of cover versions.
Something in the way he moved the band to play it his way, perhaps. If you don’t know it, do yourself a real favour and check out the demo version on Anthology, where you can hear ‘the quiet one’ instructing Macca on how the bass part should be played. And in the end, all the lads did him more than proud on the track, as did George Martin’s string arrangement and Billy Preston’s Hammond.
Somewhere in the style of the recording, also. Abbey Road (the studio) had recently been updated to 8-track, and Abbey Road (the album) had exploited it to the full, giving it a depth and lushness which had been simply impossible on any of the band’s previous work. The role of George Martin in the Beatles’ story can never be understated: ever professional (here reunited with the band after they’d kicked him off the Let It Be project), ever ingenious.
And, very definitely, something in the voice of George: one of his finest vocal performances ever — “and how!”
25. “Come Together”
Double-A’d with “Something” in America, relegated to the B-side in Britain.
Whatever it was that was coming together, it evidently wasn’t the Beatles as an entity at this stage. Nevertheless, their bickering — as always — took a back seat to the professionalism, and the Abbey Road opener came together very nicely. George Martin believes it to be ‘one of their greatest tracks’, citing the innovative and distinctive contributions of each of the band as evidence. It’s difficult to argue, listening to the way everything comes together, even as it was falling apart. Headphones are a must to truly appreciate their interplay. Mr Martin himself also played a key-part, mastering the knobs, buttons and sliders on the studio’s newly installed 8-track system without missing a “s-h-o-o-O-O-T!”
Having finally succeeded in getting some verbal gobbledegook onto an A-side (in the States, at least), in addition to a long-awaited ‘walrus’ reference, Lennon ran into legal problems over kicking it all off with that “Flat-top” line, so similar to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me”. Part of his out-of-court settlement with the publisher was to release his own version of the original, which he eventually got round to on John Lennon/Rock’n’Roll in 1975.
“Come Together” was included on the setlist for his ’72 Madison Square Garden gig, backed by Elephant’s Memory, and released on LP and video as “Live in New York City”. Lennon became the victim of his own tongue-twisting twaddle on that particular occasion (which turned out to be his last gig), stumbling over a line or two (and nearly cracking up laughing) during the kicking rendition. Whether he’d got his mojo filtered or had just been holy rolling is anybody’s guess!
26. “Let It Be”
1. “Times of Trouble”
As exemplified in the movie, the Beatles’ relationship — musical and personal — had deteriorated to a state far beyond a passing ‘problematic period’. The divorce had been on the cards for a good while before the band were prepared to admit it — or at least to announce it. At the time of the single’s release, the public remained officially unaware of the imminent split, though the most perceptive must surely have sniffed it coming.
2. “Mother Mary”
Whereas he’d dreamt the melody for “Yesterday”, this time it was the essence of the lyric which came to McCartney as he slept. He was visited by his mother, Mary, who had succumbed to cancer some 15 years before: round about the time he was starting to jam with one John Lennon. Their shared experience of maternal loss was one of the bonds that drew them together. John’s mum was killed by a drunk-driving police officer when he was 17.
3. “Words of Wisdom”
In the dream, she assured him that the future was going to be fine; the past was the past; that he should put it all behind him and move on without worrying about what might happen, and simply “let it be.”
4. “The Sound of Music”
The line still makes me think of Julie Andrews like it did when I was a kid, but I digress. Given the origin of the song, its hymnal tone was inevitable; and the Beatle Cathedral Choir complements the imposing grand piano motif to perfection. The 45 mix and the previously recorded but subsequently released LP version are substantially different: particularly in the interplay between Harrison’s guitar and Billy Preston’s keyboards. Overdubs for the single were completed — minus Lennon — during the band’s final session in Jan 1970, leaving nothing more to be said or done than to “shine on till tomorrow”.
27. “The Long And Winding Road”
As the Beatles’ epitaph single, “The Long And Winding Road” was, perhaps, unworthy, particularly given composer McCartney’s dissatisfaction with Spector’s strings and choirs, dubbed over the hijacked master. To get a better idea of how he wished it to’ve sounded, ‘as nature intended’ (according to the propaganda for the Get Back/Let It Be project), listen to the Anthology demo or the Naked take, with George Martin and Glyn Johns at the controls. Make your own mind up.
Leaving aside the music, it’s still a belting lyric!
Although the song had been knocking around since the White Album, its similarity of feeling to its 7″ predecessor “Let It Be” maybe also demonstrates how the band had, by the end of the decade, simply run out of steam; despite their best efforts over the years:
Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried.
Anyway, you’ll never know
The many ways I’ve tried
The Cavern Club, Hamburg, Beatlemania and Pepper must really have felt like “a long, long time ago”. It was released to coincide with the launch of the album, coinciding with Paul’s spilling of the beans over the not so very secret secret. Nothing to add, nothing to be taken away:
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Y-e-e-a-a-h-h-h…”
1 by The Beatles
“Love Me Do”
“From Me To You”
“She Loves You”
“I Want To Hold Your Hand”
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
“A Hard Day’s Night”
“I Feel Fine”
“Eight Days A Week”
“Ticket To Ride”
“We Can Work It Out”
“All You Need Is Love”
“The Ballad Of John & Yoko”
“Let It Be”
“The Long And Winding Road”