a moral to this song

The Beatles through the looking glass onion: Recordings, rhetoric, images, interviews, articles, album sessions, and intrigue.

When Paul came in[to the band], things started to get a little bit more serious. Paul’s father had actually had a band, Jim Mac’s Jazz Band, so Paul was much more aware of the career possibilities than any of the rest of us were, because here his own dad had had a band. So things got a lot more structured and serious when Paul arrived. You can tell that by looking at the photograph of us in July ’57, when we were at St Peter’s Church, a bunch of guys in checked shirts, and in November ’57, when you have John and Paul in smart white jackets and everybody in little bootlace ties. I mean, already Paul’s influence was evident, you know?

— Rod Davis (of The Quarrymen), interview w/ Gillian G. Gaar for Goldmine: Before they were Beatles, they were Quarrymen. (November 28th, 2012)

October, 1973 (A&M Studios, Los Angeles): Amongst the cacophonous Rock ‘n’ Roll recording sessions, John and Phil Spector quip and yell at each other through the studio talkback and attempt to record an actual take. (Note: This montage of audio clips are typically bootlegged as three separate tracks, but there may be more than three timestamps within. The overall aural abruptness of the dialogue exchanged is mostly an effect of the studio-control room talkback. If John and/or Phil seem unhinged or under the influence – well. Odds are on the side of documented history.)

JOHN: But after all…

PHIL: Alright, one of the greatest sessions of all time, history’s in the making, Jann Wenner’s here with his brother [inaudible], and here we go. One two three.

JOHN: One, two, three, four— [playing starts]

PHIL: No, you yelled “four”! Wait a minute!

JOHN: Phil, Phil— [playing halts]

PHIL: You can’t yell “four” after his playing.

JOHN: Please accept my four, it’s the only way I can come in. I’m—

PHIL: Yes, through “fault”.

JOHN: One—

PHIL: Come on, you don’t have to come in. He can do the intro, da duh dum dum dum dum.

JOHN: No wonder Ronnie le— Ah, okay.

PHIL: [laughs] Yeah, okay. I’ll tell – I won’t bring up names, okay.

JOHN: Okay. No names.

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“Phil [Spector] wanted control,” May Pang says. “That’s basically what it came down to. And he kept holding John at bay—like, It’s my show, not yours. It was an ego trip. Fucking with John’s head. It was unbearable, because I could see the pain in John from this.” One night, Spector arranged to meet at Gold Star to do some vocal overdubs. Lennon arrived, only to pass the evening with Gold Star’s boss Stan Ross, waiting in vain for Spector to turn up. “We kept phoning saying, ‘Where are you?’” Ross remembers. “And Phil’d say, ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’ And an hour later it’d be the same thing—‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’ At the end of the evening I said to John, ‘It’s been a pleasure and I’m sorry we couldn’t do anything.’ He said, ‘He’s a prick.’ Next day I called Phil and asked him, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Oh, I had problems and couldn’t leave.’ So tell us! But that would be too simple for Phil.”

At one stage in the evening, Lennon had a heated telephone exchange with Yoko back in New York and smashed the receiver against the mixing board, causing some minor damage. Spector later offered to pay Ross for the repair, but Ross decided to keep the desk in its damaged state, “as a souvenir.”

On another night, Lennon became so drunk that Spector was obliged to abandon the session altogether. With George Brand’s help, he bundled Lennon into a car to take him back to Lou Adler’s house.

“They got John upstairs into the bedroom,” May remembers. “John was going, ‘Come on, Phil, I love you’—in a drunken, melancholy way. And George was sitting on top of him. In John’s mind, I think he thought he was getting into some kind of three-way sex situation. He couldn’t tell what was happening. So he freaked out. They brought me upstairs and I was in shock to see that they’d tied John up. He was screaming at me. ‘This is it!’ I said. ‘What did you guys do?’ They said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be okay, just let him sleep it off.’

“Phil and George left, with John upstairs screaming every awful thing you could imagine. Everything he wanted to say about Yoko was just coming out. It was just anger at everybody, Phil, Yoko, everybody.”

In desperation, May summoned Tony King to help. By the time King arrived, Lennon had broken free of his ties and was standing at the front door, bellowing, King remembers, “like a mad bull. I got him in the house and he was a mess, sobbing, saying, ‘Why did they do it, how could they do that?’ Then all of a sudden he started fighting me. We were rolling around on the floor. Finally I got him where I was laying on top of him with his arms pushed out to the side, my face six inches away from his, and he was in some kind of blackout. He looked up and saw my face, and he said, ‘I didn’t know you were that strong, dear…’ We both ended up laughing. And that broke it. The house was just a wreck; windows broken, Carole King’s gold records were all over the floor, bent out of shape; Lou’s collection of silver-handled walking sticks were scattered everywhere. The next day we went off to breakfast, and John just kind of laughed it off. He said, ‘Well, that was a funny night, wasn’t it.’ I thought, All right for you to say—I’ve got to repair the bloody house.”

— Mick Brown, Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. (2007)

January 29th, 1969 (Apple Studios, London): A scattered morning discussion with Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Glyn Johns, and George Martin on the advent of having the group perform on the Apple Studios rooftop leads Paul into a circular conversation with John about the multiple media ventures they’re trying to pursue with this one recording session, and the persisting concern that the Beatles’ apparent lack of restriction (and lack of tolerance for having others impose restrictions upon them) is actually counterproductive to their efforts to complete the recording of the album. At a loss for articulating in concrete terms what may be obstructing the group from performing as well as they could, Paul wonders if they can only be cured of their repression and/or indecision if they are thrust unexpectedly into a foreign situation and forced by circumstance to adapt and improve unquestioningly, as they experienced in the early days of the band.

(Note: An edited segment of this discussion was later included in the official Let It Be documentary, as is depicted in this gif set here. Overall, the reality of John and Paul’s exchange is less one-sided than it may seem in the film; this excerpt in itself is but a portion of it, and it shortly after expands to include George as well when he arrives at the studio.)

JOHN: I can’t wait to work, here, you know.

PAUL: Yeah.

JOHN: Either… Anyway, you know. I just can’t wait to just—

PAUL: Do it.

JOHN: —have it, you know.

PAUL: Yeah, but so… Hmm. But I’m just talking about this thing, like this thing we’ve entered upon now, we still haven’t got any aim for it, except another album, again. Our only aim, ever, is an album. Which is like a very non-visual thing, it’s very sort of… But it’s great, isn’t it, and we do albums, then. But—

JOHN: But albums is what we’re doing, at the moment.

PAUL: [uneasy] Yeah, but I don’t know. Like—

JOHN: I mean, that’s what we [inaudible] talk about.

PAUL: —like I was saying the other day, is that you – is that you – you— [hesitating] We’re into albums as the four of us, but I really think we could be into other things. But every time I talk about it, I really sound like I’m the showbiz correspondent, trying to hustle us to do a Judy Garland comeback, you know. But really, all I mean is – well, look, let’s get – let’s change, or let’s go into a studio, like a vision studio, after we’ve learnt all of these, that’s just as good as this for sound, that’s got the same sort of thinking…

JOHN: I think it’s daft to move from this one, you know, I mean—

PAUL: But it’s like we got much better takes after we moved from Twickenham to here.

JOHN: Oh, yeah, but I mean here, in our life it’s like home, you know.

PAUL: Yeah, sure, but our takes are getting not as good. So I’m just trying to think of a remedy.

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Can I say that I really really liked your latest post? Especially because I love when people use the family analogy, it's very amusing to read, and the Beatles lend themselves quite well to it. Also, I love your blog, it's marvellous, and the work you do is absolutely wonderful.

You can and may and did, and thank you very kindly, especially for liking the blog. :) It means plenty and motivates me to continue. I like when the family analogy is used too; it’s a necessarily simplistic and yet cogent way of illustrating the wrought emotional dynamics amongst the group, and I find the sentiment behind its usage tends to encapsulate the amused despair and despairing amusement I often feel when I read about them – oh John; oh Paul.

Sorry for being a bit nosey but where are you from? And how could you accumulate such amazing materials? Thanks so much for this wonder of a blog!

Oh, don’t apologise! I’m happy you enjoy the blog. :) I fear what little enigmatic charm (novelty, irrelevancy) I retain within the utter transparency of the internet dissipates with every reference and opinion I conceivably proffer, but – assuming I haven’t misinterpreted your question – I’m Chinese, and from Singapore.

As for the ways and means by which I acquire the content I post on this blog, I quite honestly utilise no more resources than the average computer-fluent, analog-happy fan has at their disposal, along with very occasional spells of good timing. Conversely, I’m actually distinctly aware of what little I do have in terms of raw materials and/or collectibles compared to, say, fans who are deeply involved in bootleg assemblage and exchanges and in all probability have simply had a more social history of being fans, contemporaneously and firsthand. The Beatles encompass a vast (fan-)universe of things that I’m just barely privy to.

TL;DR Everything accumulates gradually - I acquire things where and when I can, digitise them (if necessary), and relegate them to my Beatles media cache/library. A cache whose organisational schema I’ve never quite been able to master and which still seems to me like a horrific mess, but I do try, if only futilely. (And if any of this sounds wholly excessive, it really isn’t; the Beatles are far from my only interest, and more often than not I find myself wanting for more time and more energy which I can’t afford.)

thelatebloomer83 replied to your post: 1979 (Dakota, New York): John sings in…

Was Dylan wearing make-up at the time? Or just John being John? ;)

John being John, I should think. :) I believe he was just spinning off the lyrical form of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (which he does indeed reference in the track) -"take this badge off of me" etc.

The emotional dynamics between George and John-and-Paul as interpreted within the template of the heteronormative family unit. (marginalia)

(Note: As I said I would in this ask. The following are all errant, unconnected thoughts I jotted down 1-2 years ago, and I’m fairly certain bits and pieces of these were drafts of comments eventually posted on Livejournal, or, for one reason or another, eventually left unposted. In other words, please take this as a point in time – histrionics, tangents and all – with humour, and a healthy sense of life’s absurdities.) 

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1979 (Dakota, New York): John sings in a pastiche of Bob Dylan.

JOHN: Lord, take this make-up off of me / I said lordy lordy lordy, take this make-up off of me / It’s bad enough on the beach / but it’s worse in the sea…