First post here:
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind
Possessing and caressing me
Jai Guru Deva
– Across the Universe
I remember when the Beatles were trying to get their latest album together. Was it going to be called “Get Back?” Was it going to be called “Let it Be?” Endless press (at least rock press) speculation about when and what. By this time – 1969, 1970 – the Beatles as a unit had pretty much had it. They were running on fumes. Their label, Apple, was descending into chaos. Packing them off to some distant, cold movie studio and filming them didn’t help.
I haven’t seen the movie “Let it Be” in a while. All I remember though is Paul trying to get George to play something and George saying, “I’ll play it any way you want or I won’t play. Whatever you want.” So, over and out. Bummer.
The album itself is good, not great. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of really good outtakes. Nobody seemed to really give a shit any more so they let producer Phil Spector do what he wanted. Which was to overproduce it. Still, depressing as all that sounds there’s some pretty good stuff there. Contrary to popular belief, “Two of Us” is not about Lennon and McCartney looking back but about Paul and his wife Linda. But you can be excused if you prefer to think it’s the former.
Two of Us (alternate version)
One of the very first songs Lennon and McCartney wrote back in the ’50’s was “One After 909.” But while they played it back then, they never really recorded it. Till now. I love this song. It has a great rockabilly feel and comes full circle to all the infectious fun of the Cavern days. I think it conveys the intentionally loose feel of the album as well as any other tune. And in fact, the whole idea of what was to initially be called “Get Back” was the Beatles getting back to their roots.
“Abbey Road” was a return to form. (It was recorded last but released first.) The Beatles asked George Martin if they could make an album the way they used to. “I will if you’ll let me,” he said. (If anyone can lay claim to be the “Fifth Beatle,” it is unquestionably George Martin). It is my favorite of all their “post-Beatlemania” albums though, while “Octopus’ Garden” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” are tuneful and melodic, they both sound more like silly songs to me. Wish they’d left them off for some tastier stuff and Ringo and Paul had put them on their respective solo albums.
“Something” was the first A-side of a single that George ever got. Much of his time in the band – as a songwriter – was spent fighting to be heard and respected. John and Paul loved the song and finally conceded that his work was the equivalent of theirs, conveniently forgetting stuff like “Gently Weeps,” “The Inner Light,” “Taxman, “Savoy Truffle,” “I Need You,” “Within You, Without You,” etc. which he had to write by himself. (And I cannot resist noting that “Savoy Truffle” is about Clapton’s chocolate addiction and his dentist’s warning about what they would do to his teeth).
And Harrison’s stock as a guitar player has only gone up over the years as he was voted 11th on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 guitarists. (Like all lists, admittedly subjective). Beatles songs did not call for virtuosity. But just about everything Harrison ever played was just right. (The solo in “Something” cannot be improved upon.) And he popularized the twelve-string guitar (without which no Byrds), Indian music and to some extent, slide guitar.
Frank Sinatra – who pretty much hated rock n’ roll – said “Something” was the greatest love song he’d heard in 50 years. When performing it, he initially attributed it to Lennon/McCartney. If you can get past all the strings and take it for what it’s worth, it’s not a bad version. (I think maybe Frank is snapping his fingers occasionally during the song. And I love when he says, “You stick around Jack (!) it might show” at 1:48.)
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” is another Lennon tribute to Yoko. I hadn’t heard this in a while but it’s a nice bluesy, tune. The Beatles did just about zero blues tunes so when they did do something bluesy, it usually stood out and it was usually Lennon. (“Yer Blues,” “Don’t Let Me Down.”) For all we can say about The Beatles, they were not part of the British blues-rock scene. The Stones and Yardbirds led that charge).
Billy Preston plays nice, soulful swooshy organ on this as he did on “Get Back.” Apparently the song had been finished but Lennon asked the engineer to just cut the ta–
I wish I could play the entire suite from side 2 of Abbey Road. (For the record, here is a live webcam of Abbey Road. If you watch it you’ll often see people posing a la the iconic cover. Sometimes one person, sometimes four. Hilarious).
I am going to give the last word here to John whose “Across the Universe” was initially recorded as part of a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund. The Beatles later re-recorded it for “Let it Be.” This is another instance where Lennon could be as tender as he could be tough.
Jai Guru Deva is a “Sanskrit phrase which roughly translates as ‘Victory to God divine’ and was likely inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles, of course, had met him in India in 1967. They later became disenchanted with him when it appeared he was hitting on female members of their entourage. Lennon wrote “Sexy Sadie” about him and Paul wrote “Fool On the Hill.” But they could still appreciate the teachings if not the teacher.
If you’re ever looking for a good documentary on the Fab Four, The Compleat Beatles is a nice, if lacking in depth, introduction. I recall renting the series from now-defunct Blockbuster video years ago. Alas, you may have to dust off your VCR. I found this on tape but the DVD may no longer be available, minus some eBay treasure trove .
Fun fact: The Beatles entire band output comprises some 10 hours. The music that shook the world would take you less than half a day to listen to end-to-end. Think about that.
Well, that’s it. My version of the condensed Beatles history in five more or less easy posts. However, I realized midway through this series that in my zeal to feature Beatles albums I had completely overlooked their singles. So, good excuse to do a few posts on my favorites of their 45’s somewhere down the road…
Sources: Wikipedia, and The Beatles Bible.