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inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #0 of 121: Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 29 Oct 06 23:41
    
We are pleased to welcome our next guest, Richie Unterberger. 

Richie is the author of "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film," 
a 400-page guide to the wealth of music and film unissued by the 
Beatles during their lifetime. He's also the author of a two-part
history of 1960s folk-rock, "Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock
Revolution" (Backbeat, 2002) and "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight
from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock" (Backbeat, 2003). His other books
include "Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll" (Backbeat, 1998), which
profiles 60 underappreciated cult rock artists of all styles and eras,
and "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators &
Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock" (Backbeat, 2000), which contains
more in-depth surveys of 20 underrated greats of the era.
 
Unterberger is also author of "The Rough Guide to Music USA," a
guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout
America in the twentieth century. He is a frequent contributor to the
All Music Guide, MOJO, and Record Collector, and has written dozens of
liner notes for CD reissues. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
 
More information about Richie Unterberger, his books, and the music he
documents can be found on his Web site at www.richieunterberger.com.

E-mail can be sent to him at richie@richieunterberger.com.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #1 of 121: Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 29 Oct 06 23:41
    

Co-leading our conversation will be Phil Catalfo and Eric Rawlins.

Eric has been a musician all his life. During the Sixties he made the 
standard progress from pop-folk to serious-folk to bluegrass to rock to
country and "Americana". He has also been a classical musician at various
times, but finds that kind of music *really hard*. In 1997 he released 
his CD with David Gans, _Home By Morning_. Until his retirement in 2004, 
his day job was in corporate IT.


Phil is the Editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine (www.acousticguitar.com). 
He has spent the past two decades writing features, essays, and reviews 
on topics ranging from popular culture to parenting to spirituality and 
ecology for many national magazines, including Parenting, Sesame Street 
Parents, New Age Journal, Wondertime, Natural Health, Tricycle, and others. 
From 1998 to 2005 he was a Senior Editor at Yoga Journal. He is also the 
author of "Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World" (Berkley 
Publishing Group, 1997) and co-author (with Alan Reder and Stephanie 
Renfrow Hamilton) of "The Whole Parenting Guide" (Broadway Books, 1999). 
He lives with his family in Berkeley, California.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #2 of 121: Eric Rawlins (woodman) Mon 30 Oct 06 12:49
    
Welcome, Richie! I greatly enjoyed your two folk-rock books, and I've been
enjoying poking through "Unreleased Beatles". I'm astonished at its
completeness and thoroughness. I can't imagine how much work it must have
entailed; perhaps you can talk a bit about that later.

But for starters, let me ask the obvious devil's-advocate question: Why
another Beatles book? How did you come to write it?
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #3 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 30 Oct 06 14:19
    
Why another Beatles book? That's the question I asked when the
publisher asked me to write one. The answer might strike some as a
little cynical: the Beatles are the most popular group in the world,
and books about the Beatles sell more than books about any other
musical artist do. There are a *lot* of them, of course; probably at
least several hundred by now. That, perhaps perversely, is seen within
the industry as evidence of how a Beatles book is about the surest bet
in the increasingly precious world of publishing music books. As a
comparison, it was put to me, it's like Hollywood: if a movie makes a
lot of money, they'd rather make the same movie ten times over than try
to make a movie about something else.

Still, the publisher did know the Beatles were my favorite group, and
that I was well qualified to write a Beatles book of some sort. So
after thinking about for just a few seconds, I said, "There IS one
angle on the Beatles that's never been done well in book form, and that
I would like to do, but that you might think is pretty esoteric. That
would be a whole book about nothing *but* their unreleased material."
There's a *ton* of unreleased Beatles material—the size of my book (400
pages, 300,000 words) is testament to that. As a big fan and collector
of that material, it had always frustrated me that, although there
were numerous small-press books about the subject, all of them seemed
to emphasize their rarity/collectability; not even discuss the music,
or only discuss it in matter-of-fact or perfunctory terms; and were
often dry-as-dust to read. As so often happens, I'd never get to read
the book I *wanted* to read about the subject, because the only way it
could be done was to do it myself.

Pretty quickly, the publisher went for the idea. Two years later, it's
out. I will say, though, that despite the book's off-the-wall origins,
once I got into the project, I really enjoyed doing it. I already had
a ton of unreleased Beatles music and film footage, so I was well
prepared, but I couldn't believe how much more there was to get and
investigate. I never thought I'd be able to do a Beatles book, since so
many had been done that covered the essentials. But now I've done one,
so that's a dream fulfilled.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #4 of 121: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Mon 30 Oct 06 19:48
    
Very cool, and very well put, Richie, and congratulations on
fulfilling your dream! Let me echo Eric's enthusiasm for your work--not
only am I an admirer of "Turn! Turn! Turn!"; I am also always
impressed at how often your byline shows up in my frequent visits to
the All Music Guide (and the quality of your essays there). And I was
quite tickled by the invitation to cohost this discussion, as the
Beatles were profound influences on my life--I definitely wouldn't have
my current job if it weren't for them, for I wouldn't have taken up
playing the guitar, 40 years ago, if I hadn't been irretrievably
inspired by their music.

Anyway, I'd like to ask a question that might seem kind of
boneheadedly obvious at first, but which I think you are especially
well suited to answer thoughtfully: What does it say about the Beatles
(and, if you like, about us) that there is so much interest in their
work 35-plus years after they stopped working together? 
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #5 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 30 Oct 06 20:50
    
That's a question for an entire book in itself, and something that
some authors have indeed tried to address in book-length form. Besides
stating the obvious -- that, in the view of myself and others, they
were the best rock group ever, and certainly the most melodic one -- I
think the Beatles, more than any other act, had cross-generational
appeal. By that, I don't mean that while they were together, they were
able to appeal to over-30 "grown-ups" and pre-teens as well as to the
teenagers and young adults that were their core audience, though that's
an interesting aspect of their popularity as well. It's also that they
*continue* to attract fervent admirers among subsequent generations,
many of whom weren't born when they broke up (I myself was just eight
when they broke up, and don't have all that many memories of the group
when they were active).

How many other acts are there in waves and waves of kids continue to
discover and get enthusiastic about year after year, decade after
decade? I've sometimes seen it discussed on the WELL how fun it is when
members' kids get excited about the group, almost just as excited as
kids got in the '60s, and pester their moms and dads to borrow their
Beatles records and buy the ones they haven't yet got for themselves.
By a less striking but still significant token, the Beatles are a group
that adults continue to love and yes, sometimes even still get excited
about, 40 or 30 or 20 or whatever years after they first heard them.
There's a timelessness about the joy, curiosity, and ceaseless, almost
self-actualizing hunger they had to constantly change that's
immediately tangible, almost overpowering, in their music.

More subtly, an observation actually came to me while doing the book
that I'd like to put out there. I was thinking of how even the scraps
of chatter you hear in many Beatles outtakes is endlessly amusing and
interesting. (For those who don't have the unauthorized recordings in
which much such stuff circulates, you get a big taste of it in a few
minutes-long sequences in the Anthology DVD series in which montages of
studio photographs, and also the very end credits, are soundtracked by
these kind of snippets). In their own small way, they hold a key to
the Beatles' eternal appeal. Here's how I verbalized it in the intro to
my book:

"Even the many false starts, bum notes, and whispered chatter have
their charm, both as illustrations of their human foibles and as
evidence of their great humor and teamwork. The witty banter in that
between-song chatter, in fact, epitomizes the most endearing qualities
of the group -- as people, not just musicians -- which have made tens
of millions of listeners who’ve never met them feel almost as though
John, Paul, George, and Ringo are unofficial brothers of sorts, both
among themselves and to us."

Later on, in the main body of the book while discussing outtakes of
"This Boy" (eventually officially released on the 1995 "Free As a Bird"
single), I added:

"It sounds trivial on paper, and maybe it is in real life too, but
part of the charm of listening to Beatles outtakes really is hearing
their incapable-of-taking-themselves-too-
seriously humor come through at points like these. Considering the
close connection many have felt to the group through the generations,
it’s like sharing inside jokes with your family."
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #6 of 121: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Mon 30 Oct 06 22:18
    
Very astute observations. I was actually thinking (although I
admittedly did not make this clear) more in terms of the band's ouevre,
i.e., what is it about their *music* that keeps us fascinated so many
years--decades, even? (I often find myself completely transfixed by
virtually every note and passage on Rubber Soul, which I am still
unpacking 41 years--and, oh, 10,000 or so listenings--after its
release.) We are, after all, talking about four unschooled (although
extremely experienced) musicians who created an almost impossibly
diverse body of work--a byproduct, no doubt (at least in part), of that
"joy, curiosity, and ceaseless, almost self-actualizing hunger they
had to change" of which you spoke, but also of something else that's
not only amazing but also profoundly heartening: Four "average" lads of
middle-class (at best) backgrounds and minimal schooling could and did
follow their creative impulses through to the point where they
exceeded the accomplishments of all others in their field. 

You're right that they were incredibly affable, as "brothers" to us,
but don't you think they also illuminated for us--those of us who
aspire to such artful endeavors, anyway--the real possibility that any
of us, all of us, could do likewise? Not sell hundreds of millions of
albums, of course, but, at least, write and sing some cool songs,
making ourselves and others happy in so doing.

Maybe I'm overstating the case, or making it too complicated. At the
end of the day, it's great music, as most of the English-speaking world
(and much of the rest) has agreed for the last 40-plus years. And
maybe I'm the only one who comes back to this, but I do frequently
ponder the astoundingly consistent--and yet various--excellence of
their music. I try to deconstruct their songs and find all the clever
tricks and techniques they used, and there are plenty of them; but I
also am awed by their innate gifts. They weren't just clever, they were
also extremely talented. And yet they were just four ordinary boys
from a city most of their country considered a backwater. Figure the
odds, eh?
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #7 of 121: Eric Rawlins (woodman) Tue 31 Oct 06 06:24
    
I remember well how astounded (and pleased) I was when my daughters were
little and they took to the Beatles like long-lost cousins. They had no use
at all for the Stones, the Byrds or any other Sixties act, all of which was
for them the music of another time and irrelevant to them. But the Beatles
were different. Compared to other rock artists, they were very long on joy
and very short on cynicism and irony.

We're talking about 40-year-old pop music now. It's as if my whole
generation had wanted to listen to George M. Cohan songs.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #8 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 07:20
    
Phil, again it would take a few books to try to explain what it is
about the Beatles' music that keeps us fascinated so many years on (and
likely indefinitely into the future). There are a few major points
that are obvious, but can be stated: their immensely catchy,
unceasingly inventive melodies; their telepathic interplay as
musicians, playing what's just right, and rarely getting in each
other's way; their great skill as harmony vocalists. It might sound
strange to say this, but I think that John and Paul's greatness as
*lead* vocalists is somewhat underlooked and overrated. We've mentioned
that joyful, ceaselessly exploring quality already here a few times,
and that comes through in spades in their lead singing, above and
beyond the considerable power and virtuosity of their actual voices.

I don't have access to the actual quote, but in his autobiography
Chronicles, Bob Dylan recalls hearing "Do You Want to Know a Secret"
somewhere unexpectedly -- many years after the Beatles had broken up --
and still being captivated because (I paraphrase) the Beatles excelled
at projecting intimacy and friendship more than any other group,
without sounding the least bit wussy about it. (Dylan did use the word
"wussy" here, I'm sure.)

If I can again relate these points about the Beatles' overall appeal
to some of the things I specifically noted in my book, these qualities
come through even on recordings that some critics would regard as rough
or peripheral to their principal legacy. When listening to the fairly
good quality unreleased tapes of Beatlemania-era shows that have
surfaced (like Philadelphia 1964, Vancouver 1964, Houston 1965), I was
struck by how -- although the Beatles are dismissed as an inferior live
band by some (I think unknowledgeable) critics -- they never sounded
anything less than thrilled to be onstage, pre-1966 anyway. And though
the screaming made some mistimed notes and harmonies inevitable, it
also astonished me how incredibly professional they were under those
conditions. They always kept their cool and humor in threatening
situations that would have thrown most bands off. In the Houston shows,
John's voice is reduced to a rasp, but he soldiers on with the
enthusiasm of a guy who knows he'll never have a chance to sing in
public again!

I emphasized John and Paul's lead vocals earlier in this post, but I
want to add that another quality -- and I think it is a musical as well
as personality-oriented one -- that makes listeners respond so
strongly to the Beatles is that, more than any other band, they were a
true *group*. When George and Ringo take the lead vocal, they're
obviously not as super-talented as Lennon and McCartney. But they're
great to hear because they provide so much balance and contrast to the
usual lead singers, in such a likable way. And regardless of who the
lead singer was, so many Beatles songs -- even minor, rarely commented
upon ones, like "Tell Me What You See" -- had a call-response
harmony-solo vocal tradeoff that contributed much to the public's
perception -- whether conscious or subconscious -- of the Beatles being
very much a *group*, not just a band dominated by one or two
particular singers and/or instrumentalists.

I think this might be a tangible, if somewhat subliminal, illustration
of how, as Phil said, they "illuminated for us--those of us who aspire
to such artful endeavors, anyway--the real possibility that any
of us, all of us, could do likewise. Not sell hundreds of millions of
albums, of course, but, at least, write and sing some cool songs,
making ourselves and others happy in so doing." Because they sounded
so happy doing it, and so much like brothers or a family. They made
being in a band sound like so much fun, and not just a crowd-pleasing
or egotistic exercise.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #9 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 07:33
    
To riff some more on qualities that we've commented that make the
Beatles timeless, again I'll connect it to an experience I had while
writing  the book. Specifically, this relates to their amazing capacity
to change so constantly and unexpectedly from year to year, month to
month even -- and yet retain the essential qualities that made them so
enormously popular when Beatlemania first took hold back in 1963 (in
UK) and 1964 (in the US and much of the rest of the world).

When I first undertook the immense listening and research needed to
track down, listen to, and analyze *every* scrap of unreleased music
the Beatles recorded, friends, even fellow Beatles enthusiasts, kept
asking me, not unreasonably: "Aren't you tired of listening to the
Beatles yet? How can you stand it, listening to so much of them, all
the time, month after month?" Yet, in what was something of a shock
even to myself, all that listening had exactly the opposite effect.
After so many years of listening—sometimes out of professional
obligation—to so many different artists, many of them frankly mediocre
or worse, it was a sheer delight to wake up most mornings knowing I was
going to be listening to the *best* music there ever was. Not only
that, I knew that every day, the music would nonetheless always be
different, and always be changing, just as the Beatles themselves had.

All along the way, there were unsuspected surprises, hidden
connections to be made, and small-to-significant revelations as to what
made this remarkable group tick behind the scenes. It got to the point
where I felt like I sometimes caught just a faint trace of how
thrilling it must have been to experience the Beatles' music while it
was happening, always wondering what was next, always getting taken
aback at the sharp turns they made, always marveling at their mastery
of continuing to evolve while maintaining the identifiable qualities
that had made them so appealing at the outset of Beatlemania. There was
also a sadness at the end of the project, as exhausting as it was,
that was something akin to the disappointment the world felt when the
Beatles broke up. For I was hoping this kind of endless discovery, this
waking up every morning to look forward to another day of
ever-changing fun, could go on forever. Even though it was 2005, I
sometimes felt like I was rooting for the Beatles to somehow stay
together. But unlike the Beatles fans of the 1960s—and even the Beatles
themselves, for a time—I knew that they wouldn't, and knew exactly how
(and how unhappily, in many respects) the story would end. Now that
the writing of my book has come to its end, I feel some regret, knowing
I’ll probably never again have such an extended magical mystery tour
of part of the Beatles' world.

At the same time, having now finally heard *everything* they’ve done
that's made the rounds, it never fails to amaze me just how *much*
territory the Beatles covered. Eventually, it seemed, they absorbed
*everything*  good about music, not just from rock ’n’ roll, but from
blues, soul, country, classical, gospel, the avant-garde, vaudeville,
electronic experimentation, mainstream pop, theatrical comedy, and
beyond. But they combined it and made it their own in a way that seemed
so natural and so *them*, rather than so forced, as many
genre-blenders of later decades did.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #10 of 121: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 31 Oct 06 08:15
    
Great stuff, Richie, thanks. And Eric, I echo your deep pleasure at
having a daughter--who, in the case of my daughter Jessamine, was born
nearly a decade after the group broke up--take to the Beatles' music.

Richie, can you tell us something about what you consider the most
wonderful (astounding, surprising, excellent, noteworthy--feel free to
choose your own adjectives) discoveries you made while listening to all
that unreleased music? And what did those hidden treasures explain or
make clear (or new) about music that had been released as part of the
official Beatles canon? 

I'm thinking here of "I'm Looking Through You," an early version of
which was, for me, the biggest revelation of the Anthology series
(although that earlier version had also been in circulation as a
bootleg for years): a completely finished track (labeled a "master,"
even) with a completely different tempo and instrumentation from the
released version, a track that any other act would have given their
eyeteeth for--yet the Beatles somehow recognized it as incomplete and
not quite worthy of their imprimatur. So they sauced it up, added a
bridge, changed the instrumentation, and voila, one damn irresistible
track. That spoke volumes about their creative instincts and process.
Was there anything comparable you encountered in your research? And
even if there wasn't, what (going back to my earlier questions) tracks
excited you the most among the many you heard?
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #11 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:07
    
Because I'd already heard the great majority of circulating unreleased
Beatles recordings before I started my research, I'm going to approach
this question from the angle of what would surprise the average
listener who's heard little or no such items, rather than what
surprised me particularly while doing the book.

There's a lot of surprising stuff in there and we might go into some
specific things in greater detail during the next two weeks. So I'm
going to start with what I think are the five most notable general
bodies of unreleased Beatles to investigate, and notes note about what
they tell us about the evolution of their music. In chronological
order:

The Decca audition tapes, January 1, 1962: The complete 15-song tape
of their unsuccessful audition for Decca Records, although five cuts
did find official release on Anthology 1. This is the first
studio-quality, album-length recording of the Beatles, as well as by
far the best-sounding recording of the group while Pete Best was still
the drummer. Among the material not to show up on Anthology 1 is one
Lennon-McCartney original ("Love of the Loved") and two covers (of
Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby" and the pop standard "September
in the Rain") of which no other Beatles versions have circulated.
Aside from giving us a pretty well-rounded picture of how the group
sounded like eight months before recording their debut single "Love Me
Do" (though they sound rather tentative and nervous here), it also
illustrates just how enormously they improved -- particularly as
songwriters -- in the mere year or so between this and their first
album (Please Please Me), recorded in February 1963.

I wrote a great deal about the Decca tapes in the book -- it's a
longer description than anything else I've seen in print. It also led
me to question a couple of myths that come up too often when these
tapes are written about: that the Beatles were pressured to record
unrepresentative pop material by Brian Epstein (in fact most of the 15
songs are quite representative of what they'd play on their early
records and radio broadcasts), and that their rejection was a terrible
break for the band. In fact it was the best break they ever got,
considering that otherwise they wouldn't have been working with George
Martin, and that it gave them more time to replace Pete Best with a
superior drummer and more suitable personality, Ringo. As brief as this
enforced wait was, it benefited the band enormously to have that extra
time to refine their sound before recording for EMI.

BBC tapes, 1962-1965: Though generally speaking, the best and most
interesting of these came out on the two-CD official Live at the BBC
compilation, there are about ten CDs of stuff overall (though most of
the cuts that didn't make it onto Live at the BBC are radio
performances of tracks also found on their studio albums, often in
multiple versions). What these live and live-in-the-studio performances
really make you appreciate is Paul's magnificently raucous vocals on
hard rockers, some of which the Beatles never did in the studio (like
"Lucille" and "Hippy Hippy Shake"). Paul is too often unfairly
characterized as the softie of the group; on the contrary, when he
opted for the hard stuff, he was indisputably one of the most powerful,
raunchy rock'n'roll singers of the twentieth century. His pumping
basslines are, surprisingly, sometimes better appreciated on the BBC
recordings than on the EMI counterparts, especially when they get
placed high in the mix. There's a BBC version of "Roll Over Beethoven"
from June 1963 -- not the one chosen for Live at the BBC -- that's a
particularly striking example.

The BBC tapes are also intriguing for George Harrison’s contributions.
He didn’t get to sing lead too much on the early Beatles records,
particularly as Lennon and McCartney were singing and writing almost
all of the original material. But he'd taken a higher percentage of the
vocal chores onstage in the Cavern days, and got a little more
exposure in that role on the radio, taking lead on more than a half
dozen tunes that were not cut for EMI. He also had a greater chance to
showcase the Carl Perkins rockabilly base of his guitar style, in part
because the group's BBC repertoire drew more heavily from outside
material than the band’s official releases did. On the covers, and
often even on Lennon-McCartney tunes, his guitar playing is usually
rawer, not only deviating from the solos on the "official" versions,
but also often differing from version to version of the same song; he's
seemingly unable to repeat the same solo twice. Sometimes that leads
to sloppiness, but often it also has exhilarating jagged edges that can
even verge on angry semi-dissonance that will surprise many listeners
more accustomed to his slicker studio work. Also, Ringo Starr's
underrated drumming is truly thrilling on the BBC tracks, generating a
great splash of sound.

The best unreleased live concert tapes, 1964-65: Like I said in a
previous post, though some critics dismiss the Beatles as a mediocre
live band, the evidence is they really were superb, especially
considering the jet-strength noise they were combating with puny
equipment. Though some of their retrospective comments gives the
impression touring became a difficult go-through-the-motions chore,
they always (with the exception of their final tours in 1966) sounded
giddy with delight to be onstage. I was especially struck by how --
when there were unexpected snafus like sore throats, stupid MCs
hollering threats to stop the show if the crowds didn't settle down, or
guitar strings breaking -- the Beatles not only remain unfazed, but if
anything turned the situation to their advantage, lightly mocking the
problems and, if anything, making the chaos and hysteria work for them,
rather  than against them.

The Esher/Kinfauns  White Album demos, recorded at George Harrison's
house in May 1968: Around late May 1968, shortly before entering the
studio to record The White Album, the Beatles recorded no less than 27
acoustic-flavored demos at George Harrison's house, "Kinfauns," in his
home in the London suburb of Esher. In addition to including early
versions of 19 songs from The White Album, these included half a dozen
songs never to be released by the Beatles while they were active,
though all of these would appear in some form on some post-Beatles
compilation, solo Beatles release, or (in the case of "Sour Milk Sea")
a cover version by fellow Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax. They have
a friendly, intimate, at times almost  campfire-party-like feel. It's
like hearing the Beatles' "Unplugged," though the concept didn't exist
in those days, and they seem to be having a great time, in spite of the
internal tensions so often reported to be starting to tear the band
apart around this time.

Some of this stuff appeared on Anthology 3, but most of it's only
available on unauthorized recordings, and the early versions often
contain amusing lyrical variations smoothed out on the official
releases. My favorite examples: On "Dear Prudence," John launches into
a spoken monologue: "Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or
later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl, because
she was going insane. So we sang to her." And Lennon again, on "I'm So
Tired": "When I hold you in your [sic] arms, when you show each one of
your charms, I wonder should I get up and go to the funny farm?" A
thorough compilation of all 27 (or more, if they exist) Kinfauns demos,
with the best available fidelity and cleaned-up sound, would be a
solid contender for the best collection of (largely) unreleased Beatles
material that could be envisioned at this point.

The January 1969 Get Back/Let It Be sessions: The Beatles recorded an
unimaginable amount of rehearsals and outtakes during the month they
were filming Let It Be. Like a lot of people, I had a lot of Get Back
material -- as it's usually called, since "Get Back" was the original
name of the album -- but had never committed to actually getting and
listening to all 80 CDs or so all the way through. You've got to have a
lot of time and patience, but there are a lot of revealing moments in
there, whether it's George Harrison trying to finish the songwriting of
"Something" with the help of John and Paul, or John intoning in one of
many versions of "Let It Be," "And in my hour of darkness, she is
standing left in front of me, squeaking turds of whisky over me." And
as exhausting as all those rehearsal versions in a row of "Get Back,"
"I've Got a Feeling," et al. are, the group really do sound much
tighter when they finally do the rooftop concert at the end of the
month, proving those rehearsals really did have a point, even if they
were so tense they helped break up the group. Then there's that moment
on the very last day of the Get Back sessions (January 31, 1969), when
Paul's caught on tape tentatively inferring the band can come back
after a week or so to continue to work out some of the kinks on the Get
Back songs. One can just see the other Beatles wincing at the prospect
of resuming the drudgery with just a week's rest.

Speaking of the Get Back sessions, I also cover notable unreleased
Beatles film footage in the book. Though aren't many Let It Be film
outtakes that have surfaced, one of the ones I enjoyed shows them
sitting around in a circle working on "Get Back" and getting along
quite well, John and George at one point breaking out into wide, nearly
ecstatic grins almost simultaneously during one take. Most likely,
this is the kind of scene everyone envisioned and hoped for when the
Get Back project was first planned, making it a bit of a surprise that
the final Let It Be film didn’t incorporate a shot or two of it.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #12 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:32
    
Phil, with your comment about "I'm Looking Through You," I think
you're particularly curious about how some songs might have changed
significantly from conception to final studio recording. There are a
number of interesting instances of those, though I think the most
interesting of these are actually covered in the tracks issued on the
Anthology CDs. As a side note, partially for that reason, I decided to
cover not only the Beatles recordings that have never been released in
any form, but also ALL the music they didn't release before they split,
but which came out later. That includes the Anthology CDs, Live at the
BBC, Hollywood Bowl, the 1962 Hamburg live tapes, and some other odds
and ends. It seemed weird to talk about the wholly unreleased stuff in
isolation from those albums. Most of the book still covers wholly
unreleased stuff, but Anthology/Live at the BBC/Hollywood Bowl/1962
Hamburg is covered too, in part because that stuff really hasn't gotten
as much in-depth descriptive criticism as it should have.

As far as some interesting examples of how Beatles songs contained
hidden surprises, however, there are a  few I can point out:

In John Lennon's circa-early 1964 home composing tapes for "If I
Fell," he at one point puts in a wavering vocal line very close to the
one linking some of the verses of "Imagine" seven years later. A great
example of some promising ideas can lie around for a REAL long time
before they're put to effective use.

Less dramatically, there's a strange uncut version of "Something"
that, instead of ending with that familiar George Harrison guitar riff
that closes the studio track, goes into a really weird downer of an
instrumental jam for three minutes or so. As I wrote in the book, to me
it sounds " like nothing less than a mournful requiem for the group
itself...on this joyless jam, they seem intent on supplying the
soundtrack for their slow, inevitable march to their own funeral."
Anchoring this passage is a four-note piano figure that's virtually
identical to the one John Lennon would use the following year on
Plastic Ono Band for "Remember" -- something I don't remember having
been pointed out before.

In the Get Back tapes, there are dozens and dozens of almost tuneless,
bluesy jams that, to be honest, are so tedious that they drive you up
the wall. Yet in the midst of one of these, the seeds for a good song
were planted. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" starts like one of these
jams, but they keep going with it (even though John never would add
many words), and fairly quickly, they have the bones of a promising
song. To me, interestingly, it seems likely that Billy Preston was an
unheralded catalyst in getting the song off the ground. Just a few
minutes before "I Want You" starts to take shape, Preston’s jazzy piano
features prominently on an untitled bluesy improvisation that’s much
better than most of their jams from this month, and that seems to be
the kick that dislodges something loose in John's and/or the others'
heads.

Also in the Get Back tapes, I like how in the otherwise dreary,
never-recorded-by-the-Beatles Lennon song "Watching Rainbows," you can
hear him sing "shoot me" -- an idea resurrected, much more effectively,
in "Come Together."

As far as a song that the Beatles worked on mightily to change and
iron out the kinks, one of my favorite outtakes in this regard is an
early one of "A Hard Day's Night." George Harrison's solo is simply
abominable! He not only plays the wrong notes, but he seems to have no
idea of what to play, or whether to play anything at all! The mystery
to me is, was George's uninspired soloing the catalyst for George
Martin to come up with an electric piano riff for the solo (which
worked perfectly) -- or was that electric piano riff already the plan,
George just stabbing at notes as a placeholder, knowing he wouldn't be
doing a solo?
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #13 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:44
    
Finally, to talk about "I'm Looking Through You" itself, I agree with
Phil that this is a particularly interesting example of a song that
started out with a quite different arrangement, and one that would have
sounded, to most ears, quite fine as it was. (That funkier take, with
an almost reggae-like rhythm, can be heard on Anthology 2.)  The
Beatles kept working on it, however, and added a vital bridge. The
final version also has a softer, more folk-rockish feel. In the book, I
did argue that the song might have been even better had they kept the
original, somewhat tougher-rocking arrangement and incorporated the
bridge into that.

During the Rubber Soul sessions, "Norwegian Wood" also underwent a
significant transformation from a somewhat more ominous, droning
arrangement to a gentler, more acoustic, folk-rockish one. An early
take of "Norwegian Wood" can also be heard on Anthology 2, , though an
intermediary one -- still closer to the more rock-oriented initial
arrangement -- that's NOT on Anthology 2, but has been bootlegged, is
also discussed in my book. Because that "intermediary" take and the
final take were done on the same day, I think the Beatles and George
Martin rearranged it substantially with remarkable speed and
efficiency. It would be great to hear the actual nuts-and-bolts
discussions of how they did that, if those were taped.

I speculated in the book that perhaps "Norwegian Wood" and "I'm
Looking Through You" were both ultimately given folkier, gentler, more
acoustic arrangements because the Beatles might have wanted to make
those songs more consistent with the sound of the album as a whole.
It's possible, perhaps even likely, that the Beatles were just
following their instincts, but I thought it was an interesting notion
to consider.

Another, perhaps more celebrated instance of how a Beatles song
changed substantially from beginning to end was "Strawberry Fields
Forever." An earlier, folkier take is included on Anthology 2, but
there's an entire CD bootleg worth of versions, from John's primitive
acoustic demos to various tinkerings in the studio. And there are a lot
of instances -- yes, covered in the book -- where the variations
between the final version and the alternate mix/outtake are quite
small, perhaps too small to interest the casual listener. It did strike
me, however, that in virtually every instance, the Beatles and George
Martin made the correct decisions, hearing imperfections to iron out in
their heads where most people would have been satisfied with what they
had. 
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #14 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:52
    
Also, as long as we're talking about surprises I found, I think the
most honestly surprising piece of music -- in a
"can-you-believe-this-actually-happened?" way -- was an incredibly
bizarre tape of a session at which the Beatles were working on
"Revolution 1" (i.e. the White Album version of "Revolution"). The tape
was apparently made by Yoko Ono, because though you can hear the
Beatles working on the song in the background -- and the arrangement
sometimes sounds quite different, particularly with respect to the
organ -- it's kind of submerged under a Yoko Ono monologue recording
her impressions of the Beatles, George Martin, her new romance with
John, analysis of John's handwriting, and other rather painfully
personal matters.

Samples: "Your handwriting, it's always been like all your letters
were going backwards, leaning backwards, which means tremendous
insecurity . . . leaning backwards handwriting is typical of sort of
insecure, terribly insecure high school girl or something like that . .
. when I first saw your handwriting, I was really amazed, 'cause you
very rarely see that in a man . . . why that insecurity?" And: "After
the initial embarrassment, Paul has been very nice to me. He's nice on
a very on-the-level, straight sense . . . he's treating me with
respect. I feel like he's my younger brother or something like that.
I'm sure that if he had been a woman or something, he would have been a
great friend, because there’s something definitely very strong between
John and Paul."

Both the unreleased Beatles music and the monologue are interesting
historical documents, but it's frustrating because it's kind of like
listening to two radio stations at once. It's also uncomfortably
voyeuristic, as fascinating as it is at times to Beatles historians
(though often tedious at others). You certainly feel like you shouldn't
be listening to it, though you can't help it. I concluded with the
opinion, "this unclassifiably weird tape might be more authentically
avant-garde than any of the actual albums John and Yoko did together --
where they were TRYING to be as avant-garde as possible."
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #15 of 121: Eric Rawlins (woodman) Tue 31 Oct 06 16:47
    
One of the things that struck me as I read through the book was the Beatles'
incredible stamina and energy, especially in 1963 when they were doing all
those BBC shows while at the same time working on their first album. Clearly
this is something that came from the grueling schedules they would keep on
the Hamburg gigs. But to me it's an illustration of the fact that great
success on this order -- in any field -- is never simply the result of
boundless talent. The world is full of talented people. Success on this
level, it seems to me, always involves three elements:

- You have to be lucky: a style that fits the zeitgeist, the right manager
at the right time, etc.;

- You have to work your ever-loving ass off -- you have to want it more than
anything in your life;

- PLUS, you have to be really talented.

I always get annoyed at the tendency of commentators and journalists to call
successful people "talented" and let it go at that, ignoring the fact that,
in most cases, that person gave up *everything* to be where he is.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #16 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 19:29
    
You're right that the Beatles worked very hard, particularly in 1963,
when they did *forty* BBC sessions. In July 1963, they did nine
separate sessions at which they cut 48 tracks (and on August 1, they'd
do another two sessions and record a dozen more tracks). Also in July,
in EMI's studio, they recorded both sides of their fourth single ("She
Loves You"/"I'll Get You") and a lot of their second album (With the
Beatles). *Also* in July, they played live concerts *21* days out of
the month -- sometimes more than one a day. And they weren't phoning it
in on those BBC sessions -- during that month in particular, they
often played cover material on the BBC sessions that they never put on
their records, and which by that time they weren't doing in their live
concerts.

It's roundly acknowledged that all this BBC work was an underrated
factor to helping popularize the band in Britain, where airplay for pop
records was quite limited at the time. Yet I also theorized in the
book, though it's far less often noted, that all those BBC sessions
might well have been crucial to improving the Beatles' musicianship.
All those grueling Hamburg stints, where they often had to play off and
on for seven hours at a time into the wee hours, had done their part
to toughen up the group before 1963. But there, they were just playing
to club audiences. Here, they were broadcasting to millions of
listeners, having to put their all into their radio sessions week after
week, and sometimes two or even three times a day. They varied their
setlist constantly, including playing lots of covers they never put on
record, both to keep the presentation from getting stale and, one
suspects, keep it from getting stale for themselves. I'd think having
to whip up so much material, and so much different material, in such a
short space of time under so much pressure had to help speed their
astonishingly rapid development as musicians.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #17 of 121: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 31 Oct 06 20:12
    
I never gave that much thought, but now that you mention it, I think
you're right about that, Richie. 

Fascinating discussion in response to my previous questions. I don't
know about you, but I'm sure getting a kick out of this!

So now what I want to know--and I expect that many will think me a
dunderhead once I say this, but here goes anyway--is, where/how did you
get ALL THAT STUFF to listen to? I mean, I know a great deal has been
circulating for a long, long time; my brother, for example, sent me
several cassettes (remember cassettes?) of Beatles boots, including
seven or more versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Plus, I
distinctly remember an outtake of "Can't Buy Me Love" (I think), in
which George offers a brick of a solo, prompting John to remark
lovingly, at the end of the take: "Ya call that a solo?" And then one
of our WELL friends sent me 6 or 8 or 10 CDs worth of various stuff,
the most tantalizing of which (for me) was the sessions in which the
lads were trying to lay down the vocals for George's "Think For
Yourself" (John moans, after numerous attempts, that he "just can't"
get his harmony right--but of course, he would soon nail it perfectly).
But I wouldn't have a clue as to how to go out there and look for more
of this stuff if I really wanted to. And I had no idea how *much* of
it there was--80 CDs' worth in the "Get Back" sessions alone?! Weh!

I also found your discussion, later in the book, about the Beatles'
own attitude toward boots fascinating, revealing as it did that they
seemed to figure, hey, the stuff is already getting out there, so we
might as well release it ourselves. It took many years for that thought
to bear fruit, of course, but it was interesting to read that they
were considering that way back when. And that John was professing to
collect as much of the bootleg material as he could.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #18 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 21:13
    
There's a note in the book's introduction to this effect, but I need
to trot this out in response to the above question: neither I nor the
publisher are able to engage in correspondence about how and where to
obtain these recordings. I know we're all friends and this isn't
exactly correspondence. But like the Beatles in Yellow Submarine, we
don't want to get hit by the apple bonkers.

That "Think for Yourself" session you mention ranks near the
Yoko-talking-into-the-tape-recorder-during-the-"Revolution
1"-session-tape as one of the strangest of all Beatles "outtakes." It's
nearly 20 minutes of a session in which the Beatles are ostensibly
working on "Think for Yourself," and you can hear them sporadically
apply themselves to working out the complicated vocal harmonies. But
most of it's John, Paul, and George (mostly John and Paul) just kidding
around among themselves. It's a little like their Christmas fan club
record dialogues (and yes, all the Christmas fan club discs are covered
in the book). But I find it more amusing, if only because it's
obviously less censored (though there's not that much controversial
material) and it seems closer to who they really were, rather than how
the early Christmas fan club discs were silly, somewhat staged greeting
cards of sorts to their fans. And you can read a lot of it online at
http://www.vex.net/~paulmac/beatles/bts/beatle_speech.html.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #19 of 121: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:27
    
A question: Is there any sense among Beatle collectors that somewhere
there might be a trove of additional live recordings from Hamburg? 

The big Bob Spitz biography of the band that was published last year
(and that has been judged wanting by some critics, but that's not the
point here) is especially good, I think, about the Hamburg period. It
certainly made me wish very hard that I could travel back in time to
hear those Beatles. 
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #20 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:36
    
No, there's definitely no evidence that's yet turned up of more
Hamburg recordings. There are a few unreleased tracks that have
circulated from the late-December 1962 recordings that made up the
more-or-less-officially-released double album Live at the Star-Club.
These, however, are mostly different versions of songs that did make it
onto the album, though the sound quality is really rough.

There *is*, however, an 18-song tape of the Beatles live at the Cavern
in mid-1962 that's known to exist, as it was auctioned by Sotheby's in
1985. While most of the songs exist elsewhere, on either official
albums or bootlegs, in different versions, a few don't -- covers of
Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby," Bobby Vee's "Sharing You," and James Ray's
"If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody." My guess is, however, that the
sound quality is probably pretty bad. Because the winning bidder for
the tape at the auction was Paul McCartney, and if the tape was good or
even usable, I think at least an excerpt or two might have shown up on
Anthology 1 (which *did* use some excerpts from 1960 rehearsals of
pretty poor fidelity). 
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #21 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:37
    
By the way, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have a few book
signings coming up where I'm showing/playing/discussing rare Beatles
footage and recordings. A couple, actually, are coming up REAL soon:

Wednesday evening, November 1 (tonight!), at 6:00pm, in Koret
Auditorium in the basement of the main branch of the San Francisco
Public Library at 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco (about one hour and
fifteen minutes of rare Beatles film and audio clips)

Thursday evening, November 2, at 7:00pm at Pegasus Books at 2349
Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley (about two hours of rare Beatles film and
audio clips)

Thursday evening, November 9, at 7:00pm at The Booksmith at 1644
Haight Street in San Francisco (one hour of rare Beatles film and audio
clips)
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #22 of 121: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Wed 1 Nov 06 18:32
    
Yow! Pegasus is just a few blocks from me. Hope to see you there!
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #23 of 121: Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Thu 2 Nov 06 04:24
    
I am going to have to order this book!
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #24 of 121: Eric Rawlins (woodman) Thu 2 Nov 06 06:33
    
Unfortunately, I have a dinner engagement tonight in Marin, so I'll have to
miss your Pegasus gig.
  
inkwell.vue.285 : Richie Unterberger, "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film"
permalink #25 of 121: Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 07:00
    
I have a few other Bay Area book events in December; I'll post them in
a couple weeks.
  

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