Inkwell: Authors and Artists
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 08:24
richie, the unreleased beatles (which i haven't finished yet) is excellent. I was born in 62, but was a big beatles fan from the beginning. Probably the two biggest reasons for my fandom from such an early age are that my parents were into the beatles and i was always aware of my uncle's musical tastes when i was a kid--he was only 10 years older than me and i learned about a lot of pop music through him. i have tons of memories of the beatles from throughout my childhood: the day sgt. pepper was released, seeing a video of the beatles performing hello goodbye on the news, listening to my uncles beatles records whenever I would visit my grandmothers house, listening to yesterday and today for the first time, watching hard days night on network tv, spending entire weekends glued to the radio as some local station played all the beatles songs from a to z. When I was about 11 years old, i had amassed a fortune of $20 that I saved from gifts and doing various jobs around the house and neighborhood. I took that money and rode my bike to a neighborhood record store. This was the first time i had ever set foot in a record store. I went and grabbed up a bunch of beatle records, a lot of the early stuff, albums i wasn't familiar with. I did not pay any attention to the price because surely the $20 was such a vast fortune it would cover anything i wanted to get that day. The clerk was pretty sympathetic towards my exuberance, but i still had to return quite a few albums back to the bins. Despite my fandom, i never explored the unreleased/bootleg stuff at all. There are several reasons for this: i only had the dimmest awareness that such recordings existed and had no idea how to obtain them or even what they were, i don't have collector tendencies, i never had tons of disposable income but did have a pretty broad musical interests so never had the ability to get tons of stuff i wanted anyways, but also--whenever I did come across unreleased beatles stuff, although it was often interesting and worthwhile to listen to for a number of different reasons, i always thought that the stuff they released was their best. Putting aside live recordings or radio broadcasts, i never came across unreleased treasure--a version of a song better than the released version or some unreleased song that was equal to or better than the released songs. One of my beatle theories is that they pretty much managed to release the best of their work. I wanted to participate in this discussion to see how valid i though that opinion was. Some of my questions to you are: did you come across an unreleased version of a song that you thought was superior to the released version? Did you come across any unreleased beatles song that you thought was the equal of all the songs they did release?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:06
I'd agree, actually, that it's rare to come across an unreleased Beatles track -- in the form of an alternate studio version, home tape, BBC recording, live concert performance, etc. -- that's better than the released version. Also, there are not only no recordings of the Beatles doing original compositions they didn't officially release that are on par with most of their best stuff -- there are very few such recordings whatsoever. The things they did release *were* their best; they, and George Martin, had great judgement in that regard. I do think that a lot of the BBC-only cover versions (most of which finally came out in the 1990s on Live at the BBC) are great tracks, like "Lucille," "Hippy Hippy Shake," "Don't Ever Change," and "Soldier of Love," though the previous post acknowledges the worth of that material. Still -- I don't want to dampen enthusiasm for the unreleased material too much! -- the Beatles were *so* good that I often find it extremely entertaining, and always educational, to hear the variations in the alternate/work-in-progress versions, or the songs that for some reason never came out on their standard releases. And as unkosher a statement as this might sound to some people, after you've listened to the official stuff thousands of times, it really is damned refreshing to hear the material done in a different way. I had a similar Beatlemaniac experience to yours: born in 1962, bought my first Beatles album in 1970, listened to those A-Z Beatles weekends in ways that had my parents worried because they thought it was kind of antisocial (but there was no other way to hear the more obscure songs if you didn't have the records!), starting buying Beatles records in bulk when I was about 10 (and had gotten all of the available ones within a year -- at that time, they constituted about 90% of my LP collection!). But after years and years of having the albums, even if your love for the Beatles is just as great as ever, you don't want to play Rubber Soul every week anymore. The unreleased material is great for continuing to be able to listen to the Beatles without getting into overkill, or risking making the core studio material sound stale. More on specific examples of unreleased recordings I found on par, or nearly on par, with the official versions in the next post.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:07
There aren't many alternate Beatles versions that could be argued to be on par with the official studio track, and the ones that are have come out on the Anthology series. As I noted earlier, however, I do cover the Anthology/Live at the BBC/Hollywood Bowl/Hamburg Star-Club stuff as part of the book, since it really was part of what the Beatles decided not to eventually release, though it never came out. I love the acoustic, earlier studio version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (now on Anthology 3). This is the one alternate version/studio outtake that is both *very* different from the official version (on The White Album), and to my mind just as good, though in a very different way. There's just so much melancholy tenderness and humility that comes through on the early version, as if George is giving us a window to his soul, and not worrying the least about how to make it a commercial rock track. In the CD age it's much more common for bands to make radically different versions of studio tracks available, on non-album CD singles or what have you, and had that option been available to the Beatles at that time, I think they would have considered it in this instance. (And actually, they *did* do that, pretty much, with "Revolution," which was given a very hard-rocking treatment when issued on a single, but a slower, more acoustic-flavored one as "Revolution 1" on The White Album). We've already talked about the earlier version of "I'm Looking Through You." I really like that harder-rocking feel and funkier beat, and Paul's vocal is great on it. Its big weakness it's that it's missing the bridge. Perhaps if the bridge had been integrated into the funkier arrangement, as I contended earlier, it might have been better than the final Rubber Soul track. Even if not, it would still have been fascinating to hear. Oh, and here's an obvious one: I MUCH prefer the "stringless," "un-Spectorized" version of "The Long and Winding Road" to the violin-and-choir-overdub-drenched one that came out on Let It Be. Now, of course, it's not hard to get the stringless version, on Anthology 3 and Let It Be...Naked. Paul McCartney, of course, very publicly agrees on this matter -- he even did back in April 1970, and I do think his hearing the Spectorized version was the straw that broke the camel's back in his decision to quit the Beatles when he did that month, though the group was almost certainly going to break up very soon anyway. As I wrote in my intro to the book, I actually bought a Beatles bootleg of Get Back/Let It Be outtakes when I was eight back in 1970 before the Let It Be album had even come out. Even when I was eight, when I first heard the Spector production of "The Long and Winding Road" on the radio (it was issued as the Beatles' last US single), I was aghast. It was so clearly a butcher job on the pretty, modest version I had, which until that time I had known under the title "Don't Keep Me Waiting" (the title it was given on the bootleg, which had to guess -- incorrectly -- as to what the actual song title was, since "The Long and Winding Road" still hadn't been released in any form). To talk about a really (relatively) obscure alternate that hasn't officially come out anywhere, I like the alternate mix of "Flying." It not only has high-pitched slide whistles not heard on the official release, but goes into a *way* different cabaret-ish Dixieland jazz ending than the one heard on the Magical Mystery Tour LP (where there's a fading coda of gentle Mellotron swirls). As it turns out, however, that Dixieland ending wasn't played by the Beatles -- it was ripped right off a Mellotron tape! Perhaps that was why it wasn't included on Anthology 2 -- it's much more interesting, substantial variation than many of the alternate takes that were chosen. In this instance, I'd contend it was as good (though not better) than the official release. This is a fairly arcane example, but though I really like the studio version of "Roll Over Beethoven," one of their BBC versions (from June 24, 1963) makes a case to me as the best one. It has an exuberant guitar solo twice as long as the one on the Beatles' studio recording of the song, and really percolating McCartney bass that's better recorded than it often was on their early official EMI tracks. The casual collector is turned off, I think, by the abundance of so many multiple versions -- sometimes five or more, in the cases of popular songs -- on the full set of BBC recordings, which take up ten CDs in all. But this is the kind of instance that explains why serious Beatles fans collect this kind of stuff -- there really are some nuggets in there. I also want to touch upon a few recordings that, while not better or as good as the official stuff, are almost up there in quality. I'll get into those in the next post.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:09
There are a few recordings of original songs the Beatles never put on their studio releases that, while I wouldn't say they were among their better compositions (that's a very high standard to meet), I think are very good all the same. In the May 1968 White Album demos done at George's house, John does a nice folky ballad, "I'm Just a Child of Nature"; the Beatles wouldn't put it on a record, but John reworked the lyrics into "Jealous Guy" for the Imagine album. In the January 1969 Get Back/Let It Be sessions, the band tries -- sometimes with noticeably little enthusiasm -- to work on arrangements for George Harrison songs that ended up on All Things Must Pass, including "All Things Must Pass," "Hear Me Lord," and "Let It Down." I like all those songs a lot (All Things Must Pass is my favorite Beatles solo album), but somehow, it just didn't seem like they lent themselves to be easily molded into Beatles arrangements. It's almost like they were too personally spiritual for the Beatles to give them the almost gospel-rock-influenced arrangements that were used on the All Things Must Pass album. There is a guitar-and-voice-only 1963 demo of "Bad to Me" that, while the sound quality is imperfect, is really touching and beautiful. The Beatles never released the song, instead giving it away to Billy J. Kramer, who had a big hit with it. I find this demo version MUCH, much better than Kramer's innocuous interpretation; the vocal on the demo is just so much more heartfelt. In fact, when a Beatles version exists of a song they "gave away" -- as it does, for instance, of "Love of the Loved," "Hello Little Girl," "Like Dreamers Do," "That Means a Lot," "Goodbye," and "Come and Get It" -- it's almost always *much* better than the officially released cover version. Incidentally, I devoted an entire chapter to "the songs they gave away" -- i.e., songs written by the Beatles (usually credited to Lennon-McCartney) that the Beatles didn't put on their official releases, but someone else covered for official release. Also worthy of honorable mentions of sort, I thnk, are: The early version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" on Anthology 2, which has a gentle, folky feel that got a little toughened up in the hit recording. Note that the bootlegged version of this early take has backup harmony vocals not on the Anthology 2 mix -- an illustration of both how the Anthology versions often tinkered with the original recordings, and why serious Beatles fans continue to buy bootlegs even after the cream was lopped off for the Anthology volumes, since that's the only way to get versions which many consider more authentic than the ones that came out on the Anthology series. "That Means a Lot" isn't a great Lennon-McCartney song, and maybe wouldn't have fit into the Help! album (for which it was originally intended) too well. But I like it; it's real catchy, and has a nice dramatic arrangement and typically fine McCartney vocal. By the way, though this shows up on Anthology 2, they tried to do it yet again with a much different arrangement (bootlegged and described in the book), though they didn't seem to get very far with it. The 1969 outtake "Come and Get It" (actually just Paul McCartney, singing and overdubbing all the instruments) likewise is now easily available, on Anthology 3. But I like it very much, even though it's extremely similar to the more familiar hit version by Badfinger. When the Badfinger single came out -- this was just before the Beatles broke up, remember -- I thought it WAS the Beatles, it just sounded so Beatlesque (and, specifically, McCartneyesque). I'm sure that a lot of others mistook it for the Beatles at first too. But even at the age of eight, I remember being confused as to why the songwriting credit was just "McCartney," not "Lennon-McCartney" -- a small indication that a breakup was on the horizon.
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:23
I would love to hear the two long version of Helter Skelter.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:26
Richie, it seems that The Beatles made the decision to put their efforts into making great studio records well before they quit performing live as a band. My sense of the live performances in the last year or so of touring is that the band was just going through the motions, fun as it was. They're not doing anything onstage they hadn't already done. (A big part of the reason for this, to be sure, was the very, very limited technical capabilities of stage equipment at the time. Someone who was there told me that at the Candlestick show, the sound was actually routed through the tinny stadium PA.) My question is this. From your assessment of the released and unreleased material, was it the band or George Martin or the combination that decided The Beatles would always and forever make their best music in the studio. I get a sense that Martin recognized the possibilities for Beatles music even before the boys did, though I could be quite wrong about that. Did Martin see them perform live much in the early days? Or was he *all* about the studio?
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:40
whoa!! thanks for all this info! i hope my question didn't dampen any enthusiasm for the unreleased material! i was just curious because there have been some folks who have sat on exceptional unreleased material. i absolutely love the BBC Live CD, the whole thing. For whatever reason, one of my favorite cuts is I'll be on my way. It's really not one of the great beatle songs, but i love it. The sound is so wonderfully mersey beat ballad. I mention this as testament to the fact that even if there is no lost equivalent of penny lane, there is a lot of great stuff to discover. Regarding Straberry Fields: in the Maysles brothers documentary of the beatles first us tour, there is a scene in a hotel room. Lennon is playing through a toy instrument, one of those ones that is like a recorder, except there is a keyboard on the side that you press down on instead of finger holes. It's only a brief moment, but I swear to god that he plays what became the descending figure at the beginning of SFF.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:41
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 10:42
i would love to hear that alternate version of flying!
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Thu 2 Nov 06 12:29
Regarding unreleased versions being better than the released: I know from reading Richie's book that he disagrees with me, but I always preferred the earlier version of "Penny Lane" that ends with the trumpet flourish instead of the big final chord. To me that little melancholy trumpet figure, all by itself, makes a more poignant commentary on the banality of the street scenes than the chord. It trails off into nothing instead of putting a big full-stop at the end, which strikes me as somehow appropriate. OTOH, I love artistic disagreements of this kind. When I read Richie's thoughts on the ending, it struck me as another illustration of the way great art can hit different people differently while all are still agreeing that it's great art.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 13:41
It's great to get into this crossfire of dialogue among serious Beatles listeners. As fun as doing the book was, most of this sort of thinking was done in isolation, in a very concentrated period of time. Now that the book's coming out, it's cool to have these kind of speculations/opinions generated; that's part of the purpose of doing music history like this, to get some fun interaction going among people who love the music so much. Going back a few posts to address some things one at a time, those long versions of "Helter Skelter" are, I think, the studio tracks known to exist -- but, as of yet, unbootlegged -- that fans want to hear the most. The basic story is that on July 18, 1968, three VERY long takes of "Helter Skelter" -- lasting 10:40, 12:35, and 27:11 respectively -- were done in the studio. These weren't just longer versions of the arrangement ultimately used; they were, apparently, much different in structure. One writer, Mark Lewisohn, *has* heard these; he wrote about them, and virtually all of the Beatles' studio outtakes (which he, unlike any other writer, was given access to), in his book The Beatles Recording Sessions, which is essential for any Beatles fan. Lewisohn wrote that "each take developed into a tight and concisely played jam with long instrumental passages." Part of one take came out on Anthology 3, and I must say that I found it quite disappointing, at least in what light of that description led one to expect. It's really plodding, elementary blues-rock. This is said, mind you, as someone who loves the White Album version. It's another example, among many, of how the Beatles kept working and working on songs to make them much more special than they might have been at first pass. George Martin was actually asked about this directly in a filmed 1995 Dutch interview. He said it wasn't chosen for the Anthology CD compilations because "I think it gets boring." He added, "In making these records [i.e. compiling the Anthology volumes], my consideration has been to put in works that are interesting to the majority of people. *Not* to Beatle fanatics. And I have to look at the public as a broad, interesting thing. And I dont want to put anything that people are going to say"here he yawned for emphasis"I wonder when this is gonna finish. And thats what that would do. Now, there are the hardcore Beatle fanatics who would love to have this. But they already have it on bootleg." Actually, we *don't* have it on bootleg. None of the long versions have ever made it onto that format (even the take 2 on Anthology 3 is less than half of its actual 12:35 length). Martin's answer, like several comments found by Martin and the surviving Beatles when they've been asked about Anthology and unreleased material in general, seems to indicate they know less about what's in the archives (and what's escaped) than the most knowledgeable Beatles fans do. I don't think that's surprising and I don't blame them for that -- being in the middle of creating something, you remember and look at things differently than you do if you're a fanatical fan and collector. Also keep in mind that Martin didn't like improvisation or rock jams in general. Even during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, he'd get annoyed when the Beatles got occasionally sidetracked into long, rambling experimental outtakes. ("Carnival of Light," the most famous of these, *still* has never came out on bootleg.) In the Anthology DVD/video itself, he said (when talking about The White Album), "A lot of the recordings, they would have a basic idea and then they would have a jam session to end it, which sometimes didnt sound too good." I think there's some validity to that.A few White Album recordings meandered into lengthy instrumental jams in their original state, like "Revolution 1," "Sexy Sadie," and "Helter Skelter," and benefited a lot from having the extended fadeouts/jams cut off. By the way, there's a much earlier, semi-version of "Helter Skelter" from June 1968, during a studio session (for "Blackbird") in which Paul McCartney, pretty much working on his own, was filmed. At this early point, it wass a much gentler folk-blues of sorts with far more softly crooned vocals; it really toughened up by the time the Beatles were finished with it.
Get Shorty (esau) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:05
What I took away from listening to some unreleased tracks is how decisions that were made on the fly in the studio became *canonical*. For instance, I've heard the multiple takes that build up to "I Saw Her Standing There." They make some mistakes, a couple false starts, and then there is an attempt to change the tempo a little, which leads to two or three more false starts, until Paul finally just counts it off: "One, two, three, FOUR!" That beginning then became an inseparable part of the song, though it was clearly just a passing moment. It's a funny thing about pop music, maybe all recorded music, where the audience spends more time with the piece than the artist did.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:17
Steve, you're right that the Beatles' enthusiasm for touring diminished enormously in the last year or so they were playing concerts, at least judging from the evidence on unreleased live recordings/films from the summer 1966 tours. There's a huge difference in quality and energy even from the live recordings/footage from 1965 -- which includes their famous Shea Stadium show, the 1965 Hollywood Bowl recordings that supplied some of the tracks for the official Hollywood Bowl concert LP, and their final Ed Sullivan Show appearance. It falls off a cliff, really, in several respects. The harmonies often have a half-moaned, got-out-of-the-wrong-side-of-bed quality; George's guitar often has this weird sour tone, as if IT'S gotten out of the wrong side of the bed; and on the first of their two Tokyo shows to be filmed (from June 30, 1966), Ringo looks incredibly bored, like he's suffering from jet lag. In the early Beatlemania footage (especially their first US concert in February 1964 in Washington, DC), Ringo looks like there's no place he'd rather be them onstage, he's so happy; in that Tokyo film, he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else BUT on that stage. Only Paul McCartney retained pretty much the same degree of enthusiasm and professionalism on the 1966 tours. Even before the 1966 tours, though, I think they'd essentially become entirely different bands for studio and live purposes. Even though they look like they're still enjoying themselves to some degree in 1965, they were already going through the motions to some extent -- playing the same songs every show for the duration of a tour, contending with scream audiences and limited sound equipment that were both making it hard for them to hear each other, and hard for the audiences to hear the Beatles. In a sidebar in the book on their decision to stop touring, I noted that it was, unfortunately, not until shortly after the Beatles stopped giving concerts that sound systems started to be developed that would allow rock groups to project well to really large audiences. It wasn't until then, either, that fold-back speakers and monitors were put into common use that allowed bands to hear themselves well under such conditions. In the studio, not only did they not have to contend with all of this -- they could constantly work on NEW material and new sonic ideas, rather than feel like they had to trot out popular songs in order to satisfy the audiences. Playing concerts wasn't creative for them at all by 1966, probably 1965; in the studio, on the other hand, their voracious appetite for creativity and change was constantly being challenged and whetted. Perhaps they underestimated themselves and their audiences a little; they had the capital to invest in better sound systems if they'd wanted, and they could have at least played some different, more recent material in concert. They never played anything from just-released Revolver on their final 1966 tour, for instance. While a bunch of songs from that album ("Eleanor Rigby," "Love You to," "Tomorrow Never Knows," "I'm Only Sleeping," and others) had studio arrangements/effects that would have been impossible at that point to replicate onstage with four musicians, other, more straightforward, guitar-oriented Revolver tracks -- "Taxman," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Dr. Robert" -- could have worked quite well. The same goes for some Rubber Soul material, like "Think for Yourself" and "Drive My Car." But the Beatles decided to spend more time and energy on *studio* recording than anyone had ever done, and considering how much great music they recorded over the next three years, I think that was inarguably the right decision. But to answer Steve's specific questions as to whether it was the Beatles or George Martin who decided to concentrate on studio recording, I think it was more the Beatles. I think they realized quickly that creativity onstage -- in terms of things like improvisation and constantly introducing new material, as they were in Hamburg and the Star Club in the early 1960s -- was not going to be possible under Beatlemania conditions. But I think they immediately got fascinated by the possibilities of the studio as a creative outlet, not just because of the areas they could explore in terms of technological sophistication but also because it allowed them to concentrate on perfecting their SONGS -- which, more than anything else, was the Beatles' greatest strength. Even as early as their 1963 Christmas fan club disc, Paul McCartney said, "Lots of people ask us what we enjoy best, concerts and television or recording. We like doing stage shows, cause it's, y'know, it's great to hear an audience enjoying themselves. But the thing we like bestI think so anywayis going into the recording studio to make new records, which is what we've been doing all day before we started on this special message. [One of the songs they were working on that day, by the way, was "I Want to Hold Your Hand."] What we like to hear most is one of our songs, you know, taking shape in a recording studio, one of the ones what John and I have written, and then listening to the tapes afterwards to see how it all worked out." While George Martin's contributions were immeasurably important in getting them to maximize their potential in the studio, I don't think he would have been the key catalyzing force in getting the band to concentrate on studio recordings above all else. A famous quote that Martin's phrased in various manners over the years is that in the beginning, he was somewhat the teacher and the Beatles the pupils, in the manner that was customary for young pop recording artists in the early 1960s. But then the Beatles, very quickly, started to challenge HIM and force HIM to come up with innovations in order to realize the sounds that THEY wanted. In end, in fact, he said the process exhausted him, so ceaselessly explorative were the Beatles in the studio. George Martin did see the Beatles perform at least a few times in the early days. In fact, he considered making their first album a live recording of the Beatles at the Cavern. He instead, and rightly, decided that the energy of the Beatles could be captured in the studio, resulting in the Please Please Me album (which actually wasn't far off a live album, recorded as it was with minimal overdubs, and mostly in one day). He saw them play at various other times throughout their career, and was present at the 1964 Hollywood Bowl concert recorded by Capitol and used in part on the official Hollywood Bowl album after the Beatles broke up, though the actual producer of that Hollywood Bowl recording, Voyle Gilmore, told Melody Maker that Martin "was more interested in hanging out backstage with the boys or going out front to see how it sounded out there, that sort of thing."
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:28
Thank you, Richie. The entire post is fascinating. On some of the later studio material I hear occasional moments of desire to get back on stage. Maybe it's all in me head, as one of the boys might say, but I swear on the guitar jam that concludes Abbey Road you can feel The Beatles connecting one more time and collectively thinking, Hey, mates, we could still be a fucking great live rock and roll band!
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:29
It's certainly true that some folks have sat on some exceptional unreleased material. A leading illustration is Bob Dylan, who didn't release anything from his Basement Tapes (recorded in 1967) until the mid-1970s -- and there's still a lot of basement tapes that haven't come out, though the most interesting ones, certainly in terms of his original compositions, did come out officially. There was also his 1966 Live at Albert Hall album (eventually confirmed to have been recorded in Manchester), which must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies as a bootleg, and which many critics feel is one of the all-time best live recordings. That too, of course, came out officially, finally, as part of Dylan's bootleg series. Some critics feel that his first version of Blood on the Tracks, which has some earlier versions of songs, is superior to the released one. I don't agree with some critics who intimate that his choice of what to release has been seriously flawed, but everyone agrees that a lot of what he kept in the can was very good, and in some cases on par with the best stuff he was putting out. Dylan, and/or Dylan's people, seem to have realized this by initiating their "Bootleg Series," which is making a good deal of this kind of thing officially available. A lot of people, too, feel that the Grateful Dead's best stuff was on certain live gigs that didn't come out. The Dead, too, have acnkowledged this with the Dick's Picks series. Some fans of Neil Young and Prince feel that they failed to green-light some material that, while not likely to be among their very best stuff, was certainly very worthy of release. Neil Young's been intimating for many years that a gargantuan box set's been on the way to unleash some of this, although it's failed to appear. The Beatles' Anthology/Live at the BBC/Let It Be...Naked albums were also an acknowledgement that there was much demand for at least the cream of their unreleased material, and all those Beatles bootlegs were, whether explicitly acknowledged or not, likely a vital kick in their pants to get them to finally authorize some vault-digging. I'd argue that they should loosen the constraints a little and initiate a special-interest vault series for the best of the rest, a la Dylan's bootleg series, though that doesn't seem to be in the works for the near future.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:38
"I'll Be on My Way" is another song I should have mentioned as a noteworthy Lennon-McCartney composition the Beatles didn't release while active, and which they don't seem to have ever attempted in the studio, though a 1963 BBC version is on Live at the BBC. It wouldn't have been one of their major early songs had it gone on "Please Please Me" or an early B-side, but it certainly would have been a very pleasant and acceptable one. I think it's about the most Buddy Holly-influenced of their songs, and I love the way how, at the beginning and end, slightly shifting guitar chords dramatically ascend with this achingly yearning quality. (These are chords on which the fifth-note is being augmented, to be technical.) Those passages don't appear at all on the cover version that Billy J. Kramer released (on a B-side!) in 1963. For that and other reasons, the Beatles' version is WAY superior to Kramer's. Also, it's absolutely correct that in a scene in the Maysles brothers documentary of the beatles first US tour, Lennon plays a descending melody (on melodica) that's very much like the one heard at the beginning (and in the beginning of the verses) of "Strawberry Fields Forever." I noted this in the book, at the beginning of the pretty extensive section running through the song's evolution from acoustic home recordings to finished studio track.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:51
About the Beatles' desire to get back onstage: of course, the entire marathon of January 1969 Get Back/Let It Be sessions was a reflection of their desire to get back onstage, or at least to playing music live (if only in the studio). The tragedy was that at this point John, Paul, and George had very different ideas about how to do this (I think Ringo would have likely gone with the flow of whatever the other three agreed on). So this attempt, largely McCartney-initiated, to get the Beatles back to being a tighter unit, ironically, helped speed the process by which they flew apart, so bitter was the friction that surfaced during the sessions. The Beatles weren't often filmed playing music in their final years (with the exception of the January 1969 Let It Be filming), but there's one filmed moment that to me seems to be an indication of just how good the Beatles could have been live in the late 1960s, and how much they would enjoyed playing live back then. This is the promotional film for "Revolution." Even though these are live vocals over the studio backing track, and it isn't a wholly live performance, they really seem to be loving it, and Paul and George do some very enthusiastic doo-wop style harmonies not on the studio version. They're dressed very casually, like they're finally dressing like they want in their most comfortable informal wear, instead of feeling like they have to wear something -- be it the collarless suits or the Sgt. Pepper suits seen in the "Hello Goodbye" promo -- to project an image. You do get to see some genuinely live Beatles in the famous Apple rooftop concert scene in Let It Be, of course. But it would have been great to have had at least one or two concerts before a real group of fans where they were playing an assortment of late-'60s material, not just the batch of most recent songs chosen for the Let It Be sequence.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:52
ha, i haven't gotten that far in the book yet. i think every beatle fan who watches that movie for the first time must do a double take and rewind a couple of times.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 2 Nov 06 14:53
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 2 Nov 06 15:11
Richie, you might address this in the book, which I've not yet had an opportunity to read... Are there any unreleased recordings of the individual Beatles playing with other bands or musicians? Paul McCartney spent an afternoon with Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco, and there was George Harrison's famous stop in Golden Gate Park. Harrison and Clapton must've played together casually at each other's houses. How about Lennon and Harry Nilsson during John's Year in the (LA) Wilderness? And going back into misty Liverpool history for Ringo, did he record anything still unreleased with Rory Storm?
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Thu 2 Nov 06 15:15
This is the most enjoyable WELL discussion I've been part of in some time, and that's saying something. Ah yes, the lads did like their augmented-fifth chords (cf. "It's Only Love"). And we're all the better for it. Earlier this week I was in touch with an authoritative source who said that those who had been working on the Neil Young box set were "hoping" to see it released sometime in 2007. That is all for now. See you tonight, Richie!
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 16:08
There are a few unreleased recordings that have circulated of the Beatles playing with other bands/musicians -- but just a few. At the event I did last night, someone asked a similar question, not about unreleased recordings specifically, but about why the Beatles didn't seem to play with other musicians often while they were active. That's hard to answer with certainty, but it seems to me that they had so much going for them internally -- and it took so much dedication to get the max out of it, especially in the studio -- that they just didn't feel the need to jam with other musicians in the way that, say, the guys in Cream might have. I'm not putting down Cream here, I like them, but I think they had something of a different mentality, explaining to some degree why that group lasted just two years. And I think that, particularly in the early years, the Beatles had an unrivaled PERSONAL one-for-all, all-for-one tightness that would have made them feel like it was almost beneath them to think that they should play with other musicians. That tightness, as was almost inevitable, unwound toward the end of the 1960s. When George was asked in the 1970s whether he missed playing with the Beatles, he explained that after having been cooped up with them so intensely for so long, it was just so nice for him to play with other musicians -- which he did, starting with the All Things Must Pass album, which had contributions by people like Clapton, Badfinger, Dave Mason, Gary Brooker, Jim Gordon, and Billy Preston. Not to lose track of your question, some specific examples of unreleased pre-1971 recordings of the Beatles with other musicians follow in the next post.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 16:10
Let's start here with a few notes about recordings in which Paul and John are heard playing with other musicians, and discuss similar items for George and Ringo in the next post. I think the most notable of the unreleased Beatles-playing-with-other-musicians material that's circulated -- although it's not really that notable in and of itself -- is a tape of Paul singing and playing with Donovan around late 1968 (actually recorded at a session for a Mary Hopkin album). It's likable and folksy, but the material is pretty slight, more like Donovan than late-'60s McCartney. Or, like "Blackbird," but much more innocuous and lightweight. Then there was, of course, John doing "Yer Blues" at the Rock'n'Roll Circus with Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell. That finally came out (both the film and the soundtrack), though there are some marginally different alternate takes only on bootleg. John, of course, did a bunch of taping with Yoko in the late 1960s, although the unreleased songs/performances that have circulated tend not to be equal collaborations -- dominated by either John or Yoko -- and are usually of pretty subpar sound qualitiy. Some of those have to be heard to be believed, though, so dissonant and unpleasant are they. We're not just talking their heavily avant-garde experiments, but real "songs" of sorts. In "The Maharishi Song," he plays skin-crawling tuneless, fretless guitar and sings in a talking-blues style, "There were one or two attractive women there, but mainly looked like, you know, school teachers or something, and the whole damn camp was spying on the ones in the bathing suits. And theyre supposed to be meditatin! . . . me, I took it for real. I wrote 600 songs about how I feel. I felt like dying, and crying, and committing suicide, but I felt creative, and I thought, what the hells this got to do with what that silly little mans talking about. But he did charm me in a way, because he was funny, sort of cuddly, like a sort of, you know, little daddy with a beard." Then there's "I Want You" (not the same as the Abbey Road song of the same name), where John moans to Yoko, "Put it on, lift it up, stick em out; I want to you see standing, I want you on your back, I want you on the floor and I want you on the rack!" And then: "Yoko, you better lose some weight and get in them old pants!" On to George and Ringo, in the next post.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 16:11
There's a brief tape of George singing and playing with Bob Dylan, variously cited as coming from late 1968 and May 1970, though I think it's more likely from late 1968. The fidelity is pretty bad, but it's definitely them. It's much more George than Bob, though; although the two songs are ostensibly co-written by Harrison and Dylan, it sounds more like George is teaching the song to Bob, and Bob's trying, not too well, to follow and sing along. One of the songs is pretty well known: "I'd Have You Anytime," later recorded as the first track for the All Things Must Pass album. The other is a really nice tune with an arching, sad melody, "Nowhere to Go" (sometimes titled "Everybody Goes to Town" on bootlegs). Sadly, neither George nor Dylan put it on an official album. Luckily, George DID record a very nice, very clear-fidelity studio version as a demo in May 1970 for All Things Must Pass -- and that whole extremely interesting group of 15 demos is covered in the book. I didn't include some instances of unreleased Beatles recordings with other musicians in which the specific Beatle contributions are so minimal or minor as to be pretty inconsequential. For instance, there's some unreleased material (and video) of Delaney & Bonnie in late 1969 when George played onstage with them. But George doesn't sing, no Harrison songs are done, and really, the band (at that time also including Clapton) is so big he's really submerged. There's also a session George did with Dylan in May 1970, but Dylan does all the singing (even on a dreary attempt at "Yesterday"), there are no Harrison songs, and even George's playing is functional and uninteresting. No Rory Storm tapes with Ringo in the band have surfaced. There's a little Rory Storm material recorded *after* he left (including, believe it or not, a Brian Epstein-produced cover of "America" from West Side Story). It's not that good; Rory Storm might have been an excellent showman, according to accounts from those who saw him, but he was a pretty poor singer. Ringo, interestingly, *did* record once with the Beatles in Hamburg while he was still in Rory Storm's band. In late 1960, when both groups were playing Hamburg, John, Paul, George, Ringo recorded some songs in one of those make-your-own-vanity record setups. (Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe, though in the Beatles at the time, did not play on these recordings.) Sadly, here they were a backing band for someone else in Storm's band (Lu Walters) who occasionally sang in the Storm group. It's also speculated that a couple other members of Storm's group, the Hurricanes, might play on the recording. The songs known to have been recorded, too, don't exactly sound like the best vehicles for the Beatles -- the standards "Fever," "Summertime," and "September Song." Saddest of all, the recording itself has not surfaced, although at least some copies were made. As for Lennon and Nilsson recording in L.A. during John's "lost weekend," I should note that I don't cover the Beatles' solo years in the book. That would have expanded it to an unpublishable size. The only exception I made was that I do cover the Beatles' unreleased solo recordings in 1970 (including outtakes from All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band), both because those are very interesting, and because they're still linked in some ways to the Beatles sound, some of the songs having been written (and, in some cases, even recorded in unreleased pre-split versions) before the Beatles broke up.
Gary Burnett (jera) Thu 2 Nov 06 16:18
I'm loving this conversation! I have nothing to add at this point other than to say that it has sent me back to, first of all the BBC release, and now the Anthologies. Next up in my queue will be the stuff that i have that is still unreleased. Actually, I do have a question: Earlier, you mentioned a known (but unheard) Cavern audio tape. Isn't there also some video footage from the Cavern in the first Anthology show? Is there any more of that extant? Every time I've seen it, it feels like I'm watching the beginning of time or something.
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