Back to index of Beatles pages by Donald Sauter.

The Beatles Forever,
by Nicholas Schaffner, 1977

 
How come somebody would write a book report in 2003 on a Beatle book published in 1977 - and a well-known and highly regarded book, at that? Well, I noticed that my copy had no highlighting or notes in the margins, so it must have been a long time ago that I read it! And I thought it would be interesting to revisit an important, early (relatively speaking) Beatle book armed with everything I've learned from later studies and readings, to a large extent meaning the revelatory books by Mark Lewisohn.

I found passages of which I had no recollection, and other passages for which I could have easily filled in the blanks. You may know by now not to expect anything like a formal book review from me. These are just some of the things that caught my very personal fancy and I'd share with Beatle fan friends if I had the chance. You'll be amazed at how insignificant they can be!

Without further ado, here we go, page by page . . .

Page 9. "The pundits' explanation for America's sudden Beatlemania had the country's youth reaching en masse for a hero figure to fill the void left by the assassination of President Kennedy."

Schaffner views that as an exaggeration. I agree completely, and wonder if it isn't revisionist history, even. I'm not sure I've come across explanations of Beatlemania from 1964 that tie it to Kennedy's assassination. It would seem strange that 12-year-old girls felt that strongly about the president. I remember hearing adults griping three days after the assassination that it was time to put the regular shows back on tv.

The earliest Beatle/Kennedy tie-in I can think of - and no doubt earlier ones can be found - was the 1969 short story, "The Girl Who Sang With The Beatles", in which the girl (in her early 20s?) became almost non-functional after Kennedy's assassination, and was helped out of her haze by the arrival of Beatle music. The story won the O. Henry Award for best short story in 1970 - which would seem odd if all the author did was scribble down what the "experts" had all been writing in 1964.

Page 14. "Two days later [after the Ed Sullivan appearance], the Beatles switched cities to play their American premier from a revolving stage at the Washington Coliseum."

Other chroniclers have stumbled on this one, too. In The Beatles Conquer America, Dezo Hoffmann supplies this caption for his photograph on page 90: "The group played on the boxing ring itself, and Ringo's drum-kit was on a special revolving platform, though it eventually had to be stopped to keep Ringo from feeling sick." In With The Beatles - The historic photographs of Dezo Hoffmann, Dezo writes (page 97), "Ringo was on a revolving platform, so all the audience had a chance to see him. It took half an hour for him to recover from his dizziness."

Of course, we can count on the man himself, Ringo Starr, to remember such an experience accurately. Hold your horses; here's his bumbled memory shared with the listeners of his radio series, "Ringo's Yellow Submarine".

Ringo: What was funny, the first time in America, when we were doing the Sullivan shows we had one concert in Washington, and we went by train, which was good fun, and we had all the press with us. And we got to Washington, they decided to put it in this arena where the stage would turn 'round, you know, a turning rostrum, so that everyone could see, cuz it was like a boxing ring where they were seated on all sides of us, so we couldn't just play one way because half the audience would see the sides, and the back of us. So we're on there and everything's going well and the drum rostrum decides it's not gonna turn, I don't know why. So I'm - as we're playing I'm trying to move the drums 'round with the band so that everyone's seen it. So I'm playing and moving drums and it just got so crazy in the end I just have to give up [chuckles] and just face whichever way I could.

In fact, the Washington Colliseum film shows that the stage did not revolve at all - you wouldn't expect boxing rings to - and Ringo's platform stayed put while he was playing - it would look mighty funny if it didn't. What we see is Ringo jumping down to help turn his drum platform to its next position when the whole group rotates itself 90 degrees to face the next quadrant of the audience.

A quickie editorial: What I am not saying here is, "Hey, if Nicholas and Dezo and Ringo can't get something this simple right, why should we believe anything they have to say?" I've heard that logic a million times in my life, and I can't imagine anything stupider. For one thing, making a single statement that is completely true, no matter how you attack it, is a very difficult thing to do. For another, we'd have to reject every statement everybody has ever made in the history of the world. Riiiight...

Page 14. "After the performance [at the Washington Coliseum] the Beatles appeared as honored guests at a British Embassy charity ball sponsored by Ambassador and lady David Ormsby-Gore. The cream of capital society gawked at and mauled the Beatles, in some cases going at them with scissors, intent at snipping off locks of that famous hair, and John stormed out in a huff."

As well-known as this story is, there are many variations on it. There are discrepancies as to whether the attacker was a man or woman, whether or not he or she was successful, and which Beatles expressed their anger and in what manner. I've put together a web page of all the first-hand accounts I could find of the story of Ringo's hair at the British Embassy.

Page 17. "Thanks largely to the Beatles, rock stardom eclipsed running for President as the ultimate glamorous ambition of much of American youth. It was no mere coincidence that nearly twice as many guitars were sold in 1965 as in 1963."

This seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I'll admit that others made the connection for me. My main hobby has been classical guitar since about 1970. The Fall 1987 edition of the Guitar Foundation of America Soundboard magazine (page 184) gives some thoughts from guitar maker Tom Humphrey regarding the plethora of classical guitarists between the ages of 30 and 40. "If you work backwards, today's successful performers in that age group must have started the guitar in the early 60s, when they were between the ages of, say, 7 and 12, seeing as that is the age at which future professionals start. Now, what was the most important musical influence at that time? Not Segovia, but the Beatles, and they played guitars. They are the ones who have contributed to the rise in guitar activity." The argument sounds very plausible to me. I wonder if the Beatles ever considered this impact they had on the classical music world? On the other hand, I had a friend who couldn't get it. He asked, "You mean some kid walks into a music store to buy an electric guitar and buys a classical guitar by mistake?"

Page 19. Regarding the fire the Beatles caused in the Bambi Kino in Hamburg, and George being discovered to be working underage, Schaffner says, "The pair [McCartney and Harrison] were placed on a homeward-bound plane the next morning."

One reason this is worth correcting is that George tells the story so humorously how he began to realize he was underage for work at the night club, got found out, and was put on a boat home. Unknown to George in his state of dejection, Paul McCartney and Pete Best got deported for their little fire prank - but they were flown back in style. By the time George staggered back into Liverpool, Paul and Pete were already home!

Page 20. Schaffner says that, after Pete Best's dismissal, "irate Best fans succeeded in giving George Harrison a black eye."

This is interesting because George's black eye is quite prominent in photos dating from their first recording sessions. Also because, as good a story as it is, an eye-witness (haha) by the name of Paul McCartney tells a different story. In his interview with Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles Recording Sessions (page 6), Paul says: "George always hated those [photographs] because he had a black eye. He'd been bopped in the Cavern by some guy who was jealous over his girlfriend!" I like the "irate Pete Best fans" story a lot better. I mean, girls, schmirls... there's history being made here.

Page 21. "With From Me To You, which they knocked off in the back of the van on the way to work, John and Paul for the most part played it a bit safe, returning to the innocuous sing-along style of Love Me Do."

I know there's a John Lennon interview where he says that the chord changes to From Me To You were so complicated and unusual that he was afraid of losing fans. The best I can come up with right now is his quote in The Beatles In Their Own Words, compiled by Miles (page 79):

"Paul and I wrote this when we were on tour [with Helen Shapiro]. We nearly didn't record it because we thought it was too bluesy at first, but when we'd finished it and George Martin had scored it with harmonica it was all right."

Paul had this to say (Beatles Recording Sessions, page 10):

"We wrote From Me To You on the bus too, it was great, that middle eight was a very big departure for us. Say you're in C and then go to A minor, fairly ordinary, C, change it to G. And then F, pretty ordinary, but then it goes [sings] 'I got arms' and that's a G Minor. Going to a G Minor and a C takes you to a whole new world. It was exciting."

In a 1964 interview David Frost indicated to Paul that he and John compose music "very much, and marvelously, in the current idiom." Paul wouldn't sign off on that, and it's interesting that the song that jumped to his mind was From Me To You:

"The tunes that we write aren't in any idiom. [...] For instance, From Me To You. It could be done as a, sort of, a ragtime tune, especially the middle eight."

I go to so much effort to respond to this off-hand charge that From Me To You was "safe" and "innocuous" and "sing-along" because it never fails to bug me when I hear Beatle music called "simple." I've got interviews with George Martin talking about Beatle music where he works that word into nearly every sentence. You hear back-handed compliments from later pop stars about how Beatle music was so great because "it was so simple." I hear snide accusations from musician friends of Beatle songs being "3-chord songs."

For one thing, as noted in this example, Beatle music was rarely so darn simple. Chord counters take note: only a tiny handful of Beatle songs can be played with 3 chords. And, in the cases of these 3-, 2- and 1-chord songs, it's always obvious they were going for a particular effect - such as straight-ahead rocking, or a kid's song, or something chant-like. Second of all, who cares about the number of chords? Who needs or wants "complicated"? Does anybody go around counting up the chords in Mozart and Bach to determine if their stuff was any good? Is there any correlation between the complexity of music and greatness?

I'll give you a clue. Any one of you, even those who have never written a note of music in your life, could compose the most complex piece of music ever written. Make every succeeding note of the melody come as a complete surprise to the listener, and the same for every change of harmony, and for every rhythm value, and every dynamic. Stamp out everything that has any hint of familiarity or predictability. And you might very well have written the greatest piece of music ever. But nobody's going to listen to it. That's not what music is about, and least of all, pop music.

Page 27. "On the occasion of Shakespeare's 400th birthday [b. 1564], John Lennon was feted at the prestigious Foyle's literary lunch [for having written In His Own Write]. But the assembled literati found the guest of honor's speech - in its entirety: 'thank you very much, you have a lucky face' - disappointingly brief."

What I first wrote in response to this passage was:

The reality was even briefer - and even more disappointing. We've now heard the tape of the speech with John saying, "Ah, thank you all very much. God bless you."

BUT . . . don't be so sure I knew what I was talking about! I've since worked up a whole page devoted to John's speech at the Foyle's luncheon.

Page 29.

George's guitar.
Caption: George and Paul miming their music in A Hard Day's Night - note the absence of guitar cords.

I see them quite well, behind the bridge, at least. Anyhow, George is tuning up, not playing.

Page 32.

Ringo's 24th birthday.
Caption: Ringo and friends celebrating his 24th birthday July 7, 1964.

It tickled my funny-bone that Ringo's cymbal looks like a Chinaman's hat on George's head. And what's with Ringo's fly? (Don't mind me.)

Page 34. A page of 1964 Beatles products. Compare this "The Fabulous Beatles Jewelry Brooch" with a similar one I found in the book Memorabilia of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The backing card has the same design but uses the British spelling of "Jewellery". The American editors felt it necessary to slap a "[sic!]" on it, but I say if the English wanna spell words wrong, let 'em. Just joking; I think "jewellery" is cool.

Beatle jewelry.     Beatle jewellery.
Left: Beatle jewelry.
Right: Beatle jewellery.

Page 38.

Beatlemaniacs storm Buckingham 
Palace.
Caption: Beatlemaniacs storm Buckingham Palace.

I can't make much sense of this picture. The coppers are holding back the crowd with all their might - but against the palace gate, not away from it. There are too many smiles in the picture to give any impression of a serious struggle between the fans and the coppers. The only fans that appear to be exerting any energy seem to be helping the coppers hold everybody back. And what's the story on the loose hat that's so important that one copper (not missing his own hat) needs to chase after it? And the fans who are not restrained by the coppers, are they supposed to bust through the police line so they can get up to the gate, too? (I think "copper" is British for "police", right?)

Page 39. "... and Kansas City, which the Beatles welded together with Little Richard's Hey Hey Hey..."

This turns out to not be the Beatles' brainstorm. Little Richard himself had already medleyized Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey, which the Beatles covered, and which also explains why the Beatles' Kansas City doesn't sound much at all like the real song. I was confused by that for decades.

Page 51. A chart of the Beatles Hits of 1965 shows that The Early Beatles only reached No. 43. I know chart positions weren't based on anything concrete back then, and probably still aren't, but is No. 43 plausible? I wonder what the other 42 albums from that time were that exist in greater quantities than a mainstream, Capitol-issued Beatle album.

Page 61.

George playing Monopoly.

If you compare this picture to the slightly earlier one of George and Jackie DeShannon playing Monopoly on page 56 of Beatles '64 you'll see that George has picked up four more properties.

Page 63. Referring to Beatle songs from 1966 onward, Schaffner points out that, with the exception of songs written for Ringo, "you could from now on always tell who wrote a Lennon-McCartney song by which of the two sing it."

Wasn't that a pretty solid clue before? This reminds me of a conversation I overheard once in a used record store where the owner revealed the secret of how to tell who wrote a Beatle song by listening to how complicated Paul's bass line is. Naturally, Paul could get fancier when he wasn't singing, so those were John's songs. Hmmm, I would call that sort of logic, "taking the scenic route..."

Page 67. "George continues [into the mid-1970s], however, to top the "miscellaneous" category of polls [of best musicians] for his work on an instrument [the sitar] he hasn't played since around 1969."

I'm with Shaffner all the way, here. You can observe this absurd phenomenon firsthand in my "Beatles in Yobyalp" web page. It started driving me nuts. I mean, I doubt that George was the world's greatest sitar player even back when he was playing a riff or two on it.

Schaffner mentions a bunch of pop songs that used the sitar after George got the ball rolling. I'm not familiar with most of them.

Winds Of Change, by the Animals
All Is One, by the Animals
Maker, by the Hollies
Progress Suite, by Chad and Jeremy
Whole string of wincers from the Moody Blues
Most songs on Sunshine Superman, by Donovan
Paint It Black, by the Rolling Stones
Paper Sun, by Traffic
The Iron Stone, by the Incredible String Band

Presumably, these are the most significant ones and should give pop historians an idea of the magnitude of this trend. Only Sunshine Superman and Paint It Black were Top 40 hits. On the other hand, there were some big hits, such as Cry Like A Baby by the Boxtops, and Hooked On A Feeling by B.J. Thomas, which should count even though the distinctive sound came from a bogus sitar instrument tuned like a guitar.

Page 68. "When they weren't letting George indulge in quasi-Indian overkill in his lyrics and arrangements, Harrison would at most strum a couple of subservient notes on his sitar in the background, as in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."

I don't hear a sitar on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and Mark Lewisohn didn't note one in Recording Sessions. Is Schaffner referring to the drone sounds of the tamboura?

Page 68.

Alternate trunk photo.
Caption: E.P., France, 1967.

This alternative Yesterday And Today trunk photo gave me a surprise. A little web research indicates that this photo is, in fact, the only known alternate trunk pose. You should be able to find a nice color image by searching on the whole string, "french trunk cover ep".

Page 69. A chart of "Beatle hits, March 1966 - May 1967" shows that Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever only reached No. 2 in Britain.

In the face of George Martin and Beatle book writers always making such a thing of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever not hitting No. 1, it should be noted that it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Melody Maker charts.

Page 79. "Who's Who in the Sgt. Pepper's Band." This was taken from 16 Magazine and its inclusion in this book was probably my first look at the personality parade on the Sgt. Pepper cover. It holds up very well against more recent lists, such as in the Sgt. Pepper cd booklet. The discrepancies are in the identification of the three faces to the right of George's hat.

16 Magazine identified them as

47. Albert Stubbins (Liverpool footballer)
48. guru
49. Einstein

The cd booklet identifies the same three faces, respectively, as

49. H.C. Westermann (sculptor)
50. Albert Stubbins (soccer player) (Do the British cd booklets call him a fooballer?)
51. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)

16 Magazine also called the unidentifiable mess above John's right shoulder "guru", which is really most of Einstein's head without his face. It was as if they had information that Einstein was in there somewhere, and took their best shot. Don't ask me what made them think Albert Stubbins was a guru - he looks more like an ad for Pepsodent toothpaste. While we're talking Sgt. Pepper cover, my remaining doubts are 34 and 36, both identified as "wax hairdressers' dummies." Someone must have been very ashamed of his work, as both dummies sport hats which hide all the hair. I suppose we can lay to rest the identifications in Bill Harry's oversized Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Souvenir Photo Book that No. 11 (Vargas girl) is Binnie Barnes, and that No. 34 (hairdressers' dummy) is Clara Bow? Actually, Bill Harry's book is quite useful for the thumbnail bios of the people on the cover.

Page 84. "Some of these newcomers, like Pink Floyd with Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and the Incredible String Band with 5000 Spirits, Or Layers Of The Onion, convincingly emulated Sgt. Pepper's eclecticism, mysticism and escapism."

I have a friend who is eternally proud of the fact that Piper beat Pepper to the shops. I, myself, was never sure if record release dates have any more basis in reality than chart positions. I've also wondered how much eavedropping the Floyds did on the Beatles in London EMI studios.

Page 86. "All You Need Is Love, which kicks off to the strains of the French National Anthem and ends with a sardonic reprise of She Loves You..."

My record is unspoiled: I've never totally understood any sentence with the word "sardonic" in it. On the previous page, Shaffner calls the Rolling Stones' We Love You a "sardonic ditty" and refers to the "sardonic jingles" on The Who Sell Out.

Page 90.

George and the Daily Express.

In this Magical Mystery Tour era photo of George eating fish and chips, it looks like he stuffed a Daily Express newspaper inside his jacket for a bib. What good does it do him there, I wonder?

Page 91. "John plays leads [on Flying] on his Mellotron (a new keyboard wonder that could be programmed to sound like almost any instrument, and which would soon become popular with producers too cheap to hire real strings.)"

I've always been intrigued by the Mellotron. I had originally written a bunch of sardonic (hey, I did it!) comments about how you always read about the Mellotron in Beatle histories, but you never see one, you never hear of great Mellotronists, you never find old Mellotron records, and you don't remember ever gabbing with pop music friends about the great Mellotron part in this or that hit. Well, I had to eat all those words because there is an impressive web site spelling out all the artists who used Mellotrons, and what albums and songs they're used on. Do a search on "mellotron" and "andy thompson".

The Mellotron is obviously much more than a '60's quirk - it seems to have gained in popularity since then. I gather that current models are much evolved from the early machines that produced sounds from a bank of magnetic tapes, each key of the keyboard activating the tape with the desired note of a certain instrument, such as a flute, or violin, or four violins, etc.

By the way, there's an article on Thompson's site that clears up (maybe) something I've always been very curious and confused about - what's the story on the flamenco-like guitar run at the beginning of The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill? Mark Lewisohn didn't identify the player with the liquid fingers. According to the article "The Beatles and the Mellotron", "the Spanish guitar run [is] from the left-hand manual" of the Mellotron.

I wasn't clear whether that meant the notes were played individually (which is hard to imagine since the notes have an over-ringing quality that sounds like a strummed guitar), or was the whole riff prepackaged on one key on the Mellotron (which seems just plain goofy)? Andy personally wrote to clear up my confusion:

Re: 'that' classical guitar run on 'Bungalow Bill'

The entire phrase is contained on one strip of tape in the Mark II Mellotron. They're a bugger to play, and you could never play one that fast, even if they had a classical guitar 'patch'.

Of course, this throws up appalling copyright issues. Although the sound most cetainly doesn't 'belong' to the Beatles, I wouldn't personally like to use the same Mellotron key and incur the wrath of Apple Corps... I keep hoping someone will, just to see what happens!

Thanks for coming to our rescue, Andy!

Page 91. "Although few would file it under the Beatles' Great Works, Flying has received more radio exposure than all but a handful of their songs. For countless disk jockeys soon discovered in this ethereal, infectious theme an ideal way to fill up those awkward odd moments before the hourly news: because there were no words, it didn't seem rude to chatter at the same time, or to phase it out mid-song."

I can't say I remember that. I do seem to remember hearing a Philadelphia tv station sign off with Flying late at night. I also seem to remember hearing it used in a local Baltimore tv commercial.

Page 91. "The melody and arrangement [of The Fool On The Hill] are kept appropriately simple, although Paul takes the liberty of adding flute and recorder to the long list of instruments he can be heard playing on Beatle records."

Schaffner was duped by Mal Evans' account in Beatles Book Monthly. So was I, in my Beatle Q&A game. Paul didn't play the flutes; real flute players named Christopher Taylor, Richard Taylor (brothers) and Jack Ellory did. (And there's that "simple" again, grrr...)

Page 99. "Only A Northern Song (also by George) was actually written and recorded within the hour after King Features demanded a new number."

A great story, which I also believed for oh so many years. Mark Lewisohn presents the truth in Recording Sessions: the song was recorded fairly early in the Sgt. Pepper sessions, on February 13 and 14, 1967, not in the spring of 1968.

Page 103. "As if every struggling would-be superstar on the planet hadn't already heard the word [about the Apple company], the Beatles placed ads in the British music papers that coupled a photograph of a young musician with the legend: THIS MAN HAS TALENT..."

My how far Beatle-ology has progressed since 1977; who on earth doesn't know by now that the "young musician" was Beatles aide and Apple general manager Alistair Taylor? (Don't answer that.)

Page 113. "Harrison later revealed that Back In The U.S.S.R. actually started out as a patriotic song called I'm Backing The U.K."

Don't recall hearing that before. Was George having us on? What interview was this?

Page 114. "Lennon also deploys a few banana peels for avid Beatleologists to trip on. In Glass Onion he sardonically unveils 'hidden meanings' to five of the Beatles' more unfathomable songs."

There we go with "sardonic" again...

Page 114. "Like much of McCartney's work, all [of his white album contributions] are remarkably accomplished and tuneful - and tell us absolutely zilch about about the writer's own feelings."

Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I presume there's an implied, "as opposed to Lennon's songs" tacked on. It's worth pointing out that John was not always the clearest communicator in song.

Take, for example, his song Working Class Hero on his "primal" album, the Plastic Ono Band, which was John exposing his inner self to the whole world, without poetry or imagery. Even so, he admitted in a 1980 interview, "The Working Class Hero song, which nobody ever got right, was supposed to be, I think [the word] is sardonic? 'And if you want to be a hero, well, just do what I did and you'll end up where I am. You'll find out for yourself.' It was nothing to do with socialism..." So whose fault is it that nobody understood? Another example that comes to mind is I Am The Walrus, in which John found out much later to his dismay that "the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, bleep, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, I am the carpenter." (The Playboy Interviews book, page 156.) That would make it a bit rougher on a listener trying to formulate a meaning. And then there was John taking great pains to explain his line "and no religion, too" in Imagine: "If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion - not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing - then it can be true." (The Playboy Interviews book, page 179.)

John even admitted how hard it was for him to express himself in song: "I think the really, really delicate personal stuff - I still don't know how to express it. People think that Plastic Ono is very personal, but there are some subtleties of emotion which I cannot seem to express in pop music." (The Playboy Interviews book page 178.)

Having reread the above, I suppose somebody could say, well, at least John tries to express inner emotions in his songs. Ok, no argument there.

I had intended to stop there, but I came upon an interview where John talks about Paul, himself and others expressing themselves in songs. In a 1973 interview, Elliott Mintz asks John about How Do You Sleep, his song that takes a bunch of shots at Paul.

Yeah, ok, so I said it, right? So what's it mean? It means that that is the bible and when I'm 80 that's what I mean?

How Do You Sleep was my reaction to Paul's first album [actually, his second, Ram] and the song that particularly offended not only me, but the others too - and maybe we were super-paranoid at the time, but that's irrelevant; it's there in [pauses to avoid "black and white" cliche] green and white - was Too Many People and some various other remarks. Now whether he's exp... He was expressing himself, because whether we plan it, to express our innermost feelings, or sort of surreal it like Dylan, or Paul, you could say his lyrics are very sort of non-specific. If one knows a person, one knows what is coming down. You know you can read what's been [Yoko interjects, "between the lines"] said between the lines because people's expressions and feelings come out in their work whether they want it to or not. So I always express myself directly, or language of the streets, and other people don't. And that was what it was all about. And I don't go around thinking [mocking tone] "How do you sleep?" the same as I don't go around thinking "Imagine there's no heaven!" because it's 1973 now and it's a different world. And as you've probably heard, or people have read, Paul and I have communicated, Linder and Yoko have communicated [...] The arguments were between the two males, the machos, and that's how it was. As far as I'm concerned, it's all over and I hope not to go through that kind of trip with anybody for whatever reason. It's just a waste of time, and there you go. And we're fine, and if we could meet things probably'd be finer, but the governments are making it inconvenient.

It goes to show what can be hidden in pop songs. I could have heard Too Many People a million times without detecting any swipe at John. Paul takes more pokes in Dear Boy and Backseat of My Car on the same album. Paul admits to this, so it seems all the ruckus over How Do You Sleep is monumentally unfair to John. You can't blame it on Schaffner; he did his part to inform the world of the true causality on page 145.

Page 115. "The Beatles... were finding it difficult to muster any interest in each other's work. John... couldn't even be bothered to participate on George Harrison's compositions [on the white album.]"

I thought this was worth checking into. Mark Lewisohn corroborates that John was not involved in recording Long Long Long or Savoy Truffle. However, he played organ on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and made a tape of pigs snorting for Piggies. There's a fascinating glimpse of the Beatles at work in the recording studio, provided by Allan Hall in the London Sun, Aug 7 1968, and reprinted in Belmo's Beatleg News, Vol. 4, No. 1. The article is titled, "Once more, says John, and George sings for the 28 millionth time." It describes George's attempts to nail the vocal track of Not Guilty during the white album sessions. See if these excerpts support Schaffner's above contention.

[John] is sitting at a formidable console, manipulating a button which enables him to speak to George Harrison, in a box on the studio floor, having sung for the 27 millionth time a song of his own composition...

The Beatles did the instrumental backing in the previous two days. The tape of it is being played over and over again and George is singing his words on top of it.

Four times I have heard him sing the song. "It's getting better all the time," says George Martin, the recording manager.

Mr. Martin appears to be paying little attention - even reading the paper - but evidently is missing nothing.

He is deliberately detached. He once said to me that he is now redundant - the Beatles have learned so much about the art and technique of a record... He appears to leave everything to them, but his role psychologically is essential, I would think.

George, in the box on the studio f1oor, has finished the song once again and shows no sign of impatience. It is taken for granted that he is going to have to sing it a hundred times more and he still sounds appallingly keen.

He is, however, getting slightly lost in the repetition: "Just a minute, did I sing the same verse twice there?" He did.

Up at the console, John is encouraging.

"It's great," he says, as Liverpool as George. "Like singing through a deaf aid." But he really means it - "It's coming," he says, "It's coming." ...

Somehow John and Paul have drifted down there and are going through fragments of the song in their own idiosyncratic ways.

"One more time," says John with a great big swinging American voice. He means three thousand more times and the insistent beating background is played back again for George to sing.

John and Paul, both of whom have a much more facile falsetto, are now heard contributing a fragmentary obbligato. It sounds good and the next time and the next time after that they are coming in more and more.

Martin is now at the console in the control room and says: "When you're singing together you're all coming through loud and clear, equidistant. Is that the way you want it, not George in front?"

"Yeah," says John. And he faintly mocks Martin with the repeat of Martin's word: "Yeah, equidistant." George Martin smiles.

George fluffs the next one and says sorry. John, waiting for the new start sings quietly: "Sorry, I said I'm sorry" to the tune of Colonel Bogey. Paul jumps to the piano to accompany him.

They may be perfectionists to the point of insanity but they seem to be enjoying it...

For the record, Mark Lewisohn only mentions 101 takes of Not Guilty.

Page 117. "[The Beatles'] nonchalant impersonations of all the competition on the British charts - the latest hits of the Stones, Kinks, et al., often rendered while the Fab Four were waiting to plug their own latest offerings on such tv shows as Ready, Steady, Go! and Top Of The Pops - were specially legendary."

I always remembered that passage, and I always liked believing it even though it seemed odd that we never read it in other sources, never mind first-hand ones. Having heard hours of Get Back bootleg material since then, I have to say I think Schaffner may have exaggerated a wee bit.

Page 124. "John's [Come Together] sounds more like Chuck Berry than any Beatle recording since Roll Over Beethoven and Rock 'N' Roll Music. So distinct was the likeness that the composer found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit... The first two lines of lyric and most of the melody were virtually identical to passages of the greasy car classic You Can't Catch Me."

Surely that's going overboard. A few of the words, maybe, but "most of the melody"??? Here's John (The Playboy Interviews book, page 169):

Come Together is me - writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left in the line "Here come old flat-top." It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago. I could have changed it to "Here comes old iron face," but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on earth.

Page 129. I can't ever remember not thinking that the "Paul is dead" thing was just plain stupid. The biggest problem is that some of the clues involve Paul ("the walrus was Paul"), and some of the clues involve death ("turn me on, dead man"), but none of the clues tie the two together. The only exception to that that I know of is the HE DIE clue on the Sgt. Pepper cover with the diamond between the words pointing to Paul. Anyhow, Schaffner describes a talk by Joel Glazier on the subject. Glazier made me curious about the "large skull on page eight of the Magical Mystery Tour booklet. (If you turn the picture 90 degrees to the right and stare from a distance of about 10 feet, the beret of the diner nearest the camera is liable to turn into an eye socket. Joel claims this was planted, as it is the only photograph not taken from the actual film.)"

Try it - it's great! Although, I still don't see what it has to do with Paul.

Page 133. A chart of the "Beatles' hits - September 1968 through April 1970."

What caught my attention was how flip-flopped American and British musical tastes seem to be. Americans sent the softer, sweeter songs somewhat higher in the charts relative to the British; the British sent the rougher, harsher, harder-rocking songs a lot higher in the charts relative to the Americans.

                                     Highest position
                                       USA      UK
                                     ----------------
    Something                           1        4
    Let It Be                           1        2
    
    The Ballad Of John And Yoko         8        1
    Give Peace A Chance                14        2
    Cold Turkey                        30       14

Page 135. "The sensational news stories [about the breakup] were all derived from a self-interview Paul had released to coincide with his McCartney L.P. In the interview [...] Paul announced a 'break with the Beatles' due to 'personal differences, musical differences, business differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family.'"

First of all, a nitpick: the newspaper articles published around the world on April 10 1970 were not based directly on Paul's self-interview. For instance, the Associated Press article that appeared in the Baltimore Sun picked up on an earlier (April 9, I assume) article in the Daily Mirror, in which Don Short wrote about a McCartney statement "locked in a safe at Apple headquarters." The AP article makes it sound as if Short, himself, had not seen McCartney's statement.

I didn't pay any of these reports any mind at the time. Take the Baltimore Sun article, for example. There is absolutely nothing authoritative about it - nothing that sets it apart from all those rumors that have been "cropping up for months" that it refers to. There is no statement from McCartney himself; there are official denials from an Apple spokesman. Short's own statements come across as totally speculative: "Short said McCartney's decision 'must mean the end of Britain's most famous pop group.' He also predicted it would finish the McCartney-Lennon songwriting partnership." (Emphasis mine.) If Short had actually spoken with McCartney, why wouldn't that come out in the article?

I've brought the subject up with other first-generation Beatle fans, and it seems that I must be truly alone in having completely discounted those stories of a break-up. At the time, I just couldn't imagine anyone taking them seriously. First of all, the rumors had been cropping up for years, not months, going back at least as far as the end of 1966, after the Beatles had given up touring and were about to start on Sgt. Pepper. Second of all, as I noted above, in spite of all the reports of a break-up, the only official statements we got were denials. Third of all, it came hard on the heels of the idiotic "Paul is dead" rumor - not something to make you sit up and take Beatle rumors seriously. Fourth of all, Beatle product was coming out at a more ferocious rate than ever before. Within a matter of months we got Abbey Road, The Beatles Again and Let It Be. Sure, now I'm a much smarter little Beatle scholar, and I know that Let It Be was from a project more than a year old, and that The Beatles Again was just an odds-and-ends album, but back then I didn't worry about such details - they were new, mainstream, official Beatle albums, yippee!

So... I got the surprise of my life when I opened up the newspaper on December 31 1970 and read about Paul McCartney filing a lawsuit in the London High Court seeking to dissolve the partnership The Beatles & Co. Whooops... now that sounds official!

If I had been better connected to Beatle news back then, I would have found out even earlier. The letter from Paul McCartney to Melody Maker magazine in August 1970 would have done it, I guess. Paul wrote:

Dear Mailbag,

In order to put out of its misery the limping dog of a news story which has been dragging itself across your pages for the past year, my answer to the question, "will the Beatles get together again?" . . .

is no.

Paul McCartney

[doodle of a grin full of teeth never looking so nasty]

See Lennon, Ray Coleman, page 381. Note that Paul exaggerates a few months into a year. Paul's August 29 1970 letter was surely provoked by an article two weeks earlier called "Beatles - the facts" (Melody Maker, August 15 1970, page 27.) The September 12 1970 edition printed three reader letters blasting Paul for his conceit.

Still, many years later, when the "Beatles' breakup" got pegged to April 10 1970, it always rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, the Beatles didn't record any tracks on April 10 or any day thereafter. But the same thing could be said of any date after the last recording session on January 4 1970.

I think the first shock came from the April 1985 Beatlefan magazine. A commemorative article began, "Has it really been 15 years since Black Friday - April 10 1970 - the day Paul McCartney's statement that he had left the Beatles was released?" I couldn't imagine that there were Beatle fans who swallowed the speculation as fact, without any statements from the Beatles themselves, and then memorized the precise date as a turning point in history! Beatlefan put an Atlanta newspaper clipping on the cover - and it was every bit as unconvincing as the one discussed above. Right off the bat, the headline is "McCartney on Own Dooms Beatles?" - a question, not a statement! "'It is now highly unlikely they will ever even record together again,' one well-informed source said." So who might you be, Mr. W.I. Source? And "highly unlikely" is the strongest statement you can make? Do you have a machine that picks up brain-waves from Paul and John, or are you simply telepathic? Are you aware that there were quite a few projects by solo Beatles during the group years that didn't destroy the group? (And why should they?)

On an episode of The Lost Lennon Tapes radio series, Elliot Mintz was talking about You Know My Name, Look Up My Number: "It was the flip side of Let It Be, the No. 1 single in the USA as of April 11 1970 - the day after we all found out the Fabs had folded." Except me.

Mark Lewisohn's book, The Beatles - 25 years in the life (1987) gives a day-by-day chronology of Beatle history. The entry for April 10 1970 reads, "Newspapers around the world carry Paul's statement that the Beatles will never work together again." Which statement was that???

In a 1993 interview in Beatlefan magazine, Lewisohn is asked, "What went into the decision to cut off the [Beatles Chronology book] at April 10 1970?" He answers, in part, "And I thought, well, perhaps the best date to end it would be the date that Paul McCartney in effect, although he didn't actually use those very words, announced that the Beatles had broken up by saying that he would never again work with them and had no desire to work with the others." (Emphasis mine.) At least Mark is aware of what Paul didn't say, but I still take issue with what Mark says Paul did say.

I think it was well into the 1980s when I finally came across a copy of the complete McCartney self-interview. At the risk of being accused of having the momma of all mental blocks, I still don't see anything in there about a Beatles breakup. Here are the hardest hitting questions and answers.

Q. Did you miss the other Beatles and George Martin? Was there a moment when you thought: Wish Ringo was here for this break?

A. No.

Sounds hard and cold, but why should Paul want the others to crash his solo project? And we know Paul always liked to drum.

Q. Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?

A. No.

Big deal, neither were the other Beatles. Probably half the time the Beatles were active they weren't "planning" a new single or album.

Q. Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?

A. Time will tell. Being a solo album means it's the "start of a solo career" and not being done with the Beatles means it's a rest. So it's both.

Who on earth can read "I quit the Beatles!" into that?

Q. Is your break from the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones?

A. Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don't know.

Do you hear that, people? - "I don't know".

Q. Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?

A. No.

Big whoop - it hadn't been active for years, anyway.

All right, so maybe Paul didn't express his intentions clearly to the public; surely he was more straightforward with John Lennon? Here are some excerpts from an interview with John Lennon published in the book John Lennon: For The Record by McCabe and Schonfeld. The interview took place in the summer of 1971.

Q. So did all this [tension caused by Yoko always being around] contribute to the split, to Paul leaving the group?

John: Well, Paul rang me up. He didn't actually tell me he'd split, he said he was putting out an album [McCartney]...

No, not even with John Lennon.

Int.: ... we gather that Klein was still hoping that Paul would return to the group.

John: Oh, he'd love it if Paul would come back... I mean, I want him to come out of it too, you know. He will one day. I give him five years, I've said that. In five years he'll wake up.

Int.: And yet Paul did pretty well from a number of deals Klein negotiated before Paul filed suit to dissolve the group partnership... What else was Klein doing to try and lure Paul back?

John: [laughs] One of the reasons for trying to get Paul back was that Paul would have forfeited his right to split by joining again. We tried to con him into recording with us too. Allen came up with this plan. He said, "Just ring Paul and say, 'We're recording next Friday, are you coming?'" So it nearly happened. It got around that the Beatles were getting together again, because EMI had heard that the Beatles had booked recording time again. But Paul would never do it, for anything, and now I would never do it...

And again, I say to all the people who know that the Beatles split up on April 10 1970, yeah, you were right. But, think about it: recording studio time was actually reserved for the "broken-up" Beatles many months later.

I'm sure I've heard an interview with Mark Lewisohn where he backpedals a little on April 10 1970, and even accepts some of the blame for fixing it in the public's mind as the exact moment the Beatles split. Unfortunately, I can't put my fingers on it.

Page 144. "He was, after all, married to the Maria Callas of the torture rack..."

Referring to John, of course. This tickles my operatic funny bone. Has Maria Callas tortured any fewer people than Yoko? I'm sort of a fan of both.

Page 146. "The second most popular song on [Imagine] was Jealous Guy... to a melody almost identical to the verse of A Day In The Life..."

I had never noticed that before. I wouldn't say "almost identical", but I can see a similarity in contour.

Page 158. "Paul enlisted a little help from an old friend on [Live And Let Die]; for the first and only time since the breakup George Martin was invited to produce one of his former clients' projects. It was he who devised the record's explosive orchestration."

This "explosive orchestration" sounds a whole lot to me like a little section of British composer William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. It's about 3:45 into the work, after the line "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

I think Belshazzar's Feast is known to anyone in England with a bit of interest in serious music. There's a funny little anecdote in George Martin's autobiography All You Need Is Ears (page 191) which may or may not be relevant. He tells about composing the signature tune for the BBC's new Radio One. His requirements were laid out: "very English, very contemporary, with classical overtones, and strikingly unusual." When the head of the BBC Record Library heard the finished product, she exclaimed, "Good God, it sounds like William Walton gone mad!"

Page 158. "The photographs used on the back and front of the [1962-1966 and 1967-1970] album jackets showed the Beatles grouped in identical positions upon a housing project balcony."

I think a lot of fans for a long time had no idea where the Beatles were posing. Now we know they were leaning over the first floor railing in EMI House in Manchester Square in London. We also know that the same photographer, Angus McBean, was used at both sessions. He even gives us his detailed memories in The Beatles London, by Mark Lewisohn, page 22. Still, there's a curious statement John made in his 1980 interview with Andy Peebles (The Lennon Tapes, page 71.) John spoke of his involvement with these compilations, also known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums.

John: I made sure that George Martin was there and I made sure they put that picture which I got Linda to take of the same pose as their very first album over the Abbey Road . . . No what is it that . . . EMI office in some other place, some square?

Peebles: Manchester Square.

John: Manchester Square. So I was involved in that respect, in that package making sure that the cover was what I wanted and that the sound was done by George Martin. So I didn't mind that one [repackaging of Beatles material.]

What could John have been thinking of? It's not that he just got the photographer wrong, which in this case would be hard enough to believe - who would mix up Angus McBean and Linda McCartney? - but he remembers asking Linda to do the photography. He sounds very certain on a matter that's obviously quite important to him. I ask again, what was he thinking of?

Page 166. "[Paul McCartney] revealed that a key phrase of the song Band On The Run - 'if we ever get out of here' - was a remark George Harrison had made during one of those interminable Apple board meetings."

I claim the story is much more interesting than that. I could be wrong, but I believe John Lennon sings along with Paul on that line attributed to George. The evidence is, firstly, it sounds like John's voice. Secondly, a letter to Beatlefan magazine, December 1981:

I have a friend who met John Lennon in Central Park in 1974. He claims Lennon told him at that time that he had contributed vocals to McCartney's 1973 album Band On The Run. He claims Lennon told him he sang harmony on one line of the title track, just before the "link" where it says "If we ever get out of here." I was skeptical at first but upon playing that particular line from Band On The Run, I am convinced that the voice contributing the low harmony is that of Lennon. If not, it is a remarkable resemblance. I would be interested to learn if any of your readers have heard of this before or if anyone has any information to confirm or deny Lennon's presence on the song.

Neal Powell
Charleston, SC

There was no follow-up discussion of this letter. Upon rereading it, it does seem strange that Neal feels such a strong need for corroboration of his friend's claim - wouldn't he know whether his friend is a liar or not? Anyhow, it's fun to believe that Paul and John sang a line by George in an era when the common belief is that they hated each other's guts. They didn't, of course. John and Paul were mad for about a nine-month period which had long since expired. Schaffner even reports (page 160) that "John found cordial words to say about Red Rose Speedway and dubbed Paul 'a real pro,' and McCartney in turn began intimating that he wouldn't mind playing with his old pals again, should the stars be right." (Also, revisit John's 1973 remarks about his relationship with Paul under "Page 114" above.)

Page 173. "After John Lennon moved to Los Angeles, he embarked on a six-month spree of partying and dissipation. Though he wrote only one song in that whole period, he inspired a great deal of sensational copy with his drunken escapades."

Don't leave me in suspenders - what was the song? I see a note in the margin, "Mucho Mungo?", but I wouldn't stake my life to that guess.

Page 174. "On [John Lennon's Bless You], however, the music is most un-Beatle-like, featuring the sort of jazzy diminished-seventh chord progressions Paul had recently dallied with on Bluebird."

I'm ashamed of my musical ear, but I don't hear diminished-seventh chords on Bluebird. My buddy Norm has a good musical ear, and together, we still couldn't hear 'em. A string of diminished-seventh chords sounds like somebody laughing.

Page 180. "In Sally G Paul perfectly captures the musical ambience of [Nashville, where it was recorded]. The song was so convincing it even managed to crack the country-and-western charts, something no long-haired rock artist had ever before accomplished."

Regarding Sally G, I have to ask, does the slide guitar solo in the middle of the song sound to anyone else like George Harrison's slide guitar work? (I'm not referring to the pedal steel guitar you hear throughout.) I see that Castleman and Podrazik credit Chet Atkins with "electric guitar" on the song. I've always viewed George's slide guitar sound as his own invention. Did Chet intentionally try to imitate it? Did Paul ask him to?

Page 188. "Though [The Best Of George Harrison] U.S. jacket depicts George's gaunt features superimposed over a cosmic display of novae and galaxies..."

Schaffner probably meant "nebulae" - "novae" are exploding stars.

Well, Nick, it was quite a chore whipping up this little book report. I've got quite a mess of Beatle books lying about needing to get back where they belong. Still, it was a mere crumb compared to the job you did - thanks. Sorry we never crossed paths.

 


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