10 Reasons The Beatles Broke Up

Other than the magnificently transportive music they made that shaped the way pop music itself was conceived, made, and culturally codified thereafter, one of the key things that makes The Beatles such a compelling band is the strength of their myth. Now, I have personally bored many people senseless in conversation, and even in podcasts, on the nature of The Beatles as a story, not just as a musical act.

What kind of story are we talking about exactly? I’ve come to believe that their story is a quest myth, and a coming of age story all rolled into one. To the former, it really is a story full of colourful characters that seem to be so huge that recognizing the fact that they were and are living, breathing human beings is rational, but not quite complete. They were, and are, more than that. This is because they take up space in our imaginations as much as they did and do in real life time and space. But as to the latter, the coming of age part of the equation, that’s the aspect of The Beatles story that adds a splash of mournful blue to the psychedelic spectrum. For something to be so wonderful to those outside looking in, it couldn’t possibly have been made to last.

As with everything in life, the answer to Why Did The Beatles Break Up? is and always has been more complicated than one factor affecting the whole. As much as fans like me venerate the people involved, we are talking about human beings here, however talented. They were subject to conflicting forces and grey areas that we all are. What were those forces according to me at least? Here in (very!) rough chronological order are at least 10 for you to consider, Good People.

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10 Cover Songs By The Beatles That Helped Define Them

The Beatles established the idea for British beat groups that if you wanted to make your mark, you had to write your own songs.

But, before they were writers, they were music fans and record collectors – just like us! They had influences, like any other band. In their earliest days, The Beatles considered themselves primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll band. But, they pulled in a number of influences that allowed them to define their sound even early on; soul music, rockabilly, traditional pop, movie soundtrack music, Latin music, and more.

The Beatles 1964

A lot of the time, their choice in material was made so as to distinguish their sets from those of other bands working the same clubs as they did. And it also served them as a live act when they were a bar band in Hamburg, playing eight-hour shows. To play sets that long, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, and make sure you’re ready to play anything for the sometimes volatile audiences. More material is better than less in those situations; better to know it and not have to play it, than having to play it, and not knowing it.

What this anything goes approach also helped them to do of course is to create a template for how wide their reach would be as songwriters on their own. So, which songs did they cover that helped them to do this best? Well, in the tradition of the Delete Bin, here are 10 to consider as great Beatle-starters, and as prime cuts of pure pop magic all on their own. Take a look! Read more

The Beatles Play “I’m Down” at Shea Stadium 46 Years Ago Today

Here’s a clip, and one of my favourite clips of all time, of the Fab Four – the Beatles, that is – at Shea Stadium 0n August 15th, 1965 – 46 years ago today. It’s “I’m Down”, the B-side to the single “Help”, and the closing number of the first large-scale concert in the age before your standard stadium show was standard. In fact, it was this very concert that convinced “the money”, for good or ill, that maybe this rock’n’ roll thing had legs where making tons of cash was concerned.*

*[March 2012 – as if to prove my point, EMI have blocked the clip because they own the rights to it. Sorry, kids.]

*[July 2014 – but here’s that clip again, thanks to Dailymotion. Suck it, The Man!]

But that aside, this was a key show for the band, just on the verge of transforming from a quartet of performing “moptops” to a serious studio entity, going well beyond the touring, radio, and TV appearance showbiz treadmill, to become what they’d always been – true artists. This in turn dovetailed with their growing disatisfaction with live performances, when their own chops as musicians were being lost in the screams of Beatlemania.

The specially-designed 100-Watt Vox amplifiers didn’t even make a dent. Read more

Ringo Starr Sings ‘Early 1970’

Here’s a clip featuring Liverpudlian tubthumper, singer, compulsive peace-sign flasher, and birthday boy Beatle (he’s 71 today!) Ringo Starr. It’s his 1971 B-Side (to his smash hit single “It Don’t Come Easy”) dedicated, even then, and in the midst of legal wrangling in some cases, to his former bandmates in the Beatles.

The song reveals a couple of things about Ringo. First, that his love for rockabilly and country music was absolutely ingrained in his approach. And second, that he was, even early on, the keeper of the flame where spirit of the Beatles is concerned.

He was seemingly above all of the squabbling even at its worst. He  always seemed to know best among all four men, that they had created something bigger than all of them. It certainly appeared that he felt it was bigger than their differences at the time.

This song is a clear call to friendship, aimed at each band member, with a verse dedicated to each (and one that pokes fun at his own musical limitations). But, there is a point of view that is more cynical where this track is concerned. Read more

The Beatles Play ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ On the Rooftop: 40 Years Ago!

Here’s a clip of the latter-day Fab Four, forty years ago today, playing their massively underrated track “I’ve Got A Feeling” from the rooftops of the Apple Corps offices, Saville Row London.  It was a key scene in the Beatles’ Let it Be film, which was meant to be a document of their comeback as a live band, and became something completely opposite instead.

Some original ideas for this concert, their first since San Francisco’s  Candlestick Park in August 1966, was to film it as a grand finale appearance at the Parthenon, or Pompeii, or on a luxury cruise ship.  In the end, the Beatles settled for the lunchtime London bowler-hat-and-brolly set, an audience several storeys below them.  It was the middle-class business man’s lunch rush, interspersed with their secretaries, messengers, and tea boys filling the streets on their breaks, or on errands.  It would have been impossible for any of them to guess that the Beatles would never play in public again after this.  They would never know in that moment how lucky they were to have been so surprised to hear the Beatles during their lunch breaks.

This lack of historical foresight  is best evidenced first by the complaints in the street as captured by Let it Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and later by the borough council who sent a few bobbies up to the roof to shut the whole thing down.  It was hoped that the police would drag the Beatles away in a dramatic fashion.  But, being British, the police politely asked them to stop.  And the Beatles and their friends, being British (except for keyboardist Billy Preston of course), complied.  And that was it.

But, it was never about defying the police.  That was just an idea for an ending of the film. It was about them, as a band, playing together, and making an album.  Or, it was supposed to be.  By this time of course, they all had their own interests. Ringo was acting in movies.  George spent had time in upstate New York, visiting with the Band and envying what they had made of themselves as a supple musical unit without much fanfare or glamour.  John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono had him wondering why he needed to be in a group at all.  And Paul was becoming increasingly autocratic by all accounts, trying to hold everything together.  The whole thing was doomed, and each Beatle knew it.  And as a result the movie becomes  a study in artistic dissolution, rather than one of a band working as a unit to mount a comeback.

But, despite the state of the Beatles union, they still had their songs.  This one, “I’ve Got A Feeling” is an amalgam of two songs.  The main body is Paul’s, and the middle eight “Everybody had a hard year” was a fragment that John had been tinkering with.  In effect, this is more a Lennon & McCartney effort than most, from a writing point of view anyway.

But more importantly, it showcases the Beatles as a solid rock ‘n’ roll band, with Paul’s growling rock voice, John’s jagged guitar, George’s effortless rhythm, and Ringo’s thudding rock stomp.  Billy Preston’s laid back Fender Rhodes is an emollient to the brashness of Lennon’s guitar, which creates a really interesting contrast.  But mostly, this represents the Beatles as a rock group.  This tune has balls.  And you can tell that when they’re playing, all of the other stuff doesn’t matter.

The group would come together again later in the year to make their final album, Abbey Road.  And the soundtrack to the Let it Be film would be released the following year.  But,  by April 1970, the Beatles were over as a working partnership.  But as many have said, whatever happened they could count on a legacy which remains unsullied.  Everything else aside, they really were a great little rock ‘n’ roll group.

Enjoy!

The Beatles Perform ‘Revolution 1’ From the White Album

Here’s a clip of a recently released from Maharishi summer camp fab four with the original version of their single “Revolution”, billed as it was on the The Beatles (The White Album), released 40 years ago in November 1968, as “Revolution 1”.

The clip is a bit of a dodge in that the footage is taken from the promo of the single which was re-recorded and released in August of 1968.  That version, as you may know, is a bit louder, faster, and shoutier to suit the times.  The clip slows everything down to match the more languid pace of the original.

The White Album version is like a stoned acoustic doo-wop, with Lennon’s voice a little on the sleepy side.  Yet, there’s a real groove there, with a somnambulant veneer, a dreamy vibe which draws your ear into the lyrics a bit more than the single version does.   And of course there’s the “count me out…in” lyric that still has critics wondering what Lennon was getting at.  It was argued that the track was too slow to be a single.  So it was re-recorded as a double-A side with “Hey Jude”.

“Revolution” the single remains to be one of the hardest dirtiest statements the Beatles ever released.  When the group performed the song on David Frost’s show, featured in the clips, they performed it semi-live, with the record backing their live vocals.  Paul and George put the “a-womp, shoo-be-doo-wop” backing vocals back in, even if the single had taken them out.

Nineteen Sixty-Eight was a turbulent year historically, and for the Beatles it was certainly one for contrast.  It was a year of both self-contemplation and politicization too by the time the year was over.   In many ways, this year was the beginning of a new state of affairs for the Beatles, who since 1963 had lived in the insular world of recording studios, stages, radio stations, movie sets, and hotel rooms.  Times were changing, even for the fab four.

They had met with the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, the previous year in Britain, and had attended a number of his seminars.  This included a weekend in Bangor, Wales, a kind of spiritual retreat.  This served as a means of introducing the group, their wives, and some of their friends, to the world of TM.

While away in Bangor, their manager Brian Epstein died of an accidental drugs overdose.  Even in this, they knew that things had shifted from one era to another.  Epstein had been the band’s manager in nearly every sense, from logistics, to finances, to publicity (with the help of press officer Derek Taylor).  Above all, Epstein had held them together as an entity, as a package.  When he was gone, part of the work cut out for them was to redefine who they were as a band, as people within that band, and ultimately what the relationship was between each.

Maybe this is why the group’s interest in TM would inspire them to take some time off and go to Rishikesh in India to take an expanded course in TM under Maharishi’s tutelage.  Along with their wives, they were also joined by celebrity friends, and other TM enthusiasts in a sort of spiritual summer camp, even if the span of months stretched from February to April of 1968.  And while there, each Beatle wrote songs – lots of them.

George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Donovan, and Patti Boyd.  Wheres Ringo?  He left early.  He was allergic to Maharishis cooking.
The Beatles in Rishikesh India. From Left: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Donovan, and Patti Boyd. Where’s Ringo? He left early. He was allergic to Maharishi’s cooking.

But even if the Beatles wrote about various subjects in their India-written songs, they certainly began to write about their times in a more direct way.  Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” is a direct reference to civil rights.  George Harrison’s “Piggies” discusses the narrow-mindedness of the middle-classes.  And of course, it’s Lennon who later pens “Revolution”, in the wake of the Paris student riots after his return from Rishikesh.  It seems that the look inward actually produced an opposite effect.  And with no Brian Epstein to rein in their political impulses in the songwriting, it was the first overtly political statement from the Beatles.

It was a tough year, particularly for the counterculture.  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, the war in Vietnam raged on, and Richard Nixon came to power as President of the United States for the first time.  In many ways, the Beatles eponymous next album being something of a darker beast than the colourful Sgt. Pepper the year before was understandable.  And “Revolution” captured something of the zeitgeist, a feat which had always been something of a Beatles trait. Yet, it could be argued that this was the beginning of the end of the Beatles, as each member of the band began to realize that there was life outside of the bubble that had been made for them to live in up until then.

Enjoy!

[UPDATE, Aug 2, 2012: Check out these rare photos of the Beatles in India.]

The Beatles Perform “Tomorrow Never Knows” for Ringo’s Birthday

Ringo Starr’s birthday was on July 7th – and I missed it! The blessed event occured in Liverpool 1940, making him the oldest Beatle. Happy Birthday, Mr. Starkey!

Here’s a clip of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” taken from their landmark1966 album Revolver. If Ringo needed a resume, this is one of the first things to appear on it. As it is, his reputation proves that his drums speak for him without one.

Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr

It has been said by idiots that Ringo is not among the top drawer rock drummers, not even the best in the Beatles! Nonsense, says I, and says anyone with any sense. His performances on “I Feel Fine”, “Rain”, and “The End” are but three great examples of Ringo being the best drummer for the band he was in. Imagine how a John Bonham, a Mitch Mitchell, a Ginger Baker, or a Keith Moon would have crowded out the life of a Lennon/McCartney tune; for all of their skill, they just wouldn’t have done as good a job.

The Beatles met Ringo in Hamburg, while Ringo was drumming with another Liverpool band, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes who played the same club circuit as the nascent Beatles in 1960-61. And as legend has it, Starr was a Beatle before he was in the band, gelling with the others as naturally as a yellow submarine sails the Sea of Green. The writing was famously on the wall for then-current drummer Pete Best by the time the group returned to Liverpool and were serious about going professional.

Later, through recording sessions, American tours, Beatlemania, bad shows in Manilla, and an indefinite hold on touring, Ringo laid down some finely crafted drum parts, along with some of his more famous malpropisms some of which turned into titles for songs John Lennon wrote. “A Hard Day’s Night” was one. Another was this song; “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which John had originally titled the more po-faced “The Void”.

What is striking about this of course is not just that Lennon built the whole thing on tape loops and a droning C chord, but that Ringo came up with a breathtaking drum part, simple, yet totally effective – WHAP! Ba-Dum! (rest) WHAP! Ba-Dum! And with a constant *shhhhhhhhh* of the ride cymbal.

Just listen to it! Magic!

The man was the best drummer in the world for that song alone. To the top drawer of rock drummers you go, sir. And have a happy belated birthday while you’re at it too!

Enjoy!

Fantasy Albums: The Beatles 1971 comeback album

Or, how music history should have unfolded if I were in charge.

This is another possible series, should the spirit of the Delete Bin move me further. That is, the geekiest of all geekery among music geeks – the fantasy album. Most of these either come about because the albums haven’t happened, are unlikely to happen, or could never happen. But, fantasy albums are the stuff dreams by music geeks the world over (I have proof that this is the case, good people…). Here is one of mine, with more to (possibly … well, probably) follow. My Beatles album 1971.

Here’s the story:

Paul McCartneyThe Beatles decide to take a breather at the end of the Abbey Road sessions, knowing that they’re running on fumes. John makes the Plastic Ono Band album. George puts out All Things Must Pass as a double album (but holds back a few tunes). Ringo makes some coin as a guest musician on albums by Badfinger and Harry Nilsson, among others. Paul McCartney retreats to his farm in Scotland to write his first album, with some tunes held back. 1970 is otherwise a quiet year. But, by the end of it, The Beatles feel refreshed enough to come back to the Beatles with a renewed sense of vigour. This is because they’ve decided to take control of it, and not have it define them.

George HarrisonThey decide to have solo careers, while coming back to the Beatles by treating it as their hobby band. They deflate the myth by taking it less seriously, while at the same time always making a commitment to bringing their best to it, out of respect. This attitude will create a certain thematic cohesion for the ensuing sessions for their next record. Meanwhile, they’ve cut ties with Allen Klein to find new management in a local firm out of Liverpool with a charismatic leader at the head of it who also happens to be a fan of the music. Through this firm, they are able to re-negotiate their publishing deal with Northern Songs so that they own their own back catalogue outright, as well as control of all materials they put out going forward, either as a group or as solo artists. So, the first year of the decade is a good year indeed.

Ringo StarrThey go into Abbey Road studios with George Martin to record this album, with Geoff Emerick as engineer. And Klaus Voorman will do the album cover (as he did for 1966’s Revolver…), as well as playing bass on a few tracks. Billy Preston will appear playing organ and Fender Rhodes.

Beatles ’71

1. Too Many People – Now not about how obnoxious John and Yoko are, but a song about the disillusion of the hippie ideal. I think John Lennon would add some interesting lyrical content to this. The arrangement would be the same, but with Macca/Lennon/Hari three part harmonies on the “this was your first mistake/you took your lucky break and broke it in two” section. And Harrision would get a slide solo somewhere.
2. What is Life – with more three-part harmonies. It would otherwise remain unchanged.

3. Jealous Guy – No strings on this one, but a bit bluesier, with some Billy Preston organ to make it sound more like a gospel tune. Macca’s bass would be almost a lead instrument on it (his compositional contribution), providing a counter melody under the vocal. The first verse would be John at the piano, and the band would come in on the first chorus.
4. How Do You Sleep? – Equally, this is no longer about Macca, but about the American government and its involvement in Vietnam. John’s lyrics are bolstered by tougher playing and grittier production, making this rock harder than anything they’ve done up until this point. Still featuring the blistering Harrison slide riff, it will also feature a lead guitar as played by Macca that offsets the riff , making it about 12 bars longer. Also, there is a new middle-eight section added by Paul as well, which features his vocal.
5. It Don’t Come Easy The Ringo song! This time, it’s not a mercy track.

Side Two

1. Maybe I’m Amazed Pretty much as is, but with more three-part harmony bits. John would still get a co-writing credit.
2. Wah-Wah George leads an extended version of this tune, allowing for riff-trading with John, Paul, and Preston on Fender Rhodes. This will be the collective statement of the group in many ways, since the sentiment of the song is not being tied to someone else idea of your identity. All the Beatles faced this, and this tune would speak to that issue, along with George’s personal ones. As such, the song would be even harder, and more exhuberant!
3. Gimme Some Truth More chances for cascading “ah” backing vocals a la “Because” on this. Macca would add an intertwining countermelody sung as a backing to John’s lead. It will rely for the main on the strength of the vocals, both lead and backing. As such, it will be entirely a cappella.

4. Reeperbahn Days– This will be a tune that uses the melody of “Oh Yoko!” with Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr contributions to the lyrics. The song is about their Hamburg days, and about their sense of innocence, just playing rock n roll and discovering the world as young men before they were famous. It will feature a rockabilly middle eight section contributed by McCartney which ups the tempo, and on which they will play as a four piece without any keyboards or production flourishes. The song will resolve back to the descending Lennon melody. It will be good natured and celebratory, but the sentiment will resolve on the idea that the past is behind and serves only as a means to understand the present.

5. Imagine – This would be as is, sans strings, with John doing this entirely solo, no drums.
6. Junk This would be a laid back, back porch acoustic guitar strum, with Ringo on a streamlined drum kit and brushes. George would play a tasteful acoustic slide. It would be cut live, with as much of a “just felt like playing” feel to it as possible.

The Beatles would not do a full tour, but would appear at the Concert For Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison. They will perform three songs together: “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Across the Universe”, and “Too Many People”. In addition to Harrison’s solo set, John Lennon will have a solo tune (“Imagine”), and McCartney will perform “Blackbird” solo to close the record. The money from the concert would be more effective too, with less of it going toward administration, and more to the people who needed it. Royalties from the record would continue to serve development agencies in the sub-continent for many years to come.

In 1976 after the four concentrate on solo careers, there’s a live album …

So there it is, good people. This might be my geekiest article yet. So, there’s no reason for you not to tell me about your fantasy recordings, ones that never were or never can be.

PS- In December 1980, a city bus would jump the curb in New York City and take out a single victim standing outside of the Dakota apartment, knocking a signed copy of Double Fantasy heavenward…