Winter of Discontent

January 1969 remains by far the best documented month in The Beatles’ entire career. If you don’t believe me take a look at A/B Road, a massive set of 83 cds which contains nearly every thing recorded that month. If you’re not into illegal CDs -and you shouldn’t – you can do like me and buy Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt’s excellent book Drugs, Divorce and a Slipping Image which details all these tapes, track by track. There’s a somewhat sad irony in the fact that the group chose to document so well the month that practically broke them up…although the group of course came back together once more to end their career with a more positive note, namely Abbey Road.

The Beatles returned to the Twickwenham film studios (where they’d shot much of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!) On January 2 1969. Their main purpose was to rehearse new material for an upcoming return to the concert stages. Things soon turned sour for multiple reasons (including big egos, hard drugs and…erm…oriental influence) and after a week or so George quit the band. He only agreed to return when the others promised to forget about live shows and move the sessions to their own Apple Studios, using the new material for a new LP. It was also decided to return to recording methods of their earliest sessions: live with no overdubs. This was a good idea as the material was fairly stripped in the first place, being designed for live performances, but the execution was a bit more problematic. The 1963 Beatles had been a red hot live band who’d been onstage practically every night for the past few years. The 1969 version of the group was quite the opposite, with years since their last live show, and not much ensemble playing in the studio either. What would once have been a day’s work turned into two weeks’ worth of multi track tapes no one could really face listening to. The tapes were given to producer Glyn Johns to work with – in the meanwhile The Beatles toyed around with the idea of donating the songs to other people who could do them justice.

John had wanted to re-record his 1968 composition Across The Universe for the album, but this never got beyond the rehearsal stage. Reportedly he offered the song to Apple recording artist Jackie Lomax, who blatantly turned the song down. (And the Dork of the Year Award goes to….) (The Beatles’ 1968 version was eventually included on the final LP.)

Paul offered Two Of Us to a New York trio called Mortimer. They evidently cut a version for Apple but it never materialised. Come on Apple, where’s that boxed set of rarities?!It’d be interesting to see if their version followed The Beatles’ acoustic LP version or the original rock & roll arrangement as heard in the film Let It Be.

Let It Be, the song, of course was a potentially huge ballad, in more ways than one. Paul quite rightly thought it would be suitable for Aretha Franklin, the number one soul primadonna, with the song’s gospel like overtones. Unfortunately Ms Franklin did not agree. (And the runner up for the Dork of the Year is….) Later when she had a change of heart about the song, she was informed that The Beatles’ version was going to be released as a single, and Aretha could release her version only after The Beatles’ single had run it’s chart course. Oh well. Aretha’s soulful version is most entertaining and deserved a wider exposure that it eventually did. (It can be heard on The Lennon McCartney Songbook CDs I’ve mentioned several times already.)

Paul also offered Let It Be to another soulful singer, John “Joe” Cocker. Cocker had made an excellent Sun Records influenced cover of the Fabs’ I’ll Cry Instead back in 1964, but it was his heavy handed cover of With A Little Help From My Friends which brought him the adoration of the nation (a UK #1) and the respect of The Beatles (who incredibly put on full page congratulations for Joe in the UK papers!) But when he appeared at the Apple headquartes some time in early 1969 to ask if The Beatles might have a song for him he was shocked to walk out with three exclusives!Like said, Paul gave him a chance to record Let It Be, although his version didn’t come out until 1973 (probably for the same reasons Aretha’s version was delayed.) Paul also promised him another song and reportedly Joe chose Oh! Darling – but Paul wanted to keep that one to himself so Joe settled on She Came In Through The Batrhroom Window. (Both titles had been recorded in January and much later released on Anthology 3 – and of course rerecorded for Abbey Road.)

George was willing to donate Joe one of his all time fines songs, Something. The Beatles had been rehearsing the number in January and George cut a solo demo in February (included on Anthology 3.) Joe’s version follows the original demo, with a sung middle section in the place of the guitar solo of The Beatles’ Abbey Road version.

Pictures from circa May 1969 show Joe in the studio with George Harrison but apparently the tracks were re-recorded in Los Angeles in the fall of 1969 without any Beatles involvement. By this time The Beatles had of course recorded their versions of Oh! Darling and She Came In Through The Bathroom Window although the LP was not in the shops. Joe’s versions of these two songs appeared on the LP Cocker! in November, while She Came In Through The Bathroom Window was also released as a single. All three numbers can be heard on a budget CD reissue of the original LP.

Published in: on January 7, 2008 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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