Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 7: Michelle

Here we go, Fest Family, with our seventh “deep dive” of 2021 into The Beatles’ exceptional LP, Rubber Soul. I was thrilled to tackle this classic ballad with Jerry Hammack, respected author of The Beatles Recording Reference Manuals. As an expert on precisely what transpired in EMI Studios, Jerry has a unique perspective on this song. (You’ll be especially interested in his comments on the song’s lead line!) He gives us an opportunity to examine “Michelle” with a fresh, new look even though it’s a beloved song that we’ve cherished for 56 years.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 3 November 1965

Time Recorded: 2:30 – 11:30 p.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

 

Jerry Boys dropped in on the recording session but didn’t work on the session. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 67) Richard Lush and Jerry Boys did tape on the mixing sessions.

 

Stats: To quote Jerry Hammack, “One take was all that was required to perfect the backing track.” (Vol. 2, p. 84) Of course, superimpositions would follow.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

Paul McCartney, co-composer (Paul wrote the verses for this song from a “parody” song he had performed whilst at the Liverpool institute.) He sings lead vocals, plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S, plays acoustic guitar on his 1964 EpiphoneFT-79N and possibly, also supplies the lead guitar solo on his 1962 Epiphone ES-230TD. (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2: Help Through Revolver, 84)

 

John Lennon, co-composer (John devised the concept for this song from an old college tune he’d heard Paul perform, and he wrote the song’s middle eight.) John sings backing vocals.

 

George Harrison sings backing vocals. (Some sources attribute the lead line to George Harrison. Other sources attribute the rhythm line to George Harrison)

 

Ringo Starr plays drums on one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum sets. (Hammack, 84)

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 204-205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 67, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 292-294, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 372, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2: Help Through Revolver, 84-85 and 250-253, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 94, Riley, Tell Me Why, 162-163, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Spignesi and Lewis, The 100 Best Beatles Songs, 237-239, Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 273-275 , MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 140-141, and Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 324-328.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Lennon/McCartney provide the second “true collaboration” on this LP — When The Beatles were searching for a few songs to fill out their Rubber Soul retinue, John recalled a piece that Paul had performed during their college days — a song that parodied the French existential artistes, such as Sacha Distel and Juliette Greco. He told Paul, “D’you remember the French thing you used to do at…parties?…Well, that’s a good tune. You should do something with that.” (Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 273) John encouraged Paul to “dust off” the clever, tongue-in-cheek ditty and rework it for the LP.

 

As Paul began to re-shape the college piece into a ballad, John composed a touching middle eight that was derivative of love letters he had written to Cynthia during their college romance. In Ray Coleman’s book, Lennon, you can see one such letter on pp. 104-105. The “I love you, I love you, I love you/that’s all I want to say” line is almost a direct quote from John’s early impassioned Christmas card to the girl he adored. He also suggested to Paul that the emphasis should fall on the word, “love.” (Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 94) Years later, in the Playboy Interviews with David Sheff, John states that the middle eight was also influenced by Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You,” but clearly, John had been penning lines such as these to Cynthia in the late 1950s.

 

Very much like “We Can Work It Out” in which Paul wrote the verses and John composed the middle eight — adding what John called “a bluesy edge” to this song — (Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 326) “Michelle” is a true collaborative effort.

 

  1. “Reunion” with Ivy Vaughn — All of us know that Ivan “Ivy” Vaughn brought Paul to the Woolton Garden Fête in 1957 to hear the Quarry Men perform and to meet the group’s founder and leader, John Lennon. Ivy’s role in The Beatles’ legend looms large! But he or rather his wife Jan, a French teacher, also figured into the creation of “Michelle.” Not being fluent in French and wanting to keep the song’s female character a mysterious French femme fatale, Paul rang the Vaughns, seeking Jan’s help. He wanted a pet phrase that rhymed with “Michelle” (to which Jan supplied “ma belle”) and approving of that, he asked her, “What’s French for ‘These are words that go together well?” Of course, we all know Jan’s response was: “Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.” And voila! Once again, the Vaughn family had claimed a significant role in Beatles’ history. (Miles, Many Years From Now, 273-275)

 

  1. A brilliant study in contrasts — Probably unintentionally, in “Michelle,” The Beatles gave us a study in contrasts: English boy/French girl, electric instruments/acoustic instruments, major chords/minor chords. And interestingly, Stephen Spignesi points out that although this is a highly emotional song, “Paul’s vocal is restrained and (dare I say it) somewhat unemotional.” (The 100 Best Beatles Songs, 239) This balance of opposites makes the ballad unique. As Spignesi observes, “Throughout the song, there is a sense of discretion. In a word, ‘Michelle’ is subtle. As it should be.” (p. 239)

 

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, Fest Blogger Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, visited with author, Jerry Hammack about some of the finer points of Lennon/McCartney’s “Michelle.” Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference, Vol. 2: Help Through Revolver (1965-1966) researched meticulously for over a decade — provides even more detailed information about this fan favorite. As an experienced Canadian-American musician, producer, and recording and mix engineer, Jerry Hammack has insights into this song that many of us would miss. Be sure to attend his presentations at The Fest, where he always a sought-after guest speaker!

 

  1. Jerry, one of the most interesting aspects of your analysis of this song in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2: Help! through Revolver (1965-1966) is your strong thesis that Paul (not George Harrison) performed the exquisite lead solo in “Michelle.” Please tell us about the evidence you’ve amassed that supports this theory.

 

There are multiple aspects of the solo part supporting the conclusion that Paul was responsible for this work on the song. The playing style of the part bears no resemblance to any of Harrison’s playing during this period, while it has great similarity to Paul’s bass work. The solo is played entirely in the mid-range of the guitar, much like a jazz-style bass solo would be played. Photographic evidence from sessions during this period show Paul’s Epiphone guitar leaning against the Bassman amplifier, and the muted sound of the part would be consistent with the frequency characteristics of that amplifier as set up for bass playing, as well as the AKG D20 commonly used to mic that cabinet.

 

But the primary evidence is the tape log, which accounts for an original tape and a tape reduction remix on a second reel.

 

The performances for the song’s arrangement are few – two acoustic guitars, bass, lead guitar, lead vocal and backing vocals. After the backing track of acoustic guitar, lead vocal and drums was completed, Paul superimposed bass and lead guitar onto the song, each onto their own track. The tape-to-tape reduction then made room for his final acoustic guitar (doubling parts of the original performance) and backing vocals by John, Paul and George.

 

If George had played the solo, there would have been no need for a tape reduction remix. The four-track could have supported all the performances that make up the track without it. The only reason to put the bass and solo on separate tracks is because one person can’t play both at the same time. That person is Paul.

 

  1. Jerry, in the “What’s New” section, I talked briefly about the use of contrasts in this song. And one of those contrasts is the juxtaposition of major and minor chords. For those of us who aren’t music experts, please tell us a bit about the clever way in which those major and minor chords are artfully employed in “Michelle.”

 

Not that I’m a music expert myself…As Walter Everett notes, the song is mixed modally between F-major and F-minor, which is pretty sophisticated for a pop song. Paul even manages to throw in a few diminished, major and minor 7ths and 9ths. McCartney is believed to have drawn on influences as far ranging as French artists Sacha Distel and Juliette Greco for his inspiration, and perhaps, more practically, from lessons he learned in songs like “Bésame Mucho” that also play with major/minor inversions.

 

  1. You point out in your Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2 that “Michelle was the first track to feature bass as a superimposition.” Why is it so important that the bass be given its own track in this song and in many Beatles songs to follow (especially the tracks on Sgt. Pepper)?

 

The reason the bass was given its own track in “Michelle” was a practical one as I’ve noted earlier, but the benefit of recording it on its own is in control over the tone and volume level of the instrument when it came to creating a mix — in this case, a reduction mix. If it had been recorded with another instrument like a guitar, the volume relationships would already be fixed, and tonal decisions when it came to mixing would have to be balanced out. (A reduction mix is similar to a final mix.) Too much bass on a guitar signal and the guitar sounds muddy and thick – too much treble on a bass signal and it sounds thin.

The lessons learned with the control gained on the bass signal through the recording of “Michelle” didn’t necessarily alter the approach to bass recording overall, but the approach was called upon again in the Pepper era and whenever the sound that Paul wanted from the bass was more up-front and unique.

 

  1. As we discussed in the “What We Know” section, “Michelle” was rather hastily assembled in the autumn of 1965, and it was, originally, a wry spoof of French beatnik singers from Paul’s Liverpool Institute days. And yet, this song emerges as anything but a lighthearted caricature. In fact, “Michelle” won the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” in 1966. What makes this composition so brilliant?

 

For myself, what makes the song so brilliant is that quality of complexity disguised as simplicity. The Beatles make the song sound almost effortless, natural, like it always existed, and they just happen to be playing it for us. As with the best actors, the effort is hidden; the impression is that of ease. There’s nothing about “Michelle” that isn’t sophisticated (and some cover versions fail by how painfully obvious they display the fact), but The Beatles flow through the track like a river that knows where it’s going. It’s just so naturally performed. Hiding behind that perception of ease is a beautifully complex song, adding a whole other level to the experience. The more you know about what The Beatles pulled off with “Michelle”, the more you enjoy it.

 

For more information on Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manuals, head here

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 6: The Word

Side One, Track Six

 

They Said “The Word,” and They Were Free

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Sara Schmidt

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans blog continues to mine the riches of The Beatles’ brilliant 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Sara Schmidt, author of Happiness is Seeing the Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis and the up-coming study of the North American Beatles Fan Clubs, Dear Beatle People (to be released, August 2021) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at a landmark song on this LP, a song considered to be a turning point for The Beatles: “The Word.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 10 November 1965

Time Recorded: 9.00 p.m. – 4.00 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott (and Richard Lush, according to Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, p. 290)

Stats: Recorded in only three takes. However, myriad superimpositions were needed to complete this song.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

John Lennon, the primary composer,[1] sings lead vocal (double-tracked) and plays rhythm guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo. Some sources credit John with playing the maracas.

Paul McCartney, the secondary composer, sings backing vocals (double-tracked) and plays a superb “Motown bass” on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S through his Fender Bassman 6G6-A amp. (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, p. 92) Paul also plays piano, using EMI’s Steinway “Model B” Grand Piano.

George Harrison sings backing vocals (double-tracked). Most sources say George played lead guitar in superimposition.

Ringo Starr plays drums on one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum kits. Some sources say Ringo (and not John) plays the maracas.

George Martin, the producer, plays the studio’s Mannborg harmonium (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, p. 92.)

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 68, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 290-291, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 375, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol 2, 92-93, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 93, Riley, Tell Me Why, 162-163, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-171, and Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 217 and http://www.beatlesebooks.com/the-word

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Continued Innovative Practice of Late-Night Recording Sessions – Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicle (p. 205) notes that although the recording session was slated for 9.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m., The Beatles worked on until 4 a.m. before “calling it a night.” The Beatles were now in their “creative pocket,” as they had been in Hamburg and those early days in the Cavern Club. The “spark of midnight,” in which they performed best, was giving them the impetus to do their finest work.

 

  1. Assignment of the Bass to a Separate Track – When Paul McCartney recorded “Michelle” on 3 and 9 November, he insisted on recording his bass on a separate track. Here, once again, on “The Word,” Paul insists on running a strong bass line (in superimposition) on a separate track. Margotin and Guesdon note that this practice enabled Paul “to concentrate on his instrument, and he delivered a terrific part in a Motown bass style.” (All the Songs, 291) And John C. Winn in Way Beyond Compare says: “Paul was quickly learning that adding bass as an overdub allowed clearer sound as well as more creative lines.” (p. 375)

 

  1. Creation of the Message Song – No simple “moon-June-spoon” love song — this! “The Word” transitions from “eros” love (passionate, erotic love), which was the subject of the early songs such as “She Loves You,” “If I Fell,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and so many others, to the more platonic “agape” love (unconditional love; traditionally, the love of God for man and man for God). As Mark Lewisohn observes in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “John Lennon’s ‘The Word’…was a prototype [for] ‘All You Need Is Love,’ two years ahead of that world anthem.” (p. 68) Not only was the music of The Beatles becoming more interesting and complex, but their lyrical themes were achieving maturity as well.

 

  1. Use of EMI’s Steinway Grand Piano – The tumbling piano intro to “The Word” and the jaunty piano line throughout the track give it a bright and hopeful quality. In Beatles Gear, Andy Babiuk reminds us that the sound we enjoy is elicited by Paul performing on EMI’s Steinway “Model B” Grand Piano. Babiuk tells us that “Steinway is one of the best-known and respected piano makers, founded in New York by German immigrants Henry Steinway and his brothers in 1853. Henry and Theodor Steinway together devised the design of the modern grand piano in 1860. Since then, many top concert halls and studios have chosen Steinway instruments — including Abbey Road.” (p. 171) Indeed, in “The Word,” the clear, luminous sound of the Steinway Grand heightens the upbeat, positive mood of the song.

 

  1. Attempt to Write a Song Based on a Single Note – Inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Long Tall Sally,” both John and Paul had long wanted to create their own song based on a single note. As Paul commented later, “We got very near it in ‘The Word.’” (Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 217) John revisits this exercise later in 1967’s “I Am the Walrus.” But here, as early as Autumn 1965, experimentation and deviation from the norm were already The Beatles’ creative watchwords. The Cavern Beatles were well on their way to becoming the studio Beatles.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

This month, we’re thrilled to have Sara Schmidt with us to give us a fresh approach to this song we’ve known for 56 years. Sara and her mother, Coral Schmidt, who have been coming to the Fest for 19 years, are integral members of the Fest Family.

 

Sara has served as a part of the Historians Panel since its inception. And besides being the author of the sold-out work, Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis, Sara is also the creator of the esteemed website, https://www.meetthebeatlesforreal.com which introduces us to ordinary people who have actually encountered The Beatles. Sharing vetted stories and rare photos that are not well-known to the general public, these fans bring a new dimension to what we know about John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They talk about events not covered in other sources.

 

Sara is a five-time guest speaker at the Beatles at the Ridge festival in Arkansas, and she is a contributing author to A is for Apple, published by Apcor. Sara’s second book, unfolding the fascinating story of the North American Beatles Fan Clubs — Dear Beatles People — will be released in August of 2021. We’re excited to have her with us for this in-depth discussion of “The Word.”

 

  1. Sara, many Beatles music experts have called “The Word” the precursor to “All You Need is Love.” But in truth, there are several other Lennon compositions that seem to spring from this germinal 1965 song. How did “The Word” influence other great Lennon originals to follow?

 

The concept of love and being loved has been a theme throughout John’s musical career. Many of his songs written during The Beatles’ period and afterward were inspired by the greatest loves of his life: his first wife, Cynthia; his mother Julia; and his second wife, Yoko.

 

The B-side to John’s famous peace anthem, “Give Peace a Chance” is a haunting song sung by Yoko called “Remember Love.” Yoko wrote most of the lyrics, and John recorded this song with her during the Montreal Bed-In for peace. In this song, Yoko’s lyrics say, “love is what it takes to live.” This is exactly the message found in “The Word.”

 

During the silent vigil held in Central Park in New York City one week after John’s murder in 1980, there was a young girl seen sitting on the shoulders of a young man. This unknown girl was holding a sign high above her head that said, “Remember Love.” Her sign stood out among the crowd because it was a message that was always in John’s heart, and one he began singing about in “The Word.”

 

Much like Yoko’s song, “Remember Love,” John wrote the song simply titled “Love” in “the spirit of Love.” In “Love” he tells us that “Love is free” and in “The Word” he says to say the word “love,” and “you’ll be free.”  “The Word” is about love, in a broad sense, while “Love” is talking about the love between two people. However, in both songs, John is informing the listener about the important aspects of one of the most important things on earth: love.

 

Another song that follows this theme is 1973s “Mind Games.” It is in this song that John states: “Love is the answer.” In “The Word,” the concept of love is almost a question. What is this word that John is speaking of? He them informs us that the word is “love.” There is no questioning in “Mind Games.” Love is the answer, and John knows that for sure. As “Mind Games” fades out you can hear John singing, “I want you to make love, not war. I know you’ve heard it before.” The message of love is one that he had written about many times, and it all began on Rubber Soul with “The Word.”

 

In 1979, John made a demo of another song that he wrote called “Real Love.” In 1995, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr took that demo and made it into a brand-new song by The Beatles. In this song, John admits to having some confusion when it comes to love: “Thought I’d been in love before/but in my heart I wanted more.” He also shows some confusion about love in “The Word” when he writes “In the beginning I misunderstood/but now I got it the word is good.” In both songs, he comes to the conclusion, once again, that love is the ultimate answer.

 

  1. For John in particular, “The Word” foreshadows his work as a cultural leader, an activist for peace on the world stage. What “seeds” of his later life do you find already at work in this composition?

 

Many people consider John Lennon to be not just an activist for peace, but also an activist for love.  In the song “The Word,” he sings about how he wants to “show everybody the light” of love.  He continued to strive to show everybody that light throughout his life.

 

One way that he and Yoko Ono achieved this was via the “peace acorn” project in 1969. The couple sent 50 pairs of acorns to heads of state all around the globe, in hopes that they would plant them in a gesture of world peace.  Many of the leaders had never heard of John or Yoko, but still planted the acorns. The idea was that something very big can grow out of something very small. This was a gesture, rooted in peace and love, meant to show how a little bit of love can light up the entire world.

 

  1. The hand-written lyrics of this song are historically important because they play a role in the very first “meeting” of John and Yoko, pre-dating the Indica Gallery. Tell us about that auspicious occasion, please.

 

John and Paul got together after their 1965 North American tour and smoked some marijuana.  Then, they sat down and wrote “The Word,” which John had mostly composed. Usually, the songwriters wrote the lyrics to their songs on a sheet of whatever paper they would find around the house or hotel room they were writing. This time was different. For the first time, they wrote the lyrics on a multicolored sheet of paper.

 

Late in the summer of 1966, Yoko knocked on Paul’s door at 7 Cavendish Avenue in London. Paul had never met her before, but he let her in, because at that time he would frequently welcome strangers into his home. She was there because of avant garde composer, John Cage’s, upcoming birthday. Cage collected rare music manuscripts, and several of his artist friends wanted to give him original manuscripts from a variety of noted musicians as a special birthday present. Yoko was hoping that Paul would give her something that he had written to be included in the gift. Paul did not want to give away any of his work, because he had been keeping it for his own personal memories.  However, Paul told her that his friend, John might be willing to part with something, and he gave her John’s address in Kenwood.

 

History is ambiguous about what happened next. Most sources merely state that Yoko was given the original lyric sheet for “The Word,” on the multi-colored paper. We do not know if Yoko received the lyrics in person from John or whether she received them from NEMS at John’s request, but in some form or another, they communicated prior to their official meeting in November 1966. John Cage published the lyrics in the book Notations along with other manuscripts from modern musicians. In 1973, John Cage donated all of the manuscripts he owned to Northwestern University library.  That is where the manuscript for “The Word” remains today. Fans can see a high-quality facsimile of the original whenever the library is open.

 

  1. Sara, what draws you to this particular song? Why is “The Word” special to you?

 

“The Word” has always been one of my favorites from Rubber Soul. From those first beats, it is easy to tell that you are going to be listening to a song with a strong rhythm. The harmonies of John and Paul sound wonderful! Those things have always made me want to stop and take a closer listen to the message, more than I did with earlier Beatles songs.

 

“The Word” has some religious overtones in the lyrics. This is not surprising because it was written in the Autumn of 1965, the same time period in which Maureen Cleave conducted her famous interview with John. John was reading quite a bit about religion and Christianity during this time in his life. In fact, in Cleave’s article, she stated that John had recently purchased an “enormous Bible,” and it was one of the things he most fancied. He most likely read John 1:1 that says: “In the beginning was the Word…” To John that meant that in the beginning, there was love. As a Christian believer and a Beatles fan, this really resonates with me. Love has been a huge force in mankind from the beginning of time.

 

Ringo Starr said that “the basic message of The Beatles is love.” This is a big part of why I love The Beatles so much. One of the most important things we can do, especially right now after everything we’ve been through this past year, is to spread love to everyone we meet. It is time to look past the color of someone’s skin, who they love, how much they weigh, how much money they have, and who they voted for and to simply show love to one another. The Beatles sang about this very thing in the song “The Word.” This song is an uplifting and positive reminder that “The Word is good.”

 

There’s power in the words we say. We can change the course of someone’s day by a rude comment or even a rude message on social media. If we remember that “The Word is love,” and take that to heart, maybe we can use the words we say to uplift and spread love.

 

For more information on Sara Schmidt and her books, head here

 

 

[1] Not only does Beatles Guru Mark Lewisohn, in The Complete Beatles Chronicle, p. 205, refer to this song as “John’s song, ‘The Word,’” but John himself stated to David Sheff in The Playboy Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “‘The Word’ was written together [with Paul McCartney] but it’s mainly mine. You read the words, it’s all about gettin’ smart. It’s the marijuana period. It’s the love-and-peace thing. The word is ‘love,’ right?”

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 5: Think For Yourself

Side One, Track Four

 

Harrison’s Mantra: “Think for Yourself”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Janet Davis

 

Through 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring the nooks and crannies in The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Fest Historians Panel member and editorial staffer for the respected Beatles fanzine Octopus’ Garden, Janet Davis, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a deep dive into one of George Harrison’s two original songs on the trend-setting album. Join them for an exploration of “Think for Yourself.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: Monday, 8 November 1965

Time Recorded: 9:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott (and Jerry Boys, according to Margotin and Guesdon)

 

Stats: With a working title of “Won’t Be There with You,” this song was recorded during the early part of this lengthy session, and The Beatles’ annual Christmas flexi-disc was recorded later. Strangely, the entire session (not just the recording for the flexi-disc) was recorded, and knowing this, The Beatles put on quite a show! John Winn, in Way Beyond Compare, tells us that they exaggerated their Scouse accents and hammed it up. Winn says, “…references [were] made to Juke Box Jury, Cynthia Lennon, TV deodorant jingles, “Yesterday,” Rocky Marciano, the Supermarionation series Supercar and Stingray, uptight thespians, Frankie Howerd, “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” Woody Woodpecker, and Humphrey Bogart.” (p. 374)

 

The backing track was captured in one take, with many superimpositions to follow.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

There is a great deal of disagreement among Beatles music experts as to who is doing what on this track. Here are all of the options. Please listen to the song once again and then, “Think for Yourself.”

 

George Harrison, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays rhythm on either his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric guitar or his 1961 “Sonic Blue” Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.

 

John Lennon sings backing vocals. Some sources say that John also played guitar on his 1964 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar or his Sonic Blue 1961 Fender Stratocaster guitar (matching George’s guitar). Other sources credit John with playing the Pianet electric piano on this song, not the guitar. Still others say John is playing the Hammond organ RT-3, not guitar.

 

Paul McCartney sings backing vocals and plays his 1961 Rickenbacker 4001S bass.

 

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, mans the cowbell, and possibly the tambourine. In superimpositions, Ringo added in maracas and tambourine.

 

The unusual bass distortion featured in “Think for Yourself” is provided by a fuzz box, employed by Paul McCartney. Some sources state that Paul is using a Gibson Maestro Fuzztone distortion box while others say he is using the Tone Bender fuzz box MK1, adding that it is the same fuzz box he used for the recording (years later) for “Mean Mr. Mustard” on Abbey Road. For a lengthier discussion, check the sources below. Beatles Gear includes a thorough discussion of all the “ins and outs” on this particular issue. This is quite a debate!

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 67, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 330-331, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 288-289, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 373-374, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 90-91, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 92, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200 and 202, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 173, http://www.beatlesebooks.com/think-for-yourself, and Think For Yourself – The Beatles Bible.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. A “Silly Love Song” Theme – Just as John did with “Nowhere Man,” here George purposely writes a song that is not a love song. Indeed, BeatlesBible.com refers to “Think for Yourself” as the group’s “first philosophical song.” Unfortunately, years later, George had absolutely no recollection of why he wrote this indignant song or to whom. He said he might have written it to the government.

 

Harrison’s inspirational motives aside, “Think for Yourself” does show a divergence into topics unrelated to happy or unhappy love relationships. The Beatles of Rubber Soul are now composing story songs, wryly humorous songs, and this track: a blunt statement of utter disgust. Variety was the order of the day. And the LP’s diversity certainly appealed to New Musical Express critic Allen Evans, who upon Rubber Soul’s release wrote: “[The] great thing about this LP is that The Beatles are finding different ways to make us enjoy listening to them.” (Spizer, 200)

 

  1. A Willingness to Create a Non-Commercial Song All of The Beatles had to have realized that “Think for Yourself” would not be a chart-topper. However, since it always took four “yes” votes for a track to be accepted onto a Beatles’ LP, all four boys had to have approved the track. The lads have come a long way from the days of “Tell Me Why” and “From Me to You” when songs needed to be sure-fire hits, sometimes lacking in depth. The Beatles are now reaching for something more significant than popularity. They are endeavoring to make a statement, to say something they feel is important. It’s a risk, but by October of 1965, The Beatles are in perfect position to chance this. From Rubber Soul on, their songs will increasingly address thoughtful and solemn subjects such as taxes, runaways, depression, death, loneliness, and revolution. The boys (now men) are no longer simply “chart toppers.” They are becoming the multi-faceted “Spokespersons of an Era.”

 

  1. A Maturing Sound George Harrison certainly played a pivotal role in introducing strange, innovative, complex new sounds to The Beatles’ catalog. Even his very first offering, “Don’t Bother Me,” was written in a minor key during an era where most Beatles songs were bright and replete with major chords. Here, the melody line of “Think for Yourself” is extremely complex. Indeed, Jerry Hammack, in his excellent work The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, states, “Martin and the technical team had the daunting task of recording the performances verse by verse, as the trio found it difficult to master the B-flat to C to G7 harmony progressions. Once this painstaking work was finished, recording on the song was completed.” (p. 91)

 

  1. A Double Shot Following the trend set on the Help! LP, George Harrison is permitted to write/sing two songs, one on each side of this record (the second track being “If I Needed Someone”). The next “promotion” will occur on Revolver, when George will serve up the LP-opener, “Taxman,” and will be allotted three tracks!

 

It’s an honor to welcome Janet Davis this month to give us a fresh, new look at this George Harrison track. Attending her first “Beatlefest” in 1979, Janet has been an integral part of various expert panels at The Fest for Beatles Fans, including the Historians Panel. She is on the editorial staff for one of only two extant Beatles fanzines in the U.S. today, Octopus’ Garden. And recently, Janet served as editor for the upcoming book about North American Beatles Fan Clubs by author Sara Schmidt, Dear Beatle People.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Janet, across the board, Beatles music critics point out that the lyrics of “Think for Yourself” are rather pedantic. To what are they referring? And is George’s tendency here, to teach or preach, a “clue to the new direction”? How does “Think for Yourself” prefigure later Harrison songs?

 

Janet Davis: As you noted above, Jude, George himself never fully explained what the song is about. He said in I Me Mine (1980), “…I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government.” The lyrics can be read as dialogue with a former romantic partner, dislike of bureaucracy, self-motivation, or any combination of these themes. The overarching message is that each of us should listen carefully to our inner selves above all else.

 

For the first time ever, George’s words are strongly introspective as well as fairly ambiguous. That’s a blueprint he revisited consistently throughout his career. Many of his lyrics can be read as either prayers or love songs, for example. George lets listeners choose the way they internalize his meanings. The seeds were planted with “Don’t Bother Me,” and two years later, with “Think for Yourself,” George found the authentic songwriting voice he used for the rest of his life.

 

Kessler: This was the first song in the Beatles catalog (and one of the first in rock’n’roll) in which a fuzz box was attached to the bass…and it was George’s idea to do so! Where did George get this idea, and what does the fuzz box add to the song?

 

Davis: George explained in Anthology that he first heard the fuzz box effect on “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, back in 1962. Phil Spector was producing the song and accidentally created the distortion by overloading the guitar player’s microphone.

 

There are actually two bass lines in this song, with the second utilizing the fuzz box and played more like a lead guitar. Trying the effect with Paul’s bass was simply the result of experimenting in the studio – they all liked the sound!

 

As you mentioned above, there are conflicting accounts of which pedal was used. We may never solve this mystery, but the blurry, snarly fuzz box bass is a perfect complement to the song’s edgy attitude.

 

Kessler: “Think for Yourself” gets scanty praise. Tim Riley in Tell Me Why, for example, characterizes the song as “flaccid.” George had so little memory of the track that he couldn’t recall why he wrote it or for whom! What do you find noteworthy or interesting about this track?

 

Davis: I think this song is mistakenly underrated, Jude. It’s actually a bold step forward for George as a songwriter.

 

At the time he wrote this song, George was in the shadow of the two most celebrated songwriters of the era, newly influenced by Bob Dylan, and still processing his LSD experience with John earlier in 1965. Three years of Beatlemania had taken their toll. George was ready to think and write in a more sophisticated way, and able to keep up with John and Paul’s innovative work on Rubber Soul.

 

Just a few months ago, the UK website Far Out Magazine referred to “Think for Yourself” as “quite possibly the archetypal tune for the composer, not only delivering a thought-provoking piece of pop but adding a touch of sourness to [the] proceedings, too.” On such a groundbreaking album for The Beatles, the track may get lost. But it’s really the start of George’s development as a mature, unique songwriter. For that alone, it deserves to be celebrated.

 

Kessler: What are some things about “Think for Yourself” that we haven’t yet discussed? What would you like to tell us about the song?

 

Davis: Even though it’s a driving, energetic song, neither The Beatles nor George ever performed “Think for Yourself” in concert. George and Eric Clapton played it in rehearsals for their 1991 Japan tour, but that’s as close as we get to a live performance. Also, “Think for Yourself” was recorded in just a single take with overdubs, which means it’s a rare Beatles track without multiple versions or outtakes.

 

In closing, I often think of this line in the song: “The future still looks good / and you’ve got time to rectify all the things that you should.” That was George at 22. Thirty-five or so years later as his life was drawing to a close, George asked poignantly in “Pisces Fish,” “Have we time to sort all these things out?” In those bookend lyrics, one at the beginning of his adult life, the other at the end, George is saying that what’s most important is within us. Take the time to find it. I think that was one of his most powerful messages.

 

For more information on Octopus’ Garden, head here.

 

For more information on the upcoming book by Sara Schmidt on the North American Beatles Fans Clubs, Dear Beatle People, head here.

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 4: Nowhere Man

The Fest for Beatles Fans hopes you’ve been enjoying some fresh, new perspectives on the Rubber Soul songs you’ve known and loved since 1965. Our goal is to give each song a new look, and if you like that perspective, wonderful! If you have an interesting viewpoint of your own on the song, please share it! And if you’d like to continue listening to the song as you always have, shine on! We’re enjoying re-examining these classics (after 50 plus years) with some of the world’s most revered Beatles music experts and uncovering fresh perspectives to enrich what we know. And…we’re so glad to have you along!

 

This month, we’re “deep diving” into “Nowhere Man” with John Lennon Series author, Jude Southerland Kessler, and with noted historian, Beatlefan Executive Editor, and author, Al Sussman.

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: First attempt on 21 October, with a complete remake on 22 October (followed by superimpositions and mixing on the 25th and 26th of October as well as 22 November)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Ron Pender)

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

John Lennon, the composer, sings lead vocals and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar for the rhythm track and in superimposition, plays lead (with George) on his Fender Stratocaster

Paul McCartney, sings backing vocal and plays 1965 Rickenbacker 4401S bass

George Harrison sings backing vocal (McCartney and Harrison are double-tracked) and in superimposition, plays lead (with John) on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster

Ringo Starr plays one of his two Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum kits

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 65, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 284-285, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 366-367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 78-80, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 91, Riley, Tell Me Why, 161-162, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 52-53, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 217, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: the Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 322-324, and Coleman, Lennon, 298-299.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. The Definition of a “Rock Song” – “Rock songs did not usually open this way.” So say Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis, referring to the exquisite opening of “Nowhere Man,” a brilliant bit of three-part a cappella harmony from Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Ranking the song as the #13 Best Beatles Song of all time, they explain that the tight vocal harmony sends chill bumps even before the lyrics begin to tug at our hearts. And although this singular sound was difficult to reproduce live, The Beatles chose to perform the haunting track on their 1966 tour, singing it in their final concert at Candlestick Park. But on that October night in 1965 when the boys recorded this stirring and unique introduction, they redefined the essence of “rock song” in one echoing moment. Mark Lewisohn sums up the work done in studio on 22 October as “A fine piece of work.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, 65)

 

  1. The Birth of “Together, Alone” – Throughout the pandemic of 2020, the slogan “together, alone” resounded across the world. But that theme has its roots here in Lennon’s composition about shared loneliness. Later, in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John would express the isolation of genius a bit differently: “No one, I think, is in my tree/ I mean, it must be high or low.” But no matter how John articulated it, Beatle John experienced life — utterly surrounded by co-workers, assistants, press men, business associates, and fans — in absolute seclusion. This isolation was nothing new, however. From childhood, his genius had always quarantined him; John was ever the “odd one out.”

 

  1. No Mere Love Song – Many Beatles music experts state that “Nowhere Man” is the first Beatles song that is not about love. And although, technically, that is true — since it is not a “he loves her,” “she loves him,” or “I love you” ballad — this song is about a much more pervasive, broad-sweeping love. All of The Beatles had experienced the loneliness of “a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room.” But John knew that the loneliness they had endured (and what he had always experienced) could not be unique. And so, as Tim Riley points out: in “Nowhere Man,” John sang “for the unsung, for the people who have shut themselves off from life.” (Tell Me Why, 162) John took a very personal message and made it a universal love song. A powerful one.

 

  1. The Concept of Creating Somnambulantly – Paul had created “Yesterday” in a dream. Now in the autumn of 1965, John, who had struggled for hours to pen a new song for the emerging Rubber Soul LP, gave up in frustration and “went to have a lie down.” (Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, Vol. 1, 322) As he drifted off into a restful state, suddenly, the words to “Nowhere Man” sprang to life. John said, “Then I thought of myself as a Nowhere Man — sitting in his nowhere land,” (Spizer, Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201) and the lyrics surfaced, “words and music, the whole damn thing!”(Everett, 322) By 1967, in his “I’m Only Sleeping,” John revealed that the practice of relaxing and letting go —“stay[ing] in bed” and “float[ing] upstream” (not downstream, which would indicate sleep) — allowed his muse to speak to him. Writing songs in bed became a standard Lennon practice. And it all began here.

 

  1. Experimentation with the “Jingle Jangle Sound” – Although The Beatles didn’t corner the market on the emerging “jingle jangle” sound of 1965 (The Byrds had already released “Mr. Tambourine Man,” in June 1965.), they were one of the first groups to employ it. Paul says that he pushed Engineer Norman Smith to create a “treble-y” guitar sound. When Smith said that all he could do was “put full treble on it,” Paul pressed for more saying, “Well, put that through another lot of faders and put full treble up on that. And if that’s not enough, we’ll go through another lot of faders…” (Spignesi and Lewis, The 100 Best Beatles Songs, 53) The result was the magical aura of “Nowhere Man,” which may seem commonplace today…but in 1965, this effect was unique and enchanting.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

Recently, we were honored to be able to talk with distinguished historian, Al Sussman, about “Nowhere Man.” Al is the Executive Editor for Beatlefan magazine and has for many years been an integral part of The Fest for Beatles Fans.  He is also the author of Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation and was a contributing author to Bruce Spizer’s The Beatles Finally Let It Be, The Beatles Get Back to Abbey Road, The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fan’s Perspective, and The Beatles White Album and The Launch of Apple. Here are Al’s insights into John Lennon’s honest and heartfelt 1965 ballad, “Nowhere Man.”

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Al, journalist and Beatles friend, Ray Coleman, in his book, Lennon, says that in John’s 1965 classic hit: “The Nowhere Man is an impotent, hollow symbol of the Swinging Sixties.” And similarly, Steve Turner in A Hard Day’s Write says that “Nowhere Man” was interpreted by some as “a comment on the erosion of belief in modern society.” Please tell us about the historical backdrop of 1965 that fueled this solemn portrait of an empty, vacuous world.

 

Al Sussman: A less-oblique, more directly personal song than “Nowhere Man” is Brian Wilson’s “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” which was written around the same time as “Nowhere Man” and appears on the Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds album. Living in the hothouse atmosphere of the mid-60s was not easy, particularly for a still-young man in a leadership position in what John later called “the greatest show on earth/For what it was worth.”

 

With an ongoing war in Vietnam, racial unrest not just in the U.S. but in England, too, an emerging drug culture, and a media hungry for The Beatles’ views on all of this, it was easy to believe in the “erosion of modern society.” Much has been written about how The Beatles had each other to get them through the madness that surrounded them but, by mid-1965, the only one still residing in Swinging London was Paul. The others had all bought homes in the stockbroker-dominated suburbs. So, living in a mansion and in a marriage that he felt wasn’t giving him fulfillment, John was truly isolated, and his increasing intake of pot and other drugs wasn’t helping. Hence, his feeling that he was “A real nowhere man/Sitting in his nowhere land/Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”

 

Kessler: In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley observes that in “Nowhere Man,” John Lennon reminds us that “no one can make it through life’s difficulties alone…the best crutches are other people.” (p. 162) What were some of the personal difficulties with which John struggled in 1965? What circumstances made him feel like “a real Nowhere Man living in his nowhere land”?

 

Sussman: It’s interesting to consider that, in 1965, John Lennon wrote “Help,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and “Nowhere Man,” all of which reflected the isolation he was experiencing in his new suburban life away from “the eye of the hurricane.” It was John who later called this his “fat Elvis” period, and not just for the few extra pounds he had put on. Of course, it’s a mark of the complexity of the man and the composer that he also wrote “In My Life,” “It’s Only Love” and, yes, “Norwegian Wood” during this same period. Not being as natural a pop craftsman as Paul, it could take some cajoling from those “best crutches,” but the isolation seemed to inspire one of John’s finest composing periods.

 

Kessler: I know you really like this song, Al. What elements make this song one of your favorite Beatles numbers? Is it the music, the lyrics, the message, all of the above…or something else?

 

Sussman: I had very much been a fan of the John/Paul/George three-part harmonies on songs like “This Boy” and “Yes It Is” and, during ’65, I’d become very attached to the emerging folk-rock sound. So, when I first heard “Nowhere Man” on WABC in New York, when they briefly played the four tracks from the British Rubber Soul not on the American edition, I instantly fell in love with the song. I loved the three-part harmony vocals and the background vocals and the Byrds-influenced instrumentation.

 

Frankly, I could also relate to John’s lyrics, even as a 16-year-old. And I was disappointed, when It was released as a U.S. single in Feb. 1966, that “The Ballad of the Green Berets” kept “Nowhere Man” from continuing the string of Beatles No. 1 singles. That autumn, as a high school junior, I took a Modern Communications course and, at one point, the teacher had us bring in lyrics to a popular song of the time. Most of the kids in the class didn’t take it very seriously and brought in lyrics for typical love songs of that moment (“I’m Your Puppet”), but I brought in “Nowhere Man,” even though, at that point, I didn’t know the real meaning behind it. All these years later, “Nowhere Man” is still among my top five favorite Beatles songs, and it’s aged exceptionally well.

 

Kessler: What would you like to share with us about “Nowhere Man” that we haven’t discussed in this blog?

 

Sussman: Younger fans have somehow gotten the impression that the reason why “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” were added to the U.S. Rubber Soul, was so the album would sound more folk-rock. Frankly, the middle-aged big band/Sinatra-philes who were running American record companies in the mid-60s wouldn’t have known folk-rock if it hit them in the face. The two most folk-rock-esque songs on the U.K. LP were George’s very Byrds-derived “If I Needed Someone” and John’s “Nowhere Man” — neither one of which made the Capitol album.

 

CLICK HERE for more information on Al Sussman’s book, Changing Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation

CLICK HERE to follow Al on Facebook

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 3: You Won’t See Me

Side One, Track Three

 

“You Won’t See Me”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Tom Frangione

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans’ deep dive into the innovative tracks on Rubber Soul continues with Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, and Tom Frangione, host of the “Way Beyond Compare” program on Sirius XM’s Beatles Channel, Channel 18. For years, Tom has been an integral part of the Fest. He has also served as the popular co-host of The Beatles Channel’s “Fab Fourum.” Recently, Tom launched a third show called “Apple Jam,” with co-host David Fricke. Together, they explore The Beatles’ groundbreaking record label.

 

Here are Jude and Tom with a fresh, new look at this McCartney classic.

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: Thursday, 11 November 1965

Time Recorded: Evening Session (6.00 p.m. – 7.00 a.m.)                        

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Richard Lush)

 

Stats: Recorded in 2 takes on 11 November, with superimpositions added later.

Inspiration: The melodic bass work of Detroit bass man, James Jamerson as well as the chord progression in “The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

Rarely is the instrumentation list controversial. In this case, however, sources widely differ on “who played what.” Some authorities list Paul’s bass plus two additional guitars at work: one, George’s and one, John’s. Some experts say John only played tambourine. Others list Ringo as manning the tambourine. Some sources say that John played the piano; far more state that the piano was played by Paul. Here is a compilation of all possible scenarios.

 

Paul McCartney, the composer, plays bass, piano, and supplies lead vocal.

John Lennon, sings backing vocal (In some sources, John is on the piano, and others have John also playing guitar.)

George Harrison sings backing vocal, and some sources designate George as playing rhythm guitar.

Ringo Starr plays drums…possibly, he plays tambourine, if John is not playing the tambourine.

Mal Evans plays the Hammond organ.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 206, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 68, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 282-283, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 376, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 94-95 and 268, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 90, Riley, Tell Me Why, 159-160, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 129, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 217, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: the Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 332-333, and  Norman, John Lennon: The Life, 416.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Paul’s Waning Patience – As the desultory “war” between Jane Asher’s independence and Paul’s need for a girl who could be “here, there, and everywhere” for him waged on, his tone began to change. At first, on A Hard Day’s Night, Paul was merely wistful, regretting the fact that Jane and he were estranged so often. “Wishing [she] weren’t so far away,” but agreeing to compensate by remembering the “things [they] said today,” Paul pressed on. As months passed, he was still mildly optimistic that if Jane could “try to see things [his] way,” they “could work it out.” And yet, there was always the underlying implication if the self-determining lovers couldn’t “get it straight,” then ultimately, Paul would “say goodnight.”[1]

 

By the time that Rubber Soul was in production, very little had changed in the famous long-distance relationship. And Paul was disturbed. In “You Won’t See Me,” his tone was much less conciliatory. He bluntly stated: “I have had enough, so act your age.” Without trying to sugar-coat his discontent, McCartney vowed that if nothing altered, he would certainly “lose his mind.” Indeed, the lovers’ problems were plainly enumerated in the bridge (cleverly housed in a minor key to convey melancholy): “Time after time, you refuse to even listen…I wouldn’t mind, if I knew what I was missing!” Paul’s endurance had all but expired.

 

One wonders if it was coincidence or brilliance that McCartney (as Ken Womack aptly points out in Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles) “borrowed the three-chord sequence that undergirds ‘You Won’t See Me’” from The Four Tops’ hit, ‘It’s the Same Old Song’.[2] Because singing “the same ole song” — albeit in creative, chart-topping iterations — is precisely what McCartney was lamenting in “You Won’t See Me.” Paul was weary of the same woeful complaints, song after song. He was tired of trying to get his girl to engage. He felt defeated that Jane and he had “lost the time that was so hard to find.” So, pounding out brusque piano bursts and short, clipped lyrics, he vented his long-standing frustration. By late 1965, Paul’s patience had waned.

 

  1. Employment of Lennonesque Double EntendreBeatles fans tend to think of the “Literary Beatle,” John Lennon (author of In His Own Right and A Spaniard in the Works), as The Beatles’ wordsmith, the lyricist. And indeed, Paul was the first to admit that he wrote his music first with lyrics following later. In “You Won’t See Me,” however, Paul enjoys verbal dublage as much as John does in brilliant songs such as “It Won’t Be Long” and “Please Please Me.” Several lines in “You Won’t See Me” intertwine multiple levels of meaning.

 

First, look at the opening lines of the song. Paul sings, “When I call you up, your line’s engaged.” This phrase could mean, quite simply, that when he rings his love on the telephone, her phone line is “engaged” or as Americans say, the phone line is “busy.”

 

However, a secondary meaning hovers in the wings. “Your line” may also mean “your line of thinking.” (As in, “I’m not falling for your line!”) And the word “engaged” may also mean “put into action” or “put into play.” (As in, “He engaged his technical skills in the challenging task.”) If you insert those two secondary meanings into the song, then Paul is cleverly saying that when he tries to connect with his girlfriend to discuss their problems, her standard way of thinking (aka, “her line”) is already at work (or “engaged”). In other words, when he tries to reach out to her, she is immediately defensive and unreceptive to what he’s saying.

 

Similarly, take a look at the title phrase, “You won’t see me,” which is repeated throughout the song. In the beginning of the track, “You won’t see me,” simply translates as, “You won’t talk to me,” or “You won’t meet with me,” or “You won’t hear me out.” A very straightforward complaint.

 

But then, the meaning shifts slightly. Instead of complaining that he is being merely physically and literally rejected, Paul’s use of “you won’t see me” alters a bit here:

 

We have lost the time
That was so hard to find,
And I will lose my mind
If you won’t see me.

 

Here the singer seems to be bemoaning the fact that his love won’t try to understand him. He’s not merely despondent because she won’t connect with him face-to-face; he’s disappointed that she won’t make an effort to “see” what he is trying to say. This iteration of the phrase is akin to the popular British idiom, “You won’t see sense!” which translates, “You won’t try to comprehend the facts or the truth in the matter.” Failure to “see him” and his side of the story is the singer’s underlying grievance.

 

But…there is yet another level of meaning to the simple phrase, “You Won’t See Me.” Look at it in this final context:

 

I won’t want to stay (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
I don’t have much to say, (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
But I’d get turned away (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
And you won’t see me!

 

Here the singer is threatening that if his love continues to push him away and turn a deaf ear to his rationale, then he “won’t want to stay.” He vows that he will give up trying to explain and “won’t have much to say.” And ultimately, she won’t “see” him at all, because he will walk away. In other words, the lovers won’t be “seeing each other” anymore. Their story will end.

 

This adroit use of such an unpretentious phrase illustrates the growing maturity of McCartney as a lyricist in 1965. Even on a song that he was pressed to create (because The Beatles needed to complete Rubber Soul quickly), Paul produced a title phrase that functioned on three complex levels of meaning.

 

Finally, what is one to make of the “ooh-ooh la, la, la” backing chorus verbiage? Certainly, that is not a phrase that four former leather-wearing, swearing, drinking, carousing Liverpool boys would ever say…or sing! And yet, this whimsical patter is repeated over and over, as the response to Paul’s every grievance in the song.

 

Sung in the upper scale, the “Ooh-ooh la, la, las!” appears to be the feminine response to the male singer’s objections. Is Paul depicting his love’s answer to his complaints as “Whatever!” or “Blah, blah, blah!” or “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”? Possibly. The “ooh-ooh la, la, la” tag at the end of each line does seem to serve as a brush-off to his arguments.

 

All in all, “You Won’t See Me” is a song teeming with lyrical surprises. It is rich in the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” tradition that Scousers could master so well. This is the third song on the Rubber Soul LP that — once we examine the words— takes us by surprise.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, I was thrilled to chat with my long-time friend from The Fest for Beatles Fans, Tom Frangione, who not only co-hosts two radio shows on Sirius XM’s Beatles Channel, but also hosts his own Beatles Channel program, “Way Beyond Compare.” We are so proud of our beloved Emcee for the Jersey and Chicago Fests, and we welcome Tom to the Fest Blog discussion of Rubber Soul.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Tom, Barry Miles in The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, calls “You Won’t See Me” a “superb piece of commercial songwriting.” (p. 217) What makes this track so marketable? What is the unique appeal of this late 1965 McCartney offering?

 

Tom Frangione: Well, without over-generalizing, it has all the hallmarks of the “mature” period of the early Beatles pop. They’re writing material that’s rapidly outpacing the standard Top-40 fare of the day, bringing a bit more conflict into the lyrics, stacking the harmonies in the backing vocals – not just the “oohs and aahs,” — but also in the echoed cascading phrases of the choruses (“if I knew I wouldn’t, no I wouldn’t”). That gives the song a great deal of texture. And to borrow a phrase, it provides “an early clue to the new direction” for Ringo’s drumming. The fills are much busier, and Ringo would explore this at greater length in upcoming works, including his own favorite drum part in “Rain.” Furthermore, his hi-hat work is a precursor to what we would soon hear in songs like “Paperback Writer.”

 

Kessler: The first two songs on Side One of Rubber Soul have depicted relationships with strong, autonomous women. Is the invisible female protagonist in “You Won’t See Me” portrayed much in the same vein?

 

Frangione: That’s a very interesting point I’d never considered, but yes, women are clearly taking on a more dominant, less passive role in the first THREE songs on Rubber Soul. The mix of independence and taking the lead in “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” sees the ante raised here. This female is pretty much dictating the pace of this relationship. Gone is the “but I’ll do anything to win you” urgency from her male counterpart; however, in the end you can sense a scenario where there’s a risk of losing at all costs. This theme may be an early precursor to Jackson Browne’s line years later: “You win. I win. We lose.”

 

Kessler: What haven’t we discussed/discovered about “You Won’t See Me” that you would like to share with us, Tom?

 

Frangione: The song’s structure is quite deceiving. In 2016, Paul included “You Won’t See Me” in the acoustic set on one of his latter-day tours (2016, I think), showing the underlying foundation upon which the chords were built – a 2-string descending line.

(Check it out on YouTube).

 

Yet, when we “legend in our own room” guitar types play it, we see a chord progression that actually ascends from A to B to D and back to A for the choruses. That buried descending line provides the secret ingredient. Toss in a modulation from major key to minor in the 3rd line of each verse, and the dissonance of diminished chords in JUST the right spot in the chorus (it’s right on the word “refuse”, precisely where the entire conflict of the lyrics rest), and you’ve got a very sophisticated piece of songwriting.

 

“You Won’t See Me” is another one of those Beatles songs that, had it been a single, would have a been a MONSTER hit!

 

*********

 

 

Check out Tom Frangione’s TWO new hit programs on Sirius XM’s “Beatles Channel” (Channel 18):

 

“Way Beyond Compare” – an informative look at Beatles Rarities, alternate takes, live performances, and versions of Beatles songs you’ve never heard before! This unique program debuts each week on Sunday…and “anytime at all” on the Sirius XM app as well.

 

“Apple Jam” – a close look at the history, artists (such as Mary Hopkin, Badfinger, Billy Preston, James Taylor, etc.), and records released on The Beatles’ own Apple Records label. Tom Frangione co-hosts the show with rock’n’roll journalist, David Fricke. Catch this one-hour program on the first Wednesday of each month…with repeats throughout the month and “anytime at all” on the Sirius XM app as well!

 

Also…look for Tom’s articles in Beatlefan magazine!

 

[1] Margotin, Jean-Michel and Phillipe Guesdon, “We Can Work It Out,” All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles’ Release, 314. Margotin and Guesdon remind us that “We Can Work It Out” was written in 1964 at Rembrandt, the Liverpool house that Paul bought for his father. Chronologically, therefore, the song and the progression of the relationship portrayed by Paul in “We Can Work It Out” falls in between A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul.

[2] Womack, Kenneth, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 118.

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 2: Norwegian Wood

Side One, Track Two

 

“Norwegian Wood”: A “Roll” Reversal

 

By Jude Southerland Kessler and Bruce Spizer

 

Throughout 2021, The Fest for Beatles Fans blog will take a deep dive into the songs that comprise 1965’s innovative, transitional Beatles LP — a record that Mark Lewisohn dubs “a major turning point in The Beatles’ career” — Rubber Soul. (The Complete Beatles Chronicles, 202) In our second of the series, Louisiana natives and Beatles authors Bruce Spizer and Jude Southerland Kessler look at what we already know about this edgy song, “Norwegian Wood,” and what we can discover in a fresh, new look! Enjoy!

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: 12 October and 21 October 1965

Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.30 p.m. on 12 October

                            2.00 – 7.00 p.m. on 21 October

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald

(Margotin and Guesdon add Ron Pender)

Original Song Title: “This Bird Has Flown”

 

Stats: Recorded in 4 takes on 12 October and then completely re-made in 3 takes on 21 October.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

John Lennon, the composer, plays acoustic rhythm guitar and sings lead vocal.

Paul McCartney plays bass, piano, and supplies backing vocal.

George Harrison plays lead guitar and sitar. This is the first time the sitar has been used in a pop recording, according to Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, and Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201.

Ringo Starr plays tambourine, maracas, and finger cymbals. (In the 12 October session, Ringo played bass drum and on 21 October, he also played bass drum at the end of Take 3. Winn, 362 and 366.)

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 278-281, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362, and 366-367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63-65 and 73, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 89, Riley, Tell Me Why, 158-159, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 139-141, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 212, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173, Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, Norman, Shout!, 155, and Goldman, The Lives of John Lennon, 184-185.

 

What’s Changed:

  1. Musical Maturity – Despite one’s personal feelings about Albert Goldman, he most aptly observed, “When John Lennon finished recording ‘Norwegian Wood,’ he was no longer Beatle John, the Man in the Bubble Gum Mask. He was now the brilliant, young innovator who was doing more than anybody in the music business to transform the rock’n’roll of the Fifties into the rock of the Sixties.” (The Lives of John Lennon, 185) Similarly, Mark Lewisohn calls even the first iteration of “Norwegian Wood” (from 12 October) a “brilliant recording,” and he quickly adds that the final version (from 21 October) is “quite different but equally as dazzling.” Indeed, Lewisohn sees the whole of Rubber Soul as “excellent musicianship with a new lyrical direction.” (The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203)

 

By the autumn of 1965, The Beatles were no longer the innocents of “From Me to You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They were multifaceted in their mastery of the studio, technological production, and lyrical composition. In “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” composed very early in 1965 (and performed by John for George Martin on a skiing holiday in February 1965), John had progressed eons past his ingenue status. Indeed, he had become so introspective about his work that he could record a successful initial offering on 12 October — heavily laced in sitar and boasting superb harmony as well as an honest, raw Lennon vocal — and then reject this version to start all over again on 21 October, producing a cleaner, more commercially viable work. All of The Beatles were coming into their own as musicians, but even very early in 1965, Lennon seemed to be surging forward into the experimental “studio era.”

 

  1. Employment of Double Entendre – John Lennon loved wordplay. This propensity was evidenced in his first book (proclaimed by Foyles Bookstores to be 1964’s finest work in British literature), In His Own Write. During the spring of 1965, when he was composing “Norwegian Wood,” John was completing his second volume of prose and poetry, A Spaniard in the Works. So, phrases lavishly imbued with double meaning such as “Norwegian Wood” and “I lit a fire” (although after John’s death, Paul asserted that he had coined this famous phrase) came naturally to the Author Beatle.

 

Furthermore, in the manipulation of the melody, John also artfully added a second level of meaning to the song. In “Drive My Car,” the powerful and independent female “running the show” speaks on one note only. Thus, she emerges as a powerful but one-dimensional character. We can’t “see” her; she exists in caricature. But the woman in “Norwegian Wood” is vividly depicted as an alluring and mysterious female — through John’s exotic melody and use of remarkable instruments. In the song’s opening waltz tempo, she beckons. In the sexy sitar sound, she seduces. She serves wine in her own boudoir and dominates her potential sexual partner. Throughout her seduction, the lilting music flows as freely as the wine, but when she resolves to sleep alone, the bridge becomes sharp, staccato, hard-hitting. John not only uses words to portray his glamorous femme fatale, but he also adds the music itself to, in clever double entendre, reveal her nature through her emanating “siren song.” Quite clever. Quite Lennon.

 

  1. Inculcation of International or “World Music” – In The Anthology, Ringo is quoted as saying that on “Rubber Soul, [we] began stretching the writing and playing…This was the departure record. A lot of other influences were coming down and going on the record…We were really opening up to a lot of different sounds.” (p. 194)

 

Rubber Soul is indeed replete with finger cymbals, a ching-ring (in “In My Life”), maracas, tambourines, and a “wound-up piano” (to imitate a harpsichord, in “In My Life”). (Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) In “Norwegian Wood,” we hear the curious and exciting sound of a sitar. Most Beatle fans know that George Harrison had been introduced to the sitar in the spring of 1965, when Director Richard Lester employed musicians to play the instrument for “comical purposes” in Help! (Norman, Shout!, 255) Badman quotes John as saying, “On the set [of Help!]…an Indian band [kept] playing in the background, and George kept staring and looking at them.” (The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148)

 

Almost immediately, Harrison purchased his own sitar — “a 1940s or 1950s Kanai Lal & Brother sitar…[from] India Craft in London (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) and began learning to play it. Only seven months later, in October, we find both George and John willing to incorporate this unique, “funny sound” (as George Harrison refers to it in Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) into their catalogue. The Beatles’ increasing willingness to embrace international or “world music” decidedly enriched their already matchless melodies. While many of the bands of the 1960s were intent upon producing a “signature sound,” The Beatles were unafraid to push boundaries. They kept expanding horizons rather than limiting themselves to what they’d done before. The result was a thrilling, melodic lushness that never grew stale.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, I was honored to confer with the Guru of Beatles Music History and the author of the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, Bruce Spizer, about the depth and intricacies inherent in “Norwegian Wood.” Here is our conversation:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Bruce, I know that one of the new books in your successful Beatles Album Series that you are working on right now takes a look at The Beatles’ 1965 Help! LP. How did the recording techniques employed on Help! pave the way for what was to come on the revolutionary LP that was late 1965’s Rubber Soul?

 

Bruce Spizer: The Beatles’ first two albums were recorded on a two-track recorder, most often with vocals on one track and instruments on the other. The two tracks were then mixed down for a mono mix in which the vocals and instruments were balanced for maximum effect. These performances were live in the studio, with The Beatles playing their instruments and singing at the same time. Sometimes an instrument, such as keyboards by George Martin or harmonica by John, would be overdubbed to enhance the track. Other times, a vocal would be double-tracked. But for the most part, the recordings were vocals backed by two guitars, bass and drums.

 

By A Hard Day’s Night, the group was recording on a four-track recorder. This gave them the opportunity to break up the vocals and instruments onto separate tracks. For example, they could record the bass and drums on track one, the guitars on track two, the lead vocal on track three and leave four free for overdubs. They could then play back the tape and record a second vocal and another instrument, such as tambourine, on the fourth track of the tape while listening to the already recorded vocals and instruments.

 

For Beatles For Sale, George Martin and the group took greater advantage of the four tracks, routinely double-tracking vocals and using exotic percussion instruments.

 

On the “Help!” LP, the process evolved even more, and the group began experimenting with different instruments and effects. George Martin added a string quartet to “Yesterday.” The Beatles were also moving towards more of a folk-rock sound, as could be heard on some of the later tracks recorded for Help!, including “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love,” both of which would end up on the Capitol version of Rubber Soul in the U.S.

 

And it wasn’t just the recording of the Help! album that influenced Rubber Soul and well beyond. On the set of the movie Help!, as Jude mentioned, George became acquainted with the sitar, an Indian string instrument. There was a scene in a restaurant where musicians were playing Beatles songs on Indian instruments. This was the idea of the film’s musical director, Ken Thorne, who was used instead of George Martin, who did not get along particularly well with the film’s director, Richard Lester. Had Martin been the film’s musical director, he may not have chosen the Indian instruments and Harrison may not have been introduced to the sitar on the movie’s set. On the other hand, Martin had used sitar on a Peter Sellers’s recording, so he may very well have used Indian instruments in the film’s soundtrack. We will never know if Harrison would have picked up the sitar had Martin done the score. We do know that it was Thorne’s use of Indian instruments that exposed George to a whole new world of music.

 

Anyway, by the time The Beatles recorded Rubber Soul, they had mastered the recording techniques on the four-track and were branching out to different instruments, going way beyond the two guitars, bass and drums line-up. They were looking for new sounds and were using different instruments to get those sounds.

 

Kessler: You mentioned the sitar…let’s talk a bit more about that emerging instrument. From its debut on Rubber Soul, the sitar became a staple with The Beatles, specifically with George Harrison. But learning to control the sound of this exotic, new instrument was a journey. How did the sitar’s presence alter and develop on “Norwegian Wood” from Take 1 to Take 4? What were the technical difficulties inherent in recording the sitar?

 

Spizer: As Jude has pointed out, The Beatles recorded “Norwegian Wood” at two separate sessions. Take 1 was recorded on 12 October 1965, under the title “This Bird Has Flown,” during the first day of recording for the album. Although it was completed in one take, the song was given several overdubs. The finished master featured John’s lead vocal, his and Paul’s backing harmonies, acoustic guitar and bass, percussion (finger cymbals, tambourine and maracas) and George on sitar. While the sitar adds a new sound for The Beatles, George’s playing is a bit labored. He is gaining familiarity with the instrument, but still has a long way to go.

 

Although Take 1 was remarkable and could have been issued “as is,” The Beatles decided to completely re-record “Norwegian Wood” on 21 October. John had difficulty with his acoustic guitar part on Takes 2 and 3, but nailed it on Take 4. The basic backing track included John on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul’s backing vocal and bass, and George on 12-string acoustic guitar. George overdubbed a much-improved sitar part. Knowing George Harrison’s dedication to getting his solos exact, I am sure he practiced it many times over before the re-recording of the song. Other embellishments included tambourine, a clapping sound, Ringo’s bass drum, and a crash cymbal at the end of the song.

 

The sitar must have posed issues for the Abbey Road engineers. The sitar does not have an electric pickup, so its sound signal is not sent directly from the instrument to an amplifier like an electric guitar or bass guitar. It must be recorded through a microphone. The trick is where to place the microphone as it needs to pick up the strings on which the melody line is played as well as the drone strings.

 

Based on the recording appearing on Rubber Soul, I think George and the engineers did an excellent job, particularly considering their relative unfamiliarity with the sitar.

 

Kessler: In Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald claims that “Norwegian Wood” is “the first Beatles song in which the lyric is more important than the music.” (p. 130) Do you concur? We know John was a master of wordplay, especially double entendre. How did he use that tongue-in-cheek literary technique in this song?

 

Spizer: I wouldn’t go as far as Ian on that one. I would say that the lyrics and the words are equally important. And while the words to “Norwegian Wood” are a long way from “Love, love me do/You know I love you,” John had already showed his fondness for the double entendre on “Please Please Me,” way back on the group’s second single. Similarly, the lyrics on “There’s A Place” from the group’s first album go way beyond the simple love songs of the day, hinting at John’s reflective nature that would find its way into later songs, such as “I’m A Loser,” which also was recorded before “Norwegian Wood.” The song was not even the first by John to tell a story. That distinction goes to “No Reply.” No doubt the words to “Norwegian Wood” are among John’s best from 1962 – 1965, but I would not consider the song to be the first where the words were more important than the music.

 

Also, as I’ve already said, the music on “Norwegian Wood” is equally important. It has a catchy melody line and excellent guitar playing by John and George. And it provides a new sound for the group through George’s sitar playing. As Jude pointed out, it represented the first time the sitar was featured in a released rock song. (The Yardbirds tried sitar on their 1965 recording of “Heart Full Of Soul,” but it didn’t sound quite right. Instead, Jeff Beck played his guitar part to emulate the sitar.)

 

John’s lyrics were in and of themselves a double entendre in the sense that there is more than one thing going on. John was trying to write about an affair, but to disguise it so that his wife Cynthia wouldn’t catch on. John had a great opening line that lent itself to telling a story: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” Now that’s really tongue-in-cheek! From that line, the song evolved into a story of an evening in a woman’s flat where the principal décor was wood—cheap pine, often referred to then as Norwegian wood. (Thus, the tile of the song refers to the apartment’s furniture.) After being led on by the girl and then forced to sleep in the tub, the singer awakes to find himself alone. Although the ending words, “So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood,” could be interpreted to mean lighting a fire in the fireplace to keep warm, Paul has said it meant that the singer burned down the house as an act of revenge.

 

Kessler: Bruce, can you tell us something about “Norwegian Wood” or about Rubber Soul that we haven’t considered or discussed?

 

Spizer: “Norwegian Wood” is the second song on both the Parlophone U.K. version of Rubber Soul and the Capitol U.S. version of the album. Interestingly, however, it follows two completely different style opening tracks.

 

On the U.K. album, the song follows “Drive My Car,” which is a hard rocker. It sounds totally different than “Norwegian Wood,” but the two songs work well together because of their lyrics. “Drive My Car” is not a typical pop love song. It has a story line about an interesting girl who want to be famous, but is not quite there yet. She doesn’t even have a car! And, of course, the phrase “drive my car” is one that serves as sexual double entendre. And even though, musically, the first two songs on the album are worlds apart, the “Beep beep beep beep, yeah!” ending of “Drive My Car” flows nicely into John’s lovely acoustic guitar intro to “Norwegian Wood.”

 

On the Capitol album, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is the perfect musical lead into “Norwegian Wood.” Both have intricate acoustic guitar parts and have that same folk-rock sound that dominates the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. As for the lyrics, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is a typical pop love song, whereas “Norwegian Wood” certainly is not.

 

The bottom line is that “Norwegian Wood” is such a great song that it works well as the next track to two completely different sounding songs!

 

An oddity: The song was originally titled “This Bird Has Flown.” Then, it was nearly called “This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood)” before the final title became “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”

 

A remarkable achievement about the Rubber Soul album in general: The recording sessions were rushed as The Beatles needed to complete 14 songs for an album plus two more for a single in time for release for the 1965 Christmas season market. Yet these sessions yielded the best crop of songs for any album. Out of the 16 tracks recorded during the session, eight (one-half) appear on the red hits collection! No other album session comes even close!

 

To learn more about Bruce Spizer and his remarkable Beatles Album Series, including the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, CLICK HERE

 

And follow Bruce on Facebook HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 1: Drive My Car

Rubber Soul

 Side One, Track One

“Drive My Car”: And Suddenly, Everything Changed!

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Ken Womack

 

Throughout 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will explore the intricacies of The Beatles’ astounding 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Kenneth Womack, author of Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, and his new best-seller, John Lennon 1980 (among many others) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting opening track of this pivotal LP.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 13 October 1965

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 12.15 p.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

Stats: Recorded in only four takes. “Best” take was Take 4. However, a plethora of overdubs completed the song in later sessions.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S, piano, and possibly, lead guitar on his Epiphone Casino (Margotin and Guesdon).

John Lennon sings accompanying lead vocals and some sources say he plays piano on Studio 2’s Steinway Grand. Some sources attribute the tambourine to John.

George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays his Fender Stratocaster Sonic Blue.

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, mans the cowbell, and possibly the tambourine.

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, 63, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 276-277, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 66-67, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 88, Riley, Lennon, 287, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Later Recording Sessions – Beginning with the work done on Rubber Soul’s opening track, The Beatles began recording at times conducive to their best work…at night. In his The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn notes that prior to “Drive My Car,” only ONE other recording session went past midnight. That occurred on 10 May 1965, but Lewisohn rapidly points out that this was not truly a “recording session,” but was a mixing session. (The Complete Beatles Chronicles, 202) On 13 October 1965, the famous four assume mastery of their work environment. Henceforth, they will record at times best suited to them. [Note Womack’s remarks in answer to interview question 1.]

 

  1. Unique Instruments and Unique AssignmentsRubber Soul is replete with Beatles happily playing instruments that they do not ordinarily play, and “Drive My Car” is no exception. John is generally given the nod for manning the tambourine and, most sources state that he is not playing his accustomed rhythm line.

 

There is much debate among experts about whether George is playing the song’s lead line or whether it is performed by Paul McCartney. In 1977, George said in an interview: “I simply played a guitar line that was, in fact, very close to ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding. I played this part, and Paul followed me on bass.” However, in The Anthology, George said, “I played the bass line on ‘Drive My Car.’ It was like the line from ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding.” (p. 194) Many experts feel that Paul played the bass line and also played the lead solo. (Winn, Way Beyond Compare, p. 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, p. 66)

 

There are two schools of thought on the introduction and coda. In All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon, assert that the song’s opening intro was played simultaneously by George and Paul. (p. 277) Winn, however, credits the lead solo, intro, and coda to Paul alone.

 

One thing is certain: no longer were there inviolable “roles” in the creation of Beatles songs. The boys were beginning to branch out and play what was needed when it was needed. From henceforth, nothing would be the same.

 

  1. Evolving Attitude Toward Women – The women of Rubber Soul are not the demure, adored women addressed in “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Do You Want to Know a Secret” or “I Need You” or even the somewhat reticent “If I Fell.” The women of this late 1965 LP are no longer placed on pedestals, longed for, or revered.

 

Instead, they are the “unkind” female of “What Goes On.” They are the female “who puts you down when friends are there” in “Girl.” In “Think for Yourself,” we see them telling lies. And in “Run for Your Life,” they are suspected of being unfaithful. Even the least offensive female, in “You Won’t See Me” practices avoidance techniques and “refuses to even listen.”  Hard-hearted women, all.

 

The female protagonist of “Drive My Car” is no exception. She is an aggressive, aspiring actress with her own agenda.  This woman is determined, and her saga sets the attitude for the rest of the LP. The Beatles’ altering attitude toward relationships demonstrates the boys’ new, wide-eyed maturity. As Tim Riley observes in Lennon, “The Beatles had outgrown the teen market that once defined them and reshaped rock…with adult characters, situations, and inner lives.” (p. 287)

 

“Drive My Car” may make us smile, but its quirky ending makes that smile a wry one. Since the phrase “drive my car” is blues slang for sex (Margotin and Guesdon, 276), fans here observe the “dominant male” role shifting in Rubber Soul’s opening track. (Of course, The Beatles quickly doubled down with a second woman-dominated encounter in “Norwegian Wood.”) Betty Friedan’s 1963 work, The Feminine Mystique, championing the female’s “fully equal partnership with men” had fashioned a remarkable change in society. Here, The Beatles (who were always, as Lennon observed, in “the crow’s nest”) inculcated this emerging mindset into Rubber Soul.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, we sat down with noted Beatles expert (author of John Lennon 1980) and biographer of Sir George Martin, Dr. Kenneth Womack, to discover what is going on behind the scenes in “Drive My Car.”

 

Kessler: Ken, as you know, John Lennon had traditionally been the Beatles’ “official/unofficial” LP opener. On With The Beatles, John opened the album with “It Won’t Be Long,” and on the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, it was John’s “A Hard Day’s Night” that led listeners into the grooves. On Beatles for Sale, John once again led the way with “No Reply.” And naturally, with the Help! LP, fans commenced their musical journey with John’s “Help!” Then came Rubber Soul, and fans discovered an LP opened by Paul McCartney singing “Drive My Car.” Is this new role for McCartney perhaps a “clue to the new direction”? Are the band’s leadership roles shifting by late 1965?

 

Womack: “Drive My Car” marks a number of intriguing shifts in the group’s internal calculus. In the case of the song’s placement on the LP, Rubber Soul was the first Beatles album in which the band members themselves had input into the sequencing of the record’s contents. Prior to Rubber Soul, George Martin held sway over most of the presentation of the Beatles’ work. To my mind, Rubber Soul is the turning-point LP where the Beatles take charge of their music as an artistic body of work. As Paul later remarked, “We gradually became the workmen who took over the factory. In the end, we had the run of the whole building. It would be us, the recording people on our session, and a doorman. There would be nobody else there. It was amazing, just wandering around, having a smoke in the echo chamber. I think we knew the place better than the chairman of the company because we lived there. I even got a house just ’round the corner, I loved it so much. I didn’t want ever to leave.” (The Anthology, p. 93) In short, Rubber Soul marked a new direction for the band in more ways than one.

 

Kessler: One of the elements of early Beatles music that attracted female fans was The Beatles’ admiration for songs written by females. They covered hits by the Shirelles, Donays, Marvelettes, etc. and in doing so, expressed a unique feminine voice, a singularly feminine point of view. How does Paul successfully achieve this, once again, in “Drive My Car”?

 

Womack: I’ve long interpreted “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” as being cut from very similar cloth. As with such compositions as “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper,” “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are key examples of Lennon-McCartney’s proto-feminism. In these particular songs, they depict very strong, self-assured female characters. In each instance, these female characters call the shots, refusing to be subservient to their male counterparts. To my thinking, these are revolutionary songs in terms of the Beatles presenting female-positive characters. As songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were ahead of the curve in terms of the ways in which they presented these strong female characters—and pointedly, for a very large female audience across the globe.

 

The band deserves great credit for their egalitarian approach to the world in an era when they were clearly on the vanguard. This was true both in terms of issues associated with feminism and race. With “Drive My Car,” McCartney was clearly speaking directly to a large segment of the group’s demography. From their earliest days as hitmakers, John and Paul understood the immense power of their bully pulpit as members of the Beatles. As McCartney later noted, “We knew that if we wrote a song called ‘Thank You Girl’ that a lot of the girls who wrote us fan letters would take it as a genuine thank you. So a lot of our songs—’From Me to You’ is another—were directly addressed to the fans. I remember one of my daughters, when she was very little, seeing Donny Osmond sing ‘The Twelfth of Never,’ and she said ‘he loves me’ because he sang it right at her off the telly. We were aware that that happened when you sang to an audience.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, p. 9) With “Drive My Car,” McCartney moved beyond romantic love to depict a female character who is comfortable being herself and not waiting for any man to validate her existence.

 

Kessler: Paul McCartney said that on Rubber Soul, the group had “written some funny songs — songs with jokes in.” Certainly, “Drive My Car” produces a chuckle. Do you see “Norwegian Wood” in that same vein, or is it, from your perspective, a bit darker?

 

Womack: McCartney liked to refer to these songs as “comedy numbers,” which I’ve always found rather charming, given that the comedy is largely sexual in nature. “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are not humorous songs, per se, but rather, compositions in which the male characters discover, somewhat belatedly, that they’ve been had. In the case of “Drive My Car,” the female character is all business, all the time. The song is loaded with sexual innuendo, with “baby, you can drive my car” being one of Paul’s more obvious come-ons. The same can be said for “Norwegian Wood,” which is somewhat playful at the beginning: “I once had a girl, / Or should I say, / She once had me.” By the end of the song, the female protagonist has, quite literally, laughed out loud at the male narrator, who very obviously pines for a sexual liaison, only to find himself consigned to a night alone in the bath. The latter song may very well be darker, especially with McCartney’s suggestion that the narrator has committed arson, having woken up alone the next morning.

 

Kessler: Finally, Ken, what don’t we know about “Drive My Car”? Is there anything you’d like to share with us about this late 1965 LP-opener?

 

Womack: To my ears, “Drive My Car” is the finest example of the Beatles’ performance of “plastic soul,” the phrase from which the Rubber Soul LP draws its title. As Beatles fans well know, at the end of the first take of the raucous “I’m Down,” Paul famously described the band’s sound as “plastic soul, man”—an ironic reference to the sonic textures of American rhythm and blues that the Beatles had become veritable masters at emulating. From their earliest days together, the Beatles—four ethnically homogenous Englishman—thoroughly imbibed American R&B and remade it in their own image. “Drive My Car,” with its funky, blues-oriented sound, epitomizes the ways in which Rubber Soul acts as the group’s valentine to their American rock and roll roots.

 

To learn more about the work of Dr. Kenneth Womack, including his new book, John Lennon 1980 and his “Everything Fab Four” podcast, go to https://kennethwomack.com/

 

Follow Ken on Facebook HERE and on Twitter @kennethawomack

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Year’s End, Year’s Begin

Throughout 2020, we’ve paused each month to examine what The Beatles were doing in their time together…and to discern what (if any) life lessons we could glean from their adventures. Looking back over the last twelve months and our journey with the boys we find that:

 

In March — Whether making A Hard Day’s Night or enjoying the Austrian slopes for Help! or working in the studio to record “From Me to You,” The Beatles had fun in March!  And the refreshment they enjoyed in these happy days inspired them to write songs, poems, and stories…to be creative!

 

In April — In “the cruelest month,” the boys often faced tragedy and loss, but they encountered illness and death with an unswerving hope that kept them putting one foot in front of the other. No matter what, The Beatles continued to push ahead to a brighter future.

 

In August — As each summer came to a close, The Beatles dealt with sweeping change in their lives from their first Hamburg residency to the end of touring in 1966 to the death of Brian Epstein. In all of these varied circumstances, the lads learned to lean upon one another for stability…and together, they found the strength to “keep on keepin’ on.”

 

In each “time of the season,” John, Paul, George, and Ringo unwittingly gave us encouragement and inspiration for the living of our own lives. And as I glance back over our Fest blogs from the last 11 months, I realize how great an impact The Beatles made on their fans, not just as musicians but also, as people!

 

When we reflect on how those four Liverpool boys handled the never-diminishing pressures of wealth and fame, the loss of people they loved (such as Stu Sutcliffe and Brian Epstein), and the almost overwhelming stress inherent in making films whilst also publishing books and creating/recording film soundtracks amidst a slew interviews, television programmes, and radio shows, we stand back in admiration! And we say, “Well, if they can handle all of that, surely I can find a way to move forward as well!”

 

It’s been uplifting to walk through The Beatles’ months and seasons with you throughout 2020. Thank you for joining me in this unique experience!

 

Now…as we begin 2021, I thought it might be fun to spend the upcoming year together exploring that most transitional LP, Rubber Soul. Each month, we’ll study one track. I’ll provide the background information for you. And then, we’ll chat with beloved Beatles experts as well.

 

I look forward to opening our discovery of Rubber Soul, as together in January, we’ll visit with Dr. Kenneth Womack, author of the new book, John Lennon 1980, about the lively first track on the album: “Drive My Car.” Until then, have a wonderful and safe holiday season…a Happy Chrimble and A Very New Year!

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The Beatles in November: Game Changer!

Jude is the author of The John Lennon Series: https://www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Certain seasons consistently inspire us, sweep us off our feet, or bless us immeasurably. The patterns of our lives are etched as we return, time and again, to that happy collection of weeks or months in which we feel that we’re at our very best. Some people blossom in autumn’s slanting light, chilly afternoons, and radiant foliage. Others shine in summer’s sand and sun. Some find peace in spring’s gentle, sea-green rebirth. But for The Beatles, it was November — winter’s brisk onset — that always spiraled them to new heights! Let’s take a look:

 

9 November 1961Mr. Epstein Comes to the Cavern Club

Accompanied by his assistant, Alistair Taylor, dapper 27-year-old North End Music Store manager, Brian Epstein, arrived at Mathew Street’s raucous, underground Cavern Club for the lunchtime session. Feeling nervous and out of place, Epstein pushed jitters aside, to see the much-discussed band, The Beatles. For months, he’d seen John Lennon’s “Beatcomber” column in Mersey Beat, right next to his own “Record Releases” column, and the boys’ offbeat wit had intrigued him. Brian had even visited Editor, Bill Harry, at the Mersey Beat office on Renshaw Street, Liverpool, to discuss Lennon and his group. But when a young NEMS customer named Raymond Jones (and later that afternoon, two teenage girls) had requested the new record, “My Bonnie,” by The Beatles,* Brian had decided to see the group for himself. The Cavern excursion was not in vain. Planning to stay only for the first set of the afternoon, Epstein became intrigued with the charismatic, lively, and talented lads who not only sang incomparably but also gave their all to mach shau. During a break, Brian approached George Harrison about getting a copy of “My Bonnie,” and speaking to the group as a whole, Epstein proposed a meeting in the days ahead, with an eye to management of the band. As we all know, the rest is history! What a landmark November day it was! And as John would later wryly point out — of course, it occurred on the NINTH!

*Actually, the record was by Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers

 

4 November 1963The Beatles at the Royal Command Performance

In October 1963, The Beatles had taken the boards for Sunday Night at the Palladium, and they’d thought it was the greatest honor they could achieve! Now, however, they’d been included in the roster for The Royal Command Performance (a.k.a. The Royal Variety Show)! John, was a bit reticent about performing for “suits,” the “very sort I’ve always sought to avoid.” But the other three Beatles were elated. Appearing as the 7th act on a 19-act bill, the boys were to perform four songs: “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” “Till There Was You,” and “Twist and Shout.” John — taking the mickey out of the nervous-as-a-cat Brian Epstein — had threatened to announce the final song with this irreverent introduction: “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your f******* jewelry!” But after watching Brian dissolve into tears over the brazen suggestion, John modified the intro a bit, with (as they say) the offending “expletive deleted.” Even so, Lennon’s cheeky comment made a statement. John had taken the stage with his brothers for camaraderie’s sake, but he’d still found a way to announce his independence from conformity. The show itself was Beatle-brilliant, and the lads were invited back every single year that they were together. But each year, partially in deference to John, The Beatles very politely declined. That November 1963 night, however, with Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother looking on, four lads from “the uncultured North, Liverpool” shone as stars unequalled and made British entertainment history.

 

9 November 1966John meets Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery

John Lennon had once admitted to his friend, journalist Maureen Cleave, that being in The Beatles wasn’t his “end all, be all.” He said, “You see, there’s something else I’m going to do, something I must do — only I don’t know what it is. That’s why I go around painting and taping and drawing and writing and that, because it may be one of them. All I know is, this isn’t it for me.” (“How Does a Beatle Live? London Evening Standard, 4 March 1966) John was forever searching for significance. But he seemed to find his heart’s home on 9 November 1966, when he attended the private, pre-show for “Unfinished Paintings and Objects,” the work of Japanese avant garde artist, Yoko Ono. Strolling through London’s Indica Art Gallery, John was bowled over by Ono’s “outside the box” style and humour — a style that very much reminded him of his quirky, clever mother, Julia Stanley Lennon. And when John talked with the petite, soft-spoken artist, he found Ono as interesting as her work. It was the beginning of a romance that would transform John’s life. Over the next few years, his ideas would drastically alter. John would become different altogether (now) thanks to this one remarkable November night.  (And it was also on the ninth!)

 

John Lennon fans, please note:  In the ancient world, November was the ninth month of the calendar of Romulus, c. 750 BC. When January and February were added to the Roman calendar, November retained its name (from the Latin novem, meaning “nine”). No wonder this month was so life-changing for The Beatles!

 

We often scurry through November to get to the glittering joys that December holds, but the eleventh month – as The Beatles teach us here – holds remarkable enchantment of its own. Take time to enjoy bonfires, changing leaves, Thanksgiving, walks in the chill, roasted marshmallows and chestnuts – the vivid sights and sounds that accompany first frost. Be aware. Be open to possibility. November undoubtedly “loomed large in The Beatles’ legend.” Perhaps November has a bit of magic to share with you as well!

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The Beatles in October: Harvest Home

“Come ye thankful people, come

Raise a song of harvest home,

All is safely gathered in,

Ere the winter storms begin.”

 

In 1844, songwriter Henry Alford penned these grateful words, as the dog days of summer curled up contentedly, basking in the beauty of autumn. With winter fast approaching, Alford urged us to seize these brilliant, multi-colored days as celebrations of the fruits of our spring and summer labors. And in their Octobers together, The Beatles did just that! They used October as a month to relax a bit, accept great honors, and take stock of all they’d accomplished before the demanding days of winter were upon them. Let’s share their joys:

 

October 1961 – Enjoying the money that John’s Auntie “Mater” (Elizabeth) had gifted John for his twenty-first birthday, John and Paul (without saying a word to Pete and George) hied away to Paris for a 14-day spontaneous holiday. Stu (still in Hamburg) had hinted broadly that he would meet them there, and that was all the impetus John needed to break away to the Continent. Unfortunately, Stu found himself too ill to travel, and John was deeply, bitterly disappointed. However, their friend, Jürgen Vollmer, met Lennon and McCartney in “The City of Lights,” and the trio partied as heavily as a 21st birthday deserved. Somewhere amidst the carousing, Volmer influenced the two Beatles to imitate his hairstyle, a rather Edwardian “bowl” cut. Then, during the return trip to Liverpool, the duo stopped off at Anello and Davide in Charing Cross, London, to purchase Cuban-heeled, pointed-toe boots. Returning just in time for a gig at The Casbah, the relaxed John and Paul refused to be shamed for their outing and introduced the others to their innovative, new look. Within days, George wore the “Beatle cut” as well…and both Pete and George parted with the last of their cash for those trendy leather boots. Refreshed and refurbished, The Beatles headed into winter.

 

October 1963 – Sunday Night at the London Palladium was England’s Ed Sullivan Show. The ATV Television program was the British litmus test, indicating that an entertainer had finally “made the grade.” Growing up, Ringo had heard his mother’s best friend, Annie Maguire, repeat over and over, “Play the Palladium…and die!” The drummer had always seen it as his country’s highest achievement award. Now, he and his mates were about to step onto those legendary boards! As he vomited into a backstage bucket, Ringo thought of all the stars he’d seen standing right where he was about to perform: Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, and Cliff Richard and The Shadows. This magical moment was, for the boy from the Dingle, the greatest “welcome to the big-time” party one could have. Though he was slated to play The Royal Command Performance in only three weeks, for Richard Starkey, this was the “toppermost of the poppermost.” Tonight, his labors had finally reaped reward.

 

October 1965 – Decked in morning-coat finery, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were off to Buckingham Palace — along with 178 other nominees — to receive the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the MBE. Their car cautiously navigated through the largest crowd ever assembled for any royal occasion (including the Queen’s coronation) towards the formal and highly-choreographed event. John was so overwhelmed by the experience that when the Queen asked about The Beatles’ current endeavors, he couldn’t find an answer and blathered that they’d been off on holiday. Not until the four boys arrived in Saville Theatre, where their press conference was to take place, did the four musicians find their voices. Years later, John would avow that he never desired the MBE and had only accepted it because it was “in our best interests,” but on this bright October morning, The Beatles were tongue-tied at the great honor and gratified for the recognition of their talent and hard work.

 

October 1967 – With his work completed on Dick Lester’s latest film, “Private Gripweed” (a.k.a. John Lennon), along with his three mates, The Beatles — and their lovely ladies — strode into the star-studded London Premiere of “How I Won the War.” The film was one of John’s first solo sorties from “the collective,” a practice that all four Beatles would increasingly enjoy, over the next two years. John was quite nervous about both critical and public reaction to the work. But by the time that the Fab Four Couples viewed the film and headed to their favorite West End clubs, the group was awash in giggles and grins. Riding in a vintage Hispano-Suiza, they were ready to party as only Liverpudlians can. They fêted a project well-done and looked ahead to the bright lights that would continue to shine on.

 

The Beatles always lived up to the weathered maxim that “a job worth doing is worth doing well.”  Indeed, they worked as did no other group in the industry. But the boys played hard, too. In the 1970s, John famously quipped, “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” And in their Octobers together, as they harvested laurels from their endeavors, The Beatles saw not a thing amiss with celebrating and pausing, now and again, merely to have fun.

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