An ode to remarkable Beatles manager Brian Epstein

“It’s Not Personal, It’s Strictly Business”

by Jude Southerland Kessler,

author of The John Lennon Series

 

With the unveiling of the beautiful tribute statue to Brian Epstein in Liverpool just a few days ago, The Fest for Beatles Fans pauses to commemorate the remarkable man who brought our lads into the bright lights. We love you, Brian. You were “a class act” in every way.

 

Frequently these days, I hear people espousing the maxim, “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business” as if it were a yardstick of excellent business practice…the benchmark of what is equitable in one’s professional relationships. And I wince, knowing that this quote originated not in Shakespeare or Ben Franklin or The Bible, but came straight from the lips of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Here’s the movie clip.

 

If one examines outstanding leaders throughout history, one will rarely find this “It’s just business” rule-of-thumb to be his/her guideline. Brian Epstein, The Beatles legendary manager, is one of those who prized his personal reputation more than money. He sincerely believed that honesty and a bargain well-kept championed all else in the “dog-eat-dog” world of entertainment. In fact, promoter Sid Bernstein (who booked The Beatles at Carnegie Hall in 1964 and Shea Stadium in 1965) said, “Once [Epstein] gave his word, he never changed terms or renegotiated. He had that kind of quality; you believed him; you trusted him. That isn’t true of very many people.”

 

Let me give you a just few examples of Epstein’s policy of personal integrity over profit:

 

  • Epstein honored his agreements

 

Epstein became The Beatles’ manager in December of 1961, and at that time they were quite popular around Merseyside and in Hamburg. However, they weren’t well-known outside those realms. In London, The Beatles were virtual unknowns. So, as we all know, Brian set about getting the boys gigs anywhere that he could, often at unflattering rates. Exposure and publicity were Epstein’s primary goals.

 

You know the rest of the story. Quite rapidly, The Beatles began to capture the attention of the masses and press. Everywhere they traveled they were an astounding hit, and people started flocking to their performances – filling town halls, theaters, dance clubs and cellars. So, not surprisingly, the asking price for upcoming Beatles gigs quickly flew up, up, up. In fact, in Craig Brown’s book 100 Glimpses of The Beatles, one Merseyside promoter, Peter Stringfellow, tells the story of how he delayed booking the four boys for several days. And while he hemmed and hawed over the decision, the asking price soared from £50 to £65 to £100. He who hesitated was lost.

 

However, Epstein firmly believed that a promise made was a promise kept. And he refused to renegotiate contracts signed months earlier. He refused to charge club owners more than he had initially agreed upon. And many of those bargains were word-of-mouth only! You see, Epstein didn’t require a written contract to do what was right. Integrity was ingrained in him.

 

  • Epstein kept ticket prices affordable

 

In June of 1965, when the highly successful Beatles toured France, Italy, and Spain, Brian noticed that the crowds weren’t as large as they’d been on the 1964 tours; so, he asked Neil Aspinall to explain the drop in numbers. At first Barrow pointed out that the unusually high temperatures that summer had somewhat diminished the crowds for afternoon shows. But Epstein instinctively knew that heat alone couldn’t be the sole reason that the fans had decided to stay home. So, he pressed Barrow for the bottom line. Finally, Barrow muttered, “It’s the ticket prices, Brian. They’re more than the average fan can afford.” Epstein was heartbroken. The young manager cared about the fans. And he had always striven to keep ticket prices at fair rates – to make it possible for anyone who loved The Beatles to be able to see them in person. He had no idea that tickets had climbed out of reach, and the moment Epstein heard this frank explanation, he made adjustments. (For the full story, see Shades of Life, Part 1, p. 638-640)

 

A month and a half later, when The Beatles played the mega-concert in Shea Stadium, the best ticket available – for a field-level box seat – was rigidly set at $5.65. And, of course, for that price, fans got to see the King Curtis All-Stars, the Discotheque Dancers, Cannibal and the Headhunters (“Land of 1000 Dances”), Brenda Holloway (“Every Little Bit Hurts”), the vivacious Sounds Incorporated, and yeah, yeah, yeah, The Beatles. It wasn’t just a “fair price.” It was a bargain!! Throughout the summer of 1965, The Beatles (and their opening bands) filled one stadium after another with fans, fans, and more fans! Lest we forget, in Chicago, the boys gave two performances in front of 50,000 fans total. They played the Hollywood Bowl in front of a sold-out audience. And in Shea Stadium, The Beatles gave the performance of a lifetime to 55,600 awed Beatlemaniacs.

 

Brian could have charged a great deal more for those tickets and made more profit. In fact, you’ll recall that promoter Sid Bernstein was willing to pay $10 a seat for any unsold Shea Stadium tickets. (However, there were none.) Bernstein thought the ticket to see The Beatles worth at least that price! But Brian Epstein valued what was right, what was just, and what was fair. He wanted everything associated with The Beatles to be completely above-board.

 

3) Epstein never dealt underhandedly with business associates

 

In The Man Who Made The Beatles, famous journalist and Beatles friend Ray Coleman stated, “Brian’s name was a byword for class and integrity – and he cherished his reputation.” (p. 218) Coleman goes on to say that Epstein had “a central core of integrity.” And when asked to give “a certain person [in the United States] a thousand dollars to oil the wheels” so that Epstein’s rising folk group, Silkie, could obtain a work permit for nine television shows in America, “Brian flatly refused.” (p. 303) Coleman explains, “He said he had never bought his artists into anything with cash and did not intend to start.” (p.303)

 

Honesty was the yardstick of Epstein’s success. As Coleman says in the touching conclusion of The Man Who Made The Beatles, “…Brian died with a golden reputation for integrity and charm intact.” His artists – Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas and so many more including that group called The Beatles – were the bright lights of the 1960s. But their fame and his wealth were not amassed at the cost of Brian’s soul. Epstein wheeled and dealed with “the big cigars” of the entertainment industry and yet, remained unsullied.

 

In the 1960s, Brian Epstein was regarded as “naïve.” No doubt, he would be ridiculed in our cutthroat world of today. But in August of 1967, Epstein left this world with his honor intact. And his high standards of business behavior contributed much to the outstanding quality that shown through John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Brian expected “his boys” to be “better,” to be special. And they were. To Brian Epstein, everything was personal, especially business.

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive: The Iconic Album Cover

“There is no p-l-a-s-t-i-c in Rubber Soul”

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Rande Kessler

 

What a thrill to have my husband Rande Kessler with me this month to explore the artistry of Rubber Soul’s unique cover. Rande is a respected Louisiana artist who was selected as The Caroline Dorman Artist of the Year and featured in a one-man show in Shreveport’s Norton Art Gallery. He won the Melrose Arts Festival and his multi-media sculptures of The Beatles were featured at The GRAMMY Museum of Mississippi’s Beatles Symposium. and he has drawn the unique portraits of John Lennon that grace the covers of She Loves You, Should Have Known Better, and Shades of Life, part 1 (Vols. 3, 4, and 5 in The John Lennon Series.) Rande is the owner of OnTheRockBooks and co-hosts the Focal Points webinars with me. Here are his insights into this magical, unique Beatles album cover!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Released: 3 December 1965 in the U.K. as the sixth studio album by The Beatles. 6 December in the U.S.

 

Date Photographed: Late 1965

 

Location: Many sources state that the location for the photo shoot was John Lennon’s Kenwood garden in Weybridge, Surrey, U.K. (according to Robert Freeman and Bill Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 255, and Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, 192-196.)

 

Photographer: Robert Freeman; graduated from Cambridge in 1959. Before beginning his professional career as a photographer, he worked for a short time as Director of Contemporary Arts in London.  In 1963, Freeman, who was noted for artistic portraits of jazz musicians, “made a chance phone call to Dick Fontaine” a friend of his in Manchester. Fontaine had filmed The Beatles in the Cavern Club and suggested that if Freeman wanted to photograph musicians, he should “have a look at them, as they were a talented band…”  (Freeman, p. 8) So, after contact, Freeman was asked by Brian Epstein to send photo samples to Wales to show the boys. He assembled a portfolio of portraits he had taken of jazz musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. On 20 August 1963, at Epstein’s request (and after the boys had seen the work), Freeman traveled to meet them. (Freeman, p. 9) His artistic focus on musicians’ portraits and musicians in concert, was the “flash” that highlighted his photographic talent for the Fab Four.

 

The Photographees:

 

John Lennon, sporting a brown suede jacket, second from the left on the cover, obviously taking a “selfie,” looking at the camera with scrutiny and a hint of panache. There was a small, loose thread on his right shoulder which was airbrushed out on most covers (Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, p. 206 and http://webgrafikk.com/blog/uncategorized/lennons-thread/ You can see the thread in this…thread).

 

Ringo Starr, also wearing a brown suede jacket, with a blank stare to his right.

 

Paul McCartney, again with a suede jacket, this time more charcoal-colored, seems concerned with something George spotted.

 

George Harrison, barely in the picture (as was often his complaint) looks concerned about being too close to the edge of the album cover. He is quoted as saying about the album, however, “…The picture on the front is pretty good.”

 

Background: Rhododendron bush, not marijuana. And no LSD was harmed in the creation of the Rubber Soul artwork.

 

Sources: The Rubber Soul album covers, both EMI and Capitol; Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 69,  Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 204-206; Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, 192-196; Freeman, The Beatles, a private view, 8-9 and 64, Martin, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 216; Kruth, This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul Fifty Years On, 37-42, and Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 254-255.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. The times – According to Spizer’s compilation and as stated by Freeman himself, Freeman was searching for “…another angle on the group and a different tonality…“ (Freeman, p. 64). Kruth (This Bird Has Flown, p. 37) discusses this change in angle and tonality as compared to Freeman’s previous photo work on Beatles for Sale. Freeman, of course, had been photographing The Beatles since Meet the Beatles, making Rubber Soul his fifth cover endeavor, albeit his last.

 

  1. No matching outfits…and no ties – The Beatles are not in a “posed band” or photo-promo shot. And the boys “stood shoulder to shoulder, huddled together in the cool autumn air.” (Kruth, p. 37) Indeed, to quote Robert Freeman: “Uniformity was out.” (p. 64)

 

  1. An album as artwork rather than simply “a collection of singles” – According to George Martin, the intention was to present “a new Beatles to the world…And Rubber Soul was the first to emerge that way.” (Martin, p. 216) Robert Freeman, it seems, was achieving that by first developing a photographic moment in dissolving light, perhaps to show a dissolving from “Beatles before to The Beatles after”? Next, Freeman adds graphic distortion to the photograph, which happened by accident, but was liked by The Beatles (Freeman p. 64). Viewers were now seeing The Beatles’ images as reflections in a chrome door knob. Perhaps, as we reached for them, Freeman was inviting us to open the door to a new album experience.

 

  1. No “nametag” – The group’s name does not appear on the cover for the first time in Beatles history. (Spizer, p. 204) I think the time had arrived to acknowledge four individual artists creating music as a band, versus “a band” of four talented musicians. Cheers. Everybody knew their name.

 

This “say no more” license was repeated again with the advent of the White Album. As The Beatles’ ninth LP, it was officially released in 1968 as “The Beatles.” But fans quickly identified the record according to the look of the white jacket instead, without need for “the” band name!

 

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Rande Kessler has been part of our Fest Family for the last 15 years. He has produced the over 45 Power Point presentations that Jude has given during that time. His “Shine On” Beatles original T-shirt and John Lennon “Should Have Been There” T-shirt have been bestsellers, and Rande’s “Doors of Liverpool” art poster of unique photographs of each Beatle home and venue has been a Fest favorite. Kessler’s work has been featured in the “Artists of the Wiregrass” showcase and in Dothan magazine.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Rande, I know you are…um, quite familiar with The Beatles. As an artist, musician, and photographer yourself, does anything come to mind that you’d like to share about the cover of Rubber Soul?

 

Rande Kessler: The Beatles, oh yes, that group from Liverpool!! They are, fortunately, in my life. I have T-shirts that say “Give Peas a Chance,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Hey Jude,” (of course), and “Lived a Man Who Sailed the Sea.” I do have some thoughts about the Rubber Soul cover.

 

Robert Freeman said about all his cover photographs, “My intention was to keep the compositions simple, so that the focus of attention would always be on The Beatles as personalities.” With the Rubber Soul cover, I think the intention was to wash their personalities across another new canvas of Beatles music and art.  I think when author John Kruth said of Freeman’s photography work, “The effect was to stretch the perspective…” he nailed it. (Kruth, p. 39)

 

Kruth goes on to say Freeman believed “the distorted effect was a reflection of the changing shape of their lives.” Rubber Soul was, as typical of The Beatles, a game-changer from cover-to-songmanship-to cover. The title with its equally transitional graphic also melded well with the photo work to depict the depth of The Beatles’ forever fluid offerings to the world. As usual, there was no shallow depth to that pool. In an article for The Daily Beatle, Patrick Roefflaer points out the Rubber Soul clever wordplay on ‘Plastic Soul.’” He elaborates that “plastic soul” was an expression “that black musicians were using to describe The Rolling Stones.” Mark Lewisohn adds: “Paul frequently repeated the words, ‘Plastic soul, man, plastic soul!’ And then, for the benefit of the other Beatles, and now history, he went on to explain that it was a phrase coined by black musicians to describe Mick Jagger.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, p. 69)

 

The “rubber” component was explored further by graphic designer Charles Front (contacted by Freeman for the lettering) using his “innovative typography,” as Kruth puts it. Front researched rubber processing and successfully added the graphic look of rubber to the letters themselves. Front said, “If you tap into a rubber tree, you get a sort of globule…” (Spizer, The BEATLES Rubber Soul to Revolver, p. 192) And voila!

 

So, here we have an album cover, graphics, and title that encompassed The Beatles’ history and love of black rhythm and blues, The Beatles’ competitive and respectful musicians’ dance with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles’ introduction of albums as art collections, The Beatles’ transition from “the way they was,” and even the triple entendre of mixing rubber vs plastic, soul vs sole, and fluid graphic to fluid sound. Who knows, maybe they even thought, “Hey, Rubber Soul begins with “R – S” for more axe-play with “R-olling S-tones”?

 

The cover was subtle, and obvious, and fluid: an artistic portrayal of a transition, and of the four unique individuals involved in that change. Much detail about the cover development process and edits is provided by Spizer and Freeman – and explored by Kruth – but the artistic view of the cover art challenges us to see beyond the clever cover creation and into the creativity it presents.

 

What individual personalities do each of us see in Robert Freeman’s photograph? What messages are being conveyed? How does the cover encourage us to use new perspective when we pull the LP from the sleeve and listen? The artistry of the best photograph is to capture myriad descriptions in one still scene: to make a statement. In the case of the Rubber Soul cover, it also captures the observer. Instead of reacting to the cover art with stagnant appreciation, we react with dynamic processing. We think, “Hmmm, what’s this about?”

 

Freeman wanted to use his skill to present us with four Beatles pens and one signature, to introduce us to the full art potential of album covers, and to tease our sense of reality with distortion. And when we look at the Rubber Soul cover, Lennon clearly tasks us to try to keep our balance.

 

For more information on Rande M. Kessler, HEAD HERE

 

Follow Rande on LinkedIn HERE

 

To view an uncropped Freeman cover shot, HEAD HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 12: Wait

Side Two, Track 5

“Wait”…and They Did!

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Piers Hemmingsen

 

Through 2021 and the first few months of 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been walking through The Beatles’ artistic and pivotal 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Piers Hemmingsen, author of The Beatles in Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! (known as “The Red Book”) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the only song on the LP “left over” from the Help! soundtrack recordings. Piers, who is busy completing the second volume of his series (“The Blue Book”) will be attending the April 1-3 New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans. Please come by and chat with him when you’re there. But for now, let’s discover why The Beatles made the decision to wait on “Wait.” Read on…

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 17 June 1965 (and 11 November 1965)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald and Ken Scott

Stats: Recorded initially for the Help! LP in 4 takes.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians: ***

John Lennon, co-composer, sings lead – except for the middle eight – and plays his 1965 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar.

Paul McCartney, co-composer, sings lead vocal on the middle eight and plays bass on his 1962-63 Hofner 500/1.

George Harrison plays lead guitar on his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric guitar. He is using a Gretsch Bigsby vibrato (and tone pedal).

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets. He also plays tambourine and maracas.

***from Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 57.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 196, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 60, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 682, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 133, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 394-395, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 57-58, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 99, Riley, Tell Me Why, 168-169, Miles, Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 278, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 969, and MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 128.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  • Debated Composership, Again – As with “In My Life,” “Wait” has been claimed by both John and Paul. In later life, Paul recalled young American actor Brandon de Wilde watching Paul create the song in the Bahamas. Paul stated, “I seem to remember writing ‘Wait’ in front of him, and him being interested [in seeing] it being written.” However, many experts (including Tim Riley in Tell Me Why, 168) state that “Lennon wrote the verses and the refrain and relied upon Paul for the bridge.” “Wait” appears to be a collaboration, and Bill Harry says it was, “jointly written by John and Paul.” (The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 682) In Revolution in the Head, MacDonald calls it “the first fifty-fifty Lennon-McCartney collaboration.” (More to follow on this topic in our “Fresh, New Look” segment.)

 

  • Debated Dedication – If one assumes that Paul wrote the song, “Wait” becomes a song directed to Jane Asher, as Margotin and Guesdon assert in All the Songs. If one assumes that John penned it, then it’s dedicated to Cynthia, waiting back at home. And if you accept the song as a collaboration, then it is both.

 

It’s interesting to observe that people often cite this song as evidence of John’s infidelity, when in fact Paul sings the line, “I’ve been good…as good as I can be.” Listeners can easily discern that Paul sings (and therefore, has written) the more optimistic lines in “We Can Work It Out,” and John (sings and therefore, has written) the more pessimistic view of “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend” in that same song. But in “Wait,” some seem confused about the fact that John is singing (and therefore, wrote) the lines about longing for his wife, while Paul is singing (and therefore, penned) the lines hinting at a bit of mischief. Perhaps “Wait” deserves another listen.

 

  • Percussive innovation – Of all the songs on Rubber Soul, “Wait” is one of the least innovative. You find The Beatles playing their customary instruments and performing their customary tasks. As Hunter Davies comments, the boys are “head-to-head, as they used to do in the old days.” (The Beatles Lyrics, 133) Compared to the sitar-trimmed “Norwegian Wood” or the elegant harmonium-embellished “In My Life,” “Wait,” hearkens back to a simpler time in the band’s history.

 

However, the song is not without innovation. For example, the “silvery sound” that permeates “Wait” is supplied by Ringo’s generous use of tambourine which rises into a shiver of maracas and then, into drums. And when John (almost desperately) cries, “Wait!” that plea is punctuated a second later by a heavily-struck guitar chord, for emphasis. Finally, just before the chorus, Tim Riley tells us, “Ringo hits the crash cymbal before his roll on the tom-toms (a backward fill).” (Tell Me Why, 168) Furthermore, George’s implementation of his tone pedal adds to the richness of sound. This is achieved by John manually turning the volume knob on George’s guitar, just as he did on “I Need You.”

 

Even on a song that many experts deem a mere “album filler,” The Beatles’ careful attention to detail make the work unique. Beatles fans are accustomed to an extremely high bar and expect much from the Fab Four. But “Wait” is certainly as good as some of the songs on the 1965 Billboard Top 100, including Dino, Desi, and Billy’s “I’m A Fool,” Bobby Goldsboro’s “The Little Things,” or Brenda Lee’s “Too Many Rivers.” By any other band, “Wait” would have been applauded.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, Jude Southerland Kessler sat down with noted Beatles expert Piers Hemmingsen, the author of The Beatles in Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! to talk about this song. Piers grew up in England and moved to Canada in August 1963, with as he says “our Beatles records (the Parlophone Please Please Me LP and the From Me To You 45) in tow.” It is so interesting to hear his perspective, honed in two different corners of the world!

 

Piers, the last Rubber Soul track that we examined in our Fest Blog, “In My Life,” was a highly-contested creation. John claimed to have written both the lyrics and the melody. Paul said he created the melody. However, this next track, “Wait,” is as Jerry Hammack states in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, “as clear a demonstration of the duo’s songwriting partnership as one could ask for.” Who did what on this song?

 

Listening to “Wait” with a critical ear takes me back to early 1966 when I first got the “latest” Beatles album from the Capitol Record Club…Rubber Soul. I had heard it at my neighbour’s house next door because he bought it straight away. My first impression was that it defined “cool”…a huge leap forward from my beloved Help! album, and I had to have my own copy and right away. Starting with Help! a few months before, we listened to an entire album to take us somewhere very different for a half hour or more. When listening to Help! or Rubber Soul then, we weren’t listening so much for which Beatle wrote which part of a particular song. But here goes my best try for “Wait,” all these years later:

 

Well, the opening is a vocal by John, almost more spoken than sung, so I can only assume that is John’s own introduction. Like his other “insecure” songs from 1965, like “Help!” or “Day Tripper,” I think John liked opening his inwardly-looking songs straight way with his own vocal. John’s vocal on “Wait” is very clear and direct. There’s no voice other than his. He’s speaking directly about his fidelity with his partner…in this case the “waiting at home” Cynthia.

 

Issues of fidelity and trust from the singer’s absence is affecting the couple’s relationship. Word fragments such as “forget the tears we cried,” “turn me away,” and “oh, how I’ve been alone,” are very personal word signatures in John’s first two verses.

 

But when the first chorus of “I feel as though…” rolls around, it sure sounds a lot more upbeat and positive. And it’s Paul singing it and so it just has to be his contribution to what I can only assume is a song that John brought to Paul with two verses waiting for a good chorus. John sings the verses. Paul adds vocals to his bridges.

 

As noted in Jerry Hammack’s Recording Reference Manual, George Harrison adds new sounds with his guitar, and Ringo adds unique percussive elements. (More detail is provided in the answer to Question 2.) When I think of how The Beatles evolved in 1965, one important thing that stands out in The Beatles’ recordings is the pioneering new sounds coming straight from George’s guitar … that all really started at the end of 1964 with his opening of “I Feel Fine.”

 

You know, Piers, few of the tracks on Rubber Soul are “silly love songs.” And the relationship on which “Wait” is based is clearly anxiety-ridden. In fact, Tim Riley in his book Tell Me Why says, “‘Wait’ is doubtful, anxious, uncertain.” How is this angst-ridden love affair reflected in the music of the song (as opposed to just the lyrics)?

 

On “Wait,” the vocals by John and Paul are sung in a direct and intended way to get the message of angst across to the listener. On Rubber Soul, “Wait” is an upbeat track that has almost military-march timing. The ringing guitars, tambourine, and drum rolls carry the vocals along. How so? Well, as noted earlier in the blog, that really effective ringing guitar sound was accented by George’s volume pedal, whereas, Ringo enhances the track with his maracas and tambourine.

 

The sound they get was crafted together at the eleventh hour, but it has all the new sound elements that made Rubber Soul a big step forward from Help! “Wait” is hardly the best song on Rubber Soul, yet it fits in because it was made in the Rubber Soul sound factory, if that makes any sense. There was definitely osmosis from the other Rubber Soul songs leaking into “Wait.”

 

To this fan – who took the Rubber Soul song trips in early 1966 – The Beatles had managed to release a 1966-sounding album in late 1965…a few months ahead of everyone else. It is likely why Rubber Soul pulled in the college crowd who had ignored the mania of the group in 1964 and 1965.

 

Piers, John Lennon tackled this exact theme in his infectious, popular LP opener to With The Beatles, “It Won’t Be Long.” But somehow, neither The Beatles nor George Martin had much faith in “Wait.” They rejected it for the Help! LP and only added it to Rubber Soul as a last-minute album-filler. What is missing in “Wait” that made “It Won’t Be Long” so appealing?

 

“Wait” had been a leftover track from earlier in 1965 as you suggest. As the Rubber Soul Christmas LP deadline loomed, and the group was short a track or two, it has been suggested that they went back to the earlier take of “Wait” from the Help! sessions to see if they could somehow re-use it to pad out Rubber Soul. If that were the case, then it was pure and simple “Beatles work” to make this older track fit in with the rest of Soul. The track was literally recorded within three weeks of the album’s U.K. release date. But new Beatles work in late 1965 was quite different from the new Beatles work earlier in 1965 on Help!

 

Perhaps what is missing in “Wait” was the call-and-answer technique that was used in “It Won’t Be Long” in 1963. That song-writing technique was lifted from early Motown songs like “Please Mister Postman.” In the case of “Wait,” the lyrics are all sung in first person, and there is no response from the person who has had to “Wait” while their lover/partner has been away. It is all sung from one person’s point of view, and maybe here on “Wait” it was the wrong point of view. The LOVE expressed by two people in this song is missing altogether. The other element that is missing is the LONGING. The longing that comes from waiting for a love letter to arrive in the post-box (mail box) seems more effective in song composition than the longing of waiting, waiting for someone who is returning from a concert tour where there has been so much temptation to cheat on their lover.

 

Wait” was written in the winter of 1965 when The Beatles were in The Bahamas making the film “Help!” In November of 1965, “Wait” is (only out of necessity) added to Rubber Soul. What events had changed The Beatles so dramatically in those nine months that made “Wait” almost an immature offering for them? What had matured them so rapidly?

 

Well, for starters, The Beatles had completed another bout of touring which meant that “married Beatles,” like John who was married in August 1962 and Ringo who got married in February 1965, were both now facing marital pressure to be faithful while they were away on tour.

 

A small point is that when The Beatles were on tour in 1965, the two married Beatles John and Ringo usually shared a room. Paul and George shared a room as they were “single Beatles.” George would not get married until January 1966. Paul would not get married until March 1969.

 

In addition to the marriage fidelity issue, John and George had taken their first LSD trip in April 1965. Drugs were something new to the mix when recording Rubber Soul…and it is the big difference from Help!

 

Then, just a month later – in May 1965 – The Beatles had seen Bob Dylan in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Dylan’s songwriting was another major influence on Rubber Soul. In comparison to the new Dylan songs on Highway 61 Revisited, “Wait” appears simple, both in its construction and message.

 

“Think For Yourself,” “In My Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “The Word” reflect more adventurous song writing styles of The Beatles. “Wait” doesn’t really do that but somehow it is not out of place on Rubber Soul.

 

So, marriage and fidelity were song topics for John’s “Wait.” Drugs and Dylan did not impact “Wait” as much as they did for the other, “better” songs on Rubber Soul.

 

Where does “Wait” fit in the greater catalogue of Beatles songs?

 

“Wait” is clearly not the BEST song on Rubber Soul. But, looking back to November 1965, it is one background component of what was a Beatles master work. Removing it would be like removing a brush stroke from a Van Gogh painting. Each component is necessary to make a whole. “What Goes On” from Rubber Soul also shares something with “Wait,” in that it also generally falls short of its objective. Both tracks are “almost” great. However, they each lack something that holds them back from being great Beatles tracks.

 

But if we want to pigeonhole “Wait” in The Beatles’ catalogue, then it is in good company with The Beatles’ less stellar pre-1966 album filler tracks like “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby,” “Tell Me Why,” “Yes It Is,” “Any Time At All,” “When I Get Home,” and “I‘m Happy Just To Dance With You.”

 

And in the end, “Wait” is at least an integral component of the finished Rubber Soul album, and so it rates a better class of filler than earlier Beatles “album filler” tracks.

For more information on Piers Hemmingsen and The Beatles in Canada HEAD HERE and HERE

Meet Piers in person at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans, April 1-3, at the Hyatt Regency, Jersey City, New Jersey. And to learn more about The Fest and the Special Guests who will be there, HEAD HERE

For more information on The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 11: In My Life

Rubber Soul

Side Two, Track Three

“In My Life”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Susan Ryan

 

Throughout 2021 and the first few months of 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring some of the finer points of The Beatles’ innovative 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, a lifelong friend of the Fest, Susan Ryan, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series for an in-depth consideration of “In My Life.” Susan is the co-author of The Beatles Fab Four Cities, a new release thoroughly exploring the lives of The Beatles in Liverpool, Hamburg, London, and New York City. Susan is also an experienced New York City Beatles Tour guide and the owner of Fab Four Walking Tours. In her role as a noted public speaker, Susan has served as Emcee for Beatles at the Ridge and The Fest for Beatles Fans. Susan and Jude hope you enjoy this “fresh, new look” at Lennon’s masterpiece, “In My Life.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded:

18 October 1965 – The Beatles recorded the base track for the song: the two guitars, bass, and drums in three takes. On Take 3, John recorded his double-tracked vocals; Paul and George added backing vocals.

22 October 1965 – As per John’s request for “something baroque,” George Martin recorded an original piano solo for what John referred to as the song’s “middle eight.” Martin did this by playing half-speed on a normal piano and then speeding it up to create the sound of a harpsichord.

Studio: Both recordings took place in EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith (and according to some sources, 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:

 

John Lennon, the lyrical composer and, he states, the musical composer (Lennon stated to David Sheff that “All Paul added to the song was the middle eight and the harmony.”) sings lead vocals and guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric. (Hammond, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73)

Paul McCartney, who also claims to be the musical composer, sings backing vocal and plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S. In his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack points out that the Hofner 500/1 “was available, but probably unused.” (p. 73)

George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays lead guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric, an exact match for John’s guitar. (Hammack, 73) Harrison plays the memorable and lovely introduction to this song. (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 291)

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets (Hammack, 73 and Womack, 291)) and tambourine.

George Martin, plays the baroque “middle eight.” The complete story of this solo is covered in the “What’s Changed” section below.  (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, 290-291.)

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 64-65, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 122-124,Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 290-291 and 294, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 462-464, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 302-303, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 365 and 367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73-75, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 96-98, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 203, Coleman, Lennon, 299, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and The Sixties, 136-137, Riley, Tell Me Why, 166-168,  Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 149 and 151, Norman, John Lennon: The Life, 417-418, Miles, Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 276-278,  Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-170, and Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 33-34, and In My Life” by The Beatles. The in-depth story behind the songs of the Beatles. Recording History. Songwriting History. Song Structure and Style. (beatlesebooks.com)

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Overt autobiographical references set to a solemn melody –

 

Although many (if not most) of John’s songs prior to 1965 had been highly autobiographical, hits such as “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Help!” had been accompanied by up-tempo music that made them seem happy, light-hearted, and upbeat. Even when John’s confessionals were backed by more somber music – as in the case of “If I Fell,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Not a Second Time” – the public perceived them merely as universal love songs, songs that could apply to anyone. Few guessed that rich, powerful, successful John Lennon was singing about his own wounds and fears.

 

“In My Life,” however, was at last quite completely candid about the joys and sorrows John had experienced. Spurred on by journalists John respected (including Maureen Cleave and Kenneth Alsop) who encouraged John to be more openly autobiographical and literary…and validated by the nature of Dylan’s popular “Freewheeling” LP, John summoned the courage to make “In My Life” an overtly personal release. He didn’t try to buoy it up with lively music or brush it off as nonsense or gobbledygook. John owned “In My Life” as “my first real major piece of work.” (Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 151) Without excuse or camouflage, John laid bare his heart.

 

  1. Inclusion of a classical sounding (“Bach inversion”) piano solo –

 

John had originally envisioned a guitar solo as the instrumental solo for “In My Life.” He had even devised an intricate melody line for this part of the song. And in keeping with his wishes, a guitar solo was recorded. In his book, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Jerry Hammack states that this  might have been a dual solo, recorded by Harrison and Lennon. He writes: “…the solo appears to have been played by two different guitars. Harrison recalled that on October 22nd, he and John played a dual solo on ‘Nowhere Man,’ so the dual performance is a distinct possibility.” (p. 74) However, this solo just didn’t turn out to be as poignant or effective as John wanted it to sound, and he expressed those misgivings to George Martin.

 

In Kenneth Womack’s, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, we are told, “Lennon and Martin set about the business of recording a keyboard solo for ‘In My Life’…To Lennon’s mind, the solo was an essential feature – a highly melodic means of underscoring the song’s nostalgic power. With a Hammond studio organ on hand, Lennon opted for a classical sound in the manner of J.S. Bach. As The Beatles lacked the ability to score music…Martin sat beside Lennon in Studio 2. As Lennon sang the notes of a potential keyboard solo, Martin doubled the sounds on the grand piano with one hand while charting them in his notebook with the other. With the keyboard solo having been fully realized, Martin sat before the Hammond organ as Norman Smith cued up the existing first and second takes of ‘In My Life.’ But as he listened to the playback with Smith and The Beatles, Martin was decidedly underwhelmed [with the solo]…The organ sounded thin and lifeless in contrast with the song’s moving lyrics…”(p. 291)

 

So, the evolution of the lovely solo that John had composed did not end there. Womack goes on to say, “…on Friday, October 22…the band’s producer turned his attentions back to ‘In My Life.’ George was determined to unseat the Hammond organ solo that he had recorded…a stunning song and glorious song such as ‘In My Life’ deserved a much grander fate.”

 

To find out “the rest of the story” (as journalist Paul Harvey used to say), join Susan Ryan later in this blog for “A Fresh New Look” at the so-called “middle eight.”

 

  1. Highly-contested authorship and performance debates –

 

In the early years, The Beatles admittedly collaborated quite frequently on songs such as “She Loves You” and “From Me to You.” But as time went along and they lived further from one another, they began to write the body of a song singly, later altering that song with words or phrases deftly supplied by the other Beatles (such as John’s endorsement of “the movement you need is on your shoulder” in “Hey Jude”) or tweaking a composition here or there, with a little help from their friends. (Pete Shotton, for example, claimed to have contributed significantly to “I Am the Walrus”).

 

Of course, there were always some true collaborations such as “We Can Work It Out” and “A Day in the Life,” but these partnership productions were less prevalent post-1964 than they had been in the group’s ingenue years. Therefore, it was rare for a song’s authorship to be debated. “In My Life” is one of the few songs in contention. As Ken Womack points out in Long and Winding Roads, The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, “It was certainly a song over which claiming authorship was a worthy goal indeed.” (p. 124)

 

More on this topic as we now join Beatles author Susan Ryan for…

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler was thrilled to be able to interview Susan Ryan, for this deep-dive into John Lennon’s “In My Life.” When considering Lennon’s masterpiece – a song that Philip Norman has called “a superlative achievement” (John Lennon: The Life, 417) and Ken Womack has dubbed “John Lennon’s…exquisite composition.” (Maximum Volume, 290) Ryan has conducted tours of John Lennon’s New York City for many years as part of her company, Fab Four Walking Tours, and she is featured in the DVD “John Lennon’s New York City.” Kessler commented, “It would be difficult to find anyone who would know John Lennon better than Susan Ryan!” Here is their recent conversation:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Susan, congratulations on your new book co-written with David Bedford and Richard Porter, The Beatles Fab Four Cities! I’ve read it cover-to-cover and am really impressed with the depth of research and the wealth of Beatles history in its pages. I know you’re busy promoting it on podcasts, radio programs, social media, and so forth. So, thank you for taking time out to join us for this consideration of “In My Life!”

 

Susan Ryan: Thanks for asking me to help with this project, Jude! Rubber Soul is pretty much my favorite Beatles album, and being able to discuss “In My Life,” a song that has been one of my favorites forever, is a true privilege. I’m also glad to hear that you are enjoying The Beatles Fab Four Cities! Working on that book with David and Richard has also been a true joy, allowing us to share our personal passions as tour guides in our individual cities with all Beatle people!

 

Kessler: Well, let’s jump right into the heart of this beautiful Lennon ballad, “In My Life.” Susan, Ray Coleman in Lennon has this to say about John’s work on Rubber Soul: “For Lennon, particularly, this album marked a personal progression in his craft. Personal honesty and confession, which were to characterize his later work, were inherent. His songs are marked by a more poetic approach, and he was beginning to find his own voice.” How is Coleman’s observation well-illustrated in John’s poignant Side Two creation, “In My Life”?

 

Ryan: Certainly, by the time Rubber Soul and “In My Life” came out, John’s songwriting was maturing at rapid rate. His lyrics had already begun to exhibit a much more personal bent, less of the “I love you; you love me; she loves you” of earlier works. “In My Life” is absolutely an intensely personal reflection, a look back on simpler days and the people and things that were near and dear to John’s heart, and much more straightforward than previous “personal” songs that were covered up by cheerful pop melodies.

 

It is also interesting that the song came from someone so young – normally, a listener would not expect a man of just under 25 years of age to be able to craft such a heartfelt song about “looking back,” but John manages it, and you can hear his longing for times gone by, even if those times were not so very far in his past. Given everything that The Beatles had been through up to this point, becoming virtual prisoners of their fame, it’s not surprising that he would be wishing for the way things had been before they were swallowed up by fame and fortune.  It is also a definite step towards the sometimes brutal honesty that would characterize so many of John’s later songs, both with The Beatles and solo – songs like “Julia” on the White Album, where he sings about his mother, but also inserts his hope for the future with Yoko, or the songs on the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album, nearly all of which are personal to the point of pain.

 

But it is with songs like “In My Life,” however, where the seeds for those songs and others begin to take root, and where his ability to craft beautiful, passionately personal songs that were destined to endure as pop standards began to emerge, although he could (and did) still write perfect bits of more commercial pop as well.  It’s no wonder this song means so much to so many people – even though they are John’s memories, there’s a universality to the lyrics, set to the lovely melody, that resonates with so many people and their lives.

 

Kessler: John wrote a third verse for “In My Life” that specifically mentioned places in Liverpool he so vividly recalled. However, he removed this bit because he said it felt too much like a “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essay. Share that verse with us, please, and if you don’t mind, please give us your reaction to the lyrics that were omitted.

 

Ryan: Here’s the omitted verse:

 

Penny Lane is one I’m missing
Up Church Road to the clock tower
In the circle of the Abbey
I have seen some happy hours

Past the tram sheds with no trams
On the 5 bus into town
Past the Dutch and St Columbus
To the Dockers Umbrella that they pulled down.[i]

 

Frankly, anyone who hears this song in its final form would have to agree with John; it reads like a travelogue or a “guide to Liverpool landmarks.” If it had been left in, it would have made what is a poignant, universally accessible song into something a little too personal and specific.  By omitting this verse, the song becomes something else – it takes on a life as a song any listener can relate to, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Everyone looks back at some point in their lives to “people and things that went before,” or remembers “friends and lovers….some (who) are dead and some (who) are living.” But not everyone is from Liverpool – and while the places mentioned specifically in those omitted lyrics may have meant something to John personally, or to the other Beatles or other Liverpudlians, they just would not have the same resonance to someone from New York or Los Angeles or any other place.

 

Removing this verse and leaving the form of the song as we know it was a brilliant move, whether originally intended or not, because even though the song remained intensely personal as far as John was concerned, it allowed other people to hear it and put themselves in the situation – the best way to create a “standard.”  There’s a reason this song is sung at weddings and funerals and other life-cycle events – it means something to everyone precisely because it is not time- or place-specific.

 

Kessler: Susan, John admitted that several influences led him to write this very autobiographical song in 1965. Tell us about those people who encouraged him to be more introspective.

 

Ryan: Prior to this song, although John had definitely written songs that were personal, he’d hidden that behind catchy pop melodies or found other ways to disguise the fact.  By the time he was working on this song, however, he’d done a couple of interviews with people who had asked him outright why he didn’t write more sophisticated, introspective songs. One of these was Maureen Cleve of the Evening Standard, who quite literally asked him why he “didn’t ever write songs with more than one syllable?” A second journalist, Kenneth Allsop, asked him why his songs didn’t contain the same kind of depth and meaning that his poetry and prose did when interviewing him after the publication of In His Own Write. All of this led John to begin thinking about doing something more serious and personal.

 

Add to this the release of Bob Dylan’s seminal work, “Freewheeling,” which was full of autobiographical songs, and John realized that if he wanted to do something more serious, he had to take that leap and be willing to share things of a more personal nature in his work.  For a man who most often carried his most intense personal feelings close to the vest, it was a huge step into the unknown, but as I mentioned above, it was also the seed that grew into so many other personal, autobiographical, confessional songs later in his life. The beautiful, tender melody also brought out a softer side of the man who had previously been perceived by many as the “rocker” of the group.

 

Kessler: All right, let’s address the elephant in the room. John was very proud of “In My Life.” In fact, he said it was “his first real major piece of work.” John emphatically said that Paul didn’t even see the song until the lyrics were finished and that “[Paul’s] contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight.” Paul, just as insistently, claims to have written the melody. This is the short version of this disagreement. Give us the details, please.

 

Ryan: Wow, Jude, you really want to open a can of worms here, don’t you?

 

There are numerous interviews where John states that he wrote the lyrics to the song first and the music later. This was frequently how he wrote – he’d start with an idea and then come up with the music. In the group’s early years, both John and Paul emphasized their “collaborative” songwriting, stressing the idea that every song they created was a totally collective endeavor by “Lennon and McCartney.”

 

However, in later years, both of their recollections about who wrote the actual melody began to diverge. In a 1980 interview, John said, “There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies; that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – “In My Life” or some of the early stuff….I was writing melody with the best of them.”[ii]  In that same interview, he stated unequivocally that “Paul helped with the middle eight.”  But there was controversy as early as 1976-77 – when Paul was shown a list of Lennon-claimed songs by Hit Parader Magazine, the only one he disputed was “In My Life,” claiming that he’d written the whole melody from beginning to end, inspired by Smokey Robinson.

 

This claim to the authorship of the melody continued when Paul reiterated his statement in 1998, in Barry Miles’ biography of him, Many Years From Now, disputing previous statements by John insisting that his contributions to the song were minor. The fact that John died in 1980 and isn’t here to clarify these claims certainly makes it difficult to discern who was the real author of the music, but given that the song is so intensely personal, it seems logical that John wrote the majority of the song, with only small contributions from Paul in sections such as the middle eight/bridge.

 

Another fascinating thing is that the handwritten lyric sheet of the completed song, which is in John’s handwriting, has only one credit at the bottom – John Lennon! When songs were more collaborative, they’d sign them with both their names.

 

I did find an interesting tidbit that said that in 2018, Harvard University applied an artificial intelligence model to the music of the song, and determined, by their calculations, that there was a “.018% possibility of McCartney having written the whole of the music.”  They gave John an 81.1% certainty of having written the verses, and Paul a 43.6% certainty of writing the middle eight, which means that although the song did contain some obvious collaboration, the vast majority of it was written by John.  I’m inclined to agree.

 

Kessler: As Ian MacDonald points out, there really is no bridge in this song. However, there is an instrumental bridge, artfully created by George Martin. It wasn’t the first bridge composed for the song, however. Please tell us about both bridges and how, by strange coincidence, they “come together.”

 

Ryan: As Jude mentioned earlier in the “What’s New” segment of this blog, “In My Life” doesn’t really have a “middle eight” as people who are familiar with the songs of Lennon and McCartney would recognize. Instead, it has an instrumental bridge, played by George Martin on what is credited on the album cover as a harpsichord.  More on that later…

 

The song was recorded on October 18, 1965, during what was a relatively short studio session for The Beatles. By the end of the day, they had completed most of the song, but there was a section in the middle that was left out because John couldn’t decide what to put there.  Originally it was a guitar piece by George Harrison, but that didn’t hit the right note. George Martin left a gap in the song and John suggested that he supply one himself.  In a 1970 interview, John stated, “In ‘In My Life’ there’s an Elizabethan piano solo.  We’d do things like that.  We’d say, ‘play it like Bach,” or ‘could you put twelve bars in there?’”

 

With that rather vague instruction, George Martin was left to his own devices to create something to place into that section of the song. He worked on the section four days later, on October 22, 1965, when he wrote and recorded something he described as being “like a Bach inversion.” He recorded it first on a Hammond organ, but then did it again on the piano because he didn’t like the sound of the organ. It’s here where George Martin’s genius really shows through, because he used a technique called the “wind-up piano,” with the solo recorded at half speed and an octave lower. When played at normal speed, this made the piano sound like a harpsichord – an auditory trick that no one even realized at the time!  When he played it back for the Beatles when they came back to the studio, they loved it, and left the “harpsichord” solo that we all know and love as part of the song.

 

Kessler: Susan, amazing work! I’ve so enjoyed this. Thank you for taking time out of your preparations for the New Jersey Fest coming up on April 1-3 to be with us this month for the Fest Blog!

 

Ryan: Thanks again for this opportunity, Jude!  It’s been a true pleasure!  I’m looking forward to hearing what people think about our discussion of this special song, and to seeing folks at the New Jersey Fest in April!

 

For more information on Susan Ryan and The Beatles Fab Four Cities:

 

The Beatles Fab Four Cities by Ryan, Bedford, and Porter had been acclaimed as “a must for every Beatles fan” by Billy J. Kramer. To find out more about the book, HEAD HERE

 

To purchase The Beatles Fab Four Cities, HEAD HERE

 

To hear Susan Ryan, David Bedford and Richard Porter discuss The Beatles Fab Four Cities on the “She Said She Said” podcast, HEAD HERE

 

To discover more about Ryan’s Beatles Tours of New York City, HEAD HERE

 

To follow Susan Ryan on social media, HEAD HERE

 

[i] The original lyrics to “In My Life” may be viewed here

[ii] Sheff, David, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p. 116-117

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 10: I’m Looking Through You

Side Two, Track 3

 

“I’m Looking Through You”… Again!

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Scott Freiman

 

Last year at this time, we kicked off an in-depth study of The Beatles’ 1965 classic, Rubber Soul, examining what we know about this pivotal LP and then, taking a “Fresh New Look” at many aspects of the album that hitherto have not been considered. We’ve called upon experts in our own Beatles family (such as Kenneth Womack, Bruce Spizer, Tom Frangione, Janet Davis, and many more) to answer in-depth questions about the songs’ lyrics, instrumentation, and public reception. Now, as we move into 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog is thrilled to be able to work with long-time friend of the Fest Scott Freiman. Scott is a noted speaker, the consulting editor for All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, and the creator of Deconstructing The Beatles, and he’s here this month to share insights with us. Scott joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a close examination of Paul McCartney’s “I’m Looking Through You.”

 

 

What’s Standard:

 

Dates Recorded:

 

24 October 1965: An acoustic version of the song, employing acoustic and electric guitars, bongos, maraca, wood blocks, organ, and hand claps; in this version, there was no middle eight. The song played out with vocal improvisation, or as John Winn phrases it in Way Beyond Compare, “the song stumble[s] to a halt past the point where it would normally fade.” (p. 368) This was a slower and more “mournful” sounding version of the song. In The Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn comments that this version of the song featured “great, great vocals.” He goes on to say, “To this writer it sounds superb, just as good as the re-remake.” You can hear this version of “I’m Looking Through You” on Anthology 2.

 

6 November 1965: A second more upbeat version was recorded. This version was closer to the version that was adopted for Rubber Soul. However, Lewisohn tells us that this version was considered by The Beatles to be “perhaps a little too fast and frenetic.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, 67)

 

10 November 1965: Once again, the boys attempted to record the song, and this time, all were pleased with the rhythm track, selecting Take 4 as “best.”

 

11 November 1965: At the end of a 13-hour day, which Lewisohn refers to as “a marathon day” and John C. Winn calls “the penultimate session for Rubber Soul,” The Beatles superimposed the vocals for “I’m Looking Through You” as the very last effort in their heroic and tireless work on the LP. This was the final task on the final day of recording.

 

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

 

Instrumentation and Musicians for 10 November Version (LP Version)

 

Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S, piano, and possibly, lead guitar on his Epiphone Casino (Margotin and Guesdon).

John Lennon sings backing vocals. Some sources merely state that John also plays “rhythm guitar.” Other sources do not have him playing guitar at all on this song, but have John manning the tambourine.

George Harrison plays lead guitar on his 1962 Gibson J-169E. Some sources have George playing the tambourine.

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, plays either the Hammond organ (as some sources state) or the 1965 Vox Continental 300 Organ (as other sources state). And, as Jerry Hammack tells us in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Ringo also provides “matchbox percussion.” More about that in “What’s Changed.”

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203 and 205, and, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 65, 67, and 68, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 300-301, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 368 and 375, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 81-83, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 96, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 140, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202-203, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 324, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 191. Interestingly, Paul does not discuss “I’m Looking Through You” in his Paul McCartney, The Lyrics compendium.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. An increasingly embittered attitude towards Jane Asher – As Steve Turner points out in A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles’ Song, “This was Paul’s most bitter song so far…Paul accuses his woman of changing and holds out the thinly-veiled threat of withdrawing his affection. Love has a habit, he warns, of disappearing overnight.” (p. 96) Paul had sung many songs to Jane about what he considered to be her failure to commit to him. In 1965, she took an acting job in the famous Old Vic Theatre in Bristol and was gone for quite some time. In response, Paul wrote three songs that urged Jane to “try to see it my way.” They were “You Won’t See Me,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “I’m Looking Through You” in which Paul repeatedly asserts, “You’ve changed, you’ve changed, you’ve changed.”

 

Years later, when asked about “I’m Looking Through You,” Paul commented, “This one I remember particularly as being disillusioned over her commitment.” He went on to say, “I was seeing through her façade. And realizing it wasn’t quite all it seemed.” (Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 300) With each lyrical appeal to Jane, Paul became less tolerant. Bill Harry quotes Paul as stating, “I knew I was selfish. It caused a few rows. Jane went off to Bristol to act. I said, ‘OK then, leave, I’ll find someone else.'” (Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 324) And certainly, in both “You Won’t See Me” and “I’m Looking Through You,” Paul is drawing a line in the sand and stating quite clearly that Jane must choose either her acting career or her relationship with him…or else.

 

In earlier Fest Blogs (see “Drive My Car” with Ken Womack), we’ve discussed the fact that The Beatles’ attitude toward women was changing in late 1965. No longer were women considered adored and adorable…and placed upon pedestals as they were in “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “I Need You.” Many of the females on the Rubber Soul LP are unkind (as in “Girl”), strong and powerful (as in “Norwegian Wood”), hardline, aspiring go-getters (as in “Drive My Car”) or simply non-compliant, as we see in this song. No innocent “moon-June-croon-spoon” love songs these! On Rubber Soul, relationships have become complex and difficult to maneuver.

 

  1. Unique Percussion InstrumentRubber Soul is replete with never-before-considered instrument choices by the lads. But the percussion instrument employed by Ringo in “I’m Looking Through You” is truly one-of-a-kind! In 1996, Ringo explained to Andy Babiuk, author of Beatles Gear, that in this song alone, he added a special effect “by tapping on a pack of matches with his finger!” (Beatles Gear, p. 191) Additionally, Ringo was asked to supply a bit of percussion at the end of each verse of “I’m Looking Through You” by playing a chord on the organ.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, we sat down with noted Beatles expert, nationwide lecturer, consultant, and creator of Deconstructing The Beatles, Scott Freiman, to chat about “I’m Looking Through You,” a song Paul does not discuss in Lyrics. Scott is a guru of Beatles music, and this is what he had to say:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Welcome to the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog, Scott. We’re honored to have you with us! You know, as we’ve already discussed, “I’m Looking Through You,” written for Jane Asher, seems to focus on the self-same theme as “You Won’t See Me,” “The Night Before,” “Tell Me What You See,” and “We Can Work It Out.” In fact, that’s why we named this blog, “’I’m Looking Through You’ …Again!” Do you see Paul as becoming more or less hopeful that the relationship can work out successfully, and does he present his case any differently in this November 1965 creation?

 

Scott Freiman: I think this is one of the most direct songs Paul wrote about where his relationship stood with Jane, and also one of the nastiest. “You don’t look different, but you have changed.” “Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” “I’m looking through you, and you’re nowhere.” There doesn’t seem to be any effort at reconciliation as in “We Can Work It Out” or “The Night Before.” Together with “You Won’t See Me,” this does not bode well for his relationship with Jane!

 

Kessler: As you know, our Fest Family loves “Beatles intricacies.” Tell us about the very interesting musical anomalies that you point out to listeners of “I’m Looking Through You” in the book All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release.

 

Freiman: There are a couple of minor mistakes, such as the feedback that occurs around 1:18 (after Paul sings “above me”) and some stray guitar notes around 1:53 (probably from a previous solo that wasn’t completely erased). If you listen closely, you will also hear a few missed handclaps and stray tambourine hits.

However, there is one pretty big difference between the UK and US recordings. There was a false start that began the final version of the song that the folks at Capitol thought was part of the recording. So, the US version of “I’m Looking Through You” begins with the false start, adding an extra six seconds to the song. Not the most exciting six seconds, mind you!

 

Kessler: You know, to my ear, that “false start” sounds a bit like the intro to The Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line.” But that’s neither here nor there.

Scott, please take us through the evolution of “I’m Looking Through You” from the original 24 October version to the final 10-11 November 1965 version that appeared on Rubber Soul.

 

Freiman: Sure. The first version of the song was recorded on October 24. It took about nine hours. This is the version that is on the Anthology 2 album. It is slower with a different rhythm, and it’s missing the bridge: “Why, tell me why did you not treat me right? / Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” It also has a classical guitar (played by George), bongos (played by Ringo), and hand clapping. The initial take also included an electric blues jam at the end.

 

The Beatles began a new version of the song on 6 November, but that version was also not used.

 

The final version, Take 4, was recorded on 10 November. It featured, as we’ve already noted, Ringo playing a matchbox with his finger! The Beatles added overdubs, including George playing the tambourine and the guitar solo. Yet, the biggest addition was by Ringo. He played two dissonant chords on the organ for a few measures at the end of each verse.

 

It was 7 AM on the next day, 11 November, when Paul and John overdubbed their vocals, and Paul double-tracked his bass. It was the final recording session for Rubber Soul.

 

Both mono and stereo versions of the song would be mixed four days later on November 15.

 

Kessler: And this is really a follow-up question to the one above, Scott. But the genesis of “I’m Looking Through You” reminds me, a bit, of the metamorphosis that John’s ballad “Help!” went through as “Help!” was retooled to be palatable for the film’s opening, title song. Do you prefer the up-tempo version of “I’m Looking Through You” or its original version that we hear on Anthology 2? And why?

 

Freiman: I think the earlier version is very interesting, but I definitely prefer the version that ended up on Rubber Soul. It’s tighter, more upbeat, and has a better bridge. Plus, I love to hear Ringo slightly out of his element. Only the Beatles would have their drummer play organ and a matchbox!

 

Kessler: And oddly enough, I prefer the 24 October version. To me, on that slower and less upbeat rendition, Paul sounds truly sad and sincere. On the later November take, he comes across as more vitriolic. But my favorite part of the 24 October version is the “old rock’n’roll” flavor of the song. I know The Beatles wanted to use a more current, mid-Sixties vibe, and the 10-11 November version definitely leans “pop” rather than rock’n’roll, but the guitar lead break in the 24 October version is incredible! Different strokes for different folks, right! That’s why everyone has a favorite Beatle and a different favorite song!

Well, Scott thank you for taking time to be with us for this new glance at “I’m Looking Through You.” You are an extremely busy writer, consultant, and speaker. We appreciate the gift of your time…and we sooo hope to see you in person April 1-3 for The Fest for Beatles Fans in Jersey City, New Jersey! God willing, we will all be there!

 

To learn more about Scott Freiman and Deconstructing The Beatles or to book
Scott to speak at your conference or event, HEAD HERE

 

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 9: Girl

Side Two, Track Two

“Ah, Girl!!!”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Robert Rodriguez

 

Throughout 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring the intricacies of The Beatles’ transitional 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, our Fest friend Robert Rodriguez, award-winning author of Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll and Solo in the 70s: John, Paul, George, and Ringo (1970-1980), as well as distinguished podcast host of “Something About The Beatles,” joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting second track of Side Two of this remarkable LP.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 11 November 1965

Time Recorded: 6 p.m. – 7 a.m. (Work was also done on “You Won’t See Me,” “Wait,” and “I’m Looking Through You”)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Some sources say Mike Stone. Some say Ken Scott.

Stats: Recorded in only two takes. “Best” take was Take 2. However, three superimpositions were needed to complete the song. One for Lennon’s lead, one for backing vocals by Paul and George, and the last for George’s concluding solo.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

John Lennon, the composer, sings lead vocal and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar

Paul McCartney sings backing vocals and plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass

George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays lead in superimposition #3 on his 12-string Framus Hootenanny 5/024

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets in studio.

Thanks to Jerry Hammack and his superb The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, for this information.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205-206, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 68, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Emerging Artistry of The Beatles, 121-122, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 298-299, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 375-376, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 96-97, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 95, Riley, Tell Me Why, 164-165, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men to Rubber Soul, 310-311, Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 119-120,  and MacDonald, The Beatles: Revolution in the Head, 145.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. The introduction of Viennese mandolin and Greek bouzouki sounds as experimentation in The Beatles’ catalogue soars – Girl” sounded unlike any other Beatles song that fans had ever encountered. John’s high-capo-ed guitar was exotic and was described by MacDonald in The Beatles: Revolution in the Head as very much like the Viennese mandolins that John must have heard on Hamburg radio stations in the first few visits to the German port city. (p. 145) That backing, coupled with George’s unique concluding solo, edged “Girl” as far from the traditional Mersey Beat sound as any Beatles creation had ever dared…thus far.

 

George Harrison’s striking concluding lead left experts guessing about its creation for years. Early accounts of the 11 November recording session had Harrison playing a Greek instrument, the bouzouki. Even George Martin, at one point, said that he remembered Harrison performing the song’s concluding solo on that instrument. (Spizer, 202) Later, however, Paul McCartney just as adamantly averred that he recalled Harrison using his guitar with the capo placed very high on the neck to produce the unusual and tinny bouzouki sound. Barry Miles quotes Paul as stating, “We did it on acoustic guitars, not bouzoukis.” (Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, 119-120) Whatever the methodology, the effect was (and is) singular and enchanting.

 

As Kenneth Womack observed in Long and Winding Roads: The Emerging Artistry of The Beatles, “Simulating a bouzouki-like sound on his Hootenanny, George play[ed] an intricate Greek melody that afford[ed] the track…an Old World resonance.” (p. 122) Rubber Soul had already introduced the sound of the sitar in “Norwegian Wood.” Now, the tone and cadence of another little-known instrument was introduced to listeners by the adventurous Beatles. As the boys moved decidedly away from the “pop” sound that was their staple as late as early 1965, the inclusion of innovative, world music was rapidly becoming John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s “new normal.” (See the chart entitled “Population of The Beatles Early and Experimental Style Features” in Dr. Walter Everett’s The Beatles as Musicians, The Quarry Men to Rubber Soul, p. 311. Also, please read Dr. Everett’s list of instruments that were in the studio during the Rubber Soul sessions on p. 310. The leap into experimentation is dramatic with the advent of Rubber Soul and enhanced with Revolver).

 

  1. A penchant toward more acoustic flavors on this LP The original recording of “Girl” included George Harrison performing on an electric guitar with fuzz distortion. This rendition was removed as the acoustic sound became Lennon’s preferred medium. With extraordinary songs such as “Michelle,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Nowhere Man,” and “In My Life” populating this LP, The Beatles begin to venture away from the merry “tea-cup rattling” of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In 1966, Revolver would take them even further from the sounds of the early 60s. Rubber Soul gives us “an early clue to the new direction.”

 

  1. A tad of naughtiness in a song of desireJohn Lennon’s very intimate inhalation (created, George Martin explained, by a special compressor used on Lennon’s voice) wasn’t the only bit of sexy innuendo in this second track on Side Two. Paul and George covertly (they thought) sang “tit-tit-tit-tit” to John’s passionate sigh of “Ah, Girrrrrl!” When George Martin questioned them about the phrase, so the story goes, they claimed to be singing “dit-dit-dit,” but Martin stated that he knew what they were saying. He shrugged and let it pass.

 

Now, for a “fresh new look” at “Girl,” we turn to author Robert Rodriguez, who invented the Fab Four FAQ series, recently hosted the very successful online conference Fab4ConJam, served as “Featured Author” at Beatles at the Ridge, and has been a beloved Special Guest Speaker at The Fest for Beatles Fans for years. Jude Southerland Kessler recently sat down with Rodriguez to discuss Lennon’s innovative and personal composition, “Girl.”

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Robert, it’s a joy to get to work with the remarkable author who opened my eyes to the real significance and importance of Revolver via your incredible book Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll. That book completely changed my whole perspective on the LP…for the better. It’s a book everyone should read!

 

But our focus today is on Revolver’s predecessor, Rubber Soul, and specifically on the track, “Girl.” So let me ask you, early on, many listeners assumed that the “sizzle-sound” following John’s intonation of the word, “Girl!” was the sound of a cymbal. Of course, now we know it’s the sound of John’s audible inhale. Tell our readers, if you would, what Norman Smith did to create that vocal effect: the sound of ecstasy.

 

Robert Rodriguez: For the second time during the production of Rubber Soul, The Beatles requested an unusual manipulation of the EQ to distort the sound; again – as they had with the guitars on “Nowhere Man” – boost the treble up high, creating a sound from John’s intake of air that nearly matched the sound of Ringo’s brushed cymbal work. It is entirely likely that they were simply looking for a cool new sound to add to the track to give it an air of distinction and weren’t going for a particular evocation. However, given that this was the “pot” album, as compared to Revolver, the “acid” album, it would be naive to ignore the possibility of the effect as emulating taking a hit on a joint. The Beatles loved to sneak little inside jokes into their recordings, and in the case of “Girl,” this naughty touch alongside the backing vocal part on the bridge would’ve doubled their (guilty) pleasure.

 

Kessler: “Girl” is a quite sophisticated song, musically. Naturally, the usual intricate Beatles harmonies are in play, but so much more is at work. Tel us about some of the instruments that are used to create an exotic sound.

 

Rodriguez: As was often the case throughout the Rubber Soul sessions, The Beatles and their producer – though squeezed for time to write and record the album by deadline – would experiment with ideas to broaden their sonic palette. To their credit, simply having an idea didn’t justify using it; it had to be a good idea to make the final cut, and The Beatles’ recordings are evidence enough of the superb quality control standards they adhered to. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is “12-Bar Original” – a recording that they took seriously enough to spend precious studio time on, rehearsing and tracking a pair of takes before abandoning the experiment as an unremarkable failure.

“Girl” provides a further example of this thinking, in that we now know that though the final released performance features acoustic instrumentation (excepting Paul’s bass), a fuzz-distorted Harrison electric was tried out, but ultimately rejected. (A similar idea was tried out four years later for “Here Comes The Sun” and thankfully shelved). Maybe it was because they came up with a better idea: a sound that has been described by writers who should know better as a Greek bouzouki — an exotic stringed instrument not typically heard much on pop records.

 

But while the origins of the sound may be Greek-inspired (Paul has said as much), it was actually performed by George on his Framus Hootenanny 12-string guitar. The attack of his picking the strings is sharper than usual, giving a staccato effect (with no ringing out), suggesting an austere sonic tone that matches the lyric describing the title character’s early Christianity teachings: that heaven was for those who suffered deprivation. It’s a brilliant touch that we as listeners can come up with any number of creative suggestions for what the intent behind it was, when – per Occam’s Razor – it was probably nothing more profound than a pleasing sound that was fresh at the time.

 

Kessler: Cynthia Lennon once said that this song was about her. In April 1995’s Q magazine, she said, “The only song that I thought might be something to do with me was ‘Girl,’ but of course John isn’t here to say anymore.” However, when asked about “Girl” during his life, John claimed that the song was about an ideal girl (although this girl is far from ideal in many ways), a girl who turned out to be Yoko. Once, he stated that the description of the girl in the bridge referred to the Christian church. What’s your take on the identity of this “Girl”?

 

Rodriguez: Honestly, I find it difficult to understand why any woman would choose to identify with the character described in this song: she’s punishing and apparently warped by early years of religious education. But someone better qualified in psychoanalysis than I can probably provide a more satisfactory answer as to why John identified the character in this song as a “dream girl,” though technically nightmares are dreams, too. As described, the decision to keep this woman around (though he characterizes the choice as hers: “the girl who came to stay”) comes with ambiguity: he’s clear-headed enough to recognize his desire for her as something punitive (“…makes you sorry”), yet he is without regrets. That alone suggests a desire to be punished, which aligns nicely with her own worldview, shaped by the church, that states “pain will lead to pleasure.” Thus, John is describing a situation where he accepts day-to-day unhappiness and being made to feel a fool by her (and in front of his friends, no less) by a woman incapable of graciously accepting a compliment, all for the sake of a future reward, in this world or the next. John’s describing the “girl” he sings about as someone who “turned out to be Yoko” may be more revealing than he intended; he might inadvertently be indicating difficulties in a seemingly faultless relationship.

 

Kessler: Margotin and Guesdon claim that John waited 15 years to write the sequel to “Girl,” and that song was “Woman.” Robert, do you agree or disagree with this assessment and why?

 

Rodriguez: For something to be a “sequel,” it has to acknowledge its antecedent and either build upon it or deviate from it, does it not? I think Lennon was trying to come up with a compelling connection between the two songs, but I don’t hear it. Between the two, I hear “Girl” as the much more compelling composition: in addition to everything else it offers as a performance and as a recording, the lyrical ambivalence is a marvel to behold. There is much to unpack in its mixed signals – someone unpleasant and difficult as an ideal – and yet remaining the object of profound desire.

 

“Woman,” in contrast, is – to my ears anyway – much more facile and shallow, while seemingly striving for the perception of depth. (The opening remark about the other half of the sky sounds profound, without actually saying much of anything). The narrator in “Woman” gushes on and on about the debt of gratitude owed (“…for showing me the meaning of success” – was this a comment on Yoko’s financial acumen, handling their business affairs?) while lamenting his own ingratitude and thoughtlessness. The song takes on the air of a religious hymn, with offers of praise and loads of “I’m not worthy.” As such, it’s hard for me personally to enjoy to any great depth, or to see as anything more weighty than his myriad other mea culpa songs (“Jealous Guy,” “Aisumasen,” “Forgive Me (My Little Flower Princess),” etc).

 

By the end of his life, in the promotion of Double Fantasy, John projected an air of having figured life out: his relationship with Yoko as being some kind of summit of both ideal romantic love and a wholly-encompassing creative partnership. To me, it rings hollow, especially when contrasted with his former songwriting partner, who made the same point about his own life partner without loudly banging on about it; instead, providing an example that was as interactive with the world as John and Yoko’s was sealed off from it. Contrast this with the 25-year-old Beatle who, throughout Rubber Soul, describes deep social connections (“In My Life,” “The Word”) and his place in society (“Nowhere Man”), as well as a series of women who are apparently self-sufficient (“Girl,” “Norwegian Wood”) that he connects with. Personally, I know which artist I find more interesting.

 

To learn more about Robert Rodriguez, HEAD HERE

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To hear Robert’s podcast, “Something About The Beatles,” HEAD HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 8: What Goes On

Onward to Side Two of Rubber Soul in our Fest for Beatles Fans track-by-track study of this great 1965 LP! With us this month, to dive deeply into the roots of Side Two’s opening track, is our own Liverpool mate, David Bedford, author of Liddypool: The Birthplace of The Beatles, The Fab One Hundred and Four, Finding the Fifth Beatle, and his latest wonderful contribution to Beatles research, The Country of Liverpool. Dave is also the congenial host of the podcast “Liddypod” and is widely acclaimed for his painstakingly accurate bio-film, “Looking for Lennon.” What a joy to explore this Ringo-manned song with Dave, a true Scouser and Beatles expert!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 4 November 1965 (although it was written in the Quarrymen days and later played for George Martin on 5 March 1963 as a potential “follow up” to the lads’ Please Please Me LP).

Time Recorded: 11:00 p.m. – 3:30 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender

Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Graham Platt (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Jerry Boys)

Stats: Recorded in only one take. (After their work on “What Goes On,” The Beatles turned their attention to “12 Bar Original.”)

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

John Lennon, the composer, unearthed this song for Ringo to perform on Rubber Soul. John played rhythm on his 1964 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar and sang backing vocals.

Ringo Starr sang lead vocal and played drums on one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum sets. Ringo also contributed somewhat to the lyrical composition of the song.

Paul McCartney sang backing vocals and played bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S (Hammack, 86) or on his Hofner bass (Spizer, 202). When John brought this early song back to life for Rubber Soul, Paul contributed to the lyrics for the middle eight.

George Harrison played lead guitar on his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric with Bigsby vibrato.

***This information is primarily from Jerry Hammack’s excellent work, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2. However, all other sources have been utilized as well.   

 

Sources:  Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 67, Harry, The John Lennon Encyclopedia, 971, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 218, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 296, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 372-373, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 86-87, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 95, Riley, Tell Me Why, 163-164, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 329-330, and Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 52.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. As with “Michelle,” an old song is rediscovered and renovated —

 

This catchy rockabilly number is officially credited, for the first time ever, to three Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and (using his real name) Richard Starkey. But who wrote what? Well, Dave Bedford will fill us in on the complete history of “What Goes On” in his “Fresh New Look” segment.

 

But just as interesting is the story of John Lennon, Collector and Saver of All Things. As a child, during World War II, John had been steeped in frugality. Indeed, the little boy always reminded his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to dowse the landing night lamp outside his bedroom with the stern words, “Don’t waste the light.” Similarly, Bettie Birdsall, Head Stewardess on the Electra II chartered plane on which The Beatles traveled throughout the 1964 North American Tour, said that John kept spare squares of torn paper in his right coat pocket. He used these scraps for scribbled notes to be used in his upcoming books of poetry and prose, transferring the slips of paper to his left pocket when he had filled them up.

 

That tendency to use old, found objects plays into the history of “What Goes On.” In his work, The Beatles as Musicians, The Quarry Men to Revolver, Dr. Walter Everett reminds us that “What Goes On” was a very early song of John’s, saved and then completely transformed in 1965 into something new. Everett calls “What Goes On” “Lennon’s answer to ‘Michelle’” since it was a song from years past that John re-energized…brought to life for Rubber Soul. More to come in Dave Bedford’s history of the song below!

 

  1. The traditional Ringo-Side-Two-Opener “ups its game” —

 

At first glimpse, “What Goes On” seems a bit formulaic in its placement on the record. Yes, exactly like “Act Naturally” on Help!, “What Goes On” is a Country and Western track with an upbeat sound and a Ringo vocal. And yes, it is also strategically located as the opening track on Side Two of the LP. But as Tim Riley in Tell Me Why sagely observes, this go-round, The Beatles didn’t fill that opening track with a mere cover. “Instead of dealing Ringo another cover, [The Beatles] challenge[d] themselves into reworking an old standby,” Riley comments, and he points out that in doing this, the boys upped the bar a notch. He says they made “the commitment to original material more explicit.”

 

  1. The divide between EMI and Capitol releases and the air play of Beatles songs in Great Britain and Australia versus America widens —

 

In 100 Best Beatles Songs, Spignesi and Lewis remind us that in 1966 “What Goes On” (along with “Nowhere Man,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “Drive My Car”) were restricted from airplay in the U.S. because these four songs had not been included on the Capitol version of Rubber Soul and were slated for release on an upcoming Capitol LP. The Capitol execs felt that early airplay of these tracks would dampen sales of the soon-to-hit-the-American-stands album. Indeed, those four restricted songs didn’t reach American listeners until 20 June 1966, when they were included on Capitol’s Yesterday and Today. Thus, the gap between fans in the UK and fans abroad continued to be heightened by Capitol’s firm control over what could and what could not be heard in the States.

 

  1. A song is “taught to a Beatle” via a home recording —

 

Beatles friend and road manager, Neil Aspinall once stated that Paul McCartney devised a quick and easy way for Ringo to learn “What Goes On,” prior to the 4 November EMI studio session. Aspinall claimed that in McCartney’s home studio, Paul (playing lead guitar, bass, and drums…and singing) recorded a demo of the song for Ringo. He then gave the drummer the pre-recorded tape as a learning device.

 

Interestingly enough, we are informed by Beatles music expert, Bruce Spizer, that “Ringo listened to the tape and added his own ideas.” (Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202) It’s interesting to observe that all of The Beatles were maturing and coming into their own. Ringo had his own concept of what worked and didn’t work for him. And by the autumn of 1965, he wasn’t afraid to speak, er, sing up.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

It was a joy to sit down with Beatles author, podcaster and filmmaker, David Bedford, whose excellent new book The Country of Liverpool zeroes in on the Country and Western roots of The Fab Four. Here is what Dave had to say about “What Goes On”:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Dave, in your remarkable new book, The Country of Liverpool, you trace The Beatles’ firm connection to Country and Western music, dating back to their earliest days together. Do you hear the Fab Four’s fascination with and connection to country music in “What Goes On”?

 

Dave Bedford: When you listen to The Beatles’ albums and think about Country songs, you automatically think of either “Act Naturally” or “What Goes On.” They are overtly “Country” and the obvious choices. In the past, I hadn’t thought further than that. When I started working on the research for The Country of Liverpool, my primary reason was to tell the story of Liverpool country legend Phil Brady. I knew that Liverpool had a huge Country and Western scene at the same time as The Beatles and Merseybeat. However, I assumed they were distinct from each other. But then, I came across an early Quarrymen business card which proclaimed: “Rock ‘n’ Roll; Skiffle; Country Western.” I had never noticed that before, and it set me on a path to discover the Country roots of The Beatles.

 

Then, when I started thinking about Skiffle, I realised that the roots of Skiffle were in Country, especially Bluegrass. Then, I considered the groups that influenced The Beatles: Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, and many more; these artists were rooted in Country music. When talking with Rod Davis from The Quarrymen, it was clear that Country music was very much a part of their influences. Michael Hill, John Lennon’s school friend, told me how John was a huge fan of Hank Williams, the father of Country music.

 

With all of this information, I sat down and listened to The Beatles’ albums again with my Country ears on, and I heard so many more Country influences than I expected. It was all there, and yet, I had never noticed it before.

 

It is similar to when I was working on my first book, Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, when I realised the Fab Four could not have come from any other city. It had to be Liverpool, and the Country music influences are such an important part of the story of The Beatles, which hadn’t been told before. I understand the musical roots of The Beatles so much better now.

 

Kessler: “What Goes On” has a very long and interesting history with The Beatles, doesn’t it, Dave? Tell us about its journey from 1963 up to Autumn 1965, when it’s finally selected not only to grace an LP but to be the opener for Side Two of the record.

Bedford: “What Goes On” is one of those songs that was mainly written in those very early days. In the Playboy Interviews, John told David Sheff, “That was an early Lennon written before The Beatles when we were The Quarrymen.” (Sheff, All We Are Saying, 158, Riley, Tell Me Why, 163-164, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, the Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 329-330, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 202, and Harry, The John Lennon Encyclopedia, 971) Now that we understand those early Country influences on The Beatles, it was natural, especially during those early days, that John would be writing a Country song. When The Beatles were looking to contribute songs to their first album in March 1963, John suggested “What Goes On” to George Martin. But the song wasn’t recorded or even finished properly until they brought it out again in 1965 for Rubber Soul.

 

Kessler: So, we know that John wrote “What Goes On,” but Paul and Ringo played a part in bringing “What Goes On” to life. Tell us a little about that, please.

 

Bedford: With John bringing the basic structure of the song to the group for Rubber Soul, it still required some work before it could be considered for the album. John recalled that the song needed a middle eight, which was contributed by Paul and Ringo, though Ringo’s contribution maybe wasn’t as considerable as could be thought. Ringo recalled, “I contributed about five words to ‘What Goes On.’” I haven’t done a thing since.” (Miles, Many Years From Now)

 

It was an unusual combination in Beatles song-writing and created a unique writing credit: Lennon/ McCartney/ Starkey.

 

The recording of the song is in a very “Country” style, from John’s rhythm to George’s Carl Perkins-esque picking style on his Gretsch Tennessean — very much in the Nashville style.

 

Kessler: When The Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965, “I Love Ringo” buttons outsold buttons of all the other Beatles combined times four! Ringo was highly favored in America! What steps did both EMI and Capitol take with “What Goes On” to please Ringo fans?

 

Bedford: Ringo never claimed to be a great songwriter. He never claimed to be a great singer, compared to his band mates. He even never claimed to be good-looking, yet he was so popular! So, when “What Goes On” was released on Rubber Soul, it opened Side 2; when it appeared on Yesterday and Today, it was the penultimate track.

 

Capitol Records/EMI released it as a B-side to “Nowhere Man” on 15 February 1966, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard pop chart. “What Goes On” was given a chart placement too, even though it only reached #81. However, when they released the single initially, it was only credited to Lennon/McCartney. When it was pointed out that Ringo was also a contributor, Capitol did a second pressing, crediting the song correctly to Lennon/ McCartney/ Starkey, although the record was already disappearing from the charts, making this a very collectible record indeed.

 

I have a new appreciation for the song, knowing that it evolved from the Country and Western Quarrymen days of 1957, was considered as the follow-up to Please Please Me in 1963, was finished off by Paul and Ringo in 1965, and was given prime position on their ground-breaking album, Rubber Soul. It was even recorded in only one take!

 

For more information on David Bedford’s books, head here

 

To hear Dave’s podcast, “Liddypod,” head here

 

Follow Dave on his website and check out his YouTube channel here

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Rubber Soul Intermission: The Rockin’ Rhymer Poetry Contest

Since January 2021, we’ve been examining The Beatles’ 1965 work of genius, Rubber Soul, taking deep dives into each track. Having concluded Side One, this month we’re taking a short intermission to stand, stretch, and have a bit of fun.

 

We’ve invited Fest for Beatles Fans poet Terri Whitney — who has written two books of poetry on The Beatles and other rock’n’roll greats — to create a poem for us all about Rubber Soul. And we’ve also asked her to serve as one of the judges in a POETRY CONTEST in her honor: The Rockin’ Rhymer Poetry Contest. More about that in a minute…but first, meet Terri!

 

Hello everyone, my name is Terri Whitney! I’m from a small town outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I graduated from Belding High School in 1972 and have been a part of many Beatles events over the years including the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans (since 2016). For five years, I also appeared at Beatles at the Ridge in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, where I was the Poet Laureate!

 

Currently, I’m the owner of “The Rockin Rhymer,” and I’m retired. I’ve always had two strong passions starting from an incredibly early age, and I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged both: my love for The Beatles’ music and secondly, writing poems.

 

A few years ago, I decided to take these two passions and put them together. With encouragement from both family and friends, I decided to write the books Any Rhyme At All and later, Music Legends In The Heavens. I have enjoyed doing both books, plus other poems, and I feel fortunate to share my dreams and passions with all of you!

 

I’m thrilled to be a judge in the Fest for Beatles Fans “Rockin’ Rhymer” Poetry Contest. Hope you all will join in and have fun. Here are the ground rules:

 

 

“The Rockin’ Rhymer” Poetry Contest Rules

 

  1. Read Terri’s poem about Rubber Soul below.
  2. Use it as an inspirational springboard to compose your own poem about The Beatles, Rubber Soul, or any particular song on the LP! Poems may be free verse or rhyming…your choice!
  3. Submit your poem to Terri at twhit2054@outlook.com
  4. Deadline for all submissions is Friday, 13 August 2021.
  5. Poems will be given to a panel of three judges, and the winners will be announced on Friday, 20 August. The top three winners will win coooooool prize packages including Beatles books and jewelry!
  6. The top 3 winning poems will be posted on the Fest website and the Fest Facebook page in September. All prizes will be shipped to the winners in late August.
  7. Have fun! This is a chance to express yourself as John Lennon did in the summer of 1965 when he published his second book of poetry and prose, A Spaniard in the Works! Go for it!

 

Here’s Terri Whitney’s wonderful poem on Rubber Soul! Enjoy!

 

RUBBER SOUL

 

In 1965, the album Rubber Soul was released in December,

It turns out it would be one that many fans would remember

All the songs are a collaboration of different musical styles,

Each song emotionally can take you from tears to smiles.

 

They gave us a great compilation of rock, folk and soul

An influential album that made you wonder, was that their goal?

They gave us a different sound, over which there were some debates

Yet it topped the charts in both the UK and the United States.

 

All the songs in this album were such a perfect fit

As the music seemed to have more of an artistic balance to it,

It seems the band did deliver more of a mature sound

And, like me at the time, they too were grown-up bound.

 

“Rubber Soul” deserves no less rating than a five star

With songs like “Run For Your Life” to “Drive My Car.”

Are the lyrics they wrote about the memories that they share?

If so, they gave us great words and did it with flare!

 

My birthday present in January, I listened to it from the start,

That is when the Rubber Soul album found its way to my heart.

Today I can enjoy listening to it whether I am working or at rest

Of all The Beatles’ albums, I would agree that it’s one of their best.

 

Terri Whitney, The Rockin’ Rhymer, in 1965 when she first heard Rubber Soul!

Okay, Fest family, are you inspired? Let’s get started penning those tributes to “Michelle” or “Norwegian Wood” or to The Beatles in general!!!! Get the creative juices flowing and send us your poems! Great prizes and good fun await. Thanks to Terri Whitney for reminding us how fun poetry can be, especially when it’s about a topic you cherish.

 

For more information about Terri Whitney, head here

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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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