Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 4: Nowhere Man

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

 

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

 

What’s Standard:

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

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

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

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What’s Changed:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Side One, Track Three

 

“You Won’t See Me”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Tom Frangione

 

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

 

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

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: Thursday, 11 November 1965

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

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

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

 

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

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

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Mal Evans plays the Hammond organ.

 

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

 

What’s Changed:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

(Check it out on YouTube).

 

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

 

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

 

*********

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 2: Norwegian Wood

Side One, Track Two

 

“Norwegian Wood”: A “Roll” Reversal

 

By Jude Southerland Kessler and Bruce Spizer

 

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

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: 12 October and 21 October 1965

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

                            2.00 – 7.00 p.m. on 21 October

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald

(Margotin and Guesdon add Ron Pender)

Original Song Title: “This Bird Has Flown”

 

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

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What’s Changed:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And follow Bruce on Facebook HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 1: Drive My Car

Rubber Soul

 Side One, Track One

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

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Ken Womack

 

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

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 13 October 1965

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 12.15 p.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

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

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What’s Changed:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Follow Ken on Facebook HERE and on Twitter @kennethawomack

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Year’s End, Year’s Begin

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Beatles in November: Game Changer!

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

 

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

 

9 November 1961Mr. Epstein Comes to the Cavern Club

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

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

 

4 November 1963The Beatles at the Royal Command Performance

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

 

9 November 1966John meets Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery

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

 

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

 

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

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The Beatles in October: Harvest Home

“Come ye thankful people, come

Raise a song of harvest home,

All is safely gathered in,

Ere the winter storms begin.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Beatles in September

In 1961, Hayley Mills starred in the film, “The Parent Trap,” whose theme song employed a catch-phrase, soon to be echoed by our own Fab Four, in 1963.  In the Disney film, twin daughters (both played by Mills) scheme to see that their estranged parents will try to “get together, yeah, yeah, yeah!”. Of course, by the end of that production, the twins (and the clever screenwriters) achieved a happy ending. The parents were remarried; the girls, reunited, and the phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah” was fondly ingrained in our memories. But all “triple-yeahs” aside, there is a more important link between The Beatles and “The Parent Trap” theme song…that being, of course, togetherness.

 

In The Anthology, John Lennon wrote: “Once upon a time, there were three little boys called John, Paul, and George, by name christened. They decided to get together, because they were the getting together type. When they were all together, they wondered what for, after all, what for? So, all of a sudden, they all got guitars and formed a noise.”

 

Indeed, being together was the very essence of The Beatles. And each September that they experienced as a group found them reuniting to tour, to record, “to form a noise,” and to have fun doing it. Let’s look back on some of those precious moments.

 

September 1960 – The Beatles in Hamburg for the first time

 

After hounding Liverpool’s charismatic impresario and Jacaranda Coffee House owner, Allan Williams, to get them a gig in Hamburg, Germany, The Beatles were finally on their way to the port city’s bright lights. Unbeknownst to Williams, his boys were booked on “the dark end of the Reeperbahn” in a seedy strip club called The Indra. But in only weeks, the hardworking Beatles had transformed the vacant dive into a hot spot, and they were promoted to the burgeoning Kaiserkeller. Sharing the boards in “the ’Keller” with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (and their suave, gregarious drummer, Ringo Starr), The Beatles quickly adopted a vast catalogue of new music and learned how to mach shau…put on a show! By the time John, Paul, George, and Pete returned Merseyside in the winter of 1960, they were a highly-honed stage band. Together, they had become, as Neil Aspinall would call soon them, The Fabulous Beatles.

 

September 1962 – The Beatles in EMI recording “Love Me Do”

 

Having very recently acquired cool Ringo Starr as their new drummer, September 1962 found The Beatles hard at work in London’s EMI Studios, trying to earn “the break of a lifetime.” They had traveled to “The Smoke” (London) to record their first real record. And although accomplished producer, George Martin, wanted the skinny Liverpool boys to perform the Tin Pan Alley song, “How Do You Do It?”, The Beatles were dead set on “Love Me Do.” Assuring Martin that they “could not return to Liverpool” having recorded “How Do You Do It?” without being laughed off the quay, The Beatles stuck to their guns. However, the original number — that featured John Lennon on mouth organ and lyrics — was tricky. “You simply can’t play the harmonica and sing as well, John,” Martin had objected. “It will come out as “Love Me…Wahhh.” So, reluctantly, Paul McCartney assumed the lead vocal role. And “ta-dah!!!” Only four weeks later, “Love Me Do” rocketed to Number 17! Not bad for a first-time session with a new drummer, a new producer, and a new studio. Getting together equaled a brand-new sound!

 

September 1964 – First North American Tour

 

Chuck Gunderson in Some Fun Tonight: The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966 said it best: On the 1964 North American Tour “…The Beatles would play a staggering thirty-two shows in twenty-six venues in twenty-four cities in just thirty-three days.” (p. 14) Talk about togetherness! And ah, the memories they made! They sang goose-bumpy harmony in the shimmering amphitheater of the Hollywood Bowl. They echoed over the rugged landscape around Red Rocks. They brought mayhem to Montreal and the New Orleans City Park. They diverted around Hurricane Dora and discovered new friends down in Key West. And unexpectedly, they gave Kansas City a raucous medley that furnished the “two extra songs” Charlie O. Finley craved. Gunderson writes, “No musical act before or since will ever rival The Beatles on their incredible groundbreaking tour of 1964. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr not only would leave an indelible impression on their fans in the United States and Canada, but would leave the fans hungering for more in 1965.” (p. 14) And they did it all, together.

 

September 1967 – The Making of Magical Mystery Tour

 

Magical Mystery Tour was, for John, Paul, George, and Ringo, a crucial restorative process. In the aftermath of Brian Epstein’s tragic death, it gave them “a way forward.” It was a project to bind them —one to another — to employ their talents and creativity, and to keep them close together, both physically and in spirit. According to our Beatles Guru, Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicle, the Magical Mystery Tour recording sessions commenced on 5 September with the 7.00 p.m. – 1.00 a.m. EMI Studio One recording of “John’s glorious ‘I Am the Walrus’” (p. 261). And the grand filming event began on 11 September and concluded 24 Sept 1967.  Throughout this grief-laden month, the necessity of rising each morning and being productive each day, whilst surrounded by dear friends (Freda Kelly, Neil and Mal, Victor Spinetti, etc.) helped to assuage The Beatles’ pain and to focus their energies on what would be rather than what had been.

 

No clearer example of “We’re Better Together” can be given to us than The Beatles in their shared Septembers. Despite worldwide pandemics, economic crises, and fiery political divisions, we need to reach out to one another and seek bonds not barriers. September is a month for finding our own harmony, our own new horizons, and our own way forward. Together the boys always found a way to shine on…and so can we.

 

To hear the adorable song “Let’s Get Together, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” performed by Haley Mills and her double, Haley Mills for “The Parent Trap,” go here.

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Genius Having Fun: The Beatles in March

::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::   Spring brings out childlike wonder and joy in all of us. We walk into the sunlight and marvel at exotic Japanese magnolia blossoms brashly defying winter’s last ice storms. We gasp in delight over surprising fields of yellow daffodils. We search for four-leaf clovers but find our truest fortune in the re-energized work we do, now that dark days have become light and fresh again.   The Beatles felt this. In five March calendars together, they were especially creative. They starred in films, wrote books, appeared on radio and television programs, and of course, created magical music that still plays in our homes and falls from the lips of our children and grandchildren. Invigorated each spring, The Beatles tended to greet March with an enthusiasm that found its way into archetypal creativity. For example…   March 1963…Fresh off the Helen Shapiro Tour (which had run from 2 February – 3 March), the boys gathered in EMI’s Studio Two on Tuesday, 5 March, to record the jaunty, “From Me to You,” a song that had been inspired by a newspaper column which John and Paul had spotted on the Shapiro tour bus. In studio, the ever-brilliant George Martin gave the number a very singular sound when he recommended that the boys sing rather than play the song’s “da-da-dum-da-da-dum-dum-da” intro. But “From Me to You,” wasn’t the only product of that creative date. The lads also recorded “Thank You, Girl” and “The One After 909.” “From Me to You,” however, was clearly the stand-out. An instant hit, it was throughout 1963, an important part of the lads’ catalogue. In fact, it was the opening song the night that The Beatles “rattled jewelry” at the Royal Command Performance, six months later.   March 1964…The Beatles began making their first film for United Artists, “A Hard Day’s Night” on Monday, 2 March 1964. Now, one would think that making a full-length feature movie and creating the soundtrack LP would be task-enough for John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but throughout the month, they were busy here, there, and everywhere. On the 19th, for example, they spent their lunch hour at London’s Royal Dorchester Hotel receiving the Variety Club Silver Heart award for “Top Show Business Personalities of 1963,” an honor presented to them by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. And that night, instead of going home when the other actors called it quits, they hurried to tape an appearance on Britain’s #1 pop TV show, Top of the Pops. The very next evening (in their spare time, after filming), the boys performed on the hit television programme, Ready, Steady, Go! (Deep Breath!!!) And of course, in addition to all of this, John Lennon also released his first book, a volume of prose and poetry entitled In His Own Write. What can I say? The Beatles’ well-lauded creativity was, in March 1964, both on and off-the-charts!   March 1965…Again, it was film-making season for the Fabs, but this time, in ’65, the United Artists’ film was “Eight Arms to Hold You,” eventually dubbed “Help!”. First, filming in Nassau for a fortnight, the boys flew home on the 10th, only to regenerate quickly and head out once again. Three days later, accompanied by newlywed, Maureen Starkey, and John’s wife, Cynthia, the boys were en route to Austria. During their time in the breathtaking Alps, John completed an extremely biographical song he’d begun at Kenwood, a number entitled “It’s Only Love.” Depicting his increasingly rocky relationship with Cynthia, this offering revealed so much of John’s vulnerability and tenderness that ever-after, he despised it. Paul told the press that John rarely let people see his soft side: “I’ve only seen him through the cracks in his shell because the shell is so hard.” But “It’s Only Love” so laid bare John’s love for his wife and their mutual struggles, that in the years to come, John would never have a good word to say about the revelatory song. In emotional and imperfect lyrics, it had too closely captured Lennon’s wounded heart.   March 1967…Wearing ponchos, flowered “kecks,” and National Health glasses, the boys were truly in creative heaven, working away in EMI Studios, on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On 1 and 2 March, they worked for hours on John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Then, on the 9th and 10th, they gave their attention to Paul’s “Getting Better All the Time.” And on the 15th, they began work on George’s “Within You, Without You.” But in every period of intense, unfettered creativity, there is always an inherent edge and potential danger. And 21 March 1967 was one of those experimental evenings that could have ended tragically. John, having taken LSD for inspiration, was feeling unwell and excused himself from Studio Two. Hoping to help John recover (and oblivious to the reason for John’s discomfort), George Martin followed him out and suggested climbing to the EMI rooftop for fresh air. When, moments later, Paul and George saw Martin return without Lennon and discovered where their friend was recuperating, they tore out after him…realising that the roof had no rails or barriers against a sheer, 30-foot drop to the ground. Fortunately, when they scrambled — breathless — onto the top deck, John was simply standing and staring at the night sky. But the boys were so thoroughly rattled that they concluded their recordings for that evening then and there. Creative inspiration had engendered a close call.   March 1968…Out of devotion to his mates, Ringo (and his wife, Maureen) agreed to go along with the others to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India, for a soul revival. But after only 10 days abroad — hating the “Butlin’s holiday camp” life of the Ashram — the Starkeys gave the others their regrets and flew home. Twenty-five days later, on 26 March, after having worked prodigiously with John on a plethora of songs that would populate the White Album, Paul and Jane Asher flew back to London, accompanied by Neil Aspinall…and leaving only John and Cyn, George and Patti, and Alex Mardas behind. Although this excursion failed to end particularly well (if one knows the backstory of “Sexy Sadie”), March 1968 was undeniably a time of immense creative genius for The Beatles. Having the rare opportunity to rest, talk, write music, and have furtive fun together (when the Maharishi wasn’t looking), the boys created magical songs for the finest LP they’d offered the public in quite some time. Indeed, John alone wrote enough tracks for the White Album to have his own solo LP. The “Leader Beatle,” who had sadly relinquished his role in Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour was back. They all were…in a flood of bright, spring sunlight that blended dramatically into pure White.   Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is genius having fun.” And certainly, no group of people bear this out better than The Beatles. During the March months of their lives, they starred in award-winning films (creatively ad-libbing many of the famous lines), wrote and illustrated books of poetry and prose, composed and recorded music, starred on television and radio programmes, and sought new horizons of faith. But for the lads, ushering music, art, and literature into the world was never a job or a chore! It was always the product of the happiest moments of their lives. And may it be so, this month, with us as well. Shine on!
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.
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A Month in the Life

::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::

 

“If you have built castles in the air… that is where they should be…now, put the foundations under them.”

Henry David Thoreau

 

In this second installment of The Fest Blog’s study of The Beatles’ time together, month-by-month, John Lennon Series author, Jude Southerland Kessler, examines what the lads did during 5 fab February’s. As we walk winter’s weeks together, what can we learn from John, Paul, George, and Ringo? And how can that change the course of our own lives?

 

February 1963 – During one of the coldest U.K. winters on record, the shivering Beatles set out on tour with lovely, little Helen Shapiro, playing dank theatres and music halls in a concerted effort to propel their names and songs to the British public. But on the 11th, they took one day off from their rigorous schedule to race down to London, where they would record their very first LP, Please Please Me. With brilliant producer George Martin at the helm, alongside engineer, Norman Smith, and second engineer, Richard Langham, the boys — desperately ill with colds and flu — began work around 10 a.m. First, they recorded several fondly familiar songs from their old Cavern Club days. Then, as the morning gave way to afternoon, they tackled original tunes for this LP that Epstein hoped would propel his lads to the top of the charts. In the autumn of 1962, The Beatles had had a hit with “Love Me Do” and a Number 1 with the new LP’s title song, “Please Please Me.” However, to maintain that momentum, now they had to produce a host of songs proving their versatility, creativity, and star power. And they did! In only 12 hours, John, Paul, George, and Ringo produced a record that would stand the test of time. And when, at 10:30 p.m. that night — weary and shaking with fever — John Lennon tackled the performance of “Twist and Shout” for the pot-boiling close of the record, he gave history one of his finest tracks…in only one take! The LP was complete. Never had a group compiled a record of such magnitude in only one day. The Beatles had worked their way into stardom.

 

February 1964 – Landing at John F. Kennedy Airport to ecstatic screams that eclipsed jet engines, The Beatles stepped onto American soil on 7 February 1964, and began “The British Invasion.” In only two days, they were slated to play The Ed Sullivan Show. And despite the fact that George Harrison had contracted flu, the four “mop-tops from Liverpool” rose to the occasion. On Sunday night, 9 February, they sang into the cameras for the largest television audience in history (at that time), and instantly, their names became both legendary and household. Then, moving rapidly by train to Washington D.C.’s exhilarating Coliseum-in-the-round performance and up to the Big Apple’s fabled boards in Carnegie Hall, The Beatles made history! Without stopping to breathe, they flew on to sunny Miami for two more Sullivan appearances, while wooing the U.S. public via press conferences, interviews, photo opportunities, and phone chats with a plethora American DJ’s. In 14 days, The Beatles did the work of months, and then nearly exhausted, they winged their way back home to begin filming the oh-so-aptly-dubbed “A Hard Day’s Night.”

 

February 1965 – One thinks of the exotic Bahamas as a vacation locale, but in Feb 1965, The Beatles landed in Nassau to off-the-chart screams for the making of their new United Artists’ film dubbed “Beatles 2” and later, “Eight Arms to Hold You,” and finally, “Help!” Rising daily at 6:30 a.m. for hair and make-up, The Beatles worked on set from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30-6:30 p.m. each day, and in the evenings, frequently gave interviews to journalists such as Larry Kane, Derek Taylor (who, in 1965, was with KRLA, Los Angeles), Long John Wade, and others. John Lennon, additionally, was completing the work on his second collection of prose and poetry, A Spaniard in the Works. Prior to winging their way to the Bahamas, the boys had spent hours recording many of the songs for the film’s soundtrack, but additional work was yet to come. So, taking full advantage of their few nights off, the lads enjoyed a bit of time with Jim and Angie McCartney and their daughter, Ruth, and with George’s sister, Louise — all of whom were on location. As always, however, industry ruled the day. Even in paradise, The Beatles were working.

 

February 1967 – It wasn’t just another “Day in the Life” when, on 10 February 1967, The Beatles oversaw the orchestral recording of the final bars of the final song of their new LP, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That evening, 40 classically-trained musicians arrived at EMI Studios, Studio One, to take part in the cataclysmic close to a song that frequently is listed as the best in The Beatles catalogue. Instructing the gifted musicians that he wanted “a musical orgasm,” producer George Martin requested a sound that gradually ascended and intensified before crashing in an E major chord…a sound burst. Throughout February’s weeks, the lads had been working diligently in Studio Two, recording various other songs for the LP (including the title track) and creating videos in Knole Park for their upcoming single, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields.” But on the 10th, with Paul McCartney and George Martin alternately conducting the small “Day in the Life” symphony (gathered in what would eventually be known at “Abbey Road Studios”), another musical moment in time was captured forever, compliments of The Beatles.

 

February 1969 – January had ended with a rooftop concert that was, for all intents and purposes, the swan song of The Beatles. So, February was for all four boys, a time of re-invention. Ringo began work on his new solo project — a film with Peter Sellers entitled “The Magic Christian.” John, knee-deep in various avant garde happenings and recordings with Yoko, took time out to return to London’s Trident Studios to record “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” for what would eventually be the Abbey Road LP. George Harrison, in a bit of personal maintenance, had his tonsils removed at University College Hospital, London, but later in the month, he returned, full-throated, to EMI to record demo tapes of “Something,” “Old Brown Shoe,” and “All Things Must Pass.” Still infuriated by the late-January suggestion by John, Ringo, and George that Allen Klein should manage Apple and 20 percent of their personal incomes, Paul took immediate steps to ensure that the firm of Eastman and Eastman were appointed as Apple’s General Council, carefully supervising Klein’s management. However, Paul and Linda still found time to attend the release party for Mary Hopkins’s first LP (which Paul had produced), Postcard. In February 1969, each of The Beatles was discovering his new métier, and without a moment’s rest from the demands of Beatledom, they were exploring their chosen horizons.

 

The one quality that always distinguished The Beatles from other groups was their unfailing willingness to get up early, work late, give more than expected, and produce more than anticipated. They were, in short, driven. Their Februarys together bear this theme out, again and again. The Beatles never once shied away from rolling up their custom-made shirtsleeves to build “castles in the air” from rough brick and real mortar. They created enduring edifices by demonstrating to us all that lasting dreams require unflinching dedication and industry.

 


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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