Revolver Deep Dive Part 11: Doctor Robert

Side Two, Track Four

Calling ‘Dr. Robert’

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Steve Matteo

 

This month, the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog enjoys a closer look at Revolver’s “Dr. Robert.”  Jude Southerland Kessler, our Fest Blogger and author of The John Lennon Series works hand-in-hand with Steve Matteo, author of Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film (2023), Let It Be, and Dylan to examine a Lennon song that has frequently been brushed aside as “a minor creation.” As Jude and Steve dig into the music and lyrics of this tongue-in-cheek creation, here’s hoping we all uncover some new insights into the story behind the song, the composition, and the recording techniques.

 

And we can’t wait to see each and every one of you at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 9-11! The lineup is too good to miss! Get your tickets and get ready for the time of your life!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 17 April 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 10.30 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 74)

 

On this day: The Beatles recorded their backing track with John on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with synchronized tremolo (or possibly his Epiphone ES-230TD Casino electric guitar), Paul on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass (which he was using more and more frequently in studio, when he could sit down), George on maracas, and Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drums. As per their “now standard” method of recording, they first performed several rehearsal takes (not numbered) and then recorded seven actual takes, proclaiming seven as “best.”

 

Then, onto take 7, the boys made several superimpositions: John on the Mannborg harmonium (the studio’s), George on guitar,* and Paul on the studio’s Steinway “Music Room” Model “B” Grand Piano. (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 123)

 

*I wrote to Jerry Hammack to ascertain which guitar George was using, and he graciously answered me: “George was working with a 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo, 1964 Gibson SG Standard with Gibson Maestro Vibrola vibrato, or a 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino with Selmer Bigsby B7 vibrato during this period, and could have used any of these on his work. With this album and Pepper, the Casinos were certainly getting most of the attention.”

 

Hammack also tells us that at this point, “Dr. Robert” “…clocked in at 2:56” but “would be edited to 2:13 during remixing.” Sincere thanks to Jerry for helping with the Fest blog each month!

 

Second Date Recorded: 19 April 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 12.00 a.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 74)

 

On this day: Since most of the work on “Dr. Robert” had been completed on the 17th, all that was left to do was capture the vocals from John and Paul…which they did. Later that same evening, a remix was done to thicken both those vocals and George’s guitar work.

 

Sources:

Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 75, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 218, The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology, 209, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 121-123, Womack, Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 57, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 209, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 12, Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love, 361-362, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Turner, Beatles ’66, 157-159, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 114,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 344-345, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 173-174, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 227-228, Riley, Tell Me Why, 194-196, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 158-159, O’Toole, Songs We Were Singing, 113-115, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 231, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 122-124, Spizer, The Beatles From Rubber Soul to Revolver, 221, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239,  Shotton, John Lennon In My Life, 122, and Sheff, The Playboy Interviews (1981 edition), 152-153.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. A Thinly-Veiled Reference to Drugs – For years, Brian had sternly admonished The Beatles to remain “palatable to the mothers and fathers of teens everywhere.” And as such, the boys had not felt free to express opinions on anything, especially when it came to politics or the Vietnam War. Furthermore, Brian had asked the boys to present “a wholesome image,” eschewing cigarettes at press conferences or photo shoots. And through most of 1963-1964, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had reluctantly complied.

 

However, by the 1965 North American Tour, those old prohibitions were slip-sliding away. Indeed, the songs of late 1965’s Rubber Soul spoke frankly about difficult topics. They addressed marital infidelity (“Norwegian Wood”), a possible liaison with a rising film star (“Drive My Car”), the dissolution of John’s marriage (“It’s Only Love”), and the complications inherent in adult relationships (“You Won’t See Me” and “I’m Looking Through You”). Even The Beatles’ jaunty single, “We Can Work It Out/ Day Tripper” spoke frankly about love affairs that didn’t go smoothly or finish well.

 

Now, in the spring of 1966, John penned “Dr. Robert,” a light-hearted ditty about a doctor whom you could ring for drugs…and not cough syrup or any ordinary prescription. And the “rush” that John felt in penning a song like this was the knowledge that to “the Establishment” (Brian included) harmonizing about illegal drug usage was still very much taboo! In his book John Lennon In My Life, John’s lifelong friend Pete Shotton wrote, “When John played me the acetate of ‘Dr. Robert,’ he seemed beside himself with glee over the prospect of millions of record buyers innocently singing along.” (p. 122) Much like singing the “tit-tit-tit-tit-tit” backing chorus to “Girl,” the theme of “Dr. Robert” and his little black bag intrigued John and the lads because it felt quite naughty.

 

I was a tad surprised to find that in 100 Best Beatles Songs, Spignesi and Lewis rated “Dr. Robert” as #73. However, their explanation soon set me straight. They wrote, “Prior to Revolver…The Beatles…wrote about romance and relationships…Suddenly, with one album, their focus changed. Confiscatory taxes, the alienated and the lonely, laziness, consciousness, the afterlife, and lest we forget, yellow submarines were all topics on Revolver. And then, on this same album, came ‘Dr. Robert,’ which was about (blimey!) recreational drug use. The message was clear: ‘We’ve changed. Either get on board or get out of the way.’ And most of us went along happily for the ride.” (p. 227) Yes, indeed, in 1966 the times they were a-changing for The Beatles…and for us. And as we changed, they changed (or vice versa). The Beatles constantly evolved, and “Dr. Robert” is evidence of that.

 

  1. A Slathering of Humor – Though most listeners never comprehended it, in “Dr. Robert,” John Lennon was happily “takin’ the mickey” out of us all. He applied Lennonesque humor so subtly and with such finesse, that few realized that the heavy sound of the harmonium on the “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine” bridge – backing those comforting words spoken by the goodly Dr. Robert – washed the words of the healer in a saintly soundtrack. When Dr. Robert spoke, it sounded exactly like a hymn offering salvation!

 

And why not? The healer was, John told us, the sort of doctor who “day or night will be there any time at all.” He’s the kind of physician who “will do everything he can – Dr. Robert!” From Dr. R’s “special cup” to his meds that would “pick you up,” the incomparable Dr. R had a unique way to “well, well, well make you.” You can almost see The Beatles cutting their eyes at one another and snickering.

 

Clearly, the boys were in on the joke. But actually, so were we, albeit unwittingly. In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley refers to the track as  a “penetrating satire,” and he says that John’s biting humor “implicates not only the doctor and his ‘patients’ but the listener who gets seduced by the song’s tease as well.” (p. 123) This clever “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” creation casts us all under the spell of the sympathetic and edgy Dr. Robert.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

This month we’re privileged to have journalist and author Steve Matteo join us for the “Fresh New Look” segment of our Fest Blog. Steve was part of the 2023 Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans and the 2024 New York Fest at the TWA Hotel. He is the author of Let It Be and Dylan and his 2023 release, Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film. Steve has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Elle, and Salon. We’re looking forward to having Steve and his wife, Jayne, join us again for the Chicago Fest 2024 and we’re excited to hear his reactions to “Dr. Robert,” the fun “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” creation by John Lennon and the boys.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Steve, welcome to the Fest Blog and thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your expertise with us. Steve, in the spring/early summer of 1966, The Beatles and George Martin (now an independent producer) returned to EMI Studios not merely as musicians but as artists and innovative technicians. Using “every trick in the book” (as Lou Christie would sing years later) they employed unique instruments, recording techniques, and even outside musicians to create precisely the effects they sought. Although it’s not as obvious with this song as with others, “Dr. Robert” is layered with intentional sounds and stylings that afford the listener samples of a stressed life eased by Dr. Robert and his medicine show. How does John Lennon utilize his guitar, the vocals, and George Martin/Geoff Emerick’s recording techniques to achieve this aural imagery?

 

Steve Matteo: “Dr. Robert,” released at a significant time in the history of the recordings of the Beatles, is a song often discussed because of its lyrical story. The group’s previous album was Rubber Soul, the first album that throughout showed off the new sounds and textures they were exploring in the studio. The album broadened the canvas of the recording studio and introduced new colors and shadings that made the group’s already extraordinary songs even more vivid. After Rubber Soul and just before they began recording Revolver, they recorded the single “Paperback Writer” and the B-side “Rain.” While lyrically “Paperback Writer” was a poppy story of a writer of dime-store novels, it had guitar and vocal effects that were quite new. “Rain” was even more musically adventurous. On what may be the group’s best B-side, the interplay between McCartney’s bass and Starr’s drums is some of the most exciting playing of any track from the group and illustrates the cosmic musical relationship the group’s rhythm section created.

 

The vocals, however, are primarily what make “Dr. Robert” so musically memorable. The vocals on the track utilize ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) technology more than the other tracks on this album that is filled with it. Also, some of the vocal harmonies when the group sings “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine” sound like a Greek chorus. It is here where the druggy theme of the song is most pronounced, but also shows how the group is clearly having fun with the subject matter. Adding to the decadent debauchery of the song’s milieu is some spacey Mannborg harmonium keyboard work by John Lennon, the main writer of the song and lead vocalist. Musically the song is very simple and playful, belying its subject matter.

 

While the theme of the song, particularly the doctor in question, has been debated and speculated upon since its release, another potentially key influence on the songwriting may have been overlooked. It’s hard to tell the exact spark that influenced Lennon to write the song, but one possibility is intriguing and highly plausible. The Rolling Stones had recorded a song called “Mother’s Little Helper,” which was the lead track on the group’s Aftermath album, released on April 15, 1966.

 

The recording of “Dr. Robert” began on April 14. There’s certainly a good chance Lennon heard the album long before its official U.K. release. There is a much-viewed photo of McCartney in the recording studio closely examining the back cover of Aftermath, with his reading glasses on and holding onto his Rickenbacker bass guitar. With “Mother’s Little Helper,” rather than reflecting the burgeoning drug culture of the youth of the day, Jagger was writing about someone with parental and adult responsibilities dealing with the stress by taking pills.

 

“Dr. Robert,” Lennon’s first song to address the theme of drugs, rather than glorifying them, tells of a doctor available to the pampered and well-connected denizens of the demi-monde of the day. Unlike “Mother’s Little Helper,” the song doesn’t, for the most part, have a dreamy or spacey quality. While “Mother’s Little Helper” has a terse, almost gritty rock’n’roll edge, “Dr. Robert” is a jaunty little tune. It is a whimsical tale with the kind of light touch that appeared on the surface of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, which were filled with drug references – literature Lennon was all too familiar with and fond of since he was a child.

 

Kessler: Steve, Beatles music experts and biographers have bandied about the identity of the infamous Dr. Robert. Some, like Hunter Davies, point to dentist John Riley who, without permission, gave George and John LSD in their coffee in the spring of 1965. Some point to London’s Robert Fraser. Most aver that Dr. Robert is New York’s famed Robert Freymann (Freeman or Frieman in other sources) who served as “healer” for the stars; some go so far as to claim that John was one of his clients. However, for those like you who know The Beatles’ harried schedule during those few days in which The Beatles were in New York during February of 1964, late August of 1964, mid-September of 1964, and mid-August of 1965 when they returned to play another “Ed Sullivan Show,” perform in Shea Stadium, and host celebrities in their suite the following day, there was absolutely zero time for John (and/or The Beatles) to trek over to see this supposed Dr. Robert. And there is no record of his presence in their suite, though myriad others are catalogued. Paul states that they have merely heard about the doctor and are writing this song based on that knowledge. In The Beatles Anthology and later in his Playboy Interviews, John Lennon stated that he consistently carried and administered the drugs for the band and –  like almost all of his other songs – this song was written about him; he was Dr. Robert. What say you?

 

Matteo: It would appear the doctor in question initially was based on a doctor in New York who indeed did administer “vitamin” injections for his curious clientele. A more sinister reality of the situation may have been the doctor giving amphetamine shots to wealthy socialites, the famous and the infamous. Various doctors have been named as the subject of Lennon’s song, even though Lennon himself may not have been aware of exactly who the doctor was and just what he was doing. Many sources, as Jude pointed out in the “What’s New” segment, claim the real-life doctor in question was Dr. Robert Freymann, a German-born doctor who, at the time of the writing and recording of the song, was 60 years old and whose office was located at 78th Street, in Manhattan, on the tony upper east side. Interestingly, in the film Ciao Manhattan, produced by Andy Warhol, there is a character named Dr. Charles Robert, who was likely based on the real Dr. Freymann, or even on Lennon’s song, since the film came out in 1972. In 1972, the real Dr. Freymann was still practicing medicine and was eventually expelled from the New York State Medical Society for malpractice in 1975.

 

What makes things even more confusing is that in Manhattan in the mid- to late-60s and early-70s there were many so-called “Dr. Roberts” offering a seamlessly endless cornucopia of potions to cure whatever ailed one. This doctor is the dark and destructive side of the drug culture, not those experimenting with marijuana or LSD who were seeking a more spiritual enlightening, although LSD and amphetamines could be equally lethal with enough use. It’s easy to read many other meanings (and doctors, real and imagined) into the song and on any given day, Lennon may have offered his own varying answers to what it was all about. It is, of course, not the only song on the album that has drug references, just the first he had written.

 

Prior to Revolver, “Rain” may have been influenced by drug use, but didn’t directly address drugs in the song’s lyrics. The other songs on the album about drugs, directly or indirectly, are “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Paul’s songs that had direct or indirect drug references are “Yellow Submarine” and “Got to Get You Into My life.” All of them share an obliqueness when addressing drugs, but all have drugs as a key component, whether musically or lyrically or both. There is also the question of whether the songs were simply influenced by the drug culture, or written under the influence.

 

Lennon was always a fan of double-entendres, as were The Beatles, especially the naughty schoolboys that still lurked in the four. “Dr. Robert” doesn’t so much have double-entendres as it includes lyrics that don’t specifically spell out the story of the song’s title character. It’s a song for those in the know, who get the wink-wink wordplay. The lyrics that most spell out who “Dr. Robert” is and what his function was and how Lennon slyly laid it out are: “If you’re down, he’ll pick you up/Doctor Robert/Take a drink from his special cup.”

 

Kessler: Steve, as I mentioned in the “What’s Changed” segment of the blog, in Spignesi and Lewis’s book, 100 Best Beatles Songs, “Dr. Robert” is rated at #73 , above such songs as “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Get Back,” and “Michelle.” How do you feel about the song’s ranking and the song itself?

 

Matteo: It’s difficult to rate “Dr. Robert.” In the context of Revolver, arguably the group’s best album, it may not be considered one of the group’s best songs or recordings. Among their entire catalog, it probably fares better. As is always the case, individual tracks from The Beatles that may not be considered among their best would probably rank pretty high against those from many other artists and certainly better than what passes for hits on the charts these days.

 

For more information on Steve Matteo, HEAD HERE

Follow Steve on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter

For my review of Steve Matteo’s book, Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film, HEAD HERE

Join Steve and Jude at the Fest for Beatles Fans, Aug. 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare!!

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 10: For No One

Revolver

Side Two, Track Three

“For No One” Is For Everyone

by Jude Southerland Kessler

 

This month, the Fest for Beatles Fans Blog enjoys a closer look at Paul McCartney’s exquisite ballad, “For No One.”  Jude Southerland Kessler, our Fest Blogger and author of The John Lennon Series is “going solo” on this deep dive, but calling upon the wisdom of many respected Beatles music experts as she explores this outstanding and touching work. Insights into this song have been enhanced by:

 

Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78-79, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221, The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology, 207, Womack, Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 82-84, Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 248, Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere, 128-129, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 136-138, Gould, Can’t Buy Me Love, 360-361, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Turner, Beatles ’66, 107-108, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 113,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 342-343, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 169-171, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168-170, Riley, Tell Me Why, 193-194, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 164, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 138-140, Spizer, The Beatles From Rubber Soul to Revolver, 220, and Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239. Also here.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 9 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

On this day: A backing track was created in ten takes with Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set and Paul on EMI’s Steinway “Music Room”  Model “B” Grand Piano. (Hammack, 139) The tenth was designated as “best” and to this, Paul added work on a clavichord (which had been hired from Martin’s AIR company at the cost, Lewisohn tells us, of five guineas). Ringo added cymbals and maraca to Take 10 as well. Note: John and George did not take part in creating this backing track. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221)

 

Second Date Recorded: 16 May 1966

Place Recorded: Studio Two

Time Recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 1.30 a.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

On this day: Obviously, on this long day, the entire time in studio wasn’t spent on “For No One.” Most of the afternoon and evening was given to overdubs and mixing in order to create a master reel. But a portion of the day was set aside for Paul to overdub his poignant lead vocal onto Take 10 of “For No One.” It was recorded, Lewisohn reminds us, at 47 ½ cycles and then sped up on replay. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 78 and The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 220-221) Rodriguez comments that this “gave [McCartney’s] voice a slightly elevated pitch upon playback.” (p. 137)

 

Third Date Recorded: 19 May 1966

Time recorded: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 79)

 

On this day: Alan Civil, principal French horn player from the Royal (some sources say “London”) Philharmonic Orchestra was invited to EMI Studios to play the haunting French horn obbligato in this song. There are two completely different versions of what happened that day. Let’s look at both:

 

Many sources, including Civil himself, tell the story that Hunter Davies repeats in The Beatles Lyrics, p 171. He writes: “Civil came in [to EMI Studios], was told roughly what was wanted by George Martin and Paul, composed his own bit, played and went home, earning only his session fee.” This version of historical events can be found in great detail  in Womack’s Sound Pictures, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, pp. 82-83. Womack summarizes: “In Civil’s memory, it was McCartney who asked him to improvise a solo – ‘to make something up,’ as it were, in a baroque style.”

 

However, there is another completely different version of the day’s events, and Womack, using direct quotes from The Beatles Anthology, unveils this second account as well. He writes, “McCartney’s memories of the session vary dramatically from Civil’s. The Beatle later recalled humming the melody to Martin, who dutifully adapted McCartney’s vision into musical notation.” Womack quotes McCartney as saying, “George asked me, ‘Now what do you want him to play?’ I said, ‘Something like this,’ and sang the solo to him, and he wrote it down.” (Womack, p. 83 and The Beatles Anthology, 207)

 

So, which version of the story actually occurred? Womack points out that the “high F” note in the obligato just might hold the answers we seek. Womack quotes Paul as saying, “At the end of the session…George explained to me the range of the [French horn]…” and showed Paul that what they had composed “goes from here to this top E.” Mischievously, Paul responded, “What if we asked him to play an F?” And Womack goes on to say, “In Paul’s recollection, George saw the joke and joined in the conspiracy. We came to the session and Alan looked up from his bit of paper: ‘Eh, George? I think there’s a mistake here – you’ve got a high F note written down.’ Then, George and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled back at him, and he knew what we were up to and played it.” (Womack, p. 84 and The Beatles Anthology, 207) It seems unlikely that Civil would have written what was considered an “unreachable note” for himself. It is more likely that this impossible task was proposed by McCartney and Martin, and Civil rose to meet the challenge.

 

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Keyed in B…This song was composed in a key used quite rarely by The Beatles. In fact, only these of The Beatles’ songs were composed in B: “For No One,” “Penny Lane” (whose chorus changes to A major), and “Revolution.” The official sheet music for “For No One” has the key raised to C, but that is not the key in which the song was written or recorded. It’s felt that C was chosen for the sheet music to make the song easier to play. Spignesi and Lewis, 169 and here

 

 

  1. Museum Piece Rescue – Paul wrote and recorded “For No One” but never had occasion to perform it live. He regretted this inability to share his ballad with an audience, making the song what Paul dubbed “a museum piece.” Therefore, “For No One” was included in Give My Regards to Broad Street.

 

  1. Reverb Reserve – Geoff Emerick famously employed very little reverb in the songs he engineered, and “For No One” really benefits from this economy of treatment. It produced a simple, pure sound.

 

  1. Destiny’s Role – The French horn obbligato was originally slated to be performed by maestro Dennis Brian. (Rodriguez, 137) However, Brian died in an automobile accident before he could record the solo, and Alan Civil, described by Rodriguez as “an equal caliber musician,” was selected to replace him. Civil turned in an exceptional performance and is one of the first “outside” musicians (along with Anil Bhagwat) to be mentioned on a Beatles record.

 

  1. Continued Experimentation with a Classical Theme – “For No One” has been categorized as “chamber music” or “baroque music.” In a vein similar to “Eleanor Rigby,” this song’s lovely melody has classical roots, but it flourishes when the French horn obbligato is added to the score. In the Autumn of 1965, The Beatles were elbow-deep in musical exploration, and we’re all the better for it.

 

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

The Reviews are In!

 

“One of my favourites of [Paul’s]! A nice piece of work.”
John Lennon

 

“Another remarkable McCartney ballad, melodically sophisticated and lyrically mature.”

Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239

 

“A great ballad with a beautiful melody and striking production.”

Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 168

 

“…a sad, regretful, wistful, heartbreaking song…impeccably put together with a wonderful French horn solo by Alan Civil, perhaps the best-known hornist of his day…”

Hunter Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 171

 

“…conveys the solitude and regret of Yesterday, with more disbelief, more longing…”

Tim Riley, Tell Me Why, 193

 

“…remains one of Paul’s greatest accomplishments, with…a simple but effective melody.”

John C. Winn, That Magic Feeling, 18

 

“For No One” is universally respected. Calling it “a dark sister to ‘Here, There and Everywhere,” and “the true heir of ‘Yesterday,” Jonathan Gould (among so many others) extols this unusual song’s unvarnished honesty, and its “stark, sinking feeling” that something beautiful is dying and cannot be revived. (p. 360)  This is not a ballad of love; it’s a requiem of loss.

 

When first approached about the song in the 1960s, Paul denied that it was written for a particular person, but later, he confessed, “I wrote that on a skiing holiday in Switzerland. In a hired chalet amongst the snow.” (Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 281) And with him on that holiday (in the Swiss resort of Klosters) was, of course, his long-time love, Jane Asher. (Spizer, 215 and Winn, 18) Paul states, “I suspect it was about another argument. I don’t have easy relationships with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.” (Womack, 281). The lovers’ quarrel in that snow-banked chalet must have been calamitous, because the first title of this Revolver track was “Why Did it Have to Die?” And in The Beatles Lyrics, 172, Davies shares the hand-written draft of Paul’s original lyrics. They read:

 

“Why did it have to die?

You’d like to know

Cry and blame her

You wait

You’re too late

As you’re deciding why the wrong one wins the end begins

And you will lose her

Why did it have to die

I’d like to know

Try – to save it

You want her

You need (love) her

So make her see that you believe it may work out

And one day you may need each other.”

 

Unlike some of Paul’s songs for Jane which threaten (“Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?/ Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight”) or chide (“Now today I find/ You have changed your mind/ Treat me like you did the night before”) or point out unfair treatment (“When I call you up/ Your line’s engaged/ I have had enough/ So act your age!”), “For No One” is neither angry nor frustrated. Instead, it is a tender song of love lost.

 

Paul, who in the latter part of 1965 had been extensively reading plays, wrote the lyrics almost as if they were stage directions:

 

Your day breaks, your mind aches,
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you.

She wakes up, she makes up,
She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry,
She no longer needs you.

 

We watch the characters moving through the miasma of a sorrowful morning, a day in which two lovers have both physically and metaphorically awakened to the realization that their “love is dead.” And suddenly, McCartney’s message is inclusive. Using simple, direct language and brief sentences, he pulls us into his lyrics. He speaks a language that everyone understands and draws each listener into these familiar scenes of heartbreak. His lyrics are, as John Winn commented, “evocative.” (That Magic Feeling, 18)

 

For me, that word “familiar” was the very lynchpin of my love of this song. I was 12 years old…sitting on the side of my bed and playing Revolver for the first time…carefully placing the 33 1/3 on the turntable of my lift-top record player and lowering the needle. For the next hour, I sat cross-legged and listened…and listened and listened and blinked back tears.

 

“A song about taxes?! John Lennon knowns what it’s like to be dead?!!!! And what in the world has happened to George Harrison? ‘Love You To?’ Love you to what????” The studious me was completely bewildered by Revolver’s suggestions to “lay down your thoughts” and “turn off your mind.”

 

The only track to which I could relate was “For No One.” It recalled “Yes It Is” and “This Boy.” It hearkened back to “I’ll Follow the Sun” and even to John’s “If I Fell.” In myriad ways, it tethered me to “Yesterday.”

 

Years later, I read Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant work Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock and Roll, and the LP unfolded for me like a brightly colored pop-up book! (Thank you, Robert!) But at age 12, “For No One” provided a tidbit of the wonderfully familiar. On this strange LP of eccentric songs, “For No One” supplied music I understood. Like Paul’s universal lyrics, his melody offered a sound to which fans of the Cavern Beatles or The BBC Beatles could cling. In the turbulent, kaleidoscopic Summer of 1966, this song alone whispered, “Safe and sound.”

 

Each month, in our “Fresh, New Look” segment of the Fest Blog, I ask our guest commentator, “What do you like about this song? What appeals to you?” So…this month, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Please comment below and tell us what you felt when you first heard “For No One.” How did you react and why? And almost sixty years later, how do you feel about the song today?

 

I’d love to hear from you. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see you all in just a few months at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, August 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare!

 

 

For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler or  The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 9: And Your Bird Can Sing

Side Two, Track Two

In Which “You Don’t Get Me” becomes “And Your Bird Can Sing”

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Erin Torkleson Weber

 

This month, our Fest Blog continues our in-depth study of Revolver with a song that has “more than meets the eye.” It’s John Lennon’s enigmatic “And Your Bird Can Sing,” a track full of vitriolic lyrics, incredible musicianship, and controversy about “who did what.”

 

Joining Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series this month to explore this song is the highly respected author Erin Torkelson Weber.  A graduate of Newman University and Wichita State, after completing her graduate degree, Erin Weber began teaching American History part time at Newman University. Looking for a new, more modern subject to appeal to students in her senior seminar and research classes, Erin, a Beatles fan since childhood, began researching the band’s historiography. In 2016 McFarland published her work The Beatles and the Historians: An Analysis of Writings About the Fab Four, which examines the historical methodology and historiographical arc of the Beatles story. In addition, Erin helps run a blog, “The Historian and the Beatles,” which provides book reviews and source analysis of various Beatles works: she also co-hosts “All Together Now,” a podcast with Karen Hooper, and has guest starred on numerous other podcasts. Erin is a beloved member of our Fest Family, and we welcome her to the blog!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 20 April 1966 

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 2.30 a.m. (Note: Lewisohn points out that also recorded on this long day in studio were 4 rhythm track takes of “Taxman.”)

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil MacDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 75)

 

On this day: A backing track was created with Ringo on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set and George on his 1965 Rickenbacker 360 12-string electric. There is a second guitarist, and the identity of that person has been questioned and debated through the years. In The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack states that it was “either Lennon on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo or McCartney on his Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino electric guitar with Selmer Bigsby B7 vibrato.” (p. 125) Hammack notes that when George Harrison was quizzed about who performed on the second guitar by Guitar Player magazine in 1987, Harrison admitted that he didn’t know the answer. Hammack says that he feels “Lennon’s aggressive count-in indicates him as the guitarist,” but there is no conclusive proof. On this same track, John and Paul also sang on the backing vocals. (Hammack, 125)

 

Two takes were performed. Take Two was deemed “best.”

 

Then, superimpositions followed:

McCartney performed on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass

Harrison performed a guitar solo on one of 3 guitars he had in studio

Starr performed on tambourine

Paul and John double-tracked the backing vocals. The harmonies in the backing vocals are quite intricate and of note. This often-overlooked song has many layers.

 

Date Reworked: 26 April 1966

Location for both sessions: EMI, Studio Two

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 2.45 a.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 76)

 

On this day: The Beatles decide to completely remake “And Your Bird Can Sing.” In 11 takes, (which are numbered 3-13) The Beatles create a completely new backing track. Hammack tells us that “Lennon [is] either on his Fender Stratocaster or his Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino electric guitar, Harrison [is] again on [his] Rickenbacker 360-12 electric guitar, McCartney [is] on his Rickenbacker 4001S bass, and Starr is on his Ludwig drums. (Hammack, 126)

 

Takes 6 and 10 were selected as “best.” Superimpositions included:

Ringo on tambourine

Ringo on high-hat and cymbals

 

Eventually, Take 10 would be chosen as “best,” but Paul’s bass work on Take 6 would still be dubbed as the best. So, these elements were blended.

 

Once again, the harmony lead guitar work is questioned. There is no doubt that Harrison performed. But no one knows for sure if Lennon or McCartney accompanied him.

 

As the last order of business, Hammack tells us, “Finally, John added his lead vocals with McCartney and Harrison on backing vocals and hand claps (all recorded with frequency control (varispeed) at slower than normal tape speed, on playback sounding around half a semitone higher in pitch.)” (The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, p. 127)

 

***See Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 125-128 for more information.

 

Other Valuable Sources: Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 75 and 77 , Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 218 and 219, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 12-13 and 14-15,Lennon, Cynthia, A Twist of Lennon, 128, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 89 and 123-126, Robertson, The Art and Music of John Lennon, 54-55, Gould, 360, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 219, Turner, Beatles ’66, 159-161, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 111-112,  Margotin and Guesdon, 340-341, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 169-171, Spignesi and Lewis, 79-80, Riley, Tell Me Why, 192-193, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 159, Womack, Long and Winding Roads (2007 edition), 143-144, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, 36-37, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 125-128, and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 76.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Erin, the recording of “And Your Bird Can Sing” took two long days of studio work – 13 takes! Yet, in The Beatles Anthology, John Lennon categorizes “And Your Bird Can Sing” as “one of my throwaways.” This is a typical Lennon “tell,” a phrase he consistently uses to characterize songs that reveal too much emotion, leaving him vulnerable. John applies the epithet to 1965’s “It’s Only Love,” which explores the deepening rift in his relationship with Cynthia. He applies it to “Run for Your Life,” a song that lays bare his jealously and feelings of inadequacy. (He told David Sheff that only after his Primal Scream therapy was he able to write a song openly about these feelings: “Jealous Guy.”) Is it possible that John is rebuffing other deep-seated emotions in this song as well?

 

Erin Torkleson Weber: A “throwaway” song would presumably come across as (by Beatles standards, anyway) formulaic and relatively unremarkable, and “And Your Bird Can Sing” is neither. John’s ex post facto dismissal of its significance (he criticized it several times after the band’s breakup, both in 1971 and 1980) doesn’t erode the song’s lyrical bite and sharp edges, which appear to offer a glimpse into John wanting, for lack of a better term, “top billing” from someone with whom he’s connected, and whose preoccupation with tangential things is apparently mucking up their connection with and understanding of the singer, John. Given what we know of John’s deep-seated, lifelong fear of abandonment, this reading of the song would make it the furthest thing from a throwaway; rather, it can be seen as an expression of insecurity and frustration at an important someone’s not prioritizing him and letting him down by not “getting” him. One of the authors to underscore this song’s possible emotional significance is Tim Riley, who notes “the implied rejection” (Riley, Tell Me Why, 192) evidenced by the snag in Lennon’s vocalization of “me.”

 

However, Riley appears to be one of the authorial exceptions. In his excellent work, Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, Jonathan Gould describes “And Your Bird Can Sing” as “directed at an anonymous adversary,” (Gould, 359), and that adversarial component is what has drawn the most focus and encouraged significant speculation over the decades, by numerous authors, over whom John is addressing. Theories have ranged from Mick Jagger to Frank Sinatra, usually arguing that the song was provoked by Lennon’s “professional jealousy” (Gould, 360) and/or his dismissal of individuals whose pretension blinded them to true enlightenment. (Turner, Beatles’ 66: The Revolutionary Year, 160).

 

Yet these interpretations tend to ignore that, at the same time it criticizes, “And Your Bird Can Sing” also attempts to offer its subject some reassurance. “I’ll be round,” is, after all, wrapped inside the warning “you don’t get me;” a very appropriate lyrical pivot for the emotionally mercurial Lennon. This appears to indicate that, once the subject has tired of their pretentious distractions, Lennon and the song’s subject can possibly “see” one another and connect.

 

This reading of the song would certainly seem to eliminate Gould’s speculation that it was directed at Sinatra, to whom John would hardly be inclined to want to “see” or “get” him.  And Faithfull’s speculation that the song was directed at Jagger (identifying her,  Marianne, as the “bird” in the song) is purely that, speculation. (Rodriguez, Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 89). This overall reading of the song inevitably leads us to the question: Whom did Lennon feel, during this point in the Revolver sessions, wasn’t understanding him or prioritizing him the way he needed? That’s a level of lyrical analysis that’s above my historian’s paygrade, but a fascinating question to ask, particularly given John’s latter strong dismissal of the song.

 

Kessler: Erin, as a follow-up question… In the wake of his successful volumes, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, John had contracted with Jonathan Cape Publishers to write a third book to be released in February 1966. And writing was important to John. Indeed, when asked by Kenneth Allsop which profession he would prefer if he could choose between writing songs or writing books, John immediately chose writing books. He told Allsop he’d been doing that long before he became a Beatle. However, by the end of 1965, John admitted that he had only one poem prepared for the upcoming book, and so, he abandoned the idea of publishing again. Of course, John’s unrelenting schedule in 1965 must have had a great deal to do with that decision. But, do you think it’s possible that songs such as “And Your Bird Can Sing” gradually supplanted John’s need to write emotional, soul-revealing poetry and prose?

 

Weber: This is an excellent question, because it offers a chance to delve into issues regarding John’s creative process, and how that process was impacted by external and internal factors. What’s interesting about John’s schedule in 1965 is that you can make the argument his earlier schedules from the years when he wrote In His Own Write, published in 1964, and A Spaniard in the Works, which was published in June of 1965, were equally frantic. Why would this demanding schedule only begin to slow down his literary productivity by the end of 1965, when it hadn’t seriously impacted it before? Having said that, you can certainly argue that it was the cumulative effect of what had been, at that point, approximately three years of an unrelenting schedule, frantic pace, and constant demands of new songwriting material that played a role in preventing John from producing his third book.

 

We can speculate on any number of reasons, in addition to his frantic schedule, as to why John ultimately didn’t produce his third book. John told Allsop that he preferred writing books to writing songs, but the reality is that contractual and studio demands unquestioningly and unrelentingly prioritized song writing. So did the band’s group ethos and his competitive partnership with Paul.

 

Additionally, the argument that John’s realization that he could use song lyrics, such as those in “And Your Bird Can Sing,” to express the emotions previously and primarily expressed in his poems, letters and cartoons is a convincing one. In The Art and Music of John Lennon, John Robertson notes how Lennon’s “prose and verse writing had once been a form of exorcism,” (Robertson, 50) but argues that the lyrical example of Bob Dylan, coupled with the sonic possibilities in the studio, essentially allowed John to exorcise these elements through songwriting in a way that he had never previously considered or been able to accomplish.

 

Finally, we have to note that this use of self-revealing lyrics, replacing the old outlets of poetry and prose, corresponded with John’s initial exposure to and use of LSD. Robertson discusses how Lennon’s LSD use seriously influenced his writing and also argues that, in contrast to “the more fixed medium of prose,” songwriting allowed Lennon to express “these vague, shifting feelings” created by the aforementioned LSD use. (Robertson, 50)

 

Kessler: To conclude, what’s your reaction to this song, Erin? Does it speak to you in any way? Musically? Lyrically? Emotionally?

 

Weber: For me, “And Your bird Can Sing” is an excellent case study of how our connections and reactions to songs can shift with time and experience. As a bookish, four-eyed, awkward pre-teen with only a few (but amazing, essential, now lifelong) friends, every time I heard “And Your Bird Can Sing” on my dad’s Beatles tapes, I heard it as an indictment of the “cool” crowd in my middle school: fellow preteens so obsessed with wearing the right pair of brand-name sneakers that anyone, no matter how smart or funny or warm or generous, who didn’t meet their superficial standards was shunned or teased: “You say you’ve seen the seven wonders…but you don’t see me.” It went both ways, too: in my mind, if you were the sort of individual who cared so much about such trivial, adolescent status symbols that you couldn’t bother to look beneath the surface in order to know the person underneath, I didn’t want to waste my time attempting to get to know you, either.

 

Decades later, and (thankfully) well removed from middle school, I have a deep appreciation for the song’s lack of sentimentality. “And Your Bird Can Sing” is a song about attempting, and failing, to connect with someone. This is a feeling to which almost everyone can relate. Yet there’s no self-pity in it, and no sentimentality. I’m not a musician, or a musicologist, but my interpretation is that every other musical aspect of the song – the strident guitars, the edge in John’s voice – serves the song well. Its blend of warning over how prioritizing the wrong things – “prized possessions” – has damaged a point of connection between two people, combined with the singer’s frustration at feeling unseen and unheard, makes it relatable. Connections between people can and do fray, and while they can be patched, this song lays bare how it feels when that distance starts to occur.

 

What’s Changed:

 

Generally, this segment of the Fest blog precedes the “Fresh, New Look” interview. However, Erin Weber’s responses were so integral to the information in the following section that for this month, we’ve shifted things around. The aspect of “And Your Bird Can Sing” that has changed most over the years is the presumed identity of the protagonist, the “you” in this song. There have been many theories and suggestions proffered. Based on 37 years of study of John’s life and personality, I’m postulating yet another theory. Fifty-nine years after the song’s composition, however, no one can conclusively prove John’s intent.  – Jude

 

As historian Erin Torkleson Weber so adeptly pointed out, Beatles experts and biographers have, over the years, offered myriad suggestions about the identity of the person to whom this song addressed. Others have claimed that they were the subjects of the song, although they can’t explain why Lennon was so annoyed with them. Marianne Faithfull, for example – as Erin indicates – swore the song was about her, claiming John’s jealousy toward Mick Jagger and herself. But Faithfull’s claim falls flat when we discover that 1) John genuinely liked Mick Jagger and 2) John wrote this song before Marianne and Mick were even “an item.”

 

Cynthia Lennon, who once gave John the gift of a wind-up songbird, thought the song was directed at her and said so in her first book, A Twist of Lennon (p. 128). But when we closely examine the lyrics, Cynthia meets none of the criteria to be the song’s protagonist. Cynthia had only traveled a limited number of times and all of those excursions were taken with her husband: to Ireland, Paris, Tahiti, and America for The Beatles’ Feb. 1964 visit. (Her visit to India was yet to transpire.) Cynthia had never visited exotic locations or seen “Seven Wonders.” Additionally, she knew very little about sound and music, and most crucially, she certainly didn’t have everything she wanted. John’s lyrics simply don’t fit Cynthia’s profile.

 

Lately, a YouTube video from James Hargreaves (which is well-presented) offers up Frank Sinatra as the song’s possible protagonist because Sinatra edged out The Beatles for The Grammy’s “Album of the Year” award in 1965 with the LP, September of My Lifeand because Sinatra intensely disliked The Beatles and said so.

 

However, John and Paul had never “given a whit” for gold records, titles, or honors. By the summer of 1965, John had quit attending the Ivor Novello Awards. All of The Beatles complained about appearing at innumerable gold record ceremonies. In fact, in August of 1965, when compelled to attend the celebratory cocktail party given for them by Capitol Records president, Alan Livingston, George flatly refused to attend; Paul left early, and John departed not long after Paul. Such laudatory proceedings had become tedious.

 

All The Beatles really wanted to do was make great music. And as they returned to EMI in October of 1965 to create what would become Rubber Soul, they were inspired (and not threatened) by American competitors such as The Lovin’ Spoonful and the Byrds. In fact, the more talented their competitors (The Stones, the Byrds, the Beach Boys), the more The Beatles respected and liked them!

 

Frank Sinatra hardly registered on The Beatles’ radar. If the performer didn’t appreciate their hair or their style or even their personalities…well, who cared? Yet the tone of “And Your Bird Can Sing” is anything but milquetoast. It is angry. Very angry. John Lennon is singing to someone who really matters to him. Indeed, it appears that John is speaking directly to someone he knows – someone close to him whom he feels has betrayed his trust. We know this is the case because, as Erin pointed out, John vows in the bridge that no matter how cruel the person is to him,

 

“Look in my direction,

I’ll be ’round; I’ll be ’round.”

 

In other words, John has no intention of turning his back on the offender. Despite perceived disloyalty demonstrated by his former friend, John promises that he will always be there.

So, who is the protagonist of this song? John supplies numerous (though cryptic) clues to the betrayer’s identity:

  • The person has “everything he wants.” (The protagonist is well-to-do: living in a chic locale and driving a prized car, making headlines and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, succeeding in a powerful career.)
  • The person has “seen Seven Wonders.” ( In other words, the individual is well-traveled: having seen the world from the Spanish Riviera to the width and breadth of North America to exotic Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia. In John’s eyes, this person has seen it all, done it all. The protagonist is far more cosmopolitan than John, more polished and experienced.)
  • The person purports to “have heard every sound there is.” (This tidbit clues us into the fact that the individual in question is, quite possibly, part of the music industry. However, John’s legendary sarcasm here hangs on two words: “you say.” John is smirking as he hisses, “You say you’re a music expert. You say you’ve heard every sound there is.” We get the feeling that the individual to whom John is singing has made unwelcome suggestions to John about his own compositions or performances.)
  • The person has quirky, idiomatic tastes. (Well, after all, his bird is green…which leads us to perceive him as exotic and singular for his day.)
  • Finally (and most significantly), this individual is extremely important to John. In fact, according to the lyrics, at an earlier point in their relationship, John wrongly assumed this person, “got him,” “understood him,” “heard him,” and “saw him.” Now, in the sunless backlash born of faithlessness, John is striking out with a lacerating verbal attack.

 

Who fits this five-point profile?

 

Who had a very intimate relationship with John – so deep that he shared John’s secrets and trusted John with his own? Who had been so close to John that it was rumored by mutual associates such as Yankel Feather and Joe Flannery that a possible love affair might exist between the two? Who had been John’s advocate before possessions, world travels, the myriad demands of business, and the intricate web of power struggles set in? If your answer is “Brian Epstein,” then we’re on the same page.

 

It is the reference to the “green bird” that really highlights Brian’s identity for us. In Liverpool’s Scouse lingo, a “baird” is a term for a girl or a girlfriend. And “to swing,” in the 1960s, meant “to step out from the norm sexually.” Thus, John’s reference to his friend’s unusual “green bird” – a bird who “swings” – was, in all likelihood, a bitter Lennonistic dig at Brian’s gay relationships. Indeed, on The Anthology version of this song, when Paul and John sing, “and your bird can swing,” they snicker naughtily at their sly double entendre.

 

If we agree that John is, in fact, addressing Brian in this song, a second question immediately arises: What would have caused John to become angry enough with Brian that he penned this attack – a song only slightly less hostile than “How Do You Sleep?”

 

By 1966, John ached to stop touring. All of The Beatles did. And although they had expressed that sentiment to Brian over and over again, he completely ignored them. While this was frustrating for Paul and George, it seemed a personal wound for John.

 

In December of 1961 – upon assuming management of The Beatles – Brian had pledged to Mimi Smith that no matter what happened to the other boys, he would always protect John. He had vowed to work tirelessly to defend her nephew’s best interests. But now, John feels that Brian has stopped putting him first. Consumed with what John has decided is a desire for wealth, fame, and power, Brian (John thinks) is pushing The Beatles too hard – callously demanding new films, tours, singles and LPs, interviews, radio shows, television programmes, and personal appearances. And once upon a time, Brian had promised better.

 

Hence, John lashes out with real invective, linking each verse with the string of repeating accusations. “You don’t hear me!” “You don’t see me!” “You don’t get me!” John sees Brian’s refusal to address his needs as a broken vow, an infidelity.

 

This song, therefore, fits snugly into the “broken relationships” theme of Revolver. Originally entitled, “You Don’t Get Me!” this song shatters the giddy mood of “Good Day Sunshine.”  Track Two of Side One gave us “Eleanor Rigby.” Here comparably, in Track Two of Side Two, John and Brian are “the lonely people,” standing in a church of abandoned promises, surrounded by memories from May of 1963, when they vacationed together for 10 days on the Spanish Riviera or September 1963 when they spent happy days alone together in Paris. During those times, John and Brian had formed a bond born of shared vulnerabilities rarely voiced to anyone else. They had reached out to one another in mutual trust. Now, a mere three years later, John is spewing fury over the perceived perversion of that trust as Brian steadily continues to insist upon the course he feels The Beatles must follow.

 

For the wounded John Lennon, having “everything you want,” “seeing Seven Wonders,” “knowing every sound there is,” and even owning an exotic green, swinging bird means nothing if, in the process of garnering such success, you sacrifice friendship. Frustrated and fuming, but promising to “be ’round” when Brian finally hears him, sees him, and gets him once again, John is hanging on. However, the unresolved chord at the end of this song reminds us that in the future, anything can happen.

Sadly, by August of 1967, anything did happen. Fame exacted its price. And the birdsong fell silent.

 

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 8: Good Day Sunshine

Side Two, Track One

Good Day, Great Song!

by Jude Southerland Kessler with Special Guest, Ivor Davis

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans kicks off the exciting 60th Anniversary of 1964 – that landmark year in which many significant Beatles events (including The Beatles’ first trip to America and the release of the film “A Hard Day’s Night” with its remarkable soundtrack LP) took place! Simultaneously, The Fest will celebrate its 50th Anniversary – by gathering at the TWA Hotel in New York on Feb. 9-11. (Yes, the very date that The Beatles were first featured on “The Ed Sullivan Show”!) I’ll be there, and I hope you will be, too!

 

This month, our Fest Blog will add to the festivities by continuing our in-depth study of Revolver. We’re flipping the LP onto Side Two to enjoy Track One, the appropriately jubilant song, “Good Day Sunshine”!

 

Joining us this month to explore McCartney’s upbeat classic is the most upbeat of authors, the former Foreign Correspondent for the Daily Express – the man who toured with The Beatles in 1964 and went with them to meet Elvis in 1965, Ivor Davis. Ivor has been a guest at many Fests and is one of our favorite people in the vast Beatles family. We’re hoping he returns to the Chicago Fest in August as he releases the extended, enhanced version of his detailed work, The Beatles and Me on Tour. Let’s see what this respected British journalist, noted author, and Fest friend has to say about “Good Day Sunshine” as he gives it a “fresh, new look.”

But first, please join me for the “song stats”…

– Jude

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 8 June 1966 – The Beatles rehearsed “A Good Day’s Sunshine” (the original title) for quite a while, eventually recording three takes that comprised the rhythm track: bass guitar, drums, and piano. “Take One” was selected as “best.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82) Then, according to many sources, the tape was rewound, and Paul recorded a lead vocal with backing vocals by John and George on a second track. This was accomplished using frequency control (or “varispeed”) at a slightly slower than normal speed. When played at regular tempo, the vocals would be pitched a semitone higher. (Hammack, 148)

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 2.30 a.m. (The rehearsals took up most of this time frame, with the actual recording of the three takes only consuming about an hour.)

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Richard Lush

 

9 June 1966 – Onto “Take One,” Ringo added another bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals on a third track. (Winn, 24) Then, on a fourth track (Winn, 24) George Martin added what Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles Recording Sessions (p. 82) refers to as “a honky-tonk piano solo for the song’s middle eight.” This unusual sound was also achieved via the use, once again, of varispeed. The solo was taped at 56 cycles per second so that when played at normal tempo, it would sound brighter. Handclaps were also added along with extra harmonies by John and George.

Location for both sessions: EMI, Studio Two

Time recorded: 2.30 p.m. – 8.30 p.m.

 

Technical Team:

Producer: George Martin

Sound Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:*

Paul McCartney, the composer, played Studio Two’s Steinway “Music Room” Model “B” grand piano and sang lead vocals.

 

John Lennon, sang backing vocals. (Bruce Spizer in The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, p. 219, notes that you can hear John echo “She feels good” at 1.27 in the song.) Some sources (for example, Margotin and Guesdon’s All the Songs, p. 228) have John playing rhythm guitar. However, Riley in Tell Me Why says, “With piano double-tracked on both channels, there’s no need for guitar.” (p. 191) And Hammack (see below) has John possibly manning the bass guitar.

 

George Harrison, sang backing vocals. In The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack states that it was “either Lennon or Harrison on bass (it was not documented, nor is it discernible from the available audio which Beatle played bass).” (p. 148) Because both Harrison and Lennon were right-handed, the bass used on this song was not one of Paul’s but a 1964 Burns Nu-Sonic. (Hammack, 148)

 

Ringo Starr, played drums on his 1964 Ludwig Oyster “Black Pearl” Super Classic drum set as well as tambourine.

 

George Martin, played an original “honky-tonk” piano solo for the middle eight.

 

*Most information above is found in Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2 and supplemented as noted above.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 224, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 24-25, McCartney, The Lyrics, 232, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 219, Turner, Beatles ’66, 203-204, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 111-112,  Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 239, Margotin and Guesdon, 228-229, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 166-169, Spignesi and Lewis, 275-276, Riley, Tell Me Why, 191, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 167, Womack, Long and Winding Roads (2007 edition), 143, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 148-150, and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 77.

 

For more information on comedians and musicians in the British Music Hall tradition, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_music_hall_performers#British_Music_Hall_entertainers

 

What’s Changed

 

  1. Incorporation of musical influences from myriad sources – Some of these include:
  2. the colorful sounds of the old British music hall with which all of The Beatles would have been quite familiar. The Empire Theatre in City Center and the Philharmonic Hall on Hope Street (to name just a few) hosted these vibrant, vaudeville variety shows featuring comedians such as Liverpool’s George Formby and Ken Dodd, as well as gifted musicians from all genres. In The Lyrics, Paul recalls, “Both John and I grew up while the music hall tradition was still very vibrant, so it was always in the back of our minds.” And here in “Good Day Sunshine,” the warm variety show vibe is woven throughout, transporting the listener back to those happy music hall days. Indeed, Riley points out that, “[t]he ragtime piano solo…is round with Joplinesque pleasure…” and “…if it weren’t for the vibrant colors of the harmonies in the refrain, [the song] would be positively old-fashioned.” (Tell Me Why, 191) Some suggest that this song is a precursor to “When I’m 64” and later, “Honey Pie.”
  3. the Folk Rock trend which was topping the charts in America. Paul has acknowledged that “Good Day Sunshine” was specifically influenced by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s laid-back “walk in the sun” hit song, “Daydream,” which had been released in February 1966. Indeed, John and Paul had recently seen the Lovin’ Spoonful in concert at London’s Soho district Marquee Club. (Turner, Beatles ’66, 204 and Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 112) Some sources list the Kinks’ hit, “Sunny Afternoon” as a source of inspiration, but The Beatles recorded “Good Day Sunshine” in early June and “Sunny Afternoon” didn’t hit the charts until 6 July 1966.
  4. the Tamla Motown beat. This influence reaches “Good Day Sunshine” in a rather meandering fashion. Of course, The Beatles had always loved the sounds of Motown, but in “Good Day Sunshine,” the “choppy guitar beat” and pounding piano that introduces the song was heavily influenced by a similar sound at the beginning of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream.” When asked about their unusual “Daydream” intro, John Sebastian (lead singer for the Spoonful) said he borrowed it from two Supremes songs, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “Baby Love.” So, in a circuitous way, these two Motown hits also impacted “Good Day Sunshine.”

 

  1. Harmonic Shifts and a Raised Ending for the Song – In the song’s final chorus, The Beatles employ a clever harmonic shift, and in the concluding, cascading chants of “Good Day Sunshine,” they raise the key half a tone. These subtle but effective techniques not only supply optimism about the song’s tender love affair but also leave the listener with a sense of well-being about the world in general…particularly on this lovely, sunny day. (Miles, 239 and Margotin and Guesdon, 338-339)

Note: This raised-ending technique had only been employed by The Beatles once before: in the concluding lines of “And I Love Her.”

 

  1. A Joyful Song for Jane Asher – The majority of the songs that Paul had previously created for his love – the talented actress Jane Asher – focused on the couple’s struggle to maintain a long-distance relationship and two successful careers. But on Revolver, Paul penned two optimistic and contented love songs, “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine.” In Long and Winding Roads, Womack notes that “Good Day Sunshine” is about “blissfully functional romantic love.” (p. 143) And in Twilight of the Gods, Mellers says, “The tune is a yodel equating the love experience with a sunny day.” After the stormy angst of “I’m Looking Through You,” “We Can Work It Out,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “For No One,” this is a happy change of pace.

 

  1. Two potential “nudge-nudge, wink-winks”…and a third that is not! – From time to time, The Beatles enjoyed amusing themselves with covert lyrical references that were slightly naughty (Think the “tit-tit-tit-tit” chant in Rubber Soul’s song “Girl”). And some believe that “Good Day Sunshine” features a few nudge-nudge, wink-winks of its own.

 

For example, by 1965, some British politicians and the press had begun criticizing The Beatles for their Scouse expressions and accents. So, Paul – more than any of the others – strove to use “The Queen’s English.” But when recording “Good Day Sunshine,” Davies notes, “[O]n the word ‘laugh’ in the third line, I can detect Paul doing a short, flat Northern ‘ah’ just to amuse himself.” (p. 166) It’s a brief rebellion, but satisfying nonetheless.

 

Then, in the third verse, when Paul sings, “I love her and she’s loving me,” Spignesi and Lewis suggest that this unusual wording might have been a tactful hint that the beloved is, in fact, making love to him. (p. 275) Was this intended? Only Paul knows for sure.

 

However, one thing that Paul clearly expressed unequivocally was the fact that there was no hidden drug allusion in “Good Day Sunshine.” McCartney has readily admitted that he was referring to marijuana use in the lyrics of “Got to Get You Into My Life.” But repeatedly, Paul told reporters and critics alike that “Good Day Sunshine” is simply “a very happy song.” End of story.

 

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

As the only journalist to tour with The Beatles from “Day One to Day End” of the 1964 North American Tour whilst simultaneously serving as ghost writer for George Harrison’s “diary” in the Daily Express, Ivor Davis knew The Beatles quite well…as a friend and companion. He also lived the exciting days of 1964 and 1965 along with them, serving as an official commentator for soccer’s World Cup tournament in 1965. Ivor’s “insider” role gives him a unique vantage point as we discuss the Summer of 1966 and the events surrounding “Good Day Sunshine.” 

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Ivor, in Hunter Davies’s book Beatles Lyrics, he acknowledges the influence of American folk-rock (specifically The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit “Daydream”) on “Good Day Sunshine.” But Davies goes on to say that within the song, he “can hear echoes of old British Music Hall tunes, the kind [Paul’s] father probably played for the whole family to sing along at Xmas.” (p. 166) Having been reared in London, what echoes and sounds of the music hall do you detect in this number?

 

Ivor Davis: YES, ABSOLUTELY. So much. It’s a joyful song – heralding better days to come. Don’t forget Jim McCartney was a bandleader – who had relished and reveled in all that Thirties Big Band music hall stuff – which according to Angie and Ruth McCartney – not surprisingly spilled over to Paul, and without a doubt, inspired this particular piece of music.

 

A quick history lesson, if I may. Back in the late Forties and Fifties, major British port cities, like London – my hometown – and of course Liverpool, were still emerging from a grim war that had flattened and left the landscape in shambles. That was a period when because of huge food shortages, Paul and the other lads were fed on such “delicacies” as atrocious egg powder – for breakfast. The powder was artificial eggs that were simply too horrible to eat. And we were all given ration books – resulting in many a hard years’ nights! And the Boys were fed cod-liver oil daily. So, times were not easy.

 

However, our local  music halls were the perfect pick-me-ups, where mere working-class mortals could pay a few shillings and escape into the bosom of singers like, “Two Ton” Tessie O’Shea – (dubbed thus because she was an amply endowed performer – who in today’s world would never have been labeled in that somewhat demeaning way). Tessie,  by pure coincidence, shared star billing with The Beatles when they first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February l964. Music halls and of course, popular radio comedy shows like The Goon Show, were comedic balm to help soothe all our World War II wounds.  Our happy “escape hatch.”

 

Kessler: The Beatles Revolver LP was released in August of 1966, and several Beatles music experts point out that “Good Day Sunshine” very aptly captured the mood of that magical summer in the UK. In fact, Spignesi and Lewis say that the song’s lyrics “fit the mood, fit the sound, and fit the times.” What events do you recall in the Summer of ’66 that might have inspired this bright and euphoric song?

 

Davis: In the Summer of 1966, I was invited to the Beverly Hills home of actor singer Anthony Newley and his songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse where along with film director Sir Richard Attenborough  (Dickie to us—back then) and legendary celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill, we watched England win the World Cup – beating arch rivals, the Germans. Joy was everywhere, we were all euphoric! We were 6,000 miles from England, but our joy spilled over as Britain  celebrated revenge on those Huns – and the mood in Britain was pure ecstasy.

 

Kessler: Ivor, as a young teen, I remember listening to Revolver and being hard-pressed to find a song that I could “like” on this strange and innovative record. I usually loved anything Lennon, but John’s “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” were “a bridge too far” for a small-town Southern girl. “Good Day Sunshine” seemed safer and more palatable. As a British foreign correspondent living in L.A. in 1966, what was your reaction to the songs on Revolver and to “Good Day Sunshine” in particular?

 

Davis: “Good Day Sunshine” was indeed so very palatable and uplifting.  Who amongst us, growing up in the chilly and cold climes of the British winters,  would not welcome the warm sun to begin our day?!  I remember that creative Beach Boys boss Brian Wilson, who was in L.A., said that the joyous song inspired him beyond belief. It was, he said, his tonic, because Brian suffered from long running severe depression, and he was quick to acknowledge that after hearing “Sunshine,” he was uplifted and inspired – and immediately sat down to write more joyous music – such as his huge hit, “Good Vibrations.” And, of course, I can understand why “Sunshine” was so much more palatable to a small-town Southern girl like you, Jude! Only recently I learned that “Good Day Sunshine” was the song that was automatically played every morning for isolated residents and astronauts living in U.S. Space Stations – high in the heavens of outer space!

 

Kessler: Now, Ivor, you’re getting ready to re-release your book, The Beatles and Me on Tour, which covers your time with the lads in 1964 and 1965…and several episodes in later years as well. I know you’ve added some new material to the book and many new photos. Since we have you with us, can you give us some hints of what this new material might include? A sneak peek for your Fest Family?

 

Davis: Glad you brought that up! My 60th anniversary edition of The Beatles and Me on Tour contains what I think to be a wonderful potpourri of information – along with some new fabulous photographs from some of the world’s leading Beatles cameramen including Henry Diltz, Harry Benson, Paul Harris, and the late Ron Joy and Curt Gunther. They captured The Beatles in ways no one else did!

 

Here are a few titbits: Paul McCartney and wife Nancy have bought a new “house” in Malibu – for a cool $5 million plus – but you would never guess where it is located! I’ll just say it’s walking distance from Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan’s Malibu palaces.

 

And would you believe how I literally stumbled on this info? I speak to a bunch of world-famous celebrity entertainers, including Sting, and they told me how they were all so heavily influenced to become stars—by, of course, our very own Fab Four.

 

Then, there’s a wonderful story about the world-famous folk singer who admits she became a “Beatle groupie” —with her eye on John, even though her world-famous boyfriend told The Beatles to keep their hands off her! You’ll enjoy that story, Jude.

 

Kessler: That sounds intriguing! So, tons of new info and photos headed our way in the new book…AND we’re hoping you’ll be at the Chicago Fest to sign copies for each and every one of us, Ivor! Fingers crossed! Until then…thank you very, very much for being with us for the “Good Day Sunshine” blog, and from your Fest family, sincere congratulations on your new release!

 

For more information on Ivor Davis and the upcoming release of his expanded version of The Beatles and Me On Tour, HEAD HERE

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For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler or The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

 

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 7: She Said She Said

Revolver

Side One, Track Six

“She Said She Said”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Christine Feldman-Barrett

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been enjoying some time well spent with the songs on The Beatles brilliant LP, Revolver. This month, Christine Feldman-Barrett joins Jude Southerland Kessler, the author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at one of the most beloved Beatles tracks of all time. Christine Feldman-Barrett is a youth culture historian and Beatles scholar.

 

Originally from the United States, she is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of A Women’s History of the Beatles, which was published with Bloomsbury in 2021 and was awarded the 2022 Open Publication Prize by the Australia-New Zealand branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). Her other publications include “We are the Mods”: A Transnational History of a Youth Subculture (Peter Lang, 2009) and – as editor – Lost Histories of Youth Culture (Peter Lang, 2015) and The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2023). Feldman-Barrett and her work have been featured in the Washington Post, the Guardian, the BBC, and ABC radio Australia. She has appeared as a guest on numerous Beatles podcasts and is on the editorial board of The Journal of Beatles Studies, which is published by Liverpool University Press. And best of all, Christine will be at the New York Fest for Beatles Fans, 9-11 February 2024! Come meet her in person!!!

 

 

What’s Standard:

 

Dates Recorded: 21 June 1966

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 3.45 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

 In Studio 2, The Beatles worked for 9 (number 9!) hours to record this final song for the Revolver LP. “She Said She Said” came into the session unnamed and unrehearsed. Through 25 takes, the boys assembled all the elements and honed the song. The rhythm track of Take 3 was deemed “best” and onto this, John superimposed his lead vocal…and John and George dubbed in their backing vocals. As Mark Lewisohn explains in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “A reduction mix vacated one of the four tracks where an additional guitar and organ part (played by John) were soon taped.” (p. 84) The role of Paul and the bass line heard on this song will be discussed in the “What’s Changed” segment of this blog.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:*

John Lennon, the composer, is playing either his 1961 Fender Stratocaster or his 1965 Epiphone ES-230 TD, Casino.

Paul McCartney says he did not sing or play an instrument on this track. (See “What’s Changed”)But many sources still list him as providing the bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S before having an argument with one or more of The Beatles and walking out of the session.

George Harrison is playing either his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo, his 1964 Gibson SG Standard with Gibson Maestro Vibrato, or his 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD, Casino with Selmer Bigsby B7 vibrato.

Ringo Starr is playing his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum set.

*This information is from Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 154.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 226, Lewisohn, The Beatles: The Recording Sessions, 84, The Beatles, The Anthology, 209, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 336-337, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 27-28, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 142-143, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 154-156, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 149-151,  Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 111, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 164-165, Miles, Many Years From Now, 288, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 215, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 219, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 168-169, Mellers, Twilight of the Gods, 75-6, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs,186-188, Spitz, 581, and Riley, Tell Me Why, 188-189.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Experimentation with Meter – A month ago, if someone had asked me which Beatle most experimented with meter and tempo changes, I would have swiftly responded, “Oh, Paul McCartney.” But as it turns out, that is not true. Here are the songs in which John Lennon experimented with meter change: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” (4/4 in the verses, 3/4 waltz in the instrumental bridge), “All You Need is Love,” (intricately alternates between 4/4 and 3/4), and “Across the Universe” (Verse One is 4/4 until it reaches the last bit of the verse, “across the universe,” and that is 5/4. Verse Four repeats almost the same thing but this time the words “way across the universe” are in 5/4.) Of course, John also employed myriad meter changes in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (2/4, 3/4, and 4/4!!!)

 

Two of the earliest Lennon/McCartney songs to dabble in meter change were “We Can Work it Out” (recorded during 20 October 1965) and “She Said She Said” from June of 1966. As Ian MacDonald points out in Revolution in the Head, “She Said She Said” is “rhythmically one of the most irregular things Lennon ever wrote.” (p. 169) It not only features a signature change into 3/4 during the “She said, ‘You don’t understand what I said.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, you’re wrong,’” portion of the song. The disjointed, otherworldly sensation of a hazy dream state or an LSD fog – accentuated by the eerie consideration of “what it’s like to be dead” – manifests in an erratic, herky-jerky zombie-esque arrangement. Dreamlike – nightmarish, really – the strange tempo pushes and pulls, threatening to obliterate sanity. It’s a powerful tool placed alongside the unusual instrumentation and The Beatles’ vocal elements.

 

  1. Possible Limited McCartney Input – Although “She Said She Said” was the closing track for Side One of Revolver, it was actually the final song recorded for the LP. The Beatles had begun work on Revolver on Wednesday, 6 April 1966, (Lewisohn, The Beatles: The Recording Sessions, 70) and they’d been working quite closely together, hours on end for almost four months. So, it’s no surprise that on this final evening, tensions were running high. Paul recalls, “I think we’d had a barney or something, and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’ I think George played bass.” (Margotin and Guesdon, 337) Note: In The Beatles Lyrics, Hunter Davies qualifies this by saying, “…Paul does not appear on that track, not as a singer anyway, though he might have added a bit of bass afterwards.” (p. 164)

 

However, John C. Winn in That Magic Feeling states, “Paul became the first Beatle to walk out on a session when he had an unspecified argument with the others, although not before contributing to the rhythm track.” Hammack in The Beatles Recording Reference Manual agrees, saying that on the 21st of June, “Take 3 was best, and a good thing, too, because afterwards, McCartney got in a fight with Lennon and left the studio.” (p. 154) But in Many Years From Now, Paul firmly states that he did not perform on the track: “I think it was one of the only Beatles records I never played on.” (Miles, 288) Did he, or didn’t he? This shall remain one of the great mysteries of Beatles history.

 

  1. Lyrics by Lennon and Harrison – On 21 June 1966, in an interview with Melody Maker (which would appear in the magazine on the 25th) John revealed that he still had one song to record for the new LP, but that he had only written “about three lines so far.” George Harrison recalls trekking over to Kenwood during that time frame to help John “wrap up the composition.” George recalls that he suggested John incorporate a waltz-tempo fragment of a song (“When I was a boy, everything was ri-ight/Everything was ri-ight…”) that John had formerly created and had left unused. George says they worked together to link this song fragment to the rest of “She Said She Said.” (Winn, That Magic Feeling, 27)

 

  1. A “Story” Version of Lennon’s Lifelong Theme – John insisted that while Paul wrote “songs about other things,” John mainly wrote about himself. And in “She Said She Said,” John is still focusing on his autobiographical pain: the devastation that death leaves in its wake, the chaos of sorrow and loss. However, in “She Said She Said,” John shares this torment via the story of a woman whom he supposedly encounters…a strange female who tells him that she “knows what it’s like to be dead,” that she “knows what it is to be sad” – a woman who makes him feel as if he’s “never been born.” In Twilight of the Gods, Mellers admits that this appears to be an older woman, perhaps “an aunt or mother.”

 

Indeed, although the line, “I know what it is to be dead” was inspired by a comment from Peter Fonda at a 1965 Los Angeles pool party, Fonda has nothing to do with the subject of this song. John is once again singing his heart, bemoaning the devastating loss of Julia Lennon, “the girl in a million my friend.” But here – for the first time – he is doing so in a narrative format. In this story-song, the familiar woman who rules his entire musical catalog appears as surreal: as a ghost, a spirit, or a figment of his imagination.

 

This is unique territory for John, who up to this point has stuck very closely and literally to the poignant narrative of Julia’s loss twice in his life: first, when he was separated from her in childhood and later, when as a teenager he lost her a second time, to death.  In “Help!,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Not A Second Time,” “(You’ve Got To) Hide Your Love Away,” “Nowhere Man,” “I’m A Loser,” “Julia,” and so many more, John consistently poured out his heartbreaking tale without imaginative embellishment. But here, the old story – no less painful in an artful form – is entangled in the bizarre trappings of a dream state. The same fears, pain, and anguish are merely housed in a unique presentation.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

It was a joy to work “across the universe” (she, in Australia and I, in Louisiana) with Dr. Christine Feldman-Barrett to trace the musical and storyline innovations inherent in Lennon’s brilliant “She Said She Said.” Christine will be at the February 9-11, 2024 New York Fest for Beatles Fans to share her respected work on A Women’s History of The Beatles. We welcome Christine to the Fest Blog and can’t wait to hear her speak in just a few months!

 

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: “She Said She Said” has been called one of John’s most revealing biographical songs. Tim Riley in Tell Me Why states, “the singer is wrestling with feelings he barely understands – inadequacy, helplessness and a profound fear. Because Lennon so obviously feels these emotions as he plays and sings them, the music is a direct connection to his psyche.” (p. 188)  What is your reaction to this assessment?

 

Christine Feldman-Barrett: Unless someone had insider information at the time, no one in The Beatles’ audience circa 1966 would have known that the song was about one of John’s first LSD experiences – nor that that some of its lyrical content was about a ‘he,’ namely, actor Peter Fonda. Instead, what comes through in the lyrics is very much a sense of emotional confusion. That feeling is certainly key to the words of “She Said She Said.” However, there’s also an element of intellectual detachment to the narrator’s telling of this story. Unlike 1965’s “Help!,” which is lyrically direct in showcasing Lennon’s vulnerability, “She Said She Said” is very much head over heart. Needless to say, a “heady” reading of the song makes perfect sense once listeners know it’s about John Lennon taking a hallucinogenic drug.

 

The track’s psychedelic origin story aside, what’s especially interesting upon first listen is that it seems the narrator is having a deep and meaningful – if also somewhat esoteric – conversation with a woman. I don’t think I had ever encountered that kind of male-female dialogue in a song before I listened to “She Said She Said.” And though the “he said” parts of the lyrics are seemingly critical of what the woman is saying, the man in the song is nonetheless hooked into this conversation for a while (until, that is, “he’s ready to leave”). As Jacqueline Warwick states in her 2002 book chapter, “I’m Eleanor Rigby: Female Identity and Revolver,” the song seems to be about “a woman who will not stop talking and a man who doesn’t want to listen (but has difficulty tearing himself away).” (p. 61)The fact that something “she” says makes the song’s male protagonist want to question his existence was something completely different to my young ears in 1979, and it is definitely something that would have been atypical for a rock song in 1966.

 

Even when I was a child listening to this track, I liked the idea that the woman in the song – and her purpose within the lyrical story – is unusual, mysterious. She does not come across as a love interest, as would hold true for other, earlier Beatles songs or songs by other artists circa 1965 or 1966. Instead, this woman is an enigmatic character who wants to discuss life and death with her conversation partner – even if it upsets him – and even if it makes him question his entire sense of self and the world as he knows it.

 

Along these lines – with a conflict between man and woman in the lyrics – I also think about how Cynthia Lennon’s 2005 memoir John addresses how her husband’s LSD use affected their marriage. Cynthia had no interest in the drug and found it frightening while John found it profoundly life changing and affirming – maybe because it brought him out of his “known self” or challenged his sense of himself as a Beatle. In Cynthia’s estimation, however, LSD drove a wedge through their marriage (see, for example, her thoughts on this in Chapter 13 of John). If John’s perspective of himself and the world was forever altered, it created a new type of relational space in which Cynthia likely felt she no longer truly belonged.

 

Kessler: Christine, the closing song on Side One of a Beatles LP was traditionally something rather remarkable. On Please Please Me, it was the title track, “Please Please Me.” On A Hard Day’s Night, it was the Ivor Novello award-winning, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” On Help!, the closer was “Ticket to Ride.” What elements of “She Said She Said,” in your opinion, recommend it into this pivotal position on Revolver?

 

Feldman-Barrett: That’s a great question. It makes me think about how the other closing track on Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is the one that often vies for the spot of “Best Beatles Song” (alongside “A Day in the Life”) in most rankings and lists I’ve come across. But for my money, “She Said She Said” should be near the top as well. One of the reasons it’s remarkable is because The Beatles – John first and foremost – are trying to sonically achieve something really very difficult with this song: relaying the experiences of an acid trip.

 

While we take the notion of “psychedelic rock” for granted today, the idea of replicating such a singular experience in musical form could not have felt straightforward or easy. While Lennon was able to describe to George Martin the sound and feel he wanted for “Tomorrow Never Knows” (i.e., monks chanting from atop a mountain) – and he had Paul’s tape loops to assist – how would it be possible for just guitars, drums, and vocals to aurally mirror LSD’s effects? Though I have never taken LSD myself, reading anecdotes about acid trips and having had others share their experiences of them with me, it’s clear that this song is trying to create a sonic representation of something that is often described as comprising many visual sensations and hallucinations. For example, in The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through Anthology (1999), Walter Everett theorizes that the lead guitar’s echoing of the vocal melody throughout the song is a motif meant to intimate the visual trails that are said to occur while taking LSD. (p. 66) Moreover, the unusual and changing rhythms of the song – clearly led by Ringo’s drumming – seem to capture the oddity of time itself while tripping.

 

While all music deals with and works within time signatures, trying to get the feeling of psychedelic time distortion just right – and without the whole song falling apart – is such an interesting thing for The Beatles to have attempted here. And the fact that it’s mostly achieved through just their playing and singing – without any overt studio tricks like with “Tomorrow Never Knows” – is phenomenal. For all these reasons, “She Said She Said” definitely deserves this pivotal position on the Revolver LP.

 

Kessler: Christine, this was the final song recorded for Revolver, and Ian MacDonald says “Lennon pull[ed] off a last-minute coup with this track, going some way towards evening up the score in his on-going competition with McCartney.” (Revolution in the Head, 169) Although Paul has more songs to his credit on the LP than John does, MacDonald says, “‘She Said She Said’ is the outstanding track on Revolver.” (p. 169) Your reaction?

 

Feldman-Barrett: I absolutely agree with Ian MacDonald’s reading of “She Said She Said,” and I am always surprised when I hear Beatles aficionados dismiss it as a kind of throwaway track. I know that for some, this has to do with the claim that Paul didn’t play bass on it (though the claim is disputed). In any case, that dismissive view of this song is difficult for me to understand. Then again, I am a particular fan of The Beatles’ late ’65 to early ’67 sound, and – to me – this song typifies everything I love about that period of their music-making.

 

It’s clear that McCartney’s songs on Revolver are magnificent examples of his artistry in so many ways – and that he was really growing as a songwriter with this album – but when I think of Revolver – I tend to think of John’s songs first, with “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” the two that immediately spring to mind. They are both oddly thought-provoking and memorable. While Paul’s songs on Revolver are filled with pathos and are finely crafted “story songs,” I find the otherworldly aural beauty of Lennon’s contributions more intriguing listen after listen. And of all the “John songs” on Revolver, “She Said She Said” is the ultimate earworm. Its melody is nothing short of addictive. Little wonder that MacDonald also suggests Lennon is at his creative peak with The Beatles during this time. His songs on Revolver – though fewer in number than those led by McCartney – are landmark moments in rock music history due to their sheer inventiveness.

 

Kessler: Christine, when this song debuted, I was a pre-teen living in small-town North Louisiana, and I remember being utterly bewildered by the track. Now, thanks in large part to Robert Rodriguez’s book Revolver: How The Beatles Re-Imagined Rock’n’Roll, I can appreciate the layered artistry of the work. But it still isn’t one of my favorite Beatles songs. How did you respond when you first encountered “She Said She Said,” and how do you see it now?

 

Feldman-Barrett: I was  seven (almost eight) years old when I first heard this song in 1979, and I loved it straight away. As an adult looking back on this moment, my initially enthusiastic first reaction to “She Said She Said” kind of  bewilders me on the one hand, as it doesn’t seem the kind of Beatles track a little girl listening to Revolver would necessarily enjoy. On the other hand, I’ve always been drawn to a jangly guitar sound, which is so prominent in this song. I know it’s been said that this was the Byrds’ influence on the song, but I don’t think I had heard the Byrds’ music yet by this time.

 

In any case, George’s lead guitar line, which opens the track, commanded my attention to such a degree that I could not help but be intrigued by the rest of the song. Also, while the song showcases a dramatic change in rhythm and meter, it’s nonetheless always been a Beatles song that makes me want to get up and dance. The lyrical content of “She Said She Said” was not something I thought much about until I was a teenager. Being part of the Goth subculture during those years – and a Goth who hadn’t abandoned The Beatles – I know the brooding, existentially angsty nature of the song’s lyrics was definitely appealing. Despite its attractiveness to me at that time, “She Said She Said” is a  song that has traveled really well with me throughout my life. It always gels with or complements other music I enjoy.

 

Since my sister held onto the Revolver LP she bought for us in 1979, I ended up buying it on CD soon after watching The Beatles Anthology when it first aired on American TV in November 1995. I’d play “She Said She Said” on repeat in my car driving around Los Angeles, which is where I lived at the time. Since the song’s origin story took place in LA, I suppose that was fitting  – but, mainly, it made sense that I wanted to hear it a lot, given that I was also listening to Britpop bands like Oasis and Blur. There’s such a clear A-to-B line from “She Said She Said” to the sound of those bands, most all of whom cite The Beatles as one of their greatest inspirations. And it still remains my favorite Beatles song. There’s something magical about The Beatles’ early psychedelic songs that make me return to them again and again. For me, “She Said She Said” has all the elements that make me love their mid-period sound best: catchy guitar lines, inventive drumming, and vocal melodies that always makes me want to sing along.

 

For more information on Christine Feldman-Barrett, HEAD HERE or HEAD HERE

Follow Christine on X (formerly Twitter) HERE

Follow Christine on LinkedIn HERE

 

For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler and The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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Why We (Beatles)Fest

A decade ago or more, it seemed as if ages and ages crawled by between Fests. The span of time between the New Jersey and Chicago events dragged on forever! But now, the days seem to fly by, and I’ve barely unpacked before it’s time to find my Beatles sweatshirts, buttons, hats, and paraphernalia…and head right back again.

 

 

“You’re going to another Fest?” my hairdresser said (as I asked her to “put the fire back in those locks!”).

 

“Yep, as fast as my car can drive me!” I smiled.

 

“But…I mean…don’t you get tired of…it’s just…you go all the time, it seems like.”

 

“Well,” I really thought about it for a moment, “I know it seems that way to an outsider, but to those of us in what we call ‘The Fest Family,’ there can never be too many in a year. It’s never enough…”

 

Why?” She skeptically closed one eye at me. “What’s so special? Why do you…um, fest?”

 

And just like that, the question was on the table.

 

I mumbled my pat answer – I said that the Fest was like Thanksgiving for all of us. But, over the next few days, I really began mulling her question over. I thought about it as I mowed the yard, planned my book release party, drove to the grocery store, and worked on my Chicago presentations. And the answer finally came to me one night as I was running…a direct answer, in fact, – not from our own Liddypool boys – but from the Eagles!

 

They sang the answer into my earbuds…those haunting, beautifully immortal words from “Hotel California: “Some dance to remember…some dance to forget.” Yes, that was it! Dead right!

 

At times, we go to the Fest for Beatles Fans to remember…to recall the night we sat glued to our parents’ enormous black’n’white TV set while Ed Sullivan swept his arm across his body and shouted, “The Beatles!” We Fest to remember how it felt to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo scamper quickly off the concert stage after what we presumed (though no one could hear a note) was “Long Tall Sally.” We Fest to conjure up that rush we felt when the needle hit the first groove of Sgt. Pepper….to relive those Christmas mornings when even the shiny foil paper and full satin bows failed to disguise the latest Capitol album from our Fab Four.

 

We Fest to remember who we are…not grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives…but our truest selves: that young man proudly wearing the pale grey, pocketless jacket, Cuban heels, and “long hair” of his heroes; the giddy girl skipping school to trek out to JFK; the frightened but determined school reporter penning the essay defending John Lennon against the out-of-context Datebook quote…and ending up in the principal’s office for being so “disappointingly radical.” At The Fest, we are still the young, bright-eyed Sam Goody employee counting the seconds ’til the stroke of midnight when the next Parlophone LP will finally be released! We are the still young mother singing a “No Reply” lullaby to her child or the scared young dad pacing with his baby in the dark and weakly crooning, “Beautiful Boy.”

 

At the Fest, we return to who we are. We cross the barrier of time and age. We become US again.

 

A few years ago, I was crossing the Chicago lobby when someone shouted at me, “Hey Lennon Chick!” I chuckled. I wasn’t offended…or insulted or diminished or threatened. Instead, I smiled to know that someone saw me for who I was…not a studious author buried in research, manuscripts, and conference presentations…but a fan who loved John Lennon and wasn’t afraid to let the world know it.

 

Indeed, we Fest to remember.

 

But just as importantly, we Fest to forget.

 

“The world is too much with us, late and soon,” wrote British poet, William Wordsworth. Day after bitter day, we are being pummeled by the world…by politics, divisiveness, anger, and hatred. There are dark accusations lurking around every corner and enough suspicion and blame to make even Kent State look tame. Our world is madly enraged.

 

And so, we Fest to retreat from it all. We need to hear, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Love is All You Need.” We need to “Come Together” and “Let it Be.” We need to find common ground instead of fault. We need to hug our friends on both sides of the aisle and find in each other’s eyes a bond and not a barrier. We Fest to forget…if only for one weekend.

 

In many ways, I think, the quick, pat answer that I tossed out to my hairdresser was accurate. The Fest is my Thanksgiving (and yours) – a chance to sit down and share deep dish pizza at Giordano’s with a loud, rowdy group of people we love. It’s our chance to catch up on their lives and to tell stories of our own. We Fest to cry on each other’s shoulders and share the photos in our phones and stay up too late and tell too many corny jokes and secrets. Without a doubt, the Fest is our Thanksgiving.

 

But more than that, it’s the place at the end of the long and winding road where we are happy just to dance…some to remember, some to forget.

 

I hope to see you in Chicago. You can wear your favorite jeans or bell-bottoms. I’ll wear those same, old be-jeweled flip-flops that enable me to stand for 11 hours in my booth. I know you’ll still believe that Paul is the genius. And I’ll believe it’s John…and secretly, we’ll both agree that it took “two to tango.” But we’ll never admit that out loud. We’ll stick to our guns, because we’ll be at the Fest. And at the Fest, we aren’t grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives. We are BEATLES FANS…and that, dear friends, is what calls us to the dance.

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Revolver Deep Dive Part 2: Eleanor Rigby

Revolver

Side One, Track Two

“Eleanor Rigby” Lives On

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Simon Weitzman

 

Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will be delving into the fine details of The Beatles’ astounding 1966 LP, Revolver. This month network TV director, producer, and author, Simon Weitzman – best known in The Beatles’ World for his beloved film A Love Letter to The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere –  joins John Lennon Series author Jude Southerland Kessler for a fresh, new look at a track that literally changed all we had come to know about The Beatles! Simon is co-author, with Paul Skellett, of four remarkable Beatles books: Eight Arms to Hold You, All You Need is Love, The Mad Day Out with Tom Murray, and The Beatles in 3D. We’re thrilled to have Simon with us this month and in person, in just a few days, at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans!

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded:

The Home Demo was recorded by Paul in late March 1966 at Ringo’s flat in Montague Square (Winn, 7)

 

First EMI session, 28 April 1966, Studio Two

5 p.m.- 7:50 p.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 77)

 

Second EMI session, 29 April 1966, Studio Three

5 p.m. – 1 a.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 77)

 

Third EMI session, 6 June 1966 in Studio Three (control room only)

7 p.m. – 12 a.m. (Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 82)

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Second Engineer: Phil McDonald

 

Stats: On 28 April, a professional string octet (members listed below) recorded 14 takes. On 29 April, as John C. Winn tells us in That Magic Feeling, “Paul added his lead vocal on track 4, and then he, John, and George harmonized for the choruses on track 3.” (p. 24) That evening, the tape recorder was slowed a bit to achieve a higher pitch when played at regular speed. Finally, on 6 June (spilling over into the small hours of 7 June), Paul re-recorded his vocal, employing a unique concept provided by Martin. Martin had suggested Paul “sing the chorus in counterpoint to his final vocal refrain.” (Winn, That Magic Feeling, 24)

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal.

John Lennon sings backing vocals.

George Harrison sings backing vocals.

String Octet including violinists Tony Gilbert (first violin) Sidney Sax, John Sharpe, and Jurgen Hess; violists
Stephen Shingles and John Underwood, and cellists Derek Simpson and Norman Jones. Musical arrangement by George Martin. (Hammack, 136)

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 219, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 77, Martin, All You Need is Ears, 199, Emerick, Here, There, and Everywhere, 127, Rodriguez, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 167-169, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 144-149,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 326-327, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 7 and 24, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 136-137, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 104-105, Riley, Tell Me Why, 184-185, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 213, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 93-95, McCartney, Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, 157-163, Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 118-119 and 151, Shotton, John Lennon: In My Life, 123-124, and MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 162-163.

 

What’s Changed:

 

Absolutely Everything!!! If you knew nothing at all about The Beatles, and heard “Love Me Do” followed by “Eleanor Rigby,” you would vow that those two songs were not composed by the same band! Even if we juxtaposed 1965’s “Help!” against 1966’s “Eleanor Rigby,” the differences would still be myriad and vast. The second track on Revolver truly changed so much that we know about The Beatles. It was a dramatic 180-degree pivot. Here are just a few of the meteoric changes:

 

  1. Instrumental Personnel – Paul sings the lead vocal while John and George sing back-up, but nary a Beatle plays an instrument on this track. The instruments are manned by a professional string octet, but not by John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That is certainly “something new”!

 

  1. Instruments – four violins, two violas, two cellos. And that is all. To quote Clang: “Shocking!”

 

  1. “A Complete Change of Style” – This quote regarding “Eleanor Rigby” (and “Tomorrow Never Knows”) is from Sir George Martin. And of course, he said it perfectly. Both songs propelled us headlong into “the new direction.” Prior to Rubber Soul and Revolver, Beatles music had been upbeat if not always optimistic. Even songs expressing crushing depression (such as “I’ll Cry Instead” and “Help!”) sound hopeful, if not downright joyous.

 

But “Eleanor Rigby” is unabashedly a song about painful isolation from which there is no glimmer of rescue. In The Beatles’ catalog, this is a revolutionary theme and sound. As Tim Riley observes in Tell My Why: “The ‘ah’s’ aren’t soothing, they’re aching, and the sudden drop in the cellos after the first line sinks the heart along with it.” Yes, “Misery” was a song of heartbreak but left open the possibility that the wayward girl would “come back to me.” And in “Girl,” the bickering couple only suffer through their troubles because they’re still very much in love.

 

But the world of “Eleanor Rigby” is a place in which “no one was saved.” In Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rockn’Roll, Robert Rodriguez points out that even “Yesterday” holds more hope than “Eleanor Rigby.” He observes: “’Yesterday’ bore obvious commerciality with its time-honored theme of love gone wrong. But ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a somewhat unsettling composition devoid of traditional romanticism, calculated to stir rather than to soothe.”

 

  1. Contested Authorship of Lyrics – The lyrics of only one other Beatles song – “In My Life” – has been claimed by both John and Paul. Through the years, Paul has always claimed full authorship for “Eleanor Rigby.” In Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, he goes into great detail about several “old ladies” he encountered in his youthful Bob-A-Job-Week chores – ladies who inspired the character. And Paul adds that Eleanor Bron might have reinforced the concept of using “Eleanor” as the character’s name. Then he states, “Initially, the priest was ‘Father McCartney’ because it had the right number of syllables. I took the song out to John at that point, and I remember playing it to him, and he said, ‘That’s great, Father McCartney.’ He loved it. But I wasn’t really comfortable with it because it’s my dad – my Father McCartney – so I literally got out the phone book and went on from ‘McCartney’ to ‘McKenzie.’” (pp. 157-163)

 

However, in the 1980 Playboy Interviews, John Lennon told David Sheff, “Yeah, ‘Rigby.’ The first verse was [Paul’s], and the rest are basically mine…we were sitting around with Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, and he said to us, ‘Hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics.’…and I was insulted that Paul had just thrown it out of the air. He actually meant he wanted me to do it, and of course, there isn’t a word of theirs in it because I finally went off to a room with Paul and we finished the song.” John then goes into great detail about the writing process of “Rigby,” even stating that “when [he] stepped away to go to the toilet,” George and Paul were working on “Rigby” in his absence, and they came up with the line, “Ah look at all the lonely people.” When he returned, John says, “They were settling on that.” He says that he heard it, loved it, and remarked, “That’s it!” (pp. 118-119)

 

Later in the same interview, John restated his contribution to “Eleanor Rigby,” calling it “Paul’s baby, but I helped with the education of the child.” (p. 151)

 

However, in his book, John Lennon In My Life, Pete Shotton revealed a very different account of the song’s creation. Pete says that he and about 8-10 other people (including Ringo) were spending an evening in John’s home Kenwood when Paul arrived. McCartney presented those gathered with a set of lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby,” and said, “I’ve got this little tune here. It keeps popping into me head, but I haven’t got very far with it.”

 

Pete says, “We all sat around, making suggestions, throwing out the odd line or phrase…[When] Paul got to the verse about the cleric, whose name he had down as ‘Father McCartney,’ Ringo came up with the line about ‘darning his socks in the night,’ which everybody liked.” However, Pete says that he objected to the cleric’s name and pointed out to Paul that fans might think it is Jim McCartney having to darn socks, lonely and all alone. And when Paul agreed, Pete goes on: “…I noticed a telephone directory lying around and said, ‘Give us that phone book, then, and I’ll have a look through the Macs.” And he did. After finding and rejecting the humorous name “McVicar,” Pete says that he asked Paul to “try Father McKenzie out for size, and everyone appeared to like the lilt of it.” (Shotton, 123)

 

Then, according to Pete, Paul told the gathered group: “The real trouble is I’ve no idea how to finish this song.” Ideas and suggestions were thrown out at random. And Pete claims that he suggested having Eleanor die and having Father McKenzie perform the burial. Pete states that he said, “That way you’ll have the two lonely people coming together in the end – but too late.” (Shotton, 124) It was a concept, Pete tells us, that Paul seemed to endorse, but an ending that John did not care for one bit.

 

Quite a different tale! So, where does the truth lie? Who wrote what and when and why?

 

The only thread that is consistent in all accounts is that Paul took the song to John and somehow the two of them – alone or with other people – finished the lyrics as a joint effort. All other details vary, depending upon the teller of the tale. Rarely does this scenario occur with a Beatles song. Credits are shared; nods are given. But the history of “Eleanor Rigby” is much like the record’s namesake, aloof and unknown.

 

  1. Recording Techniques – When Paul McCartney told new EMI engineer Geoff Emerick that he wanted the strings on “Eleanor Rigby” “to sound really biting,” Emerick was a little intimidated. How could he achieve that? In his book Here, There, and Everywhere, Emerick tells us that he devised an outrageous plan to close-mic the strings. He explains: “String quartets were traditionally recorded with just one or two microphones placed high, several feet up in the air so the sound of bows scraping couldn’t be heard.”

 

Defying this unwritten rule, Geoff close-miked the instruments. It was a bold act of genius. And the result was precisely what Paul wanted! Not only did the strings supply melody but they also supplied percussion. And their “harsh realism” brought the strident authenticity of a callous world into this lonely and tragic song. (More on this in Simon Weitzman’s “Fresh, New Look” interview below.)

 

One final note…According to The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.” But in 2023, almost 60 years from her appearance in the world of The Beatles, Eleanor lives on. By the mid 2000’s, the song had been covered by over 200 musicians. Ray Charles, for example, hit No. 35 on the Billboard charts with his version of the song. In 1969, Aretha Franklin’s take on the number shot to No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. But these two icons are not alone in their respect for the song. Hundreds of other groups recorded their own tributes to Father McKenzie, all the lonely people, and yes, to Eleanor. In 2023, Eleanor is still with us…living on.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

We’re thrilled to have Simon Weitzman with us this month for a close and personal examination of “Eleanor Rigby.” Apart from his other many credits, listed earlier in the blog, Simon is working on a documentary about Beatles PA and Rolling Stones Tour Manager, Chris O’Dell. He’s also completing his wonderful film, A Love Letter to The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere, which you will be able to enjoy at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans. Taking time out of his hectically busy schedule to discuss “Eleanor Rigby” was a real treat for the Fest staff. Thank you, Simon!!!!

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Hi Simon, thank you “ooover and oover and oover again” (whoops, wrong band!!) for giving us the gift of your time. We know you’re incredibly busy, so I’ll dive right in. Simon, the 1966 addition of young Geoff Emerick to the production team at EMI certainly made Revolver an edgier, more experimental LP. Please tell us a bit about Emerick’s clever method of making the orchestral segment “hard-biting,” as Paul had requested him to do.

 

Its production is as exquisite as it is different. Paul was a forward-thinker and was amenable to George Martin’s suggestions that classical music be employed. Despite initial misgivings, Paul wisely followed Martin’s lead and brought classical influences firmly into the 20th century. It was familiar ground for George Martin; it enabled him to take a leap of faith with Paul and really push the strings in the recordings, whilst taking inspiration from Bernard Herrmann, who himself innovated the modern film compositions that were to shape cinema throughout the century. Indeed, “Eleanor Rigby” has a soundscape that would very comfortably sit in a number of movie soundtracks today.

 

“I was very much inspired by Bernard Herrmann…[he] really impressed me, especially the strident string writing. When Paul told me he wanted the strings in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to be doing a rhythm, Herrmann…was a particular influence.”

  • George Martin as quoted in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn, 77

The sound revolution in “Eleanor Rigby” was further extended by the youthful influence of sound engineer Geoff Emerick. Emerick loved classical music but wasn’t bound by the rules and containment of his predecessors. He was more in tune with Paul’s desire to take what was known from the genre and move it into the contemporary music of the time…in effect, making classical acceptable to the pop genre and vice versa. To achieve this – as Jude noted – Emerick brought the microphones closer to the players, managing to isolate each string in a way that hadn’t been done before, This caused some of the more purist musicians some discomfort during the recordings. You just didn’t do that to musicians in session; well, not until now.  As Emerick clearly stated in his book Here, There, and Everywhere: “On ‘Eleanor Rigby’ we miked very, very close to the strings, almost touching them. No one had really done that before; the musicians were in horror.”

 

The combination of Emerick’s soundscape enthusiasm mixed with Martin’s more orthodox approach worked perfectly to create something that sounded filmic, classical, and modern, all at the same time – just as Paul had always seen it in his mind’s eye.

 

Kessler: Simon, please give us your thoughts on the imagery of the desolate woman and the desperate priest whom no one could hear and whom no one drew near. What do they say to you? Is there hope in this song?

For me, “Eleanor Rigby” is about the mask we put on when we are in social situations and the personas we invent to create our own self-worth. The line: “Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door” is a face we all wear when we leave our homes and try to interact and connect with the world. “Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lives in a dream” for me, translates as the daydream in which most of us live as we look at what we perceive to be what we should be doing with our lives…and what we perceive everyone else is doing with theirs, as well as being the outsider who is always trying to conform.

 

“Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, no one comes near. Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, what does he care?’” Again, for me the song concentrates on the lifelong search for our self-worth and ultimately, the things we do to satisfy our own perception of achievement. We are conditioned to do things that are recognized. We are educated to believe that the things we do to create our own self-worth don’t count if no one else is watching or listening. Perhaps Paul was also thinking about the apparent futility of everything. Perhaps he, too, was asking, “Does any of it matter?” and “Why are we conditioned to think like this?”

 

“Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name, nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved.” These final words remind us that we are all ultimately alone. Although in this case, Father McKenzie – whose life is as lonely as Eleanor’s – is at least there to see her over to the afterlife. There is ultimately someone there to see us through, even if it is after we have passed, if only to acknowledge our existence.

 

Then, there is the final chorus: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” This speaks to me and to all of us, I believe, at some stage of our lives, or a lot of stages in our lives. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Where do any of us belong? It’s such a clever observation of the human condition and our need to find our place in the world. It addresses our belief that we only count if we are recognized by others…when the reality is discovering and being at one with our self-worth, however our life turns out. That is ultimately what it’s all about.

 

Kessler: Finally, Simon, why does this song appeal to you, personally?

 

This is a song that I very much identify with as an only child and as someone who lives on his own. Ultimately, we are all ‘lonely people,’ but what Paul McCartney (possibly together with John) tapped into is the ultimate loneliness of us all. Even if we are successful, we are unsure. If we are unsuccessful, we feel remote from those who seemingly find success easier. “Eleanor Rigby” is also about the lives we lead, despite the isolation we encounter in life. It is a song that speaks to so many people, even if they aren’t hardcore Beatles fans.

 

It’s a song that has always made me think. Very few of us get through life without anxiety and self-doubt. I do get very lonely. I suffer from anxiety and issues of self-worth, perhaps like so many of us in this Beatles family. And perhaps that’s why this family exists and why it is so successful…because it is one of the few places in life where we do belong, where we are amongst our own kind and where we can embrace individuality and encourage each other. It feels like this song was designed as a “shout out” to everyone looking for themselves.

 

We all have to go through life trying to exude a confidence we probably don’t have. Look at musicians like Adele, who suffer from imposter syndrome. I think we all suffer from imposter syndrome, unless we lack the humanity that anchors us to the reality of our short lives in the vastness of eternity. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, how good looking you are perceived to be, or what circles you move in – isolation is the biggest challenge we encounter in life, and it is easy to get lost. Look at the unfortunate people who are homeless and struggle to be seen at all by so many of us. Everyone deserves to be seen.

 

I wonder if Paul ever imagined that the fans of The Beatles would still be together after all these years and that the music and the legend of the group would create such a strong family bond?  Yet, here we are. We are very lucky to have our Beatles family. It’s what keeps many of us sane and gives us a community to feel comfortable with. I think our Beatles community has a bond stronger than The Beatles ever anticipated. It has been the catalyst that unites us and helps us get through the tough times, and songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” for me, remind us where we all are and how lucky we are to have each other. A place where we can belong, be valued, and not feel so lonely.

 

Kessler: Simon, truer words were never penned! Thank you for being an integral part of this special look at “Eleanor Rigby”! We can’t wait to see you in just a few days at the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans!

For more info on Simon Weitzman, HEAD HERE or follow him on Facebook HERE or on LinkedIn HERE

 

For more information on Jude Southerland Kessler and The John Lennon Series, HEAD HERE

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LOVE WINNER… NUMBER NINE…

It’s the word… LOVE. It’s been said that it’s all you need.

We are so thrilled to send a burst of Beatles adventure (airfare, hotel and dinner for two included!) to yet another Las Vegas LOVE Cirque du Soleil giveaway winner. This is winner NUMBER 9 and counting!

For those of you in the main ballroom at the  Sunday night at FESTCHESTER, I read out 4 answers (drawn at random) to the question:

“How have The Beatles HELP!ed you in your life?” (OH, the ways! Comment below and share yours!)

It was up to you – the audience – to cheer for the one that resonated most. We were VERY close between first and second place. Unfortunately for her, the winner you picked was not in the audience and also has not responded to our emails. However… sitting in that very audience hearing his answer slide just below the cheer barometer was Carl B Maltzman, who said:

“The Beatles have HELP!ed me love my fellow humans. The Beatles have a very life affirming message.”

Carl has graciously accepted the prize in his runner up status! We are so pleased to give this trip to him — a true Beatles fan who, you will probably agree after reading his note, is oh so deserving of this trip.

The ::magic:: of the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil experience is something to be experienced by every Beatles fan, taking our beloved songs and twisting them into flying, catapulting, technicolor theatrics, gymnastics and artistic heights. Thank you to everybody who entered, and stay tuned as we give away another trip before Chicago Fest in August! Be sure to like our Facebook page not to miss a thing.

FROM CARL:

“I have been a loyal Fest attendee since the first one in 1974.  In fact, I have a countdown clock that is set to countdown to the next Fest!

At the first Fest, the Beatles contributed instruments that were raffled off.  I didn’t win—although I did tap on the tabla from “Within You Without You” that another attendee won.  Years and years of checking my wrist band numbers as Mark called out winners, and all I’ve won is a Yellow Submarine DVD poster.

But this year I sure hit the jackpot!  I still can’t believe it!

I visited Las Vegas in 2009, but “Love” was sold out.  I was, of course, very disappointed.  I didn’t know when I’d make it back to Las Vegas—and all my friends and relatives who had seen the show telling me what I missed didn’t help.

Now thanks to the Fest I am returning to Las Vegas with a guaranteed seat at the show!  I have so many friends asking me to take them, I think I’ll have to have my own essay contest to choose a “winner.”

I would be terribly remiss to not thank the people who are MOST responsible for this:  THE BEATLES!  The Beatles were not just the greatest group in rock history.  They a miracle of not just being the best composers, but also were genius musicians who could perform better than anyone else, and were blessed with a producer who could expertly bring their ideas to reality.  They were four “mensches” who presented an uplifting message, who examined the human condition, told us that life can be wonderful, that we all have the ability to lift ourselves up, to work with each other, and make life wonderful.

Even though they could write a song like “Eleanor Rigby” that tears out your heart, they also told us that there will always be sunshine even when we are in winter, that rain is good, sad is just a state of mind, and of course, we CAN take a sad song and make it better.

That is why I firmly believe Beatles music will last forever.  As Paul said, they could have sung about the devil.  But they didn’t.  They followed their hearts and told us that life is wonderful if we only try.

So thank you Mark, Carol, Michelle Joni, Jessica, George Martin, The Beatles for giving me this wonderful trip to Las Vegas to celebrate the greatest band in history—The Beatles.”

 

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Today In Beatles History: “Can’t Buy Me Love/You Can’t Do That” Certified Gold

On today’s date in 1964, with Beatlemania in full swing, the Beatles released “Can’t Buy Me Love” as a single with “You Can’t Do That” as the B side.
 
In an example of how hot the Beatles were at the time, the single was certified gold the same day it was released after advance sales in the United States exceeded 2.1 million.
 
A few weeks later, the Beatles made Billboard history, when their songs held the top 5 slots on the charts. It looked like this:
 
No. 1: “Can’t Buy Me Love”

No. 2: “Twist and Shout”

No. 3: “She Loves You”

No. 4: “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

No. 5: “Please Please Me”
 
While remembering just how remarkable the Beatles’ accomplishments were in 1964, let’s take a look at videos of some of the best live versions of the five songs that made history.
 
Can’t Buy Me Love:
 

 
Twist and Shout:
 

 
She Loves You:
 

 
I Want To Hold Your Hand:
 

 
Please Please Me:
 

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