Friday, June 22, 2012

Could'a Should'a Would'a

I have this theory - totally unprovable - that the key moment when things went wrong with the internal chemistry with the Beatles was not mid-68 during the White Album sessions, nor early the next year for the Get Back sessions.   My theory is that everything went awry during the "Magical Mystery Tour" sessions up through the scattered recordings done just before they left for India in early 1968.  Bare with me as I list some events during that period.

  • Paul commandeered the group into making the MMT movie and EP.   Yes the music was top notch, and John provided perhaps one of his finest moments with "I Am The Walrus".   But it was clearly Paul's brainchild and the other three were just along for the ride.  It is possible that John's resentment of Paul's attempts to lead the group had been building since "Sgt Pepper's". 
  • John's heyday for getting singles A-sides were on the wain.  "Strawberry Fields" in early 1967 had to share double-A side status with "Penny Lane".   Totally understandable as both songs are revolutionary, but still John did not get full A-side credit.   So that leaves "All You Need Is Love" in the summer as John's last A-side until mid-1969.
  • John hated "Hello Goodbye" and has been quoted trashing Paul's lyrics.  He also was pushing to make "I Am The Walrus" as the A-side.   I should note that I love "Hello Goodbye" for its sunshine pop and the clever production, but regardless it was another put down for John to see Paul get another A-side.
  • During the short recording windows before they left for India in early 1968, the band worked on "Lady Madonna" and "Across the Universe".   John contended that Paul purposely undercut him by bringing in a couple of young ladies off the street to sing backup vocals on "Across the Universe".    Although I greatly prefer this original version, which only saw the light of day on a charity album until it reappeared on the "Rarities" LP in the 80s, I can see John's point that the vocals add nothing to the song and the singers are less than stellar.   Later after the Beatles break-up Paul was quoted complaining about Phil Spector's work on "Let It Be", in part because he added female chorus voices to a Beatles song!  Now that was a twist.
  • The day the band was set to record a video for the new "Lady Madonna" single, John arrived in the studio with a new song  "Hey Bulldog" - and the band decided to film themselves recording it instead, although the official video superimposed LM on the audio track.   HB is a cracker-jack piece of rock and roll and should never have been relegated as a toss-off for inclusion on the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack.
So how could things have gone differently? Perhaps one of George's shelved 1967 tunes such as "Only a Northern Song" could have been the B-side for "Hello Goodbye", and "I Am The Walrus" could have been its own A-side.   Yes, it is the most pyschedelic song they ever recorded, but the world would have eaten it up at that time during the height of their popularity.

While the Beatles were off in India two more singles should have been issued.  "Hey Bulldog" b/w "It's All Too Much" as a follow up to "Lady Madonna".   I say follow up one rocker with another! Then early summer, before "Hey Jude" conquers the universe, "Across The Universe" b/w "All Together Now" would have given light to perhaps the most beautiful, touching, and spiritual song that John ever wrote. It would have required wiping the female harmony vocals but Geoff E. and George M. would have been up to the task, and possibly could have added a minimal string arrangement in its place.

Would all of this had made a difference?   Would John have been pacified enough to prevent him from instilling Yoko at every recording session going forward, thus removing one of the major hindrances to the working relationship between the four Beatles?   Totally unknowable but I do believe that it might have bought more time before the eventual split.   That said, I love "Abbey Road" so much that I am afraid a different path might have resulted in it never being made. 

Anyway, here is the unofficial video for "Hey Bulldog" - which as you can see is what they were actually singing/recording, not "Lady Madonna".  This song just kills me.   And Paul's bass line is just amazing.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Flat-out love your alt-history Beatles singles, Mr. P!

Or if they'd included Strawberry Fields on Sgt. Pepper, would John have taken more ownership of that LP then?

I've daydreamed that I found myself managing the Beatles & was able to suggest, before the second U.S. tour: You don't need to do these massive tours anymore. As a matter of fact you should only play surprise gigs at the best small clubs where people go to listen & dance, not scream.

Could that have helped keep it fun?

Most of All Things Must Pass would have done just fine on a Beatles album -- we could have said to John & Macca, "Let's feature George on this next Beatles album; why don't you guys take a back seat for just this one album?" Taking the spotlight and the pressure off them in that way might have lessened the competitive strain ...

And we even could have said, listen, why don't you each try a solo album, and then think about regrouping after a year -- you don't need to break up the band just to do a solo record, and you don't need to do an album every year, let alone every 6 mos. ...

John of course in the Rolling Stone interviews was fiercely defensive of Spector's work on Let It Be -- maybe just to spite Paul since the number Phil did on Across the Universe was perhaps the most egregious, wrong headed ego trip any producer has ever subjected any record to, ever.

Mister Pleasant said...

Mr. Anyway, I spend way too much time thinking about the Beatles. I have mixed feelings about inclusion of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane on Sgt. Peppers. George Martin says he regrets not doing so, but I always loved the fact that up until Abbey Road, the Beatles kept singles releases off of their albums (in the UK). But I think you are right, John probably would have had a higher opinion of Pepper if he had one or two more songs on it.

And that is a great idea to give George a staring role circa 1970. Perfect reasoning on your part, and it would have kept all of those great George songs written during the Beatle years in the Beatle's canon.