Forty years ago today the fabs were in an awful state. On Friday January 10, 1969, while the band were on the seventh day of rehearsals for what would eventually become the Let It Be album and film, George Harrison calmly announced to the others that he was leaving the group. Before departing the Twickenham film studios where rehearsals were being held, he suggested that the fabs might advertise in NME for a replacement. What followed on that day was a lot of ugly jamming with Yoko Ono on vocals. Toward the end of the day Lennon famously told Let It Be film director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, his intentions to soldier on without Harrison, “If George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday…we get Clapton.”
On the night of Sunday the twelfth, the fabs including George and manager-of-sorts Neil Aspinall held a band meeting at Ringo’s house. The matter of George’s status with the group was still not settled when the meeting was adjourned, but, the following day, the remaining fabs turned up for work anyway.
The Let It Be film cameras’ audio reels were stolen and in the hands of bootleggers for over thirty years, because of this, four hours of audio of the events of January 13 are available on bootleg. Listening to the bootlegs, we get a pretty good idea of what happened or at least what was said in the studio on that day. Not a hell of a lot happened but plenty was said. The fabs trickled into work and did very little rehearsing. In the place of fab musical sounds was a different kind of fab sound, that of boredom and gossip.
The first Beatle to arrive was Ringo and he is joined in conversation by Michael, Glyn and Mal. In lieu of any music being played that morning we get a few mundane tidbits of information: Ringo had watched some of Mary Queen of Scots on television the night before (perhaps he was referring to this) and had watched Whatever Happened to Baby Jane on Saturday. Michael watched “a bit” of a Tom Jones special “to see if it was as bad as [he] thought it was going to be, which it was.” Michael is of the opinion that Tom Jones’ career trajectory is “a real tragedy.”
Somewhere else on the TV dial that evening was a Andy Williams special featuring Simon and Garfunkel. Ringo had seen only some of it. He tuned in just as Simon and Garfunkel did a tune with Andy Williams, which I can only imagine is this:
When Michael opines that Art Garfunkel has a “great face,” Ringo asks whether or not Garfunkel is “the frizz.” Michael adds that he was “with someone on Saturday night” who told him that they were originally a teenage rock and roll act called Tom and Jerry. This is true. I am not so sure that what Ringo adds, that Simon and Garfunkel were also at one time a surf act, is true but Michael doesn’t dare correct him, “They were a lot of things.” He says diplomatically.
Conversation then drifts to a variety of subjects including some man who made the Guinness Book of Records because he weighed thirty-seven stone; Marlene Dietrich’s bandleader and how his on-stage mannerisms were similar to those of Lulu’s bandleader; Mike Love’s headwear (is it a turban or one of those Russian style hats?); whether or not Conway Twitty died in that plane crash with the Big Bopper; whether or not Tiny Tim’s cover of “Great Balls of Fire” is better than Jerry Lee Lewis’ original; whether or not Little Richard’s skin color is black or maroon; James Brown’s diamond watch; Paul being chased off a bench in Harlem by a cop; and whether Ringo prefers acting in films to playing drums—Ringo had recently performed opposite Brando in a film entitled Candy.
After forty-five minutes of this, King Shit aka Paul McCartney turns up with Linda. They are just in time to hear Michael inexpertly drop the needle on a 45 of Arthur Conley performing a cover of the fabs’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. As the record plays, Ringo and Paul express their annoyance that whenever a band cover this song, they invariably drop the word “bra” from the chorus in favor of adding “woo” or “yeah.” Conley chose “yeah.” Despite his objections, Paul sings along a bit and debates with the others which of the covers of this song he likes best. He decides on The Bedrocks’ version. It should be noted that the original “Ob-La-Di” had only been released in late November of 1968, less than three months earlier. The B side to the Arthur Conley 45 is played next. It’s a slow soul number entitled “Sleep On Otis”. This prompts Michael to exclaim (a bit late) that Arthur is “trying to sound like Otis Redding!” Talk turns back to “Ob-La-Di” as Michael asks about the man who inspired the song. Paul informs Michael that the man who “gave” Paul the phrase ob-la-di, ob-la-da was a “spade bongo player.” Oh, yeah, Paul refers to blacks as spades–or at least he did then.
The music conversation continues as someone confuses The Equals with The Foundations. The Equals had had a hit with “Baby Come Back” in 1968. Paul admits to loving both The Equals’ “Baby Come Back” and The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup” and sings of bit of both. “Baby Come Back” is an amazing piece of pop. If you’ve never heard this one give it a listen. It kicks ass. The Equals, aside from having in their line up a young Eddy Grant, are probably best remembered today as the band whose “Police On My Back” The Clash covered. In Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s estimation, The Equals biggest problem is that they “really are quite ugly.”
And here’s The Foundations with “Build Me Up Buttercup”, a beautiful piece of bubblegum:
As the conversation goes on it becomes clear that Paul is as good at talking about pop music as he is writing it. After a bit of debate over whether a song is entitled “Bella Linda” or a group is called Bella Linda (Linda was right, it was the song and she was correct that the band was called The Grassroots, although she also guessed that they were called The Seeds), talk turns to the first 45 that Paul bought. It was, of course, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent in 1956. He claims to have “never bought that lot” when it came to skiffle as he deemed it “a bit British.” He liked it okay but it never got him “out to the shops.” Linda shows her priviledged upbringing when she states that she always bought the albums (as opposed to the more affordable 45s) and then goes on to list all of the bands that she saw play at the Brooklyn Paramount (she saw Buddy Holly–that’s nothing to spit at). Ringo admits he hasn’t bought many albums since Capitol began giving them to him for free. After a number of attempts to be heard, Michael tells Paul that the first single that he bought was “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds. This record was released in 1960 prompting Paul to laugh derisively as he tells Michael, “that was years later, years after the event.”