years after the event (january 26, 1969 part one)

paul and ringo at apple

Seeing as how three people were kind enough to compliment me on earlier installments of this feature, here is the sequel. I am picking up almost two weeks after the thirteenth of January, which was arguably the least productive day of the entire Get Back project. (Well, the fourteenth might edge out the thirteenth–little outside of “Watching Rainbows” happened on that day.) Since we left off, George has agreed to come back to work provided the rehearsal sessions take place at Apple instead of the Twickenham film studios; the fabs have gotten a bit more serious about their rehearsals and have been joined by keyboard player Billy Preston, who was invited to work on the sessions by Harrison.

billy preston

The day begins with only Ringo and Georges Harrison and Martin present. Harrison takes advantage of the absence of the groups’ two principle songwriters to try out some of the material he has been squirreling away for the past few years. He introduces his “Isn’t It a Pity” by explaining that he had written the song “about three years ago and I…sung it to John and he said, ‘that’s too much like fuckin…’ you know. Anyway, but I thought it was good.” He goes on to explain that while “in L.A.,” a friend who had some association with Reprise Records asked George if he’s “got a song for Sinatra.” George thought to himself, “that’s nice, fancy him wanting one of my songs.” But then he thought about what “horseshit” the by-then way past-his-prime Sinatra was accustomed to recording, and decided “fuck that, I’m not letting him sing it. He just learns it and he comes in and the band has learned it and just walks in and does it in, like, two takes and that’s it…because there’s nothing more that he’s going to do with it even if he does ten takes.” After playing a lovely “Isn’t It a Pity,” he describes his never-released song, “Window, Window,” as an “Irish or Scottish reel or jig or something like that.”

sinatra bisset 1968

Before playing “Let It Down,” George remarks that he wishes that he could “come in here and feel the way you feel when you’re leaving, because there’s not too much difference except I was over there [yesterday] and I had the brown trousers on…it’s exactly the same: same songs, same ciggy.” George smokes Kents by the way.

Next George asks Ringo if he has written any more words to any of the songs he’s in the process of writing. At this point Ringo has only one full song under his belt, “Don’t Pass Me By” from the previous year’s self-titled LP. That song had a four year gestation period–it was first mentioned, and dismissed by the other fabs, in a 1964 BBC broadcast. In these sessions, Ringo has played two songs-in-progress on the piano for his bandmates, one is called “Pablo Picasso” and the other “Takin’ a Trip to Carolina.” While Ringo’s composition skills are minimal when compared to his absurdly talented bandmates, he has never been without his share of fans: Harrison has already reported that “Don’t Pass Me By” was Dylan and The Band’s favorite track off of the white album. On this morning, instead of messing around with “Picasso” or “Carolina,” Ringo plays for George a new song, one that had gone unnoticed by John and Paul when he debuted it for them three days earlier. He calls it “the octopus one.” Ringo plays what he has so far of “Octopus’s Garden”–the tune and some of the lyrics to the first verse–and the others react with enthusiasm that was missing when Ringo performed the song for John and Paul. Immediately all assembled get to work on fleshing out the song with Harrison contributing more than the eventual songwriting credit would suggest.

octopus's garden

The song is worked on for nearly an hour during which time the Lennons and Paul, Linda and Heather arrive. John goes straight behind the drum kit and thrashes about. George and Ringo crack one another up by changing the chorus’ lyric to “octopussy’s garden.” Some of this can be seen in the “Let It Be” film (unfortunately, the better of the two clips of this available on youtube doesn’t allow embedding but can be seen here <–this clip gives us a better look at the amazing outfit that Heather was dressed in that day than the one below does.)

Paul comes in asking the others what they thought of "the dubs"–recordings of the songs they’ve been working on that each went home with the night before–Ringo listened to them and deemed them "terrible," George agrees and Lennon admits to having "left [his] in the car." Paul meanwhile thinks that the dubs are evidence that The Beatles are "the greatest band ever." He’s correct there. Lennon changes the subject by bizarrely asking Paul, "Hey, did you dream about me last night?" Paul doesn’t remember his dreams. Lennon had a "very strong dream–we were both terrified! Different dreams but you must have been there. I was touching you." Paul does his best to ignore this as everyone goes back into "Octopus’s Garden." Lennon works in a bit of Donnie Elbert’s "Little Piece of Leather,” which, up until a minute ago, I though he had made up on the spot. It’s not an improvised Lennon original as I had thought, but an old R&B tune. A bit of back story is given by Ringo with support from George on what exactly an octopus’s garden is. As Harrison explains, it turns out that “octopuses pick up all the seashells, do you know about that? They collect all nice-looking things and make a garden around where they are just with all the groovy things they find.

eight arms to hold you

As work on “Octopus’s Garden” winds down, Heather becomes increasingly vocal. First she announces that her cat has had kittens (Lennon inquires if she plans on eating them, “lots of people do. You put pastry ’round them and have cat pie.”) and then launches into extended impressions of alternately “a pussy cat who was just born” and “a tame tiger” (“if I wasn’t tame I might scratch you. And I might eat you but I’m too tame to.”) After a bit of this she excuses herself saying she’s going “next door.” Paul tells her she can go anywhere she pleases so long as she doesn’t “interfere with anyone.”

he went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun

She picked a good time to leave as the fabs, Glyn and George Martin are getting in to the tedious business of listening to several “playbacks” of the previous day’s work. These playbacks are possibly the most frustrating parts of these Get Back tapes–just as you begin to think that you can’t bear to listen to another mediocre take of, say, “Dig A Pony,” the band retires to the control room to rewind the tape and listen to whatever it is they’ve just recorded–now you’re not only listening to the same mediocre takes of “Dig A Pony” again, but you’re listening to them with the fabs talking over them and you can barely make out what is being said.

playback's a bitch

On this morning the band is listening to several renditions of “For You Blue” that they had recorded the day before. It takes some time for Glyn to find the take of “For You Blue” that they are looking for and then there is debate as to whether it’s the “good” one or not. Thankfully, the tame tiger returns to liven things up with more talk of kittens and band aids and chap stick. This kitten talk causes Lennon to observe that “they always make cat food tins too small.” Paul and Linda insist that canned food “isn’t any good for them.” George says his cats “really dig turkey and rabbit…fish too.” John also likes to give his cats ping pong balls to play with. Heather and Ringo list the various animals that jump. The fabs then listen to two different takes of “Let It Be” from the day before. The song still needs a lot of work.

The Be-Sharps

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