Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Just as Beatle fans are coming to financial terms with the magisterial expanded reissue of The White Album – seven discs, a book and photos in the Deluxe Edition -- comes news from Apple Enterprises and Incorporated Offshore Unity (AE&IOU) of an unexpected new release next year.
It is of the Beatles live in the studio recorded over one day in January 1969 when they were rehearsing for what would become their Get It Back contractual obligation album.
A cache of unusual and hitherto unknown recordings was recently discovered in the home studio of the late Beatles' engineer Greg Emerick.
It seems that on January 24 when the four Beatles convened under increasingly fractious circumstances on a bitterly cold day – with Yoko Ono in attendance – Emerick, who had quit during the White Album sessions but returned for a couple of days at this time, suggested he mike up each individual Beatle to just capture their voices and instrumentation in isolation.
The idea may have been an experiment to see if they could mix the results together later, although a reference in Emerick's will suggested another motive.
He wrote that he made the tapes “in case anything untoward happens to me”, which may be a veiled reference to the incident where he ate one of George Harrison's biscuits and the guitarist was furious. Or it may have been because of the unnervingly cold stares he was getting from Ono.
“She was one scary little lady,” he wrote in his memoir Over There, Everywhere and Get Me Outta Here.
Either way, these 32 hours of “solo” recordings from each of the Beatles over the course of the day and into the evening will now be presented in Hear And Now; Live in the Studio 24/1/69, a 42 CD box set which will contain the individual Beatles recorded on eight hour-long CDs, eight discs of these separate recordings mixed together (because AE&IOU acknowledges most people won't have four CD players to cue up simultaneously) plus two hour-long discs of Ono's innovative and enthralling remixes of highlights.
Those who have heard the complete individual CDs note that there are, of course, many minutes, if not hours, when there is nothing recorded if the musician is not talking or playing.
“But even the silences are enthralling,” says an Apple memo from the accounts department of AE&IOU, “because it is a Beatle being recorded live in the studio . . . and those geriatric fans will pay quids for that”.
Apparently Ringo's eight disc set only has a total of 20 minutes of him talking (example: “Can I go for me tea, now?”) and just 55 minutes of actual playing in the eight hours.
The Harrison discs have four hours of him trying to get the guitar solo on For You Blue to his satisfaction.
Most interest alights on the relationship between Lennon and McCartney which was starting to melt down as McCartney tried to helm the sessions.
At one point Lennon shouts, “You're full of shit” and in the mixed together discs that comment is followed by the sound of Harrison in the bathroom ensuring he wasn't.
“The coincidence of that Lennon comment and then the sound of straining, farting and flushing,” says Abbot Road mixer Allan Payne, “is something so hilarious that Lennon in particular, Goons fan that he was, would have found very funny indeed.”
There is also much studio banter.
“I don't care who she is,” says McCartney of some unspecified woman, “she can't just come in here and insist we only have rice and uncooked fish at lunch. I want bangers'n'mash!”
Lennon (whispering): “Okay, okay. I know. I always have cheese and onions in the back of me mind. But whaddya gonna do?”
Admittedly much of this is only of passing interests to those not of the true church, but when the musicians begin to play, real Beatle magic happens. As on their 18 minute version of Maggie Mae, the 12 minute instrumental jam on their old hit From Me to You (where they break down into laughter when Lennon starts peppering in filthy lyrics) and Ringo's angry nine minute drum solo when all the others had gone for tea and toast in the Abbot Road cafeteria.
Emerick's meticulous notes for the session identify the piece as Mad Boy.
There are hours of false starts, songs breaking down and McCartney singing a lovely acoustic ballad version of Helter Skelter and a thrashing 24 minute jazz-funk treatment of Every Night which would appear on his self-titled solo album.
The Ono remix discs are remarkable by all accounts from AE&IOU, more for what they don't include than what they do.
McCartney is apparently barely present – just a bass line here and there, a short vocal duet on Two of Us with Lennon – and for the most part it is Lennon singing, sniffing, inhaling and playing guitar with Ono audibly whispering into his ear frequently about sexual peccadillos he might enjoy, how the others are trying to take over his band and whether he should purchase a castle or an island for her, or buy herself an art gallery to exhibit her own work.
At one point we can hear Harrison mutter on his discs, “Well, fuck you and Hare Krishna” and this seems to be in regard to Ono telling Lennon to tell McCartney to tell Harrison how to play a solo.
The quite extraordinary limited edition Hear and Now; Live in the Studio 24/1/69 set comes with polaroid photos taken by various studio engineers and tradespeople who happened to be there on the day, and is housed in a large wooden Apple box, each of which has been individually numbered and signed by Giles Martin -- son of the Beatles producer Sir George Martin (“peace be upon him”) – who wasn't in the studio that day.
But in a very odd coincidence, he was born nine months later.
And interestingly enough, his father wasn't in the studio that day either so . . .
For other articles along these lines, but more humorous, check out Absurd Elsewhere here.