Sunday, October 21, 2007

This date in Beatles history: 1965

In an all-black neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I grew up on Beatles music.

My big brother was a self-taught guitarist, and he studied the albums of the Beatles talmudically. So, from “Love Me Do” to “Get Back,” I know and love that catalogue.

I am not fanatical about Beatles history or trivia. But I acquired a cool book last year: “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn – a definitive accounting of every hour spent in EMI’s Abbey Road studios (pictured above) during the creation of every Beatles song.

Every outtake, every vocal overdub, every mixing session... this book walks you through all of it chronologically.

The effect of such an accumulation of detail is to create a sense of John, Paul, George and Ringo as four guys who showed up for work, just like you and I show up for work... except these fuckers showed up to work and recorded “Ticket to Ride.” It’s amazing to ponder.

On October 21, 1965, the Beatles recorded the master take of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” a surpassingly beautiful pop song. (And somewhat historic; it was the first time a sitar was used on a rock-’n’-roll record.)

This was a good week for the Beatles. The day before, they recorded “We Can Work It Out.” The following day, they would cut “Nowhere Man,” and producer George Martin would add the finishing touch to “In My Life” by playing a baroque piano solo.

Getting back to “Norwegian Wood”... the Beatles had actually recorded a first take nine days earlier, when the song’s working title was simply “This Bird Has Flown.”

According to Mark Lewisohn, the group spent four and a half hours on the October 12 version, including rehearsals and overdubs, but “[t]he Beatles felt that it wasn’t right” so decided to re-make it later.

Lewisohn writes that the discarded first take is “quite different but equally as dazzling as the version which ended up on the LP.”

I don’t agree with that, but you can judge for yourself. “Norwegian Wood,” Take 1, was issued on the “Anthology 2” double-CD in 1996.

Click here to hear it streaming.


Russell said...

Wasn't that a baroque harpsichorrd solo from George Martin on "In My Life"? (Now I'm geeking out - Beatles style!) You've got the book so you tell me.

Uncle Crizzle said...

Have you seen "Across the Universe"? It's like someone had an idea for a Broadway musical full of Beatles tunes and decided, oh screw it, let's put it on the big screen. Let's just say when Bono shows up to sing "I Am the Walrus," that's when you realize you're either with the film or against it. I'm more of a "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" man myself — the movie, that is. When I was seven, there was something about seeing Billy Preston sing "Get Back" that just seemed right.

Speaking of "Ticket to Ride," I'll be getting the special-edition DVD of "Help!" (aka the other great, Richard Lester-directed Beatles movie) to review soon. It's dropping on the 30th.

estiv said...

Russell: George Martin slowed down the tape and then overdubbed the piano solo. Played back at normal speed, the piano (now sped up) sounded a little like a harpsichord. (This is all in the book.) Once you know that, listen again to the very end of the solo: what sounds like a glissando is actually an arpeggio executed with what would be inhuman speed and precision, if it had been done in real time.

Another good Beatles book is George Martin's "All You Need is Ears." He was a graduate of a musical conservatory, and knew his baroque music well. One of the things that made the Beatles sound different was that at the time the usual string sound in pop music was Mantovani-esque, with dozens of violins drenched in reverb--i.e., like a Beethoven symphony put into hyperdrive. When "Yesterday" was released in 1965 with a dry-sounding chamber ensemble, the string sound alone was enough to make it stand out from everything else.

So, UBM: Pinetop Perkins, the Beatles, and Lucky Dube on successive days? Good on ya, sez I. Frank Zappa said that most people choose music like they choose their clothes: to make a public statement, not because they actually like it. I'm glad there are exceptions.

Undercover Black Man said...

Cheers, Estiv.

Speaking of Beatles string parts... have you heard the "Eleanor Rigby" a cappella mix? I think it's on one of the "Past Masters" discs, though it could be on "Anthology 2." In any case, it's thrilling.

Uncle Crizzle, welcome to my spot. As much as I dig the Beatles, I have no desire to see "Across the Universe." L.A. Times recently reported that the movie is catching on by word-of-mouth among its primary audience... teenage girls!

The Pop View said...

My former neighbor, who grew up in Baltimore, was playing EW&F's version of "Got To Get You Into My Life" one day and he was shocked when I said something about it being a cover version of the Beatles. Somehow, he had never known that.

Here is an article on connection between teenage girls and Across the Universe.

Undercover Black Man said...

Correction: I didn't mean "Eleanor Rigby" a cappella mix... I meant "Eleanor Rigby" instrumental mix. Just the string quartet. Hot!

Matty said...

David - I saw Across the Universe Sunday afternoon and haven't been able to get the songs or especially the visuals out of my head ever since. Strawberries have been in my dreams the last two nights. I could have done without the Bono/Eddie Izzard side trip, but I loved it otherwise. Excellent re-imagining of all the music. The highlights for me were I Want to Hold Your Hand, Let It Be, and Strawberry Fields Forever.