LENNON & MCCARTNEY
The effects of this drug have been frequently and
luridly described: disturbance of space-time
perception, acute sensitivity to impressions, flight of
ideas, laughing jags, silliness. Marijuana is a sensitiser
... it is not habit forming. I have never seen evidence
of any ill effects from moderate use.
William S. Burroughs in a letter to Dr Dent at the
I Get High with a Little Help from My Friends
British Journal of Addiction, 3 August 1956
JUST AS MANY OF THE GREAT NOVELS OF THE 'LOST GENERATION' OF THE twenties were largely written in an alcoholic haze, so much of the music of the sixties was made under the influence of drugs. The Doors made their first album on acid; Brian Wilson recorded some of the Beach Boys' greatest tracks lying on the floor of the studio with the microphone adjusted so that he could sing from that position, so stoned on hash that he was unable to stand up; Eric Clapton's most highly acclaimed track, 'Layla', was made on heroin, as were ten years' worth of Keith Richards's contributions to the Rolling Stones.
The Beatles' use of drugs in the mid-sixties caused an enormous change in their music and attitudes. Smoking pot was something at that time largely confined to musicians and students. 'Youth culture' and its attendant drug use did not occur until later in the decade. Pot caused an irreparable shift in perception which coloured the Beatles' music from then on.
PAUL: The awkward thing about it all is you have to talk about drugs. If you don't you're being wildly dishonest. The good thing was that it was the first period of people taking drugs, and the first bloom is always the best really. So it was at a time when, having been to America, we started to expand our horizons. We'd met people like Dylan and we got into pot, like a lot of people from our generation. And I suppose in our way we thought this was a little more grown-up than perhaps the Scotch and Coke we'd been into before then. What makes people smoke cigarettes when they're fourteen? It's peer pressure. It makes them feel older, it makes them feel a bit groovier and that's quite valuable, at that age, to feel a bit groovier. And I suppose it was the same kind of thing in our case. So once pot was established as part of the curriculum you started to get a bit more surreal material coming from us, a bit more abstract stuff. It was just the first time I'd been exposed to all these new influences and had the time and inclination to bother with them all. I always have to give marijuana credit for that.
It was Bob Dylan that turned us all on to pot in America and it opened a different kind of sensibility really; more like jazz musicians. The nearest we'd ever heard of this was like the old joke about the cleaner in the Hammersmith Odeon saying, 'That Ray Charles, he's a tight bastard. You know, he must pay his musicians nothing. There were two of them sharing a cigarette in the toilet last night.' It was somehow plugging into that sensibility. There was a sort of naughtiness about it and yet I knew I'd have to keep my shit very well together because I knew there was a very naughty end to it. Devastation and heroin and the real serious stuff was around the corner. But this was the mild end of it and for quite a number of years there, everyone was at the mild end of it. Instead of Scotch and Coke and ciggies it became pot and wine.
In today's climate I hate to talk about drugs because it's just not the same. You have someone jumping on your head the minute you say anything, so I've taken to not trying to give my point of view unless someone really very much asks for it. Because I think the 'Just say no' mentality is so crazed. I saw a thing in a women's magazine the other day. 'He smokes cannabis, what am I to do? He laughs it off when I try to tell him, he says it's not really harmful ...' Of course you're half hoping the advice will be, 'Well, you know it's not that harmful; if you love him, if you talk to him about it, tell him maybe he should keep it in the garden shed or something,' you know, a reasonable point of view. But of course it was, 'No, no, all drugs are bad. All drugs are bad. Librium's good, Valium's good, ciggies are good, vodka's good. But cannabis, ooooh!' I hate that unreasoned attitude. I really can't believe it's thirty years since the sixties. I find it staggering. It's like the future, the sixties to me, it's like it hasn't happened. I feel the sixties are about to arrive. And we're in some sort of time warp and it's still going to happen.
During their long months on the Reeperbahn, the Beatles had sometimes used amphetamines to keep them going, but had never been into marijuana even though there was undoubtedly plenty of it around in a seaport like Hamburg. They got stoned on pot for the first time courtesy of Bob Dylan and journalist Al Aronowitz after one of their New York concerts during their second visit to the USA. It was 28 August 1964. Beatlemania was at its height and the Beatles had just played the 16,000-seater Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York. An eight-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire separated the Beatles from their zealous fans and the group had to arrive and leave by helicopter from the Wall Street heliport because the police feared that fans would trap them in the Midtown Tunnel. At dawn there had been 3,000 fans outside their hotel, the staid old Delmonico Hotel at 502 Park Avenue at 59th Street. 'We used to be dowdy, but now we swing,' said a hotel spokesman. 'We welcome the Beatles.' Fans stood eight deep behind police barricades, singing Beatles songs and calling out their names. After the concert, they began to reassemble.
Less than an hour after going on stage, the group arrived back at the Delmonico. The Beatles' suite occupied most of the sixth floor of the 500-room hotel and was protected by police in the corridors and lobby as well as the street. In the hospitality suite, their press officer Derek Taylor doled out the drinks and food to the assembled journalists and pacified the celebrity guests - the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and the DJ Murray the К - who were waiting for the party to get going. Meanwhile the Beatles were trying to unwind after the concert and its surrounding madness. Together with Brian Epstein and their roadies Mal and Neil, they retired to a back room for dinner.
Since it was impossible for them to leave the hotel, they asked the New York Post journalist Al Aronowitz if he could arrange for Bob Dylan to visit them. Paul: 'We were great great admirers of Dylan. We loved him and had done since his first album which I'd had in Liverpool. John had listened to his stuff and been very influenced; "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is virtually a Dylan impression.'
Dylan was driven down from Woodstock by his roadie in his anonymous blue Ford station wagon, picking up Aronowitz from his home in Berkeley Hills, New Jersey, on the way. Aronowitz, who had been on the fringe of Beat Generation circles since the late fifties, had turned Dylan on to pot the year before. In the hotel lobby, police barred their way until Mai Evans came down and the three were quickly ushered into the main lounge. Brian naturally played the gracious host and asked what they would like to drink.
'Cheap wine,' said Dylan. Unfortunately the Beatles had been drinking good French wine with their meal so Mal was dispatched to buy something suitably nasty for Dylan. In the meantime, Dylan was offered some purple hearts, the little blue Drinamyl pills which kept virtually every British rock group going through the sixties when their bodies told them they should be sleeping. Dylan declined and suggested they smoke some grass instead.
Brian Epstein explained with some embarrassment that they had never smoked pot before.
'But what about your song, the one about getting high?' asked Dylan. '"And when I touch you, I get high, I get high ..."'
The Liverpool accent had rendered the words of 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' unintelligible to Dylan. 'It goes, "I can't hide, I can't hide ..."' explained John.
Victor Maimudes, Dylan's tall, skinny roadie, was naturally the one carrying the drugs - in those days this was a roadie's most important job - and he passed the bag to Dylan, who began to roll the first joint rather shakily, spilling quite a lot of the grass into the large bowl of fruit on the room-service table. Al Aronowitz wrote: 'Bob hovered unsteadily while he tried to lift the grass from the bag with the fingertips of one hand so he could crush it into the leaf of rolling paper which he held in his other hand. Besides being a sloppy roller, Bob had started drinking whatever expensive stuff was already there.'
With more than a dozen police in the corridor outside and reporters just down the hall, great caution was deemed necessary; Dylan and Ringo retired to the far end of the back room near the front windows, blinds were drawn and rolled towels sealed the locked doors. As snatches of Beatles songs floated up from the fans in the street below, Dylan passed a skinny American joint to Ringo, who smoked the whole thing, not knowing that pot-smoking etiquette requires that the joint be passed around.
PAUL: The first time I took it I got very high indeed. It was quite a breakthrough, it was something different. George Harrison, John and I were sitting in the main room of the suite, the lounge, drinking. We were sitting there with our Scotch and Cokes, and Dylan had just given Ringo a puff of it. Ringo came back in and we said, 'How is it?' He said, 'The ceiling's coming down on me.' And we went, Wow! Leaped up, 'God! Got to do this!' So we ran into the back room - first John, then me and George, then Brian. We all had a puff and for about five minutes we went, 'This isn't doing anything,' so we kept having more. 'Sssshhhh! This isn't doing anything. Are you feeling ... ggggzzzzz!' and we started giggling uncontrollably.
And it was very very funny and my, it was. It was! The Beatles were about humour, we had a great humour between us. There was an 'in' side to the track of humour that we would use as a protective thing, so with this on top of it, things were really hilarious. I remember walking round the suite, trying to get away from it all, closing the door behind me without realising George Harrison had walked step by step with me, so I thought I'd lost him, turned around, and he's in the room with me. 'Ohhh! This is hilarious. I can't handle it!' It was like the funniest bloody dream going.
It was me, George and Brian, this little group. Everyone would go in in twos. We were looking at Brian Epstein, who had a little butt, the tiniest little butt, so he looked like a tramp smoking a dog-end,' which we had only ever done when we were poor before ... And this, compared to Brian's image ... and we were going, 'Awwwww!' Fucking screaming laughing at him. It was hilarious. I remember Brian looking at himself in the mirror and getting the whole joke of all this. We were all in hysterics.
Brian was pointing at himself and going, 'Jew!' And it was hilarious! We couldn't believe this was so funny. I mean, that would be the first time Brian would point at himself and say 'Jew'. It may not seem the least bit significant to anyone else, but in our circle, it was very liberating.
It developed into a bit of a party. We all went back out into the lounge and drank and whatever but I don't think anyone needed much more pot after that. That was it! I spent the whole evening running around trying to find a pencil and paper because when I went back in the bedroom later, I discovered the Meaning of Life. And I suddenly felt like a reporter, on behalf of my local newspaper in Liverpool. I wanted to tell my people what it was. I was the great discoverer, on this sea of pot, in New York. I was sailing this sea and I had discovered it.
So I remember asking Mal, our road manager, for what seemed like years and years, 'Have you got a pencil?' But of course everyone was so stoned they couldn't produce a pencil, let alone a combination of a paper and pencil, so it was I either had the pencil but I didn't have the paper or I had the ... I eventually found it and I wrote it down, and gave it to Mal for safekeeping.
I'd been going through this thing of levels, during the evening. And at each level I'd meet all these people again. 'Hahaha! It's you!' And then I'd metamorphose on to another level. Anyway, Mal gave me this little slip of paper in the morning, and written on it was, 'There are seven levels!' Actually it wasn't bad. Not bad for an amateur. And we pissed ourselves laughing, I mean, 'What the fuck's that? What the fuck are the seven levels?' But looking back, it's actually a pretty succinct comment; it ties in with a lot of major religions but I didn't know that then. We know that now because we've looked into a lot of that since, but that was the first thing. We were kind of proud to have been introduced to pot by Dylan, that was rather a coup. It was like being introduced to meditation and given your mantra by Maharishi. There was a certain status to it.
Pot had a tremendous influence on the music of the Beatles, as it did on virtually every other sixties rock 'n' roll group, and their songs are filled with discreet references to it. After that day in August 1964, any mention of 'high' or 'grass' in their songs was always intentional, from 'With a Little Help from My Friends' to 'A Day in the Life', though some references were more obscure than others. Paul's 'Got to Get You into My Life', which was to be released on the Revolver album, for instance, was entirely about pot.
PAUL: 'Got to Get You into My Life' was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. I'd been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn't seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana. I didn't have a hard time with it and to me it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding.
So 'Got to Get You into My Life' is really a song about that, it's not to a person, it's actually about pot. It's saying, 'I'm going to do this. This is not a bad idea.' So it's actually an ode to pot, like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret. It wouldn't be the first time in history someone's done it, but in my case it was the first flush of pot. I haven't really changed my opinion too much except, if anyone asks me for real advice, it would be stay straight. That is actually the best way. But in a stressful world I still would say that pot was one of the best of the tranquillising drugs; I have drunk and smoked pot and of the two I think pot is less harmful. People tend to fall asleep on it rather than go and commit murder, so it's always seemed to me a rather benign one. In my own mind, I've always likened it to the peace pipe of the Indians. Westerners used to call it 'native tobacco'. In the sixties we all thought this was what they were smoking.
The Beatles' use of pot was perhaps most conspicuous in their second film, Help!, work on which began in February 1965 with the recording of songs for the soundtrack. Their method of working had changed over the years: in the beginning George Martin was very much in control and they recorded during the appointed day and evening sessions. As years went by and they became EMI's cash cow, they took over more and more of the producer's role and recorded whenever they felt like it. John and Paul always had songs prepared when they entered the studio but as they had free studio time, they did not rehearse beforehand.
PAUL: Normally John and I would go in the studio, sit down with the guys and say, 'Right, what are we going to do?' I'd say to John, 'Do you want to do that one of yours or shall we do this one of mine? Which shall we play 'em first?' 'Oh, this one, right. We'd like to do this song.' We'd show it to the band over the course of twenty minutes, possibly half an hour. It hardly ever took us that long. Ringo would stand around with a pair of drumsticks which he might tap on a seat or a screen or a packing case. John and I would sit with our two guitars. George would bring his guitar and see what chords we were doing and figure out what he could do. George Martin would sit down with us and then we would separate, go to each instrument and come out ready to fight. And we just did it, and within the next hour, we would have done it. We would have decided how we were going to play this song. If for some reason it needed to be mixed quickly we would go upstairs to the control room, but we often left it to them and just went home. But as things went on we might go up to the control room more often.
The rock 'n' roll of the sixties is characterised by tales of excess which often extended into the recording studio. The Beatles, however, had a very workmanlike attitude to the studio and only on one occasion, when John mistook an acid tab for an upper, did they have to abandon a session. They smoked pot, and from Sgt. Pepper onwards there were occasions when coke was available in the studio, but they avoided anything that would blur their musical awareness so there was no alcohol to speak of, and no heroin or acid. George Martin turned a conveniently blind eye to any illegal goings-on and they never abused his discretion by openly flaunting their drug use.
PAUL: If you talk to him now about whether he knew we were doing drugs, he would say, 'Well, I suspected it, but they kept it out of my face.' Which we generally did. It wasn't like the scenes of debauchery that followed. The least discreet would be that Mal, our road manager, might be over behind the sound screens rolling a joint. It was fairly good-natured, pleasant stuff. I mean, obviously we had to be in such a state as to be able to record. You don't want to do vocals when you're scared to do vocals. So it had to be controlled, and I think it was, but I think the idea that music can be enhanced by marijuana was definitely being researched at the time, so you would smoke a joint and then sit down at the piano and think, Oh, this might be a great idea! I'm not saying that was the only way to work because before that we worked completely straight, completely clean, no alcohol or anything, and had a bunch of very good ideas under those circumstances.
It was the discipline of EMI. We had a certain attitude towards EMI, that it was a workplace, that was always there underneath it all, although we would often party. There was George Martin himself, who was fairly practical, and the engineers. You didn't want to mess around. Then there was our own controlling factor. We didn't want to be lying around unable to do anything. We knew why we were doing it: it was to enhance the whole thing. I think if we found something wasn't enhancing it, booze for instance, we gave it up. Once or twice we'd try a little wine when people were around, but generally you'd fuck up solos and you couldn't be bothered to think of a little complex musical thing that would have sounded great. You might have wanted to think of a harmony part to something and now it was a bit of a chore and tuning up is a bit of chore when you're stoned.
In the early days we recorded 10.30-1.30, then break for lunch. Nobody paid for your lunch, you just had an hour off to go and buy it for yourself. Very EMI. Then 2.30 till 5.30. And that was generally it, just those two sessions, or then, if you were really going crazy, 7.00 till 10.00, an evening session, which was really working late. By the time you'd done that, you wanted to go home or you wanted to go to the pub or something. Then later we heard rumours that people like Sinatra sometimes worked at three in the morning, so as things got a little wilder and a little more into party frame we did try that, and we had the place and we were able to do it. But I'm not sure how productive it was really. I think most of our best stuff was done under reasonably sane circumstances because it's not easy to think up all that stuff, and you've really just got to get the miracle take if you're stoned. It can be done, just sometimes, but it may be one in a hundred.
The songs for Help!, with the exception of the title song, were written before the screenplay was finished. Brian Epstein gave Dick Lester a demo tape of nine songs, from which he chose the six that he thought had cinematic possibilities rather than being the six best songs. Recording began on 15 February 1965 with 'Ticket to Ride', used in the snow scene in the film. As many fans suspected at the time, it was partially about Ryde in the Isle of Wight on the south coast of Britain, where Paul's cousin Bett and her husband Mike Robbins ran a pub. John and Paul had performed as the Nerk Twins in a previous pub they ran, and had visited them in Ryde. The song was written at Kenwood.
PAUL: We sat down and wrote it together. I remember talking about Ryde but it was John's thing. We wrote the melody together; you can hear on the record, John's taking the melody and I'm singing harmony with it. We'd often work those out as we wrote them. Because John sang it, you might have to give him 60 per cent of it. It was pretty much a work job that turned out quite well. I think the interesting thing was a crazy ending: instead of ending like the previous verse, we changed the tempo. We picked up one of the lines, 'My baby don't care', but completely altered the melody. We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out with this song; it was something specially written for the fade-out, which was very effective but it was quite cheeky and we did a fast ending. It was quite radical at the time.
When John Lennon was asked about the song, he said, 'Paul's contribution was the way Ringo played the drums.' Paul responds, 'John just didn't take the time to explain that we sat down together and worked on that song for a full three-hour songwriting session, and at the end of it all we had all the words, we had the harmonies, and we had all the little bits.'
The day before recording started on the Help! album, Paul flew back from a ten-day holiday in Hammamet, a seaside resort in Tunisia where he had been the guest of the British government, who put him up in a villa owned by the embassy on the coast south of Tunis. It was hard for the Beatles to go anywhere without the press intruding, and this was an ideal set-up, discreet, secure, fully catered and free. The actor Peter Ustinov had stayed there and recommended it. This was the sort of thing that Peter Brown, the Mr Fixit at Brian Epstein's office, excelled at organising.
Hammamet had been an artists' centre since the 1920s when wealthy Europeans had built a number of secluded villas to which they retired with their Siamese cats and long cigarette holders to contemplate their collections of modern art. Paul Klee had stayed there. The light was wonderful; there were two exquisite beaches fronting the bay, colourful gardens and an old medina surrounded by much restored ramparts.
The villa had a small amphitheatre in the garden and was designed as a showcase for British culture. At the furthest end of the house, away from most of the activity, was a magnificent bathroom with a sunken bath and decorated throughout with Islamic tiles. It was isolated and the acoustics were ideal for songwriting. Here Paul wrote 'Another Girl'. The villa was almost perfect but for one thing. Paul: 'You'd be sitting there having a cup of tea when the Russian delegation would be shown through by the government. You didn't have any control over that. "This is one of our cultural guests." "Hello, how are you?"
'Another Girl' was recorded the day after Paul returned to London while the idea was still fresh, though it was essentially an album filler. Paul: 'It's a bit much to call them fillers because I think they were a bit more than that, and each one of them made it past the Beatles test. We all had to like it. If anyone didn't like one of our songs it was vetoed. It could be vetoed by one person. If Ringo said; "I don't like that one," we wouldn't do it, or we'd have to really persuade him.' In Help! Paul mimes the song with the Beatles standing on a coral reef on Balmoral Island, off New Providence Island in the Bahamas, which was the first location for filming. He plays a bikini-clad girl as if she were a guitar.
'The Night Before' was one of Paul's rockers, performed on Salisbury Plain in the film. He wrote it alone, probably at Wimpole Street, and plays the guitar solo on it as well as bass. Paul: 'I would say that's mainly mine, I don't think John had a lot to do with that.'
'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' is John's nod to Bob Dylan. This was the first all-acoustic Beatles number, made under the influence of Another Side of Bob Dylan, which contains 'Motorpsycho Nitemare' and 'I shall Be Free No.10'.
PAUL: Dylan's Woody Guthrie period was very nice and I liked him then, but then he had a second wave of popularity when he became more psychedelic and more associated with drugs and at that time John particularly became very enamoured of him because of his poetry. All those songs were great lyrically. Masses of cluttered lyrics like John had written in his books. So Dylan's gobbledegook and his cluttered poetry was very appealing, it hit a chord in John, it was as if John felt, That should have been me. And to that end, John on this one track did a Dylan impression. I think it was 100 per cent John's song. I might have helped him on it, I have a vague recollection of helping to fill out some verses for him.
'You're Going to Lose That Girl' was written by John and Paul together at John's house in Weybridge and was the last track they recorded for the film before leaving for the Bahamas. It was John's original idea, estimated by Paul as about 60 per cent written by John and 40 per cent by himself.
Whereas they had worked closely with Alun Owen on A Hard Day's Night, feeding him lines that could be used in dialogue, there was no such collaboration with Marc Behm, who just gave them a series of off-the-peg wisecracks that could have been said by anyone. The group's resentment at even having to mouth these lines can be seen on screen. Paul later commented, 'It was wrong for us, we were guest stars in our own movie.' John was more succinct: he called it 'crap'.
Marc Behm's original screenplay, then called Eight Arms to Hold You, was first submitted to Peter Sellers, who turned it down. Dick Lester had Charles Wood rewrite it as a suitable vehicle for the Beatles, bearing in mind that Brian Epstein still wanted them to play themselves, rather than character parts, but with no smoking, drinking or sex. On the other hand, the Beatles themselves did not want to make a standard rock movie in which the group is discovered playing at a high-school dance. It was almost impossible to write an adequate follow-up to A Hard Day's Night; Alun Owen had written the only possible film for the Beatles, which was a thinly disguised version of their own lives. To produce a fictional story with four main leads who have the characters that the fans know and want to see was a very challenging task; but it took Charles Wood just ten days to get the script ready. He opted for a Technicolor romp. 'It was just an assignment,' he told Lester's biographer Andrew Yule, 'I don't think I did a particularly good job.' Bud Ornstein was not that keen on it either but was anxious to get another Beatles film in the cinemas as soon as possible so he gave his grudging approval.
PAUL: They kept offering up scripts. The scripts that were being presented to us weren't that great, nothing was really an inspiration. You do hear actors saying, 'You know, I'd love to get working, love, but I just haven't seen a decent script.' There was a thing called Talent for Loving, by Richard Condon, which was the big hot script everyone liked and thought we ought to do, but we hated it. In the end Charles Wood and Marc Behm wrote Help!, and it was pretty higgledy-piggledy. We'd have meetings but we weren't that interested.
We just browsed through it, really, rather than taking it very seriously. We didn't bother learning our lines. I'm sure we were reacting against the lousy script. Basically we lost the plot, but I don't think there was much of a plot there to start with. It was this endless, 'The ring must be found! Kali must be appeased.' Maybe that's why we didn't enjoy it. I've always felt we let it down a bit, but we just didn't care and that would fit more readily with a poor script.
To give them their due, we were saying, 'Can't we go somewhere nice for this film?' And they'd say, 'What d'you mean?' and we'd say, 'Well, I've never been in the Caribbean. Could you work that into the plot?' And we said, 'No one's ever been skiing, could you work that in the plot?' I have a friend who says that's the whole thing about writing screenplays. First imagine where you want to be for a year, then: 'The waves were lapping on the Hawaiian beach ...'
The overall impression of Help! is that the Beatles have little of substance to say. Their characterisations were so stereotyped that they became wooden cut-out figures: the cute sexy one, the smart sarcastic one, the moody cheapskate and the one with the inferiority complex. The Beatles' lack of real dialogue in Help! is very noticeable and the few lines they do get to speak are stilted and unfunny, not helped by the fact that they only looked at their scripts in the car on the way to the set and Dick Lester sometimes had to read them aloud line by line for them to repeat on camera.
It was not surprising that they were consequently overshadowed by the supporting players, all of whom were very accomplished actors able to use the scrappy script to their advantage: Leo McKern, who later became well known for his character role as Rumpole of the Bailey, the comic actor Victor Spinetti, who had been with them on A Hard Day's Night, as an incompetent scientist, and Roy Kinnear as his even more incompetent assistant. They used their acting skill to create the funniest scenes in the film. Eleanor Bron was an Indian princess and Viviane Ventura was an aspiring starlet who played a scantily clad girl on a sacrificial altar in the opening scene. But the plot was really just a vehicle for the Beatles to perform a number of songs in exotic settings; a glorified pop video. It was the film people might have expected the Beatles to make had A Hard Day's Night not preceded it.
On 23 February 1965, they flew to the Bahamas for two weeks of filming around New Providence Island; then, after a two day stopover in London, it was straight to Obertauern, Austria, for the skiing and curling-rink sequences. With all the foreign location shots safely printed, Richard Lester now began filming the interior action and London locations.
Most of the interiors were shot at Twickenham film studios but the scenes set in Buckingham Palace and Lambeth Palace were done on location at Cliveden because it has a similar 1850s interior. The house, perched on a 200-foot cliff overlooking the Thames in rural Berkshire, had been the setting the year before for the so-called Profumo affair which toppled the Conservative government. John Profumo, the minister for war, had an affair with the call girl Christine Keeler, whom he first met when she was swimming naked in the pool at Cliveden, where she and her boyfriend rented a cottage from Lord Astor. She was simultaneously having an affair with the Soviet military attache and scandal erupted when Profumo lied to the House of Commons by denying she was his mistress.
Paul: 'I remember seeing old Lord Astor, who was ill in bed. He would occasionally sniff oxygen that the doctors had given him. "Do you want some?" he said. He was offering it round.' Though Dick Lester obviously tried to organise it so that the Beatles could just arrive and do their stuff, there was still a huge amount of waiting around on set. To pass the time, the crew organised a relay race to be held on the huge lawn at Cliveden one lunch break. It began as five 60-yard dashes between the production staff, electricians and actors, but then the Beatles decided to join in. The crew thought there was no contest; the Beatles all smoked, they took no exercise and were wearing their ordinary street shoes. Mal Evans and their driver Alf Bicknell were recruited to make up the numbers. To everyone's surprise, the Beatles' team won, with Alf just scraping home in bare feet against one of the film crew professionally attired in spiked running shoes. Ringo's speed was particularly commented upon. People had forgotten how adept the Beatles were at escaping from fans and how necessary that extra burst of speed was in potentially life-threatening situations. Lord and Lady Astor presented the winning team with a bottle of vintage champagne and formal photographs were taken.
PAUL: By this time we were starting to smoke a bit of pot and we were getting a little bit more sort of laissez faire about the whole thing. We would occasionally get stoned on the way to the film set, which was pretty fatal. My main memory is of being in hysterics, because for all of us, one of the great things about early pot was the sheer hysteria, the laughs. Things could appear very very funny, hilariously so. And nobody quite knew why we were laughing, and of course this made it even funnier. It was like kids giggling at the dinner table, it really was. I remember one of the scenes, it was after lunch and we'd crept off into the bushes and come back a little bit sort of 'Hi there!', pretending we'd had a glass of wine too many or something.
There was a scene where Patrick Cargill, the police inspector, had a gun on us from behind. So we all had our hands up and we were all looking out the window. Then someone would start giggling - 'Stop it, stop it,' - and after a while you could just see the shoulders heaving, and you could feel people going. It was like all those classic out-takes from Peter Sellers movies, and we were just gone! Then there was this added element of this gun behind us. It was loaded with blanks, but he had to keep letting it off and we were hypersensitive - 'Bang!' 'Oh, oh!' And we'd jump a mile when this thing went off! I don't know how Dick ever put up with us but he somehow had to make a movie under those circumstances.
At the beginning of April, the film still had the working title of Eight Arms to Hold You, a title that John and Paul were not at all keen on, in part because of the difficulty of composing a title track using those words.
PAUL: I seem to remember Dick Lester, Brian Epstein, Walter Shenson and ourselves sitting around, maybe Victor Spinetti was there, and thinking, What are we going to call this one? Somehow Help! came out. I didn't suggest it; John might have suggested it or Dick Lester. It was one of them. John went home and thought about it and got the basis of it, then we had a writing session on it. We sat at his house and wrote it, so he obviously didn't have that much of it. I would have to credit it to John for original inspiration 70-30. My main contribution is the countermelody to John. If you analyse our songs, John's are often on one note, whereas mine are often much more melodic. I enjoy going places with melodies. I like what John did too, but his are more rhythmic. So to take away from the solo note a little bit I wrote a descant to it.
When they finished the song, feeling very pleased with themselves, they took their guitars downstairs to the living room where Cynthia Lennon and the journalist Maureen Cleave were sitting and played it to them.
PAUL: Because it was finished, you see. Once we'd done our writing session there was nothing left to be done except put the instruments on. That's what I was there for; to complete it. Had John just been left on his own he might have taken weeks to do it, but just one visit and we would go right in and complete it. So we came down and played the intro, into the verse, descant coming in on the second verse. It was all crafted, it was all there, the final verses and the end. 'Very nice,' they said. 'Like it.'
Ten thousand fans gathered in Piccadilly Circus outside the London Pavilion on the humid summer evening of 29 July 1965 for the premiere of Help! It was a showbiz evening: the Beatles arrived in a black Rolls-Royce and were presented to Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. There was a party afterwards at the Orchid Room of the Dorchester Hotel. The film was a financial, though not a critical, success.
The film featured only seven songs; six by John and Paul, and George's 'I Need You', his second song on a Beatles album, the first being 'Don't Bother Me' on With the Beatles. For the accompanying soundtrack album, an additional seven tracks were recorded, four of which were Lennon and McCartney compositions.
'It's Only Love' was the product of a writing session out at Weybridge. It was John's original idea and Paul helped him finish it. Paul puts it as 60-40 to John. It was very much an album filler. John later told Hit Parader. 'That's the one song I really hate of mine. Terrible lyric' Paul: 'Sometimes we didn't fight it if the lyric came out rather bland on some of those filler songs like "It's Only Love". If a lyric was really bad we'd edit it, but we weren't that fussy about it, because, it's only a rock 'n' roll song. I mean, this is not literature.'
'Tell Me What You See' was another filler track, this time by Paul: 'I seem to remember it as mine. I would claim it as a 60-40 but it might have been totally me. Not awfully memorable. Not one of the better songs but they did a job, they were very handy for albums or В sides. You need those kind of sides.'
Paul composed 'I've Just Seen a Face' at Wimpole Street and it became one of his favourite Beatles songs, one of the few he was later to play with Wings. Paul: 'I think of this as totally by me. It was slightly country and western from my point of view. It was faster, though, it was a strange uptempo thing. I was quite pleased with it. The lyric works: it keeps dragging you forward, it keeps pulling you to the next line, there's an insistent quality to it that I liked.'
The eponymous title track was released as a single with а В side by Paul: a hard-driving rocker called 'I'm Down' written at Wimpole Street, Paul had always been a big fan of Little Richard; he celebrated his last day of term at the Liverpool Institute by taking in his guitar, climbing on a desk in the classroom and singing his two party pieces, 'Long Tall Sally' and 'Tutti Frutti'.
PAUL: I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it's like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it. You have to actually go outside yourself. It's a funny little trick and when you find it, it's very interesting. A lot of people were fans of Little Richard so I used to sing his stuff but there came a point when I wanted one of my own, so I wrote 'I'm Down'.
I'm not sure if John had any input on it, in fact I don't think he did. But not wishing to be churlish, with most of these I'll always credit him with 10 per cent just in case he fixed a word or offered a suggestion. But at least 90 per cent of that would be mine. It's really a blues song. We weren't raised in the American South, so we don't know about Route 66 and the levee and the stuff in all the blues songs. We know about the Cast-Iron Shore and the East Lanes Motorway but they never sounded as good to us, because we were in awe of the Americans. Even their Birmingham, Alabama, sounded better than our Birmingham.
So 'I'm Down' was my rock 'n' roll shouter. I ended up doing it at Shea Stadium. It worked very well for those kind of places, it was a good stage song, and inasmuch as they are hard to write, I'm proud of it. Those kind of songs with hardly any melody, rock 'n' roll songs, are much harder to write than ballads, because mere's nothing to them.
Paul had another song on the soundtrack album, one completely unlike anything the Beatles had ever released before. Called 'Yesterday', it was to become the most successful Beatles track of all, even though Paul was the sole composer and no other Beatle played on it.
One morning in May 1965, during the filming of Help!, Paul woke up in his little attic room in Wimpole Street with a melody running through his head in all 'the glory and the freshness of a dream'.
PAUL: I woke up with a lovely tune in my head. I thought, That's great, I wonder what that is? There was an upright piano next to me, to the right of the bed by the window. I got out of bed, sat at the piano, found G, found F sharp minor 7th - and that leads you through then to В to E minor, and finally back to E. It all leads forward logically. I liked the melody a lot but because I'd dreamed it I couldn't believe I'd written it. I thought, No, I've never written like this before. But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing. And you have to ask yourself, where did it come from? But you don't ask yourself too much or it might go away.
Very sensibly Paul tried to find out if the tune was already in existence. There have been many instances of hyperamnesic dreams in which the dreamer awakes with an apparently new melody playing in his head which is later identified as something he heard, possibly only once, fleetingly, many years before.
PAUL: So first of all I checked the melody out, and people said to me, 'No, it's lovely, and I'm sure it's yours.' It took me a little while to allow myself to claim it, but then like a prospector I finally staked my claim; stuck a little sign on it and said, 'Okay, it's mine!' It had no words. I used to call it 'Scrambled Eggs'. The lyrics used to go, 'Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs ...' There was generally a laugh at that point, you didn't need to do any more lyrics.
I was always very keen not to repeat other people's tunes, because it's very easy to do when you write. Ringo's got a funny story of the most brilliant song he ever wrote. He spent three hours writing a very famous Bob Dylan song. We all fell about and laughed. That can happen. You say, 'This is so great,' and someone says, 'Yeah, it's number one at the moment.' 'Ah. That's where I've heard it.'
Given that literally hundreds of millions of people have now heard 'Yesterday', it is certain that someone would have come forward by now to identify it even if it bore only a passing resemblance to an existing work. 'Yesterday' has become the most played song of all time. Paul received an award for 6,000,000 plays on American radio, which was 2,000,000 times more than any other record. It would take twenty-three and a half years to play it that many times non-stop. Paul: 'For something that just appeared in a dream, even I have to acknowledge that it was a phenomenal stroke of luck.' (Incidentally, the record with the second most plays is 'Michelle', also by Paul without the other Beatles.)
Freud suggests that dream formation is determined in part by the previous day's activities and it would be interesting to know what Paul had been listening to the night before. The melody of 'Yesterday' may be a dream-work transformation of something completely unlikely, from a television theme song to a classical piece; or, more probably, a musical idea he had already been playing with but which emerged from the dream state so different that it was unrecognisable. The notes had to be there already in his subconscious, but Paul's musical vocabulary had become so vast, his subconscious so saturated with chord progressions, note combinations and fragments of melody, that in this instance he did not have to even place himself in a receptive songwriting mode; he just put them together in a new way while he was asleep.
PAUL: I took it round to Alma Cogan at her flat in Kensington and asked, 'What's this song?' because Alma was a bit of a song buff; there are a lot of people around like that and I admire them a lot. Alma was very songy, knew a lot of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and that kind of thing, and she said, 'I don't know what it is, but it's beautiful.' I later realised, she thought I was trying to give it her, because if you as a composer do that, by implication you're offering her the song, just because she's a singer. The etiquette is almost, 'I'm writing this for you,' so I think there was a little moment of doubt. But I didn't see it as that at all. I was doing it for a very practical reason to see if someone like her who knew all the old classics could recognise it. She covered it, but the thing is to actually give it to someone so it's theirs and you don't even record it yourself.
The melody clearly preoccupied Paul. During the making of Help! there was always a piano around on which Paul continually tinkered with the melody, slowly perfecting it, adding a middle eight, working it into shape. Dick Lester finally exclaimed, 'If I hear that once more, I'll have that bloody piano taken away. What's it called anyway?' 'Scrambled Eggs,' Paul told him. When the Help! soundtrack album was released, Dick Lester was away on location in Spain. Paul sent him a copy with a note saying, 'I hope you like "Scrambled Eggs".'
On 27 May 1965, Paul flew to Lisbon from London to begin a holiday in the Algarve. Paul had run into his old friend Bruce Welch, the rhythm guitarist with the Shadows, backstage at a Cliff Richard concert at the Talk of the Town and told him he was looking for somewhere to go for a short holiday. Bruce offered his villa in Albufeira, on the southern coast of Portugal near Faro. It sounded ideal and a few days later they met again to fix the dates. It was arranged that Paul and Jane would arrive at the villa the same day that Bruce and his wife were departing so that they could be shown how everything worked.
From Lisbon Paul and Jane took a car and were driven the 180 miles to the south coast. It was a long drive on mountainous roads through Alcacer do Sal, Grandola, and on down the El across the River Mira, through Sao Marcos da Serra Albufeira to the blue Golfo de Cadiz.
PAUL: It was a long hot, dusty drive. Jane was sleeping but I couldn't, and when I'm sitting that long in a car I either manage to get to sleep or my brain starts going. I remember mulling over the tune 'Yesterday', and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea: Scram-ble-d eggs, da-da da. I knew the syllables had to match the melody, obviously: da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly, and Yes-ter-day, that's good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It's easy to rhyme those 'a's: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there's a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and 'b' again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it.
Albufiera was originally a small fishing village, and when Paul was there, before the high-rise hotels and booming Euro-discos, the old town perched on the cliffs still had a Moorish flavour, with cobbled streets and whitewashed cottages. It was a favourite holiday village for British pop stars; both Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield had places there. Bruce Welch owned a large four-bedroom villa with a magnificent sea view, bought from the proceeds of his many hits with the Shadows. Though it is hard to imagine Paul going anywhere without a guitar, his first request on arrival was to ask Bruce if he had one. There was a 1959 Model 0018 Martin in the house which, being left-handed, Paul had to play upside down, but it sufficed.
Paul relaxed and took his time piecing the lyrics of the song together: 'I think I finished the lyrics about two weeks later, which was quite a long time for me. Generally, John and I would sit down and finish within three hours, but this was more organic. I put in the words over the next couple of weeks.' Muriel Young, the presenter of the TV show Five o'clock Club, had a place in Albufiera and Paul went horse riding with her and her husband. She remembers him playing a new song to them after dinner one evening, which was almost certainly 'Yesterday' with its words finally in place.
It has been suggested that the lyrics are about the loss of Paul's mother, and one line could possibly be read as that. If so, it was an unconscious element in the song's composition.
John was already familiar with the song when Paul took 'Yesterday' in to the recording session on 14 June. Paul played it for George Martin and asked once again if it was a known melody. George said there was a Peggy Lee tune called 'Yesterdays' but the title was all they had in common. The other Beatles liked the song but were a bit nonplussed what to with it.
PAUL: I played it for George and Ringo and they said, 'Lovely, nice one.' Ringo said, 'I don't think I can really drum on that' George said, 'Well, I'm not sure I can put much on it either.' And John said, 'I can't think of anything, I think you should just do it yourself. It's very much a solo thing.'
So I did, just me and my guitar. Then George Martin had the idea to put the string quartet on it and I said, 'No, I don't think so.' He said, 'I've really got a feeling for it. I can hear it working.' So I said, 'Oh, a string quartet, it's very classical, I'm not interested really ...' But he cleverly said, 'Let's try it,' and I thought, that's fair enough. 'If we hate it,' he said, 'we can take it off. We'll just go back, it's very nice just with the solo guitar and your voice.'
People tend to think that we did the music and George did all the arrangements. The thing people don't generally know was that me or John or whoever it was involved in the orchestral angle would go round to George's house or he would come round to ours, and we would sit with him, and I did on this. I went round to George's house and we had a pleasant couple of hours, had a cup of tea, sat there with the manuscript paper on the piano.
He said, 'Okay, G.' And I played it to him. 'These are my chords.' He said, 'That's very nice.' See, what we do in rock 'n' roll is block out chords with one white note between them. But a classical composer writing for strings might leave the G there but would think that having one note on either side would be too closely grouped, it would make a string quartet sound like almost one instrument. So the trick is to separate them. The chord G is comprised of G, В and D. So your G might go down an octave and be on the cello. The В might stay where it is and you take the D up. I remember that on that session George explained to me how Bach would have voiced it in a choral voicing or a quartet voicing. And he'd say, 'This would be the way Bach would do it,' and he'd play it.
It would be my same chords but spread over the piano, rather than closely grouped. It was nice, I was getting lessons. I find out these little tricks as I go along. A course in it would teach me them all, but I can't be bothered doing that. I learn as I go along. Music is such a beautiful innocent thing for me, a magic thing, that I don't want it ever to smack of homework, that would ruin it all.
So George showed me this voicing, and I said 'lovely' and we did the whole song, very straight, for a string quartet. And there was just one point in it where I said, 'Could the cello now play a slightly bluesy thing, out of the genre, out of keeping with the rest of the voicing?' George said, 'Bach certainly wouldn't have done that, Paul, ha ha ha.' I said, 'Great!' That was what we often used to do, try and claim our one little moment. I mean, obviously it was my song, my chords, my everything really, but because the voicing now had become Bach's, I needed something of mine again to redress the balance. So I put a 7th in, which was unheard-of. It's what we used to call a blue note, and that became a little bit well known. It's one of the unusual things in that arrangement.
George Martin booked a string quartet for 17 June 1965. He had a policy of always getting the best, usually players that were known to him, often from the London Symphony Orchestra. Tony Gilbert and Sidney Sax played violins, Kenneth Essex played viola and Francisco Gabarro played the cello.
PAUL: George was very good that way. He got a very good, competent quartet, and they played and I really liked the result, I thought it was smashing. I remember going down the Ad Lib the evening after we'd recorded it, meeting Terry Doran down there, and saying to Terry, 'Just done this great song.' He told me afterwards, 'I thought you were just really swell-headed, I couldn't believe your arrogance.' He said, 'Now I see what you mean, though, you must have been quite excited after that.'
In addition to the string-quartet idea, Paul devised a plan to have the arrangement for 'Yesterday' written out and taken to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the experimental facility specialising in electronic music for radio and television, which was then run by Delia Derbyshire. The futuristic electronic signature tune for Dr Who was made there. Paul had listened to a lot of electronic music with the present author, Barry Miles, and George Martin had played them the famous 1962 Bell Telephone Labs recording of an IBM 7090 computer and digital-to-sound transducer singing 'Bicycle Built for Two' in a thick German-American accent, which they loved. (This was also favourite late-night listening at Miles's flat.)
PAUL: It occurred to me to have the BBC Radiophonic Workshop do the backing track to it and me just sing over an electronic quartet. I went down to see them: I found the number, said, 'Do you mind if I come down and see you? Six o'clock's good,' wandered down. They were in Maida Vale, Little Venice somewhere, near me, so it was very simple for me to just hop in the car, have a look around. The woman who ran it was very nice and they had a little shed at the bottom of the garden where most of the work was done. I said, 'I'm into this sort of stuff.' I'd heard a lot about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, we'd all heard a lot about it. It would have been very interesting to do, but I never followed it up.
Chris Farlowe was a well-liked singer who had been on the London rock scene since the late fifties when his group, the John Henry Skiffle Group, won the all-England Skiffle Championship of 1957. All he needed was a break. Eric Burdon, in his autobiography I Used to Be an Animal but I'm All Right Now, tells how Chris Farlowe almost relaunched his career with 'Yesterday':
One day he phoned me at my Duke Street pad. 'Hey Eric, how ya doin', it's Chris Farlowe here,' he said in his hoarse voice. I asked how he was getting on. 'Oh, I'm OK. 'Ere listen, you'll never guess what happened. Paul McCartney - you know Paul out of the Beatles?' Yes, I had heard of him. 'Well, he came round to our house in the middle of the night. I was out doing a show, but me mum was in and he left her a demo disc for me to listen to.'
This was wonderful news. When was Chris going into the studio to cut this gift from the gods? 'Ah,' he growled. 'I don't like it. It's not for me. It's too soft. I need a good rocker, you know, a shuffle or something.'
'Yeah, but Chris,' I said. 'Anything to give you a start, man. I mean even if it's a ballad you should go ahead and record it.'
'No, I don't like it,' he insisted. 'Too soft.'
'So what are you gonna do with the song?'
'Well, I sent it back, didn't I?'
'What was the title of the song?'
'"Yesterday",' he retorted.
Despite its enormous popularity, the Beatles refused to allow the release of 'Yesterday' as a single in Britain. As a rock 'n' roll band they felt that the release of a ballad would be bad for their image, and, more importantly, they didn't want to focus on one member of the group to the exclusion of the others, and all decisions in the Beatles had to have complete approval. In Hamburg Bert Kaempfert had once suggested making a recording as Paul and the Beatles but the idea was quickly rejected by the group.
PAUL: That would have been getting above yourself. We were always watching each other for any signs of that. I remember showing up for a photo session once and I had a grey suit and the others had dark suits and they made fun of me. I didn't know what suits they were going to come in, but it was because I stood out from the group. It was such a democracy. So 'Yesterday' would have meant that the spotlight would go on me, so we never did that. It wasn't released here as a single. In America maybe. We would allow it there because we weren't living there, we'd visit there, but that wasn't the same. But here, no way on earth.
It was released in the USA as a single in September 1965 and went to number one. When the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show on 14 August live before a television audience of 73,000,000 people, Paul sang the song backed by a string quartet from the New York Ed Sullivan Orchestra.
This was a period of increasing confidence for Paul and John as songwriters; a period of transition where they felt able to insert private references about sex and drugs into their songs, knowing that in many cases even George Martin would not catch on. A good example, one which combined both sex and drugs, was their next single, 'Day Tripper', co-written in October 1965 at Kenwood.
PAUL: This was getting towards the psychedelic period when we were interested in winking to our friends and comrades in arms, putting in references that we knew our friends would get but that the Great British Public might not. So 'she's a big teaser' was 'she's a prick teaser'. The mums and dads didn't get it but the kids did. 'Day Tripper' was to do with tripping. Acid was coming in on the scene, and often we'd do these songs about 'the girl who thought she was it'. Mainly the impetus for that used to come from John; I think John met quite a few girls who thought they were it and he was a bit up in arms about that kind of thing. 'She Said' was another one. But this was just a tongue-in-cheek song about someone who was a day tripper, a Sunday painter, Sunday driver, somebody who was committed only in part to the idea. Whereas we saw ourselves as full-time trippers, fully committed drivers, she was just a day tripper. That was a co-written effort; we were both there making it all up but I would give John the main credit. Probably the idea came from John because he sang the lead, but it was a close thing. We both put a lot of work in on it. I remember with the prick teasers we thought, That'd be fun to put in. That was one of the great things about collaborating, you could nudge-nudge, wink-wink a bit, whereas if you're sitting on your own, you might not put it in. You know, 'I'd love to turn you on', we literally looked at each other like, 'Oh, dare we do this?' It was a good moment, there was always good eye contact when we put those things in.
'Day Tripper' was scheduled to be the Beatles' next single - until 'We Can Work It Out' was recorded a few days later and was generally felt to be a more commercial track. John objected quite vociferously and eventually the record was marketed as a double A side, though shops soon reported that far more people came in asking for 'We Can Work It Out' than 'Day Tripper'.
Paul wrote 'We Can Work It Out' at Rembrandt, the five-bedroomed house he bought for his father in July 1964 in Heswall, Cheshire, on the peninsula overlooking the River Dee estuary. It was a large mock-Tudor house with a decent-size garden in a leafy suburb about 15 miles from Liverpool and cost Paul £8,750, a lot of money for the time. Paul spent a further £8,000 installing central heating and decorating. There was a piano in the dining room where Paul often tinkered with new tunes. If he was composing on the guitar, however, he would usually go to the back bedroom to get away from everyone.
PAUL: I wrote it as a more up-tempo thing, country and western. I had the idea, the tide, had a couple of verses and the basic idea for it, then I took it to John to finish it off and we wrote the middle together. Which is nice: 'Life is very short. There's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.' Then it was George Harrison's idea to put the middle into waltz time, like a German waltz. That came on the session, it was one of the cases of the arrangement being done on the session. The other thing that arrived on the session was we found an old harmonium hidden away in the studio, and said, 'Oh, this'd be a nice colour on it.' We put the chords on with the harmonium as a wash, just a basic held chord, what you would call a pad these days. The lyrics might have been personal. It is often a good way to talk to someone or to work your own thoughts out. It saves you going to a psychiatrist, you allow yourself to say what you might not say in person.
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