MAKING THE ALBUMS
When the mood of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.
TWO ALBUMS ABOVE ALL COMPLETED THE BEATLES' TRANSITION FROM A singles band to studio band: Rubber Soul and Revolver. There was a complex maturity in the work; songs like John's 'Nowhere Man' dealt with lack of self-confidence and Paul's 'I'm Looking Through You' was no longer a simple love song, but about a problematic relationship. A playful humour was often in evidence too, and a wide-ranging experimentation in the musical arrangements: George on sitar, Paul playing fuzz bass, George Martin's double-speed baroque piano ... The period of Rubber Soul and Revolver produced some of the most beautifully crafted of all the Beatles songs. Both John and Paul were at peak performance. John may not have been perfectly happy and 'Help!' may have been a literal cry for help, but compared to his later insecurities and drug addiction, this was a calm period for him. These songs are the bedrock on which the Lennon-McCartney songwriting reputation rests; songs like 'Day Tripper', 'Drive My Car', 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Paperback Writer', confident songs written at the height of fame and success, halcyon days when they were undisputed kings of the rock 'n' roll world.
With each new album, the Beatles further consolidated their control over their output, at least in Britain. They had a big say in which tracks to release as singles, had effective approval over cover art and now took to naming their own albums, usually using a play on words: Rubber Soul was a reference to rubber-soled shoes as well as soul music, whereas Revolver did not mean a gun, but something that revolves, like a record. Johnny Dean, editor of Beatles Monthly, was with them on the night of 24 June 1966 in a Munich hotel room when they named the latter. At first they had all four wanted to call it Abracadabra, but someone had already used it. Pendulums and Fat Man and Bobby were other ideas. Ringo suggested having a joke with the Rolling Stones by calling it After Geography since the Stones had just done Aftermath! John proposed Beatles on Safari and Paul came up with Magic Circle. John changed this to Four Sides of the Circle and Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle, which somehow led them to Revolver.
Described by George Martin as 'the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world', Rubber Soul was recorded in October and November 1965. It opens with 'Drive My Car', a humorous rocker with an ingenious role-reversal that is typical of John and Paul's songs of the period. Paul arrived at John's house in Weybridge with the tune in his head but with very bad lyrics.
PAUL: The lyrics were disastrous and I knew it. Often you just block songs out and words just come into your mind and when they do it's hard to get rid of them. You often quote other songs too and you know you've got to get rid of them, but sometimes it's very difficult to find a more suitable phrase than the one that has insinuated itself into your consciousness. This is one of the songs where John and I came nearest to having a dry session. The lyrics I brought in were something to do with golden rings, which is always fatal. 'Rings' is fatal anyway, 'rings' always rhymes with 'things' and I knew it was a bad idea. I came in and I said, 'These aren't good lyrics but it's a good tune.' The tune was nice, the tune was there, I'd done the melody. Well, we tried, and John couldn't think of anything, and we tried and eventually it was, 'Oh let's leave it, let's get off this one.' 'No, no. We can do it, we can do it.' So we had a break, maybe had a cigarette or a cup of tea, then we came back to it, and somehow it became 'drive my car' instead of 'gold-en rings', and then it was wonderful because this nice tongue-in-cheek idea came and suddenly there was a girl there, the heroine of the story, and the story developed and had a little sting in the tail like 'Norwegian Wood' had, which was 'I actually haven't got a car, but when I get one you'll be a terrific chauffeur'. So to me it was LA chicks, 'You can be my chauffeur', and it also meant 'you can be my lover'. 'Drive my car' was an old blues euphemism for sex, so in the end all is revealed. Black humour crept in and saved the day. It wrote itself then. I find that very often, once you get the good idea, things write themselves. So that was my idea and John and I wrote the words, so I'd go 70-30 on that to me.
The same black humour crept into 'Norwegian Wood', which ends with the girl's flat being burned. John had begun it in February 1965 while on a skiing holiday with Cynthia and George Martin and his wife Judy in St Moritz in Switzerland. When he returned, Paul came over for a writing session in John's music room in the attic at Kenwood. This is another example of a song more or less writing itself, beginning, with a classic Beatles play on words: 'having' a girl and being 'had'.
PAUL: I came in and he had this first stanza, which was brilliant: 'I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.' That was all he had, no title, no nothing. I said, 'Oh yes, well, ha, we're there.' And it wrote itself. Once you've got the great idea, they do tend to write themselves, providing you know how to write songs. So I picked it up at the second verse, it's a story. It's him trying to pull a bird, it was about an affair. John told Playboy that he hadn't the faintest idea where the title came from but I do. Peter Asher had his room done out in wood, a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine really, cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, 'Cheap Pine', baby. So it was a little parody really on those kind of girls who when you'd go to their flat there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view but in John's it was based on an affair he had. This wasn't the decor of someone's house, we made that up. So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, 'You'd better sleep in the bath.' In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn't the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn't, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge, and then we left it there and went into the instrumental.
George had become very interested in Indian music and it was his first sitar solo. It's in waltz tempo 3/4 time, it's a quirky song, like an Irish folk song; John liked that, we liked that. So it ended up on the session with George's sitar on it. It's 60-40 to John because it's John's idea and John's tune. But I filled out lyrically and had the idea to set the place on fire, so I take some sort of credit. And the middle was mine, those middle eights, John never had his middle eights.
There is another play on words in the title of Paul's 'You Won't See Me', which uses the popular subject of a young woman's refusal to answer a young man's phone calls.
PAUL: Normally I write on a guitar and have full chords, or on the piano and have full chords, but this was written around two little notes, a very slim phrase, a two-note progression that I had very high on the first two strings of the guitar: the E and the В strings. I had it up on the high E position, and I just let the note on the В string descend a semitone at a time, and kept the top note the same, and against that I was playing a descending chromatic scale. Then I wrote the tune for 'You Won't See Me' against it. I changed it but it was still a two-note thing but instead of it going down I pushed it up and then came down again; just a slight variation. It was 100 per cent me as I recall, but I am always quite happy to give John a credit because there's always a chance that on the session he might have said, 'That'd be better.' To me it was very Motown-flavoured. It's got a James Jamerson feel. He was the Motown bass player, he was fabulous, the guy who did all those great melodic bass lines. It was him, me, and Brian Wilson who were doing melodic bass lines at that time, all from completely different angles, LA, Detroit and London, all picking up on what each other did.
John wrote 'Nowhere Man' after a night out. He told Playboy: ‘I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then "Nowhere Man" came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down.' When Paul arrived at Kenwood, John was still asleep on the chaise longue in his glass-sided den.
PAUL: When I came out to write with him the next day, he was kipping on the couch, very bleary-eyed. It was really an anti-John song, written by John. He told me later, he didn't tell me then, he said he'd written it about himself, feeling like he wasn't going anywhere. I think actually it was about the state of his marriage. It was in a period where he was a bit dissatisfied with what was going on; however, it led to a very good song. He treated it as a third-person song, but he was clever enough to say, 'Isn't he a bit like you and me?' 'Me' being the final word. That was one of John's better ones.
'The Word' was the first of the Beatles overtly love and peace songs; the word in question was 'Love', which in 1965 made it one of the first hippie anthems. It was a song that John and Paul wrote together at Kenwood. It was their normal practice to scribble songs down, with many annotations and changes, and afterwards make a fair copy each. After writing 'The Word' they rolled a joint, and instead of their usual lyric sheet, they produced a psychedelic illuminated manuscript using coloured crayons.
Paul: 'We smoked a bit of pot, then we wrote out a multicoloured lyric sheet, the first time we'd ever done that. We normally didn't smoke when we were working. It got in the way of songwriting because it would just cloud your mind up - "Oh, shit, what are we doing?" It's better to be straight. But we did this multicolour thing.' When Yoko Ono first arrived in Britain, before she met John, she turned up at Paul's house asking for manuscripts to give to John Cage for his fiftieth birthday. Cage collected musical scores. Paul told her that he always kept his original manuscripts, but not long afterwards she asked John to give her one and he chose the multicoloured fair copy of 'The Word' as a birthday gift. It is reproduced in John Cage's Notations, a selection of the scores he had been collecting for the Foundation of Contemporary Performance Arts to show the diversity of notation in modern music.
Also on Rubber Soul was 'Michelle', destined to become one of the most played songs on the radio of all time. It was one of Paul's oldest melodies, written when he was still at the Liverpool Institute.
PAUL: 'Michelle' was a tune that I'd written in Chet Atkins' finger-pickin' style. There is a song he did called 'Trambone' with a repetitive top line, and he played a bass line whilst playing a melody. This was an innovation for us; even though classical guitarists had played it, no rock 'n' roll guitarists had played it. The first person we knew to use finger-pickin' technique was Chet Atkins, and Colin Manley, one of the guys in the Remo Four in Liverpool, who used to play it very well and we all used to stop and admire him. Later John learned how to do it folk-style from Donovan or Gypsy Dave, which he used on 'Julia'. I never learned it. But based on Atkins's 'Trambone', I wanted to write something with a melody and a bass line on it, so I did. I just had it as an instrumental in C.
There used to be a guy called Austin Mitchell who was one of John's tutors at art school and he used to throw some pretty good all-night parties. You could maybe pull girls there, which was the main aim of every second; you could get drinks, which was another aim; and you could generally put yourself about a bit. I remember sitting around there, and my recollection is of a black turtleneck sweater and sitting very enigmatically in the corner, playing this rather French tune. I used to pretend I could speak French, because everyone wanted to be like Sacha Distel, or Juliette Greco was actually who you wanted to be like, even though she was a girl, because she had the feel of it all: that French existential thing, they were all in turtlenecks and black and down the bohemian clubs. It was bohemia! So I used to sit around and murmur. It was my Maurice Chevalier meets Juliette Greco moment: me trying to be enigmatic to make girls think, 'Who's that very interesting French guy over in the corner?' I would literally use it as that, and John knew this was one of my ploys.
Years later, John said, 'D'you remember that French thing you used to do at Mitchell's parties?' I said yes. He said, 'Well, that's a good tune. You should do something with that.' We were always looking for tunes, because we were making lots of albums by then and every album you did needed fourteen songs, and then there were singles in between, so you needed a lot of material. So I did.
Paul had kept up his friendship with Ivan Vaughan, the man who introduced him to John. Ivan and Paul had much in common; they were even born on the same day in Liverpool. Ivan's wife Jan taught French, and one day when they were visiting Paul at Wimpole Street, he asked Jan for some help with the lyrics.
PAUL: I said, 'I like the name Michelle. Can you think of anything that rhymes with Michelle, in French?' And she said, 'Ma belle.' I said, 'What's that mean?' 'My beauty.' I said, 'That's good, a love song, great.' We just started talking, and I said, 'Well, those words go together well, what's French for that? Go together well.' 'Sont les mots quivont tres bien ensemble.'' I said, 'All right, that would fit.' And she told me a bit how to pronounce it, so that was it. I got that off Jan, and years later I sent her a cheque around. I thought I better had because she's virtually a co-writer on that. From there I just pieced together the verses.
The other interesting point was there's a very jazzy chord in it: 'Michelle, ma belle.'' That second chord. That was a chord that was used twice in the Beatles: once to end George's solo on 'Till There Was You' and again when I used it in this. It was a chord shown to us by a jazz guitarist called Jim Gretty who worked behind the counter at Frank Hessey's where we used to buy our instruments on the never-never in Liverpool. So Jim Gretty showed us this one great ham-fisted jazz chord, bloody hell! George and I learned it off him.
John had been listening to Nina Simone's 'I Put a Spell on You', which repeats the line, 'I love you, I love you ...' and when Paul hummed the song through to John, he suggested using those words, with the emphasis changed to the word 'love', as a middle eight.
PAUL: The 'I love you, I love you, I love you' wasn't in the original. The original was just the chorus. That sounds like Nina Simone, I can see that. I'll give him ten points for that.
I remember 'Michelle' particularly. Because it was only on four little tracks, it was very easy to mix. There were no decisions to make, we'd made them all in the writing and in the recording. We would mix them, and it would take half an hour, maybe. Then it would go up on a shelf, in a quarter-inch tape box. And that was it. That was the only thing we ever did to 'Michelle'. We never remixed it for dance, we never did a funky mix. That was the end of it and it's still around and it's still a popular song, still clocking up numbers on the little tachometer or whatever it is they've got: four million broadcast performances. From that one little thing. Minimum effort, minimum expense, minimum everything. It's lovely, absolutely the best way to do it. I advise young groups these days, write 'em great, rehearse them up so you know 'em, have a good relationship between yourselves and go in and record them the simplest possible way that you can, mix it that day and have done with it. I wish I could take my own advice.
I saw David Bailey down the Ad Lib not long after it came out and he said, "Ere, that "Michelle". It is tongue in cheek, you are joking with that, aren't you?' He thought it was a parody of a French song, which in many ways it is. He thought that was funny.
I said, 'Fuck off!', quite taken aback that he thought it was a joke. I was very insulted. But I knew what he meant.
When asked what his contribution to 'What Goes On' was, Ringo replied, 'About five words.' It was an old song written by John before they had a recording contract but which they never played live. Since it was important to have Ringo sing at least one song on each album, John dusted it off and Paul and Ringo wrote a new middle eight for it.
'Girl' was composed during one of Paul and John's writing sessions out at Kenwood.
PAUL: It was John's original idea but it was very much co-written. I remember writing 'the pain and pleasure' and 'a man must break his back', it was all very working-on-the-chain-gang. My main memory is that John wanted to hear the breathing, wanted it to be very intimate, so George Martin put a special compressor on the voice, then John dubbed it.
It was always amusing to see if we could get a naughty word on the record, 'fish and finger pie', 'prick teaser', 'tit tit tit tit'. The Beach Boys had a song out where they'd done 'la la la la' and we loved the innocence of that and wanted to copy it, but not use the same phrase. So we were looking around for another phrase, so it was 'dit dit dit dit', which we decided to change in our waggishness to 'tit tit tit tit', which is virtually indistinguishable from 'dit dit dit dit'. And it gave us a laugh. It was to get some light relief in the middle of this real big career that we were forging. If we could put in something that was a little bit subversive then we would. George Martin might say, 'Was that "dit dit" or "tit tit" you were singing?' 'Oh, "dit dit", George, but it does sound a bit like that, doesn't it?' Then we'd get in the car and break down laughing. So I credit that as being towards John but I put quite a bit in. It wasn't one that he came in with fully finished at all.
'I'm Looking Through You' was a song provoked by the difficulties of Paul's stormy relationship with Jane, who insisted on putting her acting career first and continued to spend most of her time in Bristol. Written in Paul's attic room at Wimpole Street, surrounded by the evidence of Jane and her family, the lyrics are unusually specific and personal for Paul, who normally preferred to universalise his songs.
PAUL: As is one's wont in relationships, you will from time to time argue or not see eye to eye on things, and a couple of the songs around this period were that kind of thing. This one I remember particularly as me being disillusioned over her commitment. She went down to the Bristol Old Vic quite a lot around this time. Suffice it to say that this one was probably related to that romantic episode and I was seeing through her facade. And realising that it wasn't quite all that it seemed. I would write it out in a song and then I've got rid of the emotion. I don't hold grudges so that gets rid of that little bit of emotional baggage. I remember specifically this one being about that, getting rid of some emotional baggage. 'I'm looking through you, and you're not there!’ I think it's totally my song. I don't remember any of John's assistance.
Of all the songs jointly credited to Lennon and McCartney, there are only two that are the subject of contention. In interviews given to Hit Parader, Newsweek, Playboy, Rolling Stone and various other magazines, John described his role in the creation of most of the Beatles' songs, though his comments were not always consistent. Paul's recollections in this book were made without reference to John's published comments and in only two cases was there substantial disagreement: on 'In My Life' and 'Eleanor Rigby'.
PAUL: I'll give my memories of writing 'In My Life'. I arrived at John's house for a writing session and he had the very nice opening stanzas of the song. As many of our songs were, it was the first pangs of nostalgia for Liverpool; not that we longed to return there but, like everyone, you look at your youth, as Maharishi used to say, through a golden glass, and it looks much better than it was. 'Remember those times when we used to walk with guitars and strum at night?' and they were good but they sound much better in retrospect, it was just walking along the street with a guitar. Once the Beatles had happened, us two little waifs walking along strumming quite openly on the street suddenly becomes a romantic legend, something they would definitely not miss in a film. That was what John had. But as I recall, he didn't have a tune to it, and my recollection, I think, is at variance with John's. I said, 'Well, you haven't got a tune, let me just go and work on it.' And I went down to the half-landing, where John had a Mellotron, and I sat there and put together a tune based in my mind on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Songs like 'You've Really Got a Hold on Me' and 'Tears of a Clown' had really been a big influence. You refer back to something you've loved and try and take the spirit of that and write something new. So I recall writing the whole melody. And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyse it. I was obviously working to lyrics. The melody's structure is very me. So my recollection is saying to John, 'Just go and have a cup of tea or something. Let me be with this for ten minutes on my own and I'll do it.' And with the inspiration of Smokey and the Miracles, I tried to keep it melodic but a bit bluesy, with the minors and little harmonies, and then my recollection is going back up into the room and saying, 'Got it, great! Good tune, I think. What d'you think?' John said, 'Nice,' and we continued working with it from then, using that melody and rilling out the rest of the verses. As usual, for these co-written things, he often just had the first verse, which was always enough: it was the direction, it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word but it was the template. We wrote it, and in my memory we tagged on the introduction, which I think I thought up. I was imagining the intro of a Miracles record, and to my mind the phrases on guitar are very much Smokey and the Miracles. So it was John's original inspiration, I think my melody, I think my guitar riff. I don't want to be categorical about this. But that's my recollection. We then finished it off and it was a fine song which John sang.
John told Playboy: 'Paul helped me write the middle-eight melody. The whole lyrics were already written before Paul even heard it. In "In My Life" his contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle-eight itself.' An existing manuscript of an early version shows that the lyrics went through a tremendous number of changes, with very few lines remaining from the original text. Commenting on Paul's claim to have written the music, the musicologist Ian MacDonald observes in Revolution in the Head: 'its angular verticality, spanning an entire octave in typically wide - and difficult - leaps, certainly shows more of his touch than Lennon's, despite fitting the latter's voice snugly. (As for the middle eight, there isn't one, the song alternating between its verse and an extended chorus.)'
PAUL: 'I find it very gratifying that out of everything we wrote, we only appear to disagree over two songs.'
Of the remaining songs on Rubber Soul, 'Wait' was written in the Bahamas, during the filming of Help!, and was originally intended for the soundtrack album. The Beatles had a little house near the sea where they hung out whenever they had a day off from filming or if there was time between shoots. One of the people they met in the Bahamas was the actor Brandon de Wilde, a former child star who appeared in Shane in 1953 at the age of eleven as well as a TV series called Jamie. He managed to make the transition to adult roles and starred in Hud with Paul Newman in 1963. He was a member of the Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper group of Hollywood hard-livers who liked to hang out and get stoned. He died in a car crash in June 1972 and was the subject of Gram Parsons's moving requiem 'In My Hour of Darkness'. Paul: 'He was a nice guy who was fascinated by what we did. A sort of Brat Pack actor. We chatted endlessly, and I seem to remember writing "Wait" in front of him, and him being interested to see it being written. I think it was my song. I don't remember John collaborating too much on it, although he could have.'
John's 'Run for Your Life', written at Kenwood, was probably more about himself and his own affairs than macho advice to a two-timing girlfriend. It was based on the line 'I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than see you with another man', which John took from Elvis Presley's 1955 'Baby, Let's Play House'. It was one of his confessional songs, transposed from first to third person to veil the message. Paul: 'John was always on the run, running for his life. He was married; whereas none of my songs would have "catch you with another man". It was never a concern of mine, at all, because I had a girlfriend and I would go with other girls, it was a perfectly open relationship so I wasn't as worried about that as John was. A bit of a macho song. It was largely John's.'
The single 'Paperback Writer' was the fourth song recorded during the sessions for Revolver and fits perfectly between the two albums. It even has a nod to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds in its complex vocal harmonies. Paul had the idea for the song while driving out to John's house.
PAUL: You knew, the minute you got there, cup of tea and you'd sit and write, so it was always good if you had a theme. I'd had a thought for a song and somehow it was to do with the Daily Mail so there might have been an article in the Mail that morning about people writing paperbacks. Penguin paperbacks was what I really thought of, the archetypal paperback.
I arrived at Weybridge and told John I had this idea of trying to write off to a publishers to become a paperback writer, and I said, 'I think it should be written like a letter.' I took a bit of paper out and I said it should be something like 'Dear Sir or Madam, as the case may be ...' and I proceeded to write it just like a letter in front of him, occasionally rhyming it. And John, as I recall, just sat there and said, 'Oh, that's it,' 'Uhuh,' 'Yeah.' I remember him, his amused smile, saying, 'Yes, that's it, that'll do.' Quite a nice moment: 'Hmm, I've done right! I've done well!' And then we went upstairs and put the melody to it. John and I sat down and finished it all up, but it was tilted towards me, the original idea was mine. I had no music, but it's just a little bluesy song, not a lot of melody. Then I had the idea to do the harmonies and we arranged that in the studio.
The B-side was 'Rain'.
PAUL: 'Rain' was a co-effort with the leaning slightly towards John. I don't think he brought the original idea, just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off. Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing and what we got on to was that it's no bad thing. There's no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn't the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.
'Rain' was recorded on 4 April 1966. They played the backing track faster than normal and then slowed the whole thing down so that it dropped a tone, making the bass very low and the drums very heavy. Paul: 'The drums became a giant drum kit. If you slow down a footstep it becomes a giant's footstep, it adds a few tons to the weight of the person. So we got a big, ponderous, thunderous backing and then we worked on top of that as normal, so that it didn't sound like a slowed-down thing, it just had a big ominous noise to it. It was nice, I really enjoyed that one.'
Ringo: 'I think I just played amazing. I was into the snare and the hi-hat. I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat.'
Despite an entirely phoney rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, promulgated by music journalists to give themselves something to write about, there was actually no contest between the two groups in anything other than chart positions. The real contender was always Brian Wilson, the composer and arranger of the Beach Boys. Like Paul, Brian was the bass player. Unlike Paul, however, he usually wrote alone or with a shifting series of collaborators. Brian Wilson watched the Beatles with an eagle eye, noting each new development, each experiment, and pushing himself to equal or better it. He had managed to reach the top several times in charts dominated by British Invasion groups but commercial success was not his main interest, though it was for the other Beach Boys. Brian wanted to match the Beatles on an artistic level. In a 1995 television documentary by Don Was, Brian described how the group would gather in prayer: 'We prayed for an album that would be a rival to Rubber Soul. It was a prayer, but there was some ego there ... and it worked. Pet Sounds happened immediately.'
Paul regarded Pet Sounds as one of the greatest popular-music albums ever made and was effusive in its praise, particularly for the way in which it proved that the bass player need not play the root note of a chord but can weave a melody around it of its own. He recommended the album to everyone he met. Throughout the industry, everyone who cared about the actual music instead of the money was astonished at what Brian Wilson had pulled off. When the album threatened to stiff in Britain, Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones' manager, took the unprecedented step of taking out full-page advertisements in the music press to announce that Pet Sounds was the greatest album ever made. For someone with no financial interest in the band or its record company, this was an extraordinary gesture, typical of Oldham, which had the required effect. That morning, every minor executive in the music business sent a secretary out to buy a copy to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately for Brian, his rivals were already at work recording Revolver, which was to 'push the envelope' of popular music so far into new realms of experimentation that it could no longer be performed on stage. By the time Pet Sounds was released in July, the next stage in the music revolution was already half recorded. The first session for the Revolver album was held at Abbey Road on 6 April 1966.
The album opens with 'Eleanor Rigby', which Paul wrote on the upright piano in Mrs Asher's music room in the basement of Wimpole Street. Mrs Asher had found someone from the Guildhall School of Music to give Paul piano lessons; it was an idea that he often toyed with but, as before, he was not interested in putting in the homework necessary and also still had a nagging doubt that it might inhibit his composing technique to know the 'right' way to do things. Paul: 'I wrote it at the piano, just vamping an E-minor chord; letting that stay as a vamp and putting a melody over it, just danced over the top of it. It has almost Asian Indian rhythms.' Paul played the tune for his piano teacher but had no name for the tune.
When he gets a good melody, Paul often just blocks it in with any old words that spring to mind. Paul often dropped in on Donovan, since he and his flatmate Gypsy Dave lived nearby in Maida Vale, and Donovan remembered hearing it in its unfinished state.
One day I was on my own in the pad running through a few tunes on my Uher tape recorder. The doorbell rang. It was Paul on his own. We jammed a bit. He played me a tune about a strange chap called 'Ola Na Tungee'.
'Ola Na Tungee/Blowing his mind in the dark/With a pipe full of clay/No-one can say.'
It was 'Eleanor Rigby' but the right words had not come yet. Lots of songwriters put in any old words to sketch in the lyric.
Back at Cavendish Avenue Paul carried on tinkering with the lyric:
I was just mumbling around and eventually came up with these words: 'Picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been'. Those words just fell out like stream-of-consciousness stuff, but they started to set the tone of it all, because you then have to ask yourself, what did I mean? It's a strange thing to do: most people leave the rice there, unless she's a cleaner. So there's a possibility she's a cleaner, in the church, or is it a little more poignant than that? She might be some lonely spinster of this parish who's not going to get a wedding, and that was what I chose. So this became a song about lonely people.
I knew quite a lot about old people. I was a Boy Scout and I often visited local pensioners as a good deed. I used to think it was the right thing to do - I still do, actually - but what I'm saying is, I wasn't ashamed to go round and ask someone if they wanted me to go to the doctor's for them or to help old ladies across the road. It had been instilled into me that that was a good deed. So I sat with lots of old ladies who chatted about the war and all this stuff, and also, as I fancied myself as a writer, a part of me was getting material. There was a corner of my brain that used to enjoy that kind of thing, building a repertoire of people and thoughts. Obviously writers are always attracted to detail: the lonely old person opening her can of catfood and eating it herself, the smell of the catfood, the mess in her room, her worrying always about cleaning it up, all the concerns of an old person.
I'm told that there's a gravestone with Eleanor Rigby on it in the graveyard in Woolton where John and I used to hang out, but there could be 3000 gravestones in Britain with Eleanor Rigby on. It is possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it, but my conscious memory was of being stuck for a name and liking the name Eleanor, probably because of Eleanor Bron, who we knew and worked with around that time. I'd seen her at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in Greek Street, then she came on the film Help! so we knew her quite well, John had a fling with her. I liked the name Eleanor. I wanted a genuine second name. I'm big on names, always have been, so I was very fussy to get the correct name and I was in Bristol on a visit to see Jane Asher at the Old Vic, and just walking round the dock area I saw an old shop called Rigby, and I thought, Oooh, It's a very ordinary name and yet it's a special name, it was exactly what I wanted. So Eleanor Rigby. I felt great. I'd got it! I pieced all the ideas together, got the melody and the chords, then took it out to John because I hadn't finished all the words. And he and I worked on it.
I had Father McCartney as the priest just because I knew that was right for the syllables, but I knew I didn't want it even though John liked it so we opened the telephone book, went to McCartney and looked what followed it, and shortly after, it was McKenzie. I thought, Oh, that's good. It wasn't written about anyone. A man appeared, who died a few years ago, who said, 'I'm Father McKenzie.' Anyone who was called Father McKenzie and had any slim contact with the Beatles quite naturally would think, Well, I spoke to Paul and he might easily have written that about me; or he may have spoken to John and thought John thought it up. John wanted it to stay McCartney, but I said, 'No, it's my dad! Father McCartney.' He said, 'It's good, it works fine.' I agreed it worked, but I didn't want to sing that, it was too loaded, it asked too many questions. I wanted it to be anonymous. John helped me on a few words but I'd put it down 80-20 to me, something like that.
In February 1972, at the height of his estrangement from Paul, John told Hit Parader, 'I wrote a good deal of the lyrics, about 70 per cent,' and he later stuck to this, telling Playboy, 'The first verse was his and the rest are basically mine ...' John's friend Pete Shotton was there during Paul's visit when the name McKenzie was found in the phone book, and though his book John Lennon in My Life often credits Lennon with ideas originating with the other three Beatles, in this instance he says, 'Though John was to take credit, in one of his last interviews, for most of the lyrics, my own recollection is that "Eleanor Rigby" was one "Lennon-McCartney" classic in which John's contribution was virtually nil.' It seems as though John backed himself into a corner and couldn't find a way to save face, because a less likely John Lennon composition would be hard to find.
Paul recorded most of the demo versions of 'Eleanor Rigby' at the experimental recording studio that he had set up in Marylebone. One of the people who heard the song in all its different stages was William Burroughs, who admired how much narrative Paul was able to pack into just a few lines. Paul also played it to Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger after they had rejected his offer of 'Etcetera'. Paul: 'Marianne was much more interested in "Eleanor Rigby" but I had to say, "No, I want that one.'"
Paul regarded 'Eleanor Rigby' as something of a breakthrough in his songwriting; a move away from the strictly poppy side of music into more thoughtful lyrics.
PAUL: I remember thinking to myself, What am I going to do when I'm thirty? Thirty was the big age. Will I still be in a group? I remember being round at John Dunbar's house, having a very clear vision of myself in a herringbone jacket with leather elbow patches and a pipe, thinking 'Eleanor Rigby', this could be a way I could go, I could become a more serious writer, not so much a pop writer. It was the first inklings of what I'm starting to get into now, writing a solo piano piece, writing a piece for classical orchestra or the Liverpool Oratorio. I never did get into it then, I just stayed in pop. But I remember imagining myself with the patches, thinking, Yes, it wouldn't be bad actually. Be quite a good thing - at the terrible old age of thirty.
'Eleanor Rigby' was also released as a single and, like their previous eleven singles, it went to number one.
Paul: 'One day I led the dance, like "Paperback Writer", and another day John would lead the dance, like "I'm Only Sleeping". It was nice, we weren't really competitive as to who started the song, but the good thing was if he wrote a great "Strawberry Fields", I'd try and write a "Penny Lane". So we kept each other on our toes.' Often Paul would be John's morning alarm call. Living at Wimpole Street had meant that he was involved in the famous Asher diary, which inevitably meant he got up earlier than John and packed more into each day. John led a more relaxed suburban life but if he went to dinner in London or to a club, living so far from town meant that he returned home very late. Paul would arrive at midday or the early afternoon and wake him up, which was where John got the idea for 'I'm Only Sleeping'.
Paul: 'It was a nice idea, there's nothing wrong with it. I'm not being lazy, I'm only sleeping, I'm yawning, I'm meditating, I'm having a lay-in - the luxury of all of that was what it was about.' The song was written and arranged in one writing session, co-written but from John's original idea.
Though these were work sessions, they would also take time out for a friendly chat. The discussion that day was how to deal with pot and children, because they found themselves trying to hide it from Julian and keep him from seeing what they were doing. It was a new problem for Paul because he had no children, but Julian was of an age when John had to decide how to deal with it. They agreed it was best not to roll up and smoke openly in front of him but to keep it as something they did in private.
For Paul, the most exciting thing that happened with 'I'm Only Sleeping' was during the recording rather than in the writing. They were taping George's guitar solo and the tape operator put the tape on tails out.
PAUL: It played backwards, and, 'What the hell is going on?' Those effects! Nobody knew how those sounded then. We said, 'My God, that is fantastic! Can we do that for real?' So George Martin, give him his due, being amenable to ideas like that, being quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up, said, 'Yes. Sure, I think we can do that.' So that was what we did and that was where we discovered backwards guitar. It was a beautiful solo actually. It sounds like something you couldn't play.
'Here, There and Everywhere' also had its genesis in John's sleeping patterns. In this case Paul arrived at Kenwood for a songwriting session and John was still in bed. Since it was a nice June day, Paul asked someone to make him a cup of tea and went to sit by John's swimming pool while he waited.
I sat out by the pool on one of the sun chairs with my guitar and started strumming in E, and soon had a few chords, and I think by the time he'd woken up, I had pretty much written the song, so we took it indoors and finished it up. But it's very me, it's one of my favourite songs that I've written. Jazz people used to pick it up because they like the chord structure.
'Here, There and Everywhere' has a couple of interesting structural points about it: lyrically the way it combines the whole title: each verse takes a word. 'Here' discusses here. Next verse, 'there' discusses there, then it pulls it all together in the last verse, with 'everywhere'. The structure of that is quite neat. And I like the tune. John might have helped with a few last words. When I sang it in the studio I remember thinking, I'll sing it like Marianne Faithfull; something no one would ever know. You get these little things in your mind, you think, I'll sing it like James Brown might, but of course it's always you that sings it, but in your head there's a little James Brown for that session. If you can't think how to sing the thing, that's always a good clue: imagine Aretha Franklin to come and sing it, Ray Charles is going to sing it. So that one was a little voice, I used an almost falsetto voice and double-tracked it. My Marianne Faithfull impression. So I would credit me pretty much 80-20 on that one.
John described 'Here, There and Everywhere' as 'one of my favourite songs of the Beatles' and told Hit Parader, 'This was a great one of his.' The Beatles wrote many beautiful love songs: George's 'Something', John's 'Girl', Paul's 'And I Love Her', enough for EMI to issue a double album simply called Beatles: Love Songs.
The range of songs was extraordinary; it is hard to conceive that the same hand was behind 'Yellow Submarine'.
PAUL: I was laying in bed in the Ashers' garret, and there's a nice twilight zone just as you're drifting into sleep and as you wake from it; I always find it quite a comfortable zone, you're almost asleep, you've laid your burdens down for the day and there's this little limbo-land just before you slip into sleep. I remember thinking that a children's song would be quite a good idea and I thought of images, and the colour yellow came to me, and a submarine came to me, and I thought, Well, that's kind of nice, like a toy, very childish yellow submarine. I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo, which it eventually turned out to be, so I wrote it as not too rangey in the vocal. I just made up a little tune in my head, then started making a story, sort of an ancient mariner, telling the young kids where he'd lived and how there'd been a place where he had a yellow submarine. It's pretty much my song as I recall, written for Ringo in that little twilight moment. I think John helped out; the lyrics get more and more obscure as it goes on but the chorus, melody and verses are mine. There were funny little grammatical jokes we used to play. It should have been 'Everyone of us has all he needs' but Ringo turned it into 'everyone of us has all we need.' So that became the lyric. It's wrong, but it's great. We used to love that.
Donovan recalls that he helped out on a lyric on the same occasion that Paul sang him the unfinished 'Eleanor Rigby': 'He played one about a Yellow Submarine. He said he was missing a line and would I fill it in. I left the room and returned with this: "Sky of blue and sea of green/in our Yellow Submarine." It was nothing really, but he liked it and it stayed in.'
Since 'Eleanor Rigby' was finished and arranged for a string octet by the end of April, this must have been early in the month or late March. Once the backing track was down, another session was arranged to add the sound effects. George Martin had made his name producing comedy records with the Goons and Peter Sellers, and sound effects were one of his specialities. Alf Bicknell, the Beatles' driver, rattled old chains while the Rolling Stone Brian Jones tapped his glass. John blew bubbles through a straw in a bucket of water and he and Paul improvised Goonish nonsense, 'Full stern ahead, Mr Bosun', in the studio's echo chamber. The result was not only a much-loved children's record but a novelty record of such universal appeal that it was taken up both as an anthem by the peace movement in the USA and as a pub sing-along favourite in Britain along with 'Knees Up, Mother Brown'.
'She Said She Said' had its origins in something that the actor Peter Fonda said. The Beatles were holed up in a house in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, during their summer 1965 American tour. Surrounded by police and thousands of fans, two of whom tried to land in the garden in a helicopter, the besieged Beatles had no choice but to party at home. Roger McGuinn and Dave Crosby from the Byrds were there as well as Peter Fonda. They had spent the afternoon watching Jane Fonda's Cat Ballou (described by Pauline Kael as 'uneven, lumpy, coy and obvious'), which John had hated. Afterwards John and George used the occasion to take an acid trip. George sat out on the deck with Fonda and told him he felt that he was dying. Fonda, an old hand at tripping out, calmed him, saying there was nothing to fear and that all he had to do was relax. He said that when he was a child he had almost died on the operating table and told George, 'I know what it's like to be dead.' John was passing and heard him. He had already had enough of the Fondas from watching Cat Ballou and snapped, 'Who put that shit in your head?' before turning to an aide and demanding 'Get this guy out of here.' However, John obviously filed away the phrase for later use.
It was a song that Paul liked. 'Very much John. It's a nice one. I like the title "She Said She Said", which I think was made up on the session. John brought it in pretty much finished, I think. I'm not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on. I think we'd had a barney or something and I said, "Oh, fuck you!" and they said, "Well, we'll do it." I think George played bass.' (EMI studio records do not mention this.)
The big hit of the summer of 1966 in England was the Lovin' Spoonful's 'Daydream' and it spawned a number of sound-alike songs such as 'Lazy Sunday Afternoon' by the Small Faces and the Kinks' 'Sunny Afternoon'. 'Good Day Sunshine' by the Beatles was another.
PAUL: It was really very much a nod to the Lovin' Spoonful's 'Daydream', the same traditional, almost trad-jazz feel. That was our favourite record of theirs. 'Good Day Sunshine' was me trying to write something similar to 'Daydream'. John and I wrote it together at Kenwood, but it was basically mine, and he helped me with it.
'And Your Bird Can Sing' was John's song. I suspect that I helped with the verses because the songs were nearly always written without second and third verses. I seem to remember working on that middle-eight with him but it's John's song, 80-20 to John.
'For No One' was written in March 1966 when Paul and Jane were on their skiing holiday in Klosters, Switzerland. They had rented a chalet high above Klosters, about half a mile from the town.
PAUL: It was very nice and I remember writing 'For No One' there. I suspect it was about another argument. I don't have easy relationships with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.
Paul and Ringo were the only Beatles present for the recording, with Paul playing bass, piano and harpsichord. Dennis Brain, the premier horn player in Britain, was originally booked to play the French horn solo. As usual, George Martin did not stint in hiring the best session players for the Beatles and in this case there was an element of excitement looking forward to that session. Unfortunately, Dennis Brain died in a car crash before the session and Alan Civil took his place, both on the session and as Britain's top player. Paul hummed the melody that he wanted the French horn to play and George Martin wrote out the score. When it was finished, George pointed out to Paul that the high note went just beyond the top of the horn's range and showed him the reference book used for orchestral writing which showed the top notes of orchestral instruments. George Martin said, 'But you know, these good players, they can play above the range.' Paul said, 'Let's try him then.'
PAUL: George was in for the crack, he liked that. He said, 'It'll work, it'll work.' On the session Alan Civil said, 'George?' and looked at us both. He said, 'George, you've written a D,' and George and I just looked at him and held our nerve and said, 'Yes?' And he gave us a crafty look and went, 'Okay.' We did the same trick on 'Penny Lane' with David Mason on the piccolo trumpet, and he almost never forgave me for it because the only thing people ever asked him to do after that was high trumpet stuff.
On the release of the album there was considerable speculation about the identity of 'Dr Robert', with many of the London cognoscenti taking it as a reference to Robert Fraser, who was always a walking pharmacy. In fact, the name was based on the New York Dr Feelgood character Dr Robert Freymann, whose discreet East 78th Street clinic was conveniently located for Jackie Kennedy and other wealthy Upper East Siders from Fifth Avenue and Park to stroll over for their vitamin B-12 shots, which also happened to contain a massive dose of amphetamine. Dr Robert's reputation spread and it was not long before visiting Americans told John and Paul about him.
PAUL: John and I thought it was a funny idea: the fantasy doctor who would fix you up by giving you drugs, it was a parody on that idea. It's just a piss-take. As far as I know, neither of us ever went to a doctor for those kind of things. But there was a fashion for it and there still is. Change your blood and have a vitamin shot and you'll feel better.
'Got to Get You into My Life', which Paul wrote after the Beatles had first been turned on to marijuana by Dylan, was one of the first records on which the Beatles used brass. Paul: 'We got some cool horn players, and they played some really good screaming high stuff and got into the spirit of it' Paul hired two members of Georgie Fame's Blue Flames for the job: Eddie Thornton on trumpet and Peter Сое on tenor sax. The other musicians, Ian Hamer and Les Condon on trumpet and Alan Branscombe on tenor sax, were session jazzmen. John, who knew the concealed meaning of the song, always particularly liked the lyrics, possibly for that reason. He told Playboy in his characteristic way: 'I think that was one of his best songs, too, because the lyrics are good and I didn't write them.'
George had two tracks on Rubber Soul - 'Think for Yourself and 'If I Needed Someone' - and three on Revolver. 'Love You To', 'I Want to Tell You' and 'Taxman', which incidentally featured a guitar solo by Paul. Though outnumbered by Lennon and McCartney, George was becoming a third significant songwriter in the group.
The album ended with their first great psychedelic song, 'Tomorrow Never Knows', a hint of things to come.
PAUL: I remember John coming to Brian Epstein's house at 24 Chapel Street, in Belgravia. We got back together after a break, and we were there for a meeting. George Martin was there so it may have been to show George some new songs or talk about the new album. John got his guitar out and started doing 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and it was all on one chord. This was because of our interest in Indian music. We would be sitting around and at the end of an Indian album we'd go, 'Did anyone realise they didn't change chords?' It would be like 'Shit, it was all in E! Wow, man, that is pretty far out.' So we began to sponge up a few of these nice ideas.
This is one thing I always gave George Martin great credit for. He was a slightly older man and we were pretty far out, but he didn't flinch at all when John played it to him, he just said, 'Hmmm, I see, yes. Hmm hmm.' He could have said, 'Bloody hell, it's terrible!' I think George was always intrigued to see what direction we'd gone in, probably in his mind thinking, How can I make this into a record? But by that point he was starting to trust that we must know vaguely what we were doing, but the material was really outside of his realm.
'Tomorrow Never Knows' was recorded on 6 April 1966 during the first session for the Revolver album. As well as Ringo's rock drumming, the backing track had a tambour drone fading in and out. John said he wanted his voice to sound like the Dalai Lama singing from the top of a mountain, an effect that was achieved by George Martin putting his voice through the Leslie speaker of the Hammond organ. A Leslie rotates inside a cabinet to give a swishing effect when picked up by another microphone and it did sound as if John's voice was coming from somewhere across the void. A normal guitar solo in the middle of all this would have been inappropriate; the track needed something really special. This was where Paul came in. He realised that his experiments with tape loops could be put to use on a Beatles number and suggested that he do a tape solo for it. That night he set to work, making a large selection of loops, sometimes varying their lengths. The next day's session was in the afternoon, from 2.30 to 7.15 p.m., so Paul walked over to Abbey Road, carrying them in a plastic bag.
PAUL: 'People tend to credit John with the backwards recordings, the loops and the weird sound effects, but the tape loops were my thing. The only thing I ever used them on was "Tomorrow Never Knows". It was nice for this to leak into the Beatle stuff as it did.'
From making his 'little symphonies', Paul knew pretty much how it would sound. He wanted to put on as many of the tapes as possible at the same time and fade them in and out, placing them in different parts of the stereo spread. Five separate tape machines were used to simultaneously play Paul's tape loops in the control room of Studio Two. Men with white coats shook their heads in disbelief and stood before their BTR3s, each with its little loop of quarter-inch tape going round, held in tension with a pencil or a glass tumbler as it passed through the capstans, past the playback head, endlessly repeating itself, fed through the mixer on faders. These were manned by the Beatles while George Martin controlled the stereo positioning, creating a montage of tape loops, fading in and out, overlaid and repeating; a tapestry of interwoven sounds, each one a little musical event in itself.
PAUL: We ran the loops and then we ran the track of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and we played the faders, and just before you could tell it was a loop, before it began to repeat a lot, I'd pull in one of the other faders, and so, using the other people, 'You pull that in there,' 'You pull that in,' we did a half random, half orchestrated playing of the things and recorded that to a track on the actual master tape, so that if we got a good one, that would be the solo. We played it through a few times and changed some of the tapes till we got what we thought was a real good one.
I think it is a great solo. I always think of seagulls when I hear it. I used to get a lot of seagulls in my loops; a speeded-up shout, hah ha, goes squawk squawk. And I always get pictures of seasides, of Torquay, the Torbay Inn, fishing boats and puffins and deep purple mountains. Those were the slowed-down ones.
In Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper, George Martin comments that 'it is the one track, of all the songs the Beatles did, that could never be reproduced: it would be impossible to go back now and mix exactly the same thing: the "happening" of the tape loops, inserted as we all swung off the levers on the faders willy-nilly, was a random event.'
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Brian Wilson tried to follow Revolver, but unlike Lennon and McCartney, he was saddled with a conservative band who just wanted to stick to the old money-making formula. Having been told by Mike Love that Pet Sounds was crap, Brian became progressively more isolated from the other Beach Boys. The release of Sgt. Pepper finally destroyed his ambition to produce the greatest rock 'n' roll album ever. He abandoned his current project, Smile, and spent the next two years in bed.