LET IT BE
The music business is about 99 per cent no-talent
losers who can't stand a winner in their midst. I'm a
winner, and if they want to sour grape my success by
calling me names, let them. I don't give a shit.
Q: Would you lie?
A: Oh sure.
Q: Would you steal?
Look ... It's really like chess, knowing all the moves. It's a game, for Chrissakes, and winning is everything. It's a shame it has to get nasty sometimes.
Alien KIein, Playboy, 1971
Live on Film
THE STRAIN OF PRODUCING THE DOUBLE ALBUM IN TIME FOR Christmas under these conditions caused irreparable rifts in the group. With John interested only in Yoko and his own music, and with George Martin often busy elsewhere or on holiday, Paul had inevitably taken charge of the album, at different times alienating both George Harrison and Ringo. Another major stress factor as the Beatles entered 1969 was Apple, which had become a behemoth and was expanding virtually out of control because there was no one in overall charge of it. While trying to record the White Album they had also had to run Apple. They managed to close the boutique and put a stop to that outflow of funds. They bought 3 Savile Row and refurbished it, but unfortunately in the course of moving all the paperwork to the new building by taxi from Wigmore Street, all the tax records went missing, throwing their financial affairs into even more chaos.
Relations with their accountants, who might have been expected to sort out the problem, were not improved when they objected on moral grounds to the sleeve of John and Yoko's Two Virgins album which showed them naked. Yoko had appeared in public naked several times before, notably at one of Jean-Jacques Lebel's Happenings at the Knokke-le-Zoute Film Festival in Belgium earlier in 1968. The other Beatles were horrified, not because they were shocked by the nakedness, but because they thought the sleeve would damage the Beatles as a group, but John was in no mood to listen. A meeting was called between John and Yoko, Paul and Sir Joseph Lockwood, the head of EMI.
John to Sir Joe: 'Well, aren't you shocked?'
Sir Joe: 'No, I've seen worse than this.'
John: 'So it's all right then, is it?'
Sir Joe: 'No, it's not all right. I'm not worried about the rich people, the duchesses and those people who follow you. But your mums and dads and girl fans will object strongly. You will be damaged, and what will you gain? What's the purpose of it?'
Yoko: 'It's art.'
Sir Joe: 'Well, I should find some better bodies to put on the cover than your two. They're not very attractive.'
It was agreed that EMI would press the album for them but have nothing to do with its distribution, which was eventually effected by Island Records in the UK and Tetragrammaton in the USA. Peter Brown reported that 'Paul hated the cover beyond words' but Paul himself doubts this, saying he was obviously still in a conciliatory mood as he actually wrote the sleeve notes for them. In the avant-garde spirit that the album was made, Paul picked a line more or less at random from the Sunday Express: 'When two great Saints meet it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a saint.' Paul: 'It was a "found object".'
Sir Joe was right, of course: despite the evidence of their recent records, their signatures on the pot ad and the admission of taking LSD, most of the public still regarded them as those four nice lads from Liverpool. The Two Virgins cover blew that image right out of the water. It was perhaps an unconscious attempt to sabotage the Beatles, John's first move to set himself free. It certainly changed the public perception of the group and also had the effect of opening John and Yoko to tremendous public ridicule.
Bryce Hanmer, the Beatles' accountants, had what William Burroughs would call an 'orgasm of prurience' and refused to act for them any longer because of the sleeve. Harry Pinsker, the head of the company, resigned from the board of Apple and the Beatles' affairs were delegated to a junior partner, Stephen Maltz, who had worked with Apple in-house since its beginning. Maltz himself resigned at the end of October 1968, after writing a five-page letter to each of the Beatles, detailing the terrible financial trouble that they were storing up for themselves and pointing out that for every £10,000 spent, something like £120,000 had to come in because of their enormous tax exposure.
With the group apparently on the verge of collapse and about to go broke, Paul proposed that they go back on the road: not for a gruelling North American tour but possibly to play a few dance halls up north, to help them remember what it was like to be in a group and maybe recreate the bond between them. The idea was scoffed at, particularly by George, who had no intention of going back on stage. As a compromise, Paul suggested a single-venue gig. The group had enjoyed shooting the promotional film for 'Hey Jude' with a live audience so he suggested a one-hour live television show. This idea was grudgingly accepted. Several venues were suggested, including the Roundhouse in north London, the site of many International Times events, the latter days of the UFO Club and more recently the venue for concerts by the Doors and Jefferson Airplane. This was agreed and the Roundhouse was booked for 18 January 1969. The idea held for a while but was cancelled in favour of a proposal by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, whom they had hired to direct the filming. Lindsay-Hogg had made the dramatic promotional film of the Rolling Stones' 'Jumping Jack Flash' and done their Rock 'n' Roll Circus. He wanted to shoot the concert in the more dramatic setting of a Roman amphitheatre in Tripoli. This concept emerged when Lindsay-Hogg was sitting around at the Stones' Maddox Street office talking to Mick's assistant Peter Swales, wondering what he could do with the Beatles. Swales had the idea of filming in a Roman amphitheatre and the fully worked scenario, as originally endorsed by the Beatles, entailed Bedouins arriving at the empty site at dawn and setting up a camp fire; as the sun rose, amphitheatre would slowly fill with people from all over the world, of all races and colours: a multicultural idea to promote world peace and brotherhood long before Coca-Cola did the same thing in their 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' ads. Finally, as the sun set over the Mediterranean, the Beatles would come on. It was a fabulous idea which, rumour had it at the time, was scotched by Ringo, who did not want to film in North Africa after his bad experience with the food in India.
Denis O'Dell, head of Apple Films, suggested that even if they couldn't agree where to hold the concert they could at least begin by filming rehearsals, which could be used as part of the concert footage or as a separate television documentary. He had already booked Twickenham Film Studios from 3 February 1969 for Ringo, who was to co-star with Peter Sellers in the film The Magic Christian - Ringo's second film of a book by Terry Southern. Since the studios would be free until that time, O'Dell booked Twickenham for the Beatles for the month beginning 2 January.
It was much too soon. They were all exhausted from five months of recording the White Album, and they had also all spent studio time working on Apple projects with James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Jackie Lomax and George's Wonderwall music. To begin recording again after only eleven weeks' respite was a big mistake. The problems created during the White Album had not gone away or even been addressed.
The cameras were instructed to roll at all times to record the between-take conversations and provide a mass of footage from which to choose in the editing stages. The Beatles jammed their way through more than a hundred songs, sometimes making them up on the spot - such as 'Suzy Parker' - but mostly playing old Beatles numbers, children's nursery songs, parts of their old Hamburg and Cavern Club repertoire or pub standards. The problem was that they hadn't played live in years and were extremely rusty; the rehearsal tapes are terrible, the group is ragged and out of tune and stays that way.
The differences were exacerbated by having to work to film-industry schedules, which meant a morning call from Mal at 8.30 a.m. It was a horrible experience for them all. John described it to Jann Wenner: 'I was stoned all the time and I just didn't give a shit... We couldn't get into it ... It was a dreadful, dreadful feeling in Twickenham Studio, and being filmed all the time, you know. I just wanted them to go away. And we'd be there at eight in the morning and you couldn't make music at eight in the morning.'
That was not the only problem. The rehearsal film shows the palpable tension in the air as George, Paul and Ringo attempt to run through a song while Yoko distracts John by kissing him or whispering in his ear. It was virtually impossible for the cameras to get a shot of the four of them without Yoko. It was hardly an unreasonable request when they asked John if she could be less intrusive. It is not as if he would have tolerated such behaviour from any of them, but John was so besotted that he didn't see it that way, he couldn't see that he was breaking up the group. He told Rolling Stone:
They were writing about her looking miserable in Let It Be. You sit through sixty sessions with the most big-headed, uptight people on earth and see what it's fuckin' like, and be insulted just because you love someone. And George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning; just being 'straight forward' you know, that game of 'Well, I'm going to be upfront because this is what we've heard and Dylan and a few people said she's got a lousy name in New York, and you gave off bad vibes.' That's what George said to her and we both sat through it, and I didn't hit him. I don't know why …
Yoko does in fact smile in the Let It Be footage, during rehearsals on the day George walked out. George had never been keen on the project and the film clearly shows the tense atmosphere between him and Paul, with George visibly irritated at being told how to play his solo. However, it was a blazing argument between George and John just before lunch on 10 January that caused George to leave. 'See you round the clubs,' he told the others before leaving the studio and driving home to Esher.
Without speaking, Paul, John and Ringo returned to their instru-ments after lunch. Yoko symbolically settled herself down on George's now vacant blue cushion and began wailing. The remaining Beatles joined in as her backing group: Paul rubbing his bass against the amplifier speaker to create feedback; John, with full feedback, hanging the back of his guitar to create surges of noise and working his way through the Pete Townshend and Jirni Hendrix guitar-hero feedback stances; Ringo rolling and thrashing his kit. Yoko played 'air' as John called it. She ululated, screeched and warbled in a vocal version of the controlled shrieks of Albert Ayler or John Tchicai. The camera moved in for a close-up of her beatific smile.
It is hard to believe that Yoko was unaware of how intrusive her presence was. But as John Lennon explained it to Andy Peebles of the BBC, Yoko naively believed that the Beatles would happily admit her, as a fellow musician, to play along with them, even though she claimed never to have heard of them before she met John and had no background in rock 'n' roll. John: 'There were a couple of jam sessions in "Let It Be", with Yoko and the Beatles playing, but they never got in the movie of course ... She just wanted to join in everything.' John, on a different occasion, said, 'Yoko sees men as assistants,' and the belief at the time among Apple staff was that Yoko simply saw the Beatles as a way of launching her own career.
The next day was a Saturday. No one expected George to reappear and he didn't. The following Wednesday there was a long meeting in which George outlined his conditions for staying in the Beatles: no more filming at Twickenham, no concert in Tripoli, no television show, and the songs they had rehearsed to be used in a new album to be recorded at the studio that Magic Alex was building for them in the basement of Apple. They all agreed.
The finale for the documentary film was eventually provided by the famous rooftop concert of 30 January. There was no Roman amphitheatre, no equipment except stage monitors, no audience except the office workers who managed to scramble up onto the neighbouring rooftops and no effort for the Beatles. All they had to do was walk up one flight of stairs.
Despite the lack of the promised artificial sun at the Apple boutique opening, Magic Alex had managed to remain in favour. His next projects were to be a flying saucer and magic paint that would render objects invisible: clearly both highly marketable inventions. This time his Boston Place workshop suffered a mysterious fire just before he unveiled his masterworks. It would obviously take months before he could produce new working prototypes so he bought himself another stay of execution.
Alex had been complaining for months that the equipment in EMI was out of date, that the Beatles were being fobbed off with second-rate facilities; he boasted that he could design and build a severity-two-track studio for them that would be the most advanced facility on earth. It must have come as a shock when they finally called his bluff and asked him to do just that, though not without some serious misgivings being voiced by George Martin. Martin wrote in his autobiography All You Need Is Ears:
I confess I tended to laugh myself silly when they came and announced the latest brainchild of Alex's fertile imagination. Their reaction was always the same, 'You'll laugh on the other side of your face when Alex comes up with it.' But of course he never did ... The trouble was that Alex was always coming to the studios to see what we were doing and to learn from it, while at the same time saying, 'These people are so out of date.' But I found it very difficult to chuck him out, because the boys liked him so much. Since it was very obvious that I didn't, a minor schism developed.
PAUL: When we came to do something like a studio, or something electronic, if you've got a company called Apple Electronics, how could you bypass it? How could you not ask him to be involved? So Alex said, 'Yes, of course I can do a studio. Of course I can!' Whereas I would think, Of course I can do this. I can oversee it, with a team of very good engineers that I could talk to. I'm not sure Alex had a team of very good engineers. It was all a little bit of a solo effort and people like George Martin, being the voice of reason, would be tearing their hair out at that kind of thing. But Alex was Apple Electronics and he'd promised faithfully he could do it, so you had to give him a chance at it. You can't bring someone else in and say, 'This is the proper person,' because then the insinuation is, 'Why isn't the proper person running our company?' It would have all got much too close to home, I think. So that was one of those things. And in the end it was gutted.
George Harrison; 'Alex's recording studio at Apple was the biggest disaster of all time. He was walking around with a white coat on like some sort of chemist but didn't have a clue what he was doing. It was a sixteen-track system and he had sixteen little tiny speakers all around the walls. You only need two speakers for stereo sound. It was awful. The whole thing was a disaster and had to be ripped out.'
John Dunbar: 'It was absurd. If you'd had a few Revoxes you'd have done better ... He'd charge them thousands and buy the stuff second-hand. But John just wouldn't listen at that stage; I mean, it was Magic Alex, then Maharishi, then this, then that ...'
The studio was unusable. There was an eight-track Studer tape recorder but no mixing desk for it. There was no soundproofing, so the tower vibrations of loud conversations in other rooms seeped in. The floorboards of the room above creaked whenever anyone walked over them; if someone ran it sounded as if the roof was falling in. Alex had built the studio right next to the heating plant for the entire building so recording would have been interrupted every time the central-heating unit fired up. But in fact no recording was actually possible at all because he had completely neglected one vital point. Alex had forgotten to make connecting ports between the control room and the studio, which meant that there was no way of getting microphone leads from the studio to the mixing desk. George Martin borrowed a pair of four-track mixing consoles from EMI and the microphone cables were run down the corridor with the door open, with consequent leakage. Martin was so fed up with what he regarded as the Beatles' folie de grandeur that he left much of the recording to engineer/producer Glyn Johns, though Johns's final mixes were never released. John finally had to accept not only that Alex had not delivered, but that he didn't know the first thing about recording technology. The studio was eventually torn out without ever being used. Magic Alex disappeared. Not one of his ideas had ever materialised.
Let It Be
In her essay 'On Literature and Art', Camille Paglia applies Heinrich Wolfflin's analysis of early, high and late styles of painting to the career of the Beatles 'from the rough vigour of "Boys" and "Chains", through the shapely perfection of "Day Tripper", to the disintegrat-ing sophistication of the studio bound Sgt. Pepper and White Album. At the end of that tripartite pattern, major artists revolt, resimplify, as we see with Donatello and Picasso...' The Beatles resimplified with Let It Be and Abbey Road. Paul's idea of playing small clubs to get the old magic back was part of this drift, something he would contrive later with Wings when he put together a pick-up group and went back out on the road.
The White Album itself was quite complex in its studio techniques, but it was a step towards simplicity, compared to Sgt. Pepper, as was its sleeve. Let It Be, as it was eventually called, was conceived of as an absolute return to basics. It was John's idea not to use any of the tricks of the modern recording studio, not even overdubs, but to play their new album live in the studio. George Martin: 'John said there was to be no echoes, no overdubs, and none of my jiggery-pokery. It was to be an "honest" album in that if they didn't get a song right the first time they would record it again and again until they did. It was awful, we did take after take after take. And John would be asking if Take Sixty-Seven was better than Take Thirty-nine.'
At first they were very rigorous in their approach but it quickly became apparent that their live sound was going to be rather thin without multitracking and overdubs, so when the American organist Billy Preston, whom they knew from Hamburg, stopped by Apple on the first day of recording, he was recruited by George Harrison to fill out the sound.
After a few days Yoko got bored with listening to the same song played over and over and brought in painting materials. Using Ringo's sound baffles as an easel, she pinned up paper and began to paint Japanese calligraphy. Though this is traditionally done with the paper horizontal and the brush held vertically above, Yoko painted Western-style at an easel, visible to everyone in the studio and particularly to the film cameras.
Nonetheless, things in the studio were not as bad as have sometimes been made out. The film Let It Be shows a number of moments when the band clicks and at least some of the old energy begins to flow. Paul’s track 'Two of Us', written about Linda, was performed in the film by John and Paul, sharing the same microphone and behaving in every way as if the lyrics were about the two of them. They appear to be having a good time together, particularly when John ad-libs, 'Two of us wearing make-up.' Thus, with the cameras rolling, they began to make their twelfth album, which included, unusually for them, a new single - 'Get Back'.
'Get Back' was recorded on 27 January. It was basically Paul's song, composed in the studios at Twickenham for the now aban-doned television show. Paul had a rough idea for the words and music and began jamming it out. John joined him and together they worked on some lyrics. Typically these were partly lifted from newspaper stories: in this case about the plight of Kenyan Asians, who were rushing to get to Britain before the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Bill which would have denied them entry. Intended as a parody on racist attitudes, the line, 'Don't dig no Pakistani taking all the people's jobs!' was dropped early on as being too easily misconstrued. The rest of the third verse went through various changes, ending up in the final demos as:
Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis
Living in a council flat
Candidate Macmillan tell me what your plan is
Won't you tell me where it's at.
Meanwhile the fascist National Front was beating up Pakistanis on the streets and the right-wing politician Enoch Powell was predicting race war and 'rivers of blood' so, to avoid any possibility of inflaming the situation, the entire verse was ultimately dropped. As Paul later insisted, 'The words were not racist at all. They were antiracist. If there was any group that was not racist it was the Beatles'. But they did not want to be a hostage to misinterpretation. On a more frivolous level, the Jo Jo in the song was a fictional character. Paul: 'Many people have since claimed to be the Jo Jo and they're not, let me put that straight! I had no particular person in mind, again it was a fictional character, half man, half woman, all very ambiguous. I often left things ambiguous, I like doing that in my songs.'
'Don't Let Me Down', the B side of 'Get Back', was recorded at Apple with Billy Preston.
PAUL: It was a very tense period: John was with Yoko and had escalated to heroin and all the accompanying paranoias and he was putting himself out on a limb. I think that as much as it excited and amused him, at the same time it secretly terrified him. So 'Don't Let Me Down' was a genuine plea, 'Don't let me down, please, whatever you do. I'm out on this limb, I know I'm doing all this stuff, just don't let me down.' It was saying to Yoko, 'I'm really stepping out of line on this one. I'm really letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.' I mink it was a genuine cry for help. It was a good song. We recorded it in the basement of Apple for Let It Be and later did it up on the roof for the film. We went through it quite a lot for this one. I sang harmony on it, which makes me wonder if I helped with a couple of words, but I don't think so. It was John's song.
Some days produced a mass of new material: on 24 January, they recorded 'Two of Us', then still called 'On Our Way Home'; Paul's 'Teddy Boy', which was not used until the 1996 Beatles Anthology and which he later put on his first solo album; John's 'Dig It' and 'Dig a Pony', and even a quick burst of the old Liverpool pub song 'Maggie Mae', which slotted neatly into the final album.
One surprising song on Let It Be was 'One After 909', a relic of the earliest days of Paul and John's songwriting collaboration; in this case John's basic idea but worked on with Paul.
PAUL: It was a number we didn't used to do much but it was one that we always liked doing, and we rediscovered it. There were a couple of tunes that we wondered why we never put out; either George Martin didn't like them enough to or he favoured others. It's not a great song but it's a great favourite of mine because it has great memories for me of John and I trying to write a bluesy freight-train song. There were a lot of those songs at the time, like 'Midnight Special', 'Freight Train', 'Rock Island Line', so this was the 'One After 909'; she didn't get the 909, she got the one after it! It was a tribute to British Rail, actually. No, at the time we weren't thinking British, it was much more the Super Chief from Omaha.
'Dig It' was a studio improvisation led by John. The first take, which was not used, featured all four Beatles throwing in names - 'FBI, CIA, BBC, B. B. King' which is why they share the copyright credit. The master take lasted 12 minutes 25 seconds but only a tiny part edited from three quarters of the way through the recording was used for the album. Earlier parts of the track featured six-year-old Heather on backing vocals and George Martin on maracas. The film Let It Be has more footage of this track being made but not the complete song and again, John certainly gives the impression of enjoying himself.
Paul had no input on 'Dig a Pony', which was entirely John's. Musically the song was quite complex and the group enjoyed the challenges presented in recording it.
Just as Paul had an inclusion in the middle of 'A Day in the Life', so John had one in the middle of Paul's ‘I’ve Got a Feeling'. John's part - the 'Everybody had a ...' section - was a quite separately written song fragment, but it had the same tempo and was so well matched that they were able to link them together. John brought his section round to Cavendish Avenue and they finished the song together as an equal 50-50 collaboration. There is a myth that by this point in their career, Paul and John were no longer working together; it is true that they no longer got together as they used to for songwriting sessions, but they were certainly very supportive of each other's songs and still checked them with each other. ‘I’ve Got a Feeling' is a good example of their continuing partnership.
PAUL: Although John and I were very competitive, we liked each other's stuff, we wouldn't have recorded it so readily if we didn't. We still worked together, even on a song like 'Glass Onion' where many people think there wouldn't be any collaboration. Another is 'Ballad of John and Yoko', which John brought around to Cavendish Avenue for me to help finish the last verse he was having a bit of trouble with. He knew he could always leave a couple of sentences out, come and see me and we knew we would always finish them. It was a guaranteed solution.
For all the moments in which the old energy appears, however, the film Let It Be essentially shows all the Beatles looking worn out and at odds. It was by now obvious that John had virtually no interest in the band, and George's spiritual studies had provided a whole other life for him, working with both spiritual masters and Indian musicians: he was beginning to regard the group as a straitjacket. Ringo too was unhappy with the situation and had already walked out once. He had been building a solo career in films and getting a taste for a life where he was his own man. Paul was the one who most wanted the Beatles to stay together, but the more he tried, the more irritated the others became. The strain began to take its toll.
PAUL: This was a very difficult period. John was with Yoko full time, and our relationship was beginning to crumble: John and I were going through a very tense period. The breakup of the Beatles was looming and I was very nervy. Personally it was a very difficult time for me, I think the drugs, the stress, tiredness and everything had really started to take its toll. I somehow managed to miss a lot of the bad effects of all that, but looking back on this period, I think I was having troubles.
One night during this tense time I had a dream I saw my mum, who'd been dead ten years or so. And it was so great to see her because that's a wonderful thing about dreams: you actually are reunited with that person for a second; there they are and you appear to both be physically together again. It was so wonderful for me and she was very reassuring. In the dream she said, 'It'll be all right.' I'm not sure if she used the words 'Let it be' but that was the gist of her advice, it was 'Don't worry too much, it will turn out okay.' It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, Oh, it was really great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song 'Let It Be'. I literally started off 'Mother Mary', which was her name, 'When I find myself in times of trouble', which I certainly found myself in. The song was based on that dream.
For many people 'Let It Be' was to become an inspirational song, one that got them through the bad times in their lives. Paul is proud of the number of fans who, over the years, have written to thank him for writing it. It is a song that still goes down well in concert, and for which the audience shows its appreciation with candles, matches or even disposable lighters.
PAUL: Mother Mary makes it a quasi-religious thing, so you can take it that way. I don't mind. I'm quite happy if people want to use it to shore up their faith. I have no problem with that. I think it's a great thing to have faith of any sort, particularly in the world we live in. My mother was Catholic and she had me and my brother christened but that was the only religious thing we went through other than school, and occasional visits to church, where I sang in a surpliced choir. The first time I ever heard about religion really was when I was in hospital when I was eleven, and the sister on the ward lilted up my case sheet and said 'What religion are you? It's not on here.' I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'C of E?' I said, 'Probably.'
Looking back on all the Beatles' work, I'm very glad that most of it was positive and has been a positive force. I always find it very fortunate that most of our songs were to do with peace and love, and encourage people to do better and to have a better life. When you come to do these songs in places like the stadium in Santiago where all the dissidents were rounded up, I'm very glad to have these songs because they're such symbols of optimism and hopefulness.
‘The Long and Winding Road' was written, like 'Let It Be', during the stormy recording sessions for the White Album in 1968 and reflects the dissension and troubled atmosphere within the band at the time. It was composed with Ray Charles in mind.
PAUL: It doesn't sound like him at all, because it's me singing and I don't sound anything like Ray, but sometimes you get a person in your mind, just for an attitude, just for a place to be, so that your mind is somewhere rather than nowhere, and you place it by thinking, Oh, I love that Ray Charles, and think, Well, what might he do then? So that was in my mind, and would have probably had some bearing on the chord structure of it, which is slightly jazzy. I think I could attribute that to having Ray in my mind when I wrote that one.
In 1958 the singer Bobby Darin had a number-one hit with 'Splish Splash', followed a year later by Kurt Weill's 'Mack the Knife'. In 1962 he received a $750,000 advance from Capitol Records, making him the highest-paid pop singer in the world. At the party given to celebrate his signing to Capitol, a short, stocky figure with thick black, wavy, brilliantined hair pushed his way through the crowd to Bobby Darin, whom he had never before met, and handed him a cheque for $100,000. 'What's this for?' Darin asked, puzzled.
It's a rather sad song. I like writing sad songs, it's a good bag to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It's a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist. Songwriting often performs that feat, you say it but you don't embarrass yourself because it's only a song, or is it? You are putting the things that are bothering you on the table and you are reviewing them, but because it's a song, you don't have to argue with anyone.
I was a bit flipped out and tripped out at that time. It's a sad song because it's all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of.
‘For nothing,' said Alien Klein.
Alien Klein was an accountant who had knocked about the music business since the late fifties. How he came to give the cheque to Bobby Darin is a perfect example of his flamboyant style. Deter-mined to get Darin as a client, somehow he managed to get a look at the books. His own audit turned up a six-figure discrepancy. His deal for saying nothing was that he be allowed personally to deliver the cheque for the missing funds as 'for nothing'.
Darin was suitably impressed and, as Klein had hoped and planned, he fired his accountants and gave Klein his business. Klein immediately renegotiated the Capitol contract with some interesting new clauses. He wanted Capitol to sell the Trinity Music Publishing company to Darin for $350,000 cash. There were more than 700 songs in the Trinity catalogue of which only 70 were written by Darin. Capitol wanted Darin so badly they said yes. Within a year Darin was a millionaire and remained so, long after his career floundered and Klein had begun his empire-building. In many ways Klein was the first to recognise the importance to the singer-songwriter of keeping control of copyrights, though sadly his subsequent involvement with the Beatles was less successful in this respect.
Next he took on Sam Cooke, extracting nearly a million dollars from RCA Just weeks before the singer was gunned down in December 1964. Klein's ability to ferret out money that was already owed to his clients was phenomenal. Most record companies were ripping off their artists so badly that all Klein had to do was nose around and threaten legal action. His trademark phrases ‘I can get you double' and 'You want a million dollars? You got it!' were often true because his research had already shown that was the amount of money owed. It was money for nothing, but it took Klein to find it.
He helped get huge deals for the Animals, the Dave dark Five and Herman's Hermits. He netted a fantastic contract with Decca for the Rolling Stones: a $1,250,000 advance against 25 per cent of wholesale; or about 75 cents an album. Compared to this, Brian Epstein's new deal for the Beatles with EMI -15 per cent in Britain and 17.5 per cent in the USA - looked a mere pittance. Klein had his eye on the Beatles as far back as 1964 and rumour had it that he pulled the stops out on the Stones deal partly to impress the Beatles. They were the greatest rock 'n' roll band on earth and he had to have them.
The Alien and Betty Klein Company, ABKCO, was on the top floor of 1700 Broadway, a cut-price 41-storey sixties glass and steel tower five blocks from Columbus Circle in the centre of the entertainment business. (John Lennon's vituperative 1974 attack on Klein; the song 'Steel and Glass', is a reference to the building.) Klein had livened up the undistinguished architecture by installing a large door made from beaten copper, like a prop from the movie Cleopatra, to separate his large corner office from that of his ever-faithful personal secretary Iris Keitel, whose desk guarded the portal. He sat in the corner at a huge, conspicuously empty, kidney-shaped desk in an enormous leather chair in which he swivelled from side to side as he talked. Across from him were two walls of glass, filled with a panorama of skyscrapers and, between other towers, a view of Central Park.
In one of the outer offices lurked Pete Bennett - Peter Benedetto - a vast bulk of a man with a round Italian face, looking more like a bodyguard for Sinatra than the promo man responsible for getting the Beatles on the radio. This was the man who got Bobby Vinton to sing at the inaugural ball for President Nixon, a man proud to call the President his friend. He told Rolling Stone: 'I'm very active in Republican politics in Yonkers where I live. I promoted for the President in '68 on my spare time, I mean, whenever I'm calling a station about a record, I'm also promoting for Nixon.' It was ironic that John's 'Revolution' was being used to promote Nixon's election campaign; even more ironic that when John and Yoko moved to New York, they became great friends with Bennett while Nixon was simultaneously plotting to have John deported. With the introduction of Alien Klein into the Beatles equation, it was now inevitable that they would break up.
During an interview in 1968 with Ray Coleman, the editor of Disc and Music Echo, John casually said, 'Apple's losing money every week ... if it carries on like this, all of us will be broke in the next six months.' Though John assumed such a remark, which would have an adverse effect on Apple's business standing, was off the record, Coleman printed John's quote. In New York, Alien Klein read it and knew it was time to make his move. He flew to London and set about getting an introduction. The Apple publicist Derek Taylor gave him John's home telephone number. He called and left a message and on the night of 27 January, John and Yoko went to meet him in the Harlequin suite of the Dorchester Hotel, where he was staying.
John and Yoko were both impressed by Klein. He had done his homework and was able to run through the Beatles catalogue, identify songs that John had written and comment upon them. John was in need of all the encouragement and flattery he could get. He was still in a fragile and uncertain frame of mind after systematically destroying his ego with LSD; typically John, he had done a very thorough job. Now he was in recovery and utterly susceptible to this ego boost.
Though they seemed very different, John was able to relate to Klein. Klein had clawed his way to the top from an appalling background. He was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1931. His mother died of cancer when he was two years old and his father, a kosher butcher, placed Alien and two of his three older sisters in an Orthodox Jewish orphanage because he was unable to look after them and run a business at the same rime. Alien returned to his father's home when he was twelve years old and able to look after himself. His mother's youngest sister, Helen, was a tremendous influence on his life, acting as a surrogate mother, visiting him in the orphanage, giving him much-needed love and affection.
Only by sheer hard work and determination did Klein train himself as an accountant, working for a newspaper distributor by day and attending accountancy classes at Upsala College every evening. It is not surprising that John felt more empathy with this man than with the suave, wealthy Lee Eastman whom Paul was proposing as the man to take charge of the Beatles' affairs. Like John, Klein had effectively been abandoned by his father; like John, he grew up under the influence of an aunt rather than his mother. To John, Klein was a real working-class hero.
Apple has been described as many things - a complex tax arrangement, a way of spreading Beatles largesse among deserving new talent - but the original purpose behind it, which was put into operation four months before the death of Brian Epstein, was simply to appoint someone to take charge of the Beatles' financial affairs.
PAUL: Apple was just to get a manager. It was in lieu of a manager. We hadn't had a manager after Brian. We realised we needed someone but getting that someone is very very difficult. In an ideal world, Mr X would appear out of the blue and would say, 'You're such a talented person that you ought to be freed to exercise your talent. I would therefore like to suggest that we put a group of people around you that will advise you on when to release your next record. Will advise on promotion. Will put a very good budget for the distribution and promotion together and you won't even have to think of it. Please take the day off.' Ahhhh! What artist wouldn't just die for that? Unfortunately they're not like that. So we set up Apple in order to put all our business affairs in one thing and then sign some good acts. It was 'Maybe we don't need to carry on like we've always carried on, maybe we could have more say in it all.' And John promptly had Lord Beeching over, who had reorganised the railways and done the railways in! But he was being promoted that year as Mr X. Mr Fix-it. You got any troubles with your business ... We were looking for someone like that.
Beeching examined the financial records of Apple's various divisions and told John, 'Stick to music.'
Paul thought Lee Eastman 'would have been good businesswise, but of course, he had too much of a vested interest. He would have looked after me more than the others; so I understand their reluctance to get involved with that. And this is how Klein became Mr X.'
Lee Eastman sent his son John, the junior partner in Eastman and Eastman, who was fresh out of law school. Lennon has said that he would have probably agreed to Lee Eastman if he had come over in person.
With the advent of Alien Klein, everything changed. Klein had done his background preparation on Yoko as well as John, and was very careful to include her in every aspect of the discussion. Bí paying attention and giving her equal stature he gained her trust, which was the key to reaching John. John said later, 'We had him because Klein was the only one Yoko liked.'
One of the reasons she liked him was that he promised to get her an exhibition, a promise he fulfilled after they moved to the USA. This was a huge one-woman show held in the prestigious Everson Museum of Fine Arts in Syracuse, New York, scheduled to open on John's birthday on 9 October 1971. Normally such a show would be a retrospective of a lifetime's work gathered together from other museums and private collections. Yoko had only exhibited a couple of times and had sold virtually nothing. Her complete extant work would not have filled even one of the huge Everson galleries. In order to fill the huge spaces - 50,000 square feet consisting of seven galleries, a sculpture court and other rooms for installations - a team of people was hired to make art objects. The Everson Museum had allocated one sixth of its annual budget to the show but cost overruns meant that the Beatles, not just John, but all four of them, finished up paying $80,000 towards Yoko’s exhibition - something that still rankles.
By the end of John and Yoko’s conversation with Klein at the Dorchester, they had decided that he was their man. Even if the Beatles would not accept him, John was determined that Klein would represent him on a personal basis. Though Klein thought it a bit precipitate, John wrote a brief letter to Sir Joe Lockwood at EMI, Clive Epstein at NEMS, Dick James at Northern Songs and Harry Pinsker at Bryce Hanmer saying, 'I've asked Alien Klein to look after my things. Please give him any information he wants and full cooperation. Love. John Lennon.'
The other three Beatles had not been informed of John's meeting with Klein but listened carefully to his proposal that they should take him on as their new manager. George and Ringo were convinced. Paul was not. He had heard from Eastman about the case pending against Klein by the American tax authorities, which did not inspire confidence: tax was an area in which many groups had come unstuck in the past. The others were not concerned, perhaps in part because of that curiously rock 'n' roll attitude which says that if someone is really bad they must be good. 'Paradoxical thinking is part of the game in our art,' Paul explained. 'Rock 'n' roll specialises in that kind of, "This guy's a twerp. We've gotta have him on our team!" In rock 'n' roll you often stand things on their head.'
Word soon leaked out that John was consulting Klein and the rumours reached 46a Maddox Street, the Rolling Stones' office. The Stones had spent the previous year trying to extricate themselves from Klein's clutches but they were still not free. When Mick heard what was going on, he was concerned. He called his assistant Peter Swales into his office. Swales: 'Jagger gave me a note in an envelope to take over to Apple addressed to Paul. It was a warning, maybe in solidarity with him. It was to the effect of "Don't go near him, he's a dog. He's a crook.'"
Paul: ‘I called Mick Jagger and asked if he'd come round to Apple. We, the Beatles, were all gathered in the big boardroom there, and we asked Mick how Klein was, and he said, "Well, he's all right if you like chat kind of thing." He didn't say, "He's a robber," even though Klein had already taken all the "Hot Rocks" copyrights off them by that time.' It sounds as if Jagger was a little intimidated at being summoned to Apple and faced by all four Beatles gathered around their huge oval table, and really didn't feel that he could advise them.
On 3 February, Alien Klein was appointed to conduct an audit of their financial affairs. The others outvoted Paul three to one at the board meeting and, presented with a fait accompli, Paul went along with it. Though Paul had opposed Klein's appointment, he recog-nised the need to have someone investigate the Beatles' finances and this was Klein's strongest area of expertise. But Paul did achieve one significant concession. All along he had moved to have the family firm of Eastman and Eastman appointed general counsel to the Beatles, so that there would at least be some check on Klein, and this was agreed to by the others. Lee and John Eastman formally became the Beatles' lawyers the following day, 4 February 1969.
For the next two months Klein sat in Apple surrounded by piles of papers while the staff, knowing his reputation, cowered in fear in their offices. As well as unravelling the confused money trails of their business, Klein himself slowly became more involved with the group's affairs. On 21 March he was appointed Apple's business manager and quickly began to 'rationalise' the staffing arrangements. With John's backing, he analysed every member of staff and was ruthless in clearing out those he considered inessential. The first to go were people who stood in Klein's way. Even Alistair Taylor, who had been with the Beatles since the day they signed with Brian Epstein, was fired. Ron Kass, who had done brilliant work in launching the label from nowhere, was dismissed with a golden handshake after a classic Klein disinformation manoeuvre. He questioned a cheque made out to Kass, and even though it was explained as covering cash Kass had advanced to Neil Aspinall in America, the seeds of doubt had been sown. Neil himself was fired, but here the Beatles objected and Klein relented when he realised that Neil did not pose a threat. A lot of dead wood was cleared away. At one point Peter Brown was ordered to fire ten people in one day. The remnants of Apple Retail were quick to go, as was Magic Alex. The kitchen staff went, so no one could get a cup of tea. Klein also fired the in-house multilingual translator so there was no one who could speak to the Japanese and European record-company executives who called up. The Beatles had always insisted on simultaneous release of Apple records in as many as twenty-seven countries and, since it was their label, they had to take care of the shipping of tapes, film for packaging and all the other details. Without a translator to talk to the art department in Sweden or Brazil, this quickly became a problem. Using Klein's logic, it would have made economic sense to close the press office and use an outside publicist, but Klein liked Derek Taylor because it was through him that Klein got to meet John, so Derek stayed.
In June, Peter Asher resigned to join Ron Kass, taking over MGM's A & R department. Peter told Disc and Music Echo:
When I joined Apple the idea was that it would be different from the other companies in the record business. Its policy was to help people and be generous. It didn't mean actually I had a tremendous amount of freedom; I was always in danger of one Beatle saying, 'Yes, that's a great idea, go ahead,' and then another coming in and saying he didn't know anything about it. But it did mean that it was a nice company to work for. Now that's all changed. There's a new concentrative policy from what I can see and it's lost a great deal of its original feeling.
Peter became James Taylor's manager and immediately set about trying to get him released from the label since it appeared obvious that the only artists Alien Klein intended to promote were the Beatles. He asked Paul if they would tear up James's contract in the same spirit that they gave away all the clothes in the ill-fated Apple boutique.
PAUL: So James Taylor came and he and Peter said, ‘We don't want to stay with the label. We like you, we like the guys, but we don't like this Klein guy and we don't like what's going to happen.' So I said, 'Why don't we just give him his album back and say, "There you go, man, you've made us some money, fabulous, thanks, peace." Like giving the clothes away?' But Alien Klein was very against that idea. 'You kidding? We've got his contract! We can hold this guy for ever. You're not going to give this guy his contract. Make him pay.' I said, 'No no no,' and the others, give them their due, said, 'No. We should just give him his contract back.' Klein was very sore about that but to our credit, we gave James Taylor his contract back. James is still one of my favourites, he's fabulous. He's gone on to do great things and I'm glad that our friendship is still intact. That's what was really important to me. Klein wasn't interested in that. He was just interested in winning winning winning.
Alien Klein was soon put through his paces when Dick James and Charles Silver surprised everyone and sold their 32 per cent of Northern Songs to Lew Grade's Associated Television. ATV already owned 3 per cent, and the deal now gave Grade a bigger share in the songwriting company than the Beatles' own 30 per cent. A massive financial battle for control of Northern Songs now commenced between the two sides, with Klein in the thick of it.
Unfortunately, at this moment when more than any other they needed to stick together, a major internal schism developed as Klein demanded 20 per cent of their income for his services. Paul thought this was far too much and also felt strongly that Klein should not get a percentage on deals that had been made before his arrival.
Things came to a head on 9 May 1969. The Beatles were booked in, for a Friday-night session with the producer Glyn Johns at Olympia Studios in Barnes, but instead of recording, the session turned into an acrimonious argument about business. Klein had told the others that he had to have his three-year management contract signed immedi-ately because he was flying back to New York the next day and had to present it to the board of his corporation.
PAUL: I said, 'Hell take 15 per cent. We're massive, we're the biggest act in the world, he'll take 15 per cent.' But for some reason the three of them were so keen to go with him that they really bullied me and ganged up on me. It sounds a bit wimpy but anyway they outvoted me on these issues. They said, 'He's got to have 20 per cent.' And Klein of course saw all this and said, 'I can't do it for any less than this. My board back in America won't allow it ...' Now the idea that Klein was run by some sort of board was a complete fiction. It was him and his assistant Peter Howard. Klein was the board, you only had to look on his letterhead. But they believed it.
They went, 'No, he's got to have a board meeting, he's told us. Tomorrow, Saturday.' I said, 'I've never heard of anyone doing any work on a Saturday, certainly not him.' They said, 'You're just stalling.' They were completely besotted with this guy. I said, 'No, I'm not. I want a good deal out of this guy. I don't think we should just run and jump into his arms. I'll wait to Monday before we ratify anything. My lawyer will be present on Monday. I happen to have a Jewish lawyer. What can I say to him? "Change your bloody religion, man, I need you"? You can't do that.' And they said, 'Well, we'll do it without you,' which they couldn't, that was why they needed me otherwise I don't think they'd have bothered showing up. So they said, 'Oh, fuck off!' and they all stormed off, leaving me with the session at Olympic.
Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. 'Hey, what's happening, man? Can I use the studio?' 'Yeah!' I said. 'Can I drum for you? I just had a tacking unholy argument with the guys there.' I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. So I did a track, he and I stayed that night and did a track of his called 'My Dark Hour'. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There's a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that's all I can say about that. We stayed up until late. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It's actually a pretty good track.
It was a very strange time in my life and I swear I got my first grey hairs that month. I saw them appearing. I looked in the mirror, I thought, I can see you. You're all coming now. Welcome.
On the Monday negotiations began afresh and a compromise deal was worked out with Alien Klein.
PAUL: I agreed 20 per cent but I said, 'It can't be on everything, we've got an EMI contract, he can't just have 20 per cent of that.' They said, 'Okay, just on any increase he gets.' In other words, if he goes to Capitol and negotiates a new deal, he can have 20 per cent on the difference between the old deal and the new deal. I wasn't keen to have him but I thought that's fair. Everyone said, 'Okay, got a deal.' To give him his due, he was an energiser, but unfortunately he was an energiser who took too much in the end, for his pains.
Paul never did sign the management contract.
The financial imbroglios which followed were extremely complex and not helped by the fact that the Eastmans and Klein as well as Paul and the other Beatles were at loggerheads. Klein did make some remarkable deals on their behalf, as Paul conceded, particularly in his renegotiation of their contract with EMI/Capitol. As Paul's subse-quent lawsuit showed, Klein made more money for them in eighteen months than Brian Epstein had during his entire period of manage-ment. The financial manoeuvring over the sale of NEMS, ATV, Northern Songs and the struggles between Alien Klein and the Eastmans were enough to fill an entire book: Apple to the Core by Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld.
LINDA: It was weird times. Alien Klein was stirring it up something awful. Between Alien Klein in one ear and Yoko in the other ear, they had John so spinning about Paul it was really quite heartbreaking. So stupid. It reminded me of the Eisenstein movie Ivan the Terrible; they were all whispering. It was like that with John; he was getting so bitter about Paul, and all Paul was saying was that he didn't want to sign a big management contract with Alien Klein. Nothing to do with anything else.
Though Let It Be, or Get Back as it was still known at the time, had been intended as a live in the studio, warts and all, 'honest' recording, the three other Beatles were horrified at how ragged and thin it sounded. They were also sick of it. Not wanting to do any further work on it, they shelved the project until its companion film neared completion. Recording, however, continued. Since they no longer played live, the Beatles really only existed as an entity in the studio. The studio was their office, their factory, their workplace, and they were never absent from it for very long.
Despite the acrimonious disputes between them, the Let It Be sessions merged with very little gap into sessions for what was to become their next released album, Abbey Road. In addition, they were still producing other artists for their record company. One such was a band called the Iveys, discovered by Mal Evans. Paul never liked their name and encouraged them to change it. This they did, calling themselves Badfinger, but only after Apple released their first album, Maybe Tomorrow. Their first record as Badfinger was 'Come and Get It', written, produced and arranged by Paul. 'I wrote this very late one night at Cavendish Avenue,’ Paul remembered 'leaving Linda in bed and saying, "I’ve got an idea for a song." I went downstairs and just whispered it into my tape recorder. I played it very quietly so as not to wake her. I knew it was a very catchy song.'
Paul cut a demo of 'Come and Get It' on 24 July 1969, before the other Beatles arrived to record the 'Sun King'/'Mean Mr Mustard' segue for Abbey Road. He recorded it first with himself singing at the piano, then overdubbed a double-tracked vocal, maracas, then drums and finally the bass line. He mixed it into stereo, and an acetate was cut for him to give to the group, all in one hour. Ringo was acting in the film The Magic Christian, so they were able to arrange for the song to be used as its theme tune and for Badfinger to record the soundtrack album.
PAUL: I ran in and did it very very quickly with Phil MacDonald, the engineer. And I said to Badfinger, 'You should copy this faithfully.' They said, 'But we'd like to change it a little bit.' I said, 'No, it's absolutely the right arrangement.' They said, 'But -' I said, 'Change the B side, or change all the other stuff on the album, make those all yours, but please don't change this. I can guarantee it's a hit.'
Paul produced the record on 2 August at Abbey Road, making sure they followed his arrangement note for note, and sure enough it made number one in America. It was released in December 1969 in Britain and reached number four, launching yet another Apple act into instant stardom.
Paul: 'It was a sad story about Badfinger because they had Pete Ham with them, who was a very good songwriter and wrote a marvellous song for Nilsson called "Without You". Then he went and topped himself. Over management problems, apparently.’
Another single from the period between Let It Be and Abbey Road was 'The Ballad of John and Yoko'. John brought it round to Paul's house on 14 April 1969 for him to help complete. They quickly finished it off and went straight round to Abbey Road to record it. 'John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help,' Paul said. 'It's quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like the Beatles.'
George was out of the country and Ringo was filming The Magic Christian but John wanted 'The Ballad of John and Yoko' out fast, like a piece of musical journalism. Paul and Linda had got married ten days before John and Yoko, and though neither invited the other Beatles to their respective ceremonies, they no doubt recognised the parallel paths in their lives. With John taking the vocal and playing lead and acoustic guitars, Paul sang back-up vocal and played everything else: drums, bass, piano and maracas. Despite their ongoing problems, some spark of the old friendship was still there. Here the musical partnership was in fine form and they played together with an intuitive understanding of what was needed. The old Beatles humour also resurfaced as they joked about the others not being there. Just before take four, John called out to Paul on the drums, 'Go a bit faster, Ringo,' to which Paul replied, 'Okay, George.' They did eleven takes and devoted the rest of the session to mixing it in stereo, the first Beatles stereo single. It was all over by 11 p.m.
Possibly buoyed up by the good feeling between John and Paul during work on 'The Ballad of John and Yoko', the sessions for Abbey Road went remarkably smoothly with only a few shouting matches. Putting the chaos of the Get Back sessions behind them, Paul had approached George Martin to produce an album 'like we used to', with the kind of feeling that they used to get in the earlier days. George Martin agreed, providing they really would cooperate and work with him like they used to do, so it was in the more disciplined atmosphere of earlier sessions that they produced what would be their final album.
Whereas each track on the White Album is considered the work of an individual Beatle, Abbey Road has a deceptive unity created by making the whole of side two into a medley. It was Paul's idea, and John was very happy about it at the time though he later claimed to have been opposed to it, but it pulled the whole album together giving it a smooth pop surface. It showed too that the Beatles were still so prolific in their musical ideas that they could virtually give them away by combining eight separate song ideas - any one of which would have made a full-length number - into a seamless medley of Beatle music. And although the content of many of the tracks is sombre, there is overall a positive, upbeat feeling to the album given by the two songs about the sun - George's 'Here Comes the Sun', written in Eric Clapton's garden, and John's 'Sun King' - and by the warmth of 'Golden Slumbers' and the Sgt. Pepper humour of many of the medley fragments.
Unlike Let It Be, this record was in no sense cut live in the studio. The Beatles worked on it together only as much as they had on the White Album, appearing in the studio when absolutely necessary or to work on their own tracks. Another similarity with the White Album was the constant presence of Yoko Ono, even more conspicuous this time because she and John had been involved in a motoring accident in Scotland and she was ordered to bed by her doctors. Accordingly a huge double bed was delivered to the studio by Harrods and Yoko installed in it with a microphone suspended above her face in case she had any comments to make.
PAUL: This was one of the things that put a strain on the sessions. From their point of view, it was just that she had been ordered by a doctor to lie down and that John needed her to be with him. The three of us, we didn't quite get it. It was completely unusual for the Beatles to work in that way and it put a strain on it. Yoko has since told me that if for any reason she ever sat remotely nearer to me than to John, then he would give her hell when he got her home. 'You were sitting nearer to Paul than to me!' John was very paranoid in that way. One of the things most people don't know about John is that a lot of his genius was a cover-up for his paranoia.
The opening track on Abbey Road was 'Come Together', recorded in July 1969, a John Lennon song arranged by Paul.
PAUL: He originally brought it over as a very perky little song, and I pointed out to him that it was very similar to Chuck Berry's 'You Can't Catch Me'. John acknowledged it was rather close to it so I said, 'Well, anything you can do to get away from that.' I suggested that we tried it swampy - "swampy' was the word I used - so we did, we took it right down. I laid that bass line down which very much makes the mood. It's actually a bass line that people now use very often in rap records. If it's not a sample, they use that riff. But that was my contribution to that.
Paul recorded a lot of heavy breathing on the end but it is buried so deep in the mix as to be inaudible. John's copyright infringement was not overlooked by Morris Levy, owner of the Chuck Berry song. Though it was obviously only intended as an affectionate tribute to Berry, it got John into some very deep water in the early seventies when, as compensation. Levy persuaded him to release an album of rock 'n' roll songs available by mail order only through Levy's company Adam VIII Ltd.
A year after recording 'Come Together', when Paul released the news that the Beatles were effectively disbanded, he told the Evening Standard:
I would love the Beatles to be on top of their form and to be as productive as they were. But things have changed. They're all individuals. Even on Abbey Road we don't do harmonies like we used to. I think it's sad. On 'Come Together' I would have liked to sing harmony with John and I think he would have liked me to but I was too embarrassed to ask him and I don't work to the best of my abilities in that situation.
George Harrison's beautiful ballad 'Something' was placed second on the album. Inspired by George's wife Patti and described by Frank Sinatra as 'the greatest love song of the past fifty years', it was the only Beatles song that Sinatra ever sang live, albeit introduced as a 'Lennon and McCartney composition'. It was George's only Beatles A side, and also the only time that a single was taken from an already released Beatles album. With versions by Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson and James Brown, it is one of the most covered Beatles songs. George had developed greatly as a songwriter and was now demanding equal time on albums for his compositions.
The fact that John and Paul did not give equal space to his songs on the albums had been a point of contention between them for some time. Anthony Fawcett recorded a conversation between the three of them at Apple in 1969 which showed John was feeling a twinge of guilt at their treatment of George:
John to Paul: 'We always carved the singles up between us. We have the singles market, they [George and Ringo] don't get anything. I mean, we've never offered George "B" sides; we could have given him a lot of "B" sides, but because we were two people you had the "A" side and I had the "B" side.'
Paul to John: 'Well, the thing is, I think that until now, until this year, our songs have been better than George's. Now this year his songs are at least as good as ours.'
George: 'That's a myth, because most of the songs this year I wrote last year or the year before, anyway. Maybe now I just don't care whether you are going to like them or not, I just do 'em.'
The writing credits were shared more equally on Abbey Road, with George getting two tracks and Ringo one. The majority were, as ever, by John and Paul.
PAUL: 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell's hammer. It was needed for scanning. We still use that expression even now when something unexpected happens.
Paul's 'Oh! Darling' was placed next, a fifties-style rock 'n' roll ballad reminiscent of Jackie Wilson.
PAUL: I mainly remember wanting to get the vocal right, wanting to get it good, and I ended up trying each morning as I came into the recording session. I tried it with a hand nuke, and I tried it with a standing mike, I tried it every which way, and finally got the vocal I was reasonably happy with. It's a bit of a belter, and if it comes off a little bit lukewarm, then you've missed the whole point. It was unusual for me, I would normally try all the goes at a vocal in one day.
John later commented, '"Oh! Darling" was a great one of Paul's that he didn't sing too well. I always thought I could've done it better. It was more my style than his.’
'Octopus's Garden' was Ringo's second song, written when he walked out on the Beatles during the White Album sessions and took his family to Sardinia. He was served octopus for lunch while out on Peter Sellers's yacht and, though he refused to eat it, he was intrigued when the captain told him how octopuses collect stones and shiny objects from the sea bed and build gardens with them.
Often regarded as the first real heavy-metal recording, John's ‘I Want You (She's So Heavy)' achieved its much-copied massive guitar sound by John and George multitracking their guitars over and over in layers until John was satisfied it was heavy enough.
John's 'Because' was inspired by Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Yoko was a classically trained pianist but had stopped playing because her insensitive father had made fun of her small fingers and told her that her playing would never amount to anything. She went into musical composition but then focused on avant-garde art. Sometimes, however, she would play something for John, in this case Beethoven's Piano Sonata Number 14, Op. 27, No. 2. John was very taken with it. He was lying on the sofa listening and asked her if she could play the chords backwards. She tried and John wrote the music around her attempt, though it is more of a lift than a backwards version. It is sad that this, one of the most beautiful and fully realised of Beatles songs, should be one of the last things they recorded. The complicated three-part harmony which John, Paul and George sang together had to be thoroughly rehearsed. It was then overdubbed twice more, giving nine voices altogether. Both Paul and George said that it was their favourite track on the album.
Paul: 'I wouldn't mind betting Yoko was in on the writing of that, it's rather her kind of writing: wind, sky and earth are recurring, ifs straight out of Grapefruit and John was heavily influenced by her at the time.' Later, when EMI were rationalising their instrument collection, Paul was able to buy the electric spinet which gives much of the characteristic sound to the track. He still has it in his recording studio along with many of the instruments used on Sgt. Pepper and Bill Black's stand-up double bass used on Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel', bought for him as a birthday present by Linda on a visit to Nashville.
Though Paul would never have written a song like 'The Ballad of John and Yoko', his private life did filter through into his songs at a remove. 'You Never Give Me Your Money' is a good example. Paul: 'This was me directly lambasting Alien Klein's attitude to us: no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out. It's basically a song about no faith in the person, that found its way into the medley on Abbey Road. John saw the humour in it.'
'You Never Give Me Your Money' leads into the medley but is, in itself, a composite of at least three different fragments, ending with a reference to Paul and Linda's trips to purposely get lost in the country. It was written when they were together in New York. As on 'Tomorrow Never Knows', Paul brought in a selection of loop tapes for the segue into 'Sun King', providing an atmospheric cross-fade link that sounds like wind chimes.
'Sun King' came to John in a dream. It was an idea probably inspired by John reading, or reading a review of, Nancy Mitford's recent biography of Louis XIV of the same name. This leads to John's Sgt. Pepper fairground style 'Mean Mr Mustard', one of his throwaway pieces written in Rishikesh. It had its genesis in a newspaper article about a man who kept his money hidden in his rectum - something John naturally found very amusing but had to change for the song.
'Polythene Pam' was another of John's songs written in India and originally destined for the White Album. It was inspired by Stephanie, a girlfriend of the Beat poet Royston Ellis, whom the Beatles backed at Liverpool University in 1960. On 8 August 1963, the Beatles played at the Auditorium in Guernsey, the Channel Islands. Royston Ellis was working as a ferryboat engineer on the island and invited John to come back to his flat. John told Playboy: 'I had a girl and he had one he wanted me to meet. He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did. She didn't wear jackboots and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.' Royston Ellis told Steve Turner: 'We all dressed up in them and wore them in bed. John stayed the night with us the same bed.' Paul remembered meeting Royston in Guernsey: ‘John, being Royston's friend, went out to dinner with him and got pissed and stuff and they ended up back at his apartment with a girl who dressed herself in polythene for John's amusement, so it was a little kinky scene. She became Polythene Pam. She was a real character.' John: 'When I recorded it I used a thick Liverpool accent because it was supposed to be about a mythical Liverpool scrubber dressed up in her jackboots and kilt.'
Paul wrote 'Golden Slumbers' at Rembrandt, his father's house in Liverpool. Jim McCartney had remarried, giving Paul a stepsister, Ruth, and some of her sheet music was on the piano, including Thomas Dekker's lullaby Golden Slumbers'. 'I liked the words so much,' Paul said. 'I thought it was very restful, a very beautiful lullaby, but I couldn't read the melody, not being able to read music. So I just took the words and wrote my own music. I didn't know at the time it was four hundred years old.' It was first published in Dekker's The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus in 1603 so it was well out of copyright. Paul: 'I remember trying to get a very strong vocal on it, because it was such a gentle theme, so I worked on the strength of the vocal on it, and ended up quite pleased with it.'
'Carry That Weight', like 'You Never Give Me Your Money’, was one of Paul's semi-autobiographical songs about the Beatles' business difficulties. 'I'm generally quite upbeat but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can't be upbeat any more and that was one of the times. We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like for ever! That's what I meant.'
By this time the atmosphere at Apple had soured irredeemably. At one time friends like Derek Taylor or Tony Bramwell could just wander into Beatles meetings, and the atmosphere was easy-going. Now they would be asked to leave.
PAUL: There was what my Aunty Jin would have called a bad atmosphere - 'Oh, I can feel the atmosphere in this house, love.' It wasn't difficult, she wouldn't have liked it there. It was 'heavy'. 'Heavy' was a very operative word at that time - 'Heavy, man' -but now it actually felt heavy. That's what 'Carry That Weight' was about: not the light, rather easy-going heaviness, albeit witty and sometimes cruel, but with an edge you could exist within and which always had a place for you to be. In this heaviness there was no place to be. It was serious, paranoid heaviness and it was just very uncomfortable.
It was fitting that the last track on the last recorded Beatles album should be called 'The End' (discounting 'Her Majesty', which was not listed on the original pressings). The track shows how the Beatles might have developed had they remained together: the extended drum solo and guitar-hero theatrics which were already developing among their contemporaries and which would became the main features of seventies 'rock' were already present in Abbey Road, including Ringo's only drum solo and a three-way guitar battle between John, Paul and George. Shakespeare ended his acts with a rhyming couplet so that the audience would know they were over. Paul: 'I wanted it to end with a little meaningful couplet, so I followed the Bard and wrote a couplet.'
Linda was four months pregnant when they married. Since the birth would be in August, they took an early summer holiday beginning 15 May, and spent a month on the island of Corfu, on the west coast of Greece across from the heel of Italy, far away from the pressure of Apple and the sounds of corporate battles waged on their behalf by Alien Klein and John Eastman. They stayed in Benitses, then a sleepy fishing village a few miles south of Corfu Town, with the houses opening straight on to a tiny beach. It was here that Paul wrote 'Every Night', which appeared on his first solo album. Sadly, with the late-seventies 'development of Corfu' - the breezeblock hotels, late-night discos and lager louts on package holidays - the pretty little village of Benitses that Paul and Linda knew is now unrecognisable.
The medley, or 'the Long One' as it was known in the studio, went through a number of changes before reaching its final order. The little fragment known as 'Her Majesty', which Paul wrote in Scotland, was originally placed after 'Mean Mr Mustard' but Paul decided it didn't work there and asked the tape operator John Kurlander to edit it out and throw it away. Following normal studio practice, he attached a long piece of leader tape to it to identify it as separate from the rest of the tracks and tacked it on the end of the reel. When an acetate was made of the medley, 'Her Majesty' was accidentally included. Paul liked it in its new position, and it was allowed to remain. This accounts for the long silence which precedes it, and the decaying chord with which it opens, which is in fact the last chord of 'Mean Mr Mustard'. Paul: 'That was very much how things happened. Really, you know, the whole of our career was like that so it's a fitting end.'
The lyrics to 'Her Majesty' are emblematic of how far apart John and Paul had become. Four months before John returned his MBE medal to the Queen, Paul was writing a few lines in her honour, even though they were tinged with irony. Paul: 'It was quite funny because it's basically monarchist, with a mildly disrespectful tone, but it's very tongue in cheek. It's almost like a love song to the Queen.'
The final track on Abbey Road to be completed was John's 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' on 20 August 1969. It was to be the last time that all four Beatles were together in the studio.
Ten days before that, the Beatles had assembled for a cover shot. They didn't have to go far, just outside Abbey Road studios. On 8 August the famous zebra-crossing photograph was taken by Ian Macmillan, based on a sketch by Paul. It was Paul's third Beatles sleeve in a row, and like Sgt. Pepper it was the subject of many parodies in years to come. It became such an icon that he even parodied it himself with his Paul Is Live album recorded in 1993.
Mary McCartney was born on 28 August and was named after Paul's mother. With a new baby and a seven-year-old daughter to look after, Paul stayed away from the office, which he had grown to dislike since Klein had ensconced himself there, and his place was taken by John and Yoko.
By the time Abbey Road was completed. Alien Klein had reduced Apple to an ordinary management office. All the fine ideas were gone as well as most of the idealists. However, for those no longer fearful of losing their job, working at Apple was still better than working anywhere else. Jack Oliver, who had joined the company as Terry Doran's assistant at Apple Music, was, to his great surprise, promoted to replace Ron Kass as the head of the record division. He had no power since it was Klein who really ran the record company, so Jack whiled away the hours, engaged in a telex romance with the receptionist at Alien Klein's New York office. They never met but exchanged yards and yards of telex paper each day. The two expensive offices in the Capitol Tower at Hollywood and Vine, intended as the American headquarters of Apple, remained empty except for the two bored secretaries, who spent all day reading the trades and exchanging gossip with friends on the telephone.
John and Yoko moved into Ron Kass's vacated front office and ran an open house, giving the Apple press office plenty of fun things to do. Ever since John and Paul had gone on American television and effectively invited anyone with a good idea to come to them, Apple had been inundated with mad inventors, religious fanatics, hippie entrepreneurs, mystics, poets, playwrights, musicians and a man who thought he was Hitler. Since no one else was in a position to deal with them, Derek had to:
Reception: 'There's a man here who says he's Hitler.'
Derek Taylor; 'Christ, not that bastard again! All right, send him up.'
It was someone in Derek's office that fielded the telephone calls from Charles Manson and all the other fanatics who had decoded the album sleeves or lyrics to find secret messages addressed only to them. It was the press office that looked after the Hell's Angels George invited to come and stay, and the press office that had to try and explain John and Yoko's latest antics to puzzled journalists. There was a constant stream of reporters, not just from Fleet Street but from all over the world, not just newspapers and the music weeklies but women's magazines, Time and Life, television and radio stations from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, all needing interviews, photographs, quotes and stories. Popular interest in the Beatles remained as high as ever and was used by John and Yoko to further their peace campaign.
Even with Klein in charge, Apple still did not entirely operate like a normal company. The staff always had to expect the unexpected; they were told, for instance, that Yoko's daughter Kyoko must be allowed to do anything she wanted. One day she pulled all the plugs out of the telephone switchboard, cutting off international calls and bringing Apple Records business to a halt. The frustrated switchboard operator was almost fired because she dared to tell the precocious child to go away. On the surface, however, it might have looked as if Klein had saved the day. The haemorrhaging of money seemed to have been stopped; the Beatles were apparently getting on better than they had done; certainly Abbey Road was recorded in a better atmosphere than Let It Be. But underneath, tensions were still rising.
The one thing everyone concurred on was that Klein had done a good job in renegotiating the Beatles' contract with EMI/Capitol. After fierce negotiations, EMI agreed to increase the royalty on US records to an unprecedented 25 per cent of retail, to be paid directly by Capitol to Apple, a far higher royalty than any other group had ever attained. On this point, at least, John and Paul were in agreement and even John Eastman congratulated Klein on his negotiations. On 20 September 1969, all four Beatles gathered at Savile Row to sign the documents. It was then that John sprang his surprise on them.
PAUL: We were all summoned to sign a new Capitol contract at Apple. We all went round to do it, and it got a little bit 'Well, why are we doing this? Are we sure the group is going to continue?' 'Oh, sure, it'll all continue.' 'Well, how's it going to continue? What are we going to do? Massive big shows?' Then I propounded the theory, 'I think we should get back to our basics. I think we've got out of hand, we've overwhelmed ourselves and I think what we need is to re-establish our musical identity and find out who we are again, and so we should go back to little gigs.' At that point John looked at me and said, 'Well, I think yer daft!' Which was a little bit of a show-stopper. He said, 'Well, I wasn't gonna tell you till after we'd signed the Capitol contract. Klein asked me not to tell you. But, seeing as you asked me, I'm leaving the group.' So everyone went, 'Gulp!' The weight was dropped, our jaws dropped along with it, everyone blanched except John, who coloured a little and said, 'It's rather exciting. It's like I remember telling Cynthia I wanted a divorce.' And I think from what he was saying there was an adrenalin rush that came with telling. So that was it. We signed the new Capitol deal in a bit of a daze, not quite knowing why we'd done it. That's my recollection.
For many years there was a spurious debate conducted in the music press and by 'Beatles experts' on 'Who broke up the Beatles?' Yoko was most often blamed. Sometimes Linda was proposed as the villain and Paul was frequently saddled with the role. It fact it was John who broke up the Beatles, as he often said in print. In his autobiographical essay 'The Ballad of John and Yoko', he wrote:
Apart from giving me the courage to break out of the Stockbroker belt... Yoko also gave me the inner strength to look more closely at my other marriage. My real marriage. To the Beatles, which was more stifling than my domestic life. Although I had thought of it often enough, I lacked the guts to make the break earlier ... I started the band. I disbanded it. It's as simple as that.
He wrote that when he finally got up the courage to tell the other three he wanted a divorce 'they knew it was for real, unlike Ringo and George's previous threats to leave'.
John never spelled out his reasons for leaving in any detail but his dissatisfaction with the group seemed to go as far back as the death of Brian Epstein. John had a much greater emotional involvement with Brian and was more shaken by his death than the others. Brian had been a substitute father to him and John saw his death as yet another abandonment, automatically associated with the deaths of his mother and Aunt Mimi's husband, Uncle George. Peter Brown reports that when Brian was in the Priory rehabilitation clinic for a sleep cure to get him off drugs, John sent a huge bouquet of flowers with a note saying, 'You know I love you, I really do ...', something that no other member of the group would have dreamed of doing.
After Brian's death, Paul tried to revitalise the group but John had lapsed into a state of lethargy. He had always been lazy, but now he spent virtually his whole time sitting around watching television, reading the papers, smoking pot or tripping. Consequently, when Paul came up with the idea of Magical Mystery Tour, John had no new material. In John Lennon: One Day at a Time, Anthony Fawcett quotes a taped conversation between John and Paul in September 1969, just before John left the group:
JOHN: 'You'd come up with a 'Magical Mystery Tour'. I didn't write any of that except 'Walrus'; I'd accept it and you'd already have five or six songs, so I'd think, 'Fuck it, I can't keep up with that.' So I didn't bother, you know? And I thought I don't really care whether I was on or not, I convinced myself it didn't matter, and so for a period if you didn't invite me to be on an album personally, if you three didn't say, 'Write some more 'cause we like your work', I wasn't going to fight!
John's paranoia was unjustified but nonetheless genuine. There had always been competition between John and Paul to get A sides. John fought hard to get 'Revolution' on the A side of Apple's first Beatles single but Paul won with 'Hey Jude'. To win, they had to convince the other Beatles and George Martin that their song was the more commercial, which in this case 'Hey Jude' obviously was. The problem came because John's productivity fell off dramatically at a time when Paul was building towards his artistic and commercial peak. On the early albums, the majority of songs were co-written, so the problem was not as acute. However, on A Hard Day's Night, when John was at the height of his powers, he effortlessly contributed seven of the songs, he and Paul co-wrote three and Paul only had three of his own. Following this, there was a rough balance between songs written mainly by John and those written mainly by Paul, but this balance was to change after Brian's death, particularly with Magical Mystery Tour.
John could not come to terms with the fact that Paul was now the de facto leader of the group. Though he personally liked the film, he hated the fact that Magical Mystery Tour was not his idea. He was also convinced that Paul got more studio time on his tracks that he did, an idea rubbished by George Martin, who has often said that if Paul got more time, it was because he was more meticulous, more prepared to take time getting the exact sound he wanted, whereas John couldn't be bothered. John could clearly have taken all the time he wanted to get a song right and sometimes did, as the many attempts at 'Strawberry Fields' show. In any case, it was an argument John should have had with George Martin, not with Paul. In Summer of Love, Martin wrote: 'The extremely difficult, John thought of as par for the course; only with the utterly impossible were you allowed to take more time. Once he had an idea, it had to be captured quickly. If it did not materialise in very short order, he tended to wander off and lose interest.' John's complaint to Paul was actually an attempt to get his songs on to albums without the usual democratic vetting by the others, as the conversation between John and Paul recorded by Anthony Fawcett in September 1969 reveals. John tells Paul:
If you look back on the Beatles' albums, good or bad or whatever you think of 'em, you'll find that most times if anybody has got extra time it's you! For no other reason than you worked it like that. Now when we get into a studio I don't want to go through games with you to get space on the album, you know. I don't want to go through a little manoeuvering or whatever level it's on. I gave up fighting for an A-side or fighting for time. I just thought, well, I'm content to put 'Walrus' on the 'B' side when I think it's much better ... I didn't have the energy or the nervous type of thing to push it, you know. So I relaxed a bit - nobody else relaxed, you didn't relax in that way. So gradually I was submerging.
Paul protested that he had tried to allow space on albums for John's songs, only to find that John hadn't written any. John explained, 'There was no point in turning 'em out. I couldn't, didn't have the energy to turn 'em out and get 'em on as well.' He then told Paul how he wanted it to be in the future: 'When we get in the studio I don't care how we do it but I don't want to think about equal time. I just want it known I'm allowed to put four songs on the album, whatever happens.'
This was something the other Beatles had always wanted to avoid, ever since John's insistence on including 'Revolution 9' on the White Album and his anger at their refusal to release the long, sound collage 'What's the New Mary Jane'. The other three Beatles wanted to retain a readily definable Beatles sound. Apple had already released Two Virgins and Unfinished Music, Life with the Lyons to mass derision and incomprehension, and plans were underway for The Wedding Album; understandably the other three wanted John's experiments to remain separate from his work with the Beatles. It was for this type of move, a cunning attempt to by-pass the Beatles democracy, that the others, much as they also loved him, regarded him as a 'manoeuvring swine', as Paul once put it.
Faced with John's declaration of intent to leave, the others were stunned. As they had done before, they decided the best course of action was to buy time. John was not in good shape: he was just coming off heroin (he was to record 'Cold Turkey' a week later) and there was always a possibility that a cleaned-up John Lennon might reconsider. For John to leave meant the end of the Beatles. It would have just about been possible to ride out the departure of George or Ringo since the group no longer played live, but the Beatles without John Lennon was inconceivable. At Alien Klein's request it was decided that the best plan of action was to tell no one. They needed timå to think and they all hoped that John might change his mind. It had been known to happen. Abbey Road was released and publicised without a hint of the breakup leaking out.
John, normally the most painfully honest of the Beatles, continued to perpetuate the fiction that the group still existed. In an interview with Rolling Stone in January 1970, four months after he had left the group, John still worded his interviews to give the impression that the group still existed:
RITCHIE YORKE: When you are about to record a new Beatles album, do you feel very excited about it? Does that old excitement still permeate the sessions?
JOHN LENNON: Oh yeah, sure, sure. Everytime you go in the studio you get the whole thing all over ... the nerves and the light goes on and everything. It's still the same battle every time and the same joy.
Anyone who could read between the lines could have deduced that the Beatles no longer existed, but John was the only one giving interviews and wasn't saying it directly. The press preferred to believe the fiction, even though John as good as told them on several occasions. It did seem as though John was still unsure about the breakup. In January 1970 New Musical Express asked him if the Beatles would make another record and he told them:
It just depends how much we all want to record together. I don't know if I want to record together again. I go off and on it... In the old days, when we needed an album, Paul and I got together and produced enough songs for it. Nowadays, there's three of us writing prolifically and trying to fit it all into one album.
We've always said we had fights, it's no news that we argue ... For instance, I don't give a damn about how 'Something' is doing in the charts - I watch 'Come Together' (the flip side) because that's my song. That is why I've started with the Plastic Ono and working with Yoko, to have more outlet. There isn't enough outlet for me in the Beatles. The Ono Band is my escape valve. And how important that gets, as compared to the Beatles for me, I'll have to wait and see.
The one thing that was clear was the Beatles were no longer giving John what he needed from them.
PAUL: The Beatles was a gang, a family, an environment. It was very much a gentlemen's club, all of these things. We were each other's intimates. We knew things about each other that most other people didn't know. For all of us it was a family. I think it broke up because it couldn't give any more as a family. It had given security, warmth, humour, wit, money, fame, but there came a point where it didn't give bizarreness, it didn't give avant-gardeness, it didn't give ultimate spontaneity, it didn't give ultimate flexibility, it didn't give jumping off the cliff! I think for all of us it was a good thing that it broke when it did. But it was possibly the most useful to John. Well, it was John that broke the Beatles up.
Paul told the Evening Standard in April 1970: 'John's in love with Yoko and he's no longer in love with the other three of us.'
This was true, but with hindsight it is possible to look back and see that a graph of John's mental health suggests that far from being a destructive influence on John, it may have been Yoko who saved his life. John's long-term depression, precipitated by the death of Brian Epstein, had culminated in a series of week-long LSD sessions, during which he gobbled pills whenever he showed the slightest sign of coming down. No one had any experience of permanent acid damage at that time but had he not met Yoko, there is strong evidence that John might have joined the ranks of acid casualties such as Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett and Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green. The problem was that shortly after they got together, John got strung out on heroin, which, although it killed the pain and probably did stabilise him mentally for a while, also gave him all the classic behaviour symptoms of a junkie: it made him devious, paranoid and manipulative.
Junk further tested the bonds of the Beatles' friendship and even before John announced his leaving, they were hardly talking to each other. Their supposed disaffection was naturally exploited by the courtiers who whispered and plotted behind their backs, hoping to turn the situation to their advantage.
PAUL: When John and I used to meet during that period, he'd say, 'Do they try and set you against me like they try and set me against you?' And I'd say, 'Yes, often. People'll say, "Oh, did you hear that Lennon threw up before he went on stage in Toronto?'" They'd always tell me the juicy things, in case I wanted to go, 'Did he? What a bastard! Well, serve him right, ha, ha, ha.' We'd hear it just as gossip and derive some petty satisfaction from it, but on a deeper level it was like, 'Yes, but the amount of drugs he was on, he would be throwing up just with the drugs, never mind anything else. He might have tried to not have his heroin that day and I guess you're going to throw up.' The two of them were on heroin, and this was a fairly big shocker for us because we all thought we were far-out boys but we kind of understood that we'd never get quite that far out. I don't think people understand what was happening but there was a lot of affection still.
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