|Paul McCartney Many Years from Now|
by Barry Miles
"I'll give you it as I remember it ... a sequence of things that did all happen within a period. So, it's my recollection of then ..."
"Along the way I'd like to register the fact that John was
great, he was absolutely wonderful and I did love
him, lest it be seen that I'm trying now to do my own kind of
revisionism. He was fabulous, but really all
I'm saying is that I have my side of the affair as well, which
sometimes gets ignored, hence my agreeing to
be part of this book."
-- Paul McCartney
Based on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews undertaken over a period of five years by Barry Miles, and on complete access to McCartney's own archives, this is Paul McCartney in his own words.
It is a history from the inside of one of the greatest song-writing partnerships of the century. It is the private life of a man made public property -- a Beatle -- by the age of twenty-one. It is the trajectory of the most popular pop group in history, from beginnings to break-up. It is the story of the sixties by the man at the centre of the storm. It is music, drugs, women, money, madness, the Maharishi, art, love, peace and bitterness, from beginning to end. It is the story as never told before.
At its centre, of course, is Paul McCartney's relationship with John Lennon -- as friend, collaborator, as part of 'Lennon/McCartney' -- two young guys from Liverpool who went on to change the world -- and finally as bitter rivals in a struggle for the soul and the business control of the Beatles. McCartney recalls the genesis of every song he and Lennon wrote together and talks in fascinating detail about how they worked and who was responsible for which line, which melody.
There have been countless words written and more than a few sung -- about Paul McCartney. Many Years from Now is the book that, at last, sets the record straight.
BARRY MILES (known as Miles) has known Paul McCartney for many years. A co-founder of International Times in the sixties, he set up, with Paul's help, the Indica Bookshop/Gallery, where John and Yoko met in 1966. He subsequently ran Zapple, the spoken-word label of Apple Records. His previous books include a highly praised biography of Allen Ginsberg, and he is currently engaged on books about Jack Kerouac and the Beat Hotel in Paris.
The following is an excerpt from the book Paul
McCartney: Many Years From Now
by Barry Miles
Published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.; 0-8050-5248-8; $27.50US; Nov. 97
Copyright © 1997 Barry Miles
Paul, with Mal Evans, had a relaxing safari in Kenya, visiting the Ambosali Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, and staying at the exclusive Treetops Hotel, where the rooms are built up among the branches of ancient trees. Their final night in Africa was spent at a YMCA in Nairobi before returning to London on 19 November 1966. It was on the flight back that Paul came up with the idea for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
It was a long plane journey but rather than sleep Paul stayed awake writing and playing with ideas. The freedom he had experienced while driving through France in disguise at the beginning of the holiday had given him the idea of creating a new identity for the Beatles: by not being the Fab Four they could try something new, experiments and show the fans that they had grown up.
PAUL: We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that f------ four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men. It was all gone, all that boy s---, all that screaming, we didn't want any more, plus, we'd now got turned on to pot and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers. There was now more to it; not only had John and I been writing, George had been writing, we'd been in films, John had written books, so it was natural that we should become artists.
Then suddenly on the plane I got this idea. I thought, Let's not be ourselves. Let's develop alter egos so we're not having to project an image which we know. It would be much more free. What would really be interesting would be to actually take on the personas of this different band. We could say, 'How would somebody else sing this? He might approach it a bit more sarcastically, perhaps.' So I had this idea of giving the Beatles alter egos simply to get a different approach; then when John came up to the microphone or I did, it wouldn't be John or Paul singing, it would be the members of this band. It would be a freeing element. I thought we can run this philosophy through the whole album: with this alter-ego band, it won't be us making all that sound., it won't be the Beatles, it'll be this other band, so we'll be able to lose our identities in this.
The first thing Paul needed was a name for the Doppelganger-Beatles. This was the heyday of fantastically named groups: the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Lothar and the Hand People, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Precedents for extravagance were not hard to find.
PAUL: Me and Mal often bantered words about which led to the rumour that he thought of the name Sergeant Pepper, but I think it would be much more likely that it was me saying, 'Think of names.' We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked 'S' and 'P'. Mal said, 'What's that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.' We had a joke about that. So I said, 'Sergeant Pepper,' just to, vary it, 'Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,' an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words.
Then, 'Lonely Hearts Club', that's a good one. There's lot of those about, the equivalent of a dating agency now. I just strung those together rather in the way that you might string together Dr Hook and the Medicine Show. All that culture of the sixties going back to those travelling medicine men, Gypsies, it echoed back to the previous century really. I just fantasised, well, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. That'd be crazy enough because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band? If it had been Sergeant Pepper's British Legion Band, that's more understandable. The idea was to be a little more funky, that's what everybody was doing. That was the fashion. The idea was just take any words that would flow. I wanted a string of those things because I thought that would be a natty idea instead of a catchy title. People would have to say, 'What?' We'd had quite a few pun titles - Rubber Soul, Revolver - so this was to get away from all that.
Back in London, Paul put the idea to the other Beatles.
PAUL: They were a bit bemused at first, I think, but they said, 'Yeah, that'll be great.' There wasn't any hard sell needed. Everyone was into it. It was a direction for an album. I had the name so then it was, 'Let's find roles for these people. Let's even get costumes for them for the album cover. Let them all choose what they want.' We didn't go as far as getting names for ourselves, but I wanted a background for the group, so I asked everyone in the group to write down whoever their idols were, whoever you loved. And it got quite funny, footballers: Dixie Dean, who's an old Everton footballer, Billy Liddle's a Liverpool player. The kind of people we'd heard our parents talk about, we didn't really know about people like Dixie Dean. There's a few like that, and then folk heroes like Albert Einstein and Aldous Huxley, all the influences from Indica like William Burroughs, and of course John, the rebel, put in Hitler and Jesus, which EMI wouldn't allow, but that was John. I think John often did that just for effect really. I first of all envisioned a photograph the group just sitting with a line of portraits of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Einstein and everyone around them in a sitting room, and we'd just sit there as a portrait.
We were starting to amass a list of who everybody's favourites were, and I started to get this idea that Beatles were in a park up north somewhere and it was very municipal, it was very council. I like that northern thing very much, which is what we were, where we were from. I had the idea to be in a park and in front of us to have a huge floral clock, which is a big feature of all those parks: Harrogate, everywhere, every park you went into then had a floral clock. We were sitting around talking about it, 'Why do they do a clock made out of flowers?' Very conceptual, it never moves, it just grows and time is therefore nonexistent, but the clock is growing and it was like, 'Wooah! The frozen floral clock.'
So the second phase of the idea was to have these guys in their new identity, in their costumes, being presented with the Freedom of the City or a cup, by the Lord. Mayor in all his regalia, and I thought of it as a town up north, standing on a little rostrum with a few dignitaries and the band, above a floral clock. We always liked to take those ordinary facts of northern working-class life, like the clock, and mystify them and glamorise them and make them into something more magical, more universal. Probably because of the pot. So we would be in presentation mode, very Victorian, which led on from the portrait. When Peter Blake got involved, the portrait idea grew. We had the big list of heroes: maybe they could all be in the crowd at the presentation!
Sgt. Pepper is often described as the first concept album, but it was not initially conceived as such. There was never the intention to make a themed album, a 'northern' album, or present a mini-opera as the Who did later. Though both Rubber Soul and Revolver had experimental tracks, Paul's notion of the group being Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, rather than the four mop tops, liberated the Beatles to range across the musical landscape. Paul: 'With our alter egos we could do a bit of B. B. King, a bit of Stockhausen, a bit of Albert Ayler, a bit of Ravi Shankar, a bit of Pet Sounds, a bit of the Doors; it didn't matter, there was no pigeon-holing like there had been before.' It freed them from their public image and allowed them to take a new, unfettered direction; it gave them the distance necessary to attempt something as extraordinary as 'A Day in the Life'.
Only later in the recording did Neil Aspinall have the idea of repeating the 'Sgt. Pepper' song as a reprise, and the Beatles and George Martin begin to use linking tracks and segues to pull it all together, making it into more of a concept album.
Recording sessions for the Beatles' new album began on 24 November 1966. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane' were the first and third songs completed, with 'When I'm Sixty-Four' in between; but Paul does not remember any overt decision by himself and John to write songs with a northern theme, even though these first two would indicate a concept album along those lines. As it happened, Brian Epstein decided that the Beatles needed a new single and both tracks were pulled for this, though initially the single was to be 'Strawberry Fields Forever' backed with 'When I'm Sixty-Four'. The Beatles' practice at the time was to never put singles on albums.
John wrote 'Strawberry Fields Forever' in Almeria, Spain, while he was filming How I Won the War with Richard Lester. It is a memory song, about the Salvation Army hostel near his home in Liverpool.
PAUL: I've seen Strawberry Fields described as a dull, grimy place next door to him that John imagined to be a beautiful place, but in the summer it wasn't dull and grimy at all: it was a secret garden. John's memory of it wasn't to do with the fact that it was a Salvation Army home; that was up at the house. There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn't manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in. The bit he went into was a secret garden like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and he thought of it like that, it was a little hide-away for him where he could maybe have a smoke, live in his dreams a little, so it was a get-away. It was an escape for John.
Perhaps inspired by John's nostalgia, Paul then wrote 'Penny Lane':
I think we wrote them round about the same time, we were often answering each other's songs so it might well have been my version of a memory song but I don't recall. It was childhood reminiscences: there is a bus stop called Penny Lane. There was a barber shop called Bioletti's with head shots of the haircuts you can have in the window and I just took it all and arted it up a little bit to make it sound like he was having a picture exhibition in his window. It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain. The fire station was a bit of poetic licence; there's a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line 'It's a clean machine'. I still like that as a phrase, you occasionally hit a lucky little phrase and it becomes more than a phrase. So the banker and the barber shop and the fire station were all real locations.
There is 'a shelter in the middle of the roundabout' at Smithdown Place, known to the locals as the Penny Lane Roundabout, where Church Road meets Smithdown Road. It is now occupied by a cafe, but was then used as a place to meet people or shelter while waiting for a bus.
PAUL: John and I would often meet at Penny Lane. That was where someone would stand and sell you poppies each year on British Legion poppy day; where John and I would put a shilling in the can and get ourselves a poppy. That was a memory. We fantasised the nurse selling poppies from a tray, which Americans used to think was puppies! Which again is an interesting image. I was a choirboy at a church opposite called St Barnabas so it had a lot of associations for me.
When I came to write it, John came over and helped me with the third verse, as often was the case. We were writing childhood memories: recently faded memories from eight or ten years before, so it was a recent nostalgia, pleasant memories for both of us. All the places were still there, and because we remembered it so clearly we could have gone on.
On the corner of Smithdown Place, next to the bank, stood the showroom of photographer Albert Marrion, who took the first official portraits of the Beatles -- chosen by Brian Epstein because he had done the pictures for Clive Epstein's wedding. The window displayed formal portraits, including one mounted artistically upon an easel. Paul: 'I often used to stop in front of Albert Marrion's, who did high-class photography and wedding photos; we once had our picture taken by him, so there could have been a fourth verse about a photographer, but the song was finished before we needed any more characters. Penny Lane was a place with a lot of character and a lot of characters, good material for writing.'
Paul wrote 'Penny Lane' in the music room at Cavendish Avenue, on the piano which had recently been painted with its psychedelic rainbow by David Vaughan. In December 1966, about the same time as he delivered the piano, Vaughan asked Paul if he would contribute some music for a couple of Carnival of Light Raves that Binder, Edwards and Vaughan were promoting at the Roundhouse as part of their idea of bringing art to the community, in this case in the form of light shows, experimental music and films. David: 'I asked Paul to do it and I thought he would make more of it than he did, I thought this was a vehicle for him, if anything was. My trouble is, I expect everybody to drop everything. I forget other people have got things on.'
Amazingly, perhaps, Paul agreed to make a contribution, despite being in the middle of the recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper. So it was that on 5 January, after overdubbing a vocal on 'Penny Lane', the Beatles under Paul's direction freaked out at Abbey Road, producing an experimental tape just under fourteen minutes long. The tape has no rhythm, though a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding on the piano. There is no melody, though snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through. The Beatles make literally random sounds, although they sometimes respond to each other; for instance, a burst of organ notes answered by a rattle of percussion. The basic track was recorded slow so that some of the drums and organ were very deep and sonorous, like the bass notes of a cathedral organ. Much of it is echoed and it is often hard to tell if you are listening to a slowed-down cymbal or a tubular bell. John and Paul yell with massive amounts of reverb on their voices, there are Indian war cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation, ending with Paul asking, with echo, 'Can we hear it back now?' The tape was obviously overdubbed and has bursts of feedback guitar, schmaltzy cinema organ, snatches of jangling pub piano, some unpleasant electronic feedback and John yelling, 'Electricity.' There is a great deal of percussion throughout, again much of it overdubbed. The tape was made with full stereo separation, and is essentially an exercise in musical layers and textures. It most resembles 'The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet', the twelve-minute final track on Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music here is more fragmented, abstract and serious. The deep organ notes at the beginning of the piece set the tone as slow and contemplative.
DAVID: That organ is exactly how I used to see him. I used to picture him as a maniac from the seventeenth century: one of those brilliant composers who'd suddenly been reincarnated into this century, let loose with modern technology. A lot of people thought Paul McCartney was shallow. I didn't see him as that at all, I saw him as very very deep. He had this open fire with a big settee in front of it, there would be no lights on, and he'd be playing music at top volume. I used to sit there watching him for hours. I think that's the real him; this real deep, dark ... I thought, Who knows what he could do if they'd leave him alone for a bit? Because he could absorb a lot without encountering any mental block, he could express that Machiavellian, European horror.
The sleeve was beginning to come together in Paul's head so he wrote a song to go with it, once more using the north as a jumping-off point. Paul: 'I started writing the song: "It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play ..." Okay, so I was leading myself into a story. What was this about? Well, he's some guy, then, and I always imagined him as associated with a brass band; we've always liked brass bands. So again it was northern memories.' 'Sgt. Pepper' was Paul's song, with little or no input from John. It acted as an overture to the album and, by announcing Ringo as Billy Shears, introduced the notion that the members of Sergeant Pepper's band were alter egos for the Beatles, something that was not followed through overtly in the rest of the album.
'With a Little Help from My Friends' was tailored specifically for Ringo.
PAUL: This was written out at John's house in Weybridge for Ringo; we always liked to do one for him and it had to be not too much like our style. I think that was probably the best of the songs we wrote for Ringo actually. He was to be a character in this operetta, this whole thing that we were doing, so this gave him a good intro, wherever he came in the album; in fact it was the second track. It was a nice place for him, but wherever it came, it gave us an intro. Again, because it was the pot era, we had to slip in a little reference: 'I get high!'
It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job. I always saw those as the equivalent of writing a James Bond film theme. It was a challenge, it was something out of the ordinary for us because we actually had to write in a key for Ringo and you had to be a little tongue in cheek. Ringo liked kids a lot, he was very good with kids so we knew 'Yellow Submarine' would be a good thing for Ringo to sing. In this case, it was a slightly more mature song, which I always liked very much. I remember giggling with John as we wrote the lines 'What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know it's mine.' It could have been him playing with his willie under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level; this was what it meant but it was a nice way to say it, a very non-specific way to say it. I always liked that.
'With a Little Help from My Friends' was picked up by Denny Cordell and Joe Cocker. Joe was sitting on the outside toilet at his parents' house at Tasker Road, Sheffield, when he got the idea of performing the song as a waltz, full-blown, anthemic, a celebration of sixties ideas of communalism, peace and smoking dope. It became his best-known song as well as his first big hit.
PAUL: Denny Cordell gave me a ring and said, 'We love that song that Ringo sings but we've got this treatment of it that we really think would be great, singing it very bluesy, very crazy, slow it right down.' I said, 'Well, great, try it, and let me hear what you do with it.' He came over to see us at Apple studios at Savile Row and played it and I said, 'Wow, fantastic!' They'd done a really radical treatment of it and it's been Joe's staple diet for many a year. Then it was taken on by John Belushi, who used to do a Cocker impression, and so taken even further by Belushi, so it has good memories, that song. It became the theme tune to the very good American series about growing up in the sixties called The Wonder Years, so it's been picked up and used a lot, that song, but it really started just as a co-written song crafted for Ringo.
'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was one of the fastest songs on the album to record: one day to record the backing tracks, one to overdub the instrumentals and vocals, and a final day to mix. It was also one of the most controversial tracks because, unbeknown to the Beatles at the time, the title contained the initials 'LSD', resulting in it being banned from many airwaves around the world. Certainly the song was about acid, but the reference in the title was unintentional.
PAUL: I went up to John's house in Weybridge. When I arrived we were having a cup of tea, and he said, 'Look at this great drawing Julian's done. Look at the title!' He showed me a drawing on school paper, a five-by-seven-inch piece of paper, of a little girl with lots of stars, and right across the top there was written, in very neat child handwriting, I think in pencil, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' ' So I said, 'What's that mean?', thinking, Wow, fantastic title! John said, 'It's Lucy, a friend of his from school. And she's in the sky.' Julian had drawn stars, and then he thought they were diamonds. They were child's stars, there's a way to draw them with two triangles, but he said diamonds because they can be interpreted as diamonds or stars. And we loved it and she was in the sky and it was very trippy to us. So we went upstairs and started writing it. People later thought 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was LSD. I swear we didn't notice that when it came out, in actual fact, if you want to be pedantic you'd have to say it is LITSWD, but of course LSD is a better story.
The title lettering was probably written out in copybook child script by Julian's teacher, since Julian was only four years old. The picture was of Lucy O'Donnell, the little girl who sat next to him in one of the old-fashioned school desks at Heath House School, a private nursery in Weybridge.
John said that the psychedelic imagery was inspired by the 'Wool and Water' chapter of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: '... she found they were in a little boat, gliding along between banks: so there was nothing for it but to do her best.' It also captures the languid shifting imagery of the book's final poem:
A boat, beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --
PAUL: John had the title and he had the first verse. It started off very Alice in Wonderland: 'Picture yourself in a boat, on the river ' It's very Alice. Both of us had read the Alice books and always referred to them, we were always talking about 'Jabberwocky' and we knew those more than any other books really. And when psychedelics came in, the heady quality of them was perfect. So we just went along with it. I sat there and wrote it with him: I offered 'cellophane flowers' and 'newspaper taxis' and John replied with 'kaleidoscope eyes'. I remember which was which because we traded words off each other, as we always did ... And in our mind it was an Alice thing, which both of us loved.
The Beatles' biographer Hunter Davies recounts that he was with Paul while he walked his dog Martha on Primrose Hill, near Paul's home in St John's Wood in the spring of 1967, when Paul remembered the phrase 'It's getting better' that Jimmy Nichol used to use all the time. (Nichol was the drummer who had taken Ringo's place for five days in Denmark and Australia in 1964 when Ringo was ill.) By the time John arrived for a writing session, Paul had the music to accompany the song title. Paul doesn't remember the moment the idea occurred.
PAUL: I just remember writing it. Ideas are ideas, you don't always remember where you had them, but what you do remember is writing them. Where I start remembering it is where I actually hit chords and discover the music, that's where my memory starts to kick in because that's the important bit; the casual thought that set it off isn't too important to me.
'Getting Better' I wrote on my magic Binder, Edwards and Vaughan piano in my music room. It had a lovely tone, that piano, you'd just open the lid and there was such a magic tone, almost out of tune, and of course the way it was painted added to the fun of it all. It's an optimistic song. I often try and get on to optimistic subjects in an effort to cheer myself up and also, realising that other people are going to hear this, to cheer them up too. And this was one of those. The 'angry young man' and all that was John and I filling in the verses about schoolteachers. We shared a lot of feelings against teachers who had punished you too much or who hadn't understood you or who had just been bastards generally. So there are references to them.
It's funny, I used to to think of the bad grammar coming from Chuck Berry but it's actually more Jamaican, like writing in slang. It just appeared in one of the verses, it felt nice, it scanned nicely, rather than 'I used to be an angry young man', 'me used ...' We'd always grab at those things, lots of precedents with Elvis, 'ain't never done no wrong'. At school the teachers would have said, 'Isn't it terrible grammar?' and you'd say, 'Yeah, isn't it great?'
There is an account of the writing of 'Getting Better' which mistakenly has Paul sitting in the studio, singing 'It's getting better all the time' and John bursts in and responds with the line 'Couldn't get much worse'. In fact, Paul and John rarely took unfinished songs to the studio; though they sometimes used expensive studio time for rehearsal, they would not have kept the other members of the group and the engineering staff waiting while they finished a song. The story is a conflation of two separate events: John and Paul writing 'Getting Better' at Cavendish Avenue, and a much later recording session for the song 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' at Abbey Road. Paul described with relish how John came up with the sarcastic rejoinder as they added the words to Paul's music at Cavendish Avenue.
I was sitting there doing 'Getting better all the time' and John just said in his laconic way, 'It couldn't get no worse,' and I thought, Oh, brilliant! This is exactly why I love writing with John. He'd done it on a number of other occasions, he does a Greek chorus thing on 'She's Leaving Home', he just answers. It was one of the ways we'd write. I'd have the song quite mapped out and he'd come in with a counter-melody, so it was a simple ordinary story.
The part of the story where John bursts into the studio occurred during the recording of the White Album, when John arrived late at Abbey Road as Paul was running through 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' on the guitar with the others. John ran in, threw himself down in front of the piano, asked which key they were in and immediately began pounding out the aggressive piano line that gave the final recording its energy. Paul: 'That became the song, and we all went, "Oh yeah!"' Another inaccurate but frequently told story is that 'Fixing a Hole' was about heroin. This track is actually about marijuana. Like 'Got to Get You into My Life', it is described by Paul as 'another ode to pot', the drug that got him out of the rut of everyday consciousness and gave him the freedom to explore.
PAUL: 'Fixing' later became associated with fixing heroin but at that time I didn't associate it really. I know a lot of heroin people thought that was what it meant because that's exactly what you do, fix in a hole. It's not my meaning at all. 'Fixing a Hole' was about all those pissy people who told you, 'Don't daydream, don't do this, don't do that.' It seemed to me that that was all wrong and that it was now time to fix all of that. Mending was my meaning. Wanting to be free enough to let my mind wander, let myself be artistic, let myself not sneer at avant-garde things. It was the idea of me being on my own now, able to do what I want. If I want I'll paint the room in a colourful way. I'm fixing the hole, I'm fixing the crack in the door, I won't allow that to happen any more, I'll take hold of my life a bit more. It's all okay, I can do what I want and I'm going to set about fixing things. I was living now pretty much on my own in Cavendish Avenue, and enjoying my freedom and my new house and the salon-ness of it all. It's pretty much my song, as I recall. I like the double meaning of 'If I'm wrong I'm right where I belong'.
The funny thing about that was the night when we were going to record it, at Regent Sound Studios at Tottenham Court Road. I brought a guy who was Jesus. A guy arrived at my front gate and I said 'Yes? Hello' because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, 'Sorry, no,' and they generally went away. This guy said, 'I'm Jesus Christ.' I said, 'Oop,' slightly shocked. I said, 'Well, you'd better come in then.' I thought, Well, it probably isn't. But if he is, I'm not going to be the one to turn him away. So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, 'Why do you think you are Jesus?' There were a lot of casualties about then. We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional breakdowns or whatever. So I said, 'I've got to go to a session but if you promise to be very quiet and just sit in a corner, you can come.' So he did, he came to the session and he did sit very quietly and I never saw him after that. I introduced him to the guys. They said, 'Who's this?' I said, 'He's Jesus Christ.' We had a bit of a giggle over that.
Most books about the Beatles' songs attribute 'Fixing a Hole' to Paul doing a bit of do-it-yourself to the roof of his Scottish farmhouse, but this is not the case. Paul; 'It was much later that I ever got round to fixing the roof on the Scottish farm, I never did any of that till I met Linda. People just make it up! They know I've got a farm, they know it has a roof, they know I might be given to handyman tendencies so it's a very small leap for mankind ... to make up the rest of the story.'
On 27 February 1967, the Daily Mail newspaper ran a story headlined 'A-Level Girl Dumps Car and Vanishes'. Seventeen-yearold Melanie Coe, studying for her A-level examinations at Skinner's Grammar School in Stamford Hill, London, ran away from home leaving behind a mink coat, diamond rings and her own car. 'I cannot imagine why she should run away, she has everything here,' her father was quoted as saying.
PAUL: John and I wrote 'She's Leaving Home' together. It was my inspiration. We'd seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who'd left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up and then ... It was rather poignant. I like it as a song, and when I showed it to John, he added the Greek chorus, long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our songwriting we would have changed chords but it stays on the C chord. It really holds you. It's a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well.
While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents' view: 'We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.' I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents. Then there's the famous little line about a man from the motor trade; people have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom, but it was just fiction, like the sea captain in 'Yellow Submarine', they weren't real people.
George Harrison said once he could only write songs from his personal experience, but they don't have to exist for me. The feeling of them is enough. The man from the motor trade was just a typical sleazy character, the kind of guy that could pull a young bird by saying, 'Would you like a ride in my car, darlin'?' Nice plush interior, that's how you pulled birds. So it was just a little bit of sleaze. It was largely mine, with help from John.
This was the first Beatles track arranged by someone other than George Martin. Paul was getting very keen on the possibilities of orchestral settings and felt that 'She's Leaving Home' would be best suited by this type of arrangement.
PAUL: I rang George Martin and said, 'I'm really on to this song, George. I want to record it next week.' I'm really hot to record it, I've got one of those 'I've got to go, I've got to go!' feelings and when you get them, you don't want anything to stop you, you feel like if you lose this impetus, you'll lose something valuable. So I rang him and I said, 'I need you to arrange it.' He said, 'I'm sorry, Paul, I've got a Cilla session.' And I thought, f------ hell! After all this time working together, he ought to put himself out. It was probably unreasonable to expect him to. Anyway, I said, 'Well, fine, thanks George,' but I was so hot to trot that I called Mike Leander, another arranger. I got him to come over to Cavendish Avenue and I showed him what I wanted, strings, and he said, 'Leave it with me.' It is one of the first times I actually let anyone arrange something and then reviewed it later, which I don't like as a practice. It's much easier if I just stay with them. Anyway he took it away, did it, and George Martin was very hurt, apparently. Extremely hurt, but of course I was hurt that he didn't have time for me but he had time for Cilla.
In his book George Martin wrote, 'I couldn't understand why he was so impatient all of a sudden. It obviously hadn't occurred to him that I would be upset.'
Paul: 'It didn't work out badly. I don't like the echo on the harp, but that must be George rather than Mike Leander, or, to give him his due, it might have been one of us saying, "Stick some echo on that harp." You just can't tell.'
'She's Leaving Home' became one of the best loved and most moving songs the Beatles ever did. Oddly enough, the Beatles do not play on the song at all, just as they didn't on 'Yesterday'. 'She's Leaving Home' was sung by Paul and John with nothing but a string backing: a harp, four violins, two violas, two cellos and a double bass. The lyrics struck a particular chord at a time when unprecedented numbers of young people were running away from home, heading for communes and squats, setting up home together with lovers, going on the hippie trail. In the USA especially, tens of thousands were taking Timothy Leary's advice and 'turning on, tuning in and dropping out', heading for Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, New York's Lower East Side, West Hollywood and Venice, wherever the bohemian quarter, looking for alternatives to the materialism their parents' generation offered.
'Being for the benefit of Mr Kite!' was taken almost entirely from a Victorian circus poster. The poster, advertising a performance by Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal to be held at the Town Meadows, Rochdale, on 14 February 1843, was bought by John from an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent, when the Beatles were filming a promotional clip for 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on 31 January 1967. All the main characters of the song feature on the poster: for example, Mr Henderson, who announced his intention to leap 'through a hogshead of real fire ... Mr H. challenges the World!' The evening was advertised as 'Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite'.
PAUL: 'Mr Kite' was a poster that John had in his house in Weybridge. I arrived there for a session one day and he had it up on the wall in his living room. It was all there, the trampoline, the somersets, the hoops, the garters, the horse. It was Pablo Fanque's fair, and it said 'being for the benefit of Mr Kite'; almost the whole song was written right off this poster. We just sat down and wrote it. We pretty much took it down word for word and then just made up some little bits and pieces to glue it together. It was more John's because it was his poster so he ended up singing it, but it was quite a co-written song. We were both sitting there to write it at his house, just looking at it on the wall in the living room. But that was nice, it wrote itself very easily. Later George Martin put a fairground sound on it.
The fairground sound, suggested by John, was a brilliant piece of production work on George Martin's part. George had an enormous amount of experience using sound effects, most of it predating the Beatles, but in this instance he took a leaf out of their book. Using the same random principles that Paul had used in selecting the loop tapes for 'Tomorrow Never Knows', he made a tape up in the William Burroughs-Brion Gysin tradition. He described the event in Summer of Love, his account of the making of Sgt. Pepper. Taking a collection of steam organ recordings, he instructed the tape operator Geoff Emerick to transfer them all on to one tape:
'Geoff,' I said, 'we're going to try something here; I want you to cut that tape there up into sections that are roughly fifteen inches long.' Geoff reached for the scissors and began snipping.
In no time at all we had a small pyramid of worm-like tape fragments piled up on the floor at our feet. 'Now,' I said, 'pick them all up and fling them into the air!' He looked at me. Naturally, he thought I'd gone mad ...
'Now, pick 'em up and put them together again, and don't look at what you're doing,' I told Geoff ... When I listened to them, they formed a chaotic mass of sound ... it was unmistakably a steam organ. Perfect! There was the fairground atmosphere we had been looking for. John was thrilled to bits with it.
Paul originally wrote the tune for 'When I'm Sixty-Four' when he was sixteen in Liverpool and revived it for the album.
PAUL: 'When I'm Sixty-Four' was a case of me looking for stuff to do for Pepper. I thought it was a good little tune but it was too vaudevillian, so I had to get some cod lines to take the sting out of it, and put the tongue very firmly in cheek. 'Will you still need me?' is still a love song. 'Will you still look after me?', okay, but 'Will you still feed me?' goes into Goon Show humour. I mean, imagine having three kids called Vera, Chuck and Dave! It was very tongue in cheek and that to me is the attraction of it. I liked 'indicate precisely what ...' I like words that are exact, that you might find on a form. It's a nice phrase, it scans.
It's pretty much my song. I did it in rooty-tooty variety style. George Martin in his book says that I had it speeded up because I wanted to appear younger but I think that was just to make it more rooty-tooty; just lift the key because it was starting to sound a little turgid. George helped me on a clarinet arrangement. I would specify the sound and I love clarinets so 'Could we have a clarinet quartet?' 'Absolutely.' I'd give him a fairly good idea of what I wanted and George would score it because I couldn't do that. He was very helpful to us. Of course, when George Martin was sixty-four I had to send him a bottle of wine.
Next up was 'Lovely Rita', one of Paul's fantasy stories.
PAUL: 'Lovely Rita' was occasioned by me reading that in America they call traffic wardens 'meter maids', and I thought, God, that's 'so American! Also to me 'maid' had sexual connotations, like a French maid or a milkmaid, there's something good about 'maid', and 'meter' made it a bit more official, like the meter in a cab; the meter is running, meter maid. Hearing that amused me. In England you hear those American phrases and they enter our vocabulary. We let them in because we're amused, it's not because we love them or want to use them, it's just because it's funny. 'Rita' was the only name I could think of that would rhyme with it so I started on that, Rita, meter maid, lovely Rita. And I just fantasised on the idea.
Paul wrote the words while walking near his brother Michael's house in Gayton, in the Wirral near Liverpool, which looks out over the estuary of the River Dee to Holywell in Wales.
PAUL: I remember one night just going for a walk and working on the words as I walked. This was about the time that parking meters were coming in; before that we'd been able to park freely, so people had quite an antagonistic feeling towards these people. I'd been nicked a lot for parking so the fun was to imagine one of them was a bit of a easy lay, 'Come back to my place, darlin'.' It somehow made them a figure of fun instead of a figure of terror and it was a way of getting me own back.
It wasn't based on a real person but, as often happened, it was claimed by a girl called Rita who was a traffic warden who apparently did give me a ticket, so that made the newspapers. I think it was more a question of coincidence: anyone called Rita who gave me a ticket would naturally think, 'It's me!' I didn't think, Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I'll write a song about her -- never happened like that.
The parking-meter warden was actually named Meta Davies, who claimed, several years after the album was released, that she had just completed a parking ticket for Paul's car, parked somewhere near his house in St John's Wood, when he appeared. She had signed with her full name and he asked if her name was really Meta and told her it would be a good name for a song. Though not Rita, the combination of Meta and 'meter' may have provided an unconscious spark of an idea. There is also the possibility that the song was already written and Paul was just being friendly.
They began work on John's 'Good Morning' on 8 February, but continued to fiddle with it until the very last. The animal effects were not added until 28 March and the final mixing did not take place until mid-April. It is a song about suburban torpor.
PAUL: This is largely John's song. John was feeling trapped in suburbia and was going through some problems with Cynthia. It was about his boring life at the time, there's a reference in the lyrics to 'nothing to do' and 'meet the wife'; there was an afternoon TV soap called Meet the Wife that John watched, he was that bored, but I think he was also starting to get alarm bells and so 'Good morning, good morning'.
The title line itself was taken from a Kelloggs Cornflakes television advertisement. John's inspiration usually came from events in his life but his life had become so circumscribed that suburban lassitude and watching a lot of TV had become his main source of stimulation.
PAUL: When we came to record it we used Sounds Incorporated to do a big sax thing; they were friends of ours who had been on tour with us. But we still felt it needed something more manic so we decided to use a lot of sound effects on the fade. The great thing about working at EMI Abbey Road was that anything you needed was within reasonably easy reach. EMI was so multidimensional they had everything covered and we took advantage of all this. We used Daniel Barenboim's piano that he'd just recorded on; they would sometimes lock it but we would just ask, 'Can you unlock it?' and they'd say, 'Sure.' That was used on the big chord at the end of 'A Day in the Life'. There were so many grand pianos laying around, there were Hammond organs, there were harmoniums, there were celestes, and there was a sound-effects cupboard which they used for doing plays and spoken-word albums. George Martin said, 'There is a library, what do you want?' and we said, 'What have you got?' so we got the catalogue. 'Right, elephants, cock-crowing, the hunt going tally-ho, we'll have that ...'
The sound effects added to 'Good Morning, Good Morning' were taken from the EMI sound-effects tapes 'Volume 35: Animals and Bees' and 'Volume 57: Fox-hunt', each placed, at John's insistence, in order of ability to eat, or at least frighten, its predecessor.
Sound effects were also put to good use in the 'Sgt. Pepper' title song., where audience applause and laughter were overdubbed to give the impression of a live performance.
PAUL: We had an audience laughing on the front of 'Sgt. Pepper'. It had always been one of my favourite moments; I'd listened to radio a lot as a kid, and there had always been a moment in a radio show, say with somebody like Tommy Cooper, where he would walk on stage and he'd say hello, and they'd laugh, and he'd tell a joke, and they'd laugh, and there would always be a moment in these things, because it was live radio, where he wouldn't say anything, and the audience would laugh. And my imagination went wild whenever that happened. I thought, What is it? Has he dropped his trousers? Did he do a funny look? I had to know what had made 'em laugh. It fascinated me so much, and I'd always remembered that, so when we did 'Pepper' there's one of those laughs for nothing in there, just where Billy Shears is being introduced they all just laugh., and you don't know what the audience has laughed at.
The audience track came from a 1961 live recording George Martin made of a performance of Beyond the Fringe, a comedy revue starring Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. Paul: 'We sat through hours of tapes, just giggling, it was just hilarious listening to an audience laugh. It was a great thing to do actually.' The orchestra tuning up, used on the same track, was a recording of the musicians preparing for 'A Day in the Life'.
Copyright © 1997 Barry Miles
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