Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Beatles - The Final Days

The last time all four Beatles were together at EMI Studios at Abbey Road was on August 20, 1969 to finish the Abbey Road album.  But, as we have already seen, there were in 1970 four more Beatles recording sessions with least one or three Beatles in attendance to tie up the loose ends of Let It Be.
On April 1, 1970, Phil Spector oversaw in Abbey Road's cavernous Studio One the very last recording session for a Beatles record before the breakup was made official, which involved overdubbing an orchestra on three of the Let It Be album's songs, all but one of them having actually not been recorded during the January 1969 sessions from which the album was conceived.  This fourth Beatles recording session of 1970 featured one Beatle - Ringo (below, in 1970), who played drums on all three songs along with the orchestra.
Again, the three songs in question were John Lennon's song "Across the Universe," George Harrison's "I Me Mine," and, the only song from the January 1969 tapes involved here,  Paul McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road."  The results were quite telling; the former two songs benefited from Spector's orchestral overdubs, while "The Long and Winding Road" suffered tragically.  The difference was likely due to the fact that the former two songs had been professionally recorded from the start, while "The Long and Winding Road" was recorded live in a makeshift studio and had deliberately been stripped down.  The take of "The Long and Winding Road" that was used, from January 26, 1969, wasn't the best take the Beatles had recorded - the definitive version was probably the one recorded five days after as seen in the Let It Be movie - but it was by no means in need of lavish overdubbing.  Listening to Spector's version of the earlier take and then listening the overdub-free version of that same take, issued in 1996 on Anthology 3, is like looking at a picture of a beautiful woman wearing elaborate makeup and then seeing a picture of the same woman with her plain face; you're more drawn to the natural beauty of the plain version.
Be that as it may, Spector certainly put his stamp on the three songs he overdubbed.  "Across the Universe" was the most successful example; he took the recording used for the remix that had appeared on the World Wildlife Fund charity album and slowed it down to make John's voice sound more natural, omitting the wildlife sound effects from the earlier remix and adding the orchestra and a choir of fourteen vocalists with great subtlety.  His work on "I Me Mine" was also impressive, extending the song's length by 51 seconds and giving the song a greater sense of urgency and drama with the orchestra and choir.  His overdub on "The Long and Winding Road," though, was pure Mantovani, the sort of "beautiful music" associated with doctors' offices and dinner with your grandparents.  Spector didn't arrange these songs himself - he gave that honor to Richard Hewson, who, ironically, arranged the McCartney-produced Mary Hopkin single "Those Were the Days" - but the sonic equality more than lived up to Phil's "wall of sound" technique.
This session presented numerous problems, most of which were Spector's doing.  While most producers map out the way a record will sound only when the basic tracks are recorded, Spector wanted to hear the final product as it was being recorded, which led to him making numerous demands; he failed to grasp that Abbey Road was not equipped for his unorthodox method.  Ringo, using his status as a Beatle, took him aside and calmed him down.  Spector's biggest mistake, however, was to try to pull a fast one by giving the musicians three musical parts when they were only booked for and paid for two.  The con job failed, and the musicians walked out.  Engineer Peter Bown went home, and Spector conceded.  The musicians got their extra payment, and Bown was called back to help finish the session.  Noting that the session happened to be on April Fool's Day, Bown would later say that Spector's deception was "one April Fool's joke which did not come off."
In all, Spector's overdub session cost £1,126 and 5/ - more than twice the cost of recording Please Please Me, the album Let It Be was intended to emulate.  In 2020 American money, that price for the overdubs comes to $21,638.86.
The next day, Spector and Bown remixed the newly overdubbed songs - the seventh and final session for assembling Let It Be - and Spector quickly informed the Beatles that the record was done and awaiting their approval.  John, George, and Ringo approved it.  Though Paul McCartney also approved the album in order to facilitate its scheduled May release, he was disgusted with Spector's work on one song in particular - no prizes for guessing which one - and by now he had had enough.
On April 9, 1970, after having spent the past seven months trying to keep the group together, Paul sent out a press release announcing his departure from the Beatles.
To be continued . . .

1 comment:

Gary D. said...

Paul left a band that was no longer a band. The careerist Beatle never "left" The Beatles. The Beatles left him.