Early Nineteen Seventy-Something Pt. 1
The making of Come and Get It, the last Beatles album that never was…
A two-part series of the special kind of lunacy that sets in with avid mix tape/CD makers. What if the Beatles had made one more album? What would it sound like?
In December 1970, Paul McCartney had his Liverpool pals served with notice that he was legally severing the Beatles’ partnership. The following several years were full of legal wrangling, name calling in the press, secret messages on record, and a lot of really good music from the newly solo Beatles.
From that December in 1970 until that December in 1980 when John Lennon was killed in New York City, Beatle fans wondered if they’d reunite and if they did, what would another Beatles record be like? What if the Beatles, unsatisfied with Let it Be as their final statement as a band, regrouped to have a proper send off? Obviously, we’ll never know for sure, but we do have an idea of what that last album could have been by culling tracks from early solo records.
I first got the idea about a year ago when I stumbled across a conversation on the Mojo bulletin boards. It was a heated discussion of what tracks from the solo albums of John, Paul, George, and Ringo would make up subsequent “fantasy” Beatle albums. Now, this is the rock geek equivalent of fan fiction and the devotion and arguments for or against certain tracks can get surreal.
• You can’t pick “Instant Karma” because John demoed that with the band and it was rejected.
• John would never sign off on Paul’s “Dear Boy,” an obvious reference to Lennon’s divorce from the more palatable Cynthia to marry the universally despised Yoko!
It goes on and on like this. You half expect William Shatner to bust in and plead for these people to Get a Life!
Ah, but we are geeks after all and geeks obsess. It is what defines us.
Every good mix has a common theme and parameters. I had the theme, so I had to establish the parameters of my fantasy mix. Some of the really nutty fans—you know, the ones you see at Beatlefest dressed up like Stu Sutcliffe or posing with cardboard cutouts of the Sgt. Pepper cover—go into painstaking detail justifying their selections and some go to incredible lengths developing not one fantasy album, but enough to bring us through to Lennon’s death.
But I am not that loony. No sir, I have a job and a lovely gal at home and things to do! I just needed an excuse to put some of my favorite solo material on one glorious mix. I limited myself to the first two solo albums and selected demos from the Beatles’ Anthology 3. That would represent the band around the time of the break-up and provide a cohesive sound—that special production style that bands have been trying to reproduce for over 30 years—that the Beatles developed together and brought with them to their first tentative steps as solo artists.
I also did not want to create a Greatest Hits album. Mainly because my favorite tracks from the solo years were not hits but also because I wanted songs I thought would make it through the selection committee of Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starkey. I even struggled over whether I would include Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song so revered, so masterfully crafted, and so unmercifully overplayed that it now gets on my nerves. Not to fear Beatlegeeks, in the end my own reverence for the song and its absolute Beatle-ness won out.
I had my parameters set and sat down at my Hi-Fi and dug into the solo years to create the lost Beatles album.
Come and Get It
Years ago I swore to God I’d heard a version of Paul McCartney singing “Day After Day.” In fact, I was sure that it was actually written by Macca, even after I knew it was a Badfinger song. As it turns out, Badfinger’s Pete Ham wrote the song but the sound of Paul singing it still haunts me. While “Day After Day” is an expert counterfeit of McCartney’s songwriting style and voice, it’s another Badfinger song that has Sir Paul’s prints all over it.
The opening track of my mix was easiest to pick. Paul demoed “Come and Get It” in the studio before handing it off to Badfinger, the band Apple Records had recently signed, who made it a hit and subsequently had rumors surrounding them that they were in fact the Beatles under a different name. The song is classic McCartney and a shoe-in for the opening track of a Beatles album. While Badfinger was a good imitation of the Beatles, here on Anthology 3 was a version of the song with an actual Beatle singing. It’s also catchy, simple and slightly rockin’; three elements that would likely satisfy all four Beatles and the accountants who would be counting on a hit for the sinking Apple records.
I was off to a roaring start. “This is so fucking easy,” I thought to myself. I mean, come on, it’s the Beatles. How hard can it be to round up one CDR’s worth of songs? And that’s the problem. The volume of material is daunting. Strike that—the volume of GREAT material is daunting. We’re talking about two albums from four individuals who were in the greatest band of all time during the peak of their creative abilities! How do you whittle it all down to one album!? Panic was setting in. I poured myself a tall screwdriver (equal parts vodka and OJ). I was going to wrestle this four-headed monster down to the Very Best, again without being a Greatest Hits…oh, you get it.
Here are the albums I had to work with:
Ringo: Blast from Your Past (a Greatest Hits collection from the 70s)
The Beatles: Anthology 3
So, I have John’s most personal and harrowing album (Plastic Ono Band), Paul’s most musically and lyrically adventurous from any point in his career (Ram), George’s three-record masterpiece (All Thing Must Pass), and Ringo’s greatest hits package—a CD that boasts three top ten hits and a variety of tracks featuring other Beatles. Plus I have the other albums, which happens to include Lennon’s most critically acclaimed and publicly canonized recording, Imagine.
From Anthology, I knew “Come and Get It” would lead off. Like I said, that was easy. I also knew that George’s “Not Guilty” would make the cut, not like when it was omitted from the White Album. How that ever happened, I’ll never understand. “Not Guilty” has so many elements that make George’s songs so uniquely his: snide, funny lyrics; killer guitar solo; spooky production; and George’s northern soul voice with more than a hint of Liverpool accent to keep it Beatle-y.
That took care of Anthology. Those two songs were the most completed and least known of the entire set. Now, onto the solo albums.
I started with Plastic Ono Band. So many great songs that on first glance I thought the whole album would end up in the mix. It also happens to be my favorite solo record of the bunch. But Plastic Ono Band is also the least Beatle sounding album of any of the solo albums. Even John’s voice and writing style was completely different from the songs he’d recorded with the Beatles for Abbey Road just months before, and this is a Beatles mix after all. Eventually only three songs from John’s amazing solo debut made my mix: “Isolation,” “God” (I’ll get to my thinking on this controversial track), and “Working Class Hero.”
“Isolation” and “Working Class Hero” sound like they could have been on the White Album with John just starting to articulate his JohnYoko ideals of oneness and also thinking about social politics. More importantly, I could hear how the other Beatles may have played on these songs (barring “Working Class Hero,” which is perfect as an acoustic solo piece), and that established my unwritten rule for the rest of the track selections.
I had to be able to hear how the song would sound with the other Beatles’ input. Some tracks were easier than others; “It Don’t Come Easy” sounds exactly like a Beatles track with Ringo singing and playing drums and George producing and adding guitar. (By the way, it is my solid opinion that George is what makes a Beatles song sound like a Beatles song—more so than even John or Paul. By the time he was 27 years old, George had developed a playing style so immediately identifiable as his own that it is in fact the defining element of a Beatles track.)
And George gave me quite a bit of trouble. The sheer volume of material coupled with the fact that he was coming off the high of the number one hit “Something” on Abbey Road, a song none other than declared rock and roll hater Frank Sinatra called the most beautiful love song ever written. The amount of stunning work on Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” a three-disk opus of lush orchestration and sighing guitars that George had been developing since that first throwaway track (“Don’t Bother Me”) from Meet The Beatles gives reason to pause. Surely the youngest Beatle would have more pull on any album following Abbey Road. From the criminally ignored “Not Guilty” to the song that landed G. Diddy in court for plagiarism, “My Sweet Lord,” George had it going on in the early 70s. But as it stands, I had to pare George’s participation down to just four songs, a decision I am rethinking at this very moment.
The mix is very heavy on Paul. I am a registered John guy. He has always been my favorite. I liked his attitude, voice, insane lyrics, everything. But Paul produced the strongest material of his solo career on McCartney and Ram. That and the fact that any albums post-Abbey Road would have likely been at Paul’s instigation leads me to the opinion that the album would have been driven by Paul’s material.
In the end I wound up with 23 tracks from seven albums over the three years immediately following the Beatles’ demise.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2 where the author loses his shit trying to figure out the order of songs.
Update: Pt. 2 is now online!