The making of Come and Get It, the last Beatles album that never was
The conclusion of this descent into madness that resulted in a masterpiece mixtape and a bleeding ulcer for the author. Paging Doctor Roberts…
Be sure to read Pt. 1 if you haven’t already.
It Don’t Come Easy
The opening track was set. “Come and Get It” would start off the album and also provide its name. Now, how do you follow up a song as benign and hummable as “Come and Get It” with something from four musicians who were getting more complex as the days went by? From the musical intricacies McCartney wanted to explore (see side two of Abbey Road), to the lyrical frontiers Lennon was so drawn to, and the spiritual subjects to which George was eternally devoted? And Ringo? Well Ringo was Ringo…
Enter “Instant Karma,” a Phil Spector-produced Lennon single from the Imagine era that has a melody nobody can forget (“And we all shine on / like the moon and the stars and the sun”). It also has lyrical twists that are at once cynical and hopeful in a way only Lennon can pull off, spirituality that rivals George’s most devotedly Krishna songs, AND it has a galloping drum part that is so perfectly Ringo that it could only be played by the man who Beatle producer George Martin wanted to replace our boy with early in the Beatles’ career: Alan White!
Sticking with spirituality as something that would surely color this final album from the world’s last hope, “Give Me Love” comes in third with George’s beautiful ode to his newfound faith.
I don’t know what was going on up at that farm in Scotland, but Paul McCartney was seriously freaking out and writing my favorite songs of his career. Perhaps it was a case of Goo Goo Gajoob envy, but Macca all but left his crafting of silly love songs temporarily behind on 1971′s Ram. Seriously, most of the lyrics are so bizarre and the musical arrangements so idiosyncratic that you’d think Paul had been tripping for the months between his fist solo release and this masterstroke of folk lunacy.
Like I said, I have always been a Lennon man. But McCartney’s Ram outdoes everything John did after Plastic Ono Band for sheer emotion and lyrical mindfucks. Legend has it there are secret messages from Paul to his old partner on Ram and it would indeed take a twisted geezer like Lennon to decipher any sort of communication from this gang of riddles and gibberish.
One of the handful of times Paul does sit down to crank out a good old fashioned rocker is on “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” a Ram-era b-side that was tacked onto a 90s CD reissue. Not many outside of Beatlefest have even heard this song, but imagine the screaming, chugging abandon on “Oh Darling” from Abbey Road played on guitar and you get the idea. This track brings us back down to the dirty earth after the lilting spirituality of the previous two tracks on the mix.
Like George and his massive collection of great songs in the early 70s, Paul gave me such a mass to work with that I had to sit back and rethink my selections time and again. The inclusion of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was a tough one. This is a song I originally loved as a kid. It was quirky and had such a sing-along middle that it just grabbed my young mind. As I got older, this song just got on my nerves. I hadn’t listened to it in years; in fact, when I started putting this mix together I skipped it entirely on the first couple rounds. But then I let it play while I was doing dishes or something. And the goofy little bastard got back into my psyche.
“Uncle Albert” is a Beatles track, like it or not. It has so many elements that represent where Paul was in 1970: dopey lyrics that are closer to a nursery rhyme than a Beatles classic; lilting harmonies floating back and forth throughout; Paul’s cheeky “ain’t I cute” humor. George may have wanted to kill Paul for this song, but I think it would have eventually made the cut. Oh, and it was a hit for Paul when he finally released it on his own. Is it lyrically mind blowing? No, but it is musically on par with the other work Paul was producing at that time and it lends a playful tone to the mix, which was something Paul did repeatedly (“Rocky Raccoon,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” etc.). I think in the context of this mix the song loses most of its irritating qualities and sits nicely like an ugly but charming child next to his better looking cousins.
Another odd pick from Ram is “Backseat of My Car,” one of my favorite songs from this period. And this song and another from Ram caused my weeks of grief. More on that in a moment, Sonny Jim! Suffice to say, if you don’t have Ram by this point of the story, you better leave now and pick it up before I kill you.
Heart of the Country
Now I’ve got my groove on. I’m feeling this mix. It’s natural. Of course I’d follow up John’s angst anthem “Gimme Some Truth” with George’s “My Sweet Lord.” Two-thirds of the way into the tracklisting, Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy” with its hint of country-pop opens the door to the country-folk in which John and Paul had dabbled since their earliest albums.
Paul’s “Heart of the Country” longs for the slower pace and earthy values of country living. After the madness of ten years as a Beatle, Paul was certainly looking for a little quiet time.
John, on the other hand, turns a country jug on it’s head with “Crippled Inside,” sporting lyrics of spiritual bankruptcy and superficiality that made John’s early 70s material the template for Kurt Cobain’s angst anthems.
Our drive in the country ends with “Oh Yoko,” a song John would certainly have insisted have a place as a show of solidarity with the woman who had certainly replaced Paul as John’s soulmate. Which brings me back to the idea that the Beatles would have known and planned for this to be their last album as a band. There would have certainly been some thought put into the message they were sending out to fans in their last adieu.
I Don’t Believe in Beatles
The penultimate song of Lennon’s first solo album still ruffles the feathers of diehard Beatle fans these 30 years later. In a lesson on stream of conscious writing, Lennon assails the icons of the mid-20th century, including religion, politics, idealism, Dylan, and –gasp!—the Beatles.
The song acts as his rubber stamp on the end of the band that created the 60s. Assuming this fantasy album was made with the full knowledge of all four Beatles that it was their last and given Lennon’s propensity for grand statements, I can easily see him insisting on the inclusion of this track as a way to close the book on Beatlemania and mark the beginning of his, and his bandmates’, freedom. It is John’s last dramatic act as the cheeky Beatle.
All Things Must Pass
Ah, but ever optimistic Paul and Ringo would certainly hate to leave things on such a downer, eh? How could the Four Lads Who Changed the World really end it all with a song that denounces their very magic? No, that will not do and so they look to George to bring it all into perspective. Yes, it’s the end, but it’s not an indictment! Remember, the last album officially released (if not last to be recorded) by the Beatles was Let It Be, in itself a calming statement for the fans with dual meaning: Let “it” exist as what it is; and also leave it alone.
Initially I had Paul’s “Backseat of My Car” closing the album. It closes out Ram and therefore seems like a natural album ender. Problem being that it doesn’t sit naturally as this album’s ender. While it has all the elements of Abbey Road‘s second side that so perfectly wrap up that masterpiece, it was awkward as the final track here. If John was going to make “God” his last statement on the Beatles, then it wouldn’t due to have the album’s last word be so whimsical and base as the lyrics to “Backseat of My Car.” No, we would need some perspective here, some depth!
And so we leave it all behind with George’s masterpiece of the mortality of all things great and small: “All Things Must Pass.” Sunset doesn’t last all evening…and neither do the Beatles last forever. With George’s recent passing, this song must surely provide millions of fans with a sense of comfort. It’s that sense of caring and generosity for which George was known that closes out this, the last Beatles album.
There’s a famous story of a reporter talking to Neil Young on the eve of the release of Neil’s career retrospective Decade. Running through the tracklist with Neil the reporter noticed that one of his own favorite songs hadn’t made the three-record set and pointed it out to the Old Man. Neil’s face went white and he demanded the bus pull over so he could make a phone call. With records pressed, thousands (if not more) of dollars spent—not to mention time and effort—Neil Young halted the release of the album and bought the pressed stock and shot them through with a shotgun. What madness! What lunacy!
My mix was finished but I wasn’t ready to “release” it to my friends. I take this shit seriously and had to make sure everything was right. I ran down the mental checklist as I listened to it at work. Everything seemed to be there. It was perfect.
I’d mentioned the project to GLONO founder Jake Brown and as he’s also a Beatles fan, he asked if I’d email him the tracklist so he could see what made the final cut. Minutes later I got an email that through the whole project into the shitter.
Jake Brown wrote: “Dude, no Dear Boy?”
Christ! How could I NOT include that song? Not only does it boast the best harmonies of any post-Beatle song, it seemed to me to be a direct message to John regarding his split from Cynthia! Veiled, yes, but it’s there and I think Macca would slip it in as a little jibe at his increasingly distant partner.
No problem, I’ll just burn another copy with “Dear Boy” in the mix. I had 80 minute CDs and 78 minutes of material. “Dear Boy” clocking in at 2:08 wouldn’t’ fit. Egad! Would I have to cut something else? It was near impossible to get it to this point! I paced around the house in a rage. How could this happen? How could it all come apart because of an email from Jake Brown? What am I, Ryan Adams now!?
And then it hit me. If you burn a CD using the “disk at once” option, you remove the two-second space between each song. There were 22 songs meaning a total of 44 seconds of potential time to access. It worked. I fit “Dear Boy” in right between John’s “Crippled Inside” and “Oh Yoko!” as a sly nod to Paul’s purported message to his pal and avoided a total meltdown.
Yes, it’s a lot of hyperbole and conjecture. It’s a fantasy mix and my assumptions of what the individual Beatles may have done are simply folly. But what’s most important is that this is without a doubt the finest mix I’ve ever made. To people like me, that’s what it’s all about. Quentin Tarantino compared the process of film directing to making a mixtape. If that’s even remotely true then I expect to get a call from Johnny Destiny optioning my opus any day now.