There was one scene in the massive filmic edifice that is Get Back, the film of the Beatles nearing the end, the likes of which was only exceeded by the magnitude of Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow, that made me shake myself from my stupor during which time I was wondering how it was possible for Paul McCartney to be chewing on his fingernails so frequently and yet have the ability to play bass, piano, drums and probably a multitude of other instruments had they been in Twickenham Studios or Savile Row or inside his car or randomly on his route to work.
This was after George Harrison decided that he could continue to be a member of the band and Billy Preston, who happened to be in town, was dragooned, willingly, into the band.
During an exchange between McCartney and Lennon it was pointed out that the Beatles were four, then three, then four, then five. That is, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/
George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo/Billy. It was even suggested that they might ask a multitude of others to join the group, equaling, perhaps, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The issue, of course, is the still somewhat alive horse that I’ve flogged over the years, which is: When does a band stop being a band? Or when is it a band in name only?
As is well known there is a tendency for acts to continue on with the name of a band although there are people missing from the lineup that made the band what it was.
I recently got a promotional email pointing out that Brian Wilson and Chicago are about to go out on tour. Which led me to wonder whether the Beach Boys still exist. So to the band’s website where I discover that while Mike Love is touring extensively (he, in case you missed it, is shown in Get Back, when he traveled to India to visit the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when the Beatles were there), there is something called “The Beach Boys Good Vibrations Cruise” that will be held next March. The lineup: “The band is led by Mike Love, who, along with longtime member Bruce Johnston.” There you have it. Two. The Beach Boys?
Then, as for Chicago, I’ve got to give the band plenty of credit because there is a page on its official website that doesn’t list just the people who have come and gone from the group but who have come and gone from existence: a “Tribute to Founding Members” as Walt Parazaider, Terry Kath, Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine have all left the original band one way or another. So this means that four of the original seven members are gone. Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow are still in the band. Which makes it more fully Chicago than the band that will be on that boat leaving Miami in March (the original members of the Beach Boys, which was formed in 1961, were: Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Mike Love. As Bruce Johnson joined in 1965 he certainly has authenticity. But still. . . .).
In the case of the Beatles and Preston, the credits don’t merge him into the group, as it reads, for example, “’Get Back,’ The Beatles with Billy Preston.”
So the conjunction makes him close, but not an actual member of the band, which may have something to do with the existence of the band as some sort of legal entity onto itself, which leads to the whole Allen Klein/Lee Eastman business manager mess that contributed to the breakup of the band.
Or said another way: there was no simple magic waving of a drumstick and a “Presto, change-o, Preston, you’re a Beatle.”
Of course, it is impossible to listen to the songs that he plays on and not think that Preston was integral to the band in a way that goes beyond being a session musician, which arguably (legally?) he was. [According to Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn, Preston was paid £500 for his contributions and was signed to Apple Records. -ed.]
One of the things that is made evident in the film is that at least John/Paul/George/Ringo recognize that the band is a thing that is something with elements that doesn’t exist should one of those elements be absent as after Harrison takes his leave the other three make a concerted effort to get him back in the band. Would they have been the Beatles without Harrison? Seems that they didn’t think so.
(While on the subject of breaking up the band, as is widely reported, the Jackson film shows Yoko, with rare exception when she decides to vocalize, pretty much a non-issue in the studios. If there was a disruptive influence in the studio I’d say it was Linda Eastman’s daughter Heather (who was adopted by Paul) who, though cute, seemed to be a bit much when the Beatles were trying to get things done. However, putting that aside, I would say that the small crack that was formed that made a collapse more possible was Harrison, as he tells John that he thinks he wants to put out his own music and be part of the Beatles: while that may seem to be a common occurrence for musicians nowadays, back then it was probably a profligate notion vis-à-vis the tight unit that the band was. Or was supposed to be.)
John died in 1980. George died in 2001. (Billy died in 2006.)
So now it is
Should the remaining two decide, for whatever reason, to announce, “The Beatles are back!” and they formed something that was once-upon-a-time known as a “supergroup” hiring two guitar players/singers who could do a note-for-note performance of whatever John and George did, would that be the Beatles?
This leads to another consideration: the group currently known as the “Rolling Stones.”
The original group—consisting of Jagger, Richards, Jones, Wyman and Watts—formed in 1962. Of that group, only Jagger and Richards are in the band. It is widely considered that Ronnie Wood is an almost-original member, but he didn’t join the band until 1974, or 12 years after the band was formed. Realize that the Beatles existed for eight years, 1962, when Ringo joined the band (the actual formation occurred in 1960, but the Beatles as known by the wider public who didn’t go to clubs in Liverpool, includes Ringo) until 1970.
All of this may not matter. It may seem to be an obsessively idle consideration. But isn’t there something to be said for authenticity?
One of the artists I most admire is Marcel Duchamp. In 1915 he created a “readymade,” a piece titled In Advance of a Broken Arm. With the exception of his signing it “from Marcel Duchamp 1915” it is nothing more than a snow shovel with a metal blade and a wood shaft.
I have a snow shovel in my garage very much like that one.
Somehow it is not a Duchamp.