Friday, 17 March 2017

(Sometimes) With The Beatles

Have you ever considered the possibility that all musicians are a bunch of shiftless, dishonest bastards? It is a tantalising possibility, isn't it? Particularly with regard to groups. If you settle down to listen to a Bob Dylan LP, for instance, you can be pretty sure that ol' Bob was responsible for at least some of the sounds that you are hearing. But groups are a very different dynamic: the achingly fashionable Johnnies you saw on Top of the Pops last week might have had very little to do with their latest 45.

That said, there's nothing particularly wrong with this state of affairs. Artists have employed assistants for centuries to do all kinds of different work for them, often completely anonymously and without any expectation of credit. It is said that the modern day artist is more of a manager than a craftsperson, but it was ever thus: Andy Warhol got his mum to sign his work for him and while Michaelangelo did most of the figurative painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel himself, he still had a grunt on the ground telling him where to put extra pubes, mixing his paint and passing him up sausage rolls.

It is, of course, particularly rife in popular music. The majority of The Beach Boys' most famous recordings were made by the Wrecking Crew, a Los Angeles-based supergroup of session musicians. Led Zeppelin were similarly formed by players from the London recording scene. And the less said about Milli Vanilli, the better.


The Beatles: Jim, Peter, Gregory and Roland

Which brings me to The Beatles, who whether you like it or not happen to be the most famous and notable recording artists in history. This is a major advantage, as from a point in around the middle of 1962, no-one closely involved in their story has been able to do so much as a fart without Mark Lewisohn noting it down. As such, we are able to establish exactly who did what, where and when. The following is a list (possibly incomplete but hopefully not too badly so) of recordings released by The Beatles which did not have all four canonical members of the group playing on them. There will be a test later.

YESTERDAY
Only Paul McCartney appears on the record: the other musicians were a string quartet, arranged by George Martin and comprised of Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, Kenneth Essex and Peter Halling or Francisco Gabarro.

WE CAN WORK IT OUT
Is is unknown for sure whether or not George Harrison is present on this recording: some have argued that he provided the tambourine but others believe that this was played by Ringo Starr. Harrison did, however, contribute to the song's composition.

ELEANOR RIGBY
Ringo Starr is absent from this track, with John Lennon and George Harrison only providing vocals. The music was provided exclusively by a string nonet arranged by George Martin and comprising Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe and J├╝rgen Hess on violin; Stephen Shingles and John Underwood on viola and Derek Simpson, Stephen Lansberry and Peter Halling on cello.

LOVE YOU TO
John Lennon is absent from this recording, with Paul McCartney only offering vocals and Ringo Starr on tambourine. The group was bolstered by the addition of Anil Bhagwat on tabla and musicians from the Asian Music Circle on sitar and tambura.

WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU
George Harrison recorded this solo, assisted by musicians from the Asian Music Circle providing dilrubas, tabla, swarmandal and tambura accompaniment.

SHE'S LEAVING HOME
Features only Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who provide only vocals. She's Leaving Home is one of a scant few Beatles tracks on which none of the canonical four play any musical instrument.

THE INNER LIGHT
Ringo Starr is absent from this recording. Parts of this song, which appeared as the B-side of the single Lady Madonna, were recorded at a session in Bombay during the group's stay in India. It is the only song ever issued by The Beatles not to have been recorded solely in the UK.

BACK IN THE U.S.S.R.
DEAR PRUDENCE
Ringo Starr left The Beatles following a series of escalating intra-band arguments and did not appear on either of the opening songs on the white album. Paul McCartney provided the percussion instead.

WILD HONEY PIE
BLACKBIRD
All exclusively solo Paul McCartney projects.

MARTHA MY DEAR
Paul McCartney was again the sole representative on this recording, which was bolstered by a 15-man brass and string orchestra arranged by George Martin.

DON'T PASS ME BY
The first Beatles song solely written by Ringo Starr, only Paul McCartney joins him on the recording; with additional violin by Jack Fallon.

WHY DON'T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD?
Paul McCartney recorded this song solo, although Ringo Starr would later overdub his own drum track which eventually appeared in the finished version.

I WILL
George Harrison was otherwise occupied for the recording of this song, which required 67 takes.

JULIA
John Lennon's first and only exclusively solo effort as a Beatle.

MOTHER NATURE'S SON
Ironically recorded at a time of great disharmony within the group, McCartney recorded the song alone, later adding in a George Martin brass arrangement. Lennon and Starr were, reportedly, extremely peeved that McCartney had taken his own initiative.

LONG, LONG, LONG
SAVOY TRUFFLE
Lennon was absent from the session in which both of these songs were recorded.

GOOD NIGHT
Ringo Starr provides the vocal for this John Lennon-penned song, with orchestral accompaniment arranged by George Martin and backing vocals from The Mike Sammes Singers.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Paul McCartney is absent from the Phil Spector-produced version that appeared on the Let It Be album, although he appears on the "birdsong" version recorded for the World Wildlife Fund at the request of Spike Milligan, which was subsequently released on Past Masters volume 2.

I ME MINE
John Lennon had left the band by the time this Harrison composition was recorded. However, the session - in which John Lennon instead spent his time dancing in the corner of the studio with Yoko Ono - appeared in Michael Lindsay-Hogg's film Let It Be and therefore had to be included on the finished album.

THE BALLAD OF JOHN AND YOKO
George Harrison was on holiday and Ringo Starr away filming The Magic Christian when inspiration struck Lennon to write this song, which he recorded with help from McCartney on vocals, bass, percussion and piano.

MAXWELL'S SILVER HAMMER
HERE COMES THE SUN
GOLDEN SLUMBERS
John Lennon was in a car accident in Scotland on July 1st 1969 which saw him hospitalised for six days and absent from several sessions for the Abbey Road album. Lennon had returned to London and to the studio by the time work began on Maxwell's Silver Hammer, but declined to take part because he thought the song was "rubbish".

BECAUSE
Ringo Starr is absent from this song, which required no percussion. Or at least, that was their story.

HER MAJESTY
A Paul McCartney solo.

(honourable mention: The version of Love Me Do that appears on the Please Please Me album (and also released as a single in the US market) features session musician Andy White on drums instead of then-newcomer Ringo Starr. However, Ringo is on the record, playing the tambourine. The version of Love Me Do that appears on Past Masters Vol. 1 has Ringo restored to his rightful seat.)

1 comment:

Tom Hickey said...

This podcast is quite good if you want to listen to people listening to and talking about Beatles album. Currently on the While album

http://beatlestalk.libsyn.com/

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