Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

By George!

George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, bullied by John and Paul into 2nd tier status in the band, was essentially the runt of the litter yet wrote some of their most enduring songs. When writing sessions were underway ahead of a new Beatles’ recording, poor George had to bide his time while the other two writers hogged the limelight with their latest offerings. Only after they had been given careful consideration would George be allowed to show off what he’d been working on. In any other band, he’d have been the principal writer and held in higher esteem, but in The Beatles he was lucky to get more than one of his tracks onto each album.

 george_harrison_1968

By 1968’s ‘White Album’, George had a handful of future classics under his belt. Writing sessions in Rishikesh in northern India proved particularly fruitful. The Beatles plus associated wives/girlfriends along with a raggle-taggle mismatch of musicians and actors (Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and her sister ‘Dear’ Prudence) gathered at the feet of the Maharishi to find out the ways of tanscendental mediatation.

1968

The trip was not without incident;  Ringo visited a doctor due to a reaction to the inoculation he’d taken before going, John complained that the food was lousy (Paul and Jane Asher loved it) and the Maharishi, as peace-loving and spiritual as he may have been, turned out to be a randy old man, intent on bedding as many of the female guests as he could.

George was particularly taken with meditation, leading John to quip, “The way George is going, he’ll be flying a magic carpet by the time he’s forty!

Against this backdrop, John, Paul and George wrote many songs that would appear on the new Beatles’ album at the end of the year. Donovan turned John onto a new style of fingerpicking that he’d picked up from the folk clubs and Lennon put it to good use on Dear Prudence. George might’ve been equally inspired, as the descending bass run that characterises Dear Prudence makes it into a couple of his own songs on the White Album.

beatles-india-68

While My Guitar Gently Weeps began life as a downbeat campfire singalong; folk in a minor key, with the ubiquitous descending bass line offest by an uplifting bridge. It’s understated and simple, nothing like the album version.

George HarrisonWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (demo)

George had to wait an agonising 8 weeks from the start of the album sessions before being given the chance to showcase it. Quite how he kept his mouth shut as John ran through days and days of tape loops creating the arty (but tuneless, let’s be clear) Revolution 9 while Paul completed dozens of takes of the reggae-lite Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and even Ringo had his moment in the spotlight with his honky tonkin’ Don’t Pass Me By is very impressive, but when given his moment (“I always had to do about ten of Paul and John’s before they’d give me the break,”) he rose to the occassion.

george-h-abbey-road-68

The demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was used as the blueprint and added to with layer upon layer of guitar and vocals through the use of an 8-track recording machine (the first Beatles’ track to do so) until it was the super-heavy version that appears on the album. An uncredited Eric Clapton was asked by George to play guitar on it. George had been bemoaning the fact that he’d spent hours aimlessly trying to recreate a weeping sound for the track and asked his pal instead to play the solo, which he did with majestic, understated aplomb.

The BeatlesWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps

It’s a perenial favourite, never bettered than when Prince put the other ‘stars’  – heavyweights Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood – firmly in their place with his outrageously brilliant cameo at the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame. Two questions, the first rhetorical. How overjoyed does Dhani Harrison look when the wee man steps up and takes the song to a whole new level?

Secondly, what happens to Prince’s guitar at the end? Watch….

Alternative Version, Dylanish

The Blond Waltz

Bob Dylan‘s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is one of his very best. And with a canon of songs as rich and impressive as the one that he has casually amassed over the last 50 years, that’s really saying something. Bob Bob Shoobeedoo Wob.

Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (Mono version)

dylan blonde outtake

It’s a love song, of course, waltzing in on a breeze of liquid organ, trademark wheezing harmonica and that thin, wild mercury sound that the Zim was eager to perfect around this time. A musical onion, it’s multi-layered, shrouded in mystery and code and jam-packed full of words and phrases I won’t even begin to pretend I understand.

It’s a straightforward paen to Sara Lowndes (Lowndes/Lowlands look quite similar, dontchathink?) who, at the time of writing it was Dylan’s wife of 6 months. If you listen to the self-explanatory ‘Sara‘ on the decade later Desire, Dylan admits that much;

Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel

Writin’ ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ for you.”

Even this is coated in very Dylanesque ambiguities and contradictions though.

Some accounts have Bob writing the song in the studio in Nashville while his crack team of expensive sessioneers played cards and twiddled their thumbs in an adjacent room, patiently waiting for their boss to tell them the song was complete and ready to be committed to tape.

Others have insisted that the song arrived fully formed in the Chelsea Hotel and ripe for recording by the time of the Blonde On Blonde sessions.

Gonzoid speed freak Lester Bangs claims to have it on good authority that Dylan wrote the song whilst wired out of his nut on some cocktail of amphetamines or other, but then, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Two or three half-truths don’t make the whole truth, but I’d wager the real story is an amalgamation of those accounts. What can’t be denied though is that the finished track is sprawling, majestic and epic (it fills the entire 4th side of Blonde On Blonde) and is the result of a one-take recording at 4 in the morning, Dylan’s dawn chorus for the dreamers and the doomed.

dylan sad eyed lyrics

Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands has that late night/early morning feel, understated and creeping around on tip toe, as if the band are scared to hit the strings too hard and are playing quietly so as not to disturb the neighbours, with some of the chord changes coming in slightly behind the beat a result of the band listening carefully to Dylan or watching him for their cue to change.

The musicians (including Al Kooper on keys and Charlie McCoy on guitar) didn’t really know what they were in for. They hadn’t actually heard the finished song and so were understandably rather surprised to find the song clocking in at over 11 and a half minutes. With the unspoken telepathy that comes from playing with the very best of musicians, they joined the song on its journey, climaxing when the chorus came in, only to find themselves faced with verse after verse of meandering beat prose and harmonica breaks. By the 6 minute mark most were assuming the song was nearly over, which is why it builds to a crescendo on more than one occasion. Dylan must’ve had a right laugh at their expense.

dylan saraBob ‘n Sara, 1966-ish

Postscript

George Harrison was a big fan of Sad Eyed Lady… Its lilting waltz was a defining influence on The Beatles‘ under-apppreciated but eternally groovy I Me Mine……

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

The Mighty Wah

Wahw-wah-wah-wahw-wah-wah-wah-wah-wahw-wahw-wahw-wah!

“Vox’s fabulous new wah-wah pedal opens the door to a variety of great new sounds!”

So says this epoch-defining trade ad from 1967. “Make your guitar grrrrowl! Make it sound like a see-tar! Listen to the funky bass guitar sounds you get!”

wah wah vox 2

Vox Wah-Wah Ad (5 minutes long and worth listening to every minute):

The wah-wah was created by happy accident, when Vox engineers got the circuitry mixed up in a new range of Beatles-inspired amps they were producing. Realising they’d just created an electronic version of the effect jazz trumpeters had pioneered in the 20s by muting their horn with a hat, they seized on the potential and began producing wah-wah pedals.

hendrix wah

Almost immediately, guitar players saw their appeal. Jimi Hendrix was an early adopter of the effect – Up From the Skies on Axis: Bold As Love was one of the first tracks recorded with a wah-wah, and from then on in, it featured heavily in Jimi’s incendiary output. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Chile (of course) – all featured the screamin’ sound of the wah. There he is above, quite literally rockin’ the wah.

Before long, no self-respecting psychedelic act was without a wah-wah, and the the pedal became an integral part of the sound of the era. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the flares, the wilder the wah. The Electric Prunes even went as far as endorsing the effect.

Electric Prunes Vox Wah Wah Ad

george harrison 1970

George Harrison, newly freed from the shackles of The Beatles and with a sackful of songs he was eager to release under his own name employed Vox’s pedal on the self-explanatory Wah-Wah from 1970’s All Things Must Pass.

George HarrisonWah-Wah

It’s a cracking track, almost throwaway pop, although it maybe buckles a wee bit under the pressure of Phil Spector’s over the top production. Sleigh bells? Aye! 35 backing singers? Of course! More brass than a colliery band? Well, it is being produced by Spector. A multitude of guitar tracks?  Well, it is being played by George Harrison. The main riff is suitably Eastern-influenced, a call and response one chord groove that swaggers like Muhammad Ali in the 15th round. It soars with each key change, guitars free-forming over the top while the original riff underpins the whole thing. George even has the cheek to steal the chorus from that Vox ad at the top there. Listen again to the last 30 seconds. Who noticed?!? Kula Shaker certainly did – George’s track practically gives birth to the daft four-piece, but don’t hold that against him.  Om shanti shanti shanti.

wah wah vox

By the 70s, the wah-wah was being employed to great effect by the soul community. Curtis Mayfield….Sly Stone….The Temptations….they all had wah-heavy records out. Rather than solo, (that would be far too ‘rock’), the players created the distinctive wacka-wacka sound that’s now become the ubiquitous sound of the wah-wah. Y’know, Theme From ‘Shaft’ ‘n all that.

Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)
Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)

Here‘s the lesser-known (by Shaft standards at any rate) Psychedelic Shack from The Temptations:

Since then, the wah-wah pedal has featured on all sorts of tracks by all sorts of musicians, from Joni Mitchell and John Martyn to Metallica and The Melvins. It’s reassuring to know that in any given record collection, you’re never more than 30cm from a track featuring a wah-wah.

john squire

Here’s Fools Gold, of course….the full-length version, of course…

Stone RosesFools Gold

fools gold tab

 

Alternative Version, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

It Was Plenty Years Ago Today

A few years ago I had the notion that I’d start a semi-regular feature punningly titled ‘It Was Plenty Years Ago Today’. It would focus on Beatles‘ recordings from that day in Beatles’ history, in particular the individual takes that never made it beyond Abbey Road’s cutting room floor. Books such as Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head are excellent chronicles of what happened when in Beatleland and I had every intention of building up a right good wee series on the back of it. However, lack of time and lazyitis (coupled with the fact that most of the time I just fancy writing about something else) combined to ensure this series would never quite get off the ground, but here, today, I bring you another one in this very sporadic series.

george harrison 67

Druggy, fuggy, and slightly Eastern-sounding, It’s All Too Much was born in the summer of 1967, just as an unprepared world was anticipating the release of the Sgt Peppers album. Pencilled in for inclusion on the Beatles’ next project (Magical Mystery Tour) it didn’t see the light of day until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was released in January 1969. In Beatles terms, that’s an awful long time from written-to-released. Why? The answer is simple – it wasn’t written by Lennon or McCartney. George always had to play second fiddle to his two elder bandmates. He’d had his own Blue Jay Way appear on Magical Mystery Tour, and one George song per album was the norm.

It’s All Too Much

One of George’s best compositions, composed whilst in the midst of a heavy LSD trip (and it sounds it), It’s All Too Much is a microcosm of all that’s best in Beatles psychedelia, grooving along on a one chord bed of feedback, clattering drums, stabbing keyboard and wonky sounding backwards guitars. The production is, I think, intentionally cluttered – It’s All Too Much after all – but that’s why it’s stood the test of time. Each repeated listen brings new things. Hidden depths of sound float to the surface; A full-fat fuzz bass pops itself in and out of the mix. Slightly out of time handclaps catch up with George singing bits of The Mersey’s Sorrow. Trumpets apeing Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince Of Denmark March (you’ll recognise it if you’ve ever seen the pomp and ceremony of a Royal wedding) fanfare your arrival into a higher state of consiousness. Almost half a century later, it sounds new! and fresh! and now! The Flaming Lips would give everything to sound like this.

It’s All too Much is one of the few Beatles tracks not to have been recorded at Abbey Road. Why it was recorded instead at Soho’s De Lane Lea Studios is unclear, but that’s where it was hatched. And plenty years ago today on the 2nd June 1967, those trumpet overdubs were completed.  At 8 minutes long the track fell foul of the Beatles editing process. One and a half mind-expanding minutes were chopped out of the mix, leaving the released version a shorter 6 and half minutes long. Still a trip, just not as long a trip as George would’ve liked you to have.

The full length version has been bootlegged countless times…

It’s All Too Much ( ‘Much Too Much‘ unreleased version)

george stamp

Teenage Fanclub‘s Gerry Love is a big fan of It’s All Too Much. He even went so far as to include it in his very own Six Of The Best mix for Plain Or Pan, saying “The Beatles had more than their fair share of groundbreaking productions, but this is by far my favourite.” Me too Gerry!