Review: The Beatles, ‘Get Back (The Rooftop Concert)’ Now Streaming – Iconic!

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“I’d to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition” – John Lennon, at the conclusion of the iconic Rooftop Concert

I think anybody whose been reading B&V for a while knows what a big fan we are of the Beatles’ Let It Be album. We were particularly enthusiastic about the recently released Deluxe Edition of the album from last year. I’m probably alone in the world but I’ve always preferred Let It Be to Abbey Road (the LP released before Let It Be but recorded after it). Last year was a big year for us Let It Be fans (or just Beatles fans in general) with the release of the aforementioned Deluxe Edition and the release of famed Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s 3-part documentary revisiting the original Let It Be film footage, entitled Get Back. I loved every minute of watching the Fab Four create music out of the thin air before our very eyes especially McCartney conjuring the song “Get Back.” Admittedly, the Rock Chick was not as enthused as I was but she’s always been a lukewarm Beatles fan.

It seems this Beatles treasure trove of vault material from the Let It Be sessions is turning out to be the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. Last week they released the audio of the entire Rooftop Concert to all the streaming services. I’m a little bummed it wasn’t included in the Deluxe Edition, I’d have liked to be able to buy this live album but who am I to quibble. The ultimate moment in the Get Back documentary is finally getting to see the video of the entire Rooftop Concert (Episode 3). The Beatles had planned to do a television show documenting their creative process of going in and rehearsing and then recording a new album live in concert – somewhere. George Harrison, who was feeling creatively stifled quit in the middle of the sessions (Episode 1). The rest of the Beatles met with him to convince him to come back and he had 2 conditions, 1) no live show, he was terrified by the idea and 2) he wanted to move the recording back to Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row in London instead of their current rehearsal spot at Twickenham Studios. That left the Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg in a bit of a fix on how to end the documentary. McCartney was particularly keen on playing live, he felt it would help them reconnect with their audience. Frankly I think it was really a way for the four of them to reconnect as musicians again.

Ringo and Linday-Hogg went up on the roof and got the idea of playing the concert up there, on top of 3 Savile Row. Even the day of the proposed concert, Janaury 30, 1969, no one was sure if they were actually going to play. They hadn’t played a live show since August of 1966 and both Ringo and George were very reluctant to play in front of people. Harrison was adamant that none of his new songs would be in the set. Finally, with everything set up and ready to go, Lennon muttered almost silently, “Fuck it, let’s go do it.” And with that the Beatles (with keyboardist Billy Preston in tow), like with most things they did, strolled up the stairs into rock n roll history. Can you think of a more iconic rock n roll moment than the Beatles’ Rooftop concert? U2 copied it for their video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” including the cops stopping the show. I remember reading in Rolling Stone magazine when I was in college, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played a brief set on a roof either in Gainesville or Hollywood, I forget which.

The Rooftop Concert was my favorite part of the Get Back documentary, like most people I suppose, and getting to sit down and crank the audio of the performance on my stereo is a real treat. I really needed something to boost me from the Winter Blues and here are the Beatles to the rescue. I turn this concert on and I can’t help it suddenly I’m on my feet dancing around the room… and I don’t dance. They looked so… joyful(!)… when they were playing on the roof and that joy translates into this music. I can hear the joy in my headphones. There’s that magic moment when John looks at Paul and they lock eyes and you can tell they’re into it! Now you can just hear it. The fact that they were able to overcome all the acrimony and squabbling – McCartney’s controlling nature; Lennon’s disinterest, budding heroin addiction, and well, devotion to Yoko; Harrison’s frustration over being creatively stifled and not taken seriously as a writer; and Ringo… come to think of it, Ringo was always cool – and come together as musicians, as a band again, was as thrilling to me as watching Elvis’ Comeback Special. I am just as passionate about this audio. I think everyone hoped this was the opening of a new chapter for the Beatles and would see them returning to live shows but alas those 42 minutes on the Rooftop were to be the Beatles’ final concert. Or should I say, final public performance. Experts consider the San Francisco date from August 29, 1966 to their last “official” concert, but we don’t split those kind of hairs here at B&V.

The concert has the Beatles performing only 9 songs and only 5 different songs. They played “Get Back” three times. They played (my favorite track) “Don’t Let Me Down” twice. “Don’t Let Me Down” wasn’t even included on the original Let It Be album. The two versions here were edited into one version and included on the Let It Be…Naked version of the album, which stripped away Phil Spector’s overdubs. They played “I’ve Got A Feeling” twice as well. They played one version each of “One After 909,” and “Dig A Pony.” Three of these cuts actually made the final Let It Be album, “I’ve Got A Feeling” (first version), “One After 909” (one of my favorite train songs) and “Dig A Pony.” At 42 minutes it makes a perfect, old school, one-disc live album, but it does make me wish the cops hadn’t decided to storm up on the roof and stop the proceedings. McCartney, during the final song, with the cops standing over him changed the lyrics of “Get Back” to “you’ve been playing on the roofs again and your momma don’t like it, she’s going to have you arrested.” McCartney also says, “Thanks, Mo” after the song and he was thanking Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife, as she was particularly into the music that day as the video shows us. Good on you Maureen!

In the end they got what they wanted, an iconic performance. In the documentary you can see how happy and enthused they were about the playback. McCartney had always wanted to play somewhere they didn’t have permission to play and hoped to be shut down by the authorities. I love that rebel spirit. This could have been the spark of a Beatles reunion, but alas the seeds of their split were too deeply planted. Lennon was all excited about hiring Allen Klein as manager and McCartney hated that idea. Harrison was tired of being stifled. Lennon was also more into Yoko than the Beatles. But what a glorious moment up amongst the chimneys they had on that cold January day.

I loved every minute of hearing this music. It’s truly a worthy listen as well as a worthy viewing experience. Again, my only issue is that it’s streaming only right now which is sadly dicey. I think everyone has heard about Neil Young and Spotify. As usual, I stand with Neil but after all these years of posting our playlists on Spotify its going to take a lot of work to re platform them. We’re pondering our options here at B&V but I digres. I certainly hope The Rooftop Concert comes out on vinyl and if it does I’m going to probably wear that thing out!!

Cheers!

Review: The New Beatles 3-Part Documentary, ‘Get Back,’ Directed By Peter Jackson

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Well, I finally finished the three part Beatles’ documentary Get Back. I was pretty excited when I heard that Peter Jackson, famed director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was going to revisit the footage shot for the Beatles’ 1970 film Let It Be. The Beatles shot over 60 hours of footage for what turned out to be an 80 minute film. Everybody knew there was more to the story. It was announced early on that Peter Jackson was going to make this a 3-part mini-series, if you will, as there was just too much footage for a traditional 2 hour movie. And lets face it, Peter Jackson is kind of the king of movie trilogies. This thing had “binge-watch” written all over it for me. I figured the Rock Chick and I would bang this out in three nights after the Thanksgiving day release. I thought this would be a great exercise for B&V as I’m a big Beatles fan (albeit, as mentioned I’m more of a Stones guy) and the Rock Chick is more of a… casual fan. It turns out that casual nature of her interest in this project only allowed us to watch one episode per weekend. That’s all she could handle. The last three Friday nights were our date with the Beatles circa 1969. Hence, it took me three weeks to get through this. So much for my binge watch fantasies.

I was going to go back to the original Let It Be so I’d have a baseline to compare to the new project, entitled Get Back. I guess I didn’t realize they’ve pulled the original 1970 film off the market. It hasn’t been available for purchase since the 1980s. I think it was considered kind of a drag. I actually saw Let It Be at the midnight movies at Oak Park Mall when I was in high school. I’m still unclear how my parents allowed me to stay out until 2am on a Saturday night. Proof I was a natural born salesman. The midnight movie was typically just drunken or stoned mayhem. I saw Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, one soft-core porn movie, the cartoon Heavy Metal and yes, Let It Be all at the midnight movies. I’m surprised I went to so many of those things. I think I even saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the midnight movies. Crazy times.

I don’t recall much about Let It Be. That may be because of the aforementioned drunken mayhem. Typically when I went to the midnight movies there was beer or vodka involved. Sometimes both. I do remember thinking, like most folks, that it was a bit of a drag. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be more of a concert thing, with complete songs. It turned out it was film of the Beatles rehearsing and working up new material and usually stopping mid-song to debate arrangements. That was McCartney’s idea, to show the Beatles going from nothing to a complete album over the course of January of 1969. So you’d have snippets of songs as they worked out songs, lyrics and arrangements. It was actually a bigger deal than I’d realized at the time. The Beatles hadn’t played together as a band, live, since they’d retired from the road in 1966. They were going to record the rehearsals at Twickenham Studios, a soundstage where they filmed movies, and then play a big concert where they performed the new album. They had all kinds of wacky ideas for the concert. An ancient amphitheater in Tunisia, a cruise ship and other exotic locations were discussed. Someone told me once they’d considered doing it at Stonehenge but that may be apocryphal. You can never trust stoners at the midnight movies.

Episode 1 of Get Back captures the early days of rehearsals at Twickenham Studios. Those rehearsals were basically a disaster. Because the film crew worked during the days, it required the Beatles to show up in the morning… and they were more, let’s say, afternoon and evening people. It was a huge, cold room. They set up their equipment on one side of the soundstage and huddled together trying to come up with ideas. Everyone hated being there. They were used to being at Abbey Road. a more intimate setting. There were to be no overdubs or studio trickery, so George Martin’s role was reduced. Even I’ll admit Episode 1 was hard to watch. The Rock Chick left and went to bed 2/3 of the way through. The Let It Be project has been described as an old couple who are headed for divorce trying to rekindle the relationship by going out on dates to old familiar spots. Episode 1 captures that awkward ethos. Lennon, with Yoko Ono super-glued to his side, seems particularly checked out. The highlight for me was seeing McCartney conjure “Get Back” out of thin air. Paul seems like he’s bursting with music. Every time there’s a break in Episode 1, he’s at the piano working on something. Harrison keeps suggesting songs and Lennon/McCartney basically ignore him. The episode ends with Harrison announcing he’s leaving the group. He’d recently been up in Woodstock visiting Dylan and the Band and realized by seeing how harmoniously they worked that the Beatles were dysfunctional. He says, as he’s walking out, “See you around the clubs.” Lennon suggests giving him a few days, “and then we’ll just get Clapton to replace him.” I’m not sure how that would have worked out. While it was hard to watch, Episode 1 is the perfect set up for Peter Jackson’s narrative.

By Episode 2, they’ve convinced George to come back. He’d agreed on two conditions: a) no live concert, he was terrified by the idea and b) they move back to Apple HQ on Savile Row to the basement studio they’d just installed. Unfortunately the guy they entrusted to install it had been an idiot and nothing worked. George Martin came to the rescue with a mobile recording unit. Episode 2 is where the songs began to gel. It helped that George invited keyboardist Billy Preston to join the sessions. His keyboard work is phenomenal and the Beatles were on their best behavior with him in the room. McCartney who had been very directive of Harrison in Episode 1, has backed off a bit in Episode 2. Lennon is much more engaged. While there aren’t any complete songs in Episode 2, the jams are fun to watch – I especially dug them doing “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” – and the vibe is much better. The original director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg keeps pushing the concert idea but there isn’t much enthusiasm outside Paul. I do have to say, watching the first two episodes makes you realize what a pro Ringo was. The guy doesn’t say much but he shows up on time and he put in the work. He really was the foundation of the band from which they could launch. Jackson takes us from the near disaster of a break up in Episode 1, to progress in Episode 2, which sets up the final chapter.

Episode 3, which I watched last night, is where the songs have finally come together. In fact, they have more than enough songs for an album. A lot of what became Abbey Road is written and demo’d in these sessions. And frankly, a lot of songs that ended up on the Beatles’ early solo records came out of these sessions. They’re still unsure how to end the movie they’re filming. I think it was Ringo who suggested they go up on the roof and play. McCartney’s stepdaughter Heather shows up and she’s yes, adorable… for a while. I can only take so much of her screaming into a microphone. Although I prefer that to Yoko yelling into a microphone. Contrary to the myth, Get Back shows the other Beatles’ being very cordial to Yoko. Sadly you hear Lennon talking enthusiastically about meeting with and hiring Allen Klein, a conman, as their manager. McCartney hated him and refused to sign. The seeds of the break up were planted on film. The other guys started bringing their wives in too. It was a very convivial vibe. Finally, at the end of Episode 3, for the first time ever we get to see the entire Beatles’ roof top concert and it is glorious. The Rock Chick was disappointed they played the same songs a couple times over but that didn’t bother me. There’s a moment when they start playing up there, blowing minds all over the neighborhood, where Lennon and McCartney look at each other and smile and it’s fucking magic. The chemistry is there… all the arguments are gone. It’s amazing footage. After the cops stop them playing (which is good comedy watching the staff stall them) they show the Beatles huddled together in the control room listening to the playback and they all look so joyful. It’s sad to think they couldn’t hold that together.

In the end, dissatisfied with the recordings they shelved the project. They ended up recording Abbey Road next and to fulfill a contract, gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together the Let It Be album as their swansong. I’m alone amongst my friends in loving that album. I love a little sloppiness in the music. It makes it feel more authentic to me, but maybe that’s because I dig the Stones so much and they’re nothing if not sloppy. The film they’d been putting together was finally released in May of 1970 to lukewarm reviews. I think the announcement of their break up overshadowed the thing.

Peter Jackson does a nice job setting up the story arc over the three episodes. I don’t know how they did it but they restored this film to pristine shape. The colors – and in the 60s day-glo was in – are gloriously bright and wonderful. George Harrison’s choice of pants’ colors is particularly vibrant. It’s visually stunning to watch. It helps to be a big Beatles fan, as the Rock Chick’s early departures during Episode 1 &2 showed me but it’s more important to just be a big fan of the musical process. It’s fun to watch these guys create new songs out of the air on camera. It’s not just a film of the roof top concert, it’s literally a film about the creative process. If you’re not into this, I think it’s easy to get bored pretty quick. I certainly enjoyed the pay off in Episode 3 of the full roof top concert – their last public concert. That alone to me is worth the price of admission. Everyone should at least watch that episode. 

Instead of saying Cheers as my sign off, I’m going with a more Ringo sign off… Peace and Love everybody!

Review: The Beatles ‘Let It Be – Super Deluxe’ Edition – Is It Worth It?

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While I’ve been immersed in the Beatles’ box set Let It Be (Super Deluxe) for about a week now, having spent much of 2021 listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition and other music from 1971 LP anniversaries, I feel like I’ve been immersed the entire year in a groovy, hippy, Beatles’ haze. I really should have invested in that leather, fringe jacket the Rock Chick talked me out of. I don’t think there’s an LP more divisive in the entire Beatles’ canon than Let It Be. It truly had a difficult birth. When I was in college back in the 80s the board game Trivial Pursuit took the world by storm. There were a bunch of knock off versions of the game as well. A guy I knew had a Rock N Roll Trivial Pursuit game that we used to use as a drinking game before went out to the bars to… well, drink more. There were various categories in Rock N Roll Trivia, but the Beatles were special enough they had a category unto themselves. There was a vaguely worded question, “What was the last Beatles’ LP?” The correct answer of course is Abbey Road which was recorded after Let It Be. Unfortunately for my sobriety, the answer on the Trivia card was Let It Be. I finally scratched out the wrong answer and wrote in Abbey Road since despite being released before Let It Be, it was again, recorded afterwards. Stupid game…

The dye was perhaps cast for the Beatles the day they decided to retire from the road. They’d already started to become “studio wizards” on Revolver but after the August 1966 tour they stopped playing together as a unit live. In the studio they would lay down a basic track and then record different parts of the songs piece by piece. I think its safe to say that the thing that creates “chemistry” within in a band is standing on a stage or in a room together, playing your instruments while you look the other guys in the eyes. After manager Brian Epstein died McCartney tried to take over as “the leader.” The rest of the band responded like my stepdaughter when I first met her with a collective, “you’re not the boss of me.” Lennon met Yoko which is fine but then he started bringing her into the inner sanctum, the studio, where no wife or girlfriend was allowed prior. That strained things. I don’t blame Yoko, I blame John on that. Doesn’t matter how whipped you are, certain things are sacrosanct. When they all came home from their ill-fated trip to India – Ringo had come home early because he hated the food which makes me love him even more – there was quite a bit of camaraderie. They gathered at George’s house in Esher and recorded demos which were included in The White Album Super Deluxe Edition. It sounds like they were in a really good place at that point. Sadly, that goodwill quickly dissipated in the studio. John was foisting Yoko on the rest of the band, as mentioned bringing her into the studio… and she had “suggestions.” John and Yoko had been dabbing in heroin which is never positive. Paul drove everybody into the ground doing dozens and dozens of takes on filler like “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” that Lennon derisively described as “granny music.” People say Let It Be was the sound of a band breaking up… I disagree. The White Album is the sound of four guys headed in different directions, growing apart and, to quote Neil Young, “headed for a heartbreak.”

One of the few advances during the recording of The White Album was that they actually did start playing the tracks as a band again vs building a song piece by piece. For their next LP, it was McCartney’s idea that they should “Get Back” to playing live. He saw a documentary on Picasso where they filmed the painter starting with a blank canvas and followed his progress until the painting was done. How cool is it that Picasso and the Beatles existed on this earth at the same time and could influence each other…but I’m getting off topic. He wanted to film the rehearsals for a TV special and then record the new songs they’d developed live in front of an audience of select fans. Different venues were tossed around including a cruise ship or an ancient Greek theater. The recording at Twickenham, the TV sound studio, were disastrous. Harrison quit for three days. His conditions to return to the band were a) no live concert, the idea terrified him and b) they would return to the Apple Studios and ditch the cavernous sound studio. They wrapped up the sessions with the famous Rooftop concert. They set up the gear on the roof of the Apple Studios and surprised the West End of London by jamming over lunch one Thursday in January. It was their last public show.

Since the intention was to record all of this stuff live, George Martin’s role was greatly reduced in these sessions. There was to be no overdubs. Engineer and producer Glyn Johns had a lot more production responsibilities than he’s given credit for. Things had gone so badly during what were called the “Get Back” sessions, they sorta shelved the tapes. Eventually as they were splitting up after Abbey Road came out, they gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together another album that Capitol was demanding. I like what George Martin said about Spector’s role in the project. Martin felt the credits should read, “Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector.” McCartney wasn’t even consulted with the final mixes and was livid that Spector added a bunch of strings and a harp to “The Long And Winding Road.” You have a project that you want to call “Get Back” to symbolize playing live, unvarnished music and you then turn it over to Phil Spector? Critics roasted them for that. When the LP was released, now named Let It Be it received the worst reviews of the Beatles’ history.

I remember when I was in junior high and high school the local mall had Midnight Movies. A bunch of drunk and stoned people hanging out at the mall while a movie played was basically how it worked. I’m astounded I could talk my parents into letting me actually attend the Midnight Movies. I saw Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same,’ the animated film ‘Heavy Metal’ and yes, I saw the original movie ‘Let It Be.’ I remember thinking, “why aren’t they playing their hits.” I thought it was supposed to be a live concert thing. I remember it seemed like they bickered a lot… but I really don’t recall a lot about seeing the flick. I seem to remember we’d somehow smuggled a 12-pack of beer into the theater… so there’s that. The Beatles took all of the footage of the Let It Be leftover footage and gave it to famed director Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings’), and he’s putting out a six hour mini-series from the footage… restored to glorious condition apparently. It comes out in November. To coincide with that, the Beatles have now released a Super Deluxe edition of Let It Be, much like they did for Abbey Road a few years ago. I personally didn’t think the Abbey Road Super Deluxe was worth owning… I’ve never liked that record, the second side medley drives me crazy as it did Lennon. The question is, is the Let It Be Super Deluxe worth it? I’d have to give you a qualified yes.

I was not a Beatles fanatic. There are Beatles fans who can discern different takes of songs and tell you the day and time the take was recorded. I’m not like that. I’m not that obsessive… well about the Beatles anyway. I bought Let It Be at the used record store on Metcalf when I was in college. I came at it without all the baggage that Beatles fans brought to it. I always thought the Beatles were too polished and safe as a band. I loved Let It Be precisely for the reasons that the critics didn’t – it was raw and kind of sloppy. Maybe its because I’m a Stones guy and they were always a little more raw and that helped me with this LP. Let It Be has the classics “Across The Universe,” the title track and “The Long And Winding Road,” which are all essential Beatles’ songs. “Get Back” is one of their greatest rock songs. But it was the less famous stuff that I absolutely loved. “The Two of Us” which shows a heavy Everly Brothers influence is one of my all time favs. I always thought the song was McCartney writing about Lennon but he was writing about Linda. “I’ve Got A Feeling” is a great, underrated song. Harrison’s two contributions are just great: “For You Blue” is a rare blues tune from them (that I included on my “Rockers Playing Blues” playlist) and “I Me Mine” is played with a rocking vigor. They dusted off one of their oldest Lennon/McCartney tracks, that they’d never recorded, “One After 909” and its a rollicking good time. Disc 1 of the new Let It Be box is the original LP remastered in all its glory. If you’ve never heard Let It Be, this is the way to experience it.

During the tumultuous recording sessions, producer Glyn Johns took the raw tapes and put together an acetate of what he thought the Get Back (as it was still being called) album could be. It was just meant to be a starting place, an idea. He burned four copies and gave them to each of the band members. They weren’t impressed. It was too loose for their tastes. Well, naturally Get Back has been widely bootlegged over the years. I had never heard the bootleg version. Disc 4 in this box is that original, Glyn Johns’ take on Get Back. Again, this is another reason I think this box set is worth it. Get Back is a lot less polished than the version of Let It Be that got released (if that’s possible?). More importantly he kept “Don’t Let Me Down” perhaps my all time favorite Beatles’ song on the LP instead of just releasing it as a B-side. He doesn’t screw with “The Long And Winding Road” by adding strings and harp and yes Paul, its’ better. He also includes a version of “Teddy Boy” which ended up not being released by the Beatles. It became a solo McCartney tune. I really like this version of the album.

Disc 2 and 3 are outtakes and jams from the Let It Be sessions. I have to be honest, while there’s some cool stuff here I was slightly underwhelmed. I’ve been reading forever about all the stuff they recorded. Supposedly there are a ton of older cover songs they jammed on. None of that is really here. Its the knowledge that there is so much more out there – and yes, widely bootlegged – that didn’t make it onto this box that left me a little disappointed. There is some cool stuff – early versions of songs that ended up being solo tracks on the post-break up LPs: Harrison coaxing the band to play “All Things Must Pass,” and Lennon’s “Give Me Some Truth.” There’s a lot more studio chatter on Disc 2 and 3 and its cool to hear these guys interact. There are a lot of the songs that would eventually end up on Abbey Road. Early versions of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” and a sketch of “Something” are all here. Hearing Ringo play “Octopus’s Garden” on piano with George encouraging him is interesting. I like the version of “Oh Darling!” here, it’s more of a jam. There are outtakes that ended up on Anthology 3 that were more fully realized that I would have liked to see included here but alas they are not. Even I have to admit, Disc 2 and 3 are probably for completists only. All of that said though – it is great to listen to these guys rediscover each other as a band to lock into that priceless chemistry they had.

This is a great sounding, fantastic tribute to one of rock n roll’s greatest bands most overlooked and underrated LPs. Is it worth it? At the end of the day I have to say yes based on a) the strength of the remaster of the original LP, especially if you don’t have it, and b) the inclusion of the Get Back album. While I dig the outtakes and studio jams, they might not be for everyone except fanatics like me. It does feel like you’re a fly on the wall. Personally I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson does with the film… I’m sure I’ll share my reaction with you here…

“You and I have memories that stretches out ahead…” Cheers!

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Streaming Now On Hulu – Paul Talks Music With Producer Rick Rubin

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“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played the bass.” – John Lennon

I mentioned on a recent post on the great documentary Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Questlove, how disappointed the Rock Chick and I are about the dearth of new rock n roll coming out these days.  Well, at least a dearth in the rock n roll we’re interested in here at B&V. People kept saying that musicians, unable to tour in 2020 due to Covid, were holing up in studios and taking the time to write new stuff… I haven’t really seen that come to fruition yet in 2021. I will say, I do believe we’re on the cusp of a bunch of new music coming out – both new stuff and archival. Typically when we find ourselves in a bit of a lull on the new release front as we’ve been lately, I find myself turning to the television. After we wrapped up watching the aforementioned Summer Of Soul last weekend we turned to the new, limited series McCartney 3,2,1. Over the course of six, thirty-minute episodes Paul sits down for a candid, lengthy conversation with uber-producer Rick Rubin. As binge watches go, we burned through this one pretty quickly.

First, I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. He’s produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cult, the Black Crowes, the Beastie Boys, Metallica and AC/DC. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. He literally resurrected Johnny Cash who had been left for dead by the Country Music “establishment.” When producing Black Sabbath’s 13, he told them, “Pretend you’ve just recorded your first album. What comes next?” He’s clearly a vibe guy, not a technician. I saw a documentary about the Avett Brothers and Rick Rubin was producing them. I think he owns and maybe lives in the Malibu studio (named Shangri La) where the Avett Brothers doc was filmed. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded Planet Waves there. The man is a rock n roll Guru…and frankly looks the part.

I am also a huge McCartney fan. When you came of age in the mid to late 70s, McCartney was at a zenith and was most people’s favorite ex-Beatle. Lennon went into semi-seclusion in 1975 when he went into his “house-husband” phase after the birth of his son Sean. The late 70s saw the once promising careers of George Harrison and Ringo Starr sort of… fade. McCartney kind of became the de-facto “favorite” as he was the only one in the public eye in a big way at the time. I will say, even then my brother’s favorite Beatle was George… the Quiet Beatle. Which makes sense as I got the loud/obnoxious gene that he was able to avoid. Were I quizzed now, with the benefit of time and reflection I’d probably say John was my “favorite” Beatle. Although I absolutely love much of George Harrison’s solo output. And, I still love Paul McCartney. His late career stuff from Flaming Pie onward is the type of stuff that B&V was founded on – older artists making phenomenal, oft-overlooked new music. I loved his latest, last year’s McCartney III. Having just written all of that, I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t have a “favorite”… maybe I just like the Beatles.

A few years back I saw Black Sabbath on the tour for the aforementioned 13. I met a dude who plays the drums in a local band, the Sunset Sinners. The guy has been around music and musicians his whole life. We’ve had kind of an on-going dialogue about music and the creative process ever since. He has a term for certain bands, albums or songs. He says some stuff is too “musician-y.” Meaning, that the song or the band is so geared toward other musicians that it may not be popular on a broad scale. He once told me he thought the Queens of the Stone Age were too much of a “musician-y” band that they’d never reach a mass audience. (That was me using the term in a sentence for all you Spelling Bee fans.) It’s like when political commentators talk about conversations that are too “Inside the Beltway,” which I assume means its too “wonky” for most of us folks on the street. Or perhaps when a comedian tells an “inside joke.” Same concept, loosely speaking.

McCartney 3,2,1 finds Paul – and isn’t it cool after all these years we still know him by his first name – and Rick Rubin sitting in a studio (maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s Shangri La, I’m not sure). The show is filmed in black and white which classes everything up. McCartney has on what appears to be jeans, a white t-shirt and a cool jacket. After all this time McCartney, especially without hair-dye, is still the person with the coolest hair in the room. Rick Rubin looks like a beach bum who has wandered in off the strand. Rubin looks indistinct and rumpled. He’s got baggy shorts on with a t-shirt that I’d be willing to bet has food stains on it. He’s barefoot during most of the shoot. At times he sits down with his legs crossed and he really looks like a Rock N Roll Buddha. Buddha is always laughing but Rick Rubin is almost always smiling through his thick and unruly beard. He looks like a rock version of Yosemite Sam. I will say Rick is tan – that comes across even in black and white – and looks trimmer than he used to. The clothes, wild hair (whats left of it) and beard make Rubin look like some crazy, rock n roll aesthete or monk.

The Rock Star and the Producer spend the entire time talking music. It’s clear that Rubin is the fan here, smiling and geeking out at some of the things McCartney is describing. They sit, like in an interview show, but not for long. They’re often standing up as though so excited about the conversation and music that they can’t sit down which is understandable. They stand for the most part at a mixing console where Rubin summons up different songs from McCartney’s past. It’s mostly Beatles stuff but there are a few solo or Wings’ tracks that get played. They keep the conversation very lively although at one point I thanked the Rock Chick for hanging in there for six episodes because it’s basically watching two experts stand around and talk about their craft. It’s like being in a bar and overhearing people talk about their favorite sports team. When Rubin starts a track he usually turns elements of the song up loud and other elements down. He’ll break down the bass part or the drums. He likes to focus on guitar solo’s because, well, who doesn’t? He’s very interested in how the Beatles were able to do things in the studio that nobody had done before. Rubin is like a pupil with a master. I enjoyed that but I thoroughly understand that doing all of that, breaking down/analyzing songs is really well, musician-y. This is inside stuff. Most of us listen to the song on the radio and let the whole thing wash over us. Some of us put the headphones on and try to concentrate on the bass or the drums. These guys take that and blow it up to infinity. You won’t hear a complete song, with all parts played. It’s fascinating to hear how they put together a song but again… you gotta really love music which luckily I do. It really sheds light on a song when you strip it down to the studs.

By deconstructing all of these songs it does make you realize what an amazing bassist McCartney is. He talks about how the bass line in some of the tracks helped change the shape and sound of certain tracks. Nowhere is that more evident than on John’s “Come Together” which started as more of a Chuck Berry riff. McCartney talks a lot about the recording process and how the Beatles came up with certain sounds. He has nothing but praise for producer George Martin. They played a guitar solo and Rubin, who is obviously having the time of his life asks who played the solo. McCartney says, “I want to say I did because it was so bad.” That got a chuckle.

During the course of the six programs, while discussing certain songs and the piece parts of tracks McCartney does share some great Beatles stories. Although be prepared, the conversation is non-linear and they bounce all over the place. One could call it a rambling conversation. On one episode they’re talking Beatles and out of nowhere jump to “Band On the Run” which caused the Rock Chick to say, “Wait, I thought this was a McCartney solo song.” Some of the changes of subject matter may cause a little whiplash. Paul tells about the genesis of the song “Michelle” coming from his going to parties at Lennon’s place when John was in art school and pretending sing in French to get “the girls.” He mentions that Lennon was never complimentary of much but that he once told him he really liked one of Paul’s songs when they heard it during an album playback. You can just tell how much that meant to Paul. Rubin at one point reads a quote where the speaker talks about what a great bass player Paul is. Rubin asks him, “Do you know who said that?” Paul didn’t know but it was John who said all of it (excerpted above). It was a nice moment as you could tell that meant a ton to McCartney. He seemed a little flustered.

He also tells the story of the first time they played with Ringo on drums, “He elevated the whole band.” He also said that George was incredibly generous to “let” Eric Clapton play the guitar solos on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m guessing not a lot of people realized how in the Beatles they all played parts interchangeably on songs – McCartney exclusively played bass but Lennon, he and Harrison all played guitars including lead. Whoever had the hot hand in the band got to play the part. George Martin often jumped in on piano. They were so open to the creative process and that freedom and their confidence let them really do extraordinary things that other bands couldn’t do.

I thought all of this stuff was incredibly fascinating. If you’re a Beatles fan this is a “must see.” Although I will admit and warn everyone again, there are parts of this that are very, very “musician-y.” I watched it all in two sittings and maybe breaking it up a bit would be better if you’re not into the craft and details. Its certainly fun to watch Rick Rubin geek out in such a big way. Paul is still an amazingly charismatic and charming man. You might need to turn it up a little because, a) its the Beatles’ music which needs to be played loud and b) McCartney is prone to mumbling… especially in the scenes where he’s chewing gum. I really enjoyed this rare, up-close-and-personal candid conversation with one of Rock n Roll’s legends. I think you will too.

Cheers!