Monday, September 16, 2019

The Newly Discovered Mark Lewishon Beatles Tape

It's generally accepted that the breakup of The Beatles happened during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions and that, when the band regrouped to record Abbey Road, they all knew that it would be their last album and that they only put it out in order to "preserve the myth" as John once put it. It's well documented John Lennon had told Beatles manager Allen Klein that he wanted to quit The Beatles about a week after the newly revealed conversation took place and then announced his decision to the other three Beatles on September 20, 1969 right after they all signed a new contract with EMI. A newly discovered recording, however, purports to re-write this history by dropping a bombshell: The Beatles actually discussed recording another album after Abbey Road. The tape in question is in the possession of famed Beatles biographer, Mark Lewishon.

On September 8, 1969, about two weeks after they finished Abbey Road, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison convened a meeting at Apple’s HQ in Savile Row, which they recorded for the benefit of Ringo Starr who could not attend due to being hospitalized for an intestinal issue. Lennon starts out by saying "Ringo, you can’t be here, but this is so you can hear what we’re discussing." The three Beatles talk about recording another album and releasing a single in time for Christmas. John also proposes a new formula for the upcoming album: four songs apiece from Paul, George and himself, plus two from Ringo "if he wants them". Lennon adds that, going forward, his and Paul's songs would no longer be credited to Lennon/McCartney as they always had, regardless of who wrote what, but would be credited individually.

Paul, reacting to George being given equal standing as a songwriter says, "I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good".

George responds with "That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs".

John gets a dig on Paul by saying that nobody liked Maxwell's Silver Hammer and suggests that even Paul himself didn't like it, so he should have given it to another artist like Mary Hopkin. Paul replies "I recorded it because I liked it".

It's certainly an interesting conversation, but is it such a bombshell? Not really. A number of Beatles authors have documented discussions among the band about new albums, singles and even a Christmas song post-Abbey Road. As far back as 20 years ago, Beatles biographers were writing about a tape recorded by Anthony Fawcett sometime in September where The Beatles discuss how to handle a theoretical post-Abbey Road album. Barry Miles' book Many Years From Now (Secker & Warburg 1998) says:

John's complaint to Paul was actually an attempt to get his songs on to albums without the usual democratic vetting by the others, as the conversation between John and Paul recorded by Anthony Fawcett in September 1969 reveals. John tells Paul: If you look back on the Beatles' albums, good or bad or whatever you think of "em, you'll find that most times if anybody has got extra time it's you! For no other reason than you worked it like that. Now when we get into a studio I don't want to go through games with you to get space on the album, you know. I don't want to go through a little maneuvering or whatever level it's on. I gave up fighting for an Aside or fighting for time. I just thought, well, I'm content to put 'Walrus" on the "B" side when I think it's much better ... I didn't have the energy or the nervous type of thing to push it, you know. So I relaxed a bit nobody else relaxed, you didn't relax in that way. So gradually I was submerging. Paul protested that he had tried to allow space on albums for John's songs, only to find that John hadn't written any. John explained, "There was no point in turning 'em out. I couldn't, didn't have the energy to turn 'em out and get 'em on as well." He then told Paul how he wanted it to be in the future: "When we get in the studio I don't care how we do it but I don't want to think about equal time. I just want it known I'm allowed to put four songs on the album, whatever happens." This was something the other Beatles had always wanted to avoid, ever since John's insistence on including "Revolution 9" on the White Album and his anger at their refusal to release the long, sound collage "What's the New Mary Jane". The other three Beatles wanted to retain a readily definable Beatles sound. Apple had already released Two Virgins and Unfinished Music, Life with the Lyons to mass derision and incomprehension, and plans were underway for The Wedding Album; understandably the other three wanted John's experiments to remain separate from his work with the Beatles. It was for this type of move, a cunning attempt to by-pass the Beatles democracy, that the others, much as they also loved him, regarded him as a "maneuvering swine", as Paul once put it.

The Fawcett recording may or may not be the same tape that Mark Lewishon has been hocking around.

Furthermore, in December of 1969, three months after John told the other Beatles that he intended to quit the band, John said in an interview "I don’t know if I want to record together again. I go off and on it. I really do.The problem is that in the old days, when we needed an album, Paul and I got together and produced enough songs for it. Nowadays there’s three if us writing prolifically and trying to fit it all onto one album. Or we have to think of a double album every time, which takes six months. That’s the hang-up we have. It’s not a personal ‘The Beatles are fighting’ thing, so much as an actual physical problem. What do you do? I don’t want to spend six months making an album I have two tracks on. And neither do Paul or George probably. That’s the problem. If we can overcome that, maybe it’ll sort itself out".

At that point, the long delayed Let It Be album (which was recorded before Abbey Road) was soon to be released so John was allegedly pretending that the band was still together in order to keep from affecting sales of the upcoming album. Other Beatles biographers suggest that John truly was on the fence about quitting and that Paul's surprise press release announcing the breakup in May of 1970 forced John's hand.

In summation, the Mark Lewishon tape isn't the bombshell that it purports to be. It's an interesting look into the Beatles' minds at the time, but it doesn't reveal anything that wasn't already known. In other words: Nothing to see here. Move along.

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