It's Not Like It Was Before:
by Robert Rodriguez
Some Post-Fab Socializing and Near-Reunions
Chapter 32 - Fab Four FAQ 2.0
All of the available evidence suggests that the last time all four Beatles were together in one place was on August 20, 1969; the occasion as to oversee the final mixes of Abbey Road. From that point onward, three ex-Fabs at most would gather at any one time (notwithstanding the hoax that all four reunited in secret for a November 1976 recording session). Though they eventually resumed cordial relations, the split's effect of generating four separate careers made even casual get-togethers difficult.
Of course, each would assist another on recording projects from their breakup onward, but only once were three of them in the studio simultaneously-for the recording of John's "I'm the Greatest" during the Ringo sessions-and even that was a bit of a fluke. All four seemed to possess a certain self-consciousness about "Beatling" together that kept them from being as close as they otherwise might have been, given the enormous weight of expectations that came from being former Fabs.
Paul and John's public sniping kept them physically apart for over two years, until they decided to end the self-generated bad press over dinner in New York in early 1972. Thereafter, their contact was sporadic: only in 1974 did relations thaw to the point where they began to hang out, even making music (or something resembling it). Their second honeymoon ended when Paul overplayed his hand two years later, but it was with no small measure of gratitude that he reported that his last phone conversation with John had gone well.
Though George's relations with John and Paul had their ups and downs, each man's esteem for Ringo endured. No matter what they felt toward each other at any given time, all three made it a point to help their former drummer out whenever they could. History records the strong likelihood that early 1981 would have at least seen the foursome back together for the Ringed One's nuptials; where that might have led-if anywhere-is anyone's guess.
"I'm the Greatest" Session-March 13, 1973
Had he not bailed on an earlier commitment to appear at the Bangladesh benefit, John might have comprised one third of an ex-Fab threesome just two years after Abbey Road was recorded. Instead, it would be another year and a half before the same lineup would get together for a good cause, in this case to jump-start Ringo's career as a rock album artist. On tap was one of John's compositions, "I'm the Greatest"-a sort of Muhammad Ali-like bit of self-promotion that its author knew he could never get away with singing. But retooled slightly and put into the hands of the self-effacing percussionist, the braggadocio was endearing rather than off-putting.
Ensconced in producer Richard Perry's beloved Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles, John and Ringo, accompanied by Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann, were attempting to get a handle on the not-quite-finished song. Perry, who had never met John before, was not a little starstruck. Not long before, George had been on hand to record "Photograph," "Sunshine Life for Me," and "You and Me (Babe)" for the album. For Perry, the chance to work alongside two ex-Fabs (albeit separately) on Ringo's album was a rare treat, even with their progress momentarily bogged down as they attempted to craft a smooth middle eight. What came next would later be recalled as one of the most delightfully surreal moments in Perry's long and colorful career.
The studio phone rang-it was George, calling to check on the session's progress. (It is not known whether or not he knew John was in the studio at that moment; it's inferred that he was merely touching base on things generally.) Stunned, Perry called out to the musicians: "George is on the phone-he wants to know if he can come down." Shouted John from the piano bench: "Tell him to get down here and help me finish this bridge!" Nearly shaking by now, Perry relayed the message. Within moments, Hari Georgeson indeed arrived and, opening his guitar case, got down to business.
Watching the three ex-Fabs at work, Perry was struck by the contagious energy generated as the musicians instinctively picked up on each other's wavelength, as though the last four years hadn't happened. Lacking any better word to describe the scene, it was "magic." Gushed Perry later, "You could really tell that they were excited. There was such a fantastic energy coming out of the room-it was really sensational!"
With George's Beatle-esque arpeggios, Billy's carnival-like organ, and John's supporting vocal, "I'm the Greatest" indeed became a worthy celebration of the musicians' collective past. Without evoking any particular song directly, it summed up the best of their sound, hitting all the right notes and offering the public a glimpse into the what-ifs, even without Paul's input. Once word of the session leaked out, the response was immediate: the press trumpeted "reunion!" while fans still going through withdrawal in the wake of the breakup were suddenly jolted by the sensation that their three-year ordeal was over and that the Beatles-well, most of them, anyway-were back in the studio.
Representatives of John, George, and Ringo were quick to downplay expectations that something profound had occurred. While John granted that the session had been enjoyable, he wasn't yet ready to cop to anything amounting to personal nostalgia, instead issuing a mock press release that read in part: "As usual, an awful lot of rumours, if not downright lies, were going on, including the possibility of impresario Allen De Klein of grABKCo playing bass for the other three in an 'as-yet-untitled' album called I Was a Teenage Fat Cat. Producer, Richard Perry, who planned to take the tapes along to sell them to Paul McCartney, told a friend, 'I'll take the tapes to Paul McCartney'."
Indeed, Ringo himself recognized the significance of John and George's involvement and made a point of spiriting the tapes off to England to get Paul (and Linda) into the project. For his trouble, he was rewarded with a splendid original ballad ("Six O'Clock") and a hit single ("You're Sixteen"), abetted by Macca (and Harry Nilsson). Though Ringo didn't exactly spark the all-out reunion that many hoped for, it certainly underscored the passing of ill will that the former group and fans had endured for too long. Indeed, it looked like the long and lonely winter had at last given way to sunshine.
John, Ringo, and Paul in Los Angeles-March-April 1974
One year after the "I'm the Greatest" session, much had happened in the careers of the ex-Fabs. Both Paul and Ringo were suddenly enjoying massive chart success and generating rave reviews (for Band on the Run and Ringo, respectively). George too had had a #1 album and single (Living in the Material World, "Give Me Love") during the past year, but his personal life was in upheaval while his professional fortunes were about to enter a downturn. For John, the past year had been the hardest. Still in a funk after the lambasting Some Time in New York City had earned him, he expected Mind Games was to turn things around. It didn't.
Adding to his woes was the continued courtroom battle against the department of immigration (acting at the behest of the Nixon administration), as well as his marital situation, which suffered from the aforementioned pressures as well as internal stresses resulting in a separation from Yoko. As winter 1974 turned to spring, John had further suffered the indignity of having a new album project (Rock 'n' Roll) seized from him by the producer, leaving it in limbo. Lastly, his unfettered acting out had culminated in the public humiliation of being tossed from a nightclub. Though enjoying a second (or third) adolescence, surrounded by his gang (Ringo, Harry, Klaus, Mal, Keith Moon, and assorted showbiz pals) and his new girl (May), he was still rudderless. Work on Pussy Cats at least offered a purpose, but in his own life, he still had trouble finding a direction.
It was therefore a most auspicious time for his former partner to slip back into his life. While riding high with his current album, Paul was also in a bit of a holding pattern. Wings had disintegrated beneath the weight of his own ex-Beatle baggage months earlier; the irony was that they had been formed to facilitate a return to live performances and now, with the biggest album of his solo career on his hands, Paul had no band to tour with.
He'd been in town earlier that month to attend the Grammys, where Live and Let Die had been nominated for Best Original Score. (It lost to Neil Diamond's long-forgotten Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack.) Now, catching wind of John's role at the helm of Harry's new album, he and Linda paid a visit to Warner Brothers' Burbank Studios to check out the action. As it happened, it was the first day of the Pussy Cats sessions, and by the time they arrived, recording had ended for the evening. Ringo, Klaus, and Keith Moon left soon after, completely missing out on the reunion that followed.
Witnesses recall being stunned when the McCartneys, with Paul sporting a modest, devil-like musketeer, entered the studio. (According to writer Christopher Sandford, he announced his presence by calling out: "Fuck me! Anyone left alive?") Onlookers awaited John's reaction; he'd been listening to playbacks in the control room and now strolled purposefully over to the Macs. Onlookers weren't sure whether there'd be a bear hug or a punch thrown. Instead there was neither: a strong handshake followed by warm greetings. Paul declared that he'd like to make some music and immediately commandeered Ringo's vacated drum kit. The tired Lennon might have demurred, but he was well aware of the numerous sets of eyes in the room "all just watching me and Paul," so he dutifully strapped on a guitar, once a bassist had been located.
What ensued was famously bootlegged on a release entitled A Toot and a Snore in '74. By the time the tape began rolling on the "session," Stevie Wonder, who apparently had been recording nearby, wandered in, having been tipped off to the momentous occasion. Ever the congenial host, John is heard offering the Motown legend a pick-me-up: "Do you want a snort, Steve? A toot? It's going 'round. . . ." Wonder must have declined the offer, for he seems to be the only star in the room in full command of his musicality, delivering a marvelous performance on a Fender Rhodes throughout. As Paul bangs away on the traps and occasionally chimes in on harmonies, John can be heard mostly either exhorting the musicians to settle on a song to play-one that everyone knows-and stick with it, or cussing out the engineers for an assortment of crimes, mostly concerning his headphone mix.
It would be satisfying to report that the re-pairing of John and Paul after nearly four years resulted in a return of the Beatle magic heard a year earlier on the "I'm the Greatest" session. This would be a lie, however. What the recording revealed was the sound of two former partners having a good time-more or less-in just hanging out casually, but hindered by the less than ideal circumstances (nerves, fatigue, lack of forethought) from producing anything worth hearing more than once. Moreover, as May Pang has said repeatedly through the years, the tape was never meant to be made public; none of the participants made any claims of greatness for what ended up recorded.
Among the tunes that were actually attempted were "Lucille"-a song expected to be Macca's forte, given his well-known Little Richard predilection- sung by John with Paul harmonizing; "Stand by Me"-sadly, a mess, especially in comparison to the hit version John would record later that year; and an improvisation featuring John's stream-of-consciousness ramblings, titled by bootleggers "Never Trust a Bugger with Your Mother." May recalls Leadbelly's "Midnight Special" also being performed: if recorded, it has not yet surfaced. All told, additional participants included May on tambourine, Linda McCartney on organ, Nilsson on vocals and piano, Jesse Ed Davis on lead guitar, sax man Bobby Keys, and engineer Ed Freeman on out-of-tune bass.
The following day, when Ringo arrived for work on Harry's album, he immediately noticed his setup was not as he'd left it and demanded to know who the culprit was. "Paul was here last night," John told him. "He played 'em." Famously fussy about his drums (they loomed large in his legend, after all), Ringo sulked. "He's always fuckin' around with me things!" (May documented the exchange, providing us with a vivid snapshot of the former Fabs' personal dynamic-it was as if they'd never left Liverpool.)
Macca was in town for at least a few more days to attend the Academy Awards on April 2-the famous "streaker" evening-to again claim an award for "Live and Let Die," should it win. (It didn't-Marvin Hamlish's recording of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" won for The Sting.) He'd also accepted an invitation by John to come visit the Santa Monica house he'd rented, ground zero for gatherings of the "Hollywood Vampires."
It was here at poolside on the sunny afternoon of April 1 that John and Paul were photographed together for the very last time. Both May and Keith Moon's gofer, Dougal Butler, captured the two ex-Beatles on film: Butler's shot also includes Linda, May, and Keith Moon, while May's featured the two men alone, talking, with Paul shading his eyes from the sun. She also got off a shot of Ringo and Paul at the piano that day, as well as one of John and Ringo, but alas, not one of all three together. (Nancy Andrews, well acquainted with John and May, was apparently not present and would not meet Ringo until the following month; otherwise it's quite probable that her camera would also have captured the rare get-together.)
John, Paul, and George in New York City-December 20, 1974
Likewise undocumented visually was the last time these three ex-Fabs met up in person.
The place was the trendy Club Hippopotamus, located at 405 East Sixty-second Street (near First Avenue). It had been the scene of a party on November 14, attended by John and May, Mick and Bianca, Ronnie Spector, and others, celebrating the off-Broadway opening of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road-an event not likely to warm the heart of George, who'd already made known his displeasure with Willy Russell's John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . and Bert that same year.
This evening marked the end of the Dark Horse tour, which had been attended by John and May in Nassau, Long Island a week before; Paul and Linda (in an outlandish disguise, sporting Afro wigs and a fake mustache) had attended the Madison Square Garden show. By all accounts, George's dark mood swings had given way to relief at having finished the slog of the demanding tour. The stress had been especially manifest in his dealings with John of late, but on this night all was well. Also attending the party were May, Olivia, Neil Aspinall, and-by some accounts-Yoko.
It was a propitious time for a Fab gathering. (Ducking a subpoena from Allen Klein, Ringo was hiding out in England.) Though literally on the verge of dissolving their legal ties as "Beatles," the four of them were closer together now than they'd been since 1968. Paul and Linda had formed the habit of dropping in on the Fifty-second Street apartment of John and May when they were in town, where evenings were spent reminiscing over a bottle of wine as John played Paul selections from his Beatles bootleg collection. Wings had been reconstituted with the additions of Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton, and Paul told John of his plans to record their next album in New Orleans.
Herein lies one of the most tantalizing "what-ifs" in all of the ex-Fab saga. For years, May Pang has told interviewers, and related in her own books, how John was planning on joining Paul down in Louisiana, in advance of the Venus and Mars sessions, with the intent of doing some writing together. Both men were at their commercial peak at the same time, with Band on the Run's runaway success coming within the same year as John scoring a #1 album and single with Walls and Bridges. But Wings wasn't exactly stable and fooled no one into believing it was a "band" and not merely Paul's hand puppet.
For his part, while John had managed to produce perhaps his strongest collection of original material since Imagine at least, the inspiration was beginning to wane. He had the chore of getting Rock 'n' Roll finished up, but after that-and with Apple shutting down-he was a free agent. Paul was likewise transitioning over to Capitol as his contractual obligations were ending. It was as if the planets were at last in alignment for those two, and possibly George and Ringo as well, to get together to do something.
(Lest anyone think this enticingly intriguing episode was purely a too-good-to-be-true figment of Ms. Pang's imagination, consider this: Derek Taylor received a postcard around that time from John, saying, "Going to New Orleans to see Paul." Furthermore, Art Garfunkel, whom John was friendly with, reported being quizzed by the ex-Fab about the prospect of working again with his Paul. Telling him, "It's a lot of fun if you can keep it on that pure musical level," Garfunkel later said that he was disappointed John hadn't followed through on his advice. As for himself, he and Mr. Simon got together that very year to record the first new Simon and Garfunkel song in half a decade, "My Little Town," scoring a Top 10 hit in the process.)
Unfortunately, the New Orleans meet-up never occurred. John moved back into the Dakota in February 1975, Yoko became pregnant, and the rest has been subject to endless speculation.
John and Paul at the Dakota-April 24 and 25, 1976
Despite the New Orleans visit having come to naught, relations between Lennon and McCartney stayed warm. On Christmas 1975, Paul and Linda charmed their way past security at the Dakota and showed up outside the Lennons' door, singing Christmas carols. The Macs got to meet Sean, and from that time forward, an awful lot of their conversation dealt with child care.
Come the following spring, Wings was at last ready (as Paul's last band had been in February 1964) to conquer the States. The Wings Over America tour was set to begin in April but, owing to guitarist Jimmy McCulloch breaking a finger, was delayed for three weeks. During the ensuing downtime, Macca headed over to the Dakota to pay his respects. As it happened, Paul had lost his father five weeks earlier; coincidentally, Freddie Lennon had succumbed to stomach cancer on April 1. Just as the two men had once bonded as youths over the loss of their mothers, they undoubtedly now had more to talk about.
The media chatter of the day concerned the increased likelihood that the Beatles would reunite, expressed in the face of Paul's massive road show. (With all the time and energy Paul had put into launching such a high-profile tour, the idea of a reunion being more likely instead of less sounds even stranger now than it did then, but such were the times.) Picking up on the rampant rumors was NBC's Saturday Night Live, a show launched the previous October that had quickly made a name for itself with its blend of subversive humor and music.
On the evening of April 24, the show was hosted by Raquel Welch, with musical guests Phoebe Snow and John Sebastian. Following the latter's performance of "Welcome Back," Lorne Michaels, the show's producer, appeared, seated at a desk. In an earnest tone, he addressed "four very special people: John, Paul, George, and Ringo-the Beatles." At the very moment he spoke these words, John and Paul were sitting together, watching-a ten-minute cab ride away. The universe could not have scripted a better scenario for what was happening.
Michaels began his pitch. "Lately, there have been a lot of rumors to the effect that the four of you might be getting back together. . . . In my book, the Beatles are the best thing that ever happened to music." He then acknowledged that there might be personal obstacles to getting together, and that other offers on the table might have been too low. Therefore, he assured the former Fabs that "the National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this . . . certified check for $3,000. . . . All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. . . . 'She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.' That's $1,000 right there."
While the audience took the tongue-in-cheek offer for the satire that it was and laughed along with it, Lennon and McCartney saw an opportunity to one-up the gag: what if they hailed a taxi, showed up on the set, and claimed their half of the offer? (Meanwhile, Michaels petition continued: "You divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that's up to you-I'd rather not get involved.") So it was that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might have become the most talked-about moment in live television history arose-only to be cast aside. Deciding that they were too tired to follow through, John and Paul decided to simply let it be.
(Consider, too, that just days earlier, on Tuesday, April 20, George had been in New York City. He'd appeared at the Fifty-fifth Street Theater with Monty Python, and performed "The Lumberjack Song" onstage. What if he had still been in town on Saturday night? Could he have been independently tipped off to Michaels' offer, arriving at the studio to surprise the producer and all of America, but John and Paul too?)
The SNL campaign to entice the former Fabs onto the show picked up a month later. On May 22-the same day that Wings played the Boston Garden-Michaels again appeared before the cameras, this time upping the ante to a princely $3,200 (". . . an extra fifty dollars for each of you. That's if you split it equally-I'm still not sure what your situation with Ringo is"), plus paid accommodations at Cross Town Motor Inn ("hosting New York's visitors since 1971"). The show would eventually settle on hosting George alone six months later.
In any event, that April Saturday ended well, with the McCartneys taking their leave sometime after the show ended. The following day, Paul arrived again, this time brandishing a guitar. Unfortunately, as anyone with a six-month-old can attest (and Paul himself should have known), sleep is the first casualty of parenting. He found Lennon in no mood for socializing, much less making music. Having apparently been up late with Sean, he dismissed Macca with the words "Please call before you come over. It's not 1956 and turning up at the door isn't the same anymore." Paul took the hint with something more than its intended weight and flew off to Texas to begin his tour soon after. John's telling of the incident indicated regret that he never saw Paul again after that day, but he certainly had not meant to close the door on their relationship. (A dreadful made-for-VH-1 dramatization fictionalized the visit, airing in 2000 as Two of Us. Starring Jared Harris and Aidan Quinn as Lennon and McCartney respectively, it was directed by Let It Be's Michael Lindsay-Hogg.)
The two would have their ups and downs by phone-not surprisingly, considering John's capricious nature. Paul later recalled one conversation where, to his ears, it sounded like his former partner was affecting an "American" attitude. Not in the mood for such pretension, he slammed down the phone after telling him, "Oh, fuck off, Kojak." But memories of their final phone call proved to be of great comfort after their separation became permanent.
In 1981, the legendary Carl Perkins flew down to George Martin's studio in Montserrat to record "Get It," a song Paul had written with him in mind for a duet on Tug of War. Gratified by all the attention and hospitality, Perkins sat Paul and Linda down by way of thanks to play for them a song that had come to him during the night. It was called "My Old Friend." Before the tune had finished, Paul suddenly arose and left, visibly moved to the point of tears. As Carl told the story later, Linda gave the bewildered rockabilly a hug and explained that during their last conversation, John had said to Paul, "Think of me every now and then, my old friend"-the very same words that were in Carl's song.
Paul, George, and Ringo at the Wedding of Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd - May 19, 1979
On June 9, 1977, the long-moribund Harrison-Boyd marriage was at last officially ended in London. Though Pattie and Eric had set up a household long before (as had George and Olivia), the couple had no particular plans for nuptials. When a wedding finally occurred on March 27, 1979, it was less a matter of legalizing their relationship than it was the result of Clapton's manager, Roger Forrester's, efforts to generate some good press while reconciling Pattie with her famously unfaithful lover. A fling with model Jenny McLean had enraged Pattie, who flew off to America. Forrester bet Clapton that he could get his name in the next day's papers, then announced to the press that his client was marrying Pattie Boyd. Clapton duly proposed and the two were married in Tucson.
Clapton was on the road that spring with his Backless tour, but he sent Pattie back to England in April, where plans were soon formed for an "official" wedding celebration at their home, Hurtwood Edge. Guests received invites that said the following:
Me and the Mrs. got married the other day but that was in America so we've decided to have a bash in my garden on Saturday, May 19th about 3:00 p.m. for all our mates here at home. If you are free, try and make it, it's bound to be a laugh.
. . . see you then . . .
Eric and Pattie Clapton
P.S. you don't have to bring any presents if you don't want to.
The guest list ran like a Who's Who of British rock, ranging from skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan to Clapton's ex-Cream bandmates, members of the Rolling Stones, and three of the ex-Beatles, including his bride's former husband. While not formally asking his musician friends to entertain, Clapton had installed a stage, complete with amps, PA, and instruments, just in case.
Sure enough, soon the stage was filled with guests and an ad hoc set began blasting out. All three ex-Fabs were onstage-while no photos or recordings of the event have been made public, at least a couple of songs played that day are known: "Get Back" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band." Like the Lennon-McCartney jam at Burbank studios, the effort wasn't being made in the name of great music; just, as Clapton had promised, for "a laugh." (Denny Laine described their sound as "absolute rubbish.") By all accounts, though, a grand time was had by all (except perhaps Jack Bruce, who fell victim to a cruel prank by Clapton, who spread the word around to the musicians to leave the stage one by one until Bruce was by himself-humiliated).
The historic nature of the occasion-the last semi-public live performance of three quarters of the Beatles-was little noted by the participants at the time, but for Clapton was cause for regret in view of later events. John Lennon, through egregious oversight, had not been invited. According to Slowhand, John later told him that if he'd been asked, he would have come. As the bluesman reflected years later, "A great opportunity was lost for the Beatles to re-form for one last performance."
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||About the Author - Robert Rodriguez|
Robert is a Beatleologist from the Chicago area. He is a writer and pop culture historian who has authored and coauthored books on topics ranging from Film to politics and crime. Some of his works include Fab Four FAQ (co-authored with Stuart Shea) and The 1950s' Most Wanted.