How The Beatles Kept Making Great Music Despite All the In-fighting
Late in the brilliant run of The Beatles, the band members had pretty much had it with one another. Geoff Emerick, the recording engineer on The White Album, told the story of John Lennon getting driven mad by the endless takes needed to produce “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
By then, John was absolutely fed up with what he called Paul McCartney’s “granny music.” Once John went solo, he told the world how he felt on “How Do You Sleep?” In that takedown tune, he describes Paul’s solo work as “Muzak to my ears” while reeling off other insults.
Still, the band found ways to make Abbey Road and Let It Be, The Beatles’ final studio releases. Despite the animosity and regular confrontations over business matters, the four band members still had the sort of chemistry that allowed them to take the world by storm in ’64.
In the Let It Be documentary film, you see how the power of their music let them rise above all the in-fighting.
Watching George go from utter frustration to celebration
There’s a moment early in Let It Be when you imagine The Beatles breaking up right before your eyes. After trying out a song, Paul implores George Harrison to help “get it simpler, so we can complicate it later.” George seems bothered, noting he doesn’t think there’s anything complicated about it at all.
He calls for a playback of the tape to prove it. Paul takes a quick turn to condescension while trying to maintain a veneer of politeness. “I’m trying to help you,” he tells George. “But I feel as though I’m annoying you.”
After they bicker back and forth a bit, the camera cuts to Ringo, who sits there with a clearly annoyed look on his face. “I’ll play whatever you want me to play,” George finally tells Paul. “Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play.”
Obviously, dropping band members out of songs is the preamble to a band splitting up. But it doesn’t happen. Later in the film, after someone gives the classic “You Really Got a Hold on Me” a try, George is smiling and singing along. He’s happy to be playing music again with old friends.
From what we see in Let It Be and other rehearsal footage, even the at-war Beatles could go from darkness to a group of twenty-somethings gleefully jamming together in an instant.
In the above clip of the band working on “Two of Us,” you hear John quickly transition to an uptempo version of Hank Williams’s “Hey Good Lookin’.” Everyone happily plays along. John described the sort of studio magic they shared after the band had parted ways.
The Beatles’ special rapport wasn’t something John would forget.
While we know John wanted out of The Beatles by 1969, he acknowledged there were certain things he couldn’t replicate after the band had split. In his 1970 Rolling Stone interviews with Jann Wenner, he described the special rapport they shared in the studio.
“In spite of all the things, the Beatles really could play music together when they weren’t uptight,” John said. “If I get a thing going, Ringo knows where to go. Like that. That’s the only thing I sometimes miss: being able to just … make a certain noise and … I know they’ll all know where we’re going.”
By the mid-’70s, the bad blood had gone away between John and Paul. They were cordial — friendly, even — at that point. When the two old songwriting partners took a whack at a few songs in the studio, they’d even floated the idea of a Beatles reunion.
But it wasn’t meant to be. George was happy to be making hit records on his own and exploring his own unique path in music. Thankfully, they all stuck together long enough to get those final, classic recording sessions done.
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