Wednesday 29 July 2015

Help! turns 50, but how has it aged?

The Beatles on grass during Help!
A Rare French lobby card.
For 50 years, Help! has been overshadowed by A Hard Day's Night. 

Popular sentiment scorns the second Beatles' movie for lacking the wit and intelligence of A Hard Day's Night which is a fictionalized documentary of Beatlemania, screaming girls et al. In contrast, Help! is a cartoonish romp, revolving around a hokey plot about a religious Eastern cult wanting to sacrifice Ringo for wearing a special ring. The Times of London noted in Help! "some sense of strain, more careless and slapdash, thus less funny" than A Hard Day's Night. Even John Lennon complained that The Beatles were “extras" in their own film. So, does Help! deserve its lowly reputation?


Okay, the story is dumb and the chase scenes which dominate the movie are silly, but Help! is a pop art gem. It's a snapshot of mid-sixties popular British, bursting with colour, turtlenecks, long hair, short skirts, absurdist humour and wisps of pot smoke (more of that later). Let's also single out the movie's cinematography, editing and direction which, in 1965, paved the way for rock videos that flourished 16 years later with the arrival of MTV. Sure, there were "jukebox musicals" before Help! harking back to the dawn of rock 'n' roll, but they lacked the visual flair of director Richard Lester.

Backstory: After directing A Hard Day's Night, Lester was awarded a budget more than twice as large to shoot a follow-up. He didn't want to make a colour version of A Hard Day's Night (seen it, done it), and he couldn't make a film about The Beatles' private lives "because by then it was certainly x-rated," he explained many years later. So, Lester took the opposite approach. "They have to become passive recipients of an outside plot or outside threat brought on by a weakness within themselves."

The first idea for a story revolved around Ringo being unable to remain "the one at the back" and so he hires a stranger in a bar one night to kill him. Problem is, Ringo was hammered that night and when he wakes up, can't remember who the hitman is. Unfortunately, a French movie was being made at that time with a nearly identical plot (never released).

Instead, Lester got his hands on a Eight Arms To Hold You, a screenplay written by Marc Behm (who wrote the Grand-Hepburn hit, Charade) that was first submitted to famed British comic actor Peter Sellers. Remember that Lester began his character in the UK directing Sellers' comedy troupe, The Goons, who directly influenced The Beatles' own Liverpudlian humour and helped shape Lester's visual gags in Help! Lester handed the Behm script to a friend, acclaimed playwright Charles Wood, who rewrote it in 10 days to tailor it for the Fab Four. 

"It was just an assignment," Wood recalled nearly 30 years later. "I don't think I did a particularly good job." In fact, a United Artists exec regarded the script as "fourth-rate Marx Brothers" but realized that his studio needed to cash in on the box office success of A Hard Day's Night. Fast. The Beatles were considered a flash-in-the-pan boy band in 1965 with a limited shelf life.

Lester was wise to cast some fine British comic actors, starting with Leo McKern (as Clang) and Victor Spinetti (who also later appeared in A Hard Day's Night as well as Magical Mystery Tour). The inevitable "girl" role went to stage veteran Eleanor Bron (as Ahme) who made her screen debut in Help! Let's face it: their performances cover up The Beatles indifferent acting which was influenced more by cannabis than Stanislavski.

(In 2015, it's politically incorrect to cast white English actors as Indian characters, but being east Asian myself, I'm not offended by the "brownface" here. Nothing in Help! explicitly refers to India, and the film is smart enough to take the piss out of itself for playing brownface. Just watch the start of the Indian restaurant scene where Ringo is astonished that the doorman isn't Indian, but from Stepney.)

There was a lot of criticism at the time directed at Help! for relying on slick cinematography, exotic locals and flashy editing to cover up a patchy story. Fair enough. Home viewers inevitably fast-forward through the dumber scenes and watch the six musical numbers (including the opening titles). These numbers are really music videos, bursting with clever camera angles, quick cutting and surreal imagery.

Who knows why The Beatles are singing The Night Before on the windy Salisbury Plain, surrounded by tanks and soldiers when they're hiding from Clang's gang? And just who is that guy playing flute in The Beatles' house in You've Got To Hide Your Love Away? Never mind. It looks cool. It's eye candy and fans get to watch their heroes on the big screen playing  rock 'n' roll.

Two sequences stand out. Another Girl showcases quick cutting and unusual and often juxtaposing camera angles to charming effect. However, Ticket To Ride is the film's highlight, shot on the Austrian alps where The Beatles cavort in the snow and ski. The wintry location and images have nothing to do with the song, but the barrage of surreal imagery, such as The Beatles picnicing in the snow, is exciting and infectious. Credit goes to editor John Victor Smith for piecing together this random footage. (Smith would go on to cut many of Lester's subsequent films and assist with the seminal reggae film, The Harder They Come.) Credit also goes to Lester's cinematographer David Watkin (who'd later shoot Oscar winners, Chariots of Fire and Moonstruck).

Most of the praise goes to Lester himself for orchestrating these visuals. It's astonishing to think that Help! was his first film in colour. I get the sense that he's like a kid with a new toy set trying all sorts of ideas. We can trace Lester's visual style in Help! to his 1963 short film with Peter Sellers The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film and his early TV work translating the Goons from radio which both feature Help!'s anarchic, comic energy.

It would be wrong to ignore the rest of the film. Scenes such as the Scotland Yard one showcase The Beatles's cheekiness to authority, and the Intermission, which speeds up nonsensical footage of the band cavorting in the grass, are funny and inspired.

Speaking of grass, yes, there's a message implied in Help!'s visual and verbal non-sequitors and absurdist situations to suggest that The Beatles at least were consuming more than scones every morning on set. Lester recalls that they could never remember their lines and were often giggling between takes. 

Help! will forever pale beside A Hard Day's Night, but it remains a charming romp that continues to dazzle Beatles fans and movielovers alike.

A final note: Help! (along with Yellow Submarine) is blessed with a gorgeous 5.1 surround sound mix and must be watched this way in your home theatre.

Play loud.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Stars on 45

In the late 70s, like many teenagers, I experimented. Unlike others, my experiments were sonic and utilised Beatles records.

I’d saved up my money for months, every penny I earned from my part time job, in order to purchase the blue box of Beatles vinyl albums. And I played those discs non-stop. Experimenting, I used my dad’s reel-to-reel to record and play the introduction to Come Together at half speed (completely awesome, by the way), I played tracks backwards, just to hear what they sounded like (including Revolution 9 and "Turn Me On Dead Man"), and I plugged the turntable into his brand new cassette deck to create my own Beatles medley. Almost forty years later I can no longer remember the reasons I had for doing this, but I selected songs which had a similar tempo, and with many false starts and a fast finger on the pause button, I finally created a track I was happy with.

A year or so later, a friend who was a part time DJ, played a track to me. Because it included some Beatles, he figured I might like it. It was a dance medley. A bunch of songs spliced together with some Beatles thrown in. And, I was quick to point out to him, a solo Ringo number. Entitled Let’s Do It in the 80s Great Hits, and credited to an artist named Passion, it was originally compiled by a Montreal DJ to play at clubs. I don’t think I ever heard it again until last year when I went hunting for it.

Someone else who heard it around that time was a Dutch music publisher. As he held copyright for one of the tracks, Venus, the hit song by Shocking Blue, he realised it was a pirate release that used snippets of official recordings. The track had gained some popularity in dance clubs and so he saw the potential in creating his own, legitimate version.

Originally released in late 1979, the result was Stars on 45, which jammed some old pop standards together before delving into the Beatles back catalogue. Produced by Jaap Eggermont, who had been a member of an early incarnation of Golden Earring, it was an incredible feat in the days of analogue recording. Snippets of songs performed by some very talented sound-alikes, all recorded independently, before being compiled against a drum track which provided a solid dance beat. Radio DJs started playing only the Beatles section, and so new edits were made. A second single was released, which included only two non-Beatle tracks. It took more than a year, but by 1981 the single hit the charts around the world. Finally an album was released. Titled Stars on Long Play, the medley was now almost 16 minutes long and consisted of only Beatle material. (The North American cover is reproduced below)

As a teen it took me a little while to determine whether they’d used actual Beatles recordings or not. To immature ears, it certainly sounded authentic. Even now it’s an excellent facsimile. (On a similar note, check out what they did with The Rolling Stones.)

Capitol records responded with all the speed and class for which it’s renowned. For several years they’d been rehashing Beatles material in poorly conceived, themed compilations, such as Love Songs, Rock and Roll, and Ballads, mostly with awful artwork and little input from the Beatles camp. The executives behind the Rock and Roll album, for example, turned down John Lennon’s offer to design the artwork after he complained about the 1950s imagery Capitol used. They also rejected George Martin’s remasters from the master tapes, citing the desire to use original versions no matter how inferior they sounded. And so in March 1982, Capitol released another compilation, Reel Music, featuring songs The Beatles had used in their films. This is an album that screams the label's intention to milk the Beatles cash cow for all it was worth.

And in the spirit of making money following the success of Stars on 45, Capitol edited seven songs (Magical Mystery Tour, All You Need Is Love, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, I Should Have Known Better, A Hard Day's Night, Ticket to Ride and Get Back) to create a Movie Medley single. The single reached number 12 on the American charts. In the UK, Parlophone initially refused to release it as they considered it tawdry. Two months later they conceded defeat and released it anyway as they could no longer ignore local demand for imports. It stalled at number 10 on the British music charts. It remains the only Beatles single never released on CD. And I can see why. 

It's awful.
If I had a guilty pleasure, then it might be listening to Stars on Long Play, the extended Beatles medley. I was a teenager when I first bought it, listening to a variety of music. New wave, rock, some disco and, of course, my beloved Beatles. This track tied some of those elements together, and I enjoyed it immensely. I appreciated what they’d done with the music. I’m not a purist who believes the Beatles are so sacred their music can’t be touched. There are some cover versions I really like, many I detest.

More recently, I haven’t particularly enjoyed the Beatle songs as performed by the cast of the TV series, Glee. I’m not a fan of the show nor its musical interpretations, but as a school teacher I heard some kids talking about some of those songs shortly after those episodes. And so I recognise the show’s role in re-introducing bands like the Beatles to modern teenagers. 

And whether you love or hate it, that’s exactly what Stars on 45 did for my generation.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

The Beatles In Fiction

“I was in '78 recently," he announced. "I brought you this." He handed me a single by the Beatles. I didn't recognize the title.
"Didn't they split in '70?"
"Not always. How are things?” 

 -(Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair)
I don't think there's a Beatle fan alive who has never wondered what The Beatles would have been like if they hadn't broken up in 1970. We imagine how the album after Let It Be would have sounded. We wonder whether they would have been as successful or developed so quickly had Decca signed them rather than rejected them in early 1962. We speculate what their history would have been like had Pete Best not been fired.

During the past twenty years, I've read several novels and short stories that relate alternate Beatles histories. Here I will touch on six, although there are a few more available that involve the lads as passing characters, secondary to the main narrative.

Paperback Writer - The Life and Times of the Beatles: The Spurious Chronicle of Their Rise to Stardom, their triumphs and Disasters, Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion
by Mark Shipper

More than twenty years ago in Japan, I was given this by the Doc. I have a feeling we'd been discussing The Rutles, and he'd mentioned this book in passing. I'd never heard of it, and so the next time he was home on a vacation he bought this for me.

The comparison to The Rutles is apt. Shipper twists the real history just enough to put a Pythonesque spin on the tale. I recently saw a note from the author protesting his novel was published before The Rutles movie, although he neglects to mention the earliest Rutles appearances were on the BBC in 1975 (repeated on Saturday Night Live in 1976) which is at least two years before Paperback Writer was published. And while I have no reason to believe Shipper based his novel on The Rutles, the approach to the subject is similar.

Although I'm a huge Monty Python fan, I found this novel wasn't as funny as the premise. (or, for that matter, as funny as The Rutles) Perhaps it's simply my sense of humour. Being Australian/Scottish, I generally find my comedy tastes leaning towards British rather than American sitcoms. Many of the jokes seemed lame, the writer reaching to make the punchline. Having said that, I found parts quite funny. I particularly liked the scene where The Beatles secretly reunite and jam.
"Let's do an oldie," Harrison suggested.
"Sure, George," Lennon said snidely. "You know the chords to 'He's So Fine' by any chance?"
"I'd tell him to go to hell," Harrison said to Spector, ignoring Lennon, "but he's going anyway."
Many others seem to love it more than I do. I promise to give it another read shortly.

Goodreads rating: 4.01 out of 5.00

Paul is Undead 
by Alan Goldsheer

I bought this shortly after its release in 2010, right at the height of the zombie craze that seemed to sweep the film and publishing world at that time. I remember laughing at the title, thinking it was such a clever idea. The cover, with a zombified Abbey Road, caught my attention as well.

Goldsheer tells the story of The Beatles as three zombies and Ringo, the Ninja Lord. Written in a series of interviews, much like The Beatles Anthology book, the pages flick back and forth between characters and different points of view. Unfortunately I found this rather distracting. The character's voices, too, and the language they used didn't ring true; it wasn't authentic. Although I finished the book, I struggled to do so. The basic idea is far better and far funnier than the actual book.
Right before we played our closing number, I gave them what I thought was my scariest look, then said, "Those of you in the cheaper seats, tear your neighbour from limb to limb. And those of you in the more expensive seats ... do the same fookin' thing."In retrospect, I dunno why everybody made such a huge to-do about it. Only one person actually followed my instructions, and from what I was told, his victim had it coming anyhow.
I may revisit this one in a couple of years to see whether it's grown on me. Maybe my expectations were too high the first time around.

Goodreads rating: 3.21 out of 5.00

Liverpool Fantasy
by Larry Kirwan

Late 1962. The Beatles had released Love Me Do and had just recorded Please Please Me, having turned down How Do You Do It. So far, so good. So far, so true. This is where the narrative veers from fact. The suits at EMI won't release Please Please Me, desiring something less rock 'n' roll, and are instead pushing for the next single to be Till There Was You. John, sticking to his guns, walks out of Abbey Road never to return. The Beatles, of course, disband. Twenty five years later, Ringo is playing drums around Liverpool, most frequently with Gerry and the Pacemakers, George, parallel to his real life spiritual quest, has become a Jesuit priest, while Paul is a famous lounge singer, known as Paul Montana. Lennon, of course, is unemployed, still living in Liverpool, and generally down and out.

In  1987, they reunite, just to give it one last bash and to sort out a few personal issues.

Of the three books, this is the one I enjoyed the most. The voices and characters were accurate, the comedy dark, the situations authentic.
Lennon's guitar had begun sliding off his amp. Without taking his eyes off Epstein, he kicked back and shoved it in place. As he lit another cigarette, his upper lip quivered with rage.  "When are you going to get it into your thick skull that you;re managing The Beatles, not bloody Acker Bilk! We're a rock & roll group; or, at least, we used to be until you came round and tried to deball us, you --"
"John, please be reasonable." Epstein dabbed at his damp brow with a royal blue handkerchief.
"Reasonable! You know how you spell that word?" He jabbed his Players at Eppy's face. "S-E-L-L-O-U-bloody-T!"
This is one I plan to read again shortly.
Goodreads rating: 3.12 out of 5.00

by Ian R. MacLeod

A similar premise to Liverpool Fantasy, Lennon leaves The Beatles when they accede to recording How Do You Do It. Many years later, living in Birmingham, unemployed and sitting a job interview with a supermarket, he ponders what could have been.

This short story was adapted into a television show, as part of Playhouse Presents on the SKY Arts network. Still unavailable elsewhere, I have yet to see it, although I have heard good things about the adaptation in which Ian Hart once more reprises his role as John Lennon. (I believe it's the third time he has done so)
"Come on, John. Climb down off the bloody wall. It didn't happen, you're not rich and famous. It's not like winning the pools, happens to everyone you meet. After all, The Beatles were just another rock band. It's not like they were The Stones."
"Oh, no. The Stones weren't bloody crap for a start. Bang bang Maxwell's Silver bloody Hammer. Give me Cliff any day."
A moving, thoughtful short story that deserves wider recognition. MacLeod captures John perfectly. The words, the wisecracks, the insecurity and the smugness.

Goodreads rating: 4.29 out of 5.00

Can't Buy Me Faded Love
by Josh Rountree

I'd never heard of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys before reading this short story. Part of a collection of twisted Rock and Roll stories, Can't Buy Me Faded Love tells of a young John Lennon who emigrates to the US, and becomes a fine country guitar player and songwriter. Bob Wills, one of the greats of swing country (and writer of the song Faded Love), takes the young Lennon under his wing.

Told through a series of excerpts from interviews, articles, biographies and postcards, we witness Lennon and Will's relationship develop, their fame and fortune soar, and their falling out. Finally, in one last reunion just before Wills slips into a coma which ends his life, they speak privately.

It's not necessary to know the history of Bob Wills, although I discovered new depths to this story after reading his biography.
"I heard about the Playboys going on tour that summer and I had to be there," said Lennon in a 1978 interview with biographer, Lon Haines.  "Much of Bob's original success came before I was born, but I was a fan.  More than a fan, really.  That music was my life when I was a kid.  My aunt used to play those 78's all the time, all the old Western Swing bands, but especially the Playboys.  I never knew my father, but I remember listening to those songs and wondering if he might have gone to America to become a singer.  Maybe Bob Wills was my dad, you know?  I was a kid then.  I reckoned Bob was the singer since the band was named after him.  Later on I understood that it was his fiddle playing that really inspired me.  It made me sad.  It made me long for something.  A father, maybe, but something else too.  I wanted to be in America, and I wanted to make that kind of music."
Goodreads rating: 4.50 out of 5.00 

Yeah, I'll mention this one briefly. One half of the team here at The Rowboat Syndicate wrote this. Eric Guignard, the editor, won a Bram Stoker Award for the anthology, a collection of short stories considering what the afterlife might be like. I Was The Walrus is a John Lennon reincarnation story, with a twist.
There  is  no  way  I  could  have  known  about  The  Beatles’  rooftop session, or even who John Lennon was. I was paraded before a stream of past-life experts and child psychologists, Buddhists monks, and psychics,but none of them retrieved any further memories. As an adult I’ve watched the rooftop session on Let It Be many times, looking for clues as to who I might have been. I’ve scoured the faces of the friends, the families, the assistants and employees; all those who were there on that cold January morning. I’ve recently come to suspect that I was probably their roadie, Mal Evans.
 Goodreads rating: 4.40 out of 5.00

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Ringo's 8 Starr Moments

Today is Ringo's birthday and to celebrate we list his eight shining moments as a drummer, singer and actor:

Ringo's tom toms kick off the first monster Beatles hit and his relentless hi-hat carries the song at a blistering pace for the next 2:18. His drumming is the perfect bedrock for the infectious hooks that John and Paul lay down. From now on, Ringo's hi-hat wash would be a trademark sound of the Beatlemania era, propelling songs such as Roll Over Beethoven and It Won't Be Long.

A Hard Day's Night (the 1964 film)
I would argue (and director Richard Lester would agree) that George was the best actor in The Beatles, but Ringo's performance here is the most memorable. His sequence playing hooky with a truant kid is charming. Ringo is a natural onscreen.

True, Paul directed Ringo on playing the complex rhythmic patterns on this Lennon song, but Ringo executed them beautifully. The drums leap out of the speakers (the left channel in the stereo mix), adding a heaviness to this mid-tempo rocker. The drum fills are inventive and forceful. The link above isolates the drums and Paul's bass.

Many, including Ringo himself, would say that Rain showcases his drumming at its finest, but I prefer this biting rock song from Revolver. Ringo's idiosynchratic drumming follows no recognizable pattern before or after this song was recorded in spring 1966, but its eccentric patterns finely complement John's bitter and sad lyric about lost childhood and death. I would argue that 1966 is the peak of Ringo's drumming in The Beatles. The link above highlights the drums.

Ringo's drumming is deceptively simple on this surreal pastiche of sound that closes Revolver. It anchors a whirlygig of backwards loops, dark sound effects and a distorted Lennon vocal that explode across the stereo spectrum. Without Ringo's beat, the song would descend into chaos. His drumming itself sounds primal, like an ancient tribal beat.

A Day In The Life (1967)
Like She Said She Said, the drum fills in this song follow no discernible pattern and sound like nobody else. In the documentary The Making of Sgt. Pepper, Ringo modestly explains that he just drummed what felt natural to him. Ginger Baker, for instance, is technically a better drummer and Keith Moon was more showy, but Ringo's fills on this landmark song are economical and memorable. No two fills sound the same, and they complement the experimental spirit of A Day In The Life.

The End (1969)
Ringo's one and only drum solo and it's a stunner. This link isolates his drums.

Ringo (1973 album)
Believe it or not, Ringo was the most successful ex-Beatle in 1973. John was separated from Yoko and that dampened his musical output (the disappointing Mind Games), Paul was still finding his voice in Wings (he would break through in 1974 with his masterpiece, Band on the Run, and George released the commercially successful but artistically weak, Living in the Material World. Ringo was a number one album that reunited his former bandmates—albeit on separate tracks—and yielded hits in You're Sixteen and Photograph, which he wrote with George. Other highlights include John's I'm The Greatest and Paul's Six O'Clock. With his limited vocal, Ringo carries rockers, ballads and mid-tempo tunes with ease. Ringo is not a personal statement like John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band but it's a catchy, highly listenable showcase of Mr. Starr.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The 14th Beatles Album

John Lennon once said in the early-70s that if Beatles fans wanted another album after Let It Be they could just grab songs from each of their solo albums.

The recorded output by the ex-Beatles in 1970 shows that their creative juices were still flowing. For the most part, their singles and albums were hitting the top ten, and some were scoring with the critics, notably John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and All Things Must Pass.

The only problem was that John, Paul, George and Ringo couldn't all be in the same room together, which is a small obstacle to the recording process.

Taking John's idea idea literally, I assembled what could have been the Beatles' fourteenth album which would have been released in late-1970 in time for the Christmas market.

In selecting the tracks and running order, I followed these ground rules as set by previous Beatles albums:
  • Tracks had to be recorded or released in 1970. It Don't Come Easy was released in 1971, but recorded in March 1970.
  • The same composer could not open both side A and B;
  • No two consecutive songs could feature the same vocalist;
  • The same composer could not open and close the album;
  • The running time had to fall between 40-50 minutes, based on 1970 vinyl standards;
  • Singles and album tracks recorded by ex-Beatles were both fine;
  • George must have three songs, matching his output on Revolver: Some of you will ask, Why not more? In reality, neither John nor Paul would allow George more songs than them on an album. George's output in 1970 in terms of quantity and quality was so enormous, he could have taken up an entire side.
Ladies and gentlemen, the unreleased fourteenth Beatles album:

Side A
  1. Every Night (Paul)
  2. Wah Wah (George)
  3. Man We Was Lonely (Paul)

Side B
  1. What Is Life (George)
  2. Love (John)
  3. Junk (Paul)
  4. Remember (John)

Instant Karma / Teddy Boy (Get Back sessions)
It Don't Come Easy / Apple Scruffs
What Is Life / Look at Me

Songs by singer/composer:
John: 4
Paul: 4
George: 3
Ringo: 1

By 1970, John had kicked his heroin habit and was recording more music again. His presence on this album would match Paul's after taking a dip on Abbey Road and Let It Be. George comes to the fore as the third composer of the band after his outstanding efforts on Abbey Road. I gave him added prominence by closing the album.

Selecting a title is difficult. All Things Must Pass would send a signal to fans that The Sixties—and the band—were over, but I know that John and Paul would never name a Beatles' album after a George song. So, I have no name for this album and for my iPod simply call it 1970.


Side A:
1. Instant Karma (John)
An easy choice. Every Beatles album opens with a bang, a catchy rocker that rightfully was a hit. Also, John's count-in recalls I Saw Her Standing There and Taxman. No other solo Beatles song from 1970 comes close to opening the album.

2. Every Night (Paul)
The second song contrasts the tempo of the opening by relaxing the mood. This beautiful mid-tempo song by Paul is a highlight from his first solo album.

3. It Don't Come Easy (Ringo)
Do I go back to John or introduce George in the third spot? Guess what: Ringo. Per tradition, Ringo has one song on this album and it's his best songs from 1970. No surprise it was a hit single. An unwritten rule is pack side A with the stronger songs and this song maintains this exceptional quality.

4. Wah Wah (George)
Now, George has to appear. He has too many good songs in 1970. Placing him fourth opens the album democratically, with each ex-Beatle getting his turn to stand in the spotlight. The trick was choosing which song off the massive All Things Must Pass to place here. After two mid-tempo songs, I wanted to return to a rocker, the harder the better. This was it with its dense mix of guitars, horns and vocals.

5. Working Class Hero (John)
After George's blistering guitar tour-de-force, we need to change the mood yet offer a song as strong as the predecessors. You could argue that The Beatles, especially Paul, would have never allowed the F-word to be uttered on a Beatles record (excluding Hey Jude where “fuck” was buried in the mix). Then again, John sang “Christ” in The Ballad of John & Yoko with Paul on harmony, and John got Revolution 9 onto The White Album. Some may question the harsh tone of this song, and by far it is the most confessional song on my album, but I argue that WCH is just too powerful to leave off this album.

6. Man We Was Lonely (Paul)
This song closed side A of Paul's solo album and I thought it would work here, too. After Working Class Hero, we need to hear something that'll stop us from slitting our wrists and Paul's refreshing song does the trick. The long extro lowers the curtain on side A.

Side B

1. What Is Life (George)
I needed George back and this perfectly opened side B of All Things Must Pass. Another galloping start.

2. Love (John)
Similarly, this was the second song on side B of John's album and I thought it would work here, contrasting the frenzy of George's previous song. It was also time to return John to the mix.

3. Junk (Paul)
Back-to-back ballads don't hurt (like the acoustic-heavy side B of The White Album. This is one of the songs from McCartney that I wanted on this album, but didn't feel it was strong enough for side A. (I prefer The White Album demo, actually.)

4. Remember (John)
Back to a rocker. This is the last of John's songs on this album.

5. Maybe I'm Amazed (Paul)
Paul's best song from 1970 gets the penultimate spot.
6. All Things Must Pass (George)
Was there any other choice? George never closed a Beatles album, but this tune that he wrote during the Get Back sessions and that the group nearly recorded sums up this album, but also the end of The Sixties and The Beatles themselves. Fade out.

The singles

Instant Karma / Teddy Boy (Get Back sessions)
It Don't Come Easy / Apple Scruffs
What Is Life / Look at Me

I strongly doubt that The Beatles would pull three songs off the same album as singles. Typically, they pulled one to give the fans' their money's worth (excluding Please Please Me where the singles were released before the album). Most likely from this album, the band would have paired Instant Karma and It Don't Come Easy as they did with Come Together and Something. FM radio stations played Maybe I'm Amazed like a single back in the day, but Paul resisted the demand to issue the song (until the amazing live version in 1976).

That said, the singles above are more like potential singles with B-sides that fell short of making the album. Of course, the A-sides were in real life singles that charted well back in the day.

What Songs Were Left Off and Why

John: Mother, Hold On John, I Found Out, Well Well Well, God, My Mummy's Dead
Of all the solo Beatles albums in 1970, John's was the most personal, self-referential and extreme. The songs on this fantasy album had to possibly been recorded by The Beatles, and these tunes about John's dead mother and the end of The Beatles miss the mark by a mile. Could you imagine John singing I don't believe in Beatles on a Beatles album (though I'm sure he would've tried).

Paul: The Lovely Linda, Oo You, Momma Miss America
I love the McCartney album. It's refreshing and unpretentious, full of fine songs. I admire the stripped-down production. But these songs are a little too unpolished for a Beatles album and contrast too much with George's Wall of Sound to belong on the same album.

George: My Sweet Lord, Awaiting on You All
Could you imagine John and Paul singing Hare Krishna in back-up?

Ringo: Sentimental Journey, Beaucoups of Blues
Ringo has one spot on any album, and that spot belongs to the hit It Don't Come Easy. These old standards and country tunes are too left-field for this fantasy album.

Beyond 1970:

Richard Linklater's Boyhood suggested The Black Album (compiled by Ethan Hawke) which gathers solo-Beatles songs post-1970, but that doesn't work for me. After 1970, the styles of the four Beatles diverge too far already. 1970 is pushing the limits as it is, but 1982? Forget it. 

John's political activism and midlife crisis don't blend with Paul's sentimentality and George's holy preachings. Imagine and Mary Had A Little Lamb on the same album? The Guv, one half of the team here at The Rowboat Syndicate, agrees. His take on The Black Album can be found here.

If nothing else, 1970 proves that if John, Paul, George and Ringo wanted to, they had enough powder in their collective cannon to fire off another great album. The songs were there. The records charted high upon release and the music stands the test of time. What was missing what the chemistry of the four of them playing together. What's missing from all these songs—as good as they are—is The Beatles' trademark harmonies and the sound of them playing together. By 1970, the dream was over.