The Road to Get Back: The Beatles in the Fall & Winter of 1968 (A Prequel, Part 2)

Continuing our look at what the individual Beatles were up to in the short but fascinating (to me at least) gap between finishing the White Album (October 17, 1968) and regathering to begin the “Get Back” project (January 2, 1969). In the last entry, we checked in with Ringo and George. We will now carry on with Paul and John.

Paul…

Like John, Paul at this time was in the throes of a new and rapidly deepening relationship. For the last three weeks of White Album recording, he had been sharing his home with a blonde New York native named Linda Eastman.

Paul first met Linda on May 15, 1967 at the Bag O’Nails nightclub in London. Linda, a divorcee with a young daughter, had been making a name for herself as a rock photographer, and was in London working on a glossy photo book, Rock and Other Four-Letter Words. She knew Brian Epstein’s assistant, Peter Brown, socially from his frequent trips to New York. When she came to London, she looked up Brown who, in turn, introduced her to Paul. Four days later, on May 19, she finangled an invitation from Brown to attend the exclusive launch party of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Epstein’s luxurious Belgravia flat, where she took several photos, and was photographed herself, deep in conversation with Paul.

Linda returned to the U.S. and a year passed…John and Paul traveled to New York in mid-May 1968 for a series of interviews and publicity appearances to formally introduce their media company, Apple, to the American press. Linda was in attendance at the May 14 press conference at the Americana Hotel. She managed to slip Paul her phone number on the only bit of paper she could come up with — a blank check. He called her the next day so she could accompany the two Beatles’ entourage on the limo ride to the airport. Paul returned to the U.S. the following month to handle some more Apple business in Los Angeles. He invited Linda to fly across the country and join him for a few days, which she promptly did. When Paul returned to London on June 25, the White Album sessions had finally begun in earnest after a fitful start.

Paul had numerous flings and was seen with a variety of girlfriends that summer (his long-time, on-and-off relationship with actress Jane Asher was by then permanently off), but he admitted his mind kept drifting back to the groovy, laidback blonde photographer, who loved animals, rock music, and marijuana, all things close to his own heart. She came from a wealthy family, so she wasn’t interested in his money. He felt relaxed around her in a way he felt with no one else. As his relationship with the other Beatles worsened, he made a decision. He broke things off with all the other girls he had been seeing and summoned Linda to London — to stay with him permanently. When she arrived at his home at 7 Cavendish Avenue on September 23, 1968, she was told Paul wasn’t at home — he was at Abbey Road (a short walk away) working with The Beatles on the track “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”

“Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” September 23-24, 1968

She headed over to the studio, and pulled out her ever-present camera to capture the band at work. The following night’s session ended around 2:00 am. The fans that always gathered around his home’s front gates remember that it was a warm night, and Paul was so happy that he serenaded them with “Blackbird” from his open upstairs window.

On October 20, 1968, three days after the White Album was finished, Paul and Linda flew back to New York so Paul could meet Linda’s daughter, Heather (almost six years old), for the first time, and to begin transferring their lives from Manhattan to London. As the couple packed up all of her belongings and made the multitude of other arrangements such a move would necessitate, they lived a simple life at Linda’s soon-to-be empty apartment on East 83rd Street. They wandered the city on foot and by subway. Paul bought an old Army overcoat, and began growing the lush black beard that would earn compliments at the start of the “Get Back” sessions, and would be admired by Beatles fans to this very day, despite the brevity of its existence. (It was shaved off as soon as the sessions were over, right around the time John began growing out his. They practically traded facial hair over four weeks in February ’69. The McCartney Beard returned the next autumn, and then off and on through early ‘71. Apart from two unfortunate mustache dalliances in ‘74 and ‘79, he’s been clean-shaven, publicly at least, ever since.) Many New Yorkers doubtlessly recognized him, but they were too cool and sophisticated to bother him, so he could wander the city unmolested. Song fragments that reflected his upbeat mood began rattling around his head. “Out Of College” and “One Sweet Dream” would eventually make up two of the three sections of the mini-medley “You Never Give Me Your Money” on Abbey Road, and “I’ve Got A Feeling”, would soon be blended with a composition of John’s.

The newly-minted family unit returned to London on October 30 (after an overnight visit to Jamaica).

Of all The Beatles, Paul was the only one who chose to make his main residence in the middle of London. But when he finally acquired a country retreat in 1966, it was really a retreat. High Park Farm in Scotland was as remote from London and the hassles of Beatlemania as you could get in the British Isles — almost two hundred acres on the western Highlands peninsula known as Kintyre, centered around a three-room stone cottage with a tin roof, no heat apart from the iron cooking range and a couple of hearths, and no running water.

The High Park Farm cottage as it appeared in the late 1960s. At least there were some primitive electrical lines.

Paul, Linda, and Heather made the trip to High Park Farm on November 5. Conditions were so primitive — Paul had made his own furniture out of scrap wood and potato boxes — that any visit there was basically a camping trip. According to one biographer’s account, nature-loving Linda’s enthusiastic embrace of the place “resolved any lingering doubts Paul may have had about commitment and monogamy.” The trio stayed for two weeks, rambling around the property, which included the remains of a prehistoric hill fort, an ancient standing stone, burns and streams, a herd of sheep tended by hired locals, and a healthy population of rabbits and foxes. From nearby Ranachan Hill, the coast of Ireland was visible on a clear day. 

Paul was back in London by November 20 to record an in-depth interview for Radio Luxembourg to promote the imminent release of the White Album. Paul & Linda continued to be free spirits, taking day trips out of London, refusing to look at road signs and trying deliberately to get lost. This led to Paul writing “On Our Way Back Home” (later to become “Two Of Us”), which, along with “I’ve Got A Feeling,” would be a highlight of the early “Get Back” sessions. 

In late November, Paul invited director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, at that point already in pre-production for a Rolling Stones TV special, to a meeting at Apple, where he offered him the job of directing the film of the “Get Back” concert and its attendant rehearsals in January. Paul and Lindsay-Hogg continued to meet intermittently for the rest of the year, although it’s clear from the conversations in the Get Back documentary not much was resolved ahead of time. (In his memoirs, Lindsay-Hogg remembers all four Beatles attending most of these meetings, but the historical record shows this is highly unlikely, if not a total impossibility. Take memoirs written decades after the fact with a huge grain of salt.)

Beginning on November 22 and running through early December, Paul busied himself producing the first album of his own Apple discovery, Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkin, whose McCartney-produced debut single from August, “Those Were The Days,” topped the British charts. The collection of songs chosen for the album was a mix of old standards and some new originals penned by the likes of Donovan and Harry Nilsson. Paul played on a couple of tracks, but mostly kept himself in a supervisory role up in the studio control room. It is also likely that he taped his message for The Beatles’ Christmas fan club disc during these sessions, busking on an acoustic guitar and improvising some holiday-themed lyrics. The resulting album, Post Card, came out in February 1969, reaching #3 on the U.K. charts.

Glyn Johns, an experienced and respected recording engineer who had worked frequently with The Rolling Stones, remembers Paul contacting him in early December to hire him for the “Get Back” sessions, since they wouldn’t be using the EMI Studios at Abbey Road (or its engineering staff) for the project.

With the Hopkin album wrapped, on December 11 Paul and family flew to Portugal on the spur of the moment to stay with writer Hunter Davies, whose authorized biography of the band had just been published. Davies had invited them via postcard to his villa in Praia da Luz in the southern coastal region known as the Algarve. Linda had recently discovered she was pregnant, and during their time in Portugal they made the decision to get married early in the New Year. They stayed with Davies through December 21.

Paul in Portugal, December 11-21, 1968

Paul, Linda, and Heather spent Christmas with Paul’s father, Jim, and his step-mother and step-sister at the house Paul had bought for them (called “Rembrandt”) in the village of Gayton, near Liverpool.

Paul with his dad Jim, Christmas 1968

John and Paul met up at Paul’s house on Cavendish Avenue at least once in late December, just before the “Get Back” sessions began, and worked out some rough song arrangements ahead of time. When they arrived at Twickenham on January 2, their two separate compositions, “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Everyone Had A Hard Year” had already been combined into one song.

In Beatles News…

The Beatles, a double album consisting of thirty tracks recorded between May 30 and October 14, hit store shelves on November 22, 1968. Its blank white cover with a slightly crooked, faintly embossed title was intended as a direct contrast to the colorful psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and caused the album to immediately be re-christened by the public as “The White Album,” and its actual title was almost never used thereafter. The cover (and the photo collage poster included inside) was designed by artist Richard Hamilton. The first few million pressings of the LP were also individually numbered. (Ringo snagged #000001.) It reached number one on the album charts by December 7, where it remained for seven weeks. (It was still number one when the “Get Back” sessions began.)

In the midst of the promotional push for the White Album (which The Beatles themselves did little for, apart from a few radio interviews), Apple’s search for a proper concert location for the “Get Back” project continued. “We’ll say what we want, then find out if we can,” is how Apple press officer Derek Taylor summed up Apple’s underlying philosophy regarding the project (and most things).

And as that next project loomed, the actual recording of what would be the “Get Back” material was also still a concept in flux. Everyone knew it would be The Beatles’ next album, but would the concert itself be the album? Would the new songs be entirely re-recorded in the studio? Would it be a mix of both live and studio tracks? In all likelihood, at least some studio work would be involved, but there were ground rules. George Martin initially assumed he would be the producer as usual. John warned him harshly, “I don’t want any of your production shit. We want this to be an honest album. I don’t want any editing. I don’t want any overdubbing. We just record the song and that’s it.” Gradually through November and December, the project developed as an independent production, and Martin was cut out of the process, without anyone ever coming right out and saying so. He visited the sessions frequently as a friend and technical advisor, but was clearly letting The Beatles produce themselves, with a lot of help from Glyn Johns.

On November 27, Apple announced that the use of the Roundhouse as a venue for the proposed live show had fallen through. By December 7, it seemed that some kind of TV or film studio would be appropriate for the rehearsals, still tentatively to be done in front of an invited audience.

The 1968 Christmas fan club flexi-disc was mailed out on December 20, consisting of separately recorded holiday messages from each Beatle, creatively edited together by BBC Radio 1 DJ Kenny Everett.

Denis O’Dell, who headed up Apple Films, was also the producer of The Magic Christian, an upcoming Peter Sellers comedy that would co-star Ringo. He had block-booked Soundstage 1 at Twickenham Film Studios far in advance, beginning on January 1, 1969, but shooting would not actually start until the end of the month. He offered the empty soundstage to The Beatles as a rehearsal space, and possibly even a venue for the performance itself if nothing else could be found. The space would have to be vacated by the 24th, and Ringo would be needed in front of the cameras not long after. The “Get Back” project now had a definite ticking clock.

January 18 remained the target date for the concert. The idea of an audience attending rehearsals was dropped. The venue was still up in the air, although Michael Lindsay-Hogg had some rather grandiose ideas in that department. He had gone on a location scout around London on December 27, but despite Ringo’s insistence on not going abroad, the ambitious director was not limiting his vision to just England…

John…

Of all The Beatles, John Lennon had the most trying time during this period. Although he had found the love of his life and an artistic collaborator in Yoko Ono, the early months of their relationship were full of difficulties and downright tragedies, some rooted in others’ hostility towards their relationship and lifestyle, and some were of their own self-absorbed creation. Many of these ups and downs occurred between the White Album and “Get Back” sessions.

John first met Yoko on November 7, 1966 at the Indica art gallery in Mason’s Yard, St. James, London. He had returned from Spain just the day before, where he had been shooting his small part in Richard Lester’s anti-war satire How I Won the War. His Beatle locks had been trimmed around the back and sides for the film, and he had just begun wearing his round-framed glasses.

John as would have appearned on his first meeting with Yoko, autumn 1966

John arrived for a preview of Yoko’s art exhibit, Unfinished Paintings and Objects, which was scheduled to open the next day. He was invited by friend and gallery co-owner Robert Fraser to stop by and check out these interactive examples of “conceptual art,” knowing they would appeal to John’s intellectual curiosity and absurdist streak, and also to meet the artist herself. (John remembers being intrigued by Fraser describing it, in arty hipster-speak, as a “happening,” and admits he thought it might be “something sexual.” It wasn’t.)

Like John, Yoko was currently in a failing marriage (her second, and they had been separated for several years by ’66), and like Linda Eastman, she had a daughter and was a child of privilege. Her father was a wealthy international banker, and as a child she bounced between Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York, finally settling permanently in New York to study poetry and musical composition at Sarah Lawrence College. Upon leaving school in 1957, she began making a name for herself in the experimental art world of New York (mainly associated with the Fluxus community), and published a book of “instructional poems,” Grapefruit, in 1964.

After their initial meeting, John and Yoko began a correspondence. She was seven years older than him, and his interest in her at first was purely intellectual. His copy of Grapefruit had pride of place on his bedside table. He sponsored her Half-A-Wind exhibit at the Lisson Gallery in September 1967. By the time The Beatles returned from India in April 1968, his intellectual connection to her had turned romantic. In May, John invited Yoko to Kenwood, where they stayed up all night recording random sounds on John’s bank of tape recorders, then consummated their new relationship. John did not bother hiding Yoko’s presence when his wife Cynthia returned from her vacation, the marriage already over in his mind. 

When the White Album sessions began at the end of May, Yoko showed up at John’s side, and stayed there through the entire recording process, which caused some consternation among his fellow Beatles. Invited guests weren’t unusual at Beatles sessions, but all night, every night, right on the studio floor? Offering suggestions and criticisms? Accompanying him to the bathroom, even? It was weird, and the situation definitely contributed to the tense atmosphere associated with the sessions, although it certainly wasn’t the only cause. (Yoko later pointed out she was always there due to John’s insistence.) One of the first tracks recorded for the White Album was John and Yoko’s sound collage “Revolution 9.” When they decided to live together, they settled into Ringo’s flat at 34 Montagu Square in late June. Ringo had been letting Cynthia Lennon live there, but now she traded dwellings with John, and returned to Kenwood as divorce plans were made.

The You Are Here exhibit, July 1, 1968

John appears publicly for the first time with Yoko on July 1, 1968 at the opening of her You Are Here exhibit at the Robert Fraser Gallery. She is his date for the London premiere of Yellow Submarine on July 17. By late September, word was circulating in the music press that John and Yoko planned to release the experimental tapes they had made in May as an album called Two Virgins, which would feature a cover photo of the couple in the nude. And when the final touches are put on the White Album over the marathon 24-hour session of October 16-17, Yoko is undoubtedly present.

John and Yoko barely had time to rest after they finished the White Album when a knock came on the door of 34 Montagu Square just before noon on October 18, 1968. It was a raid by the London police’s Drug Squad, led by the notorious Sgt. Norman Pilcher, who disliked decadent rock stars as much as he loved seeing himself in the headlines. John initially tried to keep the police from entering, not because he feared what they would find, but because the couple had been in bed and were clad only in t-shirts. (I believe the term is “Donald Ducking,” and it would earn him an obstruction charge.) John, having received a vague tip-off from a journalist friend that the police would be targeting him soon, made sure the flat was thoroughly cleaned and vacuumed. “Jimi Hendrix used to live here,” he said. “God knows what’s in the carpets.” When the police made their entry, John was very surprised when they found 219 grams of “cannabis resin” in a film can and a binoculars case. He had most likely overlooked these items (they were deep in one of several random moving boxes hauled over from Kenwood), but Pilcher was widely suspected of planting evidence to nab his targets. (A case of evidence-planting was never technically proven against Pilcher, but he was found guilty of a broader charge of conspiracy in 1972, and was sent to prison in disgrace.) The couple were taken to the Marylebone police station, held briefly, and released on bail. They appeared at the Marylebone Magistrates’ Court the following day to be formally charged with possession and obstruction. The court date was set for November 28. As they left the courthouse, a photo was snapped of them that they later used on the back cover of one of their joint experimental albums the following year.

Marylebone Magistrates’ Court, October 19, 1968

On October 25, John revealed to the Daily Mirror that Yoko was pregnant, and the baby was expected in February. The news caused a bit of a sensation among the British public, since both were still technically married to other people. John also discussed the nude photo that would grace the cover of the couple’s upcoming album. “We were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture…The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy. If we can make society accept these things without sniggering…then we shall be achieving our purpose.”

White Album portrait by John Kelly, probably October 30, 1968

On October 30, he had a photo session, most likely with John Kelly, who shot the four portraits of each Beatle that were included in the White Album. (It is not known exactly when Kelly photographed the others, only that they date from “autumn 1968.” George still had a mustache in his photo, before going clean-shaven for his L.A. trip and the early “Get Back” sessions, during which he grew it back.)

Just over a week after announcing the pregnancy, Yoko began suffering complications and checked in to Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith on November 4. John stayed with her around the clock, and slept in the room’s second bed. When the second bed was taken away for use by another patient, John slept on the floor. Prints of John Kelly’s portraits of Paul, George, and Ringo were taped to the wall.

John and Cynthia Lennon were officially divorced on November 8. Since financial arrangements were made privately in advance, the process took eight minutes, attended only by Cynthia and her lawyers. She moved out of Kenwood and on with her life. Yoko’s divorce from her husband was proceeding, but much slower. 

Officially titled Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, John and Yoko’s album of the tape recordings they had made at Kenwood back in May was released in the U.S. on November 11. The contents are essentially an audio version of abstract art — muffled conversation, birdsong, snippets of music hall tunes from old 78 rpm records, feedback, piano noodling, and Yoko’s strident vocalizations that draw cringes and criticisms to this day (I’ll admit I’m no fan of this aspect of her artistic expression.) But the story was the cover. Yes, it was John and Yoko, and yes they were naked as the day they were born.

A more modest alternate photo from the self-taken Two Virgins photo shoot, with the August 1 edition of the Times Business News covering other business

“What we did purposely is not to have a pretty photograph, not to have it lighted so that we looked sexy or good…People are always looking at people like me, trying to see some secret. ‘What do they do? Do they go to the bathroom? Do they eat?’ So we just said ‘Here.’” (The photo was taken around August 3 in the cluttered bedroom of 34 Montagu Square with a time-delayed shutter.) Despite the innocent artistic intention, the cover caused Apple Records to have a hard time finding a distributor (EMI/Capitol wouldn’t touch it.) Tetragrammaton Records, specializing in spoken-word albums, agreed to handle distribution, and sent it to stores in a brown paper wrapper, with only John and Yoko’s faces peeking out. (The British release was on November 29, distributed by Track Records.)

Yoko’s condition was not improving, and her hospital stay was dragging on. To pass the time, the couple had their handy tape recorder, and made the recordings that would make up side two of the next entry in their series of “Unfinished Music” albums. (The cover for Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions — a May 1969 release — would be much less controversial: a photo of John sitting on the floor next to Yoko’s hospital bed on the front, and the drug bust photo on the back.) The recordings they made that were included on the album consisted of singing the words of several newspaper articles, spinning a radio dial to capture bits of music, words, and static, and a few minutes of the endangered baby’s heartbeat.

Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, November 1968

Yoko miscarried on November 21. She was discharged from the hospital three days later. The actual owner of 34 Montagu Square (Ringo was just the lease-holder) declared John and Yoko were not allowed to return, so the grief-stricken couple moved into a few rooms of the recently abandoned and mostly-empty Kenwood. The infant was named John Ono Lennon II and interred in a secret location.

On November 28, John and Yoko appeared at the Marylebone Magistrates’ Court to stand trial for their October 18 drug bust. The charges against Yoko were dropped, John pleaded guilty to possession, and the obstruction charge was dropped. John was fined £150 plus court costs. The guilty plea would have enormous ramifications on his future, and nearly prevent his eventual emigration to live in the United States in the early ‘70s. Later that same day, in a relieved mood, John taped his contribution to The Beatles’ fan club Christmas message, reciting two short original poems: “Jock and Yono” (a thinly-veiled swipe at his fellow Beatles for being critical of Yoko), and “Once Upon a Pool Table.”

In the Kenwood sunroom, late 1968

Although John professed to be drug-free at his trial, this was clearly not the case. John and Yoko had both been recreationally dabbling in heroin since at least July. “I never injected,” John said later. “Just sniffing, y’know.” They also kept their habit in check by never seeking out a steady dealer or connection, mostly scoring through social connections with other artists and rock stars. Although they weren’t daily users and could kick the habit for a few weeks at a time when needed, what had once been a dalliance inevitably grew into an addiction as the year came to a close. 

In those melancholy, hazy late autumn days at Kenwood, John composed and taped several rough outlines for songs that reflected his state of mind. “Oh My Love” (which ended up on his solo album Imagine with different lyrics) was about his lost child. The titles of “A Case Of The Blues” and “Everyone Had A Hard Year” speak for themselves. Of everything on that demo tape, only “Don’t Let Me Down”, a devotional love song to Yoko, was anything close to a finished piece (and it still needed a lot of work).

Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones were in the final stages of planning their own major television special that would feature live music and be directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus would have performances by Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, The Who, and The Rolling Stones themselves, interspersed with clowns, jugglers, and fire-eaters from Sir Robert Fossett’s Circus. The whole show would be presented under a re-creation of a “big top” tent, with Mick Jagger serving as ringmaster. John and Yoko had been invited to perform as “special guests,” and dutifully showed up for rehearsals and a photo shoot at the Intertel TV studios (demolished long ago) in Wembley on December 10 (the same day as both Kenwood and Ringo’s Sunny Heights were officially listed for sale). It was here that John probably encountered Stones’ shady business manager Allen Klein for the first time, which led to a January meeting between him and John that would have huge repercussions for The Beatles later that year. 

December 10, 1968 — Rock And Roll Circus rehearsal day, with young Julian Lennon in tow. Eric Clapton sits to John’s left, and behind him are Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Keith Moon, and Brian Jones

Taping was scheduled for early the following afternoon, and was intended to last only a few hours. John and Yoko appeared in the opening parade sequence dressed as a trumpeter in ruffles and a witch, respectively. But technical difficulties, camera re-loading, costume changes, and the usual late-’60s druggy disorganization meant that the show sprawled overnight into the next morning.  

Late in the evening of the 11th, John performed with an improvised “supergroup,” The Dirty Mac, featuring himself on vocals and rhythm guitar, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Keith Richards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums. They performed a straightforward version of the White Album’s “Yer Blues,” then backed Yoko and Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis on an untitled free-form jam. (It was later dubbed “Whole Lotta Yoko.”) John and Yoko ducked out for an interview on John Peel’s live late-night radio show Night Ride, then made it back to Intertel in time to catch the Stones’ performance just before the sun rose on the morning of December 12.

The Dirty Mac perform “Yer Blues,” December 11, 1968

The exhausted Stones were unhappy with their wobbly set, drugged-up guitarist Brian Jones was clearly semi-coherent through the whole thing (this was his final appearance with the Stones), and they felt they had been outplayed by the energetic Who (who had performed much earlier in the evening), so the project was dropped. It finally came out as an album and on home video in 1996 as a rock history artifact when the Stones were past caring.

John and Yoko’s next public appearance was on December 18 at a fund-raising benefit for the alternative arts center known as the “Arts Lab,” which had previously displayed some of Yoko’s work. The event, billed as “The Alchemical Wedding,” was held at the Royal Albert Hall and featured poetry, music (mostly of the drum circle variety), and performance art, including John and Yoko crawling into a white linen bag and laying onstage, pretty much motionless, for almost thirty minutes, as members of the Third Ear Band rode bicycles around them, and poet Neil Oram played the flute. (I try not to be judgmental about art I may not understand, but that all sounds utterly hideous.) The Arts Lab was summarily banned from the Albert Hall and went defunct less than a year later.

And yes, two members of the Hell’s Angels did indeed make it to London around the start of the second week of December, and headed straight for Apple per George’s incredibly misguided invitation (see previous entry.) “Frisco Pete” and “Billy Tumbleweed” (and a few hangers-on, including actor and all-around weirdo Peter Coyote) were in the audience for Rock And Roll Circus, and spent the better part of two weeks swaggering around the Apple offices at 3 Savile Row, drinking the free booze, crashing on the floor at night, and intimidating the staff who were too frightened and English-polite to tell them to leave. 

Frisco Pete and Billy Tumbleweed, Savile Row, December 1968

The Angels’ visit reached its nadir at the Apple Christmas party, held on December 23. The afternoon was designated as the kids’ party, with gifts and entertainment for the children of Apple staffers, and the evening would be the adults’ party, featuring lots of alcohol and the what the local butcher shop had hyped as the “largest turkey in Britain,” a 43-pound monstrosity that took forever for the tiny Apple kitchen to cook. A very glassy-eyed John and Yoko attended the kids’ party (along with Mary Hopkin), dressed as Father and Mother Christmas, and took charge of distributing the presents. In the evening, things took a dark turn when the very drunk and very high Hell’s Angels tired of waiting for dinner. Journalist Alan Smith was punched in the face, and John himself was threatened with physical assault as he shielded Yoko with his own undernourished body, until the situation was defused by Peter Brown, who used his best posh English gentleman tones to calm down Frisco Pete and company. When the turkey was finally served, it was demolished by the Angels who elbowed their way to the front of the line and ripped it apart. According to Neil Aspinall, George finally showed up late that night to deal with what he had wrought, and the troublesome group ultimately left at his request. (But not before puking on the carpet.)

John, Yoko, and Mary Hopkin at the ill-fated Apple Christmas party, December 23, 1968

So, when the “Get Back” rehearsals began on January 2, 1969…

As was typical for him, the amiable Ringo was open to any ideas the others had, but intended to put his foot down in one area — firm opposition to any traveling outside of the U.K. for the upcoming concert. He wanted to be home at his palatial new estate, Brookfield House, every night for the foreseeable future.

After being validated as a musician and a writer by artists of the caliber of Bob Dylan and The Band during his sojourn in the U.S., George was once again a deeply dissatisfied number three — with a crumbling marriage on his mind — when he strapped on his cherry-red Gibson Les Paul at Twickenham on the morning of January 2. He carried the resigned assumption that his contributions would be only tolerated, if not downright ignored or disparaged, by the Lennon-McCartney team, but he didn’t much care at this point. From time to time, he did try to put on an agreeable face and be a team player, but his frustration and lack of intrest in the project kept slipping out.

John tried keeping things light with his usual wisecracks and wordplay, but it seemed mostly for the benefit of the cameras. He was still not in a good place, unhappy composing and performing in the daylight hours dictated by Lindsay-Hogg’s union camera crew (all The Beatles were night owls, John particularly so). Songwriting inspiration had mostly failed to strike during his “break,” and with at least a dozen new songs needed in a fortnight or less, it was bad time for the well to go dry. He was likely still dealing with the loss of the baby, the delays in Yoko’s divorce, and self-medicating with heroin — intermittently, but enough to be an issue.* He looked back on the sessions with a great deal of negativity.

Paul arrived on the first day of rehearsal with mixed feelings — glowing from his new engagement and the beginning of the family that would become so important to him, but very on edge with emotions close to the surface about the future of his band, none of whom besides himself approached the “Get Back” project with much engagement or enthusiasm. Shouldering the responsibility, Paul felt if he couldn’t make this work, The Beatles would be over.

And yet…and yet…after a rocky start, they still managed to conjure that special Beatles magic, in spite of all of their issues, and brought things back from the brink, especially once they abandoned Twickenham for the green-carpeted, homier comforts of their Apple headquarters. They pulled a triumph from the jaws of tragedy, and gave us another year of great music before succumbing to the inevitable growing apart and business conflicts.

Now that you have read my little prequel and know the in-depth story of what had happened to the four individual Beatles in the couple of months before the “Get Back” sessions began, you can go back and re-watch (or re-re-watch, or how ever many “re”s you’re on now) the Get Back documentary.

Jackson’s (and Lindsay-Hogg’s) remarkable film can tell the rest of the story of January 1969.

* John and Yoko reportedly kicked the heroin habit in the summer of ’69, resulting in Lennon’s solo (or “Plastic Ono Band”) single “Cold Turkey” in October. Like most addicts, he had occasional relapses, most notably before going onstage with the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival in September, which ironically served as the public debut of “Cold Turkey.”

SOURCES FOR PARTS 1 AND 2:

George Harrison: Soul Man Vol. 1 — John Blaney

Paul McCartney: A Life — Peter Ames Carlin

John Lennon: A Restless Life — Ray Connelly

“George’s U.S. Visit,” The Beatles Book (Monthly) Issue #66 — Mal Evans

Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs — Joe Goodden

Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America — Jonathan Gould

Abbey Road Super Deluxe Edition liner notes — Kevin Howlett

Let It Be Super Deluxe Edition liner notes — Kevin Howlett

Sinatra: The Chairman — James Kaplan

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions — Mark Lewisohn

The Complete Beatles Chronicle — Mark Lewisohn

Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond — Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Lennonology — Scott Madinger & Scott Raile

The Beatles Diary Vol. 1: The Beatle Years — Barry Miles

Many Years From Now — Barry Miles

John Lennon: The Life — Phillip Norman

Paul McCartney: The Life — Phillip Norman

Testament — Robbie Robertson

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney — Howard Sounes

Ringo: With a Little Help — Michael Seth Starr

Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster — Doug Sulpy & Ray Schweighardt

George Harrison: Behind The Locked Door — Graeme Thompson

That Magic Feeling: The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, Vol. 2 — John C. Winn

Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin — Kenneth Womack

beatlesbible.com

cheatsheet.com/entertainment/hells-angels-visited-george-harrison-didnt-want-leave.html/

dangerousminds.net/comments/ho-ho-no_quiet_beatle_george_harrison_invites_the_hells_angels

pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/22393-unfinished-music-no-1-two-virgins-unfinished-music-no-2-life-with-the-lions-yoko-ono-plastic-ono-band/

http://beatlesliverpoollocations.blogspot.com/2021/07/christmas-with-mccartney-family-1968.html

theymaybeparted.com

the-paulmccartney-project.com

https://www.thewhitealbumproject.com/design/

truthaboutthebeatlesgirls.tumblr.com

udiscovermusic.com/stories/the-rolling-stones-rock-and-roll-circus/

wikipedia.org

1 Comment

Filed under Music -- 1960s

One response to “The Road to Get Back: The Beatles in the Fall & Winter of 1968 (A Prequel, Part 2)

  1. Deanna

    Good read…..concise & interesting so I don’t have to read many books to get lots of info 👍

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