Friday, 13 September 2019

Under The Influence: Daniel Johnson

When I learned how to play I was always trying to write with Queen … but I could never quite get a song. And then I started listening to the Beatles and got more into the knack of songwriting. And then, finally, my dad bought me a book called Complete Beatles, and ... I played every song in that book again and again, and I did develop a rapport with the Beatles songs. I began to re-work because of what Ringo said in an interview. He said, "We took other people's songs and rearranged their chord structures to write songs," and I go, "Wow!" and I started doing that with their songs. And it was like magic, rearranging the chords. It was like a mathematical situation.

It was just a phenomenal theory for me. Of course, if the Beatles heard about this today they'd roll over in their graves, but you know, that's what I did and it was revolutionary to me and that went on forever. This book was like a bible to me and I knew all their songs and I played them, and then I kept … writing with the Beatles theory over and over again. Millions of songs.

Pitchfork: Do you have a favourite Beatles song?

Well, I wouldn't know what to say. From Yesterday to I Am the Walrus to... Yer Blues ... so many. I wouldn't do without any of them. I love the Beatles, they are my favourite band.

Pitchfork: The first time I heard a tape of yours it reminded me of Rocky Raccoon.

Well, when John Lennon wrote [Rocky Raccoon]*, he had a book called Enter in the Words**, where he would play around with words and everything was hilarious, and that really was a big influence on me. I had a song called Never Relax, and I was playing around a lot with words that way. And it took a long while for John. I mean, in the early days, he was writing songs-- love songs-- and those were great songs, and at the same time he was writing really hilarious poetry. But it took him until Revolver to take that hilarious poetry and work it into his songs.

But that was an influence on me, in writing lyrics. You know because John was hilarious with his lyrics, and you know, we miss him. But I believe the Beatles are still alive, and with me, because I can put on any record at any time and there they are. And so the Beatles mean a lot to me, and I listen to them a lot. They're my main influence. And I just acquire anything I can get a hold of, from bootlegs to solo albums to whatever.

Pitchfork magazine

The Beatles – Daniel Johnson (from the album Yip)

When I was born in '61***
They already had a hit
They worked so hard and they made it too
They really were very good
They deserved all their success
They earned it, yes they did, they didn't buy their respect
And everybody wanted to be like them
Everybody wanted to be the Beatles
And I really wanted to be like him but he died
A legendary rock group
Like history now to read
Like a magical fairy tale that's hard to believe
But it really did happen
Four lads who shook the world
God bless them for what they done
God bless them for what they done

*Paul McCartney wrote Rocky Racoon
**There's no book with this title. Perhaps Daniel means In His Own Write, or Spaniard In The Works.
***Their first hit was in 1962

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Under The Influence

Monday, 8 July 2019

While My Guitar Gently Weeps: Anniversary Edition Notes

While My Guitar Gently Weeps was one of the few post-Rishikesh songs on The Beatles.

Lyrical Development

The lyric facsimiles in the anniversary edition, written on 'NEMS London' headed paper, begins with a list of rhymes

Tampering – tapering, Tempering – thundering,
Tittering – Tottering, Towering, Toppling [TICK]
Wandering - Watering, Wavering, Weathering
Whimpering, wintering, whispering, Wondering [TICK]

and later on in the manuscript


adding further supporting evidence that Harrison was suffering from a bad case of rhyme's disease when he penned this otherwise excellent song.

The manuscript gives a window into the lyrical development. Verse 1 is fully formed but verse 2 develops from

I look at the sky and I notice it's clouding

which is then replaced by

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
I'm wondering why your cigars [?*] keep on burning
still your guitar gently weeps! > still my guitar gently weeps!

After the Burning/churning/learning/yearning list the lyric takes it's final form as

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps!

I don't know how, someone controlled you, how they
blindfolded you.

Then the bridge

I don't know how
You were perverted – you were diverted too
I don't know why you got inverted
No one alerted you

undergoes a minor change as 'why' and 'how' change places

I don't know why
You were perverted – you were diverted too
I don't know how you got inverted
No one alerted you

George makes a number of attempts to start verse 3

I look at the powers around

I look at the wars of the world that are raging

I'm thinking of wars everywhere that is raging

I look at the trouble and hate that is raging

none of which he seems as happy with. Verse 3 line 3 is more solid, needing only minor tweaks

While I'm sitting here doing nothing but ageing > As I'm sitting here doing nothing but ageing

This verse survived to the Esher demo

I look at the trouble and pain that is raging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I'm sitting here doing nothing but ageing
Still my guitar gently weeps

by the time they got to Abbey Road (the 'Version 1' acoustic guitar/harmonium 'demo' that appears on Anthology 3 and 'Love') it's become

I look from the wings at the play you are staging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I'm sitting here, doing nothing but ageing
Still my guitar gently weeps

By the final version (Version 3) it's been replaced by a restatement of the first verse

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
Look at you all
Still my guitar gently weeps

Musical Development

In a similar way the demos and recording notes chart the musical evolution.

Esher demo

  • The key is F#m (Dm capoed at 4th fret)
  • The tempo faster
  • The vocal rhythm is more straight forward and hurried
  • There's a short i to bVII (F#m – E) vamp after the last bridge missing from the finished version
  • At the end of each bridge phrase there's a V to V+ substitution but played inconsistently and not always by both doubled-tracked guitars – revealing it to be an idea that George was perhaps considering but not committed to.

Version 1

The key is Gm. It's still played in Dm but now capoed on the 5th fret. Perhaps the Esher was capoed at 5 too but tuned down a semitone like most of the other demos?

Paul is playing minimal harmonium on the bridge and a few other spots.

The previously undiscovered 'Take 2' outtake has Paul switching to organ but still very much figuring out the chords.

Version 2

According to the studio notes this had John on organ and Paul on bass. Bizarrely the notes state the tape was slowed down by three semitones. From what? If the key had already risen to Gm and was destined to end up in Am it seems strange to start going down again. Three semitones would put the song in Ebm.

Perhaps it's a mistake – three down from the final key Am would put the song back in the Esher key – F#m. Maybe someone is getting their versions mixed up. Until they release a version 2 outtake (anyone out there have one? Send me a link!) we can't be sure.

Version 3

The 'third version take 27' outtake makes it clear the line up is

1 Ringo drums
2 Eric Clapton jamming freely throughout the take on 'Lucy' - the Les Paul he gave to George a month before the session.
3 Paul switching live between piano (intro/verses) and organ (bridges)
4 George on acoustic and George and Paul on vocals

George is attempting Smokey Robinson falsetto/melisma thing that makes him sound like a hypothermic sheep – he halts the take saying “I tried to do a Smokey and I just aren't [sic] Smokey”

Overdubs: George double tracked his vocals and adds more organ (0:58, audible on top of the piano during the guitar solo and continuing for the rest of the song) Ringo adds tambourine and weird sounding tippy-tappy percussion (left speaker 0:34) and there's a distorted bass part played by … who? McCartney on bass (BB) or Lennon on Bass VI (50AE)? It can't be both as the only 'bass' is overdriven and played with a pick.

The case for John

The part, like so many of John's Bass VI performances, is very much a guitar part down an octave, switching between power chords and free flowing single notes riffs rather than diligently performing the role of bass man. Though very un-bass-player-like it's John's best 'bass' performance by a mile.

The case for Paul

From Pepper onwards Paul often overdubbed his bass afterwards. When John played bass, it was usually because they needed it on the basic track and Paul was playing something else (like piano on Long And Winding Road). Here John didn't play on the basic track at all so there was no need for him to play bass – the 'real' bass player could do it. It's likely Paul used his Rickenbacker not the Bass VI (RITH) as the Beatles only had a right-handed one.

If Lennon had provided the Bass VI part it's hard to believe Paul would have been able to resist added a 'real' bass track underneath (as he had done on Back In The USSR). And while it is very 'free' the playing is also tight and disciplined, which is more of a Paul trademark.

The Electric Guitar Mystery – Solved?

Allegedly Lennon is on rhythm guitar (BB) or lead guitar (RITH) but the only electric guitar on the finished track is Clapton switching effortlessly between lead and rhythm.

It used to be thought that Lennon's lead guitar was tracked on the 5th Sep and replaced by Clapton's overdub on the 6th (TBRS). How Clapton's presence was supposed to 'make everyone act better' (as Harrison later stated) when their work on song was already completed is unclear and the outtake answers that - Clapton tracked his part live with the band (on the 5th).

Paul on bass and Eric on guitar leaves John having contributed nothing to the track, but he often absented himself from George's songs so it's a plausible theory.

*According Everett to but it looks more like an 'n' than a 'c' to me!


50AE: The Beatles 50th Anniversary Edition Book
RITH – Ian McDonald: Revolution In The Head
BB – Beatles Bible
TBRS – Mark Lewisohn: The Beatles Recording Sessions

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Friday, 5 July 2019

Wild Honey Pie and The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: Anniversary Edition Notes

Wild Honey Pie

Was recorded during the Mother Nature's Son sessions and titled 'Ad Lib' Take One on the track listing.

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

A post-Rishikesh lyric manuscript is titled (the continuing story of) BUNGALOW BILL has the following vocal performance direction above the title

“Band (Water Melon). Children!”

possibly a (faintly racist?) reference to the band singing backing vocals?

On the Esher demo the tuning is down a semitone (again), the intro chord progression is (possibly accidentally) C Fm C instead of C G C and timing is slightly different. At the end of each chorus chord sequence we get one extra beat instead of two. And the “All the children sing...” rhythm is different.

On the outtakes on unused take 2 Lennon sang “Was it a thrill, Bungalow Bill?” and Ringo is playing with brushes and still making his mind up about the feel.

Paul used up two precious tracks for two bass parts but John replaced the second with a vocal overdub; John, Paul and George can all be hear whistling at 2:45 and Ringo the backing vocalist gets a rare outing.

I've long held to the view that John's cry of 'Ay Up!' belongs at the end of this track NOT at the beginning of While My Guitar... that's confirmed here by Giles' remix which restores it to it's rightful place (as it is on the mono version).

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Monday, 1 July 2019

What Goes Online - Jul 2019

My new album is finally out on all digital platforms! 

Fifty Five Stories Down is a 12 song collection sung live in an abandoned Police Station with only a baritone electric guitar for accompaniment. Personal and political, intimate and irreverent, boneheaded and beautifully-crafted, you can buy or stream it wherever you do those kind of things (I like Bandcamp).

And if you're a Spotifier please follow me and add my music to any playlists you have lying about the place.


I recently had the honour of being a guest on the Musicality Podcast talking about (what else?) songwriting as part of 'Beatles Week'. Download it here or stream it below. Be sure to check out some of the other guests too.

My buddy Lee Pat has a cool video that I'd recommend - digging deep into the line cliches of Something - he's found a few more than me!

More on line cliches? Check out the descending root, descending flat 7th, and the ascending 5th (aka James Bond). Oh, and I've updated the Circle of Fifths playlist page too.

Live Chat

The legendary Mark Lewisohn is on tour! I've booked my tickets - how about you?

Long time friend of the site Famous Patrick paid me a visit from Minneapolis via Berlin. As well as viewing the 'holy city' he had to come and check out "where the Beatles played the Odeon in '63". Nice having you Pat!

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: Anniversary Edition Notes

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da appears in Paul's “Spring Songs: Rishikesh 1968” notebook titled 'Obla Dee Obla Da'. The Esher demo like all other versions is played in A but tuned down a semitone like many of the other demos. Paul harmonises nicely with himself. There's some percussion and someone is shaking a axatse/shekere/calabash.

The coda spends only one bar on the vi chord (3:00) to the finished version's two bars.

The track listing reveals that Version 1 had three saxes, a conga drum (played by Jimmy Scott, the originator of the title phrase) and a piccolo that was wiped almost immediately to make room for an 'acoustic bass doubling the bass line'. I think this is an error I can't hear anything doubling the, frankly erratic, bass line, (listen to 'Take 5' on Anthology 3) and there doesn't seem to be this a double bass or an acoustic bass guitar that the Beatles used or had lying around (see Beatles Gear). I think this 'doubling' comment refers to Version 2 and the piccolo was wiped for McCartney's only bass overdub.

Take 3 of version 1 appears as an 'outtake'. McCartney's 'chick-a-boom' asides, 'one bar' coda and self harmonising from the Esher demo are all still present. Take 5 (the Anthology 3 track) is the same take with overdubs - some busy sax parts, Jimmy's very busy congas and Paul's extremely busy bass. Version 1 also seems to speed up half way through. But the tiny cowbell overdub is cool.

Version 2 also has three saxes but no Jimmy.

Here's a theory: Was one reason for recording a second version that McCartney uncomfortable with having Jimmy Scott on the track? Unable to remove him as saxes and percussion were all recorded on the same track, Ringo later added another conga overdub anyway. Was Paul worried Jimmy's claim to authorship would be strengthened if he actually appearing on the disputed track? Or was it just his busy conga playing?

This time we have a distorted acoustic guitar doubling the very much simplified bass line.

Version 3 was attempted (with Paul on drums) but abandoned after a couple of takes and the band returned to finish version 2 which was recorded in A and tape sped up to Bb (noticeably affecting the backing vocals at 1:09).

The line “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face” (2:34) was a genuine mistake which Paul liked and decided to keep.

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Monday, 27 May 2019

Glass Onion: Anniversary Edition Notes

The Esher demo of Glass Onion is played in the same key (Am) but Lennon's guitar is tuned down (this time by a semitone). At this stage there is only one verse and no bridge. Lennon messes up the lyrics and descends into stream of conscious gibberish, paraphrasing 'Chicago' by Fred Fisher. A post-Rishikesh lyric manuscripts, written on the back of an envelope, omits the word 'man' from the

Walrus and me/close as can be

lines and reveals that Lennon (and McCartney?) was (were?) even more ambitious about trying to cram in self-references

Trying to make a dovetail joint for a yellow submarine

Lennon was still tweaking lyrics during the recording at various points, trying out

Fool on the Hill is standing/sitting/living there still

Walrus and me are as nice/cool/keen/close as can be

Looking through a hole in the ocean

There were musical as well as lyrical self-references - a mellotron quote of Strawberry Fields Forever was cut (along with the sound effects coda heard on Anthology 3) but a nod to The Fool On The Hill (with Paul and Chris Thomas on recorders) made it to the final version.

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Friday, 24 May 2019

Dear Prudence: Anniversary Edition Notes

Dear Prudence was written in Rishikesh in dropped D (DADGBE) but the Esher demo is pitched almost a full tone down from that (CGCFAD). Lennon is having fun dragging out the 's' in "Dear Prudenssssssss..." every chance he gets. On this unplugged version you can clearly hear Lennon continue the drone bass note under the menacing out of key chords at the end of the bridge. A nasty discordant effect thankfully disguised by the bass on the studio version.

At 4:13 Lennon launches into a semi-audible exposition

Prudence was struck by an illness in the middle of her meditation course in Rishikesh, India. No one was to know that [laughs] sooner or later, she was to go completely berserk under the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane.So we sang to her. Thank you.

The Giles Martin mix is gloriously clear but misses the first few notes (which now reside on the end of USSR). Given that he fixed so many of the previous mix's faults it's a shame that this edition creates a new one. But at least we've lost that crappy jet sound. Swings and roundabouts...

Johnny Lennon is singing bass BVs (again!) along with Mal Evans, Jackie Lomax and John McCartney (cousin) mucking in on BVs and handclaps. Paul is on drums – the outtake ('Vocal, Guitar and Drum') helps to show how average the drum performance is. Not only is Paul clearly NOT Ringo, Paul isn't even the best drummer in the er... Paul... The finished version of Prudence is glorious, but the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts – especially the two drum tracks combined on the final verse.

Wikipedia: “although some commentators list this sound [in the bridge] as a flugelhorn, it is in fact Harrison's lead guitar, played on his Gibson Les Paul”.

Wikipedia are talking out of their flugelhorn. You can hear it clearly on the 'almost' isolated track here (along with the drum solo).

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