THE BEATLES NEVER REALLY BROKE UP
By Steve Ludwig
Dear Friend, what's the time?
Is this really the borderline?
Does it really mean that much to you?
Are you afraid, or is it true?
-Paul McCartney, "Dear Friend"
After John's vicious attack on Paul in IMAGINE's "How Do You Sleep?," Paul offered an olive branch to his past songwriting partner with "Dear Friend," from his WILD LIFE album.
Perhaps Paul felt the previous things had been said by both he and John as a result of the stress (or the fear of the unknown) of the Beatles' breakup, but it seemed pretty obvious Paul wanted to give peace a chance.
And, sure enough, never again would the former Lennon-McCartney songwriting team use their words as a lyrical assault on each other.
From this point on, any reference by the four fab ones to each other would be tongue-in-cheek at worst and absolute joyfulness (and at times, heart-wrenching) at best.
In 1973, Ringo provided us fans with as close to a Beatles reunion as we ever had since their official breakup in April 1970.
With his signature album, RINGO, the Starr Man and his three Liverpool band-mates appeared on the same album, although not all four of them together on one track.
The album's cover hearkened back to SGT. PEPPER; the four Beatles, illustrated, along with their wives (their new, more important partners) gather around a star:
Within the grooves, the John Lennon-penned "I'm the Greatest" came closest to a musical reunion, as Ringo, John, and George (joined by Beatles friend, Klaus Voorman, on bass & LET IT BE guest, Billy Preston) performed the song.
Paul wrote and performed on "Six O'Clock" (as well as playing kazoo on "You're Sixteen"), and George, offering the most assistance not only on this album but throughout his career, to Ringo on "Photograph" (George co-wrote it), "Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond)," which George wrote solo, and "You and Me Babe" (George and Mal Evans, co-writers). During the fade-out of "You and Me Babe," Ringo mentions, "...George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney...So it'll be goodnight from your friend and mine, Ringo Starr." To us Beatles fans, that closing was pure gold.
In the same year, Georgie released LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, with the title song recalling the early days:
Met them all here in the material world
John and Paul here in the material world
Though we started out quite poor
We got Richie on a tour...
And playing drums on the track? Richie Starkey, of course.
Here are Richie and "Bishop" Harrison at the MATERIAL WORLD photo shoot:
Beatles fans had a big year in 1973; each of our boys released a solo LP.
John's MIND GAMES was released to mixed reviews, while critics raved about Paul's BAND ON THE RUN.
The official video for BAND contained movies and still pictures of the Beatles; no mention of solo Paul or Wings.
Chances of a reunion were definitely looking better for us fans.
GOODNIGHT VIENNA, Ringo's album from 1974, featured Dr. Winston O'Boogie Lennon on the title track. John wrote, played piano, and sang chorus on the song (as well as counting in this song and the song's reprise at the conclusion of the album); he also played acoustic guitar on Ringo's remake of the Platters' "Only You." We incurable Beatlemaniacs also heard John uttering, "only you" during the track's fade-out.
I'll be the first to admit I may read more into Beatles doings than what may actually be there, but that's simply a side effect of the mania; I have the illness, and it's bigger than me! GOODNIGHT VIENNA's album cover has Ringo's head replacing that of actor Michael Rennie's (not as gruesome as I just made it sound..) in a still from the sci-fi movie, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I wonder how many music lovers like me think of the first day they heard the Beatles as being the day their musical earth stood still.
Oh, and by the way, Rennie's character was named Klaatu, which later became the name of a band often, erroneously, thought to actually be the Beatles.
See how much fun the Beatles make our lives?
While John's WALLS AND BRIDGES, also from 1974, didn't make any direct references to Beatle songs, two of WALLS's songs borrowed from them: In "Goin' Down On Love," John appeals, "Somebody please, please help me..." And in "Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)," John sings, "Sweet sweet sweet sweet love...Sweet sweet sweet sweet love..." sounding just like "Beep beep mmm beep beep yeah!" from "Drive My Car."
It was clear that, by 1974, John had re-thought his "I don't believe in Beatles" lyric from 1970...
And in his final album release before his self-imposed, five-year exile from the music business (in order to raise his second son, Sean), John released an album of some of his favorite rock 'n roll tunes. Aptly (or is that, Apple-ly?) titled ROCK 'N' ROLL, the album cover features a young John Lennon in Hamburg, leaning inside a doorway. The picture was taken by German photographer (and mate) Jurgen Vollmer. Walking past John in the photo are three blurred figures. Vollmer revealed that the three guys in the picture are Paul, George, and fourth original Beatle, the late Stu Sutcliffe (Ringo had not yet become Fab).
As if this weren't enough to show us fans that the ex-Beatles were now OK with being Beatles, then many years later (twenty-nine, to be exact) we heard something we had never heard before, on the remastered CD of ROCK 'N' ROLL. On the original release, John's closing song was Lloyd Price's "Just Because." As the song fades out, John says goodbye, etc. and that's pretty much it. Well, on the re-release's bonus track, "Just Because (Reprise)," the fade-out continues on for another minute. And it's here that fans hear John say, "It's been a long year. It's all down to Goodnight Vienna. I'd like to say hi to Ringo, Paul, George...How are ya? What's cookin'?"
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
What was cookin' was "Cookin' (In the Kitchen of Love)," the song which John contributed to his pal Ringo's 1976 ROTOGRAVURE album. John played piano and sang background.
I mentioned before how hearing Ringo thank his buddies at the end of the RINGO album was pure gold. So was the song that Paul had written and performed on for the ROTOGRAVURE album; it's called "Pure Gold."
Although George wasn't available to record for Ringo, he did write a song for him to sing on the album: "I'll Still Love You."
Just as John had on WALLS AND BRIDGES, those other three zany moptops from Liverpool would also, now and then, allude to a Beatles song.
In his video for "Ding Dong, Ding Dong," George appears in his Sgt. Pepper uniform as he rings out the old, and in his present-day garb for the "ring in the new" lyric.
Paul's "Coming Up" video has Big Mac assuming a number of roles as members of Paul's backup band -- including "Beatle Paul," as Paul self-mockingly wears a Beatle wig and collarless suit, all the while performing the "cute" Beatle's "Whooooos" and thumbs-ups...
George's "This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)" and "Here Comes the Moon," from EXTRA TEXTURE and GEORGE HARRISON are obvious Beatle references.
For the rest of their lives, JPG&R would be asked by people from the fab four corners of the world if the Beatles would ever reunite.
We all know that question was answered on December 8, 1980, with John's shocking and senseless murder by handgun.
Five months later, George rewrote the lyrics to a song he had originally intended for Ringo to sing (but the song's range was out of Ringo's vocal capabilities), and thus his tribute song to John, "All Those Years Ago," was released in 1981. Ringo drummed, Paul provided background vocals, and old friend George Martin produced...
Living with good and bad
I always looked up to you...
Deep in the darkest night
I send out a prayer to you...
You point the way to the truth
When you say All You Need Is Love
You were the one who Imagined it all
All those years ago
You were the one that they said was so weird
All those years ago
You said it all though not many had ears
All those years ago
You had control of our smiles and our tears
All those years ago...
November 1981 saw the release Ringo's album STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. The back cover shows Ringo in a policeman's uniform, with an empty, gun-less holster. Ringo's head is bowed, and he holds three roses:
In the credits of the album, only-child Ringo gives us a hint as to whom the three roses might represent:
Paul wrote and performed on "Private Property" and "Attention" on ROSES (and also helped out on "Sure To Fall"), while George wrote and played on "Wrack My Brain" and played guitar on Ringo's remake of the Duprees' "You Belong To Me." And in his final album nod to the Beatle days, Ringo and his buddy, the late Harry Nilsson, reworked Ringo's "Back Off Boogaloo," complete with more than a few Beatles song references.
In his 1982 TUG OF WAR, Paul pours his heart out in an imaginary conversation with John:
And if I say I really knew you well
What would your answer be
If you were here today?
Well knowing you
You'd probably laugh
And say that we were worlds apart
If you were here today...
But as for me
I still remember how it was before
And I am holding back the tears no more
I love you...
And if I say I really loved you
And was glad you came along
Then you were here today
For you were in my song
In the years following John's death, Paul, George, and Ringo seemed to find ways to be around each other. Ringo appeared in Paul's 1984 movie, Give My Regard To Broad Street. By this time, Paul had fully accepted the part the Beatles legacy played in his life; in the film, Paul performs new takes on such Beatles gems as "Yesterday," "Good Day Sunshine," "Here, There, and Everywhere," "Eleanor Rigby," and "The Long and Winding Road."
George's 1987 album, CLOUD NINE featured the fun Beatles' tribute song, "When We Was Fab." The video is priceless. Sharp-eyed Beatles-peoples will notice a quick scene in which all four of the boys are represented. George and Ringo are present in the video, and someone dons a walrus costume and plays a left-handed bass. George says it's Paul inside the costume, Paul says it isn't he; John sang "I Am the Walrus," but Little Nicola in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR said, "No, No You're Not!" and John told us in "Glass Onion" that "...the walrus was Paul." Oh, those Beatles and their silliness!! (And is Paul really dead, or what??)
But the coolest part of the scene in the "When We Was Fab" video is when a guy walks into frame carrying John's IMAGINE album, with the back cover facing the camera.
Ah, there we go, all four Beatles:
Ringo, George, and Paul continued to mention the Beatles days in song.
In "Cockamamie Business," George sings about how he "...got my face on Ed Sullivan."
Ringo's "Liverpool 8":
In the USA we played Shea
We were Number One
When I look back, it sure was cool
For those four boys from Liverpool
All those years ago, in 1961, John, in typical Lennon style, told a reporter how the Beatles got their name:
"I had a vision that a man came unto us on a flaming pie, and he said, 'You are the Beatles with
an A.' And so we are."
In 1997, Paul named his new CD, FLAMING PIE.
Of course, two years earlier, Paul, George, and Ringo did indeed reunite, albeit electronically, with John to produce "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love." PG&R added additional vocals and instruments to a couple of John's demos, provided to them by Yoko.
They wanted to do a little something special to commemorate the releases of THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY 1, 2, and 3. (As if three double CDs of previously unreleased Beatles stuff weren't special enough!)
On my November 26, 2012 and December 2, 2012 blogs, I wrote how Paul and Ringo remembered George after his passing on November 29, 2001. If you haven't read them yet, you might enjoy them.
On April 4, 2009, Paul and Ringo performed together on stage at Radio City Music Hall in NYC as part of a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation, which raises funds to teach Transcendental Meditation to at-risk youths.
Then, on July 7, 2010, Paul surprised Ringo on Ringo's birthday, by appearing at the conclusion of the Ringo and His All-Starrs concert (once again at Radio City Music Hall).
I was super lucky enough to be in the audience at both these events. I will somehow try to describe the feeling in a future blog.
However, until that blog, I will tell you that I've read articles by veterans of the music business that were at the shows, and they wrote that they have never felt Radio City Music shake like it did when Paul and Ringo appeared on the stage.
(Both of those events are available on YouTube, as are just about every other song I mentioned on this blog.)
From the time I heard my first Beatles record, back when I was a fifth-grader, I had put the Beatles on a pedestal; I had learned things from listening to their songs, especially later-period Beatles albums, that I never would have learned otherwise.
As I grew older, along with the Beatles, I noticed the "cracks" in their armor; the foolish insults to each other and, at times, downright nastiness. The results of their over-indulgence of substances that sometimes made them appear "ugly" and "crippled inside."
George tried to tell me about his struggles in his song "Living in the Material World," but I guess I wasn't listening closely enough.
Petty in-fighting was only supposed to be experienced by us mere mortals; Beatles were supposed to be above all that stuff.
But now I know better. And it's because I've never stopped learning from the Beatles.
They've taught me that we're all humans who make mistakes. We're all idealists and we're all realists. We all do stupid things, whether you happen to be a member of the most popular, influential group in music history, or whether you happen to be a blogger who wishes they could have been his best friends.
But above all, the Beatles have taught me through their very public breakup, to Ringo and Paul smiling and hugging each other tightly on stage at Radio City Music Hall, that humans can rise above nastiness, separation, and even the ultimate- - loss of loved ones -- to love again, to love each other again, and to bring tears of joy to others because of it.
It's for those reasons, and for so many others, that there is not a pedestal high enough to place these four, special human beings upon.
The four friends I've never even met...John, Paul, George, and Ringo...
The one and only, fabulous
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Good health to you all, Steve L.