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The Beatles Part 4

Posted by Amoebite, September 2, 2009 10:41am | Post a Comment
We are kicking off the celebration in honor of the digitally remastered Beatles reissues set to hit Amoeba September 9! We present to you today the final segment of The Beatles' biography. Also, this week will be marked here on the blog with a number of Beatles related posts with a huge variety of topics! You can begin with Part One of the fabled band's history if you missed it by clicking right here; then check out Part Two right here; and finally, Part Three. Now, without further ado, Part Four:

beatles maharishi mahesh yogi

DISORDER, FINAL TRIUMPHS, AND DISSOLUTION
magical mystery tour
In the late summer of 1967, at the behest of George Harrison, The Beatles traveled to Bangor, Wales, for a retreat sponsored by the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, an organization founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an India-born self-styled guru and teacher of the spiritual discipline of transcendental meditation. It was there, on Aug. 27, that the musicians received a phone call from London: Brian Epstein – who had grown increasingly uncertain about The Beatles’ future and unhappy in his closeted gay lifestyle -- had died, at the age of 32, from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol.

Shaken by the death of the man whose efforts had shaped their career, The Beatles nonetheless moved forward with their plans to form a multi-disciplinary company of their own. They would essentially be self-managed for the remainder of their existence as a group. Minus Epstein’s steadying hand and business acumen, The magical mystery tour lennon spaghettiBeatles would veer through a final 20 months of missteps, embarrassments, and interpersonal acrimony – and, surprisingly, a period of fruitful, albeit troubled, artistic activity.

Assuming a role he would take repeatedly during the next two years, McCartney instigated a new project for the band: a feature film, with music. After belatedly confessing his LSD experience in print that June, and inspired by time spent in early 1967 with American writer Ken Kesey’s psychedelic Merry Pranksters, who took their acid-proselytizing show on the road in a brilliantly-painted school bus, McCartney envisioned a hallucinogenic comedy sending up the rituals of English vacationers.

The essentially self-directed film shoot degenerated into anarchy as The Beatles and their crew were dogged on location by journalists and fans; when the last-minute booking of a studio proved impossible, one was improvised in an abandoned aircraft hangar. Aired on national TV on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) in England, the broad and frankly amateurish Magical Mystery Tour was universally lambasted by the critics; most viewers watched the candy-colored film on dim black-and-white sets. It was the previously bulletproof band’s first major fall from grace. The soundtrack (an EP in England and a No. 1 album, with additional uncollected singles, in the US) fared better; it contained the No. 1 American single “Hello Goodbye” and Lennon’s indelible, Carrollesque outburst of nonsense “I Am the Walrus.”


In February 1968, The Beatles traveled to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India, to immerse themselves in meditation among a glittering assemblage of wealthy seekers that included lennon mccartney indiaactress Mia Farrow, folk-pop singer Donovan, and Mike Love of The Beach Boys. The trip did much to promote Eastern spirituality (and, of course, the Maharishi) among Westerners, but it also promoted discord among the guru’s best-known acolytes. Starr and McCartney, never comfortable in the remote locale, bolted in March; Lennon and Harrison followed a month later, disillusioned by rumors that the Maharishi was taking liberties with female students.

 In May, The Beatles announced their formation of Apple Corps, a diversified company with record, studio, and film divisions. Naively announcing the philanthropic orientation of the firm, the band was instantly deluged with requests for funding from all corners of the globe. That summer, Apple Boutique, a psychedelically decorated retail outlet opened by the band on London’s Baker Street the previous December, shuttered for good, plagued by mismanagement, complaints about its garish façade by neighboring businesses, and constant pilferage; the remaining contents of the store were given away. The boutique’s failure was a harbinger of The Beatles’ business dealings in the immediate future.

Also that May, armed with a large backlog of songs (many of them written in Rishikesh), The Beatles regrouped at Abbey Road. McCartney, Harrison, and Starr were alarmed when Lennon was joined in the studio by a diminutive, raven-haired Japanese woman 10 years his senior. The daughter of a wealthy Tokyo businessman, Yoko Ono was a well-educated, married 37-year-old who had undertaken an unsuccessful career in New York’s conceptual art community. In 1967, she contacted Lennon, who underwrote Ono’s London gallery show. Their relationship deepened, and their affair culminated in Lennon’s divorce action against his wife Cynthia, mother of their five-year-old son Julian. Lennon and Ono became literally inseparable, and she became a divisive presence in the studio. Lennon and Ono celebrated their union with the noisily experimental collaboration Two Virgins (1968). Its cover, a full-frontal photograph of the pair in the nude, scandalized EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood, who refused to distribute it, and Apple’s financial advisors, who quit in a huff. The album was released independently that September, with its sleeve masked, like pornography, in a plain brown wrapper.

lennon ono two virgins

In July, as The Beatles continued to labor on a new single and album, the cartoon feature Yellow Submarine was released. Directed by George Dunning, this fanciful tale pitted The Beatles (voiced byyellow submarine actors) against a race of cerulean-skinned, melody-hating monsters, the Blue Meanies, conquerors of the peaceful, musical undersea kingdom of Pepperland. The film, which sported several familiar Beatles songs and six new numbers, ended with a cameo live-action appearance by the group. Eschewing Disney-style representational animation, it illustrated the band’s mythos with wildly colored, sometimes abstract images that plundered the breadth of art history. An immediate flop in England, it was embraced by its stoned young American audience as the ideal “head movie.” The soundtrack album hit No. 2 in the US.


“Hey Jude,” the follow-up to the band’s half-hearted Fats Domino pastiche “Lady Madonna,” was released in August 1968. The consoling ballad, written by McCartney with Lennon’s son in mind, was welcomed as another great leap forward by listeners. The swelling seven-minute single, with its extended coda/fadeout, became a radio ubiquity and held the No. 1 spot on the US singles chart for nine weeks, making it the band’s biggest American 45.


Its flip side “Revolution” fueled the wrath of the radical Left in the street-fighting summer of 1968, as protests against the Vietnam War escalated. Lennon’s storming rocker explicitly questioned increasingly violent tactics at the barricades, engendering bitter accusations of self-satisfied timidity and passivity on the part of the wealthy counterculture icons. Significantly, the sharply critical lyrics were qualified in a languid version of the song – ironically, recorded before the single version – that appeared on The Beatles’ arduously completed album in November.


Released on the group’s EMI-distributed imprint Apple in an individually numbered white jacket (designed by Pop artist Richard Hamilton) with the band’s name embossed on its gleaming surface, The Beatles white album interior(1968), aka “the White Album,” came close to sundering the group. Starr had briefly quit during the group’s taxing five-month Abbey Road residency. Producer George Martin  was angered by the band’s self-indulgence and disquieted by their decision to release a sprawling 30-track, two-LP set instead of a more listenable and sensibly selected single album. The collection, which contained little that was recorded by the foursome as a group, was a grab bag of jokes, parodies, incoherent experiments (like Lennon’s sound collage “Revolution 9,” executed with Ono), and even a few finished compositions.
It had its moments – Harrison’s lushly romantic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (with Eric Clapton guesting), McCartney’s “Blackbird,” Lennon’s “Julia” (dedicated to his mother), “Yer Blues,” and “I’m So Tired.” But observers were perplexed and disappointed by its uneven quality. Nonetheless, starved for a new non-soundtrack album by the band, the public ate up The Beatles out of the box, propelling it to No. 1. In America, it remains their bestselling collection.

As The Beatles’ Apple organization came apart at its poorly-stitched seams, McCartney proposed another idea to cement the band: a live album that would be rehearsed and recorded in front of movie cameras. let it be sessions beatlesLennon insisted that the project be executed without studio trickery. Exasperated, Martin largely excused himself and left the project in the hands of engineer Glyn Johns. American director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was hired to capture the proceedings on celluloid at London’s Twickenham Studio.

The misbegotten sessions began in January 1969 on a drafty and uncomfortable soundstage in an atmosphere of contention and unease. An argument between McCartney and Harrison, captured by the naked camera eye, led to the guitarist’s abrupt departure. After a period of intense internal wrangling, Harrison grudgingly returned. The Beatles decided to quit Twickenham and continue at their newly built studio in Apple’s Savile Row offices; when the poorly constructed facility proved unusable, portable equipment was imported from EMI. In an attempt to manufacture a climax for their film, The Beatles played a hastily-organized set on the roof of Apple’s offices on Jan. 30; the alfresco concert sparked noise complaints in the heart of London’s financial district, and uniformed bobbies moved in to halt it.


The only fruit of the sessions to see immediate release was the back-to-basics-themed single “Get Back,” recorded with American R&B keyboardist Billy Preston on piano. It took No. 1 on the singles charts in the spring of 1969. The remainder of the material – made up mainly of new McCartney compositions, including the ballads “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” plus odds and sods like the antique Lennon-McCartney song “One After 909,” written in 1957 – was widely bootlegged, but it stayed on the shelf for a year. It would only see official release belatedly, with incongruous, overwrought overdubs by producer Phil Spector, as Let It Be (1970). The like-titled film, which premiered a month after The Beatles had ceased to exist, is a sobering depiction of a band in its death throes.


Through the spring of 1969, The Beatles went their separate ways personally. Lennon, who married Ono in March after the finalization of their divorces, embarked on a series of “bed-ins for peace” with his spouse, recorded the self-serving single “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (issued under The Beatles’ name) with the accommodating McCartney, and began to dabble in heroin use. McCartney’s marriage to his girlfriend, photographer Linda Eastman, preceded Lennon’s by eight days. A tug-of-war for the band’s fortunes began, as McCartney lobbied to retain his father-in-law, the powerful New York attorney Lee Eastman, as The Beatles’ manager, while Lennon, with the approval of Harrison and Starr, enlisted the bare-knuckled American accountant Allen Klein, most recently The Rolling Stones’ representative, to sort out the band’s tangled financial and music publishing affairs. The die was cast.

lennon ono weddingmccartney eastman wedding

In the midst of the tumult, the ever-striving McCartney approached the estranged George Martin with a proposal to make another album; the producer agreed, if he could return to his old methods of recording. Sessions began in July without Lennon, who arrived tardily with Ono in tow; recuperating from a serious car accident, she would recline on a double bed imported into the studio by her husband for the duration of the sessions. Songs written autonomously by the members – including “Come Together,” a Lennon tune lyrically inspired by Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” and Harrison’s sublime, later much-covered ballad “Something” – were earmarked for the disc’s first side; most of the second side, artfully orchestrated, sequenced, and arranged with Martin’s input, was structured as a suite made up of bits and pieces contributed by diverse hands.


Titled in tribute to The Beatles’ studio home, Abbey Road (1969) arrived, two months after the mammoth Woodstock music festival in upstate New York, as a blinding beam of sunshine, and immediately lodged beatles 1969itself at No. 1. (The cover of the album, which showed The Beatles crossing the titular avenue, was offered as evidence of a laughable underground rumor that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash.) While commentary about side one’s contributions was mixed, “Come Together” reached No. 1 (and inspired a suit, later settled, against Lennon by Berry), and “Something” rose to No. 3 on its own. Critics reserved most of their praise for the grand song-suite, which seemed the culmination of The Beatles’, and Martin’s, musical vision; reflecting the still-utopian tenor of the times, it ended with McCartney’s proclamation, “And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”

The landscape quickly darkened. In December 1969, a “family” of hippies living communally in the California desert was arrested for a pair of savage August multiple murders in LA; the victims included starlet Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski. Prosecutors soon informed the public that the group’s leader, career criminal Charles Manson, had incited his drug-deluded followers with an apocalyptic doctrine inspired by The Beatles’ White Album.

As 1970 dawned, the appearance of the American compilation Hey Jude to the contrary, The Beatles were a band in name only. Lennon – who had already recorded such solo singles as “Instant Karma,” “Cold Turkey,” and “Give Peace a Chance” under the moniker Plastic Ono Band – told his handler Klein that he “wanted a divorce” from the group. Harrison was contemplating an exorcism of his frustration within The Beatles’ fold, which would ultimately be expressed in his three-LP set All Things Must Pass (1970). Starr had cut an album of old-school standards, Sentimental Journey (1970). And McCartney hbeatles abbey road alternate shotad clandestinely finished a home-recorded solo collection, titled McCartney (1970), which was scheduled for release three weeks after Starr’s long-pending effort.

The last straw came when Allen Klein convinced Lennon, Harrison, and Starr to send a letter to EMI requesting the postponement of McCartney’s release, to avoid competition with Starr’s album. When the drummer confronted McCartney about the issue personally at home, he was angrily ejected from the house. On April 10, 1970, McCartney issued a self-penned interview promoting his LP, in which he tersely announced the end of his songwriting partnership with Lennon and his determination to go it alone.
A week later, Apple issued a press statement: “Paul McCartney has left The Beatles due to personal, musical, and business differences.”

AFTERLIFE

Interest in The Beatles’ music did not wane with the demise of the group; it has outlived the deaths of John Lennon (in 1980, at the hands of a deranged assassin) and George Harrison (from lung cancer, in 2001), and has flourished in the intervening years.

Compilations and collections of unreleased music have poured forth almost continuously for nearly four decades; these included the so-called “red” and “blue” hits packages The Beatles/1962-1966 and The Beatles/1967-1970 (both 1973), the latter of which reached No. 1; Live at the BBC (1994), a two-CD set of radio performances; the three two-CD Anthology volumes of previously ubeatles 1969nreleased material (all 1995), which complemented the group’s official oral biography and its accompanying eight-part TV series (a 1996 Grammy recipient as best long-form video); 1 (2000), a collection of chart-topping singles, which in the US alone held the No. 1 slot for eight weeks and sold more than 10 million copies; Let It Be…Naked (2003), an alternate version of the 1970 album, overseen by McCartney and denuded of Spector’s overdubs; and Love (2006), featuring remixed versions (produced by George Martin and his son Giles) of the band’s songs used in Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed Las Vegas extravaganza.

Eight Beatles singles have reached the charts since 1970; two – including Anthology’s “Free As a Bird,” which reunited the surviving members of the band behind a Lennon demo, and received two Grammys – peaked in the top 10.


The Beatles received the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award for their career contributions to recorded music in 1972. In 1988, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its first ceremony.

In 2004 and 2006, Capitol reissued The Beatles’ first eight U.S. albums in stereo and mono in two boxed sets. On September 9, 2009 – 22 years after the first release of The Beatles’ UK catalog on compact disc – Apple will issue the albums in digitally remastered stereo and mono editions, day-and-date with the release of a Beatles Rock Band video game. While we wait with anticipation for that day next week, in the meantime, you can preorder any of The Beatles reissues (p.s., when you do, you'll get a free copy of Paul McCartney's Amoeba's Secret!) and read about staff favorites right here, and you can find out what will be going on in each store on Beatles Day right here! We're gonna have a good time!

beatles bow


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