The Beatles Apple 1968

The Beatles Creativity (5) ‘you say you want a Revolution?’

1968 is The Beatles’ most fascinating year, they had transformed music in terms of singles and albums but in 1968 they were aiming to transform the music industry by making their company Apple into a musical collective. Singles were no longer formulaic, melodic sing-a-longs designed to make to make money for the songwriters, producers, managers and record companies rather than the artists. Albums were no longer the accidental re-packaging of singles or merely fan souvenirs of live shows, as they had been when The Beatles started and remained throughout the sixties. In terms of this analysis of their creativity they had completed the three main stages of development; being guided, working collaboratively and breaking the rules by 1967. So what came next? 1968.  The magisterial Walter Everett said “the year of 1968 was a time of simultaneous rejuvenation and the dissolution of The Beatles.”

In We Are The Beatles I described the Beatles’ style as evolving from the musical creativity of their psychedelic period 1966-67 to a loose Atelier style, unconsciously aping the studio organisational form of Renaissance artists. By this I mean that they had learnt their craft and now, forced to run their own business, decided to try to create with Apple Corps the company they would liked to have signed for, and so began working with many other artists. Paul completed Step Inside Love with Cilla, George recorded the Inner Light with local musicians in India whilst recording his ‘Wonderwall‘ soundtrack John woke up one morning with the words of his ‘most perfect lyric’ flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. It’s Across The Universe;  

Following the sad death of Brian Epstein and the critical savaging of the BBC TV showing of the black and white version of their psychedelic home movie Magical Mystery Tour The Beatles were on their own, this time running their own business. In fact they had all been involved in various solo projects for some years and John, Paul, George and Ringo now re-assembled as The Beatles as required; having mastered their craft of pop music. Ringo’s legendary pad at 34 Montagu Square also served as a meeting place and secret hideaway in times of trouble for Cynthia, John and Yoko as well as Jimi Hendrix. So having picked Lady Madonna as their first release in 1968 they re-assembled to film the video and in one of engineer Geoff Emerick’s favourite sessions wrote, improvised and recorded as a foursome Hey Bulldog

The Beatles were no longer a Lennon-McCartney duopoly, who were now jointly announcing the ‘Western Communism’ of Apple on the day that the Renault factory was occupied in Paris and French Universities went into occupation (May 15). George Harrison stepped up to the plate and, right in the middle of May 68, on May 20 the Beatles met up at George’s house Kinfauns and played and recorded The White Album Unplugged; 27 tracks played acoustically and recorded on 4-track tape. When they gave it to George Martin on May 30th, he immediately suggested they should record just half the tracks as a single album. Paul suggested that it might be a single, a double or even a triple as the competition, Dylan and Cream especially, had released double albums. I think that Rubber Soul and Revolver were particularly good albums because The Beatles had time to prepare; here’s how they did it for the White Album on May 20 1968. From Kinfauns to Chaos;

Then on May 30 1968 les soixante huitards began the White Album with Revolution Number 1, loving it if they could see the plan, but mostly it was a week of tape loops and maddening bits of King Lear. This lazy soft-rock version of Revolution, that Lennon wanted as a single, captures the post-Kinfauns mellow yellow mood they were in. This is an early studio take with Lennon prepping his later Cold Turkey gutterals. Whizz-kid engineer Geoff Emerick (the red-head at the console) gets his only Beatle recording moment with his ‘Take 2′ intro at the beginning. Alright, you say you want this take of Revolution

The real tension on the album lay in the acoustic inspiration of the songs, Lennon’s desire to create 10 tracks of whack, McCartney’s perfectionism and Harrison’s new-found song-writing confidence and quality; and trying to escape the Apple office in Saville Row. Friends with Clapton, Cream’s Wheels of Fire studio album is particularly inventive yet remained raw and raucous live, Lennon wanted that from The Beatles on his songs. And Yoko wanted the songs to be played faster. They had new instruments to play with and distort, especially the precise Fender Jazz Bass, and John and George had sanded down their Epiphone Casinos getting a clearer tone. This is a live studio version that captures early on the dirty sound the Beatles were searching for, at speed, and which both EMI and Emerick hated. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Xcept for Me & My Monkey

George had prepped 8 songs for The White Album and I love Long, Long, Long and Dehra Dun, but especially While My Guitar Gently Weeps which sounds great as a demo but on which George’s mate Eric Clapton was invited to contribute guitar. Walter Everett claims Clapton’s guitar made the track magnificent, once they added Beatley flanging with the ADT machine, turning it into a 1968 British Blues Beatles/Cream extravanganza which, to many at the time, sounded like the best track on the album on first hearing. Ay Up! While My Guitar Gently Weeps

For me the track on the White Album which most perfectly captures the acoustic qualities that the Rishikesh and Kinfauns sessions inspired is Paul’s Mother Nature’s Son. He and Lennon (with Child of Nature which became Jealous Guy) were both inspired by the Maharishi’s lecture on nature and Paul went outside in Rishikesh and wrote this beautiful song reflecting what he had been inspired to think about and the context in which he was experiencing it. St Johns Wood townie and Mother Nature’s Son

Ringo got his first solo writing credit with Don’t Pass Me By, unusually the second (rather than last) track The Beatles started recording after Revolution 1 & 9 which they spent a week on. However in the middle of this Summer of Chaos the film of Yellow Submarine was released which, thanks to the brilliant work of the cartoonists finally was a Magical Mystery Tour that re-presented the Beatles as Summer of Love hippies, just as that vibe reached the British provinces where they remained popular and this served to heighten their popular appeal. Played as a jam after they finished Sgt Pepper to get their group playing chops back together, well It’s All Too Much;

The sudden events of May and June, Cynthia walked in on John and Yoko in May and three weeks later in June Jane Asher walked in on Paul and Francie Schwartz, allowing Linda Eastman to become his new girlfriend, meant that the individual Beatles were in  emotional chaos; followed by all the swings and roundabouts at Ringo’s pad. We Brits also racially abused Yoko, John kept her with him in Abbey Road, and Yank Linda Eastman wasn’t too popular either. In the midst of this emotional turmoil McCartney wrote a song to cheer up Julian Lennon after his parents had separated, but which John thought was about him and Yoko; it may have been about Paul and Jane. Into the heady mix of 1968 enters the Beatles most enduringly popular single ever, even as an Apple download, Hey Jude

Believing they were no longer loved by the British public The Beatles were amazed that the studio audience at the David Frost show loved their live performances and they returned to Abbey Road, finally fitted with 8-track recorders, to continue recording the White Album. Ringo described it as a ‘band’ album when they ‘shake out the jams’ Lennon wanted it to be the ‘anti-Pepper’ when he decided that Rock n Roll was ‘real’ and wanted the fast and dirty recording he later perfected on Instant Karma. They pulled that off with ‘blisters on me fingers’ on McCartney’s answer to Townsend’s I Can See For MilesHelter Skelter

My personal favourite of the hard rock tracks The Beatles laid down in 1968 is Yer Blues which I always read as Lennon’s reposte to the British Blues Boom of the late 1960 (lead by the various ex John Mayall alumni like Clapton & Green) suggesting it’s easy, but written when he was well depressed.  Not least because Lennon went off and played it live on the Stones Rock N Roll Circus with a pick up band he found of out-of-work musos, Clapton, Richards and Mitchell (who fluffs a change) Two, Three! O0ps that b*****d Allen Klein has taken it down!! Here’s the Beatles then Yer Blues

But Rishikesh, and the reflective time they spent there, learning acoustic picking from Donovan and writing songs at their Himalayan Butlins Holiday Camp meant the White Album has many acoustic tracks reflecting their skiffle roots, when they all played acoustic guitars. This is Paul’s best, which Geoff Emerick says was finally recorded outdoors with some bird sounds added from the archive. Paul accompanied by fingers on Guitar and feet on Ringo here singing his May 68 paean to the US Civil Rights movement and Angela Davis, Blackbird

As well as blisteringly loud tracks The White Album also included some madly creative tracks where The Beatles shotgunned together fragments, styles and signatures in their best Psychedelic style. Prompted by a newspaper article George Martin found, a pun on the 60s slogan Happiness Is A Warm Puppy, and another tribute to Yoko, The Beatles studio creativity is here in full Happiness is A Warm Gun;

John also was in reflective mood and wrote a real and heartfelt tribute to his mother, Julia, where, as with Across The Universe, the lyric drives the music, and his hands responded beautifully. This was the last track recorded for the White Album and seems to point forward to his Plastic Ono Band album rather than the next Beatles project, here it is then, Julia

John and Paul got together with George Martin on October 16 and mixed all the tracks for the first time inn stereo, prepared the track-listing and sequenced everything in 24 hours. The album was officially released on November 22nd 1968 with individually numbered collectable White Album covers; Ringo got album number 0000001. Not being present Harrison lost Not Guilty and the brilliant sequencing and editing of Side One kicked off with Paul on drums on . A Rishikesh song which had been improvised with Mike Love of the Beach Boys this Chuck Berry pastiche is brilliant and is still banned in parts of the USA (its OK guys you won), It’s Back In The USSR;  

The White Album was an unprecedented success, not just for the fecundity of its 92 minutes length, it became the Beatles’ best selling album & the worlds best-selling double album until Saturday Night Fever in 1977. But it marked the process by which John, Paul, George and Ringo, who had become the Group Genius also known as The Beatles, became John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. 1968 was over and the eternal verities of the 60s had been smashed. By the end of the year, particularly in the 41 days after finishing recording the White Album when Lennon was arrested, divorced and Yoko miscarried their child, Lennon was down. Instead of reflecting on the twin triumphs that Apple and the White Album seemed at the time, Lennon’s last song of 1968 was Everyone Had A Hard Year; 

This is part five of six posts on The Beatles Creativity 1) Beatles Live 1957-63 2) Beatles Singles 1962-64 3) Beatles Albums 1964-65 4) Beatles Psychedelia 1966/67. It is followed by Beatles Let It Be 1969 There is a YouTube Playlist of this post here. Page checked & Updated Jan 15 2014

You can also read my story Yer Blues about hearing the White Album for the first time on November 23rd 1968.

Bonus! Happy Birthday George; November 29th 2010 would have been George Harrison’s 67th birthday. His contribution to the White Album was a major one, not quite as musically significant as on Abbey Road, but cumulatively important. The gestation of the album occurred at Rishikesh and Kinfauns, both down to George, and he brought eight songs, Dehra Dun was unfinished along as well as his musicianship. And he brought along Eric Clapton. Here is a great tribute video of Long, Long, Long;  

14 Responses to “The Beatles Apple 1968”

  1. Fred: You’re worng – THIS is magisterial! Top of the toppermost. Builds nicely and logically and tunefully and historically. Dialectically strumming along.
    Don’t have time for the usual 100% spell check but… in the very first sentence The Beatles needs an apostophe and you should replace the comma with a semi-colon. Then lower down: “The real tension on the album lay in the acoustic inspiration of the songs, LENNON’S desire to create 10 tracks of whack, McCartney’s perfectionism and Harrison’s new found song-writing confidence and quality; and trying to escape the Apple office in Saville Row. Friends with Clapton, WHOSE Cream’s…” And in the final magnificent para: “WORLD’S biggest selling…”
    Young relatives and baby coming for lunch so everybody’s got something to chew ‘cept for me and The Monkees.

  2. Thank you Sir Kevin of Scouse-a-lot. It definitely needs one more pass, but I also wanted to set up 1969 Split and Reform.
    Y0ur input is always appreciated :-)

  3. [...] This is part one of six posts on The Beatles Creativity. It is followed by parts 2) Beatles Singles 1962-64 3) Beatles Albums 1964-65 4) Beatles Psychedelia 1966/67 5) Beatles Apple 1968 [...]

  4. [...] The Beatles Apple 1968 « A Beatles YouTube Album Says: November 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm [...]

  5. [...] The Beatles Apple 1968 « A Beatles YouTube Album Says: November 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm [...]

  6. I really enjoyed this one Fred. Few nice nuggets re Emerick’s opinions etc. But more importantly, it is always nice to review things in context of the whole year. It is easy to forget how much happened to them all in 1968 and particularly how 40 days lead to Lennon characterising a diverse and successful year as “hard”.

    Even for someone as geeky as me (and maybe if I make so bold, your goodself, ha ha), it is easy to get locked into the narrative of the albums and/or the CDs. To view the progress of the men as individuals and how/when/where they wrote the songs you need to step outside the rigid boundaries of the albums.

    Some food for thought in this one.

    PS love how Lenny is trying to look deadly serious in the Stones Circus vid. So desperate to prove is his serious rock credentials and even as late as 68 you can see him determined to shake off the motop schtick

  7. From one geek to another, many thanks! I tried to make the story coherent and contextualised. Actually there is a version of Yer Blues where Lenny gives Mitchell a look for missing a beat; but what a band – Keef on bass!

  8. [...] I mentioned in Beatles Creativity (5) Lennon started the year with the optimism of Across The Universe and ended it with a bleak version [...]

  9. [...] 1) Beatles Live 1957-63 2) Beatles Singles 1962-64 3) Beatles Albums 1964-65 It is followed by 5) Beatles Apple 1968 6) Beatles Let It Be [...]

  10. What was the inspiration / origin story for “Hey Jude” by the Beatles?…

    Cynthia Lennon walked in on John and Yoko in May 1968 and three weeks later in June Jane Asher walked in on Paul and Francie Schwartz, allowing Linda Eastman to become his new girlfriend, meaning that all the individual Beatles were in emotional chaos …

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  13. Hi there: many thanks for taking the time of creating up this knowledge. I at all times make an attempt to additionally my understanding of points. Regardless if I consent or disagree, I love material. I just remember the previous times if the only supply of material was the library or even the newspaper. They both appear so out of date. : )

  14. In celebrating the passing of George Harrison for this anniversary this year. I wrote him a song called Bright Light Shinning. If anyone would like to hear it. Google gordon dix jr or U Tube gordon dix jr
    RIP …….Junior Dix

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