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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The mystery session

Mystery session photo from the Get Back book.
At the end of the "Get Back" book, you know, the book that accompanied the deluxe boxed set of "Let It Be", there's a set of photos that were clearly taken after the filming of what was to become the "Let It Be" movie was over. John has a week or so old beard, and Paul is clean shaven. These photos have puzzled Beatles historians for years. When were they taken? What are they rehearsing or recording?

Page from the Get Back book
Ever since the internet enabled Beatles fans to interact in discussions, the photos have been speculated about. One thing that was established, was that the lads were depicted inside their own Apple studio. As you know, the studio was not finished, Magic Alex had failed to deliver, and they had to borrow equipment in order to use it for the last part of "Let It Be". This equipment had to be returned, and the studio needed to be refurbished. However, the equipment could still be there at the time when these photos were taken. The film sessions had to end by the end of January because Ringo was due to begin filming "The Magic Christian" February 3. But filming at this stage was confined to Twickenham and "London-area locations" until May 2.

John at the mystery session.
And he still had weekends off, plus it's not certain that he was acquired to film every weekday, either. Recording engineer Glyn Johns and Billy Preston were separately in America in early February. George Harrison was in hospital from 7-15 February to have his tonsils removed. Like the other photos in the "Get Back" book, the photos were taken by Ethan Russell, and he was also the one who documented that final photo session at Tittenhurst Park later in the year. The Beatles are known to have re-recorded parts of "Don't Let Me Down" at an undocumented session; the vocals on the session tapes and the single are different, with an extra overdub having been added sometime after January 1969. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both corrected elements of their vocals parts, with Lennon double-tracking his during the middle eight and ending.

Studio documentation at Apple was non-existing, it was not like at Abbey Road where everything was written down and filed in the archives. People just had to guess what the Beatles were doing. Was it overdubs for the upcoming single release of "Don't Let Me Down" as B-side to "Get Back"? Again, it was Mark Lewisohn who finally make a breakthrough. In 2007 he uncovered a letter from Peter Brown, on Beatles business, dated 18 February 1969, which mentions that on the 20th "they will be recording at the Apple studio". It's likely that these photos were taken on that occasion, which was a Thursday. So, what did they record? Perhaps the aforementioned overdubs?

A "mystery session" photo from the book that accompanied the stereo vinyl boxed set.
Or perhaps they started the recording of "I Want You", which they were to continue working on at Trident Studios two days later, on Saturday the 22. If they really started recording "I Want You" at Apple, it was probably no good. Perhaps they just rehearsed the song.

At Trident Studios in London's Soho that Saturday, The Beatles recorded 35 takes of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", which at this stage had the working title "I Want You". Glyn Johns was the producer, and Billy Preston played an organ on the recordings. John Lennon sang live vocals on each of the takes.

Mystery Session page on Beatlesource
Steve Hoffman Music Corner discussion
The Beatles Bible


Unknown said...

Note: Ringo seems to be trying to learn his lines for the film he's in while he's playing drums at the same time; true multi-tasking. I lean towards the "rehearsing I Want You (She's So Heavy)" theory too.

Anonymous said...

Well I had been thinking and saying this around the boards at various times, but it seems to me this is an almost shocking example of how Beatle buffs, apparently including Mark Lewisohn, will prefer documentary to oral history even when the former are unavailable or unrevealing.

Or to put it bluntly
In the 11+ years that sites have been discussing this,

Sometimes the simple ways are just too much for the irredeemable of nerdish


Anonymous said...

Oh wait.

Date: Tue Dec 9, 2003 1:25 pm
Subject: Re: Beatles Picture doubt/Ethan Russell replies

He responded:

"Definitely Apple basement. Good guess re Don't Let Me Down...."

Some mystery huh?

wogew said...

I read Russell's reply before I posted the article, and I didn't give it much weight. Sounds to me that he's just acknowledging what a good guess it was, it's not like he actually remembers what went down.

winston o´boogie said...

No mystery, that`s the "I Want You" session. Just read Lewisohn's "Recording Sessions" book, and link the looks (Paul shaved, etc) and the chords that they're playing (in the photos). I'm amazed that take years for someone to solve this "mystery".

Bthecook said...

Can anybody read what is on the clipboard in the first picture, maybe that would help...

reviloremeor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reviloremeor said...

By the way, one of the photos from this day found its way onto the backcover of the european "Let It Be" VHS video cassette by "Warner Home Video" from United Artists (e.g. in Germany and The Neatherlands) back in 1984, which was only available for a very short time until Apple forced them to pull it off the market:

Beach Boys Opinion Page said...

Paul is using his Hofner bass, weigh he rarely if ever used on the eventual Abbey Road sessions. Nothing is proved by his use of the Hofner, but it might lend additional credence to the idea that it's just a rehearsal for "I Want You."

One question is, why did they bring Ethan Russell along? Did they really need more photos? Interesting stuff.

Chigolf said...

Claudio Dirani said...

I recall discussing this on a forum (maybe Steve Hoffman's) about 10 years ago. That's indeed one of the most intriguing pictures of the Fabs, despite not being one of the older ones.

El Guajolote said...

Hofner bass in Abbey Road was used extensively, actually most of the songs on that album were recorded with the Hofner, especially "I Want You", so it could be possible that they were rehearsing "I Want You" and also they were recording overdubs for "Don't Let Me Down".