The 11 A.M. start of today’s session was still too early for John, so the day began with Paul playing solo piano, attempting to reproduce Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”:

He then played a brief version of “Let It Be” before being joined by George and Ringo for a run through Bo Diddley’s “Crackin’ Up,” Elvis’s (or technically Otis Blackwell’s) “All Shook Up,” and Carl Perkins’ “Your True Love” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” At some point here John turned up and plugged in, and despite everyone’s later carping about how much they hated it all, it sounds pretty fun. You might think for a minute that you’re in Hamburg, with The Beatles playing off-the-cuff versions of rock classics — except that in Hamburg they were tight as a drum, whereas at this point they hadn’t really played together for three years and were all over the place.

Even so, there’s no doubt that if they’d stuck with this idea, they would have eventually come up with a pretty nice set. The problem was not musical; the problem was that after spending the better part of a decade together, The Beatles were sick and tired of each other. At one point in late 1968 they had discussed spending some time apart to make solo albums, then reconvening for the next Beatles project. Maybe this would have worked, but it seems more likely that after getting a taste of freedom, they’d have broken up for real — so we’d have no Abbey Road, which seems like a shame.

Anyway: the session continued apace with versions of the Coasters’ “Three Cool Cats” and Little Richard’s “Lucille.” Eventually they decided to take a shot at “I’m So Tired,” but with Paul on vocals instead of John, which is, um, different?

And here I’m going to have to take a break from giving a blow-by-blow, as it is exhausting. In the course of the day the boys played more than 50 songs, some only once and some as many as 37 times. In addition to numerous covers, they did familiar Beatles songs, old but previously unrecorded Lennon/McCartney tunes, and new compositions both complete and fragmentary. The Beatles Bible has a complete list if you want one, but in the interest of all our sanity, the official policy for the rest of these sessions is going to be: keep moving, hit the high points. (If you want more, a blog called They May Be Parted offers minutely detailed analysis, and good for them; it seems like a lot of work for minimal return.)

One theme that The Beatles kept returning to throughout today’s session was Bob Dylan and/or the Band. Not only did they attempt covers of “Please Mrs. Henry,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “The Weight,” but when George introduced his new song “All Things Must Pass,” he told the others:

We’re pretending to be The Band for this one…. the emotion of it is very Band-y.

The reason all their people are singing different lines is they all want to be the singer.… [And] there’s discipline where nobody’s crowding anybody else out. But it’s really great…. This guy Paul is looking a bit like from The Band, who’s the organist? [Garth Hudson] He’s really fantastic. And he’s into that so much. And it sounds a bit like a synthesizer, because the notes bend.

And for once, it seems, the other Beatles were actually listening to George, because this version of “ATMP” does sound pretty “Band-y”:

But in the end, as we know, “All Things Must Pass” did not appear on either Let It Be or Abbey Road (though it did turn up in demo form on Anthology 3). As with other George songs, the pattern seems to have been: John and Paul give minimal effort, forcing George to run through it again and again, until finally it becomes boring and lifeless and is eventually abandoned. (See also: “Not Guilty.”)

The subtext of this song is not very far from the surface. George could see the end of the band coming, and he was ready for it, as was John. At this point it was only Paul holding things together, and how long could he keep that up? We’ll check back in when the sessions resume in three days.

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