The chronology gets a little muddled here, with different sources saying that different things happened at different times. How it got that way with so many cameras on everybody all the time, I can’t imagine. But I can say with a fairly high degree of confidence that the following took place on these days, more or less in this order:

(1) Ringo gave an interview to journalist David Wigg in “the back of his chauffeur driven grey Mercedes enroute from Ringo’s home to a medical examination in London.” In his answers Ringo appears to have been quite honest, if (characteristically) a little over-optimistic. When asked if The Beatles were still as close as they had been, he responded:

We all love each other and we all know that. But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know.

Asked if a breakup is imminent, he said,

We’ll never go… Oh, I can’t say never. But I mean, we won’t go our separate ways after this album. And we’ll always be tied up with each other in some way, because we signed a lot of papers. It says we stay together for 20 years or something. And Apple closing, you know, is… is silly. We have spent a lot of money, because we don’t earn as much as people think. ’Cuz if we earn a million then the Government gets 90 percent and we get 10,000. [sic]

At one point Wigg suggests that “your popularity isn’t as strong as it used to be.”1I will quote Ringo’s answer in full here, lengthy as it may be, because it is a testament to how clear-eyed and eloquent the oft-mocked drummer can be:

It’s because, you know, when we first started we were the nice clean mop tops and every mother’s son. And everyone loved us. And then suddenly, you know, there’s a few things that they don’t understand, and they don’t get, and they don’t like. And so it turns them off us a bit, you know. But I still think we’re very popular. It’s just that, we’re men now, you know. We’re a bit older than those lads that started out. And we’ve got a lot of things to do, you know. And you’ve got to do a few of them. It doesn’t matter, you know, what people say. You can’t live all your life by what they want. You know, we can’t go on forever as four clean little mop tops, playing She Loves You.

And it does seem that, on some level, it was impossible for The Beatles to grow up as Beatles. I mean, Mick and Keith are still Stones 50 years later, and more power to them; Dylan has no choice but to remain Dylan, craggy and hoarse as he grows; but The Beatles qua Beatles were destined to remain forever young.

(2) The sessions resumed with George back in the fold, now in the basement of the Apple building, using mobile recording equipment borrowed from EMI. But curiously, despite the general dissatisfaction with what had transpired at Twickenham, the new sessions continued in much the same vein: With a camera crew filming and tapes rolling as The Beatles fucked around with every manner of cover version and improvisation before eventually getting around to some run-throughs of their new tunes. (Specifically “Dig a Pony,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.”)

But unlike Twickenham, which was cavernous and drafty, the new studio was tiny and the big lights required for filming quickly turned it into a sauna. After some initial enthusiasm the “negative vibes” that George had been complaining about returned in full force.

Nothing recorded on these days made it onto Let It Be except a brief snippet where John introduces “Dig a Pony” as “‘I Dig a Pygmy’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids. Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats.”2 Some takes from these sessions did end up on Anthology 3, however.

A certain sense of desperation began to set in; something, clearly, had to give.

(3) According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions,

A fine American organist named Billy Preston happened to be in the Apple reception area on 22 January.

This is not the version of this story most often told. The Washington Post had it this way:

George Harrison, a friend of Preston, had quit [The Beatles], walked out of the studio and gone to a Ray Charles concert in London, where Preston was playing organ. Harrison brought Preston back to the studio.

But Lewisohn is generally a reliable source, and I prefer his way of telling it, so let’s continue along that line:

[Preston] was literally grabbed and cajoled into joining The Beatles sessions to alleviate the tense atmosphere and — since overdubbing was out — add a vital fifth instrument to the live sound. The Beatles had known Preston since 1962, when he was a teenage member of Little Richard’s backing group, sharing a two-week bill with The Beatles at the Star-Club, Hamburg.

All parties involved seem to agree that Preston’s presence sparked a change in the tone of the sessions that allowed them to continue, if not harmoniously, at least with an absence of active hostility. He had a certain mystique that made the Fabs respect him: He was American, and black, and had a direct connection to the U.S. R&B that they so revered. In addition to working with Little Richard and Ray Charles, he had “played the organ on Sam Cooke’s Night Beat album [at the age of 16!] and released his own debut album, 16 Yr Old Soul, for Cooke’s SAR label” (both in 1963)(says Wikipedia).

Quoth Paul,

It was like having a guest in the house, someone you put on your best manners for…. It might have helped us all behave better with one another.

Here he is making his first appearance:

Everybody loved Billy. His musical contribution was almost beside the point, though he was an extremely gifted player who added a lot, starting by sitting in on “Dig a Pony,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and/or “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” Different sources say different things, and all this uncertainty is, quite frankly, exhausting. Let’s call it a day, or two days, for now.

 

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