In his book Here, There and Everywhere, Geoff Emerick recalls:

We happened to be working on “Come Together” just as Apollo 11 was about to land on the moon, and I raced home late that night after the session ended so I could watch Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on my newly acquired color TV. To my disappointment, the broadcast from the moon was in black and white.

Unfortunately, the recorded timeline does not bear out this recollection of events. The moonwalk would have happened sometime in the wee hours of the morning on July 21, London time, and the “Come Together” session did not begin until 2:30 that afternoon. But in any case the two things were more or less contemporaneous, and I wonder if the excitement of the moon landing might have inspired John Lennon to finally bust out his first new song in months.

“Come Together” had begun life as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quixotic run for governor of California. According to Steve Turner’s A Hard Day’s Write,

John asked Leary if there was anything that he could do to help him in his campaign and was asked if he could write a song to be used in commercials and performed at rallies. Leary’s slogan was “come together, join the party” – the “come together” part was from the I Ching….

John immediately picked up his guitar and began building on the phrase: “Come together right now, Don’t come tomorrow, Don’t come alone, Come together right now over me, All that I can tell you, Is you gotta be free.” After coming up with a few more versions along the same lines, he made a demo tape and handed it to Leary.

Leary had the song played on alternative radio stations throughout California and began to think of it as his own.

Alas, I have searched in vain for this demo, which seems like it must be floating around out there. It’s hard to believe that it was played on the radio multiple times and someone, somewhere, didn’t record it. Maybe it’ll turn up one of these days, possibly as part of the inevitable Abbey Road 50th anniversary reissue, which will predictably arrive too late to be of use for this blog.

Leary was unaware that Lennon had repurposed “Come Together” as a Beatles song until he heard it on the radio in late 1969, after a cannabis bust had put an end to his gubernatorial ambitions. When he mock-complained about the appropriation, according to Leary,

John… replied with typical Lennon charm and wit that he was a tailor and I was a customer who had ordered a suit and never returned. So he sold it to someone else.

And a damn good thing he did. I agree with John’s own assessment of “Come Together”:

It was a funky record – it’s one of my favorite Beatle tracks, or, one of my favourite Lennon tracks, let’s say that. It’s funky, it’s bluesy, and I’m singing it pretty well. I like the sound of the record. You can dance to it. I’d buy it!

But it was Paul who made the song what it is.

He originally brought it over as a very perky little song…. I suggested that we tried [sic] it swampy – “swampy” was the word I used – so we did, we took it right down. I laid that bass line down which very much makes the mood. 

And though Paul sometimes gets a little grabby with the credit for certain things, by all accounts this is exactly how it went down. This was the Lennon/McCartney partnership working at its best, but after a certain point in the session John began to freeze Paul out, playing the electric piano part that Paul had come up with himself, and doing all the backing vocals solo. (Paul did add harmony vocals at a later session via overdub.)

The initial version recorded today was not so terribly different from the eventual master, though the lyrics were incomplete and the guitar solo was missing.

To lift a phrase, it’s a hell of a start, it could be made into a monster if they all pull together as a team. And though true teamwork was in short supply at this stage of Beatles history — very rarely were they all in the same studio at the same time — in the end everyone came through on “Come Together.” Ringo’s drums did a great call-and-response with the bass, George added some tasty guitar, and the production was crisp and spacious. It’s funky, it’s bluesy, you can dance to it… I’d buy it again, and I probably will.

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