“It was one April Fool’s joke which did not come off.”
—Peter Bown, recording engineer

I am informed that, what with The Difficulties and all, April Fool’s Day is cancelled this year. Which is fine with me; where’s the fun in pranking people when they know it’s coming? So everything in this post will be true and factual, so far as I know.

On this day there was a recording session for Let It Be, supervised by Phil Spector, at Abbey Road. Mark Lewisohn describes it this way:

The overdub of lavish orchestral and choral tracks onto “Across the Universe,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “I Me Mine.” It was the very last recording session for a Beatles album, and it featured the work of a real-life Beatle: Ringo, who played drums on all three songs to augment the orchestra.

Ringo was fresh off a traumatic confrontation with Paul, who was in a dispute with the other three (ex-)Beatles over the release date of his solo debut. George and John wanted the album’s release delayed, and had written him this passive-aggressive missive:

Dear Paul, We thought a lot about yours and the Beatles LPs – and decided it’s stupid for Apple to put out two big albums within 7 days of each other (also there’s Ringo’s and Hey Jude) – so we sent a letter to EMI telling them to hold your release date til June 4th (there’s a big Apple-Capitol convention in Hawaii then). We thought you’d come round when you realized that the Beatles album was coming out on April 24th. We’re sorry it turned out like this – it’s nothing personal. Love John & George. Hare Krishna. A Mantra a Day Keeps MAYA! Away.

Ringo, mensch that he is, volunteered to deliver the message to Paul in person. “I didn’t think it fair some office lad should take something like that round,” he said.

Paul did not take it well. Ringo later testified,

I went to see Paul. To my dismay, he went completely out of control, shouting at me, prodding his fingers towards my face, saying: “I’ll finish you now” and “You’ll pay.” He told me to put my coat on and get out. I did so.

In Paul’s description, “It was fairly hostile. But things had got like that by this time. It hadn’t actually come to blows, but it was near enough.” I have a feeling — this is just a gut instinct, based on I know not what — that if it had gotten physical, lil’ Ringo would have kicked Paul’s ass. Fortunately that was not necessary, but the relationship between the two remained chilly for years.

Ringo may have taken some satisfaction, then, in participating in Phil Spector’s unauthorized-by-Paul overdubs of strings, brass, and choir onto “The Long and Winding Road” — which would make Paul apoplectic when he found out about it, though that didn’t happen until the album was released. But John and George continued to use Spector as producer for All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band, and Imagine, despite the fact that even then he was a gun-waving lunatic with a talent for pissing people off. At today’s session, says technical engineer Brian Gibson:

He wanted to hear [the music], while it was being recorded, exactly the way it would sound when finished: with all the tape echo, plate echo, chamber echo, all the effects. This was horrendously difficult in studio one which is, technically, quite primitive. Spector was on the point of throwing a bit wobbly – “I wanna hear this!,” “I must have that!” – when Ringo took him quietly aside and said, “Look, they can’t do that, they’re doing the best they can. Just cool it.”

Adds his co-worker Peter Bown:

Out of the blue he distributed these extra parts [to the session musicians], without intimating that there would be any extra payment. I warned Phil that he’d never get away with it, and of course the orchestra got up and walked out. I worked with these musicians often and knew them well, so I went into the control room, put a wedge under the door and tried to keep out of it. I got home very very late, well after midnight, and took the phone off the hook because I knew Spector would try and call. The moment I put it back Spector was on the line, asking me to return to the studio and continue, which I did. The musicians got their extra payment. This session was on the first of April 1970 – but it was one April Fool’s joke which did not come off.

Note: As of this writing, Phil Spector is serving a 19-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, California. And that’s no joke.

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