Voltando para 'Get Back': a longa e sinuosa saga do álbum dos Beatles perdidos de Glyn Johns

2021-11-16

Glyn Johns estava relaxando em sua casa em Londres uma noite de dezembro de 1968 quando o telefone tocou. Foi Paul McCartney . Johns disse-lhe para se foder. 

Em sua defesa, ele presumiu que estava sendo enganado por outro membro da aristocracia britânica do rock. “Eu pensei que era Mick Jagger tentando ser divertido,” Johns disse à People. "Não consigo me lembrar exatamente o que disse para o que pensei ser Mick, mas foi mais ou menos, 'P-off, o que você quer?' E, de fato, era Paul. "

Com apenas 26 anos, Johns já tinha uma carreira ilustre como engenheiro de estúdio de primeira chamada, orientando sessões para algumas das maiores bandas da Grã-Bretanha, incluindo Pretty Things, Small Faces e Spooky Tooth. Mais famoso, ele trabalhou com os Rolling Stones em uma série de álbuns clássicos, incluindo seu sucesso atual, Beggar's Banquet . Daí porque uma piada madrugada de Jagger não estava fora do reino das possibilidades. Mas uma ligação fria de um dos Beatles era um pouco mais incomum. 

Johns ouviu enquanto McCartney delineava o próximo projeto dos Beatles: um álbum ao vivo com canções totalmente novas. Seria o primeiro show público da banda em mais de dois anos . Para marcar a ocasião, uma equipe de filmagem documentaria os procedimentos de uma proposta especial para a televisão. As credenciais de Johns tornaram-no especialmente adequado para ajudá-los neste novo empreendimento multimídia, assumindo o papel tradicionalmente desempenhado por seu produtor, George Martin . Ele já havia feito a engenharia de vários álbuns ao vivo e também responsável pelo som do filme show 'Rock' n 'Roll Circus dos Rolling Stones , que apresentava performances de John Lennon e Yoko Ono. Dada a estreita ligação dos Beatles com os Stones, era natural que o nome de Johns aparecesse durante a pré-produção. 

“Paul muito educadamente me disse qual era seu plano e perguntou se eu estaria interessado em fazê-lo”, disse Johns. "E eu disse, 'Com certeza, sim! Ótimo.' Então ele disse: 'Bem, vamos começar a ensaiar logo depois do Ano Novo e eu realmente apreciaria se você viesse a todos os ensaios.' Eu disse: 'Claro, ok'. E lá fomos nós. " 

Assim começou uma longa e tortuosa saga que durou mais de meio século. Johns foi fundamental na criação da canção do cisne dos Beatles Let It Be , mas a maioria de suas contribuições permaneceu trancada no cofre. Agora, com a chegada do expansivo novo box Let It Be , sua versão inicial do álbum - mais fiel ao espírito do conceito original dos Beatles e aclamado por muitos como muito superior ao lançamento oficial - está finalmente disponível para todos ouvir. Composto por diferentes mixagens, diferentes takes e até diferentes faixas, é equivalente à descoberta de um álbum dos Beatles há muito perdido. 

Glyn Johns

Apesar de sua lista de clientes de alto perfil, Johns mal cruzou o caminho de qualquer um dos Fabs quando ele apareceu pela primeira vez para trabalhar em 2 de janeiro de 1969. Além do Rock 'n' Roll Circus , seu único encontro real com os Beatles ocorreu quando Lennon e McCartney foram a uma sessão dos Stones para emprestar suas vozes ao single do grupo "We Love You" no verão de 1967. "Eu era apenas o engenheiro e eles entravam e saíam", explica Johns. "Não era como se eles saíssem por um dia ou algo assim. Então eu não tive nenhum relacionamento com nenhum deles."

Mesmo assim, os Beatles imediatamente abraçaram esse relativo estranho em seu meio. “Todos eles foram incrivelmente acolhedores”, diz Johns. "Eles me fizeram sentir muito confortável. Desde o minuto em que entrei pela porta, [o roadie dos Beatles] Mal Evans me cumprimentou e foi adorável. Então, quando cada membro da banda chegou, era como se estivéssemos trabalhando juntos por anos, quase. Eles foram muito colaborativos, de fato. Eles me fizeram sentir muito confortável. "

RELACIONADOS: Repensando Let It Be: um guia detalhado para a versão expandida da controvertida canção do cisne dos Beatles

The Beatles-Twickenham Film Studios-7 de janeiro de 1969

The physical accommodations, on the other hand, were slightly less comfortable. They spent their first week of rehearsals in a drab and drafty soundstage at Twickenham film studios on the outskirts of London. To Johns, playing in the warehouse-sized room was akin to playing a game of ping pong in the middle of a football stadium. Even under these unusual circumstances, the Beatles retained their discipline and enthusiasm. "It was a bit odd, but it worked okay. We just got on with it, really," Johns says. "My whole experience with the Beatles was really no different from any other band, except it was the Beatles. There was nothing unusual about their behavior or their work ethic or anything else. They were exactly like any other band that I had worked with, in that regard. They jammed, just like anybody would. If everyone was in a good mood and having a good time, they would mess about."

But good times weren't always forthcoming. Johns had unwittingly entered the Beatles' orbit during the most troubled time in their history . The project's working title of Get Back was more than just the name of a new McCartney song but also a mission statement. The Beatles —and McCartney in particular— yearned for a simpler era before business pressures and private psychodramas threatened to erode their core friendship. A return to the stage would mean a return to being a band, rather than four distinct studio artistes with increasingly different ideas of what, when and how to play. The live album would be the antithesis of their increasingly elaborate studio productions like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album , both of which took months to complete and exhausted the Beatles' collective goodwill. Instead, Get Back would be spontaneous and exciting, a reminder of everything they had originally loved about rock 'n' roll. 

That was the theory, at least. Not all of the band believed in this Gatsby-esque premise, and the early rehearsals failed to have a unifying effect. Yoko Ono often gets the blame due to her constant presence (at Lennon's emphatic request). Though her attendance undoubtedly disrupted the delicate interpersonal dynamic, many factors lead to their dissatisfaction. These ranged from Lennon's substance abuse issues, Harrison's growing frustration with his second class status in the band, the intrusion of the documentary film cameras, the cold, damp atmosphere of the soundstage, and even the early morning call times. 

The Beatles - Get Back

Matters came to a head just after lunch on Jan. 10, when Harrison stormed out of the rehearsals and temporarily quit the group. Though he was coaxed back into the fold days later, the moment has gone down in Beatle lore as "the beginning of the end" of the band. Yet Johns maintains that the incident has been exaggerated in its retelling over the years. "It was disappointing, but they'd been together a long time," he says. "They had an argument and they made up, just like anybody else. If people work in an office for a few years, there are going to be falling-outs. This was the same s—. I've worked with lots of bands that have had arguments in the studio and somebody's gone off in a tiff and then they came back again. But because it was the Beatles, everybody made this huge bloody great issue out of it and turned it into the end of the world. But it wasn't."

Harrison's return came with some conditions. Plans for a televised comeback concert were abandoned, as were the rehearsals at Twickenham. Instead, Harrison insisted they decamp to their newly constructed studio in the basement of the Beatles' Apple Records headquarters at 3 Savile Row in London's West End. The atmosphere was certainly nicer than the cavernous soundstage, but there was one problem: the sound equipment was a mess. The facility had been designed by "Magic" Alex Mardas, a self-proclaimed electronics wizard and notorious wheeler-dealer who had supposedly charmed the Beatles with tales of his dubious inventions: a voice-activated typewriter, color-changing paint, a force-field for McCartney's house, video phones, a robotic housewife, wallpaper that acted as stereo speakers, and even an artificial sun. At one point he managed to convince Lennon and Harrison to donate the V-12 engines from their sports cars so he could construct a flying saucer. It didn't work — and neither did the recording studio.

Johns was sent to scope out the fresh facilities with Harrison. Instead of a state-of-the-art studio, he found pure chaos. "It was the most absurd and ridiculous thing I've ever seen," he says with a chuckle. "I mean, I knew immediately the guy didn't have a clue what he was doing. He was a TV repairman! That's how he started, but he fooled everyone into thinking he was some kind of genius. Well, he wasn't. I walked in and there was a console in the control room that looked like something out of Buck Rogers. And there were eight speakers on the wall, all the size of a ham sandwich. Because it was eight-track recording, he thought you had to have eight speakers. The guy didn't have a f—ing clue. So I burst out laughing and George Harrison wasn't terribly happy with that. He got a bit miffed."

Rental equipment was hastily installed and soon they settled into what effectively became the Beatles' private clubhouse. They were joined by old friend Billy Preston on keyboards, and almost immediately there was a significant boost in morale. "This was their office building, so it was home for them," says Johns. "They were very much in control of what was going on. It worked really, really well." The music was strong, even if the direction of the Get Back venture was uncertain. With a public concert now out of the question, the notion of a traditional live album went out the window. Johns had been tasked with recording the rehearsals, primarily as a reference for the Beatles to listen back and develop their arrangements. Though they were unsure whether they were rehearsing, making a record, or simply workshopping, the band played on. Relieved of the pressure of having to produce a formal "Beatles Album," they let down their hair and enjoyed themselves. 

Johns found himself in the unique position of witnessing a new collection of Beatles' material taking shape around him, and the raw creativity left him exhilarated. Inspired by the raucous energy, he had a thought: why not let listeners in on the fun? He conceived of a new kind of album, midway between a studio endeavor and a live record; a "fly-on-the-wall" audio documentary that portrayed the Beatles as a band at work. "I wanted to show what a good time we were having, really," he says of the novel approach. 

Era uma meta-premissa apropriada. Os Fabs foram fundamentais para elevar os álbuns de rock ao nível de uma forma de arte. Agora eles poderiam desconstruir sua reputação com um projeto que ilustrasse o processo de composição - o disco pós-moderno perfeito. "Tendo provado ao mundo que eles reescreveram as regras relativas à música produzida em estúdio, achei ótimo tê-los despojados, para mostrar quem e o que eles realmente eram como banda. Pude testemunhar isso , tendo estado em uma sala com eles, e fiquei maravilhado com toda a experiência. Achei que seria ótimo registrar isso. " 

The Beatles - Get Back

Johns edited together highlights from recent sessions as a proof of concept, incorporating banter and false starts among the full songs. He presented this rough demo to each of the Beatles for consideration. It was unanimously rejected. "It wasn't that they didn't enjoy it. It was just that they didn't see it as being what they were trying to achieve," he says. "To be honest, I didn't expect them to go, 'Oh, what a great idea,' but I thought I'd run it by them just in case. It was an option, if you like."

A more immediate concern was how to craft an end to the documentary in progress. With Ringo Starr due to shoot a feature film in less than two weeks, the deadline was fast approaching. "We were in the middle of doing something that had gone incredibly well musically to that point," says Johns, "but our film was being made about a concert that wasn't going to happen anymore. So it was a bit of a predicament, really." 

A solução chegou um dia, quando o grupo fez uma pausa para o almoço. "Ringo estava sentado ao meu lado", lembra Johns. “Estávamos no último andar do prédio [do escritório dos Beatles] e ele disse, 'Você já subiu no telhado aqui?' E eu disse não. Ele disse: 'É incrível. Você pode ver todo o West End de Londres do telhado. Venha, vou lhe mostrar!' Sinceramente não me lembro se foi minha ideia ou dele, mas daquela visita ao telhado, nós dois tivemos a ideia de possivelmente tocar lá. " 

The Beatles - Get Back

They put it to the others, who mulled it over. The suggestion had much to recommend itself. It was technically a live concert, but without the hassle of hysterical fans and security. Plus, the idea of blasting rock 'n' roll throughout the staid side-street, populated mostly by snobbish tailors, appealed to their sense of rebellion. And perhaps most importantly, very little effort was required of them. All they had to do was go upstairs. Thanks in large part to laziness, the climax of the documentary was in place. 

On the afternoon of Jan. 30, 1969, the Beatles climbed five flights to the top of Apple Records headquarters and played nine songs (or five titles) over the course of 42 minutes. Scaffolding planks had been laid to support the weight of the gear, and the sensitive guitar and drum mics were sheathed in women's pantyhose to guard against the gusts of wind. Other than that, few concessions were made. "Recording in the open air was a complete doddle," says Johns. "The biggest problem was the temperature!" To ward off the winter chill, both Lennon and Starr wore their ladies' coats, and a staffer held a steady stream of cigarettes to warm their fingers. It was arguably the most unusual concert of the Beatles career — and also their last. 

The sessions for what was still known as Get Back wrapped the following day, on Jan. 31. The tapes gathered dust until that spring, when Johns got another call from Paul McCartney. "He asked me to meet him and John at Abbey Road [Studios]. They said, 'Do you remember the idea that you had while we were doing Get Back?' And I said yes. And they said, 'We'd like you to go away and do it.' All the tapes were on the floor in the control room — piles of tapes! I went, 'Okay, when do we start?' They said, 'Well, we're not going to be there. It was your idea. You go and do it.' At first I thought 'Blimey, that's marvelous.' But in the car on the way home and I suddenly realized, 'Hold on a minute. They've obviously lost interest in this completely. They don't think I'm marvelous, they just don't give a s—!'" 

Ele montou uma tracklist no mesmo estilo da demo que fez durante as sessões, combinando material novo com trabalhos em andamento, conversas de estúdio, jams soltas e covers incompletos de castanhas antigas de R&B como "The Walk" e "Save the Last Dance de Jimmy McCracklin For Me "pelos Drifters . A mixagem final foi enviada aos Beatles em maio de 1969, semanas após o single "Get Back" chegar às prateleiras. O álbum de Johns parecia prestes a vir em julho. A arte da capa foi projetada, que telegrafou o etos "de volta às nossas raízes" do projeto, imitando a capa de seu álbum de estreia, Please Please Me , lançado seis anos (e várias vidas) antes. 

The Beatles: Get Back

But then came a complicated series of snags and delays. Officially, it was decided that the record should be released alongside the documentary film, which required many more months of editing. Unofficially, Johns' suspicions were correct and the band were losing interest in the project. In the meantime, they busied themselves by recording a new album. Johns assisted on the initial sessions, but as it became clear that this was going to be a traditional studio production, the Beatles returned to familiar territory at Abbey Road and welcomed back producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald, the team behind some of their most daring soundscapes. The sessions marked something of a homecoming, and the resulting record — which would prove to be their last — was named for their longtime creative laboratory.  "Abbey Road was a fantastic record ," says Johns. "And I'm really glad that they went back to George Martin, because he and Geoff did the most brilliant job. It was a much better record because they finished it, I can assure you."

By the dawn of 1970, the Beatles existed in name only. Lennon had privately informed his bandmates of his intent to leave the group just before Abbey Road was released September, but there was still the small issue of finishing Get Back, which had been retitled Let It Be to differentiate it from the now months-old single. Johns revisited the tapes a final time that January, with its tracklist altered to align with the almost complete film. Coming on the heels of the highly polished Abbey Road,  the band began to balk at the unvarnished "warts and all" premise of the Get Back experiment. "Having made Abbey Road as beautiful a record as it was, there was obviously some disagreement about [the direction for] Let It Be," says Johns.  "I'm reading between the lines here, but I can only assume that John wasn't really happy with what I'd done or that idea."

And there was also a matter of credit. Johns' had been brought on as an engineer, yet his work far exceeded that. Hoping to remedy this, he asked if he could be credited as producer, near the top of the studio hierarchy. "I didn't want any royalties, I just wanted credit," he explains. "Because at that point it would've done my CV good. And everybody was quite happy about that, except for John. He couldn't understand why I didn't want any money! I said, 'Listen, you could release the four of you singing the phonebook and it would sell a huge number of records, no matter who did what. So I don't think I deserve any financial recompense, but a credit would be quite handy.' But it didn't come to pass. John wasn't unpleasant, he was just quizzical. But I didn't take any offense."

No final, era um ponto discutível. Lennon acabou rejeitando os esforços de Johns e recrutou os serviços de Phil Spector , o autocrático autor de áudio que produziu o recente single solo de Lennon, "Instant Karma", no início de 1970. "John obviamente teve uma conversa com Spector e achou que seria uma ótima ideia para dar a ele o que tínhamos gravado e ter uma porcaria de Spector por toda parte ", reflete Johns. Contratar um maximalista como Spector, o arquiteto da bombástica técnica de produção "Wall of Sound", parecia contradizer completamente a premissa original do projeto e atingiu muitos como um ato de sabotagem. Paul McCartney ficou tão indignado com as adições orquestrais não autorizadas to his track "The Long and Winding Road" that he cited it at the legal proceedings to formally dissolve the Beatles at the end of the year. Johns was similarly aggrieved. "I was extremely disappointed when I heard the Phil Spector version, which was disgusting." (The word "puke" often crops up in his description, though not during this discussion.) Spector's Let It Be was issued on May 8, 1970, just weeks after the Beatles publicly announced their breakup. "And my mixes ended up on a shelf in the basement of Abbey Road," says Johns.

That's not entirely accurate. Johns' Get Back mix earned a sort of infamy as one of rock's first major bootlegs. An acetate was leaked to a reporter in September 1969 (supposedly by John Lennon, of all people) and quickly spread throughout the counterculture underground. Radio stations in Boston, Buffalo and Cleveland broadcast the demo in its entirety, creating a golden opportunity for illicit tapers to record it off the airwaves. Dubbed Kum Back, the illegitimate release was ubiquitous enough to earn a review in Rolling Stone. But aside from these poor quality bootlegs — and a handful of tracks included on the Beatles Anthology in 1996 — the original incarnation of Get Back/Let It Be remained locked away. 

Johns, meanwhile, moved on. "I sort of forgot about it. I'm busy, y'know what I mean," he laughs. That's putting it mildly. He spent much of the '70s defining the sound of the decade. His list of clients reads like a complete history of classic rock: Led Zeppelin, the Who, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker, the Eagles, Faces, Leon Russell, and the Clash, to name but a few. More than perhaps anyone in music, Johns can truly say that his time with the Beatles was just another gig. 

Glyn Johns

Today, Johns is 79. He was 26 when he recorded Get Back. Does he feel a sense of closure now that this half-century saga is complete? Not quite. "I'm not overly concerned with it at this point in my life, but I guess it's okay," he says with trademark understatement. "It's pretty good." 

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