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The Beatles Recording Sessions
The Recording of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'
July, 1968. During the early days of the White Album, George Harrison had been particularly patient when it came to recording his own material. His latest song, 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' would change considerably from its initial conception to completion. On July 25th, 1968 the Beatles rehearsed several takes with an acoustic version also recorded the same day. This solo vocal and acoustic guitar track was to later appear on the Beatles Anthology collection. This acoustic version at the time only served as a demo for the rest of the Beatles and by now George had decided the he wanted the song to appear on the White Album in a totally different form. This song was to be one of the first eight-track Beatles recordings at Abbey Road. With some of the backing completed, the existing tracks were mixed in stereo and transferred to an eight-track recorder so that 6 tracks could be used for more overdubs. After this was done, George worked by himself and attempted to record a backwards guitar solo that in the end was scrapped. It was around this time that Eric Clapton become involved with the song.
On September 5th, 1968 more work was done on the dubbed eight-track recording. Additional tracks were added but George didn't like the result and the whole track was scrapped. The Beatles then started work on a fresh take with take 25 out of 28 deemed as being the best take. The next day saw Eric Clapton involved in the song, although this was quite by accident. Eric was giving George a lift from Surrey where they both lived into London that day and on the way in George suggested that he might want to contribute to the song. The track was put down with a minimum of fuss with Eric's excellent solo played on a Les Paul guitar. Paul played fuzz bass guitar, George the organ, Ringo percussion, and George - with Paul adding backing harmonies - taped his lead vocal. Chris Thomas, now a famous record producer, had the wonderful job of wobbling the oscillator for Eric Clapton's guitar while it was being mixed. Clapton had insisted that his guitar should sound a bit different to the normal Clapton sound. The keyboard track was a flanged organ which made it sound very whiny and slightly out of tune.
The Recording of 'Hey Jude'
Recording of 'Hey Jude' began on the 29th of July, 1968. Although recorded around the time of the White Album, it was to be released as a single and would be one of their longest. Most pop singles during the sixties lasted a maximum of three minutes but the Beatles being the Beatles, decided that rules were meant to be broken. The single released of 'Hey Jude' ended up being 7'11" long. Three complete takes were recorded on the the 29th of July with take one lasting 6'21", take two 4'40" and take six 5'25". This session was more like a rehearsal than a recording of the real thing. On the 30th of July, another 18 takes were recorded, although these sessions were also treated as rehearsals. Sessions at Trident, another recording studio in London, had been booked for the purpose of recording the final track, with an orchestra booked also for that session. At the end of this session on the 30th, George Martin would take away a stereo mix so that he could arrange the song's orchestral score.
On the 31st of July, recording began at Trident. Both Paul and George had already been involved with some other artists at Trident before this session. George had been busy producing Jackie Lomax in between Beatles sessions. Paul was doing the same with Mary Hopkin and had been popping in on the odd James Taylor session. What attracted the Beatles to Trident was that it was independent, like Apple Records, and had an eight-track recorder. Abbey Road was still four-track, at least that was what the members of the Beatles thought. Abbey Road did have an eight-track but it just hadn't been installed yet due to internal paperwork. Using the eight-track, the Beatles did several takes with Paul on piano, George on electric guitar, John on acoustic guitar and Ringo on drums. George had wanted to play an answering guitar phase after each 'Hey Jude' vocal line but it was later vetoed.
'Hey Jude' was recorded very quickly in the end. On the 1st of August, overdubs were recorded with Paul putting down a bass guitar track and a lead vocal while the other Beatles put down backing vocals. (Listen out for an undeleted expletive at 2'59" into the finished record!) The 36 piece orchestra was then recorded for the musical build-up during the song's long refrain. In addition the members of the orchestra were asked if they wouldn't mind contributing hand claps and backing vocals (nah, nah, nah's) for the powerful build-up in the refrain. Most said yes but there was one person who walked out of the session saying "I'm not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney's bloody song!".
With the final mixes done, 'Hey Jude' would be Apple Records' first real release. Released on the 30th of August, 1968, it would go on and sell in excess of eight million copies worldwide and top the US charts for nine weeks.
The Recording of 'Strawberry Fields Forever'
Recording of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' began on November 24th, 1966. Born under the influence of certain well known chemicals that were freely available at the time, John Lennon's 'Strawberry Fields Forever' would represent everything that the Beatles had learnt in the studio up until this point. Strawberry Field was an old Salvation Army home in Liverpool, situated around the corner from where John grew up. The song seemed to evoke childhood memories through a hallucinogenic, dreamy haze.
The song would prove to be amongst the most difficult and complicated the Beatles would ever record and would change shape in the studio several times before completion. Take one was completely different from the final track recorded with the only similarity being the song's mellotron introduction. The mellotron was very similar to the modern day sampler in that it contained tapes which could be programmed to imitate other instruments, in this particular case flute. It was made mostly for producing sound effects but it also had flutes, brass and strings sounds. The Musicians' Union at the time tried to ban it because it reproduced sounds real musicians could play.
The Beatles did several takes on the 24th but these were never used and still remain in the vaults to this very day. The version recorded on this night came to a full ending with the mellotron. The entire take was also recorded at 53 cycles per second so that it sounded faster on playback but it still only lasted 2'54".
Towards the end of November, 1966, 'Strawberry Fields Forever' would go through several changes before it became what the public would eventually hear. George Martin would later recall: "Before the very first recording of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' John stood opposite me in the studio and played me the song on his acoustic guitar and it was absolutely wonderful. Then when we actually taped it with the usual instruments it started to get a bit heavy. John didn't say anything but I knew it wasn't what he had originally wanted. So I wasn't totally surprised when he came back to me a week or so later and suggested we have another go at recording it, perhaps even bringing in some outside musicians.Together we worked out that I should score the song for trumpets and cellos."
On December 8th, 1966, the Beatles would rerecord 'Strawberry Fields Forever" with the cellos and trumpets added as an overdubs a week later. First the Beatles had to record the new rhythm track which was recorded by Dave Harries as George Martin and Geoff Emerick had tickets to the premiere of Cliff Richard's film 'Finders Keepers' and wouldn't be back until 11 o'clock that evening. Dave Harries recalls: "Soon after I had lined up the microphones and instruments in the studio that night, the Beatles arrived hot to record. There was nobody there but me so I became producer/engineer. We recorded Ringo's cymbals, played them backwards, Paul and George were on timpani and bongos, Mal Evans played tambourine, and we overdubbed the guitars. When George and Geoff came back I scuttled upstairs because I shouldn't really have been recording them."
There was still along way to go before 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was ready for release but Harries' version - or part of it, anyway - was a vital part of that record. By the end of the session 15 more takes had been recorded, all of them rhythm tracks with two of the incomplete takes used to take the song to the next stage. Before the end of this session George Martin and Geoff Emerick edited together the first three-quarters of take 15 with the last quarter of take 24. An attempt to mix down the two four-track edits was started but was left until the next day.
There was still a lot of overdubs to add to 'Strawberry Fields Forever' so on the 9th of December, the previous night's work was mixed down to to one track and called take 25. This left three tracks to record a series of overdubs. Onto track two Ringo added some percussion, which included some very heavy drum sounds, and George added a swordmandel, which was an Indian instrument that sounded a lot like a table harp. Backward cymbals were also added with the pattern of the song worked out and then written down in reverse so that when recorded and the tape was played backwards the sounds would fit the bars precisely. It's amazing to think this particular song was all done on a four track recorder. 'Free As A Bird' used a total of 48 tracks!
On the 15th of December, three cellos and four trumpets which were scored by George Martin, were added to this remake of 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. The trumpets and cellos were then mixed down to another four track which would become take 26. Onto this John would add two separate vocal takes with John muttering 'cranberry sauce' twice at the end of the second take. One 'cranberry sauce' even made on some foreign pressings of the song. Some even think it was John muttering the words 'I buried Paul'. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was now almost complete. With its frantic strings, blaring trumpets, heavy drum sound and two, extremely fast Lennon vocal takes, it seemed to be finished. But was Lennon was still unhappy with the result.
On the 22nd of December, John would approach George Martin with an interesting assignment. George Martin remembers: "John told me he liked both versions of 'Strawberry Fields Forever', the original, lighter version and the more intense, scored version. He said to me "Why don't you join the beginning of the first one to the end of the second one?". I told him that there were two problems. One was that they were both in a completely different keys and two was that they were both running at different tempos. He said "Well you can fix it!". So George Martin and Geoff Emerick set about the task at hand. First they established that the difference between the two versions was, in musical terms, a semitone and that it could be done if they speeded up the remix of the first version (take seven) and then slow down the remix of the second version (take 26). "With the grace of God, and a bit of luck we did it" says George Martin. All that was left was to edit the two pieces together and the song would be finished. "We gradually decreased the pitch of the first version at the join to make them fit together," says Geoff Emerick.
They did it so well that few people even know exactly where the edit point is or that there was an edit! "That's funny," says George Martin, "I can hear it every time. It sticks out like a sore thumb to me!". If you listen very closely, the edit point can be found about 60 seconds into the song. But be careful: you may not hear the song the same way again.
Released on the 17th of February, 1967, 'Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane' would fail to reach number 1 on the UK charts. It would sell as many copies as most other Beatles singles but it couldn't overtake 'Release Me' by Engelbert Humperdinck. You can hear a complete version of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' along with another great Beatles song, 'Penny Lane' on 'Magical Mystery Tour'.
The Recording of 'Free As A Bird'
Yoko Ono set the ball rolling in 1993 when she handed the three remaining Beatles a handful of tapes John Lennon had recorded just before he died. Suddenly rumors surfaced about a possible Beatles reunion with the recording sessions to take place at Paul's private recording studio. Two songs, 'Free As A Bird' and 'Real Love', would be chosen to add addition instrumentation and voices to. 'Free As A Bird, written by Lennon in 1976 just after he received his US Green Card, was completed by the remaining Beatles in February, 1994. Starr comments on the original recordings made by Lennon: "The problem with John's original recording was that John was singing along to a piano, and recording it in mono on a normal cassette player. The recording wasn't all that great either and you couldn't just pull a fader up or down and change the level of the piano or voice. All we had to work with was what we heard and it wasn't in time either.
Included as a producer in these new Beatles sessions was Jeff Lynne, a former band member of ELO. Jeff had been recommended by George Harrison, as they had worked together on George's 1987 album 'Cloud Nine'. Jeff would initially spend some time cleaning up the original Lennon tapes, especially 'Real Love'. Jeff recalls: "The problem with 'Real Love' was not only was there a 60 cycles mains hum going on, there was also a terrible amount of hiss, because it had been recorded at a low level. It also sounded like it was a third generation copy. So I had to get rid of the hiss and mains hum , and there were clicks all the way through it as well. There must of been at least 100 clicks throughout the original recording which we cleaned up with a computer program. It took about a week before it was even usable and transferable to a DAT (Digital Audio Tape)". 'Free As A Bird' was only a quarter as noisy as 'Real Love' and only a bit of equalisation was needed to fix most of the problems".

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