McCartney sets record straight with a little help from his friends

Newly released pictures show group recording iconic album as book reveals irritation over how Lennon is remembered

David Lister,Culture Editor
Monday 04 September 2000 00:00

The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein tried to persuade his charges to accept a deal that would give them £50 a week for life - with him keeping the rest. The bizarre revelation is contained below in an exclusive extract for The Independent from the first autobiography of the surviving Beatles.

The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein tried to persuade his charges to accept a deal that would give them £50 a week for life - with him keeping the rest. The bizarre revelation is contained below in an exclusive extract for The Independent from the first autobiography of the surviving Beatles.

Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr kept their meetings over six years a well-guarded secret as they recorded their memories and thoughts about the most famous group the world has known. They were keen to put the record straight after more than 40 unofficial biographies over three decades.

Beatles' fans will note that the book, The Beatles Anthology, to be published next month, sees McCartney still harbouring a simmering irritation at the way the late John Lennon is remembered as the most avant-garde of the group. In the extract below Paul notes that he was mixing with artists in London while Lennon was living a suburban domestic life in comfortable Weybridge.

Worldwide sales of the autobiography are expected to exceed 20 million and generate £1bn for its authors. In the book McCartney, Harrison, Starr and others including their record producer, George Martin, and the head of Apple, Neil Aspinall, give their thoughts in direct speech, as in an oral history.

The extract here looks at the making of Revolver, the album that was to gain iconic status and top surveys in the Nineties of "best albums ever". The photographs of the group during the Revolver sessions have never been released before. Lennon said in an interview in 1966 before the release of the album: "Paul and I are very keen on this electronic music. You make it clinking a couple of glasses together, or with bleeps from the radio, then you loop the tape to repeat the noises at intervals. Some people build up whole symphonies from it."

This was the year that the Beatles got into experimental music, drugs and accountancy. Here they recall that, and the making of such classics as "Eleanor Rigby", "Yellow Submarine", "Taxman" and "Tomorrow Never Knows".

George: It was in April 1966 that we started recording Revolver. "Taxman" was on Revolver. I had discovered I was paying a huge amount of money to the taxman. You are so happy that you've finally started earning money - and then you find out about tax.

In those days we paid nineteen shillings and sixpence out of every pound (there were twenty shillings in the pound), and with supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous ... Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.

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We got twenty-five quid a week in the early Sixties when we were first with Brian Epstein, when we played the clubs. But £25 a week each was quite good. My dad earned £10. Then we started earning much more, but Brian would keep it and pay us wages. He once tried to get us to sign a deal saying he would guarantee us £50 a week for ever and he would keep the rest. We thought, 'No, we'll risk it, Brian. We'll risk earning a bit more than £50 a week.'

Ringo: We were pissed off with the tax situation. We went into one mad scheme where we paid a guy to go and live in the Bahamas and hold our money for us so it would be tax-free. In the end we had to bring all the money back, pay the taxes on it and pay this guy. It was a scheme someone had put forward with Brian and we went for it.

Paul: I wrote "Eleanor Rigby" when I was living in London and had a piano in the basement. I used to disappear there, and while I was fiddling on a chord some words came out: "Dazzie-de-da-zu picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been..." This idea of someone picking up rice after a wedding took it in that poignant direction, into a "lonely people" direction.

I had a bit of trouble with the name, and I'm always keen to get a name that sounds right.We were working with Eleanor Bron on [the film] Help! and I liked the name Eleanor; it was the first time I'd ever been involved with that name. I saw "Rigby" on a shop in Bristol when I was walking round the city one evening ... so it became "Eleanor Rigby".

I thought, I swear, that I made up the name Eleanor Rigby like that ... But it seems that up in Woolton Cemetery, where I used to hang out a lot with John, there's a gravestone to an Eleanor Rigby. It was either complete coincidence or in my subconscious.

Ringo: I think the drugs were kicking in a little more heavily on this album. I don't think we were on anything major yet; just grass and acid. I feel to this day that though we did take certain substances, we never did it to a great extent at the session. We were really hard workers. That's another thing about the Beatles - we worked like dogs to get it right. Neil Aspinall (former road manager now head of Apple): Quite a bit of marijuana was being smoked. It made recording a bit slower, but it didn't affect the quality of the work.

Paul: I remember lying in bed one night, in that moment before you're falling asleep - that little twilight moment when a silly idea comes into your head - and thinking of "Yellow Submarine" - "We all live in a yellow submarine ..."

I quite like children's things; I like children's minds and imagination. So it didn't seem uncool to me to have a pretty surreal idea that was also a children's idea. I thought also, with Ringo being so good with children - a knockabout uncle type - it might not be a bad idea for him to have a children's song, rather than a very serious song. He wasn't that keen on singing.

The final track on Revolver, "Tomorrow Never Knows", was definitely John's. Round about this time people were starting to experiment with drugs, including LSD. John had got hold of Timothy Leary's adaptation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a pretty interesting book. For the first time we got the idea that, as with ancient Egyptian practice, when you die you lie in state for a few days, and then some of your handmaidens come and prepare you for a huge voyage ... With LSD, this theme was all the more interesting.

George: The lyrics [of "Tomorrow Never Knows"] are the essence of Transcendentalism. You can hear it a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping and dreaming. So the song starts out by saying, "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying".

George Martin: John never liked his voice. I don't know why, because he had the greatest of voices ... He was always wanting to distort his vocal, asking me to do things to it: double-track it, or artificially double-track it, or whatever.

For "Tomorrow Never Knows" he said to me he wanted his voice to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a hilltop ... By putting his voice through [a rotating speaker] and then recording it again, you got a kind of intermittent vibrato effect, which is what we hear on "Tomorrow Never Knows". I don't think anyone had done that before. It was quite a revolutionary track.

Paul: People were starting to lose their pure-pop mentality and mingle with artists. We knew a few actors, a few painters; we'd go to galleries because we were living in London now. A kind of cross-fertilisation was starting to happen. While the others had got married and moved out to suburbia, I had stayed in London and got into the arts scene through friends like Robert Fraser and Barry Miles and papers like the International Times ...

I always contend that I had quite a big period of this before John really got into it, because he was married to Cynthia at that time. It was only later when he went out with Yoko that he got back into London and visited all the galleries.

George: As time went by, the technology we were now using on records didn't allow us to play a lot of songs live on tour. In those days there was no technology on stage. We were just a little dance-hall band and we never really thought of augmenting ourselves. We thought, "Well, we can't. We'll do it to the best of our ability until the point where we can't really do it, and then we'll miss it out." So around this time we were starting to miss out a lot of record tracks on live shows.

"Paperback Writer", for instance, was all double-tracked, and it sounded pretty crummy on stage. So what we did with it (in the US tour at least) was get to the point where it was particularly bad, and then we'd do our "Elvis legs" and wave to the crowd, and they'd all scream and it would cover that ... The screaming did cover a lot of worrying moments.

'The Beatles Anthology' (Cassell & Co) can be bought for £35 (inc p&p, UK only) by phoning 01903 828503, quoting reference CLBA4. Books will be sent out from 5 October.

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