Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1963, March 5: Recording: Details


(above) George Martin and friends discussing "From Me to You" in the studio.

GLOSSARY & ABBREVIATIONS

2T = twin-track = two-track Stereo recording

BD = breakdown = unsuccessful take ended prematurely

ET = edit take = take to fix a faulty or missing section of a song

FS = false start = unsuccessful take ended more prematurely than breakdown

M = Mono

RT = rhythm take = complete take of song, before SI

SI = superimposition = take to lay new material over existing take (a.k.a. overdub)

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GENERAL INFORMATION

A Day in the Life. Before the session began, The Beatles went to the EMI canteen to enjoy tea with George Martin, where pictures were taken. After this, they proceeded to the studio where the boys introduced Martin to “From Me to You.” The producer said, “I used to sit on my high stool in the studio and the boys would play me what they had brought in to record. I'd listen to the basic idea of the song, perhaps on an acoustic guitar, and I'd help to decide on the structure of the introduction, where the solo should go, the ending and the final length of the song - never longer than 2:45; otherwise, we wouldn't get it on the radio!”1.

Photos from the canteen and in the studio this day can be found here and here.

Anything I Can Do. John forgot to bring his harmonica to this session, famously borrowing one from Abbey Road’s Malcolm Davies.

EMI Reels. I will be segregating the events of this day in terms of EMI Reels, that is, tape designation numbers given to the recordings. For John Barrett’s EMI reel notes and John Winn’s details on these notes, go: here.

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EMI Reel E49015

(Afternoon, start about 2:30pm)

The entire contents of this reel are available as bootleg.

“FROM ME TO YOU”

2T, Takes 1-7 RT, Takes 1/6 FS or BD, Take 7 “best”

“THANK YOU GIRL”

(initially called “Thank You Little Girl”)

2T, Takes 1-6 RT, Takes 2/3 FS or BD, Take 6 “best”

“THANK YOU GIRL”

(still called “Thank You Little Girl”)

2T, Takes 7-13 ET, Take 13 “best”

These edit takes were to improve the ending. Take 6 and Take 13 were edited together this date (ref: Barrett's notes). A further harmonica overdub was required on March 13 (see that entry), mixing held over until that date.

“FROM ME TO YOU”

2T, Takes 8-13 SI, Takes 8/9/10/12 used

At this point, the boys were so nonplussed by “From Me to You” that it was considered to be the flip side for “Thank You Girl.” Thus, to beef up this song’s prospects, George Martin (according to several sources) suggested harmonica riffs and flourishes at various points. This appears to have been upheld by John: “We nearly didn't record it because we thought it was too bluesy at first; but, when we'd finished it and George Martin had scored it with harmonica, it was all right”2.

[Sidebar. For John, the harmonica shtick was beginning to pale: “The first gimmick was the harmonica... We started using it on ‘Love Me Do’ just for arrangements, 'cause we used to work out arrangements. And then we stuck it on ‘Please Please Me’ and then on ‘From Me to You’ and then it went on and on. Then we dropped it - it got embarrassing”3]

They planned harmonica overdubs (SI) for three sections: the intro, the middle-eight (also known as “call-and-response” or “solo”) section, and the coda (ending).

(Take 8) While Take 7 played through, John added harmonica SI to the intro [successful], and attempted (with Paul on bass, George on guitar) the same for the middle-eight [unsuccessful]. George Martin stopped the recording at this point. The EMI reel contains only these two bits, the in-between (0:07-1:03) missing because it was later edited out and used for the final master (that is, Take 8 was used for parts, Take 7 left extant for posterity). The intro to Take 8 would receive an additional overdub (harmony vocal, Take 12).

(Take 9) George Martin started the tape (Take 7) about 8 seconds before the middle-eight, and John (again, with Paul and George) had another go at that section’s harmonica overdub [successful] as well as one for the coda [unsuccessful]. The tape was stopped at that point, and John asked, “Was I meant to be playing there?” As with Take 8, the successful SI here (the middle-eight) was edited out and used for the final master, the EMI reel reflecting this.

(Take 10) George Martin started the tape (Take 7) about 11 seconds before the coda, and John redid that section’s harmonica overdub [successful]. As with Takes 8 and 9, the successful SI here was edited out and used for the final master, leaving only the lead-in bit (as heard on the EMI reel).

(Take 11) Still not satisfied with the intro, the boys (ostensibly at George Martin’s suggestion) decided to add harmony vocals. Starting the tape (Take 7), they overdubbed humming [not used]. This outtake can be heard on the EMI reel.

(Take 12) On the second stab at the intro harmony vocal overdub, they chanted the familiar “da-da-da da-da-dun-dun-da,” which proved to be the one [used]. As with previous takes, this successful SI was edited out and used for the final master (the bits left over heard on the EMI reel).

(Take 13) Experimentally, the same chant was attempted at a higher pitch [not used]. This outtake can be heard on the EMI reel.

Takes 1-7 were recorded as twin-tracks, two tracks recorded simultaneously. The Stereo master for the “best” take (7) sent the instruments hard (wide) to the Left channel, vocals hard to the Right. For the SI takes 8-13, Take 7 was transmitted (played) in Stereo from one tape machine into another, while the microphones used for overdubs were patched to both channels (possibly by use of a Y-connector). Thus, on the EMI reel, the overdubs appear Center, approximately thus (“I” = instrumental track, “V” = vocals track, “SI” = overdubs):

Left _I________O________V_ Right

Editing and mixing for “From Me to You” took place March 14, 1963 (see that entry).

QUOTES FOR “From Me to You”

“The Beatles have a certain follow-up hit with ‘From Me To You,’ but if this average song was done by a less prominent group it would mean little. An up-tempo number with a just so-so melody, it is not nearly so outstanding in originality as ‘Please Please Me.’ It's a best seller, inevitably, but the group ought to be able to do something better than this as a follow up to an initial hit”4.

“Besides a catchy tune and deceptively-complex arrangement, ‘From Me To You’ has a difficult-to-pigeon-hole musical style. After all, is it rock or pop, blues or skiffle? Maybe it's just unmistakably Early Beatles... Those tight vocal harmonies with their flashes of passionate falsetto, the drum fills, the harmonica hook phrase, the personal pronouns, and so many other details were becoming both trend-setting and a bit formulaic by that point, and who could really blame them, given the roll they were so obviously on?... Several characteristic ingredients in the arrangement would eventually become almost cliché trademarks: (1) The vocal part features a duet virtually throughout. Granted, the many flashes of two-part harmony are separated by long stretches of the same line sung in unison by Paul and John, but there is no vocal solo part here; (2) Those flashes of vocal harmony, make frequent use of open fifths and falsetto singing; (3) Drum fills are carefully deployed at special, structural or dramatic points in the song, not at liberty; (4) An overdubbed harmonica is used to introduce the hook phrase; (5) And what sounds like it might be a simple oom-pah bass part actually features a snapped rhythm of dotted quarters and eighth notes in alternation... For the sake of variation - and avoidance of foolish consistency - they add in the second bridge a novel touch of two-part harmony at the very beginning of the section. Note how, true to form, Paul's backing part yet again starts off beneath John's lead, only to jump over it a few notes into the phrase... Nowhere is the uniqueness of this song (in spite of its recycled ingredients) more evident than in the meaning of its lyrics”5.

“Dismissed in most accounts of their career as a transition time-marker between ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘She Loves You,’ ‘From Me to You’ was actually a brilliant consolidation of the emerging Beatles sound... That it was specifically designed to accomplish this testified to the canny practicality of the group’s songwriting duo... The variation surprise in ‘From Me to You’ consists of a sudden falsetto octave leap, a motif first tried on the chorus of ‘Please Please Me’... The Four Seasons, then climbing the UK charts with ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ employed similar falsetto and almost certainly influenced The Beatles in this respect. Yet where the Americans built falsetto into their four-part harmony, The Beatles wielded it as an isolated device, and it was mainly these sudden hair-raising wails that made their early records so rivetingly-strange... Their deftness and adaptability in the studio was already far beyond the reach of their immediate competitors”6.

“Nonsense words in pop are often filler for something that needs fleshing out, but with The Beatles these devices are rarely gratuitous, even this early on... The ‘da-da-da, da-da-dun-dun, dah’ at the top of ‘From Me to You’ is a melodic teaser, sung rather them played on guitar to voice the nameless feelings that live inside every teenager... Every advantage is taken to make one minute and forty-nine seconds swell with life... When they inflect the end of the bridge with a new color (augmenting the chord on ‘satisfied’), it propels the falsetto ‘ooh!’ and Ringo’s pert fill naturally... The tight writing unleashes energy rather than strapping it in... Makes every instant count”7.

(George) “The third single, ‘From Me To You,’ was really important, because that put the stamp on it. We'd had the first one, ‘Love me Do,’ which did well. Then they let us back in the studio and we did ‘Please Please Me,’ then we had the album, and then ‘From Me To You,’ the success of which assured us some fame”8.

(Paul) “I'd come back from a club and I was just getting to bed and I heard the milkman whistling ‘From Me To You’ (whistles). I thought ‘That's it, I've arrived - the milkman's whistling my tune’”9.

EMI Reel E49016

(Evening)

The entire contents of this reel are available as bootleg.

“THE ONE AFTER 909”

(also notated “The One After Nine O’ Nine”)

2T, Takes 1-4 RT, Takes 1/3/4 FS or BD, Take 5 ET

Some minutes were still available, so The Beatles attempted to lay down this additional song (according to Lewisohn, “What Goes On” was also in mind, but they ran out of patience and/or time).

(Take 1) When this attempt breaks down, John snaps at Ringo, “What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?!”

(Take 2) At the end of this complete run-through, John comments on George’s sloppy guitar playing, “What kind of solo was that?”

(Take 3) This time, Paul can’t keep up, and John demands, “What are you doing?!” Paul complains, “It’s murder.”

(Take 4) Finally, it’s John’s turn to make a mistake, and he yells, “Bloody hell!” Paul gleefully turns the tables, “It’s you!” This was considered “best” for no apparent reason.

(Take 5) This edit piece was meant to replace the section from the solo to the final chorus. It was adequate.

In his comments on Barrett’s notes, Winn wrote, “An edit of takes 4 and 5 was prepared, perhaps at the end of this session, which turned up on a 1976 in-house reel, and eventually on Anthology 1.” However, in Way Beyond Compare, Winn wrote that “there is no documentation to suggest that a complete take was ever assembled in 1963... In April 1976, a trial edit of takes 4 and 5 was made.” It is Winn’s latter comment which appears to be correct, upheld by both Lewisohn’s and Barrett’s silence on such an edit.

“The One After 909” was resurrected and rerecorded in 1969 for Let it Be.

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1 Lewisohn, Recording Sessions, p.30

2 Miles, The Beatles in Their Own Words, p.79

3 Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner, conducted December 1970, printed Jan 21, 1971, published as Lennon Remembers (2001, Verso); this particular quote paraphrased for The Beatles Anthology

4 Melody Maker review, Apr 13, 1963

5 Alan W. Pollack, Beatles musicologist

6 MacDonald, Revolution in the Head

7 Riley, Tell Me Why

8 The Beatles Anthology, p.94

9 Guinness Book of World Records BBC interview with David Frost & Norris McWhirter; reprinted Club Sandwich #41, p.6


GENERAL REFS: Lewisohn, Recording Sessions; Winn, Way Beyond Compare; Sulpy, The Complete Beatles’ Audio Guide (2006 ed)

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Tom Wise
gengar843@msn.com


Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic amount of detail and appreciate your comments on the various needle drops out there.
    Excellent blog, please keep on keeping on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you. Obviously, this will take a very long time to finish, but what fun!

    ReplyDelete