The Beatles Black Album

Original cover

Original cover

I’m sure this is something Macca regrets. This came from a bootleg called “The Black Album”. It’s certainly from Twickenham Studios, where they began shooting what would end up being “Let It Be”. They all hated it there. The dream was over, John was inducted into the cult of Yoko, had become a junkie, and was resentful that Paul was taking over the band.  All the tunes on this bootleg are astonishingly bad.  Nothing good enough for an oddity at the end of a compilation.  I think Paul was trying to inject fun into a dreary, cold session.  Elsewhere he sings “I’m So Tired”, trying to get John engaged.  “No Pakistanis” stands out for it’s intensely offensive lyrics, and calls into question what the song was really about.  In Mark Lewisohns excellent book, some of which is quoted below, he mentions that out of all the sessions, takes, etc, nothing ever falls apart because of Ringo.  He’s rock solid even on this.  I’m posting this as an interesting artifact.  The best band ever sounding like the worst punk garage band ever.

All the good stuff was recorded in Apple’s basement. Billy Preston dropped by and ended up in The Beatles.

Mark Lewisohn wrote:

Friday 22 – Wednesday 29 (January 1969)

So they could cease the Twickenham rehearsals and switch location to Apple, to their own brand-new basement recording studio. It was at this point, and this point only, that the footage shot at Twickenham for a “Beatles At Work” TV production turned instead into the start of a feature-film idea, to be called – like the album they’d now be making – Get Back.

Although the first Apple Studios shoot/recording session was set for Monday 20 January it didn’t take place until Wednesday the 22nd. The delay was caused by the fact that Apple Corps had a subsidiary company called Apple Electronics, run by a trusted friend of the Beatles, Alexis Mardas.
They named him “Magic Alex” and asked him to install their recording studio in Savile Row. Mardas promised miracles: EMI (Abbey Road) had only just expanded to eight-track recording, Apple would have 72- track. And there would be no need to use those awkward studio “baffles” around Ringo to prevent leakage of his drum sound into the other microphones. Magic Alex would install an invisible sonic force-field which would do the work unobtrusively.

Hardly surprisingly, it all worked out very differently and the Beatles lost two days work. Those around at the time recall that Alex’s mixing console was made of bits of wood and an old oscilloscope and looked not unlike the control panel of a B-52 bomber. The Beatles did a sample recording but when they played back the tape it was patently unusable. George Martin had to call EMI and ask for a temporary loan of two four-track consoles to go with Apple’s eight-track recorder.

Even prior to this, George Harrison had realized the Heath Robinson nature of Apple’s studio when he saw Mardas wandering around in a white coat, with a clipboard, muttering and trying to place box-loads of tiny loudspeakers around the studio, one for each track.

No Pakistanis

Dropped by and joined up

Dropped by and joined up

11 thoughts on “The Beatles Black Album

  1. No Comment.
    Well, okay…I’ll just say that these guys the Beatles really blow.
    I think it’s a mistake to prop up a song that furthers the racialist bullshit that storms us daily. How about something like Baby’s In Black? Or I am The Walrus? I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who whould be offended by anything…I wanna Hold Yer Hand? Dr. Robert? Yellow Schlubmbarine?
    Hey Dude? Don’t you make it so bad…….Hey Dude….what kind of shit is that?
    You name it. Someone’s gonna get pissed about something.
    Okay, so here’s the deal. I think I could have made a better record than Let It Be or the White Album…someone write me a check and let’s get busy.
    Alan, you better be on board!

  2. jeez I can hardly believe the stick Macca has gotten over this allegedly racist studio cut-up. We all loved Archie Bunker or even Zappa for this sort of thing, but for some reason McCartney is taken at face value on it. I don’t buy it—third-world-enthusiast George H was sitting a couple of feet from Macca and playing guitar; there’s no evidence that he saw this as anything but a send-up of colonial-blow-back-know-nothings…whatever

  3. Preston didn’t end up in The Beatles. Abbey Road was recorded after Let It Be. And Preston is only credited in LIB only due to the fact that it was released after they had broken up and Phil Spector destroyed a great deal of it.

    No other musicians were ever credited in any Beatles albums, and that is intentional.

  4. While “Let It Be” hasn’t been commercially available since the 1980’s, I have a copy and Billy Preston is clearly on the sessions.
    And he is both audible and credited on “Let It Be….Naked”. They were friends from the Hamburg days. Billy was in town and dropped by to say hello, and was drafted into the sessions. That’s why I said he dropped by and ended up in the Beatles. I should have added, “for a day”, but I figured everyone knew that.
    Also I’ve explored more of “The Black Album”, and there are moments worth listening to. In particular, a loose but charming take of George’s “All Things Must Pass”.
    While not good enough for release, it has some Beatle magic going.

    “All Things Must Pass”

  5. You know when you wake up in the morning or when you are just tired after a long day and you have to muster the energy to do something critical but you can’t get in the mood….

    These sessions are just that! Really not meant to be heard. The are like doodles or sketches before you really try to draw something. We are lucky to have these sessions out in the public…for what they are…

    …and the more you listen to it, the more you can hear nuances in their infancy.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Be sure to check out “All Things Must Pass” in my previous comment. A tantalizing bit of Beatle magic amid a sea of general discontent.

  7. No Pakistani (unreleased)
    Negro in Reserve (unreleased)
    White Power (unreleased)
    Black Bird
    Baby’s in Black
    I am the Walrus
    are only a few of the songs that the Beatles produced that alluded to social political topics of the day (1969’s). Of course one can include Revolution but that song is actually a passive aggressive song about sitting on the fence about any action at all; “you can count me out, in”

    No Pakistani is a n insensitive song about immigrants living in England at the time. There was a recession growing in the UK caused by the end of Colonialist Governments in many African countries, Latin America and the West Indies.
    Paul McCartney is in my view not racist but one need not be racist to be offensive or insensitive. McCartney also penned the song Black Bird about the 1968 uprisings in the US after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Billy Preston knew this and eventually covered the song. Speaking of Preston, he is indeed the only outside musician who also received credit for co-writing Get Back on the single released November 1968. This is an entire year before Let it Be was released in 1970. Preston was brought in to the Get Back (Let it Be) sessions to re-energize the band. It worked for some of the sessions but it was too close towards the end.

    I added Taxman to mark an early statement that anyone anywhere can relate to. George Harrison’s 1966 song from Revolver. Speaking and complaining about the the Government of all thing. Harrison wasn’t ahead of Lennon in social concerns he was just less willing to compromise his position. Harrison though was silent when McCartney would make fun of the Maharishi and Indian culture. This can seen during the filming of Let It Be. It is sad but McCartney, the genius that he is, was also insensitive towards anyone else’s feelings.

    Negro in Reserve was a song also penned by Paul McCartney and plays with myth and folklore. Basically stating that you should keep a “negro in reserve.” As if you could bottle the soul? The word Negro was common use to describe people of African descent. Black would become more prominent during those same late 1960’s but its also understandable that Anglo-Saxon’s don’t often have to address or think outside themselves even when they are working around people who may not be their own Race or ethnicity (Bill Preston case in point).

    The song White Power is more of an exercise between McCartney and John Lennon. Both throw out popular culture celebrities and also political leaders of the time. Some of their obscure friends are mentioned as well. The song trivializes and almost collapses the meaning behind both White power and the substance in the names mentioned. People like writer Eldridge Cleaver and activist Michael X are weighty names to mention in a Beatles song but they collide and fuse both these intellectuals with actors Peter Sellers (a close friend) and Doris Day. McCartney and Lennon seem irate or unable to take action in a period when the young generation was demanding real critical changes all over the world. The Beatles seemed minute in their efforts to both make a stance and sweeten their songs. It was a dialectical dilemma for both Lennon and McCartney and one that would lead to their break up. It wasn’t Yoko Ono or Linda Eastman or Ringo and George that broke up the Beatles. It was the Beatles growing up and desiring different things as all children in a family need to grow and branch out.

    I am still interested in future releases of the Beatles playing with Billy Preston as he did many gospel and soul cover songs during the Get Back sessions that have never been officially released. Preston is after all the only non-Beatle member to write and record with the Beatles and receive credit prior to and after their break up. This says allot about the fab four. That they were not exclusive but were interested like Santana and Hendrix in building bridges out of walls.

  8. Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful, and informative comment. It exceeds my original post in both regards. My hat is off.

  9. I was just thinking about “Negro In Reserve”. I hope the negro in question wasn’t Billy Preston, because I don’t think Paul is a racist. I think he was trying to inject a little brevity into an otherwise tense situation. He also sang “I’m So Tired”, in attempt to engage John. They were relative youngsters, and these comments are more innocent than Elvis Costello’s Ray Charles “incident”. Anyway, all of this is on a par with “cutting edge” humor, where the audience is put on the spot. Is it funny, or are you an asshole?

  10. Well, everything the Beatles did was pure, utter bullshit. It was only to make money, not good music. Why can’t people see that already?

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