They’re grown men and creating extraordinary sounds
The session to record music for the newest Beatles album was planned for 7 this night at the E.M.I. studios in London, but the boys are late. Suddenly at 8, the room crackles to life. Paul McCartney comes in singing a nonsense tune and John Lennon trails him. Ringo appears shortly and George Harrison is last. The last time I saw them was at their 1966 Shea Stadium concert in New York, standing and moving like forlorn puppets on their platform out at second base, the boyish Beatles of poster, record jacket, and TV lore. Now they are grown men and distinctly individual personalities. For a moment I pondered their droopy French moustaches, their bookwormish faces, and their bizarre clothing, and considered the extent to which they had gone their separate ways. For instance, three of the four are married (Paul is the bachelor), and two of them have become fathers.
I thought of the startling change that is happening to their music, the new direction it is taking into the farthest reaches of the musical firmament. Quite deliberately the Beatles are ignoring the oldest mixed metaphor in show business: “When you discover what people want, don’t rock the boat.” They are stepping far ahead of their audience, recording music so complex and so unlike the music that made them successful that they could very likely lose the foundation of their support. But that possibility does not bother them in the least. What does matter is setting down in music the forces they believe are at work on them.
Now the recording session begins, so casually that it seems no beginning at all. Paul sits down at the piano and begins chording. (I wished for a tape recorder because the impromptu musicale was marvellous.) John, meanwhile, spots a volume of e.e. cumming’s poetry lying on the piano and begins to read it. Ringo, hungry or maybe merely disinterested, goes to a corner and starts wolfing down a plate of mashed potatoes and beans which an aide has produced. George is showing off a large black frock coat which he purchased at an antique clothing store in Chelsea. “I rather imagine some headwaiter at the Savoy didn’t want it anymore,” he says.