Friday, April 06, 2007

Further on Those Sixteenth Notes

According to Geoff Emerick, the sound-engineer who sat in on many of the Beatles' sessions, and who witnessed the recording of "A Hard Day's Night," George Harrison was a pretty lousy guitar player. Here's from his (utterly wonderful) book, Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles, cowritten with Howard Massey, and raved about by Bobby Lightfoot here:
Then we were ready to attack Harrison's solo. George must have been having a bad day...because he was having real difficulty nailing it. After some discussion about having Paul play the part instead (McCartney was a fine guitarist himself and seemed always ready to jump in and show up his younger bandmate), George Martin finally decided to instead employ the same "wound-up piano" technique he had done the year previous on the song "Misery." I was told to roll the tape at half speed while George [Martin] went down into the studio and doubled the guitar solo on an out-of-tune upright piano. Both parts had to be played simultaneously because there was only one track [left on the tape; the other three had been taken up with the original take, plus double-tracked vocals, an acoustic rhythm guitar, cowbell and bongos], and it was fascinating watching the two Georges -- Harrison and Martin -- working side by side in the studio, foreheads furrowed in concentration as they played the rhythmically complex solo in tight unison on their respective instruments.
Emerick is rather scathing on Harrison's often lugubrious guitar playing on other recordings too, and says that sessions would grind to a halt when it came time to record the guitar solos. Describing the session for Harrison's own song, "Taxman," he says,
There was a bit of tension on that session, though, because George had a great deal of trouble playing the solo -- in fact, he couldn't even do a proper job of it when we slowed the tape down to half speed.

After a couple of hours watching him struggle, both Paul and George Martin started becoming quite frustrated -- this was, after all, a Harrison song and therefore not something anyone was prepared to spend a whole lot of time on. So George Martin went into the studio and, as diplomatically as possible, announced that he wanted Paul to have a go at the solo instead. I could see from the look on Harrison's face that he didn't like the idea one bit, but he reluctantly agreed and proceeded to disappear for a couple of hours.... Paul's solo was stunning in its ferocity -- his guitar playing had a fire and an energy that his younger bandmate's rarely matched -- and was accomplished in just a take or two.
As I'm as expert a name-dropper as anyone besides my excellent friend Paul Newman, I'm pleased to report I've had an email conversation with Dave Gregory, the former lead guitarist and keyboardist of XTC and no stranger to a Rickenbacker 360-12 himself. Here's what he said about That Chord:
More significant is your re-appraisal of the opening chord. I now realise that for the best part of 30 years I have been playing it wrongly! You are correct, [Neddie] - there is no 'F' in the chord. However, I must disagree slightly with your published diagram and refer you back to "Beatles: The Complete Scores" because for once, I do believe they've got this one right.

The instrumentation I think is correct comprises 2 Rickenbacker 12-string parts and a high bass note. There is no piano or snare drum, as some have suggested, which came as another surprise to me after all these years!

Rick part one plays (low to high) (muted Es), open As, open Ds, open Gs, Cs at fret 1 on B-strings and Gs at fret 3 on high E-strings.

Rick part two plays a barre of Gsus4 at fret 3. Bass plays a D either at fret 12 of D-string or fret 7 of G-string.

What sounds like a snare drum creating the attack is actually the Altec compressor slamming in to attenuate the initial impact, only to slowly release the decaying chord, magically exposing those wayward overtones in the process. Try doing that with a plug-in!
I'm particularly tickled that he says he's been playing it wrong, as one of XTC's early hits, "This Is Pop," quite self-consciously quoted the chord... Says Dave,
We used the Andy Summers "Walking On The Moon" shape, of course. Or rather, Summers used Andy [Partridge's]'s...
Not a whole lot of love lost between those two rivals....


Bobby Lightfoot said...

Newman- hyork. It's interesting how you juxtapose these two versions of th' Mystery Solo Story to show that we STILL DON'T HAVE TH' ANSWER. I'll go with Emerick as an eyewitness, I guess.TM

AND YET, to whitttt, he could very well by HIGH AS SHIT ON CRACK because he refers to "Misery" as having been recorded the previous year and we cognizzintski all know that "Misery" was recorded in 1856.TM

One thing is sure- my interpretive GENIUS is on CLEAR DISPPLAY with the re-introduction of "Walking On Th' Moon".TM

I have to trademark all my 'griphs or my publisher gets weird.TM I'm working on my Memoirs for Dildo Publications.TM


Kidding!TM TM TM TM

Anonymous said...

I suppose this is hypocritical of me, being such a rudimentary guitar player myself, but when I recently listened to 'Please Please Me' (the album) I was struck by just how rough most of George's soloing was. It's all fingers and thumbs.

That being said, my sister and I always liked George's songs the best, for their lopsided charm and strangely personal voice. Yes, even 'Piggies'.

Man, i am so hanging to read that Emerick book.

Will Divide said...

Eeeesh. . . I have a hard enough time playing Tell Me What You See.

So, a rabbi and Bobby Lightfoot walk into a barre. . .

Anonymous said...

To further clarify, as a songwriter, of course i'm in deep envy of Lennon / McCartney's abilities in that department, which is why George's songs are so charming to me, because I can recognise myself in them.

Basically, Lennon or McCartney are who we all wish we were, but, Harrison is who we most likely are.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

How 'bout this-

Lennon and McCartney is who we wish we were, but the old guy cleaning out th' lavatories and putting in new rolls of EMI toilet paper is who we most likely are.

Or maybe we're the toilet paper.

What's harrowing about that book is how we're always placed front and center amidst The Lads and here, for the first time, we're stuck fetching their jam butties.

Anonymous said...

...and yet, Something is one of the most beautiful of all the Beatles' (LenMac) love songs...
score one for Georgie!

Neddie said...

Emerick lightens up on George post-1968 or so. He sez he steadily improved as a guitarist, until with Abbey Road he was very self-confident.

Get this: Emerick recounts the recording of "Something." They used up all the tracks getting the basics down, leaving only one open for the orchestral overdub. Then George decides he's unhappy with the guitar solo and wants to redo it. But George, sez Geoff, you'll have to play it live as we're recording the orchestra! No prob, shoots back Georgie. Set me up next to the orch, I'll git 'er done.

And he did. Nailed it. With 40 union musos sitting staring holes in his back.

Cool Hand George.