Beatles Solo Fantasy – The Red Album

Beatles Solo Red AlbumAfter the Beatles broke up in 1970, they individually released solo albums that were fabulous and influential, but were somewhat ignored by the general public as compared to Beatles albums.

What if the Beatles had buried their differences in 1970, and allowed the evolution of their musical styles to come forth, but within the framework of a Beatles album? What if they used their brand to make their solo material more popular?

From this idle speculation, “Beatles Solo Fantasy – The Red Album” was born. (Not the greatest hits album with the red border around the cover — the Beatles, if they had stayed together, would not have put out such a thing.) In the early 1970s, the Red Album could have easily been a three LPs (long-playing vinyl records), like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass — with about 25 minutes or less on each of six sides.

When you listen to these sides and pretend that it’s a Beatles album… magic occurs. It sounds and feels like a Beatles album!

Here are the sides in Apple Music/iTunes, and in Spotify:

Apple Music playlists:

Side 1 | Side 2 | Side 3 | Side 4 | Side 5 | Side 6

Spotify playlists:

Sides 1 and 2 (LP 1)

Sides 3 and 4 (LP 2)

Sides 5 and 6 (LP 3)


Sources

John Lennon

Paul McCartney

George Harrison

Ringo Starr

Definitive biography of John Lennon: Definitive critique of John Lennon: An insider (Barry Miles) biography of Paul McCartney:
The authorized Paul McCartney biography by Philip Norman George Harrison’s own autobiography I Me Mine: George Harrison’s autobiography of the Dark Horse years:
Biography of Ringo Starr: George Harrison music analysis: Olivia Harrison’s biography:

Other:

Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013). A Journey Through Paul McCartney’s Songs After The Beatles

Imagine John Yoko

Being John Lennon: A Restless Life


Books by John Lennon (including lyrics and songbooks)

 

Liner Notes

Why these songs?

I wanted to put the solo songs together in an album context to see how powerful an album it would have been. I took into account ideas such as:

  • Giving George Harrison more songs on a Beatles album than ever before (he had been arguing for that).
  • Using other musicians and producing songs themselves (as in the “White Album”).
  • Using spouses like Linda McCartney and Yoko Ono to join in on backing vocals.

While outtakes of Beatles sessions provided a basis for some of these choices, I chose the finished, actually released versions.

A family of musicians

The music is very similar to the Beatles’ music because many of the same people played on them. 

While each solo Beatle had his own backing musicians who contributed to this new, richly varied, “Beatles solo” sound, many of them had already appeared on Beatles songs. For example, contenders for the “fifth Beatle” — Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, and Nicky Hopkins — had all played on Beatles records and were now playing with John Lennon and George Harrison. 

Klaus Voormann and Gary Wright also played on both Ringo Starr and Harrison songs, and Alan White played on Lennon and Harrison songs. On some songs, Clapton brought along his friends, such as Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon, who eventually formed Derek and the Dominos with Clapton during these sessions. 

Bobby Keys and Jim Price played horns on Harrison, Lennon, and Starr songs. Phil Spector produced many of the Lennon and Harrison songs; otherwise the songs were self-produced.

Of course, Harrison and Starr played on Lennon records, and Starr played on Harrison records.

McCartney played all the instruments himself on most his songs and produced the songs, enlisting Hugh McCracken (who also played with Lennon), Denny Seiwell, and David Spinozza for a few songs.

Song highlights

Try to imagine it is the Fall of 1970. Rumors are swirling that the Beatles are breaking up. The Let It Be album was somewhat of a letdown, and everyone wants the Abbey Road Beatles back again.

Then, right before Thanksgiving of 1970, Apple releases a new single, ostensibly a Christmas record:

• Happy Xmas (War is Over)/Give Peace a Chance

Heads turn. Has John Lennon gone political? Where’s the rest of the Beatles? 

In June of 1971, a second single is released:

• Too Many People/Man We Was Lonely 

Has Paul McCartney gone balmy? These songs don’t even sound like Beatles songs. The first one uses studio musicians, and in the second, all the instruments were played by Paul. Well, the Beatles have surprised us before.

In the Fall of 1972, people notice that the Beatles haven’t released an album in two years. More singles emerge:

• Power to the People/Oo You

• Cold Turkey/Early 1970

• What is Life/Love

• Wah-Wah/Oh Woman, Oh Why

Now we’ve got Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, all on singles. “Wah-Wah” is outrageous for its “hard rock” sound, while “Power to the People” becomes the anthem of the American left.

But the biggest surprise comes in June 1973. A triple-album set of six sides is released, with a red border, dubbed “The Red Album” and containing two more sides than the “White Album” (to which it is often compared). 

The concept emerges from reading the song titles in order. The first four sides are all new material, while the last two sides collect all of the singles. 

Lennon produced some of his finest songs, documenting with honesty and artistic integrity his emotional and mental state at that point in his career.

McCartney presaged the do-it-yourself movement in music by recording his songs using basic home-recording equipment set up at his house. In its preference for loosely arranged performance over polished production, McCartney explored the back-to-basics style that had been the original concept for the Beatles’ Let It Be project.

Harrison’s songs reflect the influence of his musical activities with artists such as Bob Dylan, the Band, Delaney & Bonnie and Billy Preston during 1968–70, and his growth as an artist beyond his supporting role as a Beatle. The Red Album introduced Harrison’s signature sound, the slide guitar, and the spiritual themes that would be present throughout his subsequent solo work.

Over the course of a year, monster hits from the album dominate the radio, and the Red Album is hailed as the best ever Beatle album. It is another triumph for the lads, and a powerful musical statement for the new decade.

Side 1

The Beatles always took the starting song seriously. “Working Class Hero” was intended to shock the fans, as if this were a sort of anti-Beatles album. The side starts quietly, acoustically, to get the song’s message across. Then “Instant Karma” startles the listener and starts a groove. The songs come quickly, that would be something, Apple scruffs, dear boy, beware of darkness! Then, McCartney’s finest solo song.

Working Class Hero

John Lennon the realist, by himself on guitar. The opener became a folk anthem while also, subtly, introducing “fuck” to mainstream radio. His red-hot anger is just under the surface of his ironic “If you want to be a hero, well just follow me.”

Instant Karma!

Lennon’s howling rocker about karma and how, like the Beatles themselves, “we all shine on.” Produced by Phil Spector, and as a result he was offered the producer’s role on the Beatles’ Let It Be album (1970). Musicians include George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Billy Preston. 

That Would Be Something

Paul McCartney sings and plays acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar, tom tom and a cymbal, and also performs vocal percussion to simulate a drum kit.

Apple Scruffs

George Harrison strums a quick song in tribute to the groupies outside the Apple office and Abbey Road studio, affectionally called “Apple scruffs”. Harrison recorded the song live on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Harrison overdubbed backing vocals, credited on the album to “the George O’Hara-Smith Singers”, and two slide-guitar parts onto the basic track.

Dear Boy

Paul McCartney on lead vocals, bass guitar, and piano, with Linda McCartney on backing vocals, David Spinozza on guitar, Hugh McCracken on guitar, and Denny Seiwell on drums.

Beware Of Darkness

George Harrison warns against permitting illusion from getting in the way of one’s true purpose, an admonition that, like the content of “My Sweet Lord“, reflects the influence of the Radha Krishna Temple. Musicians on the recording include Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitar, Carl Radle on bass guitar, Bobby Whitlock on piano, Gary Wright on organ and Ringo Starr on drums.

Junk

Paul McCartney on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, xylophone, and drums. It was originally under consideration for The Beatles (also known as the “White Album”). It was passed over for that LP, as it was for Abbey Road. 

Maybe I’m Amazed

Paul McCartney played all the instruments on what is arguably the best song of his solo career: guitars, bass, piano, organ and drums.

Side 2

George Harrison gets the nod to start Side 2, at first plaintively with a song co-written with Bob Dylan, and then triumphantly with the Spector wall of sound, featuring Derek and the Dominos. Lennon’s “I Found Out” seems to be a reply to the megabit “My Sweet Lord”. But the Lord is awaiting on you all, despite our jealous natures. McCartney slips in an irresistible pop tune nicely orchestrated, but Lennon has the last word. 

I’d Have You Anytime

Written by George Harrison and Bob Dylan. The pair wrote the song at Dylan’s home in Bearsville, near Woodstock in upstate New York, in November 1968. Harrison played acoustic guitar and Eric Clapton contributed an electric guitar part, with Klaus Voormann on bass, Alan White on drums, and Bobby Whitlock on harmonium.

My Sweet Lord

George Harrison wrote this in praise of the Hindu god Krishna, while at the same time intending the lyrics to serve as a call to abandon religious sectarianism through his deliberate blending of the Hebrew word hallelujah with chants of “Hare Krishna” and Vedic prayer. Phil Spector co-produced with Billy Preston on keyboards, and Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Jim Gordon and all four members of Badfinger.

I Found Out

John Lennon played fuzzed electric guitar on this, with Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voormann on bass guitar. His red-hot anger is obvious on this one. The song expresses Lennon’s disillusionment with a world dominated by what he saw as false religion and idols, and warns against being taken in by such beliefs — almost a reply to Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”.

Awaiting On You All

The line-up of musicians on the basic track included Harrison and Eric Clapton, on electric guitars; bassists Klaus Voormann and Carl Radle, one of whom plays six-string bass; and drummer Jim Gordon, who formed Derek and the Dominos with Clapton and Radle during the sessions. In addition, Bobby Whitlock, the fourth member of the Dominos – all of whom were formerly part of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – recalls playing Hammond organ on the song.

Among the extensive overdubs on the basic track, Harrison added a “virtual guitar orchestra” of harmonized slide guitar parts, and former Delaney & Bonnie musicians Jim Price and Bobby Keys supplied horns. Whitlock and Clapton sang backing vocals with Harrison, credited on the album as “the George O’Hara-Smith Singers”.

Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins has said that Spector nicknamed him “Mr Tambourine Man” due to his role on that instrument throughout the sessions, and that he and future Yes drummer Alan White played most of the percussion parts.

Jealous Guy

“Jealous Guy” is a reworking of “Child of Nature”, a song that was rehearsed in past Beatles sessions. John Lennon sings and plays acoustic guitar, and whistles. The other musicians:

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

Paul McCartney recalls the ballroom medley spirit. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is composed of several unfinished song fragments that McCartney stitched together similar to the medleys from the Beatles‘ album Abbey Road. McCartney won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1971 for the song. He plays acoustic guitar, piano, bass, and xylophone while singing all lead parts, with:

Isolation

The side ends abruptly with this song, reinforcing the feeling of isolation. 

Side 3

McCartney supplies a typical album side opener and an interesting instrumental link track. Then, the titles speak for themselves: How? It don’t come easy. Harrison provides a brooding ballad about his English castle, while McCartney doodles on a ram. Lennon saves the side with his awesome “Imagine” and Harrison agrees that all things must pass. The side ends with a short nursery rhyme as an “outro”, an answer to “Her Majesty” from Abbey Road, that prepares you for “Mother” on the next side.

Every Night

McCartney premiered it during The BeatlesGet Back/Let It Be Sessions. The group messed around with the song on in January 1969 (a brief run through and John Lennon on slide guitar; respectively). McCartney sings and plays acoustic guitar, bass and drums on this recording, while Linda sang the “Woo Woos” on the Chorus, with Paul ad-libbing (“Believe me mama”).

Hot As Sun / Glasses

“Hot As Sun” part was written in 1959. Although it had been performed occasionally by The Quarry Men (led by Lennon and McCartney), the first record of it is from 24 January 1969, when it was played by The Beatles during the Let It Be sessions at Apple Studios. This medley ends with a very few seconds of the unreleased “Suicide”. Paul McCartney plays acoustic guitar, bass, bongos, drums, electric guitar, maracas, and organ.

How?

Featuring John Lennon on piano, this is a contemplative song inspired by the Primal Therapy he was undergoing with Yoko Ono, during which he faced many personal questions. Other musicians:

It Don´t Come Easy

This song was written by Ringo Starr and George Harrison, but credited solely to Starr. The personnel is the same as on many Harrison songs from All Things Must Pass:

Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)

While George Harrison sings and plays acoustic guitars, Pete Drake works an eerie sound with his pedal steel guitar, along with:

Ram On

Paul McCartney on ukulele, drums, percussion, piano, and Wurlitzer electric piano with Linda McCartney on backing vocals. At the heart of the song is a simply strummed ukulele, McCartney’s first use of it on a recording.

Imagine

The ultimate apolitical song, considered John Lennon’s best. Lennon and co-author Yoko Ono co-produced the song and album of the same name with Phil Spector. Lennon sings and plays piano with Klaus Voormann on bass, and Alan White on drums. The “Flux Fiddlers” are on strings.

All Things Must Pass

The Beatles never formally recorded George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”, and only rehearsal takes circulate on bootleg compilations from the sessions. The composition reflects the influence of the Band‘s sound and communal music-making on Harrison, after he had spent time with the group in Woodstock, New York, in late 1968, while Timothy Leary‘s poem “All Things Pass”, a psychedelic adaptation of the Tao Te Ching, provided inspiration for his song lyrics. George Harrison sings and plays acoustic guitar, with:

My Mummy’s Dead

John Lennon’s prelude to the song about his mother on the next side. Featuring just him on acoustic guitar. This is one of the songs Lennon wrote concerning his parents, along with “Julia” and “Mother“. The song is partially set to the tune of the English nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice.”

Side 4

Lennon’s howler about his parents starts the side, and McCartney provides the counterpoint of being a teddy boy. Well, look at me, isn’t it a pity how we break each other’s hearts. The song absolves them all while they struggle with breaking up. At the end, Lennon gives us his final philosophical lesson, about God, about heroes, and about the Beatles.

Mother

John Lennon uses double-tracked vocals and plays piano, with Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voormann on bass guitar. The lyrics of “Mother” address both of Lennon’s parents, each of whom abandoned him in his childhood. 

Teddy Boy

This was written by Paul McCartney during the Beatles’ stay in India, and originally recorded during the 1969 sessions for what would become The Beatles’ Let It Be album, but not included in that album. McCartney plays guitar, bass, and drums.

Look at Me

John Lennon began writing “Look at Me” in India in 1968, during the extended sessions for the Beatlesself-titled double album, also known as “the White Album”. Featuring just him on guitar.

Isn’t It a Pity (Version One)

George Harrison wrote the song in 1966, but it was rejected. According to Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick, the song had been offered for inclusion on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while Mark Lewisohn, the band’s acknowledged recording historian, has stated that it was first presented during sessions for the previous year’s Revolver. Lewisohn’s opinion appears to tally with a bootlegged conversation from the Get Back sessions, where Harrison reveals that John Lennon had vetoed “Isn’t It a Pity” three years before, and that he (Harrison) considered offering the song to Frank Sinatra.

Co-produced by Phil Spector, the recording employs multiple keyboard players, rhythm guitarists and percussionists, as well as orchestration by arranger John Barham. In its extended fadeout, the song references the closing refrain of the Beatles’ 1968 hit “Hey Jude“. Other musicians on the recording include Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Gary Wright and the band Badfinger.

George Harrison sings and plays acoustic guitar and slide guitars, with:

Singalong Junk

Paul McCartney on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, xylophone, drums.

This instrumental version of “Junk” is used here as a link track.

God

John Lennon’s powerful rebuke of everything including the Beatles. “I don’t believe in Beatles,” he sings, “just believe in me.” This song is really the end of the concept portion of the album. The opening piano riff from the song was used as the background music as the host said goodnight on the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live. Lennon plays tack piano, with Billy Preston on grand piano, Ringo Starr on drums, and Klaus Voormann on bass guitar.

The Lovely Linda

Paul McCartney plays guitar, bass, and hand percussion. This is included as an “outro” for the conceptual portion of the album, like the snippets used at the end of other Beatles albums (“Her Majesty” and “Maggie May” are examples).

Side 5

Singles from 1970-1972, arranged in a listenable order starting with a violent rocker that coincidentally introduced Derek to the Dominoes.

What Is Life

The Eric Clapton rhythm-guitar sound later employed with Derek and the Dominos drives this song. George Harrison sings and plays lead guitar, acoustic guitar, and slide guitar, and provides backing vocals, along with:

Love

A quiet, contemplative song with John Lennon on acoustic guitar and Phil Spector on piano.

Wah-Wah

Once again, Eric Clapton drives the song on electric guitar with George Harrison on electric guitar and slide guitar, establishing the Derek and the Dominos guitar wall of sound. Harrison wrote the song following his temporary departure from the Beatles in January 1969, during the troubled Get Back sessions that resulted in their Let It Be album and film. The other players:

Too Many People

Paul McCartney wrote a few verses that pissed off John Lennon and led to a song feud in later albums. He plays bass guitar, with:

Man We Was Lonely

Paul McCartney played all the instruments. He recalled, “the steel-guitar sound is my Telecaster played with a drum peg.” 

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

The lyrics of this instant Christmas classic, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are set to the traditional English ballad “Skewball“. Also a protest song against the Vietnam War, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has since become a Christmas standard, frequently covered by other artists, appearing on compilation albums of seasonal music, and named in polls as a holiday favorite. It was the culmination of more than two years of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono that began with the bed-ins they convened in March and May 1969. The song’s direct antecedent was an international multimedia campaign launched by the couple in December 1969 – at the height of the counterculture movement and its protests against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War – that primarily consisted of renting billboard space in 12 major cities around the world for the display of black-and-white posters that declared “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko”.

Side 6

Singles from 1970-1972, arranged in a listenable order.

Give Peace a Chance

The song was written during John Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s “Bed-In” honeymoon in Montreal, Canada. The recording session was attended by dozens of journalists and various celebrities, including Timothy Leary, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Joseph Schwartz, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Roger Scott, Murray the K and Derek Taylor, many of whom are mentioned in the lyrics. John Lennon sings lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar, with Tom Smothers on acoustic guitar, and Yoko Ono, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark and others sang backup and played percussion.

Oo You

Paul McCartney played everything, including an aerosol spray, bass, cow bell, drums, and electric guitar. 

Power to the People

The song was written by John Lennon in response to an interview he gave to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, published in Red Mole (8–22 March 1971). He sings and plays guitar with Rosetta Hightower and other singers including Yoko Ono on piano, with:

Oh Woman, Oh Why

Paul McCartney plays bass, electric guitar, gun shots, and percussion, with Linda McCartney on backing vocals, Denny Seiwell on drums and percussion, and Hugh McCracken on electric guitar.

Cold Turkey (Single Version)

John Lennon presented the song to Paul McCartney as a potential single by The Beatles, as they were finishing recording for their Abbey Road album, but was refused. He released it as a Plastic Ono Band single, sang lead and backing vocals, and played lead and rhythm guitar with:

Early 1970

The lyrics to the verses comment in turn on each of the ex-Beatles’ personal lives and the likelihood of each of them making music with Ringo Starr again; in the final verse, Starr acknowledges his musical limitations before expressing the hope that all the former Beatles will play together in the future. Commentators have variously described “Early 1970” as “a rough draft of a peace treaty” and “a disarming open letter” from Starr to Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. 

Ringo sang and played drums, acoustic guitar, dobro, standup bass (fill), and piano (fill). According to Voormann’s recollection, Starr overdubbed the opening dobro part and, in verse four, brief snatches of the various instruments on which he admits his musical limitations: the three guitar chords he names, a walking bass line, and a piano vamp following the third line of the verse. George Harrison played rhythm and lead electric guitar, and a slide guitar part, and Klaus Voormann played bass. Another piano part is uncredited, and speculation has it that it is John Lennon.

 

Overall Copyright (c) 1996-2018 by Tony Bove (for Rockument.com).