Welcome to the January edition of our SMS “Fab Five” This month we’re going to reveal the most unusual stories behind five of The Beatles greatest songs!
“Michelle” From Rubber Soul, The Beatles paean to a French girl Primarily written by Paul with an assist from John with ‘the middle eight’. Paul admits he was inspired to write “Michelle” after hearing an early relatively unknown song from Chet Atkins called “Trambone” (yes “Trambone” with an “A”). Paul had nearly completed “Michelle” when he was hit with writer’s block and got stuck on the bridge in the song. Paul’s creative mind was locked into a frustrated spiral of a few words that he just couldn’t escape, when Lennon appears and asks Paul what he’s working on? Paul then attempts to explain his creative dilemma to his friend and collaborator! Paul explains: it’s a simple love song, the message is simply,”I love you, I love you” THATS IT! That’s all I want to say” Lennon takes a breath looks Paul square in the eye, sez “I get it” and then BOLDLY SINGS out “ I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LO-O-OVE YOU, THAT’S ALL I WANT TO SAY” Done! Michelle is completed with a powerful “middle eight” cleverly and artfully contributed by John!
From The White Album, this true life story was written by John at the ashram in Rishikesh, India during The Beatles notorious stay with the Maharishi. The ‘Prudence’ in the song is Prudence Farrow, who along with her sister, actress Mia Farrow and their brother, were already training with the Maharishi when the Fab Four arrived on their somewhat ill-fated sojourn to India. Upon arriving at the ashram earlier, Prudence had become obsessed with seclusion, chanting, meditation and reaching the highest planes of existence, etc. She eventually locked herself in her room and refused to come out. John and George were eventually tasked with persuading her to relax and be a little more sociable. According to Lennon, “She’d been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anyone else.”
But what really separates Dear Prudence from the pack is Ringo does not appear on the recording! The drumming you hear is performed by Sir Paul McCartney! Ringo QUIT THE BAND just prior to recording “Dear Prudence! On an earlier session for “Back in the USSR” Paul was unhappy and vocally (and perhaps unusually for Paul) excessively critical of Ringo’s drum work on that earlier track. Ringo, weary from Paul’s criticism, quite simply couldn’t take it anymore and quit the band!
Martha My Dear
Yet another track from The White Album! A McCartney composition in his often criticized ‘English Dance Hall” style. Although some have claimed “Martha” is about his then girlfriend actress/model Jane Asher, the truth is “Martha” was Paul’s Old English Sheepdog! Meanwhile, this track sadly features only one Beatle, Paul. Ringo was still absent in protest, while George and John had just grown extremely weary of what they sarcastically referred to as ‘Paul’s Granny Music’. So, poor Paul is playing everything by himself – bass, drums, guitar, piano – even all of the handclaps. He wasn’t entirely alone though, as George Martin chipped in with the piano solo. George Martin actually sped up his piano solo, resulting in the in-house Abbey Road piano sounding more like a Harpsichord. This ultimately persuaded many artists to include a Harpsichord, so as to emulate that Beatles sound…and it’s all thanks to Paul’s old sheepdog.
From Abbey Road, this playful track was WRITTEN and performed by Ringo, with some uncredited assistance by George Harrison. The inspiration for the song came to Ringo while on a holiday cruise aboard his friend Peter Sellers’s yacht off the coast of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Midway thru the day Ringo ordered a lunch of fish and chips ( what else?). When Ringo expressed his distaste and questioned what he was served ( ‘It’s rubbery and tastes like chicken’), the captain informed him that he was eating squid, a close relative of the octopus. Ringo put a bit more ketchup on his lunch as the captain further explained how an octopus will burrow into a small cave while gathering rocks and shells arranging them as a kind of garden to the caves entrance. Ringo was fascinated, and at this point in time The Beatles were truly at odds with each other and the story of the octopus resonated with solitude and peace which at this point was all that Ringo wanted – “Oh we’d be happy you and me, no one there to tell us what to do”. Ultimately a beautiful and remarkably sophisticated song, especially when you consider that at this time it was only the second song Ringo had ever written.
A Beatle classic with all four Beatles appearing on a rare song written solely by Ringo! But, get this, to add to it’s uniqueness, George Martin was absent the day the band recorded the basic track resulting in the “Producer” credit on “Octopus’s Garden being listed as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr!
One final track from the very surprising White Album. One of four songs George Harrison contributed to The Beatles most ambitious project to date! As The Beatles began working on this ground breaking two disc set, George Harrison hit his stride as a songwriter and “Savoy Truffle” is a great example of George’s maturation. However the inspiration and subject matter will surprise and likely shock you! Sure, the track is a swinging horn driven, almost “Big Band” arrangement that even Benny Goodman would be comfortable with, but no, the inspiration for “Savoy Truffle” came from his good friend Eric Clapton and his bad teeth! Yep, you read that right, ya see, Clapton had a penchant for candy especially rich chocolates! The lyrics to the song come directly from a box of “Macintosh Good News Chocolates. When George sings “But you’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle”, George is referring to Eric’s rotting teeth at the time!
Lastly, here is where we turn to you, dear reader, if you’re reading SMS it’s likely you’ve heard more than your fair share of Beatle song origins! Here is the time and place to share them…”Cuz it’s only a Northern song”!