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Beatles Songs cobbled together as pastiche
28 April 2023
7.44pm
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Sea Belt
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Having read many of Joe’s back stories on various Beatles songs, it seems clear that at least from the time of Sergeant Pepper’s (if not before), the Beatles (mostly Paul, with a little help from his friends) would construct a song through several tracks and layers, like each one is a complex piece of furniture, and very few (if any) of them were just organically rehearsed and recorded as a whole.  Their very being was cobbled together, often in multiple recordings & tracks over many months time, with different parts put together like a Mr. Potato Head.

I wonder if other musicians & bands did/do the same to the same degree.  Given this way of recording their songs, it’s remarkable how they don’t sound cobbled together.  I was surprised, for example, reading about the making of Back in the U.S.S.R., since to my ears, the song sounds organically coherent, as though a band recorded it whole — which clearly was not the case.

P.S.: I suspect that Paul (the main Beatle behind this phenomenon) relaxed this habit later on — during his Wings years at least — and tried recording in a more conventional way as an integral band in the studio.

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5 May 2023
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Ron Nasty
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I dislike the judgemental tone of the title of this thread.

“…cobbled together”? — “to produce something quickly and without great care or effort, so that it can be used but is not perfect” — Really?

“…pastiche”? — “an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period” — While certain songs were definitely recorded as pastiches, such as When I’m 64, Honey Pie , and Good Night , they were intentional, and I can’t see how the majority of their work can be regarded as pastiche because of how they were recorded.

Nor would I agree with the suggestion that the recording techniques they used were mainly down to Paul. They were standard recording practices that — though the possibilities they offered developed as the decade progressed, along with the technology — everybody used.

Magnetic tape was invented in Germany in the 1930s, but they kept the technology to themselves, with the rest of the world not getting access until the end of the war. Up until that time recordings had been made on wax cylinders, and were totally live performances, but as tape became the standard recording format through the late-40s and early 50s, it opened up possibilities that weren’t there with wax cylinders.

In the early years of tape recording, as it was 1-track, there was little that could be done to play with the sound, but it did allow the master to be edited together from more than one take.

The introduction of 2-track in the mid- to late-50s introduced the possibility of limited overdubbing and sound manipulation. I can’t remember which one, but as an example, there’s a late-50s John Lee Hooker track that has these fast guitar runs on it, but they were an overdub played at normal speed with the tape running slow, speeding up the guitar runs when played back at normal speed.

The Beatles started in the era of 2-track, and from the very beginning full advantage was taken of what could be done. Their first album opens with I Saw Her Standing There — where Martin opted to use take 1, but liked the count-in from take 9, so edited that onto the beginning of take 1; while Martin overdubbed the keyboard parts on Misery  and Baby It’s You  nine days after the album session, and without a Beatle in sight.

The point here is that they were aware of these standard recording techniques from soon after they started recording, and took full advantage.

The next step-up was 4-track, which opened up the possibilities further. The first Beatles 4-track recording was I Want To Hold Your Hand , and they would all take full advantage of the options offered by multitrack recording. Of the two reasons they had for giving up touring in 1966, one of them was that they could no longer perform live what they were doing in the studio.

Every artist from the mid- to late-50s on, through to today, has used the available technology to create a master from more than one take, to use multiple tracks to overdub, and to use effects that rely on studio trickery — such as backward guitar and vocals — which just cannot be done live. And they never tried to give the impression that they were doing anything other but using the studio as another instrument which allowed them to explore the sounds they heard in their heads.

Live in the studio has, for decades, not been the way any artist records. While The Beatles were using the studio and its trickery better, and with more imagination, than their rivals, there was really nothing they were doing that their contemporaries weren’t also doing.

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The Beatles Bible 2020 non-Canon Poll Part One: 1958-1963 and Part Two: 1964-August 1966

5 May 2023
3.39pm
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vonbontee
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The thread title suggested to me that Sea Belt was referring to songs that seem to incorporate multiple littler songs (ie. Warm Gun, You Never Give Me Your Money ) as part of a whole, which seems different to what the body of the post itself is describing (building songs through layers of overdubs, experimentally, like maybe Penny Lane or She’s So Heavy)

GEORGE: In fact, The Detroit Sound. JOHN: In fact, yes. GEORGE: In fact, yeah. Tamla-Motown artists are our favorites. The Miracles. JOHN: We like Marvin Gaye. GEORGE: The Impressions PAUL & GEORGE: Mary Wells. GEORGE: The Exciters. RINGO: Chuck Jackson. JOHN: To name but eighty. 

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5 May 2023
9.47pm
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Sea Belt
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I think @Ron Nasty is correct that “cobble together” was the wrong phrase to use. I wasn’t aware it only had a pejorative connotation.  However, the main definition at OED of “pastiche” doesn’t seem pejorative:

“A novel, poem, painting, etc., incorporating several different styles, or made up of parts drawn from a variety of sources.”

What I thought “cobbled together” can mean was basically a thing assembled from parts — in this case assembling through the recording/engineering process over many layers and many takes and many days (sometimes weeks, months), as contrasted to all the musicians sitting together in the studio recording their takes whole and going with the best take.  The back stories by Joe about Paul on multiple songs is that he essentially fabricated songs independently of the normal process, building upon a recorded nucleus; which seems like a novel pop music activity at the time, perhaps pioneered by the Beatles (especially Paul).  That was the core of my point of my posting, rather lost on the readers I fear.

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10 May 2023
9.14am
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sir walter raleigh
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Strawberry Fields Forever is made up of takes 7 and 26 and it took some considerable effort to match the mellotron psychedelic band take to the orchestral second half.

That is a rare instance because most recordings wouldn’t include such a drastic switch in instrumentation during that period. Modern digital recording doesn’t require the same continuity of takes and so musicians can be more liberal about how they record different sections of songs.

In other cases a major switch up might be done great precision by a prog or jazz group but I cant think of any examples off of the top of my head where the orchestration switches completely. Brian Wilson’s sessions for SMiLE brought in an unholy amount of studio musicians into the studio, and its pretty unreal how rare takes were combined, they often would transition between sections live on tape. There definitely are cases of snippets being tacked on or overdubbed but since the album wasn’t completed at the time it was recorded it’s impossible to know where these would have been implemented. 

Either way SFF is a unique piece of music for many reasons, a big one being its transition to a second take of the song done by a totally different set of instruments. 

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12 May 2023
10.20pm
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Ron Nasty
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Myself, @Sea Belt, I think “pastiche” is made pejorative by being preceded by “cobbled together”, and I still don’t really understand your use of the word in regard to the Beatles recordings, unless you are suggesting they are a pastiche of live takes, which I think shows a misunderstanding of how they recorded.

Of the roughly 200 songs they recorded, there are very few which meet your description of “all the musicians sitting together in the studio recording their takes whole and going with the best take”. I’d guess less than a couple of dozen or so. The live take was the unusual method of recording, not the overdubbing onto takes, nor the editing together of different takes to create the master.

Overdubbing and editing was normal practice amongst musicians from before the Beatles first entered a recording studio, as I said in my previous response. The way the majority of Beatles tracks were recorded was that they would first concentrate on the backing track, and once they had a backing track they were happy with — often edited together from different takes, they would move on to overdubbing the vocals and any additional instruments.

The complexity of what they were able to do with overdubbing grew over the years, as the technology improved, but the basic method of recording was the same as when they stepped into Friedrich-Ebert-Halle in Hamburg on 22 June 1961 to back Tony Sheridan. While the majority of tracks recorded that day were entirely live, both vocals and instruments, two tracks — My Bonnie  and Why — had them overdubbing backing vocals and handclaps for the first time.

Let’s take a look at how a couple of their early songs were recorded to show their normal method of recording.

Please Please Me : recorded on the 26th November 1962, they did 18 takes — including the instrumental backing track, along with overdubs — which included their vocals and John’s harmonica. They also recorded an edit piece of the band ending the song.

On the 30th November the mono single master was created from an edit of unknown takes.

On the 25th February 1963, a new mono mix is done, along with the stereo mix, from an edit of takes 16, 17 and 18. As opposed to the single version, the album mixes have echo added to them.

So, something you might have thought a live take, is an overdubbed backing track edited together from various takes and, in the case of the album version, with added studio effects.

You Really Got A Hold On Me : recorded on the 18th July 1963, the first five takes were the instrumental backing track, 2 and 3 were false starts. Take 5 was deemed best and had unnumbered overdubs of John’s vocal, Paul and George’s backing vocals, along with some additional guitar from George.

Takes 6 and 7 see George Martin overdubbing piano, while takes 8 to 10 have Paul overdubbing the “Baby!” heard in the last full verse.

George Martin is back on the piano for edit piece take 11, doing a matching phrase to George’s guitar introduction to strengthen it.

The mono master was made on the 21st August, from an edit of take 7 and edit pieces takes 10 and 11, while the stereo, made using the same edit, was done on the 29th October.

This was their usual recording method from the beginning. Live takes were rare. It’s like the line about the Please Please Me  being recorded live in a day, of the ten tracks recorded that day, only Anna (Go to Him)Boys Chains , and Twist And Shout were entirely live studio performances.

This is why I again have to disagree with your suggestion that this recording method was uniquely Paul. If anything, Paul was following Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys , who — with the help of the Wrecking Crew — was building backing tracks layer upon layer, with the rest of the group only really coming in to add vocals. At the time of Good Vibrations and God Only Knows, nobody was close to him for his innovative use of the studio. There is a reason Paul regularly references Pet Sounds.

Another factor you may have missed is how John and Paul’s approach changed after 1967 (during 1967 I would argue John’s recordings were equally as experimental in their use of the studio as Paul’s, sometimes more so), as Paul became more interested in the possibilities of the studio while John was moving away from the studio trickery to a rawer, more visceral sound (not that John avoided studio trickery when it fitted the song, like Glass Onion Sun King , or Because ).

But, in the end, while it developed with the technology, their method of recording was the basically the same from the beginning of their career on, and was the method used by the majority of their contemporaries. Bob Dylan was about the only ’60s artist to record in the way you cite, and even he wasn’t adverse to dropping in an edit piece when he thought it was needed.

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The Beatles Bible 2020 non-Canon Poll Part One: 1958-1963 and Part Two: 1964-August 1966

13 May 2023
1.08am
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Ron Nasty
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I decided to run through the five volumes of The Beatles Recording Reference Manual to see just how many of their tracks were recorded entirely live, without overdubs or edits. There are only 13 of them, the majority of them cover versions they’d been playing for years, while three of them are live rooftop performances from January 1969:

Anna (Go to Him) [take 3]
Ask Me Why [take 6]
Boys [take 1]
Chains [take 1]
Dig A Pony [rooftop performance]
I’ve Got A Feeling [rooftop performance, take 1]
Long Tall Sally [take 1]
Maggie Mae [take 11]
The One After 909 [rooftop performance]
Rock And Roll Music [take 1]
Till There Was You [take 8]
Twist And Shout [take 1]
Two of Us [take 11]

As this clearly demonstrates, nearly every Beatles track was made with the use of overdubbing and/or editing together different takes or edit pieces.

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The Beatles Bible 2020 non-Canon Poll Part One: 1958-1963 and Part Two: 1964-August 1966

14 May 2023
7.31pm
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Sea Belt
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And it’s my impression that they were pioneers in this, relative to other bands & musicians in the 60s, in terms of degree and style; and that Paul played a leading role in this ongoing experimentation (“leading” doesn’t mean the others didn’t participate and contribute).  And more broadly, the activity itself again seems odd to a person who’s not in the Biz. Of course, even the least knowledgeable among us amateur fans know that many bands & musicians even in the 60s (but certainly subsequent decades) would lay down multiple tracks after the fact, or add on maybe a trumpet solo after the rest had been recorded earlier, etc.  But the extent of the activity (and again Paul seems to figure more prominently) as described by Joe’s back stories takes on a remarkable quality of songwriting/recording as a process of fitting pieces of a song together like Mr. Potato Heads.  That was the import of my OP which may not have been written clearly enough to convey, thus eliciting static energy & quibbling.

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13 December 2023
4.18am
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Sea Belt
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Joe’s description of the recording of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is a good example of what I’m talking about with this thread I created.  I took the trouble of taking Joe’s description and distilling the bare essence.  When I demarcate with “Day One” etc. it’s not meant necessarily as one day apart each time, just the sequence in chronological time from the description (i.e., sometimes maybe a couple or several days separated each of the “Days” listed here).

A few things to note: 

Apparently the four Beatles only ran through the song once together live.  All the other takes were effectively Paul alone or with one or two other Beatles, doing component parts/tracks, not the whole song together.

The rest of the time, over 7 days and countless takes, Paul was piecing the song together, rejecting some attempts, re-attempting, rejecting again, polishing up, dubbing in new stuff, etc.

As I wondered in my previous postings:  What other band or musicians recorded songs this way?  I would hazard the guess that only the Beatles did this — and specifically, mostly only Paul.

Day One

rhythm track recorded (guitar & drums)

overdubbed vocals and more guitar onto take seven, then take 4 chosen adding guitar to that too.

Day Two

added lead vocals together with backing vocals Lennon / George

recorded additional lead vocal part.

Day Three

Three saxophones taped + bongos

piccolo flute recorded, wiped & replaced by another guitar part

Day Four

scrapped the recordings to date and began a remake.

A dozen takes recorded, the group playing live.

John’s piano — the version they ended up using.

…after which lead and backing vocals and percussion instruments overdubbed

Day Five

Paul began another remake,

…after two attempts scrapped and resumed first remake. previous vocals redone, along with assorted sound effects, handclaps, ho-ho-hos and “vocal percussion”.

Day 6

three saxophones + bass part.

Day 7

McCartney re-recorded lead vocals.

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2 February 2024
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Sea Belt
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ahdn_paul_06Begging the question, could Paul and his backup musicians (3 Beatles + George Martin etc.) have simply recorded Ob-La-Di without having to tinker with the tapes afterwards?  As one can see by Joe’s description, the tinkering wasn’t minor; it was MAJOR patchwork revisions.

Now today I find, you have changed your mind

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