Where Was George?
As angry as Lockwood was at the band, the brunt of his ire was saved for Fabs’ whipping-boy George Martin. In the passing weeks, Lockwood not only berated Martin in public, he forced the producer to personally cough up the cash to have the album re-pressed, since it was “his oversight that allowed the craziness to happen.
“A producer should run the show,” fumed Lockwood. “Here, it looks like the lunatics have taken over the asylum.”
According to yet more Beatle scholars, Martin was furious at his “betrayal” by both the Beatles and Lockwood. This, say sources, is the real reason Martin was not present as producer during most of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions which commenced soon after. According to newly-discovered documents, the band began to “put out feelers” (their words) for a new producer. Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones was asked whether Stones producer Jimmy Miller could be employed. But Jones at the time was a drug-addled mess and claimed he didn’t even know Miller was now producing his band. (Editor’s note: Virtually all the Beatle scholars we talked to said they had never heard of an alleged band called the “The Rolling Stones”.)
Jones snapped into lucidity when told about the band’s “Wide Album”. Calling Lennon a “mad genius” he dreamed of the day when he too could “put out LPs no one can play”. When Jones pitched just this idea to the other Stones a few months later, he was asked to leave the band.
Jones turned up dead weeks later.
Soon, both McCartney and Lennon agreed to “get the LP out as soon as possible in any way possible”. This, it turns out, is why the LP was issued in a plain white jacket: The Beatles had no time to commission a proper cover graphic.
“They wasted so much time with their bloody idea,” a former EMI engineer explains, “that they had to quickly assemble a cover in order to have the album ready by the Christmas rush. In effect, there was no cover!”
To save face, Lennon dreamed up the idea of calling the re-constituted LP by the similar name of the White Album, because of its blank jacket. “People had already been saying Wide Album so (they) thought up a name that sounded close enough,” says a source. Two songs were pulled from the disc’s lineup so the contents of the LP fit onto two standard 12-inch vinyl discs. EMI lubed up its presses for another run of LPs.
“The whole incident shows what can happen when egos get out of control,” offers a New Jersey-based rock critic and self-professed Beatles fanatic who wished not to be identified. “I’m glad all of this is finally being brought to light, because it hurt George (Martin) emotionally as well as professionally.” (Editor’s note: Several Beatle scholars contend this critic is not a critic at all, but a convenience store employee who likes to read music magazines.)
Indeed, the occurrence was considered such a professional embarrassment, it prompted a furious Lockwood to issue a memo to all EMI staffers, producers and bands to “keep quiet about it, or risk losing all earnings and your reputation within the industry.” To distract fans from the would-be scandal (and to secure their financial futures) the two head Beatles would both impulsively marry well-to-do women in the coming months.
“They can ruin us professionally,” said Lennon at the time. “But they can’t ruin us personally. We’re more than capable of that.”
Although Martin would re-unite with the Beatles for their swan song, “Abbey Road”, the events in the fall of 1968 traumatized him so much that he vowed “never to work with rock acts again”. After a long search for “the most boring group in the world,” he “discovered” soft rockers America and purportedly produced many of their discs while asleep in a hammock in the back of his Bentley, which was parked a block away from the studio.
‘England’s lamest cover band’
The outcome of the Wide Album incident hit the Beatles hard. No longer were they the “golden boys” who could “do no wrong” for EMI. Instead, they felt like cogs in the wheel—another meal ticket for the stuffed-shirt executives.
Dispirited, the group reconvened in January of 1969 to start work on an album comprised of safe-as-milk oldies, a move engineered to mock Lockwood’s bland tastes. If Mr. EMI wanted the Best Band in the Word to make like milquetoast, well, that’s exactly what they would do. “Look out Herman’s Hermits!” they joked. “We’re going steal your mantle of being England’s lamest cover band!”
Sadly, that plan was realized in spades.
Drugged, depressed, and dispirited, the band slogged through ear-wrenching, tuneless renditions of numbers they once loved. Originally called Sloppy Seconds by Lennon (who named it as such because the band couldn’t make it through more than a few seconds of each tune), it was later re-titled Get Back. For a few weeks it was called Octopus’ Garbage (at Harrison’s bequest), then accidentally named Nancy Wilson Sings the Standards by a novice tape-op who wasn’t paying attention.
At one point during the sessions, a smartly-dressed Keith Richards dropped by with then-paramour Anita Pallenberg. Hoisting a guitar, he attempted to jam with the band, but found he could not get in tune with any given band member at any given time. Dazed, he walked out of the session saying he “could not believe what he heard.” Later that night he allegedly drove with Pallenberg to the worst section of London and scored heroin for the first time. “If that’s the way the best band in the world sounds,” he slurred, “then there’s no point in music.”
Lennon took the rejection of the Wide Album particularly hard. He decided to “turn his back on pop music as we know it” and take up more substantial causes. (Editor’s note: Many Beatle scholars say they never felt Lennon’s causes were really all that substantial, at least not in the scheme of record collecting.)
As the history books show, the band members decided to go their separate ways in Aug. 1969. Solo careers were launched, but the memory of the Wide Album would not go away. In 1974, Beatle roadie Mal Evans, then on the verge of bankruptcy, threatened to sell his memoirs—replete with an account of the “Wide Album” incident. One week later, Evans turned up dead.
Six years later, Lennon did an interview with Playboy magazine writer David Sheff, where he touched on all points of the group’s career—including the Wide Album. The discovery of the story was considered a major “coup” for the then-struggling scribe. But when Sheff went back to transcribe the tape the next day, the segment of the tape that covered the debacle—all 13 minutes of it—had been mysteriously erased.
Lennon was murdered less than a week later.
// Notes from the Road
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