Fixing a Hole: The Beatles’ Imaginary Post-1970 Albums, Part 1

We all have a Beatles phase.  Can that really be said about any other band?  I don’t think so, which is one of the many reasons why they are still the greatest rock band in history, and probably always will be.  With the exception of a few psychedelic noodlings here and there, their records still sound fresh and contemporary.  Heck, even stodgy university music libraries who don’t normally consider anything written after 1875 to be good enough for their stacks usually have a few Beatles records.  In an amazingly short span of time — six years, to be exact — the Beatles turned a music form from a passing fad into an art, and covered more ground than most artists do in a lifetime.

We’re not here to talk about that.  We’re here to attempt to answer the age-old question of what the Beatles’ music would’ve sounded like had they not broken up in 1970.  And all we’re armed with is approximately 60 albums and 40 years worth of recordings by John, Paul, George and Ringo which have been subject to occasional praise but mostly disappointment and flat-out confusion.  I’ll freely admit that this exercise started as a way for me to save space on my iPod and be able to, for example, retain “Let ‘em In” and “She’s My Baby” without having the rest of Wings at the Speed of Sound take up 50 additional unnecessary megs.  But I also think much of that criticism is unfair, and no one could really have expected any one of the Fab Four to produce anything remotely resembling a Beatles record without the other Fab Three along for the ride.  If there exists an alternate universe where the Beatles did not break up in 1970, the songs they wrote and recorded after that are probably different, more innovative, and better than anything they did as solo artists in our universe.  But we have to work with what we’re given, so that’s what “Fixing a Hole” is about.

I’m actually quite surprised there isn’t something like this out there already.  A few web searches I did unearthed one article in Reader’s Digest that did put together three such albums out of the early ‘70s material, but then stopped.  But why stop at three?  I’m going to go through 13, yes, 13 albums the would-have-been Beatles may have released since 1970.  To keep the intros short, I’ll launch right into the first of these albums now, and save going through what I’m going to call the “ground rules” for the next installment.  I’m going to try and put this out once a week, but I may skip a week here and there.

The follow-up to Let It Be, released in late 1970 and containing many songs we still think of as classics, was called Join the Human Race. I’d guess that this would’ve been heralded as a return to excellence after the controversial Let It Be, and possibly compared to The White Album due to the vastly different directions the band members were taking.  A rollercoaster of an album created in difficult times:

SIDE ONE (Remember sides?  I’m indicating sides for everything up to 1990 – after all, that’s the way albums were once constructed!)

Instant Karma” – John’s rousing 1970 single which contains the line that became the album’s title.  A perfect leadoff track.  This one appears to have an actual video!

Every Night” – you don’t hear this one much anymore, in spite of it having been a single.  A simple quasi-blues that Paul probably wrote in less time than it took to sing it, but one of his better tracks on the charming-but-inconsistent McCartney album.

What Is Life” – While John and Paul were doing homespun-sounding albums in 1970, George was pulling out all the stops for the grandiose All Things Must Pass, a sprawling three-record set that could’ve used some editing and slightly less production but still contains some of his finest moments (before you cry out “heresy!” be aware that I still consider it a four-star album).  This is a single most of us are probably quite familiar with, where George sings his heart out, even over all the layers of production.

It Don’t Come Easy” – Still probably Ringo’s most-often-heard track.  The opening guitar riff is classic, and the whole song rocks.  Unfortunately, Ringo didn’t get back to this level for more than 20 years – his two full length records in 1970 consisted mostly of embarrassingly bad country, jazz and early 20th century pop remakes.  Stay away.

Working Class Hero” – A more complex, subtle, and effective protest song than “Give Peace a Chance,” and the centerpiece of Lennon’s real-life Plastic Ono Band.  Marianne Faithful’s 1979 cover of this is quite good too.

Awaiting On You All” – One of George’s many spiritually oriented songs, sort of a gospelly rave-up with a Spector-esque wall of sound, and a personal favorite.  Choosing the songs from All Things Must Pass to go on this and the 1971 album was very, very difficult.

Teddy Boy” – Due to its appearance on the Beatles’ Anthology 3, Paul must have written this acoustic number about a boy and his devotion to his mother in roughly 1968-69 and lobbied for its inclusion on the White Album or Let it Be.  It’s a cute song but my guess is that John would have nothing of it.

SIDE TWO

Mother” – the other centerpiece of Plastic Ono Band which I think is probably the best solo album any Beatle ever put out in terms of the quality of the music, although you have to be in the right mood for it, because… let’s just say it’s not a party album.

Hot As Sun” – I don’t know why I like this little instrumental from McCartney, but it works for me as a little tension release after Mother, before we get into the intensity of…

Not Guilty” – Probably my favorite non-album Beatles track, this Harrison rocker was recorded in 1968 but never released in this form until the Anthology 3 collection in the late ‘90s.  George did bring it to light in 1979 on his self-titled LP, but it was given a radically different, lush late ‘70s jazz/AOR arrangement.  Which is OK, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original one.  Does anyone know why this wasn’t included on a late Beatles LP?  It’s certainly better than at least two of George’s other late rockers (“I Me Mine” and “Savoy Truffle”).

Maybe I’m Amazed” – Ah, the classic ballad that even Paul’s harshest critics admit is good.  Love the sudden octave jump in the chorus.  Love the piano fill that just steps up the scale in half-notes.  Love the guitar solo.  I don’t care how many times I’ve heard it, it just gets better every time.  I’ve never liked the live version from Wings Over America as much — it goes on too long and it’s too slow.

Remember” – a quirky jam from Plastic Ono Band with some rockin’ piano and a cool sudden ending.

All Things Must Pass” – the beautiful title track from George’s first solo LP.  It may have been written about the Beatles breaking up, which didn’t happen in our alternate reality, but it’s not so specific that George wouldn’t have written in anyway.  I originally thought this should close the album, but decided we need something mellower, like…

Junk” – Like “Teddy Boy,” an acoustic number that Paul pitched to the rest of the band and got rejected but recorded on his solo debut.

OTHER SONGS FROM THIS PERIOD THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT:

“My Sweet Lord” – one of the “ground rules” I’m going to go through next week is no songs with Hare Krishna-related lyrics or other direct religious messages (indirect ones are OK).  Besides, Paul would’ve caught the fact that it sounded a little too much like the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”

“Give Peace a Chance/Cold Turkey” – tough to cut, but ultimately I just don’t think the other three would’ve gone for it.  The actual peace part is really short, and the “Cold Turkey” part is just a little too out-there.

“Early 1970” – obviously, without a breakup, Ringo wouldn’t have written it.

Stay tuned for 1971 as we go through the “ground rules” and then “Imagine” another Beatles album!

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  • The Man I Used To Be

    Love this idea Mark. Just love it. Nice mix that has just been included to a new iPod play-list. If I wasn’t at work I would chime in with some additions.

  • Matrakas

    This is so freaking interesting; I would never have imagined what the post 1970 beatles break-up albums would have sounded like (or included, for that matter).

    At the end you say “stay tuned for 1971″…¿Do you really think the Beatles would have still recorded albums on a yearly basis?

  • David_E

    Wasn’t it Harrison himself who said The Beatles would have become ELO?

  • The Man I Used To Be

    and he helped in making that happen….cue up “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”.

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    “I’m actually quite surprised there isn’t something like this out there already.”

    There was. In the late-90s, MOJO Magazine ran a contest for readers to create the best Beatles album using their first solo albums.

  • The Man I Used To Be

    Ok – After some thought over lunch, here are four tracks I would add:

    Paul’s – “That Would Be Something” – George was a fan.
    John’s – “Isolation” and “God” – Both works of artistic gold.
    George’s – “Let It Down” – A “Get Back” holdover.

  • http://www.twitter.com/concertvault Dopeburger

    this is ridiculously interesting and fun. it’s even funny how the track order seems so beatle-esque as well – nice going. but is it safe to say that one of the ground rules (unfortunately) is that there should only be 2 harrison tracks per album?

  • mark

    for the most part, yes, there will only be two, I just bent the rules a little bit on this one. Kind of had to, with all the great tracks on “All Things Must Pass” (two of which will be on the next album).

  • mark

    There won’t be one for every year – they’ll get sparser as the years go by, as you might imagine. But in my opinion there was enough material to choose from in the very early ’70s to warrant hypothetical “1970” and “1971” albums.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Plus, George was attracting some major attention to himself around this period so, I have to suspect, Paul and John would be forced to let him into the clubhouse more often. Ringo? One per album as usual.

  • http://outsidethelaw.blogspot.com Outside Counsel

    I think that over time there’d have to be some recognition that some solo stuff is just solo stuff, and you are off to a good start with the exclusions here. This notion was a popular mixtape exercise when I was in college.

    Also see, http://thebeatlesneverbrokeup.com/

  • http://twitter.com/MattSpringer Matt Springer

    Congrats on this; fantastic piece. Cannot wait to build this playlist.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Here’s a prediction – On 1973’s Beatles album, John’s caustic turn and Paul’s twee inclinations are all upstaged by Ringo and George’s “Photograph”, which once and for all vindicates Ringo from merely being “the fourth Beatle”.

  • CraigoryVOL

    Love the idea and execution here, Mark. But how does “Awaiting On You All” get a pass on the direct religious comments?

    “By chanting the names of the Lord and you’ll be free.”

    Not to mention name-checking Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    Good point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnny.holly Johnny Holly

    Hey, this is great!. Could it be, could it be…

  • mark

    I guess you’re right – it just doesn’t seem as in-your-face-religious to me as My Sweet Lord (and it’s better). It’s a fine line, but I think this could’ve been on a Beatles LP.

    Spoiler: there will be no “Jai Sri Krishna” on the album from 1974.

    Glad I’m getting so many comments! It only gets weirder from here.

  • Side3

    There are lists like this all over the internet, but it never ceases to fascinate me…I love to see what others would put on, or leave out. 1970 was a great year. Every year from here out gets tougher as many years not all of them put an album out…1972 has only Lennon’s extremely mediocre “Some Time in New York City”.

  • Old_Davy

    I remember reading somewhere that John brought “Cold Turkey” to the group as a potential single but the others hated the song. Personally, I think it’s one of John’s greatest songs – very raw – and that overblown distorted guitar rocks the house.

  • http://www.halfhearteddude.com Any Major Dude

    “I’m actually quite surprised there isn’t something like this out there already.”

    Not to brag, but I did that kind of thing, as three MP3 mixes, more than two years ago (which in blogging terms is, like, 58 years, or something). Also with sides; all were double albums…

    http://www.halfhearteddude.com/2008/06/the-beatles-alone-1972/
    http://www.halfhearteddude.com/2008/06/the-beatles-alone-again-1975/
    http://www.halfhearteddude.com/2008/07/the-beatles-finally-1981/

    But I must say, your selection and commentary is top notch.

  • mark

    Glad you’re enjoying it. I can’t promise you won’t have disputes with song selection later on though… Yours is quite good too, and an entirely different take; three double albums strewn throughout the 70s, as opposed to my steady stream of single LPs. And we picked mostly the same songs, but not entirely (I’ll leave the differences in suspense). It’s interesting to see all these different takes on it, it never gets old, does it? I like your album covers too – maybe I should try that!

  • http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com wardo

    Most of these would go on my imaginary late-1970 Beatles album. However, I’d scratch “Hot As Sun” and “Not Guilty” as “not likely to be in contention”. That still leaves 12 songs, two for George, one for Ringo.

  • Matracas

    Here’s a some-what related question: IF the Beatles had stayed together and recorded this; and Mark’s following LPs, What would the 70’s music genre have looked like?
    Do you think that Capenters, Bread, America & Carly Simon whould have still been as big as they where in the first half of the 70’s?
    Would Disco music had bee so HUGE in the late 70’s?
    Do you think that more of the Beatles contemporaries (Kinks, Hollies, Who, Rolling Stones, Pacemakers, etc.) would had still ben around and not die down as they did?

    Of course we don’t have a time machine; what I’m doing is hoping to get your opinions on this..

    Matracas
    Monterrey, Mx.
    LOST 80’s http://www.radioelm.listen2myradio.com/

  • Ttaliaferro

    Fun post, but John would NEVER alloww Teddy Boy on a Beatles record. “Paul, that’s more of your granny shit” — and ya might as well include tracks off Yoko’s albums — The only way to save the Beatles would be to let Yoko become one.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, Ringo didn’t get back to this level for more than 20 years…

    Uh…dude- Ringo? Goodnight Vienna? A mere 3 and 4 years, respectively, after 1970.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a huge solo Beatles fan, so I dig this but I’ll also have lots of opinions. Personally, I’ve always envisioned it where all the solo 1970 stuff happened as we know it (most of that stuff doesn’t really fit with “The Beatles”, and George really needed to get that huge backlog of songs out of the vault) and then the band regrouped in 1970 with “It Don’t Come Easy” as a single. Which brings to mind that you may want to consider including some “non-album” singles–the Beatles did that throughout their career, and Paul at least continued the practice with his 70s solo material. I think “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”/”Luck Of The Irish” and “Woman”/”Daytime Nighttime Suffering” would have made excellent topical singles if the group were together.

    Some specific thoughts:

    When was “Every Night” a single”? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

    “Not Guilty” better than “Savoy Truffle”? Wow, I so don’t agree with that. For that matter, I think there are a bunch of better songs on All Things Must Pass–good to see that more will appear on the next album. BTW, “All Things Must Pass” itself was written before the group broke up (there’s a version on Anthology 3) although of course George was aware that they weren’t likely to last.

    Disagree on “Maybe I’m Amazed”–I like the live version much better. Better guitar solo, better ending, better vocal.

    I don’t get what you mean about “the peace part” being short. “Give Peace A Chance” is a separate song from “Cold Turkey” and it’s almost 5 minutes long. At any rate, both songs were released as John singles before the breakup, so they wouldn’t be relevant here.

    I also don’t think you really listened to “Awaiting On You All” if you included it but don’t want direct references to “Hare Krishna” and George’s religion. “Chanting the names of the lord and you’ll be free” is about as direct as you can get without actually saying “Hare Krishna”.

    I don’t have much objection to your actual choices (assuming that the right ATMP songs appear on the next one) although I think “Hot As Sun” is a bit weak. (It’s actually a very early Beatle composition, BTW). It’s tough to make such diverse material flow well–that’s why I’d leave 1970 as it was, basically–but there’s no denying the high level of quality here. Better songs than Let It Be, I daresay. Looking forward to more.

  • Anonymous

    Not to mention “When We Was Fab”…

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com Anonymous

    Ooh, this is fun. Love that original version of “Not Guilty” too. The jazzy version he recorded later bores me.

  • Anonymous

    love The Beatles :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mburke77 Michael Burke

    This is fantastic. I’ve always loved “Every Night.”

  • Asylanten

    is there someone who had rearranged these songs in a beatles way, I think the solo albums, expecially John’s and George’s sounded very different from beatles sound, in Plastic Ono band and All thing must Pass the drums were played by Ringo in most of the tunes, but it would be great to listen Plastic Ono Band with George’s guitar riffs and Paul Bassline

  • Kevinmacnutt

    One track that should have been on this set was Paul’s version of “Come and Get It” (you know the Badfinger song). I believe it appears on Anthology 3 in fully finished form with Paul playing all the instruments. Hearing Paul’s version next to Badfinger’s, I am amazed at how verbatim they played it from his demo. It would have been a great way to kick off the album.

  • Kevinmacnutt

    I know upon hearing the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Showdown” John commented that if the Beatles were still around today, this is what they would be doing. Of course there has always been a bit of a similarity between the bands back from the days that ELO was still the Move. I often made comparisons between “Blackberry Way” and “Penny Lane”. It’s actually too bad that the Jeff Lynne/Roy Wood partnership did not last longer than it did since the two of them working together could have really been the next Lennon/McCartney. Lynne was always about the more commercially acceptable well crafted numbers while Wood was more interested in being experimental and cutting edge. They were a better Beatles influenced band than say Badfinger (which is still a fantastic band, but not exactly as cutting edge) or Raspberries (which had a definite Beatles song, but Eric Carmen could really write some saccharine tunes that would have made Paul cringe).

  • Kevinmacnutt

    When that album came out I was about eleven years old and knew of the Beatles decently, although I was a more knowledgeable Electric Light Orchestra fan and hearing that song, I thought it was a new ELO track (although much higher quality than what ELO was doing just a year before). If I am not mistaken, doesn’t Jeff Lynne make a few appearances in that music video.

  • Kevinmacnutt

    I believe that Not Guilty was originally supposed to be on the White Album. I think it was bumped in order to put stuff like Revolution 9 on instead. Stylistically it would have fit on there quite well (of course that is an album that is stylistically all over the place). It still bugs me that it was not at least in consideration as a single B-side. What would you rather listen to “You Know My Name, Look Up My Number” or “Not Guilty”? Of course there was a really seedy quasi-redneck bar near where I live and they had a jukebox which as one of it’s CDs was Beatles “Past Masters-Volume 2″ and I always wanted to put in a five dollar bill, select “You Know My Name” as many times possible and walk out of the bar.

  • Jimchadwick

    Damn it. I thought about doing this about a year ago but procrastination got the better of me as always. Some of my late 70 tracks overlap, but overall I think your selection is better and more interesting. One of the factors I was going to consider in putting an actual collection together (from existing recorded versions, obviously and not imaginary collaborative ones) was choosing songs where more than one Beatle played on the solo version. I think Ringo played on both All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band. Not sure if he was on McCartney’s first album, which I recall he did all by himself. Also, didn’t John write “It Don’t Come Easy” which would make it a perfect Beatles track? Considering how few collaborations by all 4 Beatles there are on The White Album, such a compilation might not be all that far off from what an actual, genuine version of this later Beatles album might have been.

  • Jimchadwick

    Damn it. I thought about doing this about a year ago but procrastination got the better of me as always. Some of my late 70 tracks overlap, but overall I think your selection is better and more interesting. One of the factors I was going to consider in putting an actual collection together (from existing recorded versions, obviously and not imaginary collaborative ones) was choosing songs where more than one Beatle played on the solo version. I think Ringo played on both All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band. Not sure if he was on McCartney’s first album, which I recall he did all by himself. Also, didn’t John write “It Don’t Come Easy” which would make it a perfect Beatles track? Considering how few collaborations by all 4 Beatles there are on The White Album, such a compilation might not be all that far off from what an actual, genuine version of this later Beatles album might have been.

  • Montequi

    You seem to have overlooked that George, typically, only got 2 songs per album.

  • ThatsMe

    Love this, but for me, I would have kicked off the album with Eat At Home off of “Ram,” switched Hot As Sun and Mother around, delete Hot As Sun, put Junk where Hot As Sun was, and put Beware Of Darkness at the end as a hidden track. I know it is kind of dumb to put two George Harrison songs in a row, but since All Things Must Pass sounds like an album closer, Beware Of Darkness would be a bigger award to the listener who didn’t take the needle off the record. Also, it makes people know what the band went through to give you this album, and that if you were not happy, that you should have not bought the record at all. Take that! Ha!

    The reason I wouldn’t have “Instant Karma” on the alum was because it was released when the band was still together, and john didn’t announce he left until February, a month after the single got released. It might just be me, but I think that would be a amazing album!