I’ve read that the Beatles did not read or write music. I’ve also read that when John and Paul wrote songs together in the early days, they did not write them down because they figured that if a song was good enough they would remember it. I don’t know if they continued with this approach through the later albums.
I’m not a guitar player, but I understand that even for guitarists who don’t read music it’s possible to write out a tablature of chord names or fingerings for the chords to be used. Did the Beatles write down any tablature or other written record of the structure of their songs?
I saw a documentary in which Paul Simon showed some of his lyric-writing notebooks, which showed a progression from single words or phrases to the finished lyric. Are there any written materials like this from when the Beatles were writing their lyrics? Can anyone recommend interesting sources on the band members’ songwriting or song finishing process?
The collection consists of the handwritten lyrics of seven Beatles songs: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One,” “The Word,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Yellow Submarine.”
I’ve found partialimages of somelyric sheets that have been sold at auction, and partial images of the lyrics at Northwestern U. If they are in private collections, there may not be any better images that would be available to the casual fan.
The book The Beatles Anthology reproduces some of the Beatles’s handwritten lyrics. The only one I remember well is George Harrison’s lyrics to Here Comes The Sun, where (presumably to save time and space) he writes the title phrase as “H.C.T.S.” each time.
The handwritten lyrics for Hey Jude, which differ slighty from the actual recorded song, were sold at auction about a decade ago. The winning bidder was John Lennon’s son Julian, for whom the song was originally written.
Tantamount to the same thing. The British Library was only founded in 1973 when it was spun off from the British Museum; prior to that its functions were carried out by the Museum. Without knowing this I might have been puzzled by a passage from P.G. Wodehouse where an inpecunious young suitor is urged by his aristocratic girlfriend to acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of pigs by “going to the British Museum and asking for everything they have on the subject.”
I just read the book Here, There, and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick, which is about his experiences with them as a studio engineer, and he talks a little about that stuff, more song finishing than song writing. He also says in that book that John Lennon had a terrible memory, so sometimes he’d have a lyrics sheet in front of him (but it didn’t help much because he also had horrible eyesight).
IIRC you can see George Harrison reading a chord chart on the bus in the Magical Mystery Tour film.
An explanation. A chord chart represents a chord progressions as a list of sort of abbreviations. A = A major, Am = A minor, A7 = dominant seventh, and other variations. Generally you jot out bar lines and scribble in the chord symbols. It’s not a formal notation and any guitarist can do it with no learning required.
They certainly did write down their lyrics. In the Hunter Davies bio, it’s mentioned how one of them still had a wad of stuff they had written in 1958, and that only one of the songs–“Love Me Do”–was used later.
Quite right with the official act in 1972, but remember the archive had existed within the Russell Street building for quite a long time prior to that, and then with that whole thing about George IV leaving his books to the nation (they have to stay on public display, which these days is quite interesting to see in the BL). The Act was passed because the holdings had got so large, and were overwhelming BM space, that this was official impetus to establish the new building, &c.
Having worked for the British Museum, and still frequent it and the British Library for research, I am well-familiar with them and their histories and policies. They are very closely related institutions, but it does need to be stressed that they are now two physically separated museums/archives.
The new BL building, where the Beatles’ lyrics are exhibited, along with some other memorabilia, opened up near St Pancras in 1997. So if you go along to the British Museum hoping to see the Beatles’ bits, you’ll find out you have to take a bit of a walk up to Euston St.
The British Museum is still where it’s been since the days it was a mere curio cabinet over 250 years ago, in Great Russell Street. It’s really difficult to know which one came first, as over the years they have subsumed and overwhelmed each other until the Library had to be sloughed off into its own new building.
Before the Library moved out (which is why the Great Court opened up, including the lovely Reading Room), however, the Beatles’ stuff was on display in Gallery 2 of the British Museum, opposite the Codex Ammiatinus, if memory serves, quite near to the old Magna Carta display – you can probably guess which cabinet most people were interested in Back then, you could also buy facsimiles of a couple of the lyrics; mine are around here somewhere. I think I have ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’
Gallery 2 in the BM now holds temporary displays, usually from galleries that are closed for refurbishment. It was empty for a long time, and then in 2005, they destroyed all of the old manuscript cases (I was there when that was going in; it was a real shame as the cases were quite old themselves.)
I do love the British Museum (I’ve published for them, and am cited in their guide to the collections handbook with my ‘specialty object’, plus it used to be fun to run around the galleries before and after public hours, too. Running the length of the Elgin Marble room and then sliding in your socks is great fun! I also had to share an office with one of the resident ghosties.), and will be lurking its corridors again in about a week or so, yay!
Anyway, apologies for the thread hijack, and I hope that clarifies things a bit.
I read the Beatles used to use “buzz words” to fill in. For instance if they had a tune in their head they would simply write some memorable nonsense and that way it the tune would stick in their head.
I write songs myself and used to use this technique, of course now-a-days you can simply hum it or call yourself on your cell phone an leave a message.
The song “Do Ron Ron” was written like that. Ellie Greenwich co-writer says she always intended to replace the phrase “Do Ron Ron,” with something that made sense. Those were just buzz words to keep the song in place, till she thought of something, but then after she finished everything else, she couldn’t think of anything, so she just left it. And of course the song did quite well going to #3 by the Crystals and #1 by Shaun Cassidy
Yeah, I read that the melody for Yesterday was called “Scrambled Eggs” before the lyrics were written.
My google fu has failed me in trying to find examples of chord progressions written down by the Beatles. I don’t doubt that they were written down, but they don’t seem to be collectors’ items like the handwritten lyrics.