Imagine The Beatles' 1971 album

Let’s say the Beatles didn’t break up after Abbey Road and Lennon and McCartney continued to make songs under the Beatles banner albeit separately a la The White Album. This next album would consist of songs from Lennon, McC and Harrison’s first two solo albums (excluding God, How Do You Sleep and Too Many People which include jibes against members of the band). Which songs would you put in the album? How would you arrange them?

Here’s how I imagine it:

Title: Imagine Passing Rams
Release Date: 1971

Side One

  1. Gimme Some Truth (Lennon)
  2. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (McCartney)
  3. Another Day (McCartney) [released as a single but what the hell]
  4. Imagine (Lennon)
  5. My Sweet Lord (Harrison)
  6. Crippled Inside (Lennon)
  7. Junk (McCartney)

Side Two

  1. Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney)
  2. Love (Lennon)
  3. What Is Life (Harrison)
  4. Jealous Guy (Lennon)
  5. Working Class Hero (Lennon)
  6. All Things Must Pass (Harrison)
  7. Look At Me (Lennon)
  8. My Mummy’s Dead (Lennon) [hidden track]

What, no “It Don’t Come Easy”???

OK, you asked for it:

The Grey Album:  A Theoretical Appreciation

It was June 1970, and the Beatles as a group had been defunct for some months. Their last recording session had taken place in January; the official breakup, in the form of an announcement by McCartney, had come in April, just prior to the release of the Let It Be album. Since that time each of the members had been pursuing solo careers. Lennon, of course, had been releasing solo efforts since 1968; two albums under George Harrison’s name had appeared in 1969; and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr had each released their first solo LP in the spring of 1970. Although all four continued as partners in Apple, relations among them were nearing their all-time low: McCartney was barely on speaking terms with the other three, and they were enveloped in a tangled nest of lawsuits.

This was the situation when, on June 15, 1970, EMI Records informed the Beatles of its discovery of a previously unnoticed loophole in its old contract with them which entitled it to two further LPs. According to the loophole, these LPs were to be furnished by October 1, or the Beatles would lose UK distribution rights to all their pre-Apple material.

Embroiled as they were in litigation, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr realized the impossibility of taking on the added burden of attempting to challenge EMI’s claim. They therefore decided to deliver the goods, in the form of a double album composed of songs contributed by each ex-Beatle from the solo projects he was currently working on. Due to the volatility of the situation, EMI chose to keep a tight lid on publicity, and the project went forward in secrecy. The result, completed on September 14, 1970, was a run of 7,500 advance copies of an untitled album in a gray shirt-cardboard cover with nothing on it except the Parlophone logo and serial number: what has come to be known as “The Grey Album.” (By the terms of the contract, the Beatles retained control over the cover art, and they couldn’t agree on any.) Two days later, production of the commercial release, scheduled for mid-October, was halted abruptly for reasons still unclear. EMI managed to recover and destroy almost all of the advance copies that had been distributed; only a handful are said to remain.

The record was, of course, unique in the Beatles’ oeuvre in the near-complete lack of collaboration among the members, said collaboration being limited, in fact, to Ringo Starr’s drumming on the Lennon and Harrison tracks. Taken in perspective, however, the Grey Album can be seen as the logical extension of a trend that had begun with the White Album in which each song was the work of one member, with the others participating essentially as session musicians.

Semantic arguments aside, the final verdict about the record, as with any record, must rest upon the music itself. It is not a unified album – in particular, the McCartney tracks and the Lennon compositions pull in different directions. Still, each probably benefits from the presence of the other. Where, in the early days, these two influences would appear within each song, here they occur across songs, lending a balance to the album as a whole. The Harrison cuts are as strong as anything he did in the pre-breakup days; indeed, on this record he emerged as a songwriter fully the equal of Lennon and McCartney – a fact reflected in the wise decision to devote a third of the album to his work. Finally, Ringo’s country-flavored contribution is a welcome little extra, a reminder that there was once a time when you didn’t have to take a Beatles album seriously to like it.

Thus, the Grey Album can serve as a fitting final chapter to the Beatles’ saga. While it may not reach the heights of the White Album or Abbey Road, it is certainly more satisfying than Let It Be, which would otherwise have stood as their swan song – a depressing prospect that was mercifully avoided.
Side A:

  1. What Is Life
  2. Hold On
  3. Monkberry Moon Delight
  4. I Found Out

Side B:

  1. Dear Boy
  2. Isn’t It a Pity
  3. Look at Me
  4. Loser’s Lounge

Side C:

  1. Heart of the Country
  2. Remember
  3. Apple Scruffs
  4. Eat at Home

Side D:

  1. Beware of Darkness
  2. Ram On
  3. Love
  4. The Back Seat of My Car
  5. All Things Must Pass

Excellent! I’ll make the tracklist on iTunes and see what The Grey Album sounds like. And, yes, I forgot Ringo’s contribution.

Cool!! By the way, there are two versions of “Ram On”… the one I used was the short one (0:55). There are also two versions of “Isn’t It a Pity”; I used the 7:10 one. One other note: When I put it together, it was as a 60-minute cassette, so Sides A & B were actually one 30-minute side, and C & D formed the other. (So this would have been a pretty short double LP, but that kind of fits in with the general story line.)