Allan Kozinn ~ On His Beatles E-Book Got That Something

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Allan Kozinn, a gentleman whom you are all familiar with as he has been writing music reviews and articles (first as a freelancer, then full-time) for The New York Times for many years, is here to talk to The Glass about his current E-Book single, Got That Something. This is a relatively short read, but Allan offers such a great context of what roles the song “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and its recording play in the Beatles’ history. If you are a true fan of The Beatles, as both Allan and I am, this book does offer some fascinating accounts of what took place in relation to the song and even in its aftermath (Early on in the book, he even talks about Moving Sidewalks, which was basically ZZ Top when they were a psychedelic band covering the song in an early single, at a time when the Beatles were already making The White Album).

You can purchase the book here or on the link on the bottom.

CM: So (even though I know already), what is “Got That Something” in reference to?

Allan: It’s one of the lyrics of “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, which is the song that opened the US up for them. Capitol finally took them when they had this record, and the label had the clout to bring them to the people’s attention in a way that Vee-Jay and Swan (the indie labels that were issuing their earlier records) couldn’t. With the 50th anniversary of both the single and the Beatles’ arrival in the US, and of Beatlemania in a global sense, it seemed to make sense to write something. In terms of the Beatles’ world, they’d been celebrating the 50th anniversary since 2012, because their first single was released at the end of 1962. For the next 7 years or so…

CM: …There’s going to be anniversaries for practically every important record they made, probably. [laughs]
What did you mostly focus on for this book?

Allan: Well, the focus was supposed to be “I Want To Hold Your Hand” itself, but in order to get “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, since it represented, in a way, a watershed for them both compositionally and technically because it was the 1st time they’d recorded with 4-track, and also, in terms of the whole Beatlemania business, and finding their place in the US, I figured it made sense to lead up to it by talking about a “podded” early history of the Beatles without using all of the details of that history, so I used their recordings as the focus. It just so happens that the day John and Paul met (when John was the leader of the Quarrymen) that that performance was recorded. I talked about that and their first session in 1958 when they went to the home studio of a guy named Percy Phillips, where they cut 2 songs on a disc…

CM: “In Spite of All The Danger” and “That’ll Be The Day”.

Allan: Yes, and then in 1960, they let a reel-to-reel run for quite some time while they rehearsed, and that tells us a lot about the state that they were in in the Spring and Summer of 1960, which was right before they went to Hamburg for the first time. The Hamburg trip sort of melded them into a cohesive group, and they made some studio recordings there as well. And then that leads up to the EMI sessions, and early on, the EMI sessions were only 2-track. There were some serious limitations on the 2-track in the sense that EMI’s 2-track recorders could only record the 2 tracks at the same time, and it wasn’t as if you could do a track and then do another one right after…

CM: And you couldn’t do the bouncing thing yet…

Allan: Yeah, in order to add anything, you’d copy the 2-track to a second 2-track machine, and that unfortunately could cause a loss of quality, so it was something they had to do very carefully. And then, finally, it leads us up to “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, which was 4-track. It gave them the kind of flexibility they never had until then, and they further developed with it in the years to come.

At the same time, it’s a story of their compositional career, because when George Martin first heard them, he wasn’t really that impressed with the Lennon-McCartney stuff. He thought “Love Me Do” was the best they had…

CM: And in the meantime he was asking them to do Gerry and the Pacemakers, and basically rather cheesy songs…

Allan: When they came in to do their first proper session, they did “Love Me Do” and “PS, I Love You”, and maybe “Ask Me Why” as well as some covers. They might have done a slower version of “Please Please Me”, although it doesn’t exist on tape, and he told them it was dreary and to speed it up…

CM: I think they said the song was supposed to sound like Roy Orbison…

Allan: Yeah, that’s the way John Lennon always described it, but George Martin described it as dreary…

CM: [laughing]

Allan: And I think he gave them a very serious talking to, because it was clear they wanted the singles to be Lennon-McCartney songs. They were happy to record covers for the albums, but they wanted the singles to be theirs, and he basically said ‘Look, if you expect us to put out your songs as singles, you’re going to have to give me stuff that’s a hit!’. So for those first few singles, they really sat down very seriously, and together, they worked on songs.

the-beatles-please-please-me-50th-anniversary-cover3There’s a story that they began writing “From Me To You” on a tour bus, and then they really finished it in the studio. If you listen to the outtakes, which are available from various bootleg sources, you can actually hear that they hadn’t totally finished it when they got into the studio, and somewhere between Take 4 & 5, they added the finishing bits. “She Loves You” was written in a hotel room, and they were sitting down together and saying ‘Ok, our job is to write the next hit now, what’s it going to be?’. And “I Want To Hold Your Hand” they finally wrote in the basement of Jane Asher’s house. That was the last of those singles they wrote together. They wrote together afterwards, but it was really more situations like one of them starting a song and the other helping to finish it (“We Can Work It Out”), or if they needed to do some filler tracks for the albums–They considered “Eight Days a Week” a filler track, something they just got together to do. But in the case of all of the songs up to “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, it was really a case of sitting down to write a hit, something commercial, and I think the book shows the evolution of that as well.

CM: I think most people probably don’t know the straight story of how many of their songs were written together, and how many of those songs they both wrote separately, or how many of them were written by just one of them and the other got equal credit. After listening to them as long as we have, after a while you can tell which ones they worked on together and which are the songs that are a little more identified with the artist that wrote them.

Allan: Right, and the business of writing singles became sort of a battleground for them after “IWTHYH”, and then it became a competition to see which of them was going to write the A Side, so the next one was McCartney, and it was “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and John had the B Side, which was “You Can’t Do That”. All the way through the singles, you see that competition, and if you listen to some of those BBC recordings, especially some of the interviews, there’s this one time when they had put out “She’s a Woman” b/w “I Feel Fine”–“I Feel Fine” was the A Side sung by John, and “She’s A Woman” was Paul’s song on the B Side. The DJ says ‘You know, I think the B Side is in some ways better than the A Side’ and John says ‘I don’t!’ [both laughing] Just like that! You sort of hear that competition between them going on all the time, but they had the agreement that everything would be called “Lennon-McCartney”, and the songs were published that way.

But besides being able to tell who wrote the songs from who’s singing lead, another indication is to sort of look at their personalities. When you have “We Can Work It Out”, which is pure Paul–It’s very optimistic–and then it goes into that minor key bridge ‘Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend’–I mean, that’s John, it’s John in every way. It takes a slightly more cynical view than the way Paul’s music does, and goes into a minor key, and also this business of ‘Life is very short…’. John was a really impatient guy, and that comes out in there too!

But with the case of “IWTHYH”, it’s harder to tell whose parts were which, because they sat down at the piano and wrote it together. The only thing that has ever stood out as being one or the other–John always told the story of when they got to that 3rd chord in the song (Once the words start, not counting the intro), it switches to E minor, from G and D, and John said ‘Paul, play that’ and he said ‘That’s it! Play that again!’. They just liked that business of going from a happy major key into a relative minor. It was Paul’s idea, but it so struck John that he sort of focused on it immediately. And that’s all we know about the writing session, but the only other info we have is from Peter Asher (Peter and Gordon, plus he’s Jane’s brother) who shared the story that Paul asked him to come down and listen to them play the song after they finished it. It must have been nice to be there for that!

CM: I know, the very first person to hear the song played anywhere!

UK TV debut of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Late Scene Extra, November 1963–sadly it’s lip-synched, but an interesting clip anyway)

Click here to purchase Allan’s E-Book Got That Something

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