Anna and I have enjoyed watching Peter Jackson’s epic 6+ hour Beatle documentary. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it felt like to be a fly on the wall during the songwriting process with the fab four, then this is your ticket. The setup for the recording session, which would eventually result in Let It Be and the Apple Records rooftop concert, is unusual: the band would have just two weeks to come up with a full set of new songs while a camera crew would film their every move. Here is a list of 14 songwriting tips I’ve observed:
Set a showtime
The Beatles had a show booked for 30 January 1969 regardless of what happened. Hard constraints like a launch date streamline the creative process.
Start with what you know
Early on in the sessions, new ideas are scarce so they start playing old songs and reworking them.
Treat it like a job
It’s interesting to watch an incredible group of musician struggle. What’s the cure for this struggle and frustration? Keep showing up.
Have a space (but it doesn’t have to be ideal)
The warehouse where the session takes place is anything but ideal for the task at hand. Bad acoustics, no recording equipment (they bring in George’s home setup at one point), and never ending array of people walking in and out.
Ideas come from everywhere
At one point Harrison is talking about how he was watching tv the night before and a ballroom dancing scene had a classical number in 3/4. He harnessed this inspiration to write I, Me, Mine.
There is no magic
Bring in an outsider
Inviting in Billy Preston gave fresh perspective to the session.
No idea is too crazy
Paul jokingly mentions that they should play the concert outside of Parliament while getting arrested. Eventually this transformed to playing on the rooftop resulting in one of the most well known concerts ever.
It probably goes without saying but arm-chair quarterbacks without skin in the game are a burden to the process. Sorry Yoko.
Know your role
It’s incredible to see the team dynamics throughout the songwriting process between Paul (the leader), John (the moody artist), George (the craftsman/role player), and Ringo (the solid rock). Everybody has a job and something to bring to the table.
Stay at home
The producers are always pushing for a bigger audience and more exotic location (traveling to Trippoli, etc) but the band rightfully stay local where they are comfortable.
Minimize the noise
Embrace happy accidents
During a run-through of a song, John mistakes a scribbled word on a lyric sheet for another. The result was more interesting and flowed better in the song.
If you are interesting in music history, the craft of songwriting, the Beatles, or late sixties fashion, I highly recommend checking out Get Back over on Disney+. It can be a bit of a slog at times but there are some real gems sprinkled throughout. Cheers!
I enjoyed hearing your insights! So true for other creative endeavors. The process is often quite satisfying in its own right. :)