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Fanzines and Webpages: If You've Got Trouble: how The Beatles (and Mark Lewisohn) helped me learn to love mistakes

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Like loads of people, in bands and otherwise, I learnt how to play guitar from "The Complete Beatles" songbook - you can always tell those of us who did because we can play "Bad To Me" and call an Amaj7 a C#m because that's what it says in "With A Little Help From My Friends". However, I learnt how songs actually get recorded from Mark Lewisohn's book "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions."

My copy of this massive tome is more well-thumbed than pictures of eighties Macca. It tells an alternate version of the whole Beatles story, through diligently completed forms about rushed sessions, late nights and, of course, cups of tea in the canteen during mandatory break times. I've always thought that it was meant to accompany the release of the "Sessions" album, as the design and indeed title are the same on both, although nothing online ever seems to mention any link. "Sessions" was an album of previously unreleased tracks which was very nearly released eleven years before the first "Anthology" came out, but then abandoned when EMI finally got round to telling The Beatles about it. It would thus be over a decade before we finally found out what "That Means A Lot" and "If You've Got Troubles" - songs we'd read about in both Lewisohn's book and the songbook - actually sounded like.

I got my copy of "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" from WH Smiths in Peterborough, shortly before I went away to Leicester Polytechnic to learn about beer and being in bands. This meant that, by the time my first band ("Voon") got round to writing our own songs and recording them, I had a metric tonne of recording lingo in my brain, sourced from reading "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" again and again and again. When we sat around in my friend Chris's room recording our first demo I was thus able to confidently spout on about "bouncing down" because I'd read about the Beatles doing it for Sergeant Pepper. When the Gay Irish Folk Band I mistakenly joined booked a day in a studio I was able to loftily correct their assumption that we'd have to record all the songs in order, because I'd practically memorised the debates around the sequencing of Abbey Road. Then, when I finally got into an actual studio myself to record my own music I was able to test Mark Lewisohn's often (rather grumpily) stated assertion that trying to record music when you're Not Entirely Sober results only in rubbish. It cost me ten pounds an hour, but I was happy to be able to confirm that he was entirely correct!

However, the most useful thing I learnt from "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" was the value of mistakes and accidents. A lot of the people I knew in bands back then were obsessed with getting things right, doing take after take to make the eventual recordings sound exactly like they had in their heads, but my reading of Mark Lewisohn's book told me that it didn't have to be this way. The story of the feedback at the start of "I Feel Fine" being an accident might be apocryphal, but there's page after page of The Beatles leaping on apparent mistakes and accidents and roping them into whatever they're working on at the moment. Famously "the movement you need is on your shoulder" wasn't meant to make it into the final version of "Hey Jude", but they also absorbed things like the use of backwards sounds, or recording in different rooms, or even little oddities like the creaking chair at the end of "The Day In The Life". Sometimes it's the simplest errors that bring the most pleasure - for instance, I always listen out for Paul (I think it's Paul) getting his "This Boy" and "That Boy" messed up in the backing vocals of that song. It might have been left in because there was no time for a retake, but hearing it there reminds everyone that the Beatles were still human, and happy for everyone to know it too.

This humanity, this happy honesty about the cock-ups and unexpected accidents along the way, is what I love most about The Beatles. They never pretended to be beyond everybody else, even though they were, and they never made out that everything they did was perfect. Embracing the errors is one of the (many) things that makes their music so engrossing, so surprising, and so loveable. Embracing the errors also turns out to be pretty good advice for life too. Sometimes it's the wrong turnings that take you somewhere that changes your life, or the missed appointment that leads to meeting someone who'll do the same.

Luckily for me, I've made a constant stream of mistakes, errors and complete cock-ups, in pubs, venues and recording studios up and down the land as well as in the privacy of my own home, and whenever I do mess something up, I like to think that, in my own small way, I'm following in the footsteps of the fab four!

Originally published in The Teatles Book #4 in July 2020.
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