What does Get Back teach us about Leadership and Creative Collaboration?

It’s January 3, 1969 and Paul McCartney has found himself with an unwelcome list of roles in the Beatles’ latest project: producer, timekeeper, manager, arranger and band leader. He needs to delegate some of that responsibility but crucially, no one is reaching out for the baton.

Within the first 30 minutes of the film, we discover that Paul is the point man for Michael Lindsay Hogg (the Director), Glyn Johns (the Engineer) and Denis O’Dell (head of Apple Films). The film and music production heads confer with Paul about the recording equipment they need, the sound quality at Twickenham, and the proposed television special (Michael Lindsay-Hogg is continually pitching his ideas on this subject to Paul). McCartney then has the responsibility of disseminating this information to the other Beatles at his own discretion, based on what he perceives as their level of interest.

When it comes to the actual writing and rehearsing of the songs, Paul assumes the role of bandleader, but now he is in triage. His co-leader arrives exhausted, struggling with a heroin habit and without much new material. The partnership of Lennon/McCartney is the backbone of the Beatles, and Paul knows it. As half of that songwriting team, he gives most of his attention and energy to John. Unless he does that, John will drift and lose enthusiasm. Together John and Paul can reliably turn their half-baked ideas into hits, but to do that they need to connect and focus on each other.

At the same time, Paul needs to teach the songs to the rest of the band and reign things in when they go off course. This involves a great deal of balance, sensitivity and judgment. He must allow all the players the freedom to experiment, be flexible when things diverge into a potentially productive direction, back off on the instruction when the other players have adequately learned their parts and simultaneously curtail digressions that will lead them off-track.

It’s a delicate and daunting task at any time, but it’s made nearly impossible by the particular circumstances. George Harrison, in January 1969, was experiencing major personal problems outside the studio; his marriage was in crisis and there is a domestic situation that involves Eric Clapton (a name George brings up repeatedly during the early sessions).  In addition to the domestic problems, George is also arriving with a fair amount of resentment towards McCartney (and Lennon/McCartney) for his marginalization within the band.

Lesson 1: Delegate

It’s most constructive for teams to delegate roles and divide the labor fairly;  this ensures that one member is not left juggling too many obligations (which can lead to feeling overwhelmed and lost productivity).  It can also help team members negotiate what they need and want from each other and the project, so it’s more likely that all parties will feel satisfied along the way.

Furthermore, it’s extremely difficult to manage a project on top of being a creative member of the band. Both activities take up a large amount of mental and emotional bandwidth. It’s clear that becoming overwhelmed with the bulk of the creative and logistical responsibilities foisted upon him was a major contributor to McCartney’s occasional impatience with Harrison (and, to a lesser extent, Lennon). In exchange, he was asking for enthusiasm and support from his bandmates, because it was required in order for this project to take off and be seen through to fruition.

Because McCartney mostly handled the extra responsibility competently, the others may have assumed that it was easy for him, when it clearly wasn’t, causing him to feel frustrated and overwhelmed (“I get no support” he complains).  A little grace and acknowledgement from the others may have gone a long way towards diffusing difficult confrontations.

DAY 2

On Day 2 of rehearsals (January 3rd), When the band works on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (38 minutes in), Paul defers to Harrison and relinquishes the role of bandleader. McCartney mostly stays quiet and awaits Harrison’s instructions, but Harrison quickly abandons the song and insteads uses his moment at the helm to talk. McCartney wants to play rather than talk, but he listens respectfully without contributing much. Harrison repeatedly expresses a lack of self-confidence, at one point praising Clapton’s skill at “improvising and keeping it going, which I’m not good at.” Harrison continues that getting the solo to take on a “pattern” and resolve itself is “very hard.”

“That’s jazz” McCartney offers gently, but Harrison immediately disagrees. Paul says basically nothing more, allows George to steer the conversation and eventually All Things Must Pass is abandoned for the moment. 

McCartney’s hands-off approach when it comes to All Things Must Pass may be seen as “indifference” or “dismissiveness” by some, but it is an act of deference to the band member whose song they are learning. McCartney is aware that he can easily influence a song’s development and that Harrison is eager to prove himself and be respected as a songwriter, so Paul’s decision to remain in the background here reads like an acknowledgement of this.

Day 3

On Day 3 of the project, January 6, 1969, the band is rehearsing Two of Us, and the infamous “I can play whatever you want me to play” conversation (hereafter referred to as the “Orange Sweater Fight”) takes place.

During the “On our way home,” run of the song, John is singing, and George is working out a guitar riff.  Paul points out, “See we’re all gonna have to sort of bring together, ‘cause we’re all at odds.”

This begins a conversation in which Paul tries to communicate to George that he thinks it would work more efficiently to work on fleshing out the basic structure of the song before adding embellishments.  

Paul was trying to offer a workable solution and way forward, since they only had four of the 14 total songs they needed in total to complete the project.  His idea to maintain flow and efficiency was that the band could simply work out the bare bones of the numbers they had, without adding embellishments.  Then, once they had the bare structure of the songs set to where they were happy with them, they could go back and work on finer details.  This conversation seems to be interpreted by George as Paul dictating to George what to play and not being flexible enough to accommodate the way he works best.  Given the reality of the time constraints they were under, it seems instead that Paul was simply trying to float a more efficient way to work out the skeleton of the songs first.  

Lesson Two: Show Sensitivity

When faced with too much responsibility and pressure, a typical response by workaholics is often to “just work harder.” Grinding it out seems to be the only practical and logical way forward. This usually yields the most results, and in Paul’s case, as a highly creative and inspired person, usually the best results. To people who are accustomed to barreling forward and knocking down obstacles, the idea of breaking momentum can seem highly objectionable, counterintuitive and even frightening.

But most people when faced with too much pressure tend to fold or disengage. In this instance, it seems Harrison needed a space to vent his feelings and voice his concerns. What he required to maximize his creativity was special attention from his bandmates to feel like both a useful member of the team and a valued member of the family.

“It’s gotta just drive along like a car,” John says to Paul while rehearsing Two of Us shortly after the George and Paul tiff. What Paul and John couldn’t see at the time is that rather than push the car forward, at that moment they needed to veer left. If the band had taken a break from rehearsing to find out what was bothering George, it’s possible that things could’ve played out much differently. Although derailing the Beatles’ progress wasn’t the first instinct of this vigorous, prolific, fast-paced band – especially when under such tight deadlines- an hour or two to reconnect as friends and talk things through in a non-musical environment might’ve made all the difference. Sometimes a break actually yields better long-term results than relentlessly grinding away.

Day 5

On January 8th, Harrison brings in his newest song, I Me Mine (which ultimately ends up on the Let it Be LP).  George plays the song for Paul and Ringo as soon as McCartney arrives for the day while they informally stand around waiting for Lennon to arrive. “It’s lovely” says Lindsay-Hogg, but McCartney and Starr merely listen. Neither is particularly exuberant, but both are respectful.

When Lennon arrives, Harrison plays the song again, with more passion this time, as the four bandmates stand in a tight circle. Lennon offers some sarcastic commentary before finally offering his condescending assessment: “Run along, son. We’ll see you later. We’re a rock n’ roll band, you know.” George’s response is succinct: “I don’t care if you don’t want it. I don’t give a fuck”

Lennon’s nasty comment undoubtedly contributed to Harrison’s plummeting self-esteem within the group and his simmering resentments towards both Lennon and and the Lennon/McCartney team. Nevertheless, the band proceeds to work on I Me Mine later that day (while Lennon waltzes with Yoko Ono). It eventually ends up on the Let it Be LP, with no contributions whatsoever from Lennon.

Day 7

When George abruptly walks off set and (temporarily) quits the band two days later, no one is especially surprised, least of all John and Paul.

When the three remaining band members reconvene the following Monday, the three men have lunch together with Yoko and Linda. John and Paul discuss the underlying issues of George’s departure and how they should proceed (Although Jackson’s film claims that John and Paul are speaking privately, this is certainly not the case, as Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman and Ringo can all be heard contributing to the conversation in the original tapes).

The problem is quickly diagnosed (“It’s a festering wound that we allowed to go on” Lennon proclaims and McCartney readily agrees); the solution takes a bit more work. Lennon tries to articulate the problem of Paul’s creative control from Harrison’s point of view as well as his own (“That’s what we do to him and that’s what you do to me,” he says of McCartney’s intimidating approach). Lennon makes the additional point that although he is equally guilty of marginalizing George for the sake of Lennon/McCartney, he has become more aware of his behavior in the past year and has begun trying to stop it.

McCartney listens and acknowledges Lennon’s feedback before proposing that John step up and be the boss again. Jackson transcribes McCartney as saying “You have always been boss” (“you have always been at the front of the chute” he says in the original tapes) and although Lennon disagrees with this statement, McCartney seems to have identified part of the problem. Although both Lennon and McCartney are guilty of marginalizing Harrison and unconsciously (or consciously) teaming up against him, the simple fact is that Harrison responds better to Lennon’s authority than McCartney’s. For parents, where oversight is shared and roles are flexible according to circumstances, this is a familiar strain: You need to talk to him, he won’t listen to me.

Paul then gives Lennon an extensive, confidence-building pep talk before lunchtime is over. From this point on, it does seem that Lennon takes on more of a leadership role in the creation of Get Back. 

Lesson Three: Be Clear and Consistent

If we view Lennon as the leader in this situation, it should be evident that insulting a team member’s song right out of the gate is not advisable to long-term morale.

If we view McCartney as the leader in this situation, what do we take away? McCartney had no reaction to the brittle exchange between Lennon and Harrison; instead he worked with Harrison to help shape the song, both in rehearsals and afterwards in the studio a year later. Nevertheless, McCartney is often blamed for being “unsupportive” of Harrison’s songs.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, perhaps it’s that sometimes the demands and expectations of others are impossible to control. The fact that Harrison continued to direct his anger and resentment at McCartney rather than Lennon (who he continued to pursue as an ally even after treatment like that described above) suggests a no-win situation for McCartney. The fact that Paul’s polite but tepid reaction to I Me Mine is typically viewed more critically than Lennon’s hostile one reveals a great deal about who we believe wields the most creative power in the band as well as our expectations about both men’s behavior.

Leadership between Lennon and McCartney was fluid throughout the Beatles, alternating in accordance with the circumstances and demands of a particular situation. But leadership occasionally needs to be clearly defined, even if only in a temporary, situational capacity.  

In the “Orange Sweater fight” with George, Lennon remained effectively silent until McCartney finally called him out directly (“YOU know I’m right”) at which point John finally stepped in with an opinion. Similarly, McCartney allowed Lennon to first insult and then contribute nothing musically to I Me Mine.

Although George’s marginalization at the hands of Lennon/McCartney is the biggest problem here, Lennon/McCartney nevertheless need to be on the same page in terms of how they are going to manage the sessions. Partners need to agree on a division of responsibility and then back each other up. 


Interested in listening to the unedited audio tapes from Get Back session?
Check out this blog: https://amoralto.tumblr.com/getback

AKOM Presents the Get Back Pregame Show!

Peter Jackson’s long-awaited documentary series Get Back launches on Disney Plus in just 3 days (November 25, 2021)! Join Phoebe, Daphne, and Thalia for a deeply analytical, level-headed, and definitely not hysterical countdown to this groundbreaking event in Beatledom! They discuss the Get Back book, teasers, remixes, and other advance media. Also discussed are such hard-hitting questions as “What are George’s opinions on cat food?” and “WTF is it about McBeardy, anyway?” CW: Even more swearing than usual; gratuitous d*ck jokes.

Listen Here.

AKOM presents: Pizza and Fairytales

Episode 2: Heart like a Wheel

In our second installment of Pizza & Fairytales we discuss how Yoko draws Paul into her mind games with John. Highlights of Paul’s ensuing visit to John in LA include the Toot ‘n’ Snore jam session and a peculiar Polaroid message sent to Jann Wenner.

Back in New York, John gives his last ever concert performance and the Beatles are finally, legally dissolved. Afterwards, Paul invites John to a rendezvous in New Orleans, setting the stage for a possible Lennon-McCartney reunion.

listen here

AKOM PRESENTS: Pizza and Fairytales
A new 4-part series on Lennon & McCartney in the 1970s!

Although the Beatles are effectively broken up by 1970, Lennon and McCartney spend the next decade proving they are anything but disengaged from one other. The magnetic push and pull between these two friends keeps them orbiting each other – sometimes smoothly, sometimes not.

Despite some rocky moments, there is an enduring desire for reunion on both sides, with John and Paul each trying to feel their way toward a mutually agreeable, new kind of partnership.

They continually communicate to each other through song, just as they have since the very beginning. Their songs give voice to feelings of regret, anger, and anguish – as well as yearning, hope, reassurance, and love.

In this series, we’ve dug deep to uncover what happened between them, what happened around them, and why they were ultimately unable to reunite.

Listen here

anotherkindofmindpod:

Female Protagonists in McCartney Songs

What can we learn about Paul McCartney from the female protagonists in his songbook? Phoebe and Thalia discuss several McCartney compositions featuring prominent female characters and identify their central themes.

Sources:
“Many Years From Now” by Barry Miles (1997)
Interview w/ Allison Anders, Bomb Magazine (1997)
Paul McCartney interview w/ Jonathan Wingate Record Collector (2008)
“Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road” (2006)
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1978)
“The Oprah Winfrey Show” (1984)
Interview w/ Paul McCartney for Billboard Magazine (2001)
Paul McCartney Interview w/ Susan Goldberg for National Geographic (2017)

PLAYLIST:
She’s Leaving Home (1967)
Jet (1973)
Blackbird (1968)
Jenny Wren (2005)
Working Women at the Top (1991)
It’s Not On (1982)
Temporary Secretary (1980)
Another Day (1971)
Penny Lane (1967)
Eleanor Rigby (1966)
Eleanor’s Dream (1984)
Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People (1975)
English Tea (2005)
Let it Be (1970)
Imprisonment, Ocean’s Kingdom (2011)
Daytime Nighttime Suffering (1979)
Mama’s Little Girl (1973)
The World You’re Coming Into (1991)
Lady Madonna (1968)
For No One (1966)

Extended Spotify Playlist: Click Here

On Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Podbean, and most other podcast platforms.

A Tumblr User Asked:

Have any of you watched the Understanding Lennon/Mccartney series on YouTube? If yes, what are your thoughts? If not, I would absolutely recommend it

Hi there!

We completely agree that Understanding Lennon/McCartney is an excellent series – all of us at AKOM have seen it and thoroughly enjoy it. We highly recommend this series and all of Breathless345’s work to our listeners!

All the best,

Thalia

New Episode!

An AKOM Toast to RAM at 50 episode

Paul and Linda McCartney’s RAM, now often referred to by many as the “first indie pop album” had its 50th birthday on May 17, 2021!  To commemorate this important milestone anniversary, join Thalia as she gives “An AKOM Toast!” to RAM at 50!  Happy #RAMiversary!

Available now on most podcast platforms!

SHOW NOTES under the cut

Playlist: 
Part 1:
RAM by Paul and Linda McCartney
Too Many People
3 Legs
Ram On
Dear Boy
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Smile Away
Heart Of The Country
Monkberry Moon Delight
Eat At Home
Long Haired Lady
Ram On
The Back Seat Of My Car

Part 2: “Indie Pop Medley”

“Prairie Fire the Wanders About” by Sufjan Stevens
“Home Again” by Michael Kiwanuka
“Will Do” by TV on the Radio
“Where Gravity is Dead,” by Laura Veirs
“The Infanta” by the Decemberists
“Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie”
“Eugene” by Arlo Parks
“Suddenly Everything Has Changed” by the Flaming Lips
“Stella Brown” by Jelani Aryeh
“The Breeze” by Dr. Dog
“Golden Days” by Whitney
“Sunrise” by Kenny Elrod
”Let’s Get Lost” by Elliot Smith
“Pass the Hours” by MorMor
“Lord Only Knows” by Beck

Part 3: Covers of RAM by various artists

“Dear Boy” cover by Death Cab for Cutie
“Too Many People” cover by Dave Depper
“The Back Seat of My Car” cover by the Damn Crystals
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” cover by Novelty Island
“Ram On” cover by Found Wandering
“Zpívám si jen tak” (Heart of the Country) cover by Martha & Tena
“Ram On” instrumental cover by They Might Be Giants
“Monkberry Moon Delight” cover by Robbers on High Street
“Ram On” cover by R. Stevie Moore

Links for RAM covers (not found on Spotify):

“Dear Boy” cover by Death Cab for Cutie: https://youtu.be/kP3z785ebdY
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” cover by Novelty Island: https://youtu.be/mtG9j1T3KcI and https://noveltyisland.bandcamp.com/track/uncle-albert-admiral-halsey-paul-linda-mccartney-cover 
“Ram On” instrumental cover by They Might Be Giants https://youtu.be/ouk7p_ambx8 
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” cover by Holly Henderson: https://youtu.be/9fKg5m5j7M4
“Monkberry Moon Delight” cover by Club Helmbreker https://youtu.be/0m7ydfWqzgk

Spotify Playlist: 

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5zX162a3FLBpmEtcIhp6sA?si=d80ac33fd1484698

Instrumental covers:

Ryohei Kanayama on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5nrctquJucCKcYLrfB4euxU4RMjeGuu8 
Marcel Lichter on YouTube: https://youtu.be/L3vQrh1Xbeg
joehlers on YouTube: https://youtu.be/mmccz9WzHZk

Recommendations and mentions:

Understanding McCartney Documentary Series by Breathless345 on YouTube: https://youtu.be/kjjqUCvHNIs 
Why Paul McCartney’s RAM is the first Indie Pop Album by Elliot Roberts on YouTube: https://youtu.be/CRZHvvYsc5w
Interview with RAM & Wings drummer Denny Seiwell celebrating Ram On! by Elliot Roberts: https://youtu.be/nx4Lgf-nmKA 
Paul McCartney – Ram (full album) REACTION by Welp Here We Are On YouTube: https://youtu.be/7XU_VpeIUl8
Mentioned: 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything by Apple TV+

Other Sources:

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan, pg 169, and “Book Review: Sticky Fingers” by Dr. Erin Torkelson Weber,  www.beatlebioreview.wordpress.com  

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie: May 7, 2020 quarantine livestream: https://youtu.be/hfLEvRY1kcA

Dave Depper of Death Cab for Cutie, The Ram Project: https://www.davedepper.com/the-ram-projec

The Damn Crystals on their Pure McCartney project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Gk4KUn-vs

“The Eternal Sunshine of Harry Styles.” Rolling Stone Magazine.  Rob Sheffield.  August 26, 2019. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/harry-styles-cover-interview-album-871568/

“My Favorite Album: Fred Armisen on Paul and Linda McCartney’s ‘RAM.’”  Under the Radar Magazine. Joshua M. Miller. Jun 22, 2020.  http://www.undertheradarmag.com/interviews/my_favorite_album_fred_armisen_on_paul_and_linda_mccartneys_ram

“Another Day: Paul McCartney’s Once-Maligned, Now-Adored ‘Ram’ at 50.”  The Ringer.  Ben Lindbergh.  May 14, 2021. https://www.theringer.com/music/2021/5/14/22435675/paul-mccartney-ram-50th-anniversary-legacy

The All McCartney Podcast.  Interview with Eirik Wangberg. http://www.allmccartneypodcast.com/episodes/2017/5/25/episode-14-pauls-norwegian-connections-fredrik-skavlan-and-eirik-the-norwegian 

Paul McCartney quotes on working with Linda McCartney as a vocalist. RAM Deluxe reissue liner notes.  Released May 2012. https://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/paul-and-linda-mccartneys-legendary-album-ram-set-for-deluxe-reissue 

 

Female Protagonists in McCartney Songs

What can we learn about Paul McCartney from the female protagonists in his songbook? Phoebe and Thalia discuss several McCartney compositions featuring prominent female characters and identify their central themes.

Sources:

Sources:
“Many Years From Now” by Barry Miles (1997)
Interview w/ Allison Anders, Bomb Magazine (1997)
Paul McCartney interview w/ Jonathan Wingate Record Collector (2008)
“Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road” (2006)
“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1978)
“The Oprah Winfrey Show” (1984)
Interview w/ Paul McCartney for Billboard Magazine (2001)
Paul McCartney Interview w/ Susan Goldberg for National Geographic (2017)

PLAYLIST:
She’s Leaving Home (1967)
Jet (1973)
Blackbird (1968)
Jenny Wren (2005)
Working Women at the Top (1991)
It’s Not On (1982)
Temporary Secretary (1980)
Another Day (1971)
Penny Lane (1967)
Eleanor Rigby (1966)
Eleanor’s Dream (1984)
Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People (1975)
English Tea (2005)
Let it Be (1970)
Imprisonment, Ocean’s Kingdom (2011)
Daytime Nighttime Suffering (1979)
Mama’s Little Girl (1973)
The World You’re Coming Into (1991)
Lady Madonna (1968)
For No One (1966)

Extended Spotify Playlist: Click Here

On Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Podbean, and most other podcast platforms.