"The Quarrymen" were John Lennon's first band, and the earliest manifestation of The Beatles. The following are Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On" the Quarrymen sessions.
Notes on the Quarrymen Sessions (QMEN.1)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
- The two unofficially released collections attributed to the Quarrymen, "Liverpool 1960" and "The Quarrymen At Home", are, with the exception of the legendary shellac demo of "That'll Be The Day" b/w "In Spite Of All The Danger," the earliest extant recordings of the Pre-Beatles, and as such, they offer a rare glimpse into the repertoire and the musical capabilities of the group in its formative years.
- I have had a hot spot for these recordings, especially the so-called "At Home" collection of songs, ever since I first heard them in late 1989. To the extent I subsequently entertained a secret fear that they might not be authentic, I was quite cheered in November 1995 to hear the short excerpt of "I'll Always Be In Love With You" included in the first TV installment of the Anthology, not to mention the appearance of three more tracks from the collection officially released in the Anthology's first audio volume. It was an ultimate, implicit seal of authentication :-)
- This article, an updated and corrected version of one that originally appeared in Doug Sulpy's "Illegal Beatles #17," is an examination of the musical vocabulary found in these Quarrymen recordings, in terms of such things as song forms, chord progressions, riffs, and keys. But first, we'll offer a general overview of the sound quality, the performances, and the repertoire.
The Sound Quality
- These recordings are not for the faint of heart in the high fidelity department. The sound is generally grainy, too closeup, with a tad too much reverb, and occasional dropouts. Many of the tracks fade-in and it's impossible to know (without another source) if this was done during the original recording or the mastering of these collections. It's obvious that these recordings were made under amateur conditions, with primitive "home" equipment, and that the master tapes have not have been especially well taken care of over the years.
- Of course, to accentuate the positive, it's altogether a miracle that these tapes have survived at all and we are truly lucky to have this access to the musically humble origins of your Own Sweet Boys. Speaking as one who has lately been pledging his time to these records, I can vouch that with some effort and motivation, your ears can get beyond the sonic limitations; after which point, I might add, even the most scratched up, and poorly-but-professionally produced pieces of vinyl in your collection will sound pristinely digital by comparison.
- Similarly, while these Quarrymen performances are historically fascinating and often quite entertaining, they also tend toward the frequently sloppy and the more than just occasionally unremarkable.
- There used to be some controversy over the exact provenance of these recordings which has thankfully been dispelled by the appearance of the Anthology. Let there be no more doubt: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Stu Sutcliffe are the nucleus of the group heard here, and these recordings were made on a borrowed tape recorder at Paul's home in mid 1960.
- Listening carefully, the ensemble sounds like two or three electric guitars, and an occasional bass guitar. The total absence of drums is conspicuous. When all the guitars get going, the musical texture sounds horribly thick, and this is not helped at all by the recordings which, in spite of some reverb, have no "air" about them.
- The lead guitar work tends toward an almost "slapshot" finger picking style, and the bass playing features thumping root notes. The rhythm guitar parts generally sound the most polished. The vocals are mostly solo and sound like Paul, though they are not easy to identify with certainty, partly because of the low-fi recording, but also because, compared with recordings made in '63 and later, John's voice in this period has a much less sandy quality, making him difficult sometimes to distinguish from Paul. There are also examples here of Everly Brothers-like duets, and even a few fleeting examples of backing vocal parts.
- Judging from the homogeneous sound quality and performance style which cut across the two collections under discussion, it would seem that they are from the same sessions. However, in spite of the overlap of a few tracks, it's as though we're dealing with two distinct sub-repertoires here when you review them side by side.
- The majority of the tracks on "Liverpool 1960" sound like what must have been rehearsals, or warm-up improvisations. One after another, we are treated to long, rambling instrumental improvisations in 12-bar blues form with nary an attempt at a recognizable riff, theme, tune, or even a decent solo guitar line longer than two or three measures long. To be charitable, one might say that this collection shows some groping towards what would ultimately surface later as "Twelve Bar Original". Definitely, this is the more "challenging" of the two collections, and it is unlikely to get much repeated play by any but the most determined. Surely, you'd never guess where this group was going to wind up in less than 3 years on the basis of this set of tracks alone.
- "Quarrymen At Home" contains mostly full run-throughs of real songs, and as such, is much more palatable. Compared with "Liverpool 1960", this collection demonstrates more careful playing, more of an attempt to perform a worked-out arrangement. The repertoire, which includes both covers and originals, continues to feature many songs built on 12-bar blues forms, but there is some particularly interesting material to be found here which breaks this mold.
- The Quarrymen song list makes for an interesting comparison with the other pre-EMI compilations. On the one hand, the Quarrymen were already performing songs like "One After 909" and "I'll Follow the Sun" , yet most of the other material in these collections seems to have fallen out of their repertoire by the time of the Star Club tapes and the Decca audition. Conversely, the long list of oldies which appear not only at the Star Club and Decca, but even survive into the BEEB and EMI period (e.g., "Money", "Twist and Shout", etc.) seem curiously absent from this repertoire of the Quarrymen.
- Beyond the specific songs, the performances on this collection convey a spirit and sense of trying hard, as well as a sharp campy wit that comes straight through the mediocre sound and loose performances. In the final result, this may be the prime source of enjoyment for the typical listener.
- The classic 12-bar blues form is the single most prevalent compositional technique to be found in the repertoire of the Quarrymen. Since the term will come up frequently in the remainder of this article, I offer the following example, in the key of A Major for those who are unfamiliar with it.
- A piece may be said to be in 12-bar blues form when most, if not all of its subsections (or what I call "frames" for lack of a better term) conform to the following 12-bar pattern:
|A |- |- |- | A: I |D |- |A |- | IV I |E |D |A |- | V IV I
- Salient characterstics to note are the use of only three different chords, and the way the harmonic rhythm steadily increases over the course of the three phrases. Although this example is in a major key, the same scheme often appears in the minor mode.
- Several common variations of this basic scheme can be identified. Though a complete taxonomy of them is outside the scope of this article, a few examples are worth considering; e.g. presenting all three chords as dominant 7ths, using minor chords for i and iv, and placing a V chord in the 12th measure.
- Pieces of music in 12-bar form sort out into two major categeories:
- A "Jam" is for instruments without any vocals, is essentially improvisatory, likely consists of more than just 5 or 6 frames, and does not literally repeat any of its material in a subsequent frame.
- A "Song" not only usually has vocals, but more importantly, superimposes one of the standard song forms (e.g. verses punctuated by one or two bridges, or verses alternating with a refrain) on top of the series of otherwise uninterrupted 12-bar frames. Mssrs. Berry, Penniman, Perkins, and Williams were past masters of this technique with whom the Beatles, judging from their later choice of officially recorded cover songs, were well acquainted.
- All the instrumental tracks on "Liverpool 1960" are in the textbook 12-bar Jam form. The interesting thing is that several of the songs on "Quarrymen At Home", whether covers or originals, contain this form underneath what otherwise sounds like a more free form riff or tune; notable examples include the cover "Movin' and Groovin'" and the possible originals "Well Darling" and "You Must Write Every Day." Even a song whose theme is NOT a 12-bar blues, such as "I'll Always Be in Love With You" reverts to the blues form for the guitar solo.
- The predominance of this simple 12-bar form is so strong that it makes the exceptions to it in these collections, particularly those which are originals, the more intrugingly extraordinary. After having heard only the blues-based tracks, one is tempted to assume that their prevalence is a direct reflection of the limited musical ability of the group at this early time. But when you hear the rest of the tracks you find yourself wondering, if these chaps really knew how to play "only three chords", then how in blazes did they manage to pick up "by ear" from the recording, the chord progressions for something like "Halleleujah, I Love Her So", no less compose a song like "Hello Little Girl"!
- What follows below is a discussion of every track in both Quarrymen collections as an aid to further detailed study.
1. Blues Instrumental #1 Key: G Form: 12-bar
This is as characterstic as any of the other instrumentals in this collection. It gets off to a rhythmically disorganized start, and once it gets going, rambles on with little attempt at establishing a memorable (or even recognizable) theme or riff. One 12-bar frame follows another with little sense of direction or momentum.
Repeated listening reveals several mannerisms in the guitar work. The lead guitarist (George ?) has a finger picking style and seems partial toward repeating fast little four-note motives over different chord changes. The bass guitar, when present has an irritating thumping quality, playing only root notes in a straight four-in-the-bar rhythm; this must be Sutcliffe. The rhythm guitarist has a nice way of chromatically "sliding" his way into the IV chord and seems partial towards triplet rhythms, both slow and fast; I rather suspect this player to be Lennon, because of his demonstrated penchant in later Beatles tunes for stringing slow triplets as a cross rhythm to an underlying beat. The question remains as to what instrumental part is played by Paul. It's possible that there is a third guitar part in there, but the sound quality makes it difficult to know for sure.
In this otherwise unrelieved sea of blue, you'll probably note both the isolated tape glitches, as well as the "dramatic" pause shortly before the end.
2. Blues Instrumental #2 Key: F Form: 12-bar
Similar to #1 above right down to the false start and the tape glitches. The thumping bass is even more evident here than in the previous cut and its beat isn't always steady.
This time, there is an attempt in two widely scattered places in the piece to develop some riffs of fast, but rhythmically stilted sixteenth notes. Also, the finger picking lead work is given some rest in favor of some attempt at a more chordal style. The track eventually ends with a sloppy breakdown.
3. Rock Instrumental #1 Key: G Form: 12-bar
Someone wrily pointed out that this is probably called "Rock" instead of "Blues" because the tempo is slightly faster. Otherwise, more of the same: still trouble getting into a groove at first, more slapshot finger picking, and more thumping bass notes.
I do believe there is a bit more of an attempt here to establish some faintly recognizable riffs which repeat periodically throughout the piece; one in particular reminds me vaguely of either "Dixie Land" or "I Feel Fine", of all things.
4. Blues Instrumental #3 Key: F Form: 12-bar
For all its similarity to the preceding cuts, this one starts with a deliberately slow tempo and seems to intentionally develop some momentum over its course. In addition, the guitar work seems less aimlessly noodling, and attempts to build longer lines.
Other points of interest include intermittment singing, whooping, hissing noises, and an unidentified stage whisper warning one of the players to not play too loud.
5. Blues Vocal #1 Key: d Form: 12-bar
The texture on this track is even muddier than elsewhere. The backing instrumental is still thumping bass, triplet rhythm guitar, and finger picking lead. The vocal is tantalizingly unintelligible, and there is just a hint of a backing voice as well.
Somewhere in the middle, a single line of lyrics peeps through the haze -- "I don't need no cigarette boy; I prefer seein' what you got." Of course it's totally out of context, but in a funny way, it almost reminds me of Dylan.
6. Blues Vocal #2 Key: F Form: 12-bar
This is very similar to the preceding track in that while there is singing, the words are unintelligible and the voice part sounds more like an improvisation than a tune. There is a second backing vocal which appears late in the track which sounds totally independent of, as opposed to arranged together with, the lead.
Again, lyric fragments intermittently stick out -- "She don't want to see me; I don't know what I'm gonna do" and some "I don't know" raving at the end.
7. Movin' And Groovin' Key: D Form: 12-bar Song
This is the Quarrymen covering a Duane Eddy instrumental. It's rough around the edges and has a discordant bite to it, but there's also a pleasant, driving feel underneath it all. It makes for a particularly amusing in comparision with the original which features an alternately silky and growling tenor sax in the lead part.
The music here is quite grounded in the 12-bar blues form with a repeating riff-like section that alternates with several improvisational solos. Interestingly, if you compare the Quarrymen version with Eddy's, you find that they do not exactly follow the original's pattern of refrain and solos; they also play it in a D, while the original is in E.
There is a second section here which continues with some random blues jamming in the key of A. Though this track is repeated on the "Quarrymen At Home", this latter section is greatly truncated there.
8. Blues Instrumental #4 Key: A Form: 12-bar Jam
This track is not very different from its cousins. The rhythm guitar gets more of a share of the spotlight here than elsewhere and employs both fast tremelo strumming, and bent notes which are not part of the underlying chords. There even seems to be some conscious effort at trying to make the individual 12-bar frames more distinct from each other by starting each one off with a slightly different riff or theme. The problem is that these "themes" are neither sufficiently distinctive, nor are they followed through with consistent enough development to pull the whole thing off.
As with some of the other instrumentals, there is a definite attempt to build momentum over the length of the track. There is also yet another rough ending.
9. Blues Instrumental #5 Key: F Form: 12-bar Jam
Several of these blues instrumentals are long, but this one is the longest by far, coming in at over seventeen minutes.
Curiously, the sound quality on this track is noticeably better than the others, being less distorted and with a less thick texture. The the musical performance, however, is comparable to the other instrumentals with some minor variations if you listen carefully. For example, the thumping bass uses some dotted note rhythm this time, and the lead guitar does some extended runs in even eighth notes. The most prominent musical feature though, is the repeated, dramatic use of slow triplets as a cross rhythm to the beat in the rhythm guitar; awfully tempting to hear anticipations of "We Can Work it Out".
At the appropriate moment, a voice cries out "That's the end."
10. Wildcat Key: D Form: NOT 12-bar
This is an incomplete version of the Gene Vincent song consisting of the first two verses, a bridge, and one more verse before being cut off just where the guitar solo would be. A more complete (and somewhat tighter) performance of this can be found on "Quarrymen at Home." In any event, we have a fairly good early example here of the McCartney vocal style.
Interestingly, when you compare this version to the original you find on the one hand that the words are different as though Paul seems to only half remember them. However, the words on this version of "Wildcat" and the other Quarrymen version more or less match, leading one to believe that if Paul half-remembered them, at least he was half remembering them consistently! Again, the Quarrymen opt for playing this cover in a different key than the original; Vincent plays it in E.
The verse form is deceptive; sounding very much like 12-bar because of its I-IV-V-IV chord progression, but it turns out to be an 8-bar frame.
11. Hallelujah, I Love Her So Key: A Form: NOT 12-bar
Another cover with Paul doing Eddie Cochran doing Ray Charles. The fact that the Quarrymen lyrics here follow Cochran's changes (right down to all those "Eddy baby"s) shows which version is being imitated. In spite of the slavish imitation, this version contains a repeat of the break not found in Cochran's recording. Also, the Quarrymen do it in A major while Cochran plays it in G.
The vocal performance is good though the instrumental backing continues in the rough, sometimes unsteady style of the instrumentals of this collection. The guitar solo here is particularly raucous if you can dig it.
The form is a two-bridge model with two middle verses, one of which is a guitar solo, and a three-times-you're-out (3X) outro.
NOTE: this track also appears on "Quarrymen At Home" and Anthology, volume 1.
12. One After 909 (No. 1) Key: B Form: NOT 12-bar
This track is a complete and fully worked out (albeit early and rough around the edges) version of the famous Lennon and McCartney original and is one of the highlights of the entire set. There are a number of interesting observations to be made.
The vocal arrangement is astonishingly close to the version(s) performed several years later by The Beatles; an Everly Brothers-like duet in the verses, and John singing solo in the bridge.
The form here is, yet again, the two-bridge model with two middle verses, one of which is a guitar solo. The Beatles version from '63 (which has appeared on URT and Sessions among other places) features only one bridge. Interestingly though, the Beatles version from '69 for Get Back/Let it Be has the repeat of the bridge restored.
The later Beatles versions both have complete endings, while this Quarrymen take has a repeat of the last phrase into a fade out.
One final minor, but intriguing point -- the Quarrymen and Beatles appear to have ALWAYS played this song in the key of B major. This consistency over a period of some nine years is curious. Against a backdrop of so many songs played in just a handful of keys, the unusual choice of B (with its 5 sharps) stands out as all the more unusual.
NOTE: this track also appears on "Quarrymen At Home".
13. I'll Always Be In Love With You Key: A Form: NOT 12-bar
The Quarrymen cover Jack Pleis (or the Ravens, or both.) This is actually quite a nice performance featuring, in context of the rest of this collection, a rather tastefully restrained backing instrumental; note the triplet figures in the guitar part.
Even though this is not an original, it's interesting to note how the most salient detail in the music here is the use of the chromatically descending inner voice and the "minor iv" chord in a major key. Both of these items were to later become distinctive elements in the harmonic vocabulary of the Beatles.
Interestingly, though the verse of this song is not a 12-bar blues, the music momentarily shifts into that form for the guitar solo.
The form is a two bridge model with one verse plus a 12-bar frame for guiar solo in the middle.
NOTE: this track also appears on "Quarrymen At Home". A snippet of it appears in the first volume of the Anthology video.
14. You'll Be Mine Key: A Form: NOT 12-bar
A strange song and another one of the highlights of the set. The vocal arrangement features an intentionally campy baritone solo in the verse, an equally campy backing falsetto starting in the second verse, and most astonishing, a spoken overdub during the bridge.
If you listen carefully, during the bridge you can hear (what I imagine to be) a tape recorder being turned on with someone intoning in an artificially slowed down voice, and then the tape recorder turned off. In other words, a primitive double tracking/special effect! Either that, or they're playing some kind of trick with a special microphone.
Furthermore, the self-parody lyrics in this bridge ("My darling, when you brought that toast the other morning ...") are incredibly more reminiscent of the horsing around of the "White Album" or "Get Back" periods than the early Beatles. There is wild laughing at the very end of this track, if you have any question about the humorous intention.
The form is the single bridge model with no guitar solo section.
NOTE: this track also appears on "Quarrymen At Home" and Anthology, volume 1.
QUARRYMEN AT HOME:
- Hallelujah I Love Her So
- I'll Always Be In Love With You
- You'll Be Mine NOTE: the above four tracks are identical to tracks 11 - 14 on "Liverpool 1960."
5. Matchbox Key: A Form: 12-bar Song
This track contains an incomplete version of the blues-derived, Carl Perkins favorite but commences with a confusing few seconds of introduction. The music is at first in an uncertain tempo and key compared to what follows, and the eventual segue into Matchbox is abrupt. It's almost as though the track were mastered with the source tape ramping up to speed, or perhaps, the Matchbox performance was spliced in from another tape.
This version contains only two verses and breaks down during the guitar solo. The backing arrangement is one of the more nicely restrained ones in this collection. Someone has suggested that George is the singer though it's difficult to be certain.
Having recently heard the original on the radio, I do believe that the Quarrymen (as well as the Beatles, later on) play this in the same key as Perkins.
6. Wildcat Key: D Form: NOT 12-bar
Though similar to "Liverpool 1960" track 6, this is a more complete and tighter performance which includes two bridges and a guitar solo. The form here follows the Vincent single exactly, and is a two bridge model with two middle verses, one of which is a guitar solo.
7. Some Days Key: G Form: NOT 12-bar
The use of a dominant seventh tonic chord (a "I7") lends a distinctive flavor to this song. There are four verses separated in the middle by a combination bridge and guitar solo. The rhythm accompaniment is noticeably sloppier on this track than elsewhere, and the bridge phrase is an awkward odd number of measures. One nice touch is the return of the solo guitar work at the end.
8. Cayenne Key: d Form: 12-bar Jam
This is a straightforward 12-bar blues instrumental in the key of d minor, but compared to the slew of rehearsals on "Liverpool 1960", this track contains some serious attempts at developing long melodic lines and, while not entirely consistent, makes a hauntingly beautiful impression.
The form consists of six full 12-bar frames, each of which introduces somewhat new material. Not all the ideas are equally interesting or well developed but this track is still a quantum leap over the "Blues Instrumental" series on the previous collection.
NOTE: this track also appears on Anthology, volume 1.
9. I'll Follow The Sun Key: G Form: NOT 12-bar
This is an astonishingly almost-but-not-quite version of the song which would later appear on the "Beatles For Sale" album. The form presented here is essentially the same as the later version, but the music varies quite a bit at the detailed level. For example, the key here is G, the later version is in C; the bridge sections here conclude with a brief guitar solo which is absent in the later version.
The form is a two-bridge model with two middle verses, one of which is a guitar solo, and a 3X ending.
The most intruiging difference between the two versions is in the relationship of the harmony and melody of the verse, a detailed study of which is outside the scope of this article. In a nutshell, there is something about this version which makes the melody not sit quite snugly atop the chords; as I say, worth further study.
10. One After 909 (2nd version) Key: B Form: NOT 12-bar
Though the arrangement here is the same as is found in track 2 of this collection, this is a different take which is incompletely recorded, fading in quite late, near the end of the first bridge.
The ending here is quite interesting. The other Quarrymen version fades out with the final phrase being repeated many times over, and the later Beatles versions all have a complete endings with this final phrase thrice repeated. Here we have a combination play -- six repetitions going into a fade, with a last minute complete ending (just when you've given up hope.)
11. Well, Darling Key: D Form: 12-bar
This song contains two distinct sections -- a refrain and a verse -- both of which are 12-bar blues based, and it is by the use of rhythm and the vocal arrangement that they are differentiated.
The refrain features a flowing rhythm and an Everly Brothers-like vocal duet. The verse has a halting rhythm and a vocal solo (the second one of which particularly sounds like the young John.)
Other interesting details include the pervasive use of a dominant seventh chord on the tonic (as seen before in "Some Days"), the thumping bass intro, and the "ouch, ooh" busking behind the guitar solo. In spite of the otherwise flowing rhythm in the refrain, some of the 12-bar frames sound like an occasional measure is missing leading to a slight limping impression.
12. You Must Write Every Day Key: F Form: 12-bar
This song is formally and melodically similar to the preceding "Well Darling". Both have a refrain/verse form in which both sections are 12-bar blues based, and both contain heavy use of the dominant seventh tonic chord. In this song, we also have another nice McCartney vocal.
There are, by the way, some tape dropout problems on this track.
13. Movin' and Groovin' Key: D Form: 12-bar Song
This is a less complete copy of the same peformance to be found on "Liverpool 1960" track 7. Here, the second section in A major is quickly faded out.
14. That's When Your Heartaches Begin Key: C Form: NOT 12-bar
The Quarrymen here cover Elvis, covering the Ink Spots.
This sounds like an incomplete recording, fading in mid-verse, and continuing with a bridge section and only one more verse; it's possible that there was a first verse which is entirely missing.
The glottal Elvis imitation of the lead vocal plus the "wah-wah" backing vocal make me wonder if this is might have been intended as a parody instead of a cover, in the same vein as "You'll Be Mine."
This song is not in strict blues form, however, there is a fine example of the minor iv chord present in the verse here.
15. Hello Little Girl Key: G Form: NOT 12-bar
This is another one of the major highlights of the entire Quarrymen sessions because in both form and arrangement it is the least 12-bar blues-like, and also perhaps the most Beatles-like of all.
The tempo here is much slower and more gentle than the Decca version, though the verse is similar in structure, right down to the parallel thirds of the vocal duet. The harmonically contrasting bridge section here is the big surprise; the Decca version in contrast uses the chord progression of the verse unrelieved, throughout. Considering that "One After 909" appears to have always been played in the same key over a nine year period, it's interesting to note that the Quarrymen play "Hello Little Girl" in G, while the Beatles play it in B flat.
The form features a slightly unusual the Verse/Refrain pattern:
Intro -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Solo -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro
16. The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise Key: D Form: NOT 12-bar
This track has never appeared in print as part of either collection under study, but is included here because from the sound of it, it is likely from the same sessions.
The song is built out of four repetitions of the same verse section, the third of which features a tremelo rhythm guitar solo with some vocal backing. Harmonically, this track contains a pair of chords not found elsewhere in these sessions: flat-VI and a diminished 7th.
The beat seems a bit unsteady throughout here, and near the beginning of the solo, the music comes very close to breaking down.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
And finally, The Keys
- The following chart shows the distribution of keys in the tracks under discussion (not including duplicates), and I believe it speaks for itself:
Key Number of songs in that key --- --------------------------- A 5 G 5 F 5 D 4 d 2 C 1 B 1
- The clear preference for the keys of A, G, F and D is notable, as well as the fact that d is the only minor key chosen.
- With respect to the choice of key for the new "Free As A Bird", is it really a coincidence that three of the four tracks from these sessions that appear in the Anthology are also in the key of A? And that one of them makes prominent use of the minor iv chord in a Major key?
- Keep your sense of humor :-)
Regards, Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org) --- "Of course they're grotty, you wretched nit, that's why they were designed, but that's what you'll want." 031900#197.1 --- Revision History 010590 197.0 Original publication in _IB_, #17, Sprint 1990. 031300 197.1 Expand, correct, and adapt to series template Copyright (c) 2000 by Alan W. Pollack All Rights Reserved