Imaginary Beatles albums. Had the band not broken up in 1969/1970, what would their next album after Abbey Road have been?
Saturday, while looking for any sort of complete list of the solo #1 hits of the Beatles, I came across this article, giving the track listing by BBC Radio Merseyside’s Spencer Leigh, for an album called “Finishing School” —
- “Come and Get It”
- “Instant Karma”
- “Not Guilty”
- “Another Day”
- “My Sweet Lord”
- “Power to the People”
- “Maybe I’m Amazed”
- “It Don’t Come Easy”
- “I Live For You”
- “Baby Please Don’t Go”
- “The Lovely Linda”
And since it’s a track listing by someone with the BBC — from Liverpool, no less — surely it’s a good track listing, yes?
It’s certainly not “The Greatest Album Never Made?” as the headline suggests.
I have similar problems with “Finishing School” that I had with “God.” The album both looks forward and looks back. Which is why it doesn’t quite work.
Let’s suppose for a moment that in March or April 1970, the Beatles went into Abbey Road studios and recorded a new album. And that’s actually the problem — to get to March 1970, you have to get through August and September 1969. And that’s something that “God” doesn’t really account for (though Stephen Baxter’s story takes a stab at the idea). But it’s something that “Finishing School” takes no account of.
What’s magical about August and September 1969 is that John Lennon was breaking away from the Beatles. He was recording as “The Plastic Ono Band.” He did a concert in Toronto with Eric Clapton and Klaus Voormann. Resurrecting songs abandoned in previous sessions, holding onto songs that Lennon felt strongly about or recording songs others had already done — these weren’t likely to entice John Lennon to stay with the Beatles.
In short, “Finishing School” fails as an alt-history Beatles album. Let’s examine the track listing, and you’ll see why.
“Come and Get It.” While it’s possible that the Beatles would have done a “proper” Beatles recording of a song that McCartney wrote and produced for another band — and a song that was released before the Beatles even broke up — I very much doubt that “Come and Get It” would have been tackled in a 1970 Beatles session. There’s nothing about it that demands a Beatles recording. The Badfinger recording is already Beatles-ish. Placing this song on a 1970 Beatles album simply makes no sense.
“Instant Karma” is, frankly, a poor choice for an imaginary 1970 Beatles album. It’s not a bad song. It’s actually done tremendously well. The reason it’s a bad choice is that it is, in some respects, a fulcrum on which to turn an alternate history that leads to a 1970 Beatles album. In short, you almost need to justify why it wasn’t done as a Beatles single to keep John Lennon in the Beatles fold. Hold the song back for an album, and there’s no guarantee that Lennon wouldn’t bolt. (Things get weird when you contemplate the possibility of “Cold Turkey” as a Beatles single — if McCartney could have accepted that, then maybe “Instant Karma” as a Beatles album track is possible. Maybe.) Essentially, keeping John Lennon in the Beatles fold is the trick — and alienating John by holding a song for an album six months to a year down the road that, in real-life, he recorded and released within a fortnight, isn’t the way to go about doing it.
And “Not Guilty”? A song that the Beatles worked on — and abandoned after 102 takes — during the “White Album” sessions? Would they really come back to this two years later? However, the Beatles did come back to “The One After 909,” so it’s not impossible. But of all the songs in the George Harrison cabinet that he pulled out and worked on for All Things Must Pass, why would he skip them for this?
“Another Day” is a song that would have annoyed Lennon to no end — because in “How Do You Sleep?” he took a swipe at the song. Paul McCartney writing and suggesting this for the next album is just asking for trouble. Especially as this is a song that he would have insisted on beating into the ground, like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” This would not have been on a 1970 Beatles album. It just wouldn’t.
The pairing of “My Sweet Lord” and “God” is a nice contrast — but as I wrote when discussing “Hot As Sun,” that’s a pairing better suited to the single — “My Sweet Lord” on Side A, “God” on Side B.
We open with “Power to the People.” To be honest, this song annoys the piss out of me. I don’t hate it, but neither do I really care for it. Yes, it belongs — it calls back to “Revolution” in its first stanza — and I wonder at what a Beatles version of the song would have. Probably not the gospel-like choir in the background. Probably not the sax solo. George Harrison probably would have added some amazing guitar work. I’m actually not opposed to this making the cut.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” feels out-of-place sandwiched in-between “Power to the People” and “It Don’t Come Easy.” I don’t think there’s any way of doing a Beatles 1970 album without “Maybe I’m Amazed,” but I fail to see any sense for why the song is here. It’s a magnificent song — perhaps McCartney’s best and most-heartfelt love song — yet it seems lost amidst the muddle of side two of “Finishing School.”
Ringo coming so late on the album is odd. “It Don’t Come Easy” doesn’t easily flow out of “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
“I Live For You,” the final George Harrison song on the album, is an overlooked gem. I put it on “Hot As Sun,” as well.
“Baby Please Don’t Go.” All I have to say is… What! The! Fuck! Seriously. What’s the thinking here? This makes no sense to me.
And finally, “That Lovely Linda.” The BBC article justifies it, basically, as Paul being weird, like “Her Majesty” on Abbey Road. Okay. Maybe I can buy that. But it’s still a really odd choice. Really odd.
The problem is this — nothing really gels. There’s no sense of order. There’s no sense of art.
In short, “Finishing School” doesn’t feel like an album. It feels like a random smattering of songs. Except for the pairing of “My Sweet Lord” with “God,” nothing else on this “album” makes sense. These songs don’t fit together.
I’ll admit — I’m biased. I think my playlist, “Hot As Sun,” is superb. I look at other alternate universe, 1970 Beatles albums and find them lacking. Sometimes it’s a lack of cohesion. Sometimes it’s a song choice — like “Instant Karma” — that simply doesn’t make sense in a 1970-context.
So, no, I don’t much care for “Finishing School.” It’s certainly not “the greatest album never made.”
And in other news, no, I never did find a comprehensive list of the solo Beatles #1 hits. :/