Day 39: “Come Together”

When was it recorded?  Jul. 21-30, 1969

When was it first released, and on which album?  Oct. 31, 1969 on “Abbey Road”

Who wrote it?  Lennon

Have I heard this song before?  Yep yep

What my research dug up:

“Come Together” is the first song the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and the band’s 21st UK single/26th American single.  There’s a really great conspiracy theory that each verse refers to one of the Beatles, but sadly I don’t think I have time to talk about it.

“Come Together” began life as a song for Timothy Leary’s campaign against Ronald Reagan as governor of California.  Leary and his wife had met John and Yoko in June 1969, and both are name-checked in John and Yoko’s song “Give Peace a Chance.”

Quoth Wikipedia, “The following day Lennon offered to help Leary’s campaign. His slogan was ‘Come together, join the party’. Lennon sent Leary a demo tape of song ideas.”  Unfortunately, Leary was arrested for marijuana possession and his campaign ended.  So John took the song to the Beatles.

According to the Wiki, “Musically, Come Together took its cue from Chuck Berry’s 1956 song ‘You Can’t Catch Me.’” But don’t take Wikipedia’s word for it!

“Come Together is me – writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line in ‘Here comes old flat-top.’ It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago. I could have changed it to ‘Here comes old iron face,’ but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on earth.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)

For the record, Berry sings, “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me.”  The Beatles lyrics are “Here come ol’ flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly.”  Close enough though, and more on that court case John mentioned later.

(Aside: oh man, that song is killer.  I think I’m starting to fall in love with Chuck Berry; send help.  I can hear some similarities but overall I don’t think “Can’t Catch Me” super close to “Come Together.”  Maybe I’m biased since I grew up listening to the latter.)

Paul had some suggestions to make it less plagiarism-y.

“He originally brought it over as a very perky little song, and I pointed out to him that it was very similar to Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me. John acknowledged it was rather close to it so I said, ‘Well, anything you can do to get away from that.’ I suggested that we tried it swampy – ‘swampy’ was the word I used – so we did, we took it right down. I laid that bass line down which very much makes the mood.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

Worth mentioning (as in every article I read) is John’s spoken “shoot me” in the intro.  According to the Beatles Bible, “The words allegedly referred not to a desire for martyrdom, but to a fix of heroin. They were adapted from the unreleased Watching Rainbows, a song The Beatles rehearsed in January 1969 during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.”  The More You Know.  It’s still more than eerie knowing how he was killed.  The trippy lyrics also mention the walrus from “I Am the Walrus,” Yoko Ono, and musician Muddy Waters (though I have to admit the lyrics I get hung up on most is “He got feet down below his knee.”  Huh?).

Even less consistent is the matter of whether or not Paul sings backup on this number.  Recording engineer Geoff Emerick said John did all the vocals himself, but music critic Ian MacDonald disagreed.  Paul noted in 1970, “I would have liked to sing harmony with John and I think he would have liked me to but I was too embarrassed to ask him and I don’t work to the best of my abilities in that situation.”

According to investigation by Wikpedia, Paul sings backup only on the verses of “Come Together.”  The harmony vocals on the chorus are John dubbed twice.  They were also good enough to provide Emerick’s original quote, which got misinterpreted – “Paul might have been miffed, but I think he was more upset about not singing on the choruses” (emphasis mine).

“Come Together” was released as a double single with “Something,” which peaked at #1 on US charts and #4 on UK charts.  Reportedly BBC banned the song “because they considered the verse ‘He shoot Coca-Cola’ to be product placement” (Wikpedia), which at the time was unacceptable.  Oh how the times have changed.

In 1973 Big Seven Music Corp. finally cottoned onto the fact that “Come Together” was inspired by “You Can’t Catch Me” and sued John.  Ouch.  The two parties settled out of court, with John promising to record three other songs by company owner Morris Levy.  This all led to a few more John Lennon albums and a few more lawsuits.  Let’s leave it at that.

John sang “Come Together” in his last full-length concert in 1972 at Madison Square Garden.  It was the only Beatles’ song he performed (backed by Elephant’s Memory); this version is on the album “Live in New York City.”

The first take of “Come Together” appeared on “Anthology 3” in 1996.  Pollack noted this version “contains a self-effacing humorous undercurrent not as evident in the comparatively grim finished track, as well as the relatively rare opportunity to hear John lead singing un-retouched, something of which you should always run to avail yourself.”

I think there’s a lot of good stuff to chew over here.  I wasn’t crazy about this one before today’s post, but it grew on me.  Something about the first take is truly captivating to me.  That version might be my favorite, although the live version was also interesting to watch.  I can dig it all.




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