Day 160: “Maggie Mae” (+ “Fancy My Chances With You”)

When was it recorded?   Jan. 24, 1969

When was it first released, and on which album?   May 8, 1970 on “Let It Be”

Who wrote it?   Traditional folk song (arrangement by Harrison/Lennon/McCartney/Starr)

Have I heard this song before?   No

What my research dug up:

Unrelated to today’s song(s), but I’m mulling over today’s announcement that one of my favorite directors, Ron Howard, is directing a documentary about the Beatles’ touring years. The focus will be from the Fab Four’s Cavern Club days to their last public concert at Candlestick Park. Apparently Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Olivia Harrison, and Apple Corps gave it the green light, and one of the producers (Nigel Sinclair) worked on “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.” Here’s hoping this dream team delivers on their combined awesome potential.

Moving on, “Maggie May” or “Maggie Mae” is a traditional Liverpool folk song dating from at least the early 19th century. I’ve never heard it before, but according to my research it’s about a prostitute who robs a sailor. He then contacts the police, who find Maggie May and send to Botany Bay on a convict ship. According to Wikipedia, “In the earliest known version the protagonist is ‘charming Nellie Ray,’ who may have been a real transported prostitute and thief.” The lyrics often differ from version to version but usually name-drop several Liverpool streets or districts.

Quoth Wikipedia, “‘Maggie May’ was widely performed in the late 1950s, and was adapted to skiffle craze of the era.” Popular British band The Vipers Skiffle Group released the most popular version in 1957. It was well known but (natch) banned by BBC Radio for sexual lyrics.

In 1964, Alun Owen (book) and Lionel Bart (music & lyrics) released a musical called “Maggie May” based on the song. According to Wikipedia the show “deals with trade union ethics and disputes among Irish-Catholic dockers in Liverpool, centering on the life of streetwalker Margaret Mary Duffy and her sweetheart, a freewheeling sailor.” Neato. Wikipedia also tells me, “The Beatles are known to have seen and discussed the Bart musical,” but the Beatles Bible doesn’t mention this. Here’s Bart’s version of the song, originally performed by English actor Kenneth Haigh.

Before they evolved into the Beatles, the Quarrymen often included a skiffle cover of “Maggie Mae” in their sets.

Roughly a decade later, the Beatles recorded part of “Maggie Mae” on Jan. 24, 1969 during their Get Back sessions. According to Wikipedia this was done “t a point in the proceedings when they were warming up in the studio by playing old rock and roll and skiffle songs that they had known and played in their teenage years. Though the performance was obviously tongue-in-cheek a truncated version of it was included on the 1970 album drawn from those sessions, Let It Be, appearing as the last track on the LP’s first side, immediately after the title song.” This version is not quite 40 seconds long, the second-shortest official Beatles recording ever.

“Maggie Mae” was not re-mastered for “Let It Be… Naked.” The ‘full’ version appears on the “Naked” bonus disc, “Fly on the Wall.” However, before “Maggie Mae” reaches the one-minute mark, Paul segues into the Lennon-McCartney original, “Fancy My Chances with You” (or “I Fancy Me Chances”). The song was performed live by the Beatles throughout 1962 but never formally recorded.

John recorded at least one solo, acoustic version of “Maggie Mae” at his home in 1979. Quoth Wikipedia, “These instances demonstrate an important personal connection to the song for Lennon and may have contributed to the snippet being included on the album ‘Let It Be.’” One version was released on the John Lennon Anthology box set in 1998.  (It’s just the first 50 seconds of this video.)

I’m not crazy about the “Let It Be” version, but it is 40 seconds long.  I enjoy the faster tempo recording.  I like a little more verve in this melody.  It can be fun!




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