Posted May 2020
Over the past couple of years, the world has experienced a lot of “it was fifty years ago today” events celebrating those anniversaries of various Beatles related albums and landmarks. The last of those (for a while, at least) is the 50th anniversary of the lads’ ‘Let It Be’ album and movie. After the recording of those two projects, the Fab Four went their separate ways.
For such a momentous celebration, it was only fitting to reach out to a dear friend of mine, Ken Mansfield, who is no stranger to Boomerocity. I first interviewed Ken eleven years ago about his then-new book, Between Wyomings (here). After that chat, he sat for two more interviews (here and here) as well as providing great commentary for my recent interview with his dear friend, Phil Keaggy, in addition to giving me guidance as well as for prayerful support since we first chatted.
After catching up on things and making sure that we were both untouched by the coronavirus currently scarring many in the world, I commented to Ken that I imagined his phone had been hot from interviews over the Let It Be anniversary.
“Yeah, it's starting to crank up and today's been real busy. This is the end of the 50th anniversaries on the 8th and the 13th of May. No more 50th’s no more 50th anniversaries involving all of the Beatles - all four Beatles. So, this is it. You know, there'll be no more 50th anniversaries. No real ones.”
With that, I asked Ken to share his thoughts about the whole Let It Be phenomena.
“I'll answer you with this thought based on that question of why it triggered these things. It's a pretty complicated 50th anniversary because of the timelines of when it was recorded and when it was released and the intentions of the whole Let It Be thing. How complicated it was because it started out being - oh, gosh, all the things it was going to be! It was going to be a TV special, then it was going to be something else, and then something else. And finally, George Harrison, as you know, just finally said, 'Look, let's just make a record.' He just wanted to settle down. So, we really ended up with the album, the film and the concert on the roof. Then, the fact in and of itself that it was Let It Be. But then it became Let It Be Naked, later. “Why couldn't that be another 50th anniversary? Yeah. In a way that was kind of a monumental thing to a lot of us because, especially, I was there sitting in the studio leaning against the wall when they were cutting Let it be. The concept was clearly to do something very live. They were a live band. At that time, they were really showing kind of their more - I don't know - ragged side. A more live feel and everything. So, when Phil Spector did that to the album, George Martin said, ‘Produced by George Martin, Overproduced by Phil Spector.’
“To me, it wasn't at all what I heard. I knew what was intended. So, when I heard Let It Be Naked, I actually almost got tears in my eyes. Oh, boy! It just pulled me right back to that time because that sounded like exactly what was going on without all that sound, all the overdubs and stuff that Spector did to it. So, the conversation we're having is that this is a simple 50th anniversary right now, but there was so much involved with that - with the album and going on the roof and the feelings going into it and the timeframe. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was almost like - think of what they were doing in a short time frame. They basically were doing Abbey Road and the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, all this stuff was just - how many songs and how much recording can one band do in a short period of time?
“So, it's just something about this anniversary - the physical anniversary - not when they're going to rerelease the film and all that stuff - other stuff coming up here in the. This date is the anniversary for the people who are Beatles aficionados and people who really follow the band. The other releases are going to be the commercial aspects. This is, to me - this is the real thing right now. And that's why I'm enjoying doing interviews because it was fifty years ago that it came out, you know.
In prepping for my chat with Ken, I came across several articles that mentioned that John Lennon allegedly disliked the title song and even took a swipe at it on the song that preceded it on the album. I asked Ken for his insights into that.
“Well, to me, it was a typical Paul McCartney ballad type song like Yesterday and these kinds of things. In a way, that was said of Paul. I just think the intent of Lennon - maybe especially - was if they wanted to be a different sound, he did not want to do the old stuff. And I'm very 'wingy' with you right now, because this is all personal opinion. And do correct me on anything that I'm saying that gets things off of a timeline or something. My thinking is that the group was splintering then, which is not a secret because of George wanting to do his stuff; and Paul and Ringo and Paul and John, you know, they were more guarded about their individual songs and having less involvement at times from each other. Just because all of a sudden, the old camaraderie and creative juices would jump back in. For me, I was a Beatles fan as the Beatles as a band. When they did the White Album and Let It Be - I'll be honest and I'll probably get crucified for this - but those are not my favorite albums at all. To me, when they came back and did Abbey Road, to me, that was the Beatles because there was more involvement, more their sound. There was more creativity. It's almost like there was a point they quit being quite so creative.
“So now on the other side of the coin, with those not being my favorite music, that was the music that I was most directly involved in. Especially with the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, I was there. I was really a witness. I would go to London for a Beatles session. It would be going into the studio, into Abbey Road, but normally you would be sitting outside in a waiting area or a lounge or something. You didn't go in the studio. You didn't go into a control room. And then a Beatle would come out and say hi. And then you could go home and say, ‘Yeah, I was at a Beatles session.’ You'd hear the music when the door opened from the studio. But in Let It Be, I was like sitting, as you know, sitting on the floor, just watching; sitting next to Billy (Preston) and he and I would have our little exchanges. They were very friendly to me. I was invited in and I didn't see anybody else in there that wasn't working except myself and Billy.
“On The White Album, I was very involved with that because George Harrison finished mastering it in L.A. I was with him when he heard the playback of the Capitol mastering and did not like it. I was there when he was re-mastering it. So, with both of those albums, I had a sense of involvement. I didn't have a word to say about anything, but I was there and experienced it. That makes those two particular projects special to me from that standpoint.
“But as I said, the prior work, I mean, doing something more exciting than Sgt. Pepper is almost unimaginable to me. I don't know about you. I'm sure we all remember when John F. Kennedy was shot and probably when we first heard Sgt. Pepper. That was probably two things that sticks out in all our minds, you know.
“In my case, I had an eight-track in my Cadillac and six of us jumped in the car, lit up some joints and got really stoned, and listen to that album for the first time. We could hardly contain ourselves. So mind-boggling.
“It's just that this whole thing. I'm very, very reflective at it this time, and that's why I said a minute ago, is details are almost immaterial to me anymore. The emotional things and remembering things like first time hearing Sgt. Pepper. I hadn't thought about that in a while.
“But the Beatle's for me was interesting because I kept hearing about this band called The Beatles, and I was driving on the San Diego freeway and I kept hearing about this band, the Beatles, and a record came on, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, or whatever it was. I went, 'What? What's The big deal here?' You know? I was totally nonplused. Then when I ended up at Capitol, it was a job. We had this monster band on our label and everything was so important surrounding it. I was a promotion man for the street promotion and I was district manager, that's where I started. The Beatles album was like being in a corral and having a pocket full of candy and carrots because you bought your way through the stations. Everything was about the Beatle product and giving people some free albums. Just something about the Beatles was your ticket on the field as a promotion man. You were the man on the street because you had the Beatles. There was me and maybe the RCA guy with the Stones. It was a thing like that. I still wasn't taking the band seriously.
“Then when they came in August of '65 and I worked with them, for lack of a better phrase, I still didn't get it, I guess. But it was amazing. Loved them and all that. Worked with them; did the Hollywood Bowl thing. I hung out with them by the pool and we spent a day getting to know each other on a personal level, as well as the business level. Then, in ‘66 they come back. As I look back now in ‘65, it was really fun and was very exciting. In ‘66 there was a change in their demeanor.”
And what does Mansfield attribute that to?
“Well, didn't they just come off of something like, you know, Manila or the Lennon statement or something? Then a lot of things that happened. They were sick and tired of just singing and nobody listening and they were just disillusioned because of the bad press they would get because they supposedly snubbed somebody. They were just tired. I had no idea that the next day up in San Francisco, that was their last time. I'm sure that they had decided even before San Francisco that that was it. I'm sure they were in that mode of deciding not to tour anymore.
“In ‘65 they still had that British, childlike thing about them, still. They were kind of fascinated with me also because this was the first time, I think they had a day off in California. Like everybody else in England, they'd grown up with an image of the surfers and convertibles and the woodies and California girls and all that kind of thing. They were asking a lot of questions about California. John wanted to know where Grauman's Chinese Theater was. Ringo wanted to know if he could meet Buck Owens while he was here because Buck was on Capitol. They just had a lot of these questions. So here I am with the suntan and Cadillac convertible and a house up in the Hollywood Hills with a pool and all that. There was something felt kind of equal about us. I was fascinated with how they talked and they dressed and all the things they did. It was kind of a cultural exchange. Then, in ‘66, we didn't spend as much time together, but we worked together again. I honestly thought, Randy, 'You know what? I think I'm gonna end up working for these guys.' Then, for two years I didn't hear a word from anybody other than just doing my job in L.A. with the records and with our other artists.
: Then I start getting involved in the Apple thing and Capitol had to bid for that. We didn't have a slam dunk on Apple at all. The label was up for distribution and any label could have had it in their distribution system. But we had the one thing in our favor and that was the Beatles were on our label and we can give the Beatles their own label even though they were a Capitol act and they could still be on their label. The fact is that they did have years of proven relationships with Capitol so we would have a definite leg up there.
“Then Ron Kass and Paul finally came over and I was included as one of the few people who knew that we had Apple Records because I had to prepare as head of all the promotion and artist relations, and the director of independent labels. All of a sudden there's this new independent label and everything fell in my bailiwick. And so, the minute Paul and Ron Kass hit the ground there, I was involved with them the whole time. Again, our whole relationship just built from there. I was in such a position of influence for their needs because. I knew the territory and I knew the United States. I knew how to get records played and get things done in America. So, when they got back and then they turned around and called back and said that they wanted me to come over with Capitol President Stanley Gortikov and Larry Delaney, who the head of press relations and press and publicity for Capitol. That's when we went over and met in London and put the whole thing together; the promotion teams and what they would do ahead of time and when and where they had to do them. They were smart. They had done their homework. They knew America accounted for 50 percent of record sales worldwide. You had to break America. They weren't a slam dunk. Their label was not a slam dunk in America at all. We had to break that label. We had the Beatles, obviously, but we had to establish other artists, too. And we had to make it a real viable label.
“So, I got back and that's when I got a call that they wanted me to be a U.S. manager of Apple. That's when everything really changed for me because now, I was part of the team. The thing about the Beatles is there were a lot of inner circles. It's like when you dropped a pebble in a pond. Mal and Neal would obviously be the inner-inner circle. Being considered to be part of any of those inner circles was just incredible because they treated you accordingly. It was never like, ‘Well, I'm a Beatle and you're not,’ you know? I was just part of the team, that's all. They would be very open on things. John Lennon, especially. I thought he didn't like me because he was always so rough on me and Kass told me later on, 'John actually liked you best and that's why he was so caustic with you. He was just being a straight ahead. He felt he could talk to you and say what he was thinking.'
“I have my memories. They're all so very personal. People say, 'How did this sound like?' I can't remember when they put that out. I can't remember, ‘Did we sign before I left or after I left.’ It's just the facts just disappear and what's left in its wake is like a personal thing like any other story I've read. Like about George putting me to bed in London, knowing how much responsibility I had. He could see that I was sitting there at Apple, about ready to pass out. So, he said, 'C'mon, you're out of here,' and he took me over to the hotel and made sure I was upstairs in my room okay. And said, 'Don't worry about the meetings tomorrow. I'll cover for you. Just go in when you feel like it.’ So, it's always little things like that were very real.
“I always said - and I got jibed by Ringo later on - and I wrote about that, too - is the fact that I always thought they put on kind of a special face when I was around because I never saw any of the bad stuff. I never saw the real tension between anybody. You know, nothing. I never saw any of the bad things. And I was talking to somebody today. I said, 'well, maybe, you know, they grew up middle class or working class in Liverpool and they were taught, mind your manners. And all this kind of stuff. And you don't air your dirty laundry in front of strangers and things. So, I think that maybe they did reserve some things. I told Ringo - and you know this story - I told Ringo that I felt like they put a special face on from me and that's when he said, 'Oh, yeah, Ken, when we were the Beatles then we didn't really have that much to do. So, we would sit around saying how we could to impress you." That's what it was like with those guys.
“I got to have a kind of a personal segment with each one individually because, of course, Ringo came to L.A. He was there for years. He was part a part of a group of people there. Then George came over a lot when He was doing the live overdubs to Bangladesh. He was cleaning up some guitar stuff. My wife and Pattie (Boyd) were friends. We would just do things together and go shopping for jeans one day. When word got out that George was there, we had to boogie. But he would just do normal things.”
I was curious how the “suits” at Capitol reacted to ‘Let It Be’ as well as when it became apparent that the Beatles were breaking up.
“Well, I think - for Capitol - there was a gold mine there with the Beatles stuff and that's when they would put it in a different album together and stuff. But it was a shock. Well, it wasn't a shock. It wasn't a shock to me because I sensed that that day on the roof and a lot of people in the building sensed it but nobody said, 'You know, they're going to break up next week'. People just knew that things were changing. And then when Klein came in . . . it changed everything. The heart just left. People were let go with him there.
“Kass was just such a class guy, a guy that I would say for me as a young executive, Ron Kass and Stanley Gortikov were the two people that were really my mentors. I joined Kass at MGM because of my loyalty to him. Peter Asher and, Mike Connor, and I left together to be with Kass at MGM. Klein just tried everything to get me to stay because he thought I had an 'in' with McCartney because he knew that McCartney was probably the reason for me coming to Apple. But I didn't have any position with McCartney to have any influence on what he did, or thought, or anything. But I think Klein had misconstrued that. That's why he tried so hard to keep me at Apple. I don't know if I've either written this or not, but I went to Ron - I'd resigned from Apple and accepted MGM, the vice presidency there, and then Klein flew in to see me in L.A. and made me a horrendous offer and all that. I went to a Kass and said, ‘I need to talk to you, Ron.’ And I told him what Klein had offered me. I said, 'You know, I have family and stuff to think about. And it's just such an incredible offer. I don't know what to do. Just tell me what you think, Ron.' Ron said, 'Well, let me just put it this way, Ken: You can make up your own decision. But if you lay down with pigs, you’ll get up dirty.’
“I understood what he said. Sure, it would be fun for a while to be with the Beatles and then, of course, the Stones and Donovan and have all this stuff going. But then one day I would be known as Klein's guy and that was not good.”
With word widely circulating that renowned film director, screenwriter, and film producer, Peter Jackson, was tackling the redux of the ‘Let It Be’ film, I asked Ken what he knew about it.
“Well, the film - they've announced the release date of the film but I'm not sure it's going to hold because of the Coronavirus and so many things. Films are being set back. My understanding is - and I've talked to a few people - that - Peter Jackson technically is doing a beautiful job with through restorations of work, taking advantage of new technology and stuff. He's really lightening the thing up. And my understanding, too, is that he is showing the whole thing, that we were up on the roof. I heard is that it's going to be in the film. I can't imagine how they could put that much time in the film but I don't know. My understanding is the reason Ringo and Paul are so happy is because he's really showing it to be more than a lot of the darkness and the problems; that there was a lot of fun that went on at that time and lightheartedness and that it wasn't all bad. And, of course, Peter Jackson - my gosh, you know, having him do your film. I guess this is going to be called a documentary but it sounds like a full theatrical release. When people said that it was a documentary, I almost got the impression it's going to be way beyond that to me.”
I don’t know about y’all but whenever I’ve watched and listened to the “roof top concert”, I thought that the music was sounded much like the studio versions of the songs. Since Ken and I were talking about it, I asked him if the music in the film was actually live or was it dubbed in.
“Well, I've heard raw tapes on that and the sound - It surprised me - the fact that it was that cold and the guitars are that in-tune and a lot of things. Alan Parsons, I think one of his biggest problems was the wind and that's why he was going down, getting nylon stockings and stuff like that. He was really working, really focused on that not being a problem. I was amazed at how good everything sounded on that and how in-tuned it sounded and how well mic'd they were all this kind of stuff. Lennon's hands were so cold. He was really having a problem with that. And it was cold. It wasn't that cold in degrees as it was the wind and damp up on top of the roof. It was a dirty old roof. It wasn't like being in a garden. I mean, it was stark up there.”
Mansfield wrapped up our call by saying:
“I think in my book, The Roof, what I was trying to do, the kind of things you and I were just falling into with this kind of a conversation. I wanted people to have that feeling that it was something very personal about it all. I'm straight with you. I've been staying away from the factual stories. I'm talking more about- telling about when George took me to the hotel. The book was just to let people know what it was like to walk down Saville Row, which is the Mayfair District, one of the plushest areas of London and climb up those stairs and go through that door and be in there and working in there and working with people like Chris (Odell) or Jack Oliver - some of these people. It was so neat! And Derek Taylor was just such a story unto himself. He held court in his place. He's in that big wicker chair and the expensive champagne flowing. And there was a nice aroma throughout the building a lot of the time.”
I wonder what that was.
“Everything was very loose. In my book, I have a picture George, Derek and I think Chris O’Dell huddled around a small typewriter in the corner of somebody’s office, not in a big office. These things were done just naturally. I want people to get the feeling what’s going up on the roof and feeling the cold and in the sensations and the realization of something's happening here. I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, this is the last time the Beatles are going to be together, playing together. Oh, my gosh! They're going to break up after this. Oh, my gosh! Everything's had changed drastically!’
“Now, at Apple, there were no thoughts like that. It was just like it was another day at the office. Everybody kind of looks at me crazy when I say it. It was another day at the office. Things are always happening around there. And there was footage that made it into the film and the concept was to have a live concert by the Beatles. So, time was running out. It was, again, just, 'Oh, my gosh, now go up on the roof.’ Not everybody in the building could do that. They couldn't have gone up anyway. The roof couldn't have withstood the weight. Some people didn't even know - most people, maybe, in the building didn't know what was going on. And so that's the kind of thing I want to impart to separate myself from the other writers to really put a personal thing in it. And oddly enough, I’m just now reading Geoff Emerick's book and I don't read many of the books because ever since I read a couple that I didn't like, I just haven't bothered with them. Geoff's book touches on that, too. You really get a feeling about them personally. That's the thing that fascinates me about the Beatles in the whole era. So that's what I want to leave with people.”
Ken Mansfield has written several excellent books with his most recent being “The Roof: The Beatles’ Last Concert” that we talked about. I encourage you to order that book as well as Ken’s other books. I have them all and they’re all great reads!