The Nicol Theory

Michael Gerber
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The Beatles and Jimmy Nichol

Did Jimmy leave a secret legacy?

On June 22, Chris Carter’s “Breakfast With the Beatles” unveiled an unreleased Beatles track that has fans buzzing: the full 42-second song that blares only for a few seconds from Ringo’s transistor radio during the train scene in A Hard Day’s Night. Thanks to Chris’ kind permission, we were the first site to bring the track to the web. Yay, Dullblog.

As the debate over Ringo’s train music continues (I say probably yes, Devin says probably no, this blog says probably yes, this one probably no, Chris Carter says probably yes, Giles Martin says probably no) our own commenter Beasty Glanglemutton just weighed in with a fascinating possibility on the unreleased Beatles track, one intriguing enough to deserve a post of its own. Here’s the comment:

[First, quoting commenter @ODIrony:] “Also, it’s well documented that train scenes were done first. That would argue that the scene with the upper class twit would have everything needed for it set before production.”

There actually would have been no need for the radio music at that point, as sound effects are added in post-production. The film wrapped in late April, so they might have recorded it after that. In fact, there’s an intriguing entry in Lewisohn’s book for June 3, when they spent the afternoon at EMI rehearsing with Jimmy Nicol, though Lewisohn says it was not taped. A couple of people have remarked that the drumming in the radio clip doesn’t sound like Ringo, so… could it be that a few stray seconds of the Nicol rehearsal were recorded?

Wow! Now that’s a theory to ponder on your day off. Here is the complete entry from Lewisohn for June 3, 1964, just in case your copy of The Beatles Recording Sessions isn’t handy:

Studio Two: 3.00-4.00pm. Rehearsing: ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’; ‘She Loves You’; ‘I Saw Her Standing There’; ‘This Boy’; ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’; ‘Long Tall Sally’
This session, a rehearsal only was not recorded. During a morning photographic assignment on this day Ringo was taken ill with tonsilitis and pharyngitis, just 24 hours before the group was due to leave for a five-country concert tour. It was too late to cancel so Brian Epstein and George Martin came up with a temporary replacement, 24-year-old Jimmy Nicol, a session drummer. Nicol was relaxing in his west London home when Martin’s call came through, inviting him to be a temporary Beatle, subject to a hurriedly arranged afternoon rehearsal at Abbey Road.

They rehearsed sex songs (the Beatles’ standard stage repertoire at this time comprised of just 10!) and Nicol passed the audition. Twenty-seven hours later, John, Paul, George and Jimmy were on stage in Copenhagen, giving their first concert.

Press inquisitiveness looked like a posing a problem however. A large group of journalists had congregated at the studio and so anxious were they at catching a glimpse of the new Batle before the rehearsal that they were blocking the side entrace to the studio. “Paul came up to me,” recalls studio assistant Terry Condon, “and said, ‘Sir Terrance,’ — he often called me that — ‘we don’t want them all here, getting in the way. Tell they that Jimmy’ll enter through the front and then bring him in around the back.’ So I beckoned one reporter aside and whispered, ‘Don’t tell the others, but he’ll be coming in through the front.’ Of course all the others followed him there, Jimmy arrived unnoticed and slipped in the back way. We all had a good laugh about that.”

What a great book this is; and what an interesting theory — thank you dear Glanglemutton! Not only may we be hearing an unreleased Beatles track, it might contain a Jimmy Nicol Easter Egg as well!

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  1. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    The plot thickens…

    The next step in the research agenda would be to get out the live recordings bootlegged from Nicol’s brief time with the Beatles in the Netherlands and Australia, and closely compare what can be heard of the drumming with the 42-second train thingy.

    P.S. “They rehearsed sex songs…” I wish Lewisohn had named these. What I wouldn’t give to hear the Beatles do “Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball”!

  2. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    I had to make a comment or two on that “Something New” link you posted above, Mike. Why does Allan Kozinn, like the first caller on Chris Carter’s show, insist that the clip sounds like The Shadows? This is way dirtier than The Shadows ever got. In fact it sounds like The Beatles a year to a year and a half earlier: “I Saw Her Standing There” or before.

    Richard Buskin … believes it definitely is not The Beatles. “It doesn’t sound like them whatsoever,” he said. “George/John playing surf guitar? I really don’t think so!” It’s all in the ear of the listener, but the first time I heard “Cry for a Shadow” lo those many years ago, I was amazed to discover that The Beatles were doing surf music before they even knew it existed. Buskin later says that the train song “bears as much resemblance to The Beatles as the George Martin Orchestra’s Muzak.” That’s simply ridiculous. Arguing that it’s not The Beatles doesn’t require playing deaf.

    Jeff Slate says: “Finally, George wouldn’t be caught dead playing those solos.” No, he wouldn’t be caught dead releasing them, nor, probably, would The Beatles; but studio tapes for “A Hard Day’s Night” (the song) show how painfully he struggled with that fairly simple solo before mastering it.

    I remain unconvinced but open. The lack of documentation is, as Kozinn says, “not necessarily dispositive,” but neither is it at all probative, if we’re talking legalese. It’s those damn uncanny guitars that won’t let me smugly foreclose the possibility of Beatle involvement.

    • Devin, I pity anyone debating you on this topic; your casual erudition always floors me.

      The issue that no one has mentioned yet is the first thing I thought of, for obvious reasons: perhaps the track doesn’t sound like The Beatles because they were told, “Don’t play it like yourselves. Play it like some generic radio crap.” The Beatles were masters of musical pastiche, even then I’m sure, and their sense of humor often skewed towards the parodic and tongue-in-cheek.

      So until somebody definitively proves that it’s not them, “it doesn’t sound like them” cuts little ice with me. One thing that I can’t speak to is the recording — guys over at The Beatles Rarity are saying it doesn’t sound like the ambiance of Abbey Road. That’s way above my ears.

  3. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    Aren’t you glad I’m on the side of good and not evil? Seriously, Mike, I’m only throwing my own bit of geekery into the stew. It’s been so long since there was a real Beatle musical mystery to chew on (“Revolution 1” being the last) that I almost forgot how scintillating is the taste. At the very least–at the very least–in “Train Song” (nice, succinct title) we have a Beatle “fake,” a faux-Fabbery, a musical question mark to set beside “Peace of Mind,” “Have You Heard the Word,” “People Say,” “I Need You,” and all the other ambiguous marginalia once claimed as “lost” Beatle work. The relevant homemade CD collections will have to be updated! Joy!

  4. While I appreciate the shoutout, I realize that there are potential problems with this theory, starting with the fact that the film premiered barely a month after this session. I don’t know much about how films were made in those days, but that seems pretty late in the game for niceties like gathering sound effects. Then again the whole film was a rushjob, so who knows, maybe they really were still editing right up to the last minute.

    And by some strange cooincidence, Richard Lester just gave an interview to the NME, which states:

    The deadline left Lester with three-and-a-half weeks to edit the musical film, which had a budget of £200,000.

    So what do you know, it might be true after all.

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