There is still a light that shines on me

When Apple Records released The Beatles’ “Let It Be” album in May 1970, the world was still reeling from Paul McCartney’s public announcement the previous month that the band had broken up. (John Lennon had told the group privately six months earlier that he “wanted a divorce,” and George Harrison had already begun sessions for his solo debut, but the public had only just learned that the end had come.)

As a loyal fan, I bought the LP right away, but not with the excitement and eager anticipation I’d had with “The White Album” in late 1968 or “Abbey Road” in autumn 1969. “Let It Be,” apparently, would be The Beatles’ last album, which forever tainted it in the minds of many.

It was a strange record. Two of the songs (“Get Back” and “Let It Be”) had already been released as singles; four others seemed to have been recorded in some sort of live setting; two tracks (“Dig It” and “Maggie Mae”) were pretty much inconsequential filler; one tune (“One After 909”) was a Lennon-McCartney chestnut resurrected from their teen years; and sprinkled throughout were weird tidbits of verbal outbursts (mostly from John Lennon). The album’s ragged nature seemed a letdown after the astonishing, polished work on “Abbey Road.”

There was mention of a “Let It Be” film that documented the making of the album, but it saw only limited release and was soon pulled from distribution, evidently because it was roundly panned and The Beatles themselves didn’t much care for it either. So I never saw it until years later. In fact, I went with my friend Barney one day in 1978 to a small Cleveland theater that was showing “Let It Be” in a double feature with “Magical Mystery Tour,” another neglected Beatle film project. (We never saw either film that day because theater personnel threw us out after I mischievously fired up a joint as the movie was just beginning!)

When I finally saw “Let It Be” a couple days later, I agreed with the critics who found it to be a dreary, uncomfortable, ultimately depressing look at my favorite band on the verge of dissolution. They all looked so glum and serious, with no sense of fun or even shared creativity. They sat in silence or bickered, and there was a clear sense that things were collapsing, and no one seemed to care. Sure there were a few entertaining moments, mostly the rooftop concert sequences, but I concluded they were right to bury the film in the archives.

What I never knew until about a year ago is that the film’s director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, had shot nearly 60 hours of film, and sound crews had captured 150 hours of music and conversational recordings. Peter Jackson, the award-winning filmmaker behind “Lord of the Rings” and a huge Beatles fan himself, had always wished for the opportunity to review those source materials to see what was there, and four years ago, Apple Records gave him the green light to delve into them.

Beatles fans worldwide should thank their lucky stars that a talent like Jackson was selected for the task. In “Get Back,” his triumphant, seven-hour documentary released on Thanksgiving on Disney+, his efforts paid off handsomely, with grainy film images digitally restored and enhanced, and the sometimes unintelligible audio cleaned up to such a degree that what we see and hear is a thrilling revelation. True, it may be a bit long and sometimes tedious for the casual fan, but for rabid Beatles fans and professional musicians, it’s Shangri-La.

Most notably, we learn that the prevailing myth advanced by the “Let It Be” movie — that the sessions were nothing but ugliness and toxicity — is simply untrue. Granted, things started off shakily when they first convened in the cavernous Twickenham film studio, a cold environment hardly conducive to conviviality or productivity. The guys seemed understandably self-conscious about the cameras and microphones recording their every move, and they often showed up late, or not at all. However, once they moved the proceedings to the new studio set-up in the basement of the Apple Records office, the mood improved significantly, thanks in large part to the arrival of their old friend Billy Preston, who had only stopped by to say hello while in London but ended up staying for a week and contributing enormously to the vibe and the musical recordings.

It was mesmerizing to me to be a fly on the wall, witnessing the resilience and raw talent of John, Paul, George and Ringo, these four men I had idolized my whole life, as they coped with the absurd circumstances: They had reluctantly agreed to be filmed writing, rehearsing and recording an album’s worth of new songs in preparation for a live performance three weeks ahead, location still undecided. Talk about pressure.

We get to see several of The Beatles’ classic tunes transformed from rudimentary sketches to finished product, particularly “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” It’s the arduous process of songwriting and track recording, and while it may go on all the time for rock bands everywhere, it rarely happens with cameras rolling, and here it’s the bloody Beatles, for crying out loud!

As one young songwriter put it in a Washington Post article the other day: “You never get to see someone in that moment of making something up, especially a song like ‘Get Back’ that you know so well. That was totally incredible… Watching Paul do it that way, where he’s just plugging and plugging and plugging until he gets it, that’s how it actually happens.”

Said another musician: “This whole endeavor — writing songs — is filled with failure. Most people think, ‘Oh, the Beatles, everything they did turned to gold.’ Wrong. You’re always trying and discarding things and searching for the right thing. There’s a lot of sitting around, a lot of screwing around, a lot of playing nonsense music. Then there’s also a lot of slogging away, trying to get what you’re actually working on to be great. The reality is it often has to sound bad before it sounds good. These eight hours reaffirm that.”

“Get Back” offered many other discoveries, most of them pleasant, even exhilarating. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that McCartney, Harrison and Lennon seemed to have new songs just pouring out of them at this stage. (Even Ringo Starr debuted the beginning of his song “Octopus’s Garden” during these sessions.) In addition to the amazing McCartney songs that would end up on the “Let It Be” album, including “Two of Us” and “The Long and Winding Road,” we also hear him toying with early drafts of tunes that would end up on “Abbey Road” (“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Oh Darling,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Carry That Weight”) or his first solo albums (“Teddy Boy,” “The Back Seat of My Car”).

Lennon’s output included “Dig a Pony” (then known as “All I Want is You”) and “Across the Universe”; early previews of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” destined for “Abbey Road”; and “Gimme Some Truth” and a tune known as “Child of Nature,” which would later be recast as “Jealous Guy” on his “Imagine” album.

Harrison, meanwhile, brought “All Things Must Pass,” which The Beatles seriously considered but ultimately set aside, and it ended up the title track of his solo LP nearly two years later. In addition to his songs “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue,” which made the cut for the “Let It Be” album, Harrison also presented the rollicking “Old Brown Shoe” and perhaps his finest ever composition, “Something,” which Lennon later called “the best song on ‘Abbey Road.'”

How fabulous it is that we’re given the opportunity to watch and listen to all these eventual masterpieces played in their earliest forms. It makes me appreciate the finished recordings all the more.

The best part of the original film was, without question, The Beatles performing live on the rooftop. The same holds true in Jackson’s documentary, where we get to watch, for the first time, the entire 43-minute performance uncut, during which they play “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “One After 909,” “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” some more than once. Running parallel to this excellent footage is the hilarious storyline of the ineffectual London bobbies trying to shut it all down and being stymied by clever Apple staff who hold them at bay as long as they can.

I mustn’t forget to mention how much I really enjoyed the moments in the studio when, as a way of cutting through the lethargy, the band broke into vintage rock oldies like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Kansas City,” reminding us that, down deep, The Beatles were just a great little rock ‘n’ roll band who became larger-than-life icons — icons that we’re still interested in watching and learning more about, 50-plus years later.

A few other observations:

Paul still comes across as the true workaholic of the group, continually pushing the others to get to work in order to meet deadlines. He acknowledges that he could be overly controlling, but without the late Brian Epstein around to be “the Daddy figure,” someone had to step up. It seems likely the project would’ve fallen apart without his “C’mon, boys” approach, and he deserves credit for that.

John was a listless, unenthusiastic, even disruptive presence at first, clearly showing the effects of his recent dabbling with heroin in the off hours. In the later sections of the documentary, he seems far more engaged, performing the material with renewed purpose, and even joking around with the others.

Yoko Ono, whose influence on John has been widely accused of breaking up the band, rarely left his side, but in her defense, she barely said a word in the sessions, at least in the film sequences we see. (Well, there’s one bit where the band is jamming chaotically, and she pitches in with her signature caterwauling, but that’s an isolated instance.) Paul, George and Ringo may have been less than welcoming to her, overall, but Paul is on record here at one point saying basically, hey guys, they’re in love, give them a break. “If we force him to pick between Yoko and us, he’ll pick Yoko,” he warned. And he was probably right.

George, let’s face it, was tired of being disrespected by Paul and John, and was tired of being a Beatle in general at this point, which led to his five-day departure that caused no small amount of concern among the others. But they coaxed him back, and he showed a more professional, congenial attitude and some fine musical chops on the ensuing recordings, both in the studio and on the rooftop.

Ringo? Well, frankly, he looked bored, tired and unhappy through most of the documentary. I imagine he was thinking, “This used to be so much fun. What the hell happened?” But he still offered occasional moments of levity as well, and was always ready to play when the time came. He had a well-deserved reputation for being a drummer who played to the song, contributing exactly what the arrangement called for. The chugging train beat he came up with for “Get Back” is a perfect case in point, as is the understated work on “The Long and Winding Road.”

The other important characters who show up in the documentary show their true nature, good or bad:

Billy Preston, as mentioned earlier, was a godsend, bringing a calming amiability precisely when it was needed, especially in the studio.

Producer George Martin, so pivotal to The Beatles’ recorded legacy since their beginning in 1962, is reduced almost to a bit player here, but he handles it with aplomb as the cool professional we’ve known him to be.

Engineer/producer Glyn Johns, who would build his own legacy working with The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Eagles and many others, seemed to be grateful just to be asked to participate, sitting amongst the band during playbacks and even during tense conversations. It was Johns, evidently, who solved the problem of where the band should perform the new songs to conclude the film by suggesting the rooftop of the Apple building.

Mal Evans — personal assistant, roadie, friend, all-around good guy — was all of those things for the band before, during and after these sessions. What a hoot to see him procure and then bang on an anvil for a run-through of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

My impression of Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is that he was a rather annoying presence throughout. He chastised the band when they needed nurturing instead, and he kept pushing to stage the performance in Egypt or Libya when it was clear they weren’t interested. Perhaps he was just trying to do his job in a very trying situation, but I’m guessing The Beatles wondered if they’d made the right decision in bringing him in to direct the project.

Lastly, a heartfelt thanks to Peter Jackson for the time and tender-loving care he put into this extravagant undertaking. Beatles fans around the globe are eternally grateful.

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Here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs that comprise The Beatles’ “Let It Be” 1970 album, and a few of the early drafts heard in Jackson’s documentary.

How much, how much do you really know?

In recent months, I’ve been testing my readers’ skills at recalling the words to well-known classic rock songs by offering a series of Lyrics Quiz posts, and I’ll continue to do so periodically.

With this week’s post, I’ll begin branching out into the broader area of classic rock trivia. I came across an old “special edition” of a Rolling Stone Rock Trivia Quiz and decided it was high time I put together my own set of multiple-choice questions for you all to answer.

So here it is: My first Hack’s Back Pages Rock Trivia Quiz! Peruse the 15 questions and multiple-choice possible answers, then scroll down to find the answers and learn more about the topics raised. At the end, there’s also a Spotify playlist of the songs being discussed here.

I hope you get a kick out of this one!

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Van Morrison, 1971

1. “Brown-Eyed Girl” may get more airplay than any other Van Morrison song, but which of his singles charted higher on the US Top 40 listings?

“Moondance”; “Tupelo Honey”; “Domino”; “Wild Night”

(L-R) Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood. Who played bass with them?

2. Blind Faith was comprised of superstars Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker…and a fourth, much lesser known musician on bass. Who was it?

Trevor Bolder; Ric Grech; Clive Chaman; John Glascock

3. Which of these four songs does NOT feature mandolin?

“Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.; “The Battle of Evermore,” Led Zeppelin; “Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones; “Friend of the Devil,” The Grateful Dead

David Bowie as Major Tom in “Space Oddity”

4. Major Tom is the main character in David Bowie’s 1969 debut single “Space Oddity.” In which Bowie song does Major Tom make a return appearance?

“Fame”; “Let’s Dance”; “Ashes to Ashes”; “Heroes”

Mark Knopfler

5. On which Steely Dan single does Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler make a guest appearance on guitar?

“Peg”; “Time Out of Mind”; “FM”; “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”

Ringo Starr on vocals

6. Of these four songs Ringo Starr sang in The Beatles catalog, which one did he write?

“Yellow Submarine”; “Act Naturally”; “Good Night”; “Octopus’s Garden”

Rod Stewart in the 1970s

7. On which song does Rod Stewart encourage you to “spread your wings and let me come inside”?

“Maggie May”; “Hot Legs”; “Tonight’s the Night”; “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

8. Which Paul Simon album was originally intended to be a Simon and Garfunkel reunion album?

“Still Crazy After All These Years”
“Hearts and Bones”
“You’re the One”
“The Rhythm of the Saints”

9. Of these lengthy classic rock tracks that occupy an entire album side, which one clocks in as the longest?

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly
“Echoes” from “Meddle,” Pink Floyd
“Close to the Edge,” Yes
“Supper’s Ready” from “Foxtrot,” Genesis

10. Which of these four artists did not record a song with Paul McCartney?

Elvis Costello
Stevie Wonder
Billy Joel
Michael Jackson

11. Which one of these pairs of artists did NOT record a song together?

Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald; Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; Phil Collins and Philip Bailey; Elton John and Freddie Mercury

12. Which album cover from the 1970s was designed by pop artist Andy Warhol?

“Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd
“Aladdin Sane,” David Bowie
“Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones
“Imagine,” John Lennon

13. Which one of these talented women sings harmony vocals with Neil Young on his hit singles “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”?

Bonnie Raitt
Linda Ronstadt
Joni Mitchell
Carly Simon

14. Which lead guitarist was never a member of The Yardbirds?

Jeff Beck
Peter Green
Eric Clapton
Jimmy Page

Kris Kristofferson with Barbra Streisand

15. Who was Barbra Streisand’s first choice to be her co-star in the 1976 film “A Star is Born”?

Neil Diamond
Elvis Presley
Rick Nelson
Jerry Lee Lewis

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ANSWERS:

1. “Domino”

Morrison had an acrimonious relationship with his late ’60s label, Bang Records, for whom he recorded “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Although royalties from that tune have padded his bank account every day since its release, he claims to hate it and rarely will play it anymore in concert. It reached #10 in 1967, but his upbeat song “Domino” from the 1970 LP “His Band and the Street Choir” actually reached one rung higher on the charts at #9. “Moondance,” from the 1970 album of the same name, is well-known but wasn’t released as a single in 1970 and performed poorly upon release as a single in 1977, stalling at #92. “Tupelo Honey” and “Wild Night” from the 1971 “Tupelo Honey” album managed only #47 and #28, respectively.

2. Ric Grech

Grech was a multi-instrumentalist who had written songs and played bass and violin for Family, a relatively obscure British progressive rock group known for a diversity of styles and lineups. He was tapped to fill out the ranks of Blind Faith, which lasted for less than six months, one brief tour and one album before disbanding. Winwood later invited Grech to join the reconvened Traffic in time for their popular LP “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” The other names mentioned above: Trevor Bolder became bassist in David Bowie’s backup band, The Spiders From Mars; Clive Chaman was the bass player for The Jeff Beck Group for a spell; and John Glascock was Jethro Tull’s bassist from 1976-1979.

3. “Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones

While this is one of the handful of songs in the Stones catalog that has a strong country music influence, “Wild Horses” does not include mandolin in the instrumental arrangement. There’s plenty of pedal steel guitar, and slide guitar, and Jagger’s vocals have a bit of Southern drawl, all a result of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons hanging out with the band during the 1969-1972 years. On Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones picks up a mandolin to complement Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar; R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck uses mandolin as the primary instrument as Michael Stipe sings “Losing My Religion”; and guest mandolinist David Grisman’s flourishes on mandolin become increasingly prominent with each successive verse of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.”

4. “Ashes to Ashes”

“Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie, /Strung out in heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low…” These are lyrics from the chorus of the hit single from Bowie’s 1980 LP “Scary Monsters.” Bowie himself acknowledged in 1990 that the words reflect his own struggles with drug addiction throughout the 1970s. He said he wrote “Ashes to Ashes” as a confrontation with his past: “You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona. You have to understand why you went through them. You cannot just ignore them, put them out of your mind or pretend they didn’t happen, or just say, ‘Oh, I was different then.'”

5. “Time Out of Mind”

Although Steely Dan first recorded and performed as a six-man band when they debuted in 1972, they soon became sort of a studio laboratory run by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who brought in a wide array of session guitarists, drummers, bassists and background singers to play on the various album tracks. Particularly on their albums “The Royal Scam” (1976), “Aja” (1977) and “Gaucho” (1980), Fagen and Becker tried out as many as a dozen guitarists to play solos before finding the one they were looking for. On the “Gaucho” track “Time Out of Mind,” Mark Knopfler’s spare, fluid style was just what the songwriters were seeking. It was a modest hit, reaching #22 in early 1981. You can also hear Michael McDonald providing guest vocals behind Fagen on this one.

6. “Octopus’s Garden”

From their very first album onward, The Beatles made a point of featuring Ringo on vocals on at least one track. It was sometimes a cover of an earlier rock hit — The Shirrelles’ “Boys,” the Carl Perkins tunes “Matchbox” and “Honey Don’t,” or the Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally.” More often, it was a Lennon-McCartney original they wrote with Starr in mind: “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “What Goes On,” “Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ringo tried in vain to write songs, but they ended up being little more than rewrites of someone else’s tune. He came up with the simple country ditty “Don’t Pass Me By” which appears on Side 2 of “The White Album,” and then, during the sessions for “Abbey Road,” he wrote “Octopus’s Garden,” which he regarded as “a sequel to ‘Yellow Submarine.'” George Harrison helped out with a marvelous guitar intro, and John, Paul and George all added harmonies.

7. “Tonight’s the Night”

Almost from the beginning, Stewart projected a playfully naughty image as a lovable rascal who’d love to take you to bed. He hung out with — and sometimes married — attractive, much younger women, and the lyrics of the songs he chose to record and release as singles were fairly obvious in their sexual overtures. “Maggie May” (1971) tells the tale of a young man’s first sexual experience with a much older woman; “Hot Legs” (1978) is about a young woman who drops by only for spirited, casual sex; and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (1978) is about a couple of strangers who lust for each other and are at first too shy to make a move but end up doing the deed. “Tonight’s the Night,” though, is the one that features the lyric in question, which was boldly blatant about what he wanted from the young lady.

8. “Hearts and Bones”

When Simon made the daring decision in 1970 to end his enormously successful partnership with Art Garfunkel, it was because he wanted to explore new musical territories that he felt weren’t a good match for the Simon-Garfunkel tight harmonies. In 1975, the duo reunited, but for only one song, “My Little Town,” which appeared on his “Still Crazy After All These Years” album AND Garfunkel’s “Breakaway” LP. In 1983, following a spectacularly successful reunion concert, video and album in Central Park, Simon and Garfunkel did a reunion tour, and started work on a full S&G album, but the pair had a falling out, and Simon actually erased Garfunkel’s vocal parts and made the album a solo work called “Hearts and Bones.” The other two albums listed, 1991’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” and 2000’s “You’re the One,” had no involvement from Garfunkel.

Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” LP, 1971

9. “Echoes,” Pink Floyd

From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, progressive rock bands were eager to push the boundaries of rock music, not only in format and influences but in length as well. British artists like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Yes wrote songs that lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes. American and Canadian acts from Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan to Rush and Styx got in the act as well. In 1968, California’s Iron Butterfly was one of the first bands to take up a whole album side, releasing the stoner classic “In-A-Gadda-da-Vida,” but it lasted just 17:05. Yes released “Close to the Edge” in 1972, and its title track was 18:43 in length. Genesis, with Peter Gabriel still firmly in charge, released the 23:06-long “Supper’s Ready” in 1972. The winner, though, is Pink Floyds “Echoes,” from their 1971 album “Meddle,” which edges out “Supper’s Ready” by a half minute at 23:31.

10. Billy Joel

You can look at the accessible pop songcraft of Joel from his earliest work onward and assume he’d be a perfect match for McCartney’s similar vein of highly melodic material… but no, they never worked together. In 1982, McCartney teamed up with Stevie Wonder for the massive hit “Ebony and Ivory” and also “What’s That You’re Doing,” both from his “Tug of War” LP. In the 1982-83 period, McCartney collaborated successfully with Michael Jackson on three hits: “The Girl is Mine” from Jackson’s “Thriller” album, and “Say Say Say” and “The Man” from McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” LP. In 1989, following poor sales of his previous album “Press to Play,” McCartney struck an alliance with Elvis Costello on four of the 12 songs on “Flowers in the Dirt,” as well as Costello’s hit “Veronica” the same year.

11. Elton John and Freddie Mercury

These two bombastic Brits were both prone to big, splashy theatrics in their performances, and they were good friends, so you’d think a duet would’ve been a natural for them, but it never happened. On the other hand, the other three pairs of artists found great results pooling their talents on various recordings. For her “Dog Eat Dog” album in 1985, Joni Mitchell invited ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald to perform a duet with her on “Good Friends,” which stiffed as a single at #85 but reached #28 on Mainstream Rock charts. In 1984, for his third solo LP, “Chinese Wall,” Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire collaborated with Phil Collins, who produced the album, played drums throughout, and co-wrote and sang on the international #1 hit “Easy Lover.” Back in 1969, Johnny Cash sang a duet with Bob Dylan on his “Nashville Skyline” album on a re-recording of Dylan’s 1963 tune “Girl From the North Country.”

12. “Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones

One of the earliest examples of a controversial album cover design that made it into production was the infamous tight jeans close-up on The Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” LP, courtesy of Andy Warhol. Although members of his design collaborative, The Factory, actually implemented the design and photography, Warhol conceived of the idea, which Mick Jagger enthusiastically endorsed. The actual working zipper on the original pressing was later removed because it tended to damage albums during shipping. Hipgnosis, a British graphic design group that created album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Alan Parsons Project and more, came up with the award-winning “Dark Side of the Moon” cover art. Famed fashion and portrait photographer Brian Duffy, who worked often with David Bowie, shot and created the cover for Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” album. Warhol was rumored to have shot the polaroid photo of John Lennon for his “Imagine” cover, but it was instead taken by Yoko Ono.

13. Linda Ronstadt

Young went to Nashville in 1971 to appear on a taping of the ABC musical variety show “The Johnny Cash Show,” where Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor were also scheduled to appear. Immediately following the taping, Young invited Ronstadt and Taylor to a nearby studio, where he had assembled some country musicians to record some tracks for a new project that would become the chart-topping “Harvest” LP. It’s difficult to make out Taylor’s voice in the mix of either “Heart of Gold” or “Old Man,” but Ronstadt’s voice is easily identifiable. Young has shared the stage with Joni Mitchell, notably for The Band’s “The Last Waltz” album and concert film. Young performed with Bonnie Raitt at least once, at the Bay Area Music Awards ceremony in 1990. As far as I can tell from online research, Young and Carly Simon have never performed or recorded together.

14. Peter Green

Peter Green was a brilliant blues guitarist who played first with John Mayall and then formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. He never served with The Yardbirds, a blues-based band later noted for their “rave-up” instrumental breaks. Tony “Top” Topham was the group’s original lead guitarist, but he lasted only a few months and was replaced by hot new blues guitar sensation Eric Clapton. He remained for a year and a half but, as a blues purist, he was turned off by their pop single “For Your Love” and left to join Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (and then Cream). Clapton recommended prominent session guitarist Jimmy Page, who said no and suggested Jeff Beck instead, who was instrumental in their most fertile period on such Yardbirds hits as “Shapes of Things” and “Heart Full of Soul.” Page ended up joining later on bass, then played guitar alongside Beck for several months before Beck grew disillusioned and split. Page stayed on until the group’s disbanding in 1968, turning it into first The New Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin.

A mock-up album cover of what might’ve been

15. Elvis Presley

In the 1927 and 1945 versions of “A Star is Born,” the story centered on an aspiring actress and declining actor, but in 1975, Streisand was interested in reviving the film by making it about the music business instead. Consequently, when she went looking for a co-star to play the part of the singer on his way down, she wanted someone who could both sing and act. Neil Diamond made the short list as a possible candidate. Rick Nelson might’ve worked, and Jerry Lee Lewis as well, but neither were ever under consideration. (The studio mentioned Marlon Brando, who was ruled out because he wasn’t a singer.). Streisand was eager to get Elvis Presley, who met with them and was interested in taking the part, but imperious manager “Colonel” Tom Parker demanded top billing for Elvis and asked for too much money. He also objected to Elvis portraying someone whose career was in decline. Filmmakers instead settled on Kris Kristofferson, an acclaimed songwriter and actor.

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