“I’ll be in a group with John and George and Klaus (Voormann) and call it the Ladders or whatever you want to call it, but I don’t think it would be called The Beatles…” (Ringo Starr in Melody Maker, 1970)
“After Paul McCartney announced his departure from the Beatles, rumors spread that the group would continue with the addition of Harry Nilsson…” (NilssonSchmilsson.com)
For this edition of my Spotify ‘what if’ playlist series, I’ve created four ‘albums’ by an imaginary(?) band called ‘The Ladders’ that would have formed in early 1970 shortly after the Beatles officially called it a day, featuring John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Klaus Voormann.
In some ways this was not a huge effort— John, George and Ringo frequently popped up on each other’s records in this time period– Klaus Voormann, a long time Beatle associate (from the Hamburg era, pre-fame) played bass on most of their solo outings in this period. Harry Nilsson also frequently collaborated with each of the ‘Three-tles’ and also relied on many the same studio musicians, as well as producers and engineers, folks like Richard Perry, Jim Keltner, and, of course Klaus Voormann. With all of this sonic synergy, there is a flow to the solo efforts of these four singers that almost makes it feel as if the band actually did form… In fact, with just a little imagination, it is pretty easy to believe that maybe, just maybe, the Beatles never really did break up…
Unlike my other playlists, I have put these songs in order, so be sure and hit ‘Play’ instead of ‘Shuffle’ for the full effect–
And, as always, I also gave myself some rules– For instance, I made every effort to find ‘time-line accurate’ solo material (for the most part) from each of the four primary players with a couple of notable creative exceptions. For instance, I start the first album with Ringo’s ‘Early 1970’ primarily because the album would have been released in 1970 and the song fits the story-line so well– besides, we don’t when he actually wrote it, just that it was not released until 1973… Besides, this is all imagination anyway. I also tried to focus first on performances with a clear record of collaboration between the ‘members’ of the ‘band’ with Klaus in the mix, this is fairly easy, he plays on the majority of songs across all four records–but what is surprising is how many times there are other collaborations as well– George appears on lead guitar frequently with all of the others, Ringo jumps behind the kit with each of the others as well, and occasionally more than three players appear (Harry Nilsson’s ‘Daybreak’ includes Harry, George, Ringo and Klaus; Ringo’s ‘I’m The Greatest’ includes everyone but Harry; John, George, Klaus and Ringo all make appearances on John’s Imagine album; John, Ringo, Klaus and Harry all appear on Harry’s Pussycats album…etc. etc.) I’ve also put a few interesting ‘what if’ songs throughout the set where two Ladders each recorded separate versions of the same song (John’s ‘Isolation’ by John and Harry; Harry’s ‘Easy for Me’ by Ringo and Harry; George’s ‘That Is All’ by George and Harry…) for those, I just put the two songs next to each other and let you imagine them as a blended piece (a better producer than me could probably do more justice here…)
I also left out some stuff — notably cover tunes (for the most part) — this was sad as all of these folks are excellent interpreters; but my theory here was that there were too many good original tunes to choose from already. I did make exceptions for a couple of items that fit the mix particularly well– such as John’s performance of ‘Bring it On Home To Me’ which includes a rare Klaus Voormann call & response vocal that I could not pass up… I also left out songs that I subjectively deemed to be TOO John, TOO George or TOO Harry– the theory here was that The Ladders was a side project for these folks; I’m guessing Lennon’s Yoko love songs, Nilsson’s novelties and Harrison’s Krishna prayers would have been on the proper solo albums and that the more universal tunes would have been on the Ladders’ albums… there are exceptions here as well, but I gave it a shot.
Anyway; here are the records as I imagine them… I’d love your feedback. I had a lot of fun with this and it would be a thrill to know that anyone out there enjoys listening to them half as much as I enjoyed assembling them:
1970: ‘I Don’t Believe in Beatles’: this was the debut record from the new lineup– material here is drawn from Ringo’s Beaucoups of Blues, George’s All Things Must Pass (actually released in ’71, but we can assume songwriting was well underway as many of the songs that ended up on that record were floated and passed on for later era Beatles records) and John’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ – Harry’s work during this period was scant but there are some sweet tracks from singles and his box set that probably would have made it to these sessions… Click here for a listen: The Ladders – I Don’t Believe in Beatles
1971: ‘Ladders Schmladders’: This was a peak creative moment for Nilsson– The Point and Nilsson Schmilsson both came out this year and represent some of his best (and most Bea… uh, Ladders-y material) John and George both hit high notes this year with solo career winners ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘Imagine’ both seeing release… Ringo was not producing much original material at this time but his George penned and produced ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ did come out as a single this year and Klaus Voorman arranged his Geroge Martin produced number ‘I’m A Fool To Care’ on his 1971 Sentimental Journey album, which becomes a nice closing number a la ‘Goodnight, Goodnight’ from the White Album. Listen to it here: The Ladders – ‘Ladders Schmladders’
1972-3: ‘New York City’: This is where my job got a little more difficult and I took a little more license- Nilsson’s output in ’72 included ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night’, a schmaltzy album of orchestrated classics akin (but honestly superior) to Ringo’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ – John’s ‘Sometime in New York City’ was a mixed bag that heavily features Yoko– it has moments, but it just didn’t feel like The Ladders to me (with the exception of the title track…). George was also still cruising on ‘All Things Must Pass’. In my mind, the fellas set aside a couple of toppers but waited to record in earnest until early 73 – this lets me draw from John’s ‘Mind Games’, George’s ‘Living in The Material World’, and Harry’s ‘Son of Schmilsson’, an uneven record, but certainly one with it’s moments… This was also return to Rock–John had some great rocking moments on ‘Some Time…’, Ringo released his thundering ‘Back off Boogaloo’ single and George’s ‘Living in the Material World’ (the song) has a solid backbeat as well… The album gets a little experimental on side two with Ringo’s Blindman (the b-side from his 1972 single) and some stony & philosophical numbers from the other three… I closed the album with Harry’s New York song ‘I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City’, originally written for Midnight Cowboy (and released in 1969, well before this group would have formed) because, well, I liked it, it fit the theme, and Harry was also well known for re-visiting his own earlier material (see: Aerial Pandemonium Ballet). Give this one a listen here: The Ladders – ‘New York City’
1974: ‘I’m The Greatest’: (probably would have been a double album…) This album is the most convincing of the four (in my opinion) with more collaborations than the others and even production turns and co-writing throughout– there are almost no songs on this one without at least 3 of the five ‘Ladders’ participating, and it even comes with a ‘bonus track’ of Harry’s later years version of his Lennon co-write ‘Old Dirt Road’. As source material goes, it is Ringo and Nilsson heavy, as those two both released collaboration heavy records in this year — Ringo’s ‘Ringo’ album kicks off with ‘I’m the Greatest’, a Lennon-penned post Beatles moment featuring the entire Ladders line-up (sans Harry) that sparked a wildfire of rumours at the time of a full-scale Beatles reunion. Lennon, Klaus and Ringo also all worked on Nilsson’s ‘Pussycats’ record this year as well. Lennon’s output was notably stunted as this was at the peak of his year long ‘Lost Weekend’ drinking binge, but did include some nice moments from his surprisingly coherent ‘Walls and Bridges’ record. Ringo’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ was also a great source, with the Lennon inspired cover of ‘Only You (And You Alone)’ featuring both Nilsson and Lennon (check out the Youtube for a version with all three Ladders singing together). George’s ‘Dark Horse’ also offers up some fine moments to this cohesive record. I really like this one and I hope you do too! Listen here: The Ladders – ‘I’m the Greatest’
Enjoy these and let me know what you think… Up Next… The Dirty Mac – Live!