By Pete Hamill
June 5th, 1975
Richard Perry has described you as a superb producer but maybe in too much of a hurry.
That's true [laughs].
But supposedly, when making the Beatles records, you were painstaking and slow.
No, I was never painstaking and slow. I produced "I Am the Walrus" at the same speed I produced "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night." I would be painstaking on some things, as I am now. If there's a quality that occasionally gets in the way of my talent, it's that I get bored quick unless it's done quick. But "I Am the Walrus" sounds like a wonderful production. "Strawberry Fields" sounds like a big production. But I do them as quick as I possibly can, without losing (a) the feel and (b) where I'm going. The longest track I personally spent time on was "Revolution 9," which was an abstract track where I used a lot of tape loops and things like that. I still did it in one session. But I accept that criticism and I have it of myself. But I don't want to make myself so painstaking that it's boring. But I should [pause] maybe t'ink a little more. Maybe. But on the other hand I think my criticism of somebody like Richard Perry would be that he's great but he's too painstaking. It gets too slick and somewhere in between that is where I'd like to go. I keep finding out all the time - what I'm missing that I want to get out of it.
Is there anybody that you'd like to produce? For example, Dylan?
Dylan would be interesting because I think he made a great album in Blood on the Tracks but I'm still not keen on the backings. I think I could produce him great. And Presley. I'd like to resurrect Elvis. But I'd be so scared of him I don't know whether I could do it. But I'd like to do it. Dylan, I could do, but Presley would make me nervous. But Dylan or Presley, somebody up there . . . I know what I'd do with Presley. Make a rock & roll album. Dylan doesn't need material. I'd just make him some good backings. So if you're reading this, Bob, you know . . .
Elton John has revived "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." How do you feel about him as an artist?
Elton sort of popped in on the session for Walls and Bridges and sort of zapped in and played the piano and ended up singing "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" with me. Which was a great shot in the arm. I'd done three quarters of it, "Now what do we do?" Should we put a camel on it or a xylophone? That sort of thing. And he came in and said, "Hey, ah'll play some piano!" Then I heard he was doing "Lucy" and I heard from a friend - 'cause he was shy - would I be there when he cut "Lucy"? Maybe not play on it but just be there? So I went along. And I sang in the chorus and contributed the reggae in the middle. And then, again through a mutual friend, he asked if it got to be Number One, would I appear onstage with him, and I said sure, not thinkin' in a million years it was gonna get to Number One. Al Coury or no Al Coury, the promotion man at Capitol. And there I was. Onstage.
I read somewhere that you were very moved by the whole thing.
I was moved by it, but everybody else was in tears. I felt guilty 'cause I wasn't in tears. I just went up and did a few numbers. But the emotional thing was me and Elton together. Elton had been working in Dick James's office when we used to send our demos in and there's a long sort of relationship musically with Elton that people don't really know about. He has this sort of Beatle thing from way back. He'd take the demos home and play them and . . . well, it meant a lot to me and it mean a hell of a lot to Elton, and he was in tears. It was a great high night, a really high night . . . Yoko and I met backstage. And somebody said, "Well, there's two people in love." That was before we got back together. But that's probably when we felt something. It was very weird. She came backstage and I didn't know she was there, 'cause if I'd known she was there I'd've been too nervous to go on, you know, I would have been terrified. She was backstage afterward, and there was just that moment when we saw each other and like, it's like in the movies, you know, when time stands still? And there was silence, everything went silent, y'know, and we were just sort of lookin' at each other and . . . oh, hello. I knew she'd sent Elton and I a flower each, and we were wearin' them onstage, but I didn't know she was there and then everybody was around us and flash flash flash. But there was that moment of silence. And somebody observed it and told me later on, after we were back together again, and said, "A friend of mine saw you backstage and thought if ever there was two in love, it's those two." And I thought, well, it's weird somebody noticed it . . . So it was a great night . . . .
There seems to be a lot of generosity among the artists now.
It was around before. It's harder when you're on the make, to be generous, 'cause you're all competing. But once you're sort of up there, wherever it is . . . The rock papers love to write about the jet-setting rock stars and they dig it and we dig it in a way. The fact is that, yeah, I see Mick, I see Paul, I see Elton, they're all my contemporaries and I've known the other Beatles, of course, for years, and Mick for ten years, and we've been hangin' around since Rock Dreams. And suddenly it's written up as they're-here-they're-there-they're-everywhere bit, and it looks like we're trying to form a club. But we always were a club. We always knew each other. It just so happens that it looks more dramatic in the paper.
How do you relate to what we might call the rock stars of the Seventies? Do you think of yourself as an uncle figure, a father figure, an old gunfighter?
It depends who they are. If it's Mick or the Old Guard, as I call them, yeah, they're the Old Guard. Elton, David are the newies. I don't feel like an old uncle, dear, 'cause I'm not that much older than half of 'em, heh heh. But . . . yeah, I'm interested in the new people. I'm interested in new people in America but I get a kick out of the new Britons. I remember hearing Elton John's "Your Song," heard it in America - it was one of Elton's first big hits - and remember thinking, "Great, that's the first new thing that's happened since we happened." It was a step forward. There was something about his vocals that was an improvement on all of the English vocals until then. I was pleased with it. And I was pleased with Bowie's thing and I hadn't even heard him. I just got this feeling from the image and the projections that were coming out of England of him, well, you could feel it.