The story of the unreleased Watching Rainbows by The Beatles

Unreleased – Watching Rainbows by The Beatles

This is a song that gets better and better and I really wonder what it could have been if they finished it. It is the song Watching Rainbows by The Beatles. Yes, there are still some unreleased gems out there.

Maybe we’ll see more of this “song” when Peter Jackson’s new documentary is released (Sadly set on hold until August 2021 du to the pandemic):

The Beatles: Get Back is an upcoming documentary film directed by Peter Jackson that covers the making of the Beatles’ 1970 album Let It Be, which had the working title of Get Back. The film draws from material originally captured in January 1969 by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for his 1970 documentary of the album. The Beatles: Get Back endeavours to recut Lindsay-Hogg’s film to show the friendly camaraderie that still existed between the Beatles, as well as to challenge longtime assertions that the project was entirely marked by ill-feeling.

Over 55 hours of footage and 140 hours of audio stemming from the original project were made available to Jackson’s team, and it will include the full 42-minute rooftop concert. In reference to the long-reported acrimony surrounding the original Get Back project, Jackson wrote in a press statement that he was “relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth … Sure, there’s moments of drama – but none of the discord this project has long been associated with.”

Watching Rainbows is recorded on 14 January 1969 during the massive Get Back sessions at Twickenham Studios. It features John Lennon on lead vocal and electric piano, Paul McCartney on lead guitar, and Ringo Starr on drums. Bass guitar is absent from the song because Paul McCartney is playing George Harrison’s usual role as lead electric guitar.

Why was George absent? We’ll come to that, let us listen to the song first. Bare in mind that this is just as much a jam-session as a finished song, but we get a glimpse into what it could have been.

Watching Rainbows – The Beatles (1969) “complete” stereo version:

Watching Rainbows – The Beatles (1969) short “fan edit”:

George Harrison quit the band for a brief period starting on January 10th, 1969. At the time, The Beatles were practicing at the film studio, Twickenham, so that their rehearsals could be filmed. After a morning filed with verbal altercations between George and Paul, a quiet George Harrison eventually met up with the group and crew for lunch a bit late. Rather than joining them, he simply stated, “See you ’round the clubs” and disappeared.

The three remaining Beatles went back to the recording room not knowing what to do and unleashed an angry improvisational ruckus with John Lennon sarcastically leading the group to play The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Days later, word got back to Harrison that Lennon had mentioned bringing in Eric Clapton as a replacement, which Lennon had probably said as a ploy to get George back rather than a real solution. After a five-hour meeting, Harrison rejoined the group on January 15th, 1969.

The song  is the result of a loose jamming session during Harrison’s five day absence, but the more I listen to it, the more I wish they would’ve finished it. It was improvised by Lennon while he, Starr and McCartney were running through two other songs of his, the future Abbey Road’s “Mean Mr. Mustard” and the unreleased song “Madman”, which the Beatles ultimately abandoned after a few run-throughs.

Watching Rainbows features no bass (as I’ve already mentioned), as Paul McCartney had to abandon the instrument to fill in for George’s lead guitar as Lennon sang.

The song was never officially released, the melody evolved into several songs , Two of Us  and  I’ve got a feeling  come to mind (…some have suggested that Come Together also springs from this jam).

“Standing in the garden, waiting for the sun to shine”  reminds us of a line from an earlier Beatles tune, I Am the Walrus, which has the line “Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun.” Because of this slight similarity, the song is often interpreted as being derived or loosely inspired by “I Am the Walrus”. Not in my ears, but who knows…

Watching Rainbows was also the name of a bootleg, released in 1978 and the picture at the beginning of this post is taken from that “boot”.

Here are the lyrics to Watching Rainbows as the ones in the video from Youtube are a bit off in places… John Lennon is probably the writer.

Standin’ in the garden
Waitin’ for the sun to shine
Hand on my umbrella, with his girl
I wish she was mine
Everybody knows to think a thing
It didn’t come

Instead of watchin’ rainbows
I’m gonna make me some
Instead of watchin’ rainbows
I’m gonna make me some

Standin’ in the garden
Waitin’ for the English sun to come
And make me brown so I can be someone

Lookin’ at the fancy next-door neighbors
Cryin’ to their mom, “I’m dyin’ to set sail there”
Everybody’s got to have somethin’ hard to hold

Well, instead of watching rainbows under the sun
You gotta get out, son, and make you one
You gotta get out, son, and make your run
Because you’re not gonna make it if you don’t try, no

Shoot big
Shoot big
Whatever you do you gotta kill somebody to get what you wanna get
You gotta shoot big
You gotta shoot big
Until you shoot big
I can’t stand no more

– Hallgeir

Sources: Wikipedia, Unreleased Beatles Music and Film by Richie Unterberger, The Beatles Day by Day by Mark Lewisohn, Allmusic

7 thoughts on “The story of the unreleased Watching Rainbows by The Beatles

  1. This was the seed of “I’ve Got a Feeling”…the words of Chasing Rainbows were early placeholders for what was to evolve

    1. As written in the post, it was the seed of at least one song, maybe three. One of them was certainly I’ve got a feeling.

      1. It’s clearly just an early version of I’ve Got a Feeling, so casting it as an “unreleased gem” comes across as an attempt at garnering clicks.

        1. We do this because we’re interested in music history, and many people are. If you don’t think it’s a gem, that’s fine, I do, in the sense that it is very interesting to find Beatles stuff that haven’t been played to death. And stuff that could maybe be something very good with some more work put into it. As it is it is a seed that flowered into at least one great song, and here we get a glimpse into the work process. That’s why it is a gem to me.

          We do not get paid to do this digging and writing, actually it costs us quite a bit of money (from our own pockets) to keep the site up and running, and that’s fine. The ads at the top and bottom covers about a fourth of our cost, the rest we’ve paid for the last 9 years. Why we do it? Because it gives us pleasure, we are passionate about this stuff and we usually gets pats on our backs for doing it. We don’t do bad reviews, we don’t write about things we don’t like and we try to be appreciative of the work that goes into making art. Life’s too short to focus on the things we don’t like.

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