On a Guest Star

You probably know by now that I’m a huge Beatles fan. My top ten list of all-time greatest rock band is: 1-10. The Beatles. See? You might could make the argument that producer George Martin was, in many ways, the 5th Beatle, the man who helped them dub and overdub and edit and compose and arrange their talent into hit after hit. And it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Beatles occasionally had guest stars appear on several albums and songs. Billy Preston, for example, plays the electric piano on the recording of “Get Back.” Eric Clapton handles the guitar solo on George Harrison’s famous composition, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

What you may not know and will probably be surprised to learn is that the guest star appearing the most on Beatles songs and albums was not a well-known name at all; no, this guest was an Abbey Road Studios mainstay known to all simply as Mrs. Mills.

Yes, Mrs. Mills had been employed by various recording artists around the Beatles’ favorite studio for several years when Martin first suggested that the Fab Four choose her to make guest appearances on several of their most iconic songs. As a result, you’ll hear Mrs. Mills on “Penny Lane,” the song Paul McCartney penned about growing up on his childhood street in Liverpool. Mrs. Mills also pops up in “Lady Madonna,” another McCartney song. And, from the iconic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Mrs. Mills makes an appearance on “With a Little Help From My Friends,” sung by drummer Ringo Starr. “She’s a Woman,” “Rocky Racoon,” and “I Want to Tell You” also feature Mrs. Mills.

All of this information begs the question: Why haven’t we heard more about Mrs. Mills?

Well, Eddie Vedder, the former lead singer for Pearl Jam, had heard the largely unknown story about Mrs. Mills’ contributions to the Beatles song canon, and he wanted to let others know about this important but overlooked piece of rock history. So, Vedder wrote a song entitled, appropriately, “Mrs. Mills” and invited former Beatles drummer Starr to provide the drums for the song. Ringo was happy to oblige. In the publicity surrounding the song’s release, Vedder also reminded the press that other artists had, over the years, also employed Mrs. Mills in their work without giving proper credit, including such virtuosos as Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

Would it surprise you to know that, even though Mrs. Mills was on all those Beatles songs, that in none of them was Mrs. Mills on key? And that Mrs. Mills was purposely tuned that way?

You see, Mrs. Mills was the name of the Abbey Road Studios upright Steinway piano.

On Old Friends

Mac called his pal, John, one afternoon.

“Whadder ya up to?”

John laughed. “Just baking some bread. You?”

“Same!” Mac answered.

The pair had known each other almost their entire lives. They grew up only streets apart in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For a few short years, the two had even been business partners.

Now, in their 40s, the two middle aged men had taken up baking at the same time. They each felt it was both a creative and, at the same time, relaxing thing to do. Interestingly, the two took on the hobby independently of each other–there was no discussion about agreeing to do so. But that’s the level of kinship the two men had felt over the years. They were the type of chums that could finish each other sentences and thoughts. A rare thing, at least in this day and age.

And here they were, on the phone, two middle aged men, comparing bread baking techniques as if they were housewives. This particular conversation was about how long each of them allowed their doughs to rest and rise and where they did so. John said he liked to leave his in a warm cupboard. Mac countered that he left his out, covered with a warm cloth, to rise overnight. And, so, the conversation ran like that–light, breezy, and with the ease to two friends who had, according to one of them, “lived in each other’s back pocket” for most of their lives.

Oh, as all relationships do, this one had its moments of disagreements and even fights. Never physical ones, but verbal fights that sometimes lasted months where the two wouldn’t speak. But the things that they had in common were stronger than those that tried to tear them apart. “It was always nice to get back to the relationship we’d had as kids,” of one them said.

John said he had to go–“The missus is calling,” he said, and Mac bid his friend farewell. “Call me later and tell me how the bread turned out,” he said. John promised he would.

It was the last time the friends would talk.

A few days later, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon, and Paul McCartney would lose his closest friend.