After The Beatles broke through in America in ’64, it seemed like anything written by primary songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney would be a hit. That was on McCartney’s mind after Peter and Gordon had three top-20 songs credited to Lennon-McCartney (including “A World Without Love“).
So in late ’65 McCartney tried something different. Rather than have “Woman” bear the Lennon-McCartney tag, he had the songwriter listed as Bernard Webb. It was a hit anyway. Still, the Beatles wondered if any single they released would sell just because they were the Fab Four.
Considering every Beatles A-side cracked the top 10 (most hit No. 1), you can’t blame them. However, taking any one member out of equation shifted the balance. That came through in 1968, when three Beatles and Eric Clapton worked on a single by Apple artist Jackie Lomax. The song they recorded didn’t go anywhere on the charts.
3 Beatles and Eric Clapton played on Jackie Lomax’s single of George Harrison’s ‘Sour Milk Sea’
When The Beatles launched their Apple Records label, it gave the band members the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians without sparking all sorts of “Beatles breakup?” rumors. And George Harrison joined McCartney in stretching his legs out.
In those days, Harrison had his allotment of one song per Beatles side, but he was writing more than the annual Fab Four records could hold. So he passed “Sour Milk Sea,” a track he originally considered for The White Album, to his friend Lomax.
Lomax was among the very first artists The Beatles signed to Apple, and Harrison thought he’d get him off on the right foot with “Sour Milk Sea.” He didn’t stop there, either. Harrison produced Lomax’s session and brought in some heavy hitters to play behind them.
That included McCartney on bass; Ringo Starr on drums; Nicky Hopkins on piano; Clapton on guitar; and Harrison splitting lead guitar duties with him. As far as the ’68 London scene went, this was one of the best backup bands anyone could field.
‘Sour Milk Sea’ didn’t make any noise on the Billboard or UK charts
Forget about the lineup behind Lomax (on lead vocals) on “Sour Milk Sea,” if you can. When you press play, the track jumps at you with that piano hook, snarling guitars, and swinging drums. Meanwhile, Lomax doesn’t disappoint as he belts out the verses and chorus.
The way the piano and guitar take turns on answering the vocal lines is a nice production touch by Harrison, too. At the very least, you’d expect this single to crack the top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. But it didn’t come close in either market. In the U.K., it didn’t register at all. On the U.S. Billboard charts, it failed to crack the Hot 100.
Over the years, critics have wondered if the lyrical content wasn’t a bad fit for the track’s hard-rock feel. Lomax believed the release of “Hey Jude” and Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days” didn’t leave any space for his song on the radio. Either way, three Beatles and Clapton weren’t enough to push “Sour Milk Sea” over the top. Harrison found better luck with Badfinger.
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