© 2005, 2006 Static and Feedback
All rights reserved
|By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Somewhere, likely in England, lies a vault that probably looks as nondescript as
just another two-family home or warehouse along a crowded street. Cars parked
outside, kids playing tag, birds defacing statues and trees providing shade for
dogs lying in yards, begging to not be disturbed.
Inside one of these unlikely vaults probably lies thousands of hours of magnetic
tape, containing the skeletal beginnings of the masterworks of the Beatles, each
minute a glimpse into the creative process of some of the century’s unquestioned
masterpieces. While I may never personally make it to this mythical vault, any and
all peeks into its contents are more than welcome. Any artifact culled from its
proverbial shelves would be greatly appreciated, and recently, such an artifact
finally made its way through traditional collector routes to me.
The artifact in question is a 23-track demo tape recorded in the privacy of George
Harrison’s Kinfauns home in Esher in May, 1968. Armed with acoustic guitars,
shakers and Harrison’s two-track recorder, the Fab Three (Ringo Starr was not
present) proceeded to lay down acoustic takes of their new songs, most of which
would surface on The White Album later that year.
The tracks (a few of which were released on the official
Anthology 3) are widely bootlegged and are of very good sound quality. Through
the magic of the Internet (isn’t this place grand?) the tapes finally found their way
into my hot little hands, and my ears haven’t been given a break since.
Uncovering the Beatles:
A series of demos unlocks 'The White Album'
The Esher Demos
Recorded May, 1968
1. Cry Baby Cry
2. Child of Nature
3. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
4. I'm So Tired
5. Yer Blues
6. Everybody's Got Something To Hide
Except Me And My Monkey
7. What's The New Mary Jane
9. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
11. Sour Milk Sea
12. Not Guilty
16. Rocky Raccoon
17. Back In The USSR
18. Honey Pie
19. Mother Nature's Son
20. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
22. Dear Prudence
23. Sexy Sadie
|John Lennon at work in 1968.
The world surrounding Beatles session recordings is one of obsession.
Naturally, being hailed almost uniformly, along with Bob Dylan, as the absolute
masters of 20th century music, the desire to hear every spit and gurgle associated
with the band would be that much greater than that of a more typical band. It’s not
enough to hear the studio albums, there need to be concert tapes and studio
demos that reveal the thought process, complete with pertinent chatter and
On this, received to me with an “Unplugged” label but shared in many different
forms, the band is found at an important transitional time in their development. But
what’s really fantastic about it is the fact that it’s enjoyable far more than just as a
historical piece. The songs here, as they would be later, are engaging and
intimate. It’s a compelling listen and a much-welcome window into their world at
There’s something inherently charming about these tapes. The quick double-
tracking present on the songs lead to some interesting moments, including Paul
McCartney’s double-vocals falling hilariously out of sync on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,”
or the group vocals and hand claps on John Lennon’s “The Continuing Story of
Many of the songs take on a far more communal and bubbly air than their final
versions. “I’m So Tired” is considerably more upbeat, complete with energetic
“Whoo!” moments in the breaks. “Yer Blues” doesn’t yet have the desperate edge
of its White Album counterpart, while “Revolution” is a bit quicker and much more
hopeful sounding than later studio versions. Another Lennon track, “Child of
Nature,” would undergo a drastic
re-tooling just a few years later. Here, “Child of Nature” falls in line with the wistful
fare that Lennon was writing at the time, a la “Cry Baby Cry” and “Julia.” Later, it
would find new life as a re-charged declaration of his love as “Jealous Guy.”
As a testament to his growing importance in the band, Harrison is featured here
as a near equal to Lennon and McCartney. Of the 23 songs present, five are
Harrison’s, a greater percentage than he ever saw on a proper Beatles album.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Piggies” make their first appearances, “Not
Guilty” and “Circles,” with its simple, moody organ accompaniment, were each
shelved for a decade until their appearances on Harrison solo albums, and “Sour
Milk Sea” never appeared on vinyl in any Beatles configuration — it was recorded
by Apple label-mate Jackie Lomax later that year.
McCartney’s selections here seemed to be the most album-ready of the bunch. Of
them, “Honey Pie,” “Blackbird,” “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Rocky Raccoon”
remain very close to their proper studio versions. “Back in the USSR” has the
same peppy feeling, though it’s far less supercharged without layers of electric
guitars pushing it. “Junk” also makes its first appearance, and would later surface
on McCartney, the album that signaled the official end of the Beatles.
But, to these biased ears, the highlight of the set is “Dear Prudence.” With just one
guitar and double-tracked Lennon vocals, the elegance of the song shines
through. It would later reach its apex when McCartney added his instantly
recognizable bassline, but here, the simple beauty of Lennon’s message is
burned into the listener’s psyche. The “look around” refrain coming out of the
verses is just as distinct as ever. Towards the end, the guitar picks up tempo a bit
and lays the groundwork for the album version’s frantic coda. Here, though, there’
s just Lennon and his guitar, with the bonus of some chatter reflective of their
recent trip to India.
Following that, there’s a quick take of “Sexy Sadie,” with Lennon’s unaccompanied
“Oh, Sadie” the last lingering sounds to be heard.
I have been aware of these recordings for about five years before finally hearing
them recently. In that time I’d looked around, checking record stores and on-line
dealers whenever I was in the mood. It wasn’t a frantic search, but it was always
in the back of my mind. To hear the Beatles unadorned and without pressure
seemed like it would be a satisfying musical experience, if nothing else.
Satisfying, indeed. These demos capture John, Paul and George at one of their
creative peaks. And the warm, sunny vibe of the days they were recorded are
reflected in the tapes. There’s no pressure here for the next hit single, there’s no
photo shoots, no screaming fans. The layers of guitars, keys, drums and
synthesizers would come later, as would the meticulous dissection of lyrics, chord
changes and timestamps.
No, here, there are just three friends with guitars, trying out new songs and new
ideas, free from pressure or scrutiny. Here, the music played is music loved, and
the love shared burns brighter than they ever could have imagined.
All that, garnered just from a peek into the vault.