In 2018, 50 years after its release, a six CD “Deluxe” and BluRay reissue appeared which consists of a remix of “The Beatles” (Disc 1 and 2) along with a CD of demos made at George Harrison’s house in Esher (Disc 3). It was an expensive package but comes with a beautiful 128 page hardback book along with the original poster and glossy photographs. It’s all available on Spotify and YouTube. A few days ago, I realised that I had barely listened to the alternate versions included on Discs 4, 5 and 6 so I’ve put that right today.
How often have I listened to my favourite albums? I bought “The Beatles” when it came out in November 1968 and played it incessantly. I know every note inside out, back to front and top to bottom. I bet I’ve listened to every song 1000 times. There comes a saturation point when there’s no further pleasure to be derived from listening to most of the songs. On the other hand, I’ll never tire of listening to “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Julia” and “Long Long Long”. Every one of the other songs on the album (apart from “I Will”) is excellent but I know them too well.
One of the criticisms of remixing an album and releasing outtakes and alternate versions is “what’s the point?” In most cases, The Beatles and George Martin made the correct decision about what to release. There is very little on Discs 4, 5 and 6 that improves upon the original. On the other hand, listening to Yoko Ono harmonising on the choruses of “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” has allowed me to appreciate the song in a new context. It has been fascinating and enjoyable today to listen to all these new versions/outtakes. In particular, John Lennon’s voice rarely appears double tracked on the “new” material and the vulnerability and emotional rawness in his voice has been thrilling to hear. Some of these versions are merely interesting but some of them are incredible.
Disc 4 Track 1 Revolution
This take starts in a similar fashion to the released version of “Revolution 1” but has an extended coda. After five minutes John starts screaming “All Right” and “Right” over and over. Some of this singing was used in the released version of “Revolution 9”. As the rest of the group continue to play, John finds more and more different ways to sing “All right”. The tempo increases and at 7:30 he says “okay – I’ve had enough” but the music continues. John’s mellotron playing becomes more weird, Paul improvises on piano and Yoko can be heard to say “Maybe if you become naked”. The whole track lasts 10:28.
Disc 4 Track 2 A Beginning / Don’t Pass Me By
The original intention of this song was that it would be introduced by a soaring orchestral piece, written and arranged by George Martin. The fiddle on the song was played by Jack Fallon, a renowned bass player but unused to playing fiddle. The end of this take includes a spoken piece from Ringo which was edited out of the released version.
Disc 4 Track 3 Blackbird
Paul’s intention for this song was to make his singing sound unforced and casual. He recorded 32 different takes of the song on 11th June and this is Take 28.
Disc 4 Track 4 Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
This instrumental rehearsal includes great lead electric guitar from George, dirty rhythm guitar by John and incredible drumming from Ringo.
Disc 4 Tracks 5,6,7 Good Night
Various different arrangements for the album’s closer were tried. A spoken introduction by Ringo; wordless harmonies in place of the lush strings; three guitar parts from John mixed together; a solitary piano played by George Martin.
Disc 4 Track 8 Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
The released version of this song was Take 23 but the version here is Take 3 and in its charming way is more appealing. There is less of a mock-reggae feel with ringing acoustic guitars being the predominant sound.
Disc 4 Track 9 Revolution
Although John wanted “Revolution” to be the A side of The Beatles’ next single, Paul and George felt that the song, as already recorded, wasn’t fast enough. A slightly faster version was recorded but was still gentle in tone.
Disc 4 Track 10 Revolution
A faster version without vocals and with distorted lead guitar was recorded before John’s voice was added. This is an instrumental version and the quality of Ringo’s drumming is apparent.
Disc 4 Track 11 Cry Baby Cry
A slow version of this song was recorded with a doom-laden harmonium played by George Martin.
Disc 4 Track 12 Helter Skelter
Paul wanted to record a dirtier, louder and wilder song than The Who’s “I Can See For Miles” and, with John on bass and he playing lead guitar, they recorded several versions of “Helter Skelter”. The version lasting for over 27 minutes is not on this re-issue but, Take 2, lasting for nearly 13 minutes is included. It’s much slower and less punchy than the released version but Paul’s vocals are maniacal.
Disc 5 Track 1 Sexy Sadie
62 takes of this song were recorded before The Beatles were happy to release it. This is take 11 and is slow, with acoustic guitar and percussion being the predominant sound. The piano riff of the released version has yet to be created. John’s untreated voice is particularly effective.
Disc 5 Track 2 While My Guitar Gently Weeps
At least 30 takes of George’s classic song were recorded and most of these took place in August and September. However, an early run through took place in July with Paul learning the organ part. It’s slower than the released version, there’s no electric guitar and George’s voice is very high in the mix. It’s remarkable.
Disc 5 Track 3 Hey Jude
Here is the first take of a song that is still sung by crowds as football and cricket matches, 53 years after its release. It’s a full band recording and is very interesting but lacks the panache of the released version. The fade out is still 3 minutes long but without the orchestra, feels quite long and Paul’s impassioned vocals seem a bit forced.
Disc 5 Track 4 St. Louis Blues
Paul breaks into one verse of a song written by W.C. Handy in 1914.
Disc 5 Track 5 Not Guilty
Over 100 takes of this song were recorded in August. It’s a great song and excellent full band performance. The lyrics are a little sour (it’s not George’s fault about Apple or The Maharishi) so maybe that explains why it was left off the album. As much as I like “Piggies”, if George was restricted to only four songs, this would have been a better choice. His electric guitar playing is excellent.
Disc 5 Track 6 Mother Nature’s Son
This is a simple unadorned version of this song with a slightly affected vocal. At the end of the song, there is a conversation between George Martin and Paul in which it’s clear that Paul is looking for some perspective on which version is better. This is take 15 out of 26.
Disc 5 Track 7 Yer Blues
In order to create the same feeling that they had when playing in small clubs like The Cavern, The Beatles recorded the music for “Yer Blues” in a small room measuring 8 feet by 15 feet. John and George take it in turns to play electric guitar solos and although John sings a guide vocal, it was only picked up faintly through other microphones. As always, Ringo’s drumming is extraordinary.
Disc 5 Track 8 What’s The New Mary Jane
A nonsense song, written in Rishikesh and using the vernacular for LSD in its title, this first take is charming with John laughing and barely able to get the words out.
Disc 5 Track 9 Rocky Racoon
“Rocky Racoon he was a fool into himself and he would not swallow his foolish pride. Mind you, coming from a little town in Minnesota, it was not the sort of thing a young guy did when a fellow went and stole his chick away from him”. This version was recorded before the introduction of the honky tonk piano that gives the released version its recognisable sound. The take goes well until Paul sings “sminking of gin” at which point he improvised wildly including a reference to a friend of Rocky’s from “his primary school days” which rather spoils the feeling that these events took place in the Wild West of the late 19th century.
Disc 5 Track 10 Back In The U.S.S.R.
I don’t always appreciate hearing instrumental versions of songs but listening to this allows us to appreciate the great lead guitar and also to note that a Beatles song without Ringo on drums doesn’t sound as good.
Disc 5 Track 11 Dear Prudence
One of the best Beatles songs can’t be improved.
Disc 5 Track 12 Let It Be
An early tuneless snippet that lasts just over a minute.
Disc 5 Track 13 While My Guitar Gently Weeps
By the time Take 25 was made, Eric Clapton had joined the session. His guitar playing is more flamboyant on this version than we are used to. There are more impassioned vocals from George but the take breaks down after he makes a mistake.
Disc 5 Track 14 (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care
A manic vocal from Paul helps the band get in the mood for a crazy version of “Helter Skelter”.
Disc 5 Track 15 Helter Skelter
Magnificent. With George Martin on holiday, 21 year old Chris Thomas was in charge for the first time as an unbelievably maniacal version of “Helter Skelter” was recorded. After “whooping” his way through the chorus, Paul ends by instructing Chris Thomas to “Keep that one. Mark it ‘fab’”
Disc 5 Track 16 Glass Onion
Some final changes to the lyrics hadn’t been made when Take Ten was recorded. Lady Madonna had yet to make an appearance, the fool is standing, not living, on the hill and he is looking through the hole in the ocean, rather than fixing it.
Disc 6 Track 1 I Will
My least favourite song on the album is not enhanced by added percussion.
Disc 6 Track 2 Blue Moon
An improvised version of a song made famous by Elvis Presley.
Disc 6 Track 3 I Will
25 seconds of a take which ends with Paul singing “I won’t” to which John replies “Yes, you will”.
Disc 6 Track 4 Step Inside Love
Paul is not especially committed to his performance of a song he had recently written for Cilla Black
Disc 6 Track 5 Los Paranoias
An in joke leads into a throwaway improvisation, lasting nearly 4 minutes.
Disc 6 Track 6 Can You Take Me Back
A snippet of this was used at the start of the released “Revolution 9”. “Are you happy here, honey? Are you happy here living with us?” is taken verbatim from “Voices Of Old People” from Simon & Garfunkel’s LP, “Bookends”
Disc 6 Track 7 Birthday
An instrumental version of the least imaginative song on the album allows us to appreciate George’s lead electric guitar.
Disc 6 Track 8 Piggies
Another instrumental version. Chris Thomas plays harpsichord.
Disc 6 Track 9 Happiness Is A Warm Gun
This is more like it. This is Take 19 out of the 70 that were recorded. Although the song is in four sections, it becomes apparent from this version how brilliantly the four musicians make the transitions between each part. John’s voice isn’t as strong as it appears on the released version but it’s stunning to hear a full run through of the song without the edits that seem so familiar.
Disc 6 Track 10 Honey Pie
This instrumental version allows us to appreciate John’s great guitar solo as well as transporting us back to a Lyon’s Corner House in the 1930s.
Disc 6 Track 11 Savoy Truffle
Yet another instrumental version of a vastly underrated song. There is a lot going on – six saxophones, great guitar and Chris Thomas on keyboards.
Disc 6 Track 12 Martha My Dear
This is a low key version of the song but the magnificent melody shines through and Paul’s piano playing is wonderful.
Disc 6 Track 13 Long Long Long
One of George’s very best songs showcases Paul’s organ playing, George’s guitar playing and, especially, Ringo’s dramatic drumming. The vocals on this version are not serious and the performance breaks down.
Disc 6 Tracks 14 and 15 I’m So Tired
On John’s 28th birthday, The Beatles recorded 15 takes of “I’m So Tired”. The final version is included here but includes added extras such as wordless backing vocals, guitar and organ fills and Paul singing harmony vocals. It’s a fascinating listen and I can’t decide whether the final, simpler version is more satisfying or not.
Disc 6 Track 16 The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
Yoko Ono sings excellent harmony vocals on the choruses.
Disc 6 Track 17 Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
In this version, Paul sings the first verse sweetly and the second verse aggressively. It’s a fascinating listen but the released version is probably better.
Disc 6 Track 18 Julia
The released version is one of the most magnificent songs ever released. This version starts by featuring John strumming his acoustic guitar. He stops and plays it from the beginning, this time picking the guitar. His singing is more vulnerable and, since it is one complete take, there are no overlapping vocals. It’s a very moving performance, especially knowing that the song marks the changing of the focal point of John’s muse from his mother, Julia, to Yoko Ono.
Disc 6 Track 19 The Inner Light
This is an instrumental version of one of my favourite George songs.
Disc 6 Track 20 Lady Madonna
Listening to instrumental versions of great Beatles’ songs is interesting but not necessarily enjoyable.
Disc 6 Track 21 Lady Madonna
Less than a minute of a recording of The Beatles preparing to sing vocals. Not at all interesting.
Disc 6 Track 22 Across The Universe
An overlooked work of genius. This is an entirely live performance and John’s voice is especially moving, emotional and incredible. Whereas most of his later recordings included his voice being double tracked, recordings such as this allow us to appreciate how vulnerable he could sound. This is wonderful. It’s the Beatles. The most intriguing story in the world about the best music that’s ever been recorded. Not open for discussion regardless of how many pints of Harvey’s you buy me.