The Beatles have another unreleased track besides “Now and Then”
Beatles Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison in gatefold art for their “Sgt. Pepper” album in 1967, the same year they recorded their mysterious and unreleased “Carnival of Light” sound collage.
The Nov. 2 release of “Now and Then” is being billed as “the last Beatles song” because it’s believed to be the final time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr will be heard together on a previously unreleased song. Advanced technology developed by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings,” “The Beatles: Get Back”) made it possible to build the tune out of a rough demo recorded by Lennon before his death in 1980. (Harrison died in 2001, but he participated in an earlier “Now and Then” salvage effort and his guitar is heard on the new release.)
While “Now and Then” may indeed be the last song by the Fab Four, it’s not their final sonic collaboration. “Carnival of Light,” a mysterious 14-minute audio collage recorded in 1967 during the same creative burst that birthed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” has long been sought by Beatles fans eager for new material of any kind. McCartney has expressed a desire to release “Carnival of Light,” but Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, who I interviewed nearly a decade ago, told me he’s heard it and it’s just the Fabs clowning around. Here’s the interview from 2014:
Beatles fans patiently waiting to hear “Carnival of Light,” the mysterious 14-minute sound collage the band recorded but never released, are in for a disappointment.
So says author and historian Mark Lewisohn, considered the world’s foremost expert on the Fab Four. He’s one of the few people ever to have heard this most desired Beatles track, which has never been bootlegged and which is considered the last major unmined artifact in the band’s sonic archive.
“It’s just loose random sounds,” Lewisohn said from his London home, en route to a Beatles event in Toronto.
“‘Revolution 9’ (the White Album collage) is much more cohesive and thought through than this is. The intrigue in ‘Carnival of Light’ rests solely on the fact that it hasn’t been heard. When one day it is heard, no one will want to talk about it anymore, I don’t think.”
True, but it does have all four Beatles on it, larking about under Paul McCartney’s lead as their contribution to a January 1967 performance art event known as The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, at the Roundhouse venue in Camden, London. Recorded during the “Penny Lane” sessions, it was played publicly just once and shelved thereafter. McCartney has said he’d like to release it one day, perhaps as the soundtrack to a photo collage, if he can get Ringo Starr and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison to agree.
It’s deep insider info like this that Lewisohn, 56, is known for, along with the attention to detail he’s demonstrated in several books about the band, including his new three-volume opus “The Beatles: All These Years,” Vol. 1 of which, Tune In, was published late last year.
Q. Why are you so fascinated by the Beatles, after all these years? Why not do a scholarly book about the Rolling Stones for a change?
A. The Beatles were pioneers in almost everything they did and where they weren’t pioneers, they were the popularizers of things. They had the broadest reach. They had the greatest impact. And they had interest from top to bottom. Whereas if you’re writing about the Stones, really no one wants to read about Bill (Wyman) or Charlie (Watts), much respect to them …
But in the Beatles all four of them are really interesting and all four of them have great stories, so you weave them all together and you have the best story by far.
Q. Let’s talk about “A Hard Day’s Night,” the Beatles’ first and greatest film. What made it work so well, the band members or director Richard Lester?
A. It all works. There isn’t a thing about A Hard Day’s Night that doesn’t work. The writing is excellent. The direction is superb, the photography is wonderful. The Beatles are terrific in it. The thing is, it comes down to not whether or not they could act. It turned out that they could, but it really for me hinges on how natural they were before the camera.
Because some people simply cannot be natural on camera, and then there’s no amount of coaxing from a director or brilliance in a script that’s going to change that. But the Beatles were, and it’s their naturalness that comes across, they are at ease with what they’re doing.
And because everything else is in there working and rattling along at a great pace, the humour in the film is tremendous. I watched it in London with an audience recently and people were still laughing out loud.
Q. It all gets back to personal chemistry, doesn’t it?
A. This also is what is about the Beatles story that makes it so extraordinary. It turns on so many moments of good fortune and fate. But ultimately it comes down to the fact that these four people had something about them that drew them together and enabled them to create brilliantly and be greater than the sum of their parts. 🌓
(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)