Paul McCartney would like to see the Beatles' avant-garde mashup 'Carnival of Light'
released. (Photo copyright Apple Corps Ltd.)
Recently, Paul McCartney, speaking in a BBC4 Radio interview in the UK, casually mentioned his interest in releasing "Carnival of Light," a 1967 avant-garde improvisational track recorded by the Beatles and played only once previously in public.
McCartney told "Front Row" host John Wilson, "It ('Carnival of Light') does exist," that he still has a master of the song and says "the time has come for it to get its moment."
"I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off piste," he added.
And the internet buzz for a track very few people have heard -- and by the descriptions available few should want to hear -- continues. And seems to get louder.
In a program within the past few weeks, "Dennis Mitchell's 'Breakfast With the Beatles" discussed the track, included McCartney's comments and featured three purported clips of it.
Forgive me for saying so, but why does anyone care so much about a track that Mark Lewisohn, in his book, "The Beatles Recording Sessions," describes this way:
"This day's attempt lasted 13' 48", the longest uninterrupted Beatles recording to date, and it was the combination of a basic track and numerous overdubs. Track one of the tape was full of distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds; track two had a distorted lead guitar; track three had the sounds of a church organ, various effects the gargling with water was one) and voices; track four featured various indescribable sound effects with heaps of tape echo and manic tambourine.
"But of all the frightening sounds it was the voices on track three which really set the scene, John and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like "Are you alright?" and "Barcelona!" Paul terminated the proceedings after almost 14 minutes with one final shout up to the control room: "Can we hear it back now?" They did just that, a rough mono remix was made and Paul took away the tape to hand over to the 'Carnival of Light' organisers, doubtless pleased that the Beatles had produced for them such an avant garde recording."
I'm as much interested in hearing unreleased Beatle tracks -- tracks that matter -- as anyone else, but this one makes "Revolution #9" sound like Beethoven. Why don't I care if I hear this at all?
So why has there been such a loud buzz on this on the internet? Especially when there are so many other Beatle tracks sitting in the vaults that are known to collectors that would be more desirable. The rumored 27-minute version of "Helter Skelter," for example.
I asked a few folks their thoughts. This was a completely unscientific survey but I was curious what some Beatle authors and experts would think.
Chris Carter of KLOS/Sirius "Breakfast With the Beatles": "YES! I’m all for hearing “Carnival Of Light”! It’s right up there in Beatles mythology along with the 20+ minute version of “Helter Skelter” that fans have been reading about for over 40 years! Come on…14 minutes of never before heard sounds from the Sgt. Pepper sessions will always be welcome to my ears!"
Beatlefan's Bill King said, "Interested? Sure. It's the Fabs. Do I think it's going to be more than a curiosity? No."
John C. Winn, author of "Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy, Volume One, 1957-1965," had similar thoughts. "I would certainly be interested in hearing 'Carnival Of Light,' although I don't know how much repeat playability it would have, based on the descriptions I've read. I expect there are more enjoyable outtakes still lurking in the archives. Still, I'd rather hear it than take 3 of "Helter Skelter".
Andrew Croft of Beatlology: "Yes, I do believe strongly that this piece of 'music' should be released as it captures a moment in musical history, no matter how off-the-wall it may appear to be. The question is, and I am sure Paul McCartney is
wrestling with this, exactly how to release it, as the casual music buyer is not likely to pay a premium for an obscure track such as this. It would be extremely cool if 'Carnival of Light' were to be used in the soundtrack of a new feature movie, just for the hell of it! Failing that, adding it as a bonus track to one of the new CDs in the completely remastered series of the Beatles catalogue, should that day ever come to be."
Allan Kozinn of the New York Times Beatles desk and also their classical music writer, has an interesting proposal. "I think 'Carnival of Light' should be released, but in a special way. The fact is, most people are likely to hate it. This much we can deduce from the fact that we already have a Beatles avant-garde track, and one that they approved for release, in 'Revolution 9.' I personally think 'Revolution 9' is brilliant, as do many people who, like me, spend a lot of time listening to avant-garde and electronic classical work, but I don't think many people would dispute the assertion that most people skip it when they play the White Album. So what I think EMI should do is have its classical arm (EMI Classics) assemble an avant-garde Beatles disc. It would include 'Revolution 9' -- although really, it should include the complete 'Revolution' trilogy, since it's a unified piece of work -- as well as 'Carnival of Light,' the avant-garde drum piece assembled mostly by Ringo, and, if they're being generous (hey, it's a pipe dream, why not go all out?), the unedited 'You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)' and of course the 27'11" 'Helter Skelter,' both of which could be said to have avant-garde elements, by pop standards.
Doug Sulpy, author of "Drugs, Divorce and a Slipping Image - The Complete, Unauthorized Story of The Beatles' 'Get Back' Sessions," said, "I'm interested in hearing *anything* but the bottom line is it's undoubtedly something we're all going to get if we get it listen to, and then never pull out again. I'm far more psyched about hearing the full-length "Revolution 1" take, coming any day now..."
Tom Frangione of Beatlefan said a simple "yes", while Woody Lifton of the "Pop Goes the Beatles" radio show agreed. "Yes ... I would love to hear it."
Joe Johnson of Beatle Brunch: "Yes, I think it should be released. But the average person will probably complain that its not up to par with the Beatles. But i think we'd all like to hear it."
Maybe writer Rip Rense said it best. Though he wrote his comments without seeing mine, he addressed the idea this un-Beatlelike track was something we don't need to hear. "You know, I don't think an H-bomb could damage The Beatles' legacy."
Further, he says, "Yet it is true that the track does have historical interest outside of it being a Beatles work from the sixties, as it really was a sort of precursor to Lennon’s 'Revolution # 9' sound collage, to the extent that bits of 'Light' show up in 'Num-bah Ni-eeen.' (How ironic, then, that McCartney was luke-warm to 'Rev. 9' when Lennon enthusiastically played it for him during the “white album” sessions.)"
"Yes, “Light” should be released," Rense writes, "But not strictly as a piece of music. Better to issue it according to its original purpose, which was to illustrate another work. In other words, McCartney and 'The Beatles' should commission someone to produce an animated film as free form as the music to accompany the release. 'Fantasia' it, in other words, a la the film’s abstract opening sequence, set to Bach’s “Tocatta and Fugue” in D-minor."
Even then, color me not convinced.
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