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Carnival of De-Light?: Beatle authors, DJs and journalists weigh in on track's possible release

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.

Lewisohn continues.

"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.

Your thoughts?. 


For more info: The history of "Carnival of Light" from Abbeyrd's Beatles Page, the recent Abbeyrd report on Paul's comments to release it and the Wikipedia entry on "Carnival of Light."
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  • DoctorBob 6 years ago

    splendid site. count me in. yup, yup, yup

  • dennis 6 years ago

    "Carnival..." should be released along with all the other Beatles material in the vaults. Macca and company don't need to act as if the material is the "truth" about who was really behind the assassination of JFK or anybody else. In the greater scheme of things,it really is not THAT important!
    Release it all,for gawd's sake!

  • dennis 6 years ago

    That also includes releasing a restored,updated,enhanced,loaded-w/ extras-DVD set of "Let It Be" and "Magical Mystery Tour".Is Macca the only one left who still believes the Beatles myth? Otherwise,why not???

  • Steve Marinucci (Beatles Examiner) 6 years ago

    Dennis: I agree with you on "Let It Be," MMT and the rest. But I don't see what "Carnival" adds to the Beatles legacy. And the scrutiny it will get from the mainstream will not be pretty. I don't see any reason for it.

  • dennis 6 years ago

    Thanks,Steve M. I feel those who don't like the Beatles already will be the only ones who might raise a (Daily?)Howl about "Carnival",etc. So,the way I see it,there's nothing to be lost. Beatles fans,especially we who have been with them from the get-go;or 1967,like myself, have known about "Carnival",etc. for decades and speaking for myself and presumably others,would like to hear it so we can judge it for ourselves.That's only fair.
    I doubt if it's much "worse" than "Helter Skelter",or "You Know My Name,(Look Up the Number)",or the Beatles XMAS records(which also should be released,outside of bootlegs.) It's something historically important having to do with the world's greatest band (ever) and therefore it should be released.
    Could "Carnival" be any "worse" than the jams on "All Things Must Pass"? Or the jams on some Cream albums?I doubt it.There did not seem too much problem releasing those.The Beatles myth needs to be disposed of if they're to continue to be relevant to the young people of today and tomorrow.
    I believe that's what Lennon was trying to tell us in "God". As Astrid Kirchherr once said (paraprased): "They're human beings,not Gods."

  • Lucy M 6 years ago

    "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."----LOL :)

  • carmine 6 years ago

    i'm interested in hearing any unreleased tracks. this would be a treat to any die hard fan.

  • Pete Cunningham 6 years ago

    You know, if Paul really needs it to be heard, tell him to just give it away to radio stations with Beatle programs. Put it up on The Beatles' website and youtube as a soundtrack to a photo collage of them in the studio. I'm sure that that would lead to bootlegs. But there are already plenty of those--the worst of which featuring things that still sound more worthy of official release than the description of "Carnival of Light." I'm happy to pay for their music but this sounds foolish. There will be people who buy it under the idea that it is their music. So just give it away. Then it'll be heard without watering down the official catalogue--the thing that makes us all curious about even goofball sideshows like this.

  • Paul Panetta 6 years ago

    Of the description of what I heard about Carnival of Lights,I would NIX the idea of putting it out.People would buy it out of curiosity and then it would end up at your local record store in the used CD bin!
    McCartney wants this out but not a LET IT BE DVD in which the Beatle public have been wishing for,for the past 10+ years??

  • ed 6 years ago

    I think Allan Kozinn has a great idea - a full disc of avant garde, *including* the Revolution trilogy. A full disc of the Beatles avant garde has not been done before, wow, with new songs fitting the theme. Could it be done? In a way, "Carnival Of Light" was meant to be heard.. at least once..

  • Dan Kornbak 6 years ago

    1967 is perhaps the most important year in the development of modern music, and "Carnival of Light" would add an important piece to the puzzle as to why/how music evolved in all those various directions that year.

  • debjorgo 6 years ago

    "Carnival of Light", the box set.

  • Greg Armstrong 6 years ago

    I'm with you on this Steve, Carnival of Light certainly does not sound appealing on paper, particularly when compared to other unreleased Beatles material on my "must hear before I go deaf" list, such as It’s For You demo, World Without Love demo, Paul’s version of Step Inside Love in full quality (the one Wolfman Jack aired in the early 70’s – not the A3 vsn), the complete Helter Skelter to name a few…

  • J.M. Dempsey 6 years ago

    I think the idea for a film of some kind with "Carnival of Light" as the soundtrack is a good one. It could then be released as a Beatles DVD. Perhaps also someone could do a film or animation to go with "Revolution 9."

  • Stephen Bruun 6 years ago

    "Carnival of Light" is one of several unreleased Beatles tracks that are coveted for their mystique rather than their musical quality. Other than Sir Paul himself, I can't recall anyone praising "Carnival" who had actually HEARD it. Same goes for the long version of "Helter Skelter," which appears to be very close to the "Anthology 3" version but six times longer. These tracks are curios, not lost treasures. The consensus seems to be: People want to HEAR these tracks, but not necessarily OWN them. How about this: Stream the audio at the Beatles' web site, and collect comments. Use this feedback when deciding whether a commercial release would be viable.

  • Matt Talvi 6 years ago

    Absolutely I'd love to hear "Carnival Of Light." I actually LIKE "Revolution 9," and thought it fit in perfectly on the White Album, at that point (next to last track on the last side, before the sweet lullaby, "Goodnight" ended the proceedings)...during a time of great civil unrest around the world. I thought it said more in it's 8 minutes than most of, say, the Jefferson Airplane's entire output from that era. It was the SOUND of utter chaos and anarchy...which is where the world seemed headed at the time. Funny how things these days don't seem so different on that front...but for different reasons.

    Anyway, bring on "Carnival Of Light." It was done during their psychedelic/experimental/hippie/freakout/drug induced/hallucinogenic period, which, for Beatles fans, whether you liked it or not, was as much a part of their legacy as "yeah yeah yeah" or "and in the end/the love you take/is equal to the love you make."

  • Patti M 6 years ago

    Surely there are other things in the vault more worthy of release.

    I'm with you Steve, it's history, but I'd be pushing the forward button!

  • AuroraSkye 6 years ago

    I don't think it should be released -- or rather -- I could care less about it. I would rather hear so many OTHER unreleased Beatles tracks that would be more musical. It sure seems to me that Paul is just trying to get more publicity for himself in constantly talking about it. Release the darn thing and shut up about it-- or DON'T release the darn thing and shut-up about it. I think there are so many other possible Beatles releases to get excited about.

  • AuroraSkye 6 years ago

    I don't think it should be released -- or rather -- I could care less about it. I would rather hear so many OTHER unreleased Beatles tracks that would be more musical. It sure seems to me that Paul is just trying to get more publicity for himself in constantly talking about it. Release the darn thing and shut up about it-- or DON'T release the darn thing and shut-up about it. I think there are so many other possible Beatles releases to get excited about.

  • AuroraSkye 6 years ago

    Crud-- why did it print that twice???


  • Patti M 6 years ago

    Surely there are other things in the vault more worthy of release.

    I'm with you Steve, it's history, but I'd be pushing the forward button!

  • Ken Orth 6 years ago

    Agree with both Kozinn and Rense/Croft - let's have a new avant garde Beatles disc AND use the music as a soundtrack to a new film. Make it a charity exercise.

  • dennis 6 years ago

    as far as the beatles' legacy is concerned;it will stand on it's own merits. "carnival" and the others should not make any difference if their legacy is as untouchable or gold-plated as it is supposed to be. i wanna hear 'carnival' etc. for myself.i really doubt 'carnival' or the long version of 'revolution #1' or that of 'helter skelter' will do ANY damage to the Fabs and their 'legacy'. it should be no surprise that a producer and engineer would refine the raw sounds the fabs put down on tape.their finished songs were comprised of lots of different takes. that's what
    cobain was trying to tell us w/ 'In Utero' a rock song in it's unvarnished,unpolished state has lots of warts on it. beatles were no different.

  • Marie 6 years ago

    Lordy lordy, I say put it up on Itunes or some site for free and to quote Ringo in Help "Let that be an end to it, end to it!"
    Why not let it out? It should have come out with anthology.
    It has become a mythical beast and should be released into the wild now if for no other reason than it will give Beatle nerds something to whine and debate over.

  • Raph 6 years ago

    It won't probably be wise to bring it out, as it's only noise and screams.....What more will it bring to the Beatles legacy. It will probably be good for Paul's ego, that he "is" the Beatles and he "was" behind the peace message, that "he" composed Yesterday and that he was the "avant garde man" and .....not Lennon !

  • arthur 6 years ago

    Good Lord...After you heard this track, you will be looking for some stimulant to take, so to understand what it was all about..For me...I'll take ,Take two of "She's A Woman"Even a few Takes of "Honey Don"t".Peace and Love everyone.Peace out, Paulie!

  • brian 6 years ago

    release the damn thing. if you've sat & listened to any of the LIB session drudgery, than why should this be a problem.

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