This is a little mental fantasy project I’ve been working on since I was a teenager, which no self respecting Beatles nerd should be a stranger to: a speculation about what a NEXT Beatles album would have/ could have been like. The proceeding has nothing to do with reality or logic. In the end, it is a soup I’ve decided could be made with some ingredients left in the cupboard. Some of it involves cleaning up and improving existing tracks with technology and adding more production elements; others envision entirely new recordings. All of them are songs that originated in the years 1968-1970 when they were still a group. Note: it’s not envisioned as a cohesive concept album, but something more like the late Hey Jude album….a collection of oddments.
Across the Universe: Granted, this one has been released on many different albums in several different versions — but John was not satisfied with any of them, and I agree. There is something missing from every version that’s been released. In one interview, Lennon said with palpable bitterness that McCartney should have offered more help with it (which is quite an admission) and indeed McCartney does seem to have blown this one off. And likewise George Martin seems to have done little on its behalf as well. It’s a potentially gorgeous song. It seems like Lennon felt it should have a minimum of orchestral assistance, so it has very little (except in the slapped-on Phil Spector version), but in the end, it needs something. More exotic instrumentation? Existing versions have things like light sitar and harp — maybe something besides a guitar as the primary instrument? That said, my favorite of the existing versions went the OPPOSITE way. On the Get Back sessions, we get to hear a rock version, with full electrification and a backbeat — it works.
Child of Nature: This one is so beautiful and would sit so well on an album alongside “Across the Universe” – -it was obviously written during the same burst of inspiration during the 1968 Indian sojourn. The tune was so good that Lennon later revived it for “Jealous Guy” on the Imagine album, but I vastly prefer this version. My instinct is that the unrestrained gushing and hippie like exultation in the lyrics later embarrassed Lennon’s more cynical side. Or, perhaps this is more to the point: I read an anecdote where recording engineers were present when John walked into the studio as Paul was recording “Mother Nature’s Son” and proceeded to glare at him witheringly. The assumption most people have made is that he just didn’t like the tune and thought is was twee. But what if the glare had to do with something else? What if it was because McCartney was recording a song with a very similar theme to his own? The titles of the songs are almost the same, for Christ’s sake. What if Lennon was simply pissed because McCartney had let some of the air out of his tires?
What’s the New Mary Jane: This hilarious experimental weirdie was finally released in its somewhat unfinished state on Anthology. I feel like it could use George Martin’s touch: some tightening up and the addition of things like strings and horns and woodwinds would bring it closer to such more palatable released psychedelic fare as “I Am the Walrus” and “It’s All Too Much“.
Give Me Some Truth: Lennon eventually finished this tune and put it on the Imagine album. But he started it during the Get Back sessions. The finished version is a typically terrific Lennon word blizzard of left wing paranoia. You can hear him thrash it out in early stages with the other Beatles on bootlegs.
Look at Me: As we all know, this gorgeous tune wound up on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band virtually unchanged from the White Album demos he originally performed them on (as ought to be obvious given the similarity of the picking pattern to the ones he uses on “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Julia”). I’m guessing the similarity is what kept it off the White Album, which, fair enough. But, still, it sure does sound like a Beatle tune, and would have been nice on a Beatle album!
Watching Rainbows: This one also dates from the Get Back sessions, and eventually made it onto Let it Be, in altered, truncated form as part of the song “I’ve Got a Feeling”. The original version of the song stands up though. It’s basically a great two chord sixties jam reminiscent of Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo”:
Come and Get It: Well, obviously. McCartney briefly intended it for Abbey Road, but quickly reassigned it for Badfinger to perform for the Magic Christian soundtrack. I include it with reservations — it’s so lightweight — but it actually seems much in sync thematically with other stuff of his on Abbey Road, especially “You Never Give Me Your Money”
Another Day: This, which became McCartney’s first solo single, was famously dismissed by Lennon: “It’s just another song“, but I’ve always contended that the main problem with the solo single is lackluster production. Thematically it evokes past successes like “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” and “She’s Leaving Home”. It begs for the George Martin treatment (strings and so forth). ALSO! ye Gods – – I have heard an early working version he recorded during the Get Back sessions. His original approach on piano, as opposed to guitar, is WAY better! It gives the song a gravitas the eventual version lacks, and reminds me a little of his middle-8 for “A Day in the Life”.
Teddy Boy: Yeah, this one has always been a tough pill to swallow, with it’s child’s point of view, singsong melody, and references to “mommy”. The version on McCartney is underproduced. The original “Get Back” version which was released on Anthology is marred by the other Beatles overtly making fun of it, and dragging their heels in every way possible. But two really great things about the Anthology version tantalize. One is Harrison’s playful lead guitar, very evocative of Abbey Road. And the other is McCartney whistling the melody towards the end. To be completely salvaged it still needs more — perhaps Lennon attacking the lyrics and beating them into respectability with some darkness, or adding a new middle 8.
Junk: This one (also released on McCartney) needs just a very little to put it over. Something similar to the horns at the end of “Mother Nature’s Son” would fill it out a little.
Suicide: One of the best parts of the McCartney album is about 2 or 3 seconds long. It’s a snatch of a song McCartney wrote when he was a teenager at around the same time he wrote “When I’m 64”. Like the latter song, it’s McCartney revealing his genius for putting on a pre-rock style and besting previous generations at their own game. Because it’s so far from the Beatles style I guess it was never considered for one of their albums, but from the perspective of 2015 it seems no more out of place than all the other crazy genres they fooled around with on the White Album, e.g. “Good Night”. The word is that McCartney was trying to sell the song to Sinatra – -who, frankly, was an idiot for not recording this great song by the hottest composer of his era. It would have been interesting on a Beatles album, to say the least:
Back to the Commonwealth: I’ve loved this one since I was a teenager — it seems like the very essence of what they were trying to do on Get Back….it’s in the vein of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, and apparently eventually evolved into the song “Get Back”, which is quite a journey. The lyrics sound almost finished in the recording, and McCartney’s Elvis impression is very funny. With its political commentary, this song would have lived quite harmoniously side by side with Lennon’s “Give Me Some Truth”.
Back Seat of My Car: This is a case where the existing, released solo version (on Ram) is an acknowledged pop masterpiece. But McCartney did introduce the tune during the Get Back sessions, and frankly it’s a better song than almost all of the ones that finally made the cut on Let it Be. It is at least intriguing to speculate what the other Beatles would have brought to it.
Not Guilty: Ironically the Beatles recorded over 100 takes of this song for the White Album, and it was slated for inclusion, but cut at the last moment. George released a solo version in 1978, and the original track was eventually released on Anthology. Harrison and McCartney are in top form musically on the track — I listen to it all the time. The lyrics are dreadful of course, but the words to dozens of released Harrison songs are dreadful, so that’s not a deal breaker. Despite all the work they put into it, I do feel like it still needs just a little something, a little George Martin touch, to put it completely over. Strings?
Sour Milk Sea: Some dope made a hilarious remark in the comments section under one of the Youtube clips of the Beatles demo of this song: “I like the Jackie Lomax version”. All real Beatle fans will know why that is a hilarious comment. Yes, this was released as a single performed by the singer Jackie Lomax. But Jackie Lomax was just a guy picked by Harrison as a stand-in for himself, much as McCartney had picked Badfinger to perform “Come and Get It”. They were trying to cultivate artists for their new record label Apple. But not only did Harrison write and produce the song, but the musicians on the track are Harrison, McCartney, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton! It comes SO close to being a Beatle record. So you see, there is no “Jackie Lomax version”. It is George Harrison’s version, with Lomax as one of his instruments. Anyway, I really love the Lomax single anyway (and listen to it all the time). BUT, that said, I much prefer the way Harrison sings the song on his demos — there is an eerie, bending lilt to his voice. And Lennon (who doesn’t play on the Lomax one) brings an old fashion Chuck Berry kind of energy to it.
All Things Must Pass: There’s a reason this became the title track of Harrison’s first solo album: it’s an awesome song. (If you think about it, it has a lot in common with McCartney’s song “Let it Be”, which may be one reason why the Beatles didn’t see this song, which was introduced during the “Get Back” sessions, all the way through to the end.) BUT! The Beatles came tantalizingly close to getting their own version up and running, and the part I love best about it is their harmony singing on the chorus, done in a sort of old-timey gospel arrangement reminiscent of The Band. Also Billy Preston’s piano playing adds a lot.
Circles: Like many Harrison songs, this one is so delicate and ephemeral that it scarcely makes an impression the first time around. But after a couple of plays it can begin to haunt. Its metaphysical themes make a great match with a lot of the other songs on this theoretical album. He eventually released a fully produced version on his terrible album Gone Troppo. His 1968 demo exists; the voices of Lennon and McCartney would have added a lot.
Window, Window: A pleasant if facile little ditty presented by George during Get Back sessions and also in sessions for All Things Must Pass, though no full recording resulted (date of composition uncertain).
It Don’t Come Easy: There’s got to be a Ringo song! And this one was recorded in February 1970, when the group was technically still together, and was produced by Harrison, with Harrison and Starr as the core line-up (they also co-wrote it). The released version also included Klaus Voormann, Stephen Stills and Badfinger. An interesting artifact exists: a version with Harrison doing a guide vocal for the shakier Ringo to work off of. It features background singers going “Hare Krishna!”, which was later buried in the mix.
I like how John told Jeff Lynne that Electric Light Orchestra is how the Beatles would have sounded in the 1970s if they hadn’t broken up. Not sure if John realized that it was the whole idea!
My Beatles fantasy is that they had a friendly break-up, then for each solo album, they’d get together for one song, which would also be released as a single. Then, by 1977 or so, they’d start talking about doing an entire album.
John & Paul actually started talking about working together again when they met up in L.A. circa 1974. In fact, John and May Pang were to have joined Paul and Linda in New Orleans, where Wings was cutting “Venus and Mars”. But John got sidelined in New York… where Yoko was still living… and suddenly John was no longer interested in working with Paul. There’s a reason why people thought Yoko had some kind of hypnotic spell over him.