Saturday, March 07, 2009
Don't You Know that You Can Count Me Out
This is fairly exciting...
In late May and early June of 1968, the Beatles recorded the White Album version (that is, the slow, more acoustic version, not the crackling, electric single) of "Revolution 1." On May 30, they did eighteen basic takes, with the last being considered best. Unlike the other surviving takes, Take 18 was just over ten minutes long -- the others being about five minutes -- and went on rather obsessively repeating the "Bowm, shoo-be-doo-wah"s. On May 31, they took Take 18, overdubbed vocals and bass, and made a reduction mix, now called Take 19.
On Tuesday, June 4, Take 19 received a lot of overdubs, some rather mundane sweetening, and some extremely strange. The latter part of the song, which would be faded out of the final track, featured obstreperous tone-pedal guitar squeals, spooky Yoko Ono utterances ("you become naked") dropped-in piano tinkles, screaming, and an obsessively repeated "mama, dada" chorus. Clearly, Lennon had already begun to conceive of the piece as a portrait of revolution in sound -- no doubt highly influenced by the extreme world events that were happening at exactly the same time: That March had seen the My Lai Massacre, April the assassination of Martin Luther King, subsequent riots and the student takeover of Columbia University, and May the événements in Paris that nearly toppled the French government. The day after the making of Take 20, as the newly dubbed version was known, Robert Kennedy was murdered.
(Quite a year, that 1968.)
Knowing full well that a ten-minute tune that dissolves into musique concrète couldn't possibly serve as the Beatles' next single (although Lennon argued mightily in favor of it), the compromise was that the song faded at about five minutes, and Lennon lopped off the "weird" second half of the take, flounced into another studio, wiped anything musical that remained, and used it as the starting point for "Revolution 9."
Until now, Take 20 has been a chimera to the Beatle-obsessed world. According to Mark Lewisohn, the band's most authoritative chronicler, a single taped copy was made of it and taken away by Lennon.
But now it has resurfaced, and you can hear it here.
(N.B.: Another site that hosted it was hit by a cease-and-desist and had to take it down. So I don't know how long it will survive at the linked site. I was able to snag a copy using Audio Hijack, so if it does disappear again, hit me at my email address and we'll see what we can make happen.)
I've A/B'd the album version and this new Take 20, and I do believe it to be genuine. A few edits were made on the final version, that nasty tone-pedal guitar wiped and replaced with languid horns, but the bones of the piece are there. Likewise, quite a bit of the second half made it into Revolution 9.
One of the more fascinating documents I've come across in a while.
(Many thanks to John and Simon for hipping me to this.)