And Tonight, “Carnival of Light” is Topping the Bill!

The Beatles‘ mystery track “Carnival of Light” may finally see the light of distribution. The BBC reports that Sir Paul McCartney has confirmed that the 14-minute track exists and says he wants the public to hear it (audio interview here). Most likely the track will be made available as part of an online download, as the Beatles’ Apple Records has already announced intentions of putting the entire catalog online.

I have a pretty good collection of Beatles outtakes, though not extensive as those collected by music industry professionals and friends and associates of the Fab Four, and this track is not in the many hours of rare, unreleased gems. Apparently Sir Paul wanted to included it in the Anthology series but was vetoed (backing tracks of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Within You Without You” were used instead).

According to the report, the track was played just once, at an electronic music festival in 1967, and is said to include distorted guitar, organ sounds, gargling and band members shouting phrases such as “Barcelona!” and “Are you all right?” It may turn out to be not so interesting except as a piece of history — that is, if George Harrison’s widow doesn’t block it.

Sir Paul was under the influence of experimental composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen at that time, as was John Lennon (via Yoko Ono), and musical dada had begun to creep into other Beatle tracks, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “A Day in the Life”, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and “I am the Walrus” (as well as lesser-known tracks like “Revolution 9” and the unreleased “What a Shame Mary Jane”). Lennon and Ono’s collaborations a bit later (The Wedding Album and Two Virgins) also fall into the category of what the people like to call avant-garde — or as George Harrison (who also produced an experimental album at that time, Electronic Sound) used to say, “Havant-garde a clue!”).

The discovery that this track exists leaves only one more mystery track that has appeared only on some bootlegs of outtakes, called “Peace of Mind (Candle Burns).” Ear Candy offers an in-depth analysis of this song that is worth reading. I have a copy of it, and I agree with the analysis that this is probably a Beatles song recorded in 1967 but abandoned (after one overdub session). The fact that Yoko Ono hasn’t claimed copyright over it is also a mystery.

Here are versions of “I am the Walrus” by other bands:

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