The Beatles are some of the most widely discussed people of all time. It feels like every time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr tied their shoes has been thoroughly documented. However, one Beatles song has remained hidden from the public for decades. Here’s what we know about the lost Beatles track “Carnival of Light.”
The origins of the most surprising Beatles song
Of the Beatles, John is often regarded as the avant-gardist. Paul, meanwhile, is known for making more conventional music. However, The Guardian reports Paul tried his hand at experimental music with a song called “Carnival of Light.”
Barry Miles asked his friend Paul to compose music for an electronic music festival called the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave. The festival was held in 1967 at the Roundhouse Theatre in London. Little did Miles know Paul would produce one of the great pieces of rock esoterica.
Paul remembers the track’s creation. He said “We were set up in the studio and would just go in every day and record. I said to the guys, this is a bit indulgent but would you mind giving me 10 minutes?”
Paul told his fellow Beatles “All I want you to do is just wander round all of the stuff and bang it, shout, play it. It doesn’t need to make any sense. Hit a drum, wander to the piano, hit a few notes … and then we put a bit of echo on it. It’s very free.’”
What did the song sound like?
The resulting track, “Carnival of Light,” was peculiar, to say the least. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Mark Lewisohn said “track one of the tape was full of distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds. [The second track] 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.”
According to Radio X, Lewisohn added “perhaps most intimidating of all, Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘Barcelona!’” The song sounds similar to the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” and John’s album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. However, it predates both “Revolution 9” and Unfinished Music.
Why didn’t we get to hear it?
The Guardian reports George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, found it “weird,” saying “’It was a kind of uncomposed, free-for-all melange of sound that went on. It was not considered worthy of issuing as a normal piece of Beatles music at the time and was put away.”
“Carnival of Light” almost saw a release in the 1990s when the Beatles issued their Anthology compilation series. Paul recalled “We were listening to everything we’d [ever] recorded. I said it would be great to put this on because it would show we were working with really avant-garde stuff … But it was vetoed. The guys didn’t like the idea, like ‘this is rubbish.’”
Specifically, Paul implied George was against releasing “Carnival of Light” due to its avant-garde aesthetic. Now, it lives on as the stuff of legend. If it were released, would it ever live up to expectations?