The Beatles' Esher Demo Recordings 1968
Imagine John, Paul, and George, sitting on the docks at Liverpool, strumming their guitars, singing, dreaming of fame and to be "bigger than Elvis" back in 1958 or 60. How the Gods of stardom shined upon them in 1963, beyond their wildest dreams. It simply was their time.
Advance to 1968. If you were around then, no rock band could touch them and most emulated them in many ways, after all, it was the Beatles that gave all men long hair in fashion, something that is now part of culture throughout the world.
The Esher recordings, named after the London suburb where George lived, are pre-White album songs. They were a collection of 30 songs they had written in 1967-8 prior to their first studio sessions for the new LP in May, 1968. Like they had done way back in 1958-60, the three of them, sat with their guitars to record demos on George's state-of-the-art four track machine. The idea was to present the material and decide what songs should be focused on. In the end, 21 of the songs would be deemed worthy of a studio session.
The listener will experience a raw session of the White album's songs that were released. What is amazing is the sound quality is akin to a session recording. The other amazing thing is that how few errors are made in these songs. Whomever wrote the song, sings it, and plays it with near perfection. It was like recording an LP. There isn't much discussion about riffs etc., there are no drums. Each member presents their song in mostly a completed manner. As you listen, you see how the song's skeleton is all there and how the released version has greatly enhanced it with bells and whistles and Ringo!
When John does mess of the lyrics, it is quite funny because it turns into a joke of sorts but he carries the song to the end. Many of the songs have completed melodies but not lyrics which did change on the final recordings released. But it is all a work of progress. Paul's Ob-La-Di is done on a guitar with striking effect. John's Happiness is a Warm Gun, follows the released version but then diverts to a Yoko verse of some sort, nothing like what is on the LP. When songs become electrified, their impact is more dramatic. Listening to John's Yer Blues, Revolution, Mean Mister Mustard, or Polythene Pam, on acoustic is rather bland when comparing it to the released version.
While John and Paul's songs stand out, George had his moments in Not Guilty and Sour Milk Sea, neither ended on the White LP, although, Not Guilty, was bumped off at the last moment. Not Guilty is a bluesy, yet catchy tune. His Circles song reminded me of his monotonous Blue Jay Way, although the lyrics were deep. It was still a work in progress. Good thing they passed on that one! Yet, his other song Piggies did remain on it, not his best. His best was While My Guitar Gently Weeps, it remains a classic and even the acoustic version is nice.
Other songs that failed to make the final cut are John's Child of Nature, which is a shock. The melody and words linger in your head long after you have heard it, yet it simply ends abruptly, as if John did not know what to do with it. This song stuck with John, for he reworked it for his solo LP a few years later as Jealous Guy. Child of Nature remains the better. His, What's the New Mary Jane, reminded me of the joke song released called, You know My name. There is really nothing good about it, much like the other joke song. The one song missing from the demo session is Paul's Helter Skelter, maybe he had not written it then.
Listening to the demos is an odd experience. As you hear the song you know well from the released version, your mind will add the items the demo is missing. One thing you come to realize is the importance of Ringo. He may not have been a good singer or songwriter, but he greatly improved their songs with his percussion and drumming. This clearly is revealed when listening to the demos.
The double White LP remains a great collection of clever melodies and lyrics and the clarity of the digital remix really is pronounced. Seriously.