This is the story of a planned, but cancelled Beatles album named Sessions. It was to be a collection of unreleased Beatles' material issued on a single LP. Some of the mixes prepared for this project eventually found their way to The Beatles' Anthology collections.
Originally posted to the rec.music.beatles.moderated newsgroup in May 1998. Collected here by through the kind permission of the author.
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The story begins on 26 Jan 1976, when The Beatles' nine-year contract with EMI Records finally expired, six years after the group itself expired. EMI immediately began to take stock of The Beatles' back catalogue, seriously considering for the first time the hundreds of hours of unreleased recordings stored haphazardly in the Abbey Road Studios' tape vault.
One team focused on repackaging the official releases, with initially unimaginative results: the entire run of Beatles singles was re-issued in Mar 76 in the UK, with the addition of Yesterday, never issued on a British single before. George Martin was involved with re-equalization and remastering (though not remixing from the original session tapes) for a 2-LP compilation, Rock And Roll Music, released in Jun 76. Martin's work was done to improve the primitive twin-track master mixes from 1963 in particular, though he may have tweaked some of the later songs as well.
Over the next two years, further uninspired Beatles projects were issued from EMI: the US album Magical Mystery Tour was finally issued in the UK in Nov 76; in the fall of 77, a box set of all Beatles singles (including Yesterday and Back In The USSR) was released in the UK; in Nov 77, another double-album compilation, Love Songs, came out.
But what about some NEW, never-released Beatles material, the fans cried? Top priority in this arena was the preparation of tapes recorded by Capitol at the Hollywood Bowl concerts of 1964-1965. Again, Martin was called in to mix and edit the tapes; a rough mix of the 1964 concert (prepared in Capitol's Los Angeles studios back in 1964) had apparently been sent to Apple HQ in London in 1971 in acetate form. This inspired both rumors of an imminent release and dozens of bootlegs when a copy fell into the wrong hands. But nothing was done until 18 Jan 1977, when highlights from all three shows were mixed from 3-track tapes into stereo. The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl album was released in May 1977.
Live recordings of familiar Beatles songs were one thing, but rumors of dozens of unheard Beatles titles had kept the collecting community drooling since the break-up. The Beatles themselves were vague about what was left behind in the studio vaults. Titles such as Junk, The Void, Not Guilty, and What's The New Mary Jane first surfaced in The Beatles Book Monthly magazine via articles and reports from insiders like Mal Evans.
An article in the New Musical Express of 23 Mar 74 was the first attempt to compile a list of Beatles' EMI outtakes. Titles mentioned included How Do You Do It, Suzy Parker, If You've Got Troubles, Jazz Piano Song, You'll Know What To Do, Pink Litmus Paper Shirt, Penina, Not Unknown, India, Annie, When I Come To Town, Four Nights In Moscow, Colliding Circles, and Always And Only. Some of these are correct, some are misinterpretations apparently based on EMI session sheets (working titles and the like) and some are clearly made up. The 1975 book All Together Now mentioned all of these, plus the following: Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, Tell Me If You Can, Peace Of Mind, and I Should Like To Live Up A Tree.
As no official word from either EMI or The Beatles supported or denied any of this, most of these (non-existent) outtakes were assumed by fans to be awaiting future release. Further rumored titles were Baby Jane, I'm Sorry, Bad Penny Blues, Echoes Of The Merseyside, Home, Just Dancing Around, Maisy Jones, Moonglow, My Kind Of Girl, Portrait Of My Love, Proud As You Are, Rubber Soul, Swinging Days, and my personal favorite, Zero Is Just Another Even Number. Looking at the above lists (totalling some 35 titles), it was no wonder fans daydreamed of three or four more albums of completely new material to add to The Beatles canon.
While all this was going on, EMI executives first dipped their toes into the uncharted waters of unreleased Beatles studio material. According to one employee, EMI "listened to all the material that had not been released". Considering what they came up with, this statement is laughable, unless we take it very literally. Apparently they only considered song titles which hadn't been released, ignoring four hundred hours or so of rehearsals, demos, alternate takes, arrangements, and mixes of familiar songs. So their initial skimpy research only came up with about ten titles considered worthy of attention. According to Mark Lewisohn, EMI "began doing in-house compilation cassettes" of this material - one of which found its way into private collectors' hands by late 1978. The tape was played in 1980 at a Beatles convention, and eventually released on a bootleg entitled File Under: Beatles.
The material was all apparently dubbed directly from the session tapes, with no attempts at remixing or editing, and was more of a rough assembly of potential songs for a Beatles outtake LP. The titles were as follows:
A further take of Blue Suede Shoes may be from this tape, and a soon-reported Mailman Blues (which turned out to be Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues), both from Jan 69, together with the last three cuts above, may also explain the report in 1977 of an imminent 2-LP release. Entitled Look Back, it was said to consist entirely of oldies from the Jan 1969 sessions, and may mean that EMI was considering two separate releases at this time, one of Abbey Road material, one of Apple Get Back outtakes. While three new albums sounded tempting, reality soon set in as EMI took stock of the tapes it had. The Look Back project was dropped, and efforts to compile a single LP continued.
Initially, it was to be titled Rarities II,as a sequel to the much-less exciting Mar 1980 Capitol LP. It was at this point that Mailman Blues was mentioned as a title, along with something called London Ball which was a mistake on someone's part (no such Beatles song existed). By summer 1980, the project had apparently shrunk to an EP, highlighted by Leave My Kitten Alone. Later reports diminished this further to a single, Kitten backed with How Do You Do It - a plan which fell by the wayside after John's murder in Dec 1980.
Another year passed without any action until EMI changed its game-plan. Now it decided to include alternate takes of previously released songs in the scope of its project. So engineer John Barrett was given the task of listening to all Beatles / Abbey Road session tapes, writing down what was on them all (amazing that nobody had thought to do this until now) and keeping an eye out for interesting takes. For example, on 19 Feb 1982, he notated the previously-blank tape box for the Leave My Kitten Alone session, pointing out "Track cuts off before end" (in other words, the tape ends abruptly before the song has finished) next to take 5. This take was again considered for single release at Christmas 1982 but nothing was done about it.
Besides the discovery of great alternate versions (I'm Looking Through You, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and Norwegian Wood for example), Barrett's work led EMI to take its first baby steps towards letting the public actually hear this material. It was decided that Abbey Road's Studio 2, during a summer 1983 renovation, would be opened to tourists - the highlight being a visual history of The Beatles' recording career, accompanied by a soundtrack featuring outtakes and alternate mixes. It was during the preparations for this show that copies of some complete EMI reels were made and eventually sold to bootleggers, ultimately resulting in albums like Ultra Rare Trax and Unsurpassed Masters.
Years of speculation were about to come to a close, and expectations were high in the months leading up to the show. In Feb 1983, EMI confusingly confirmed the existence of "parts of" longer versions of Hey Jude, Revolution and Helter Skelter. Even when they knew what they had, EMI weren't quite sure what they had. On 11 Jul 83, they further confirmed titles like Kitten, How Do You Do It, If You've Got Trouble, and That Means A Lot.
When the presentation, The Beatles Live At Abbey Road, opened on 18 Jul 83, it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, songs like Kitten and How Do You Do It were included, but in incomplete versions. There was no sign of If You've Got Trouble or That Means A Lot, the long Helter Skelter, or known titles like Come And Get It, Mary Jane and Not Guilty. Beautiful stripped-down versions of Because and Strawberry Fields were mixed in with less compelling things like early takes and false starts from Don't Bother Me, I Saw Her Standing There, She's A Woman and A Hard Day's Night. Worst of all, songs like Rain, Hello Goodbye, and Penny Lane were presented in barely-noticeable remixed form; Love Me Do and Twist And Shout were simply the standard recordings. For EMI to have sorted through four hundred hours of tape and come up with this was slightly embarrassing. Nevertheless, audience tape recorders smuggled past Abbey Road security that summer provided the source for further bootlegs. The show closed on 11 Sep 83, and serious work began again on coming up with a new LP of outtakes.
Concurrent with this was independent production of a syndicated radio history of The Beatles, entitled Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A History Of The Beatles Years 1962-1970. Though EMI was not involved with this, somehow tapes of Abbey Road session reels, copied during the assembly of the Live At Abbey Road project (presumably from the same unknown source who later sold them to bootleggers), turned up in the hands of radio producer Roger Scott. Scott was not so brazen as to arouse EMI's suspicion by broadcasting complete alternate takes; but anyone listening carefully could detect where longer, rough-mixed versions of Beatles songs were used in the radio special, usually half-disguised by narration.
Dialogue from the 11 Feb 63 session was used, for example, along with unmixed versions of Do You Want To Know A Secret, A Hard Day's Night, I Feel Fine, Ticket To Ride, Help!, Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, and Paperback Writer. If this list sounds familiar, it should. These are the exact same songs for which more complete session tapes eventually turned up on bootlegs (culminating in Yellow Dog's Ultimate Collection box sets), leaving little doubt as to the origins of these high-quality studio outtakes. This evidence alone should disprove theories that Mark Lewisohn was responsible for leaking tapes; his high-level access didn't begin until 1986 and he was privy to much more interesting recordings than these, if he was of a mind to make a quick buck. (Lewisohn was involved with the radio show, as a 'consultant', meaning a fact- and date-checker mainly; he later said, "I did help out on that, funnily enough, but I never really got to hear it, so I can't comment on that. I can't imagine EMI would ever have given permission. It must have been done without permission.")
The show was broadcast in Nov 1984 in most markets, and provided the debuts of several other songs, mostly from acetates and demo tapes sold at auction. One notable recording was Besame Mucho, from the Beatles' first EMI session, previously unheard and unreported.
This was, in fact, one of the songs EMI was considering for its own Beatles project, which had the in-house code name Mary Jane, the joke working-title Boots, and the horrible penultimate title One-Two-Three-Four. Throughout the summer of 1984, once the line-up was set, engineer Geoff Emerick did his best to desecrate the material by chopping it up and assembling new versions which in some cases scarcely resembled the original takes. EMI prepared a press release which had the gall to claim that Emerick merely "remixed them and enhanced the overall sound quality by transferring the tapes". In fact, over half the songs were severely edited, others more subtly faded or spliced to bring them into line with Emerick's (and EMI's) idea of 1984 commercial standards. They might as well have been colorizing silent Charlie Chaplin outtake footage, recording digitally-mastered dialogue, and morphing his mouth to match the new lines for all the artistic good which resulted.
By August 1984 a near-final track listing was set:
Soon enough, the album title was finalized: Sessions would be released in Nov 84, with Leave My Kitten Alone and the Ob-La-Di / Christmas medley (dropped from the LP lineup) supporting it as a single. However, Paul unwittingly intervened by scheduling his Give My Regards To Broadstreet album for release the same month. So EMI bit their tongues, sat on their hands and watched the profitable Christmas season pass by rather than compete with Paul's release. In fact, so eager were they not to upset Paul, EMI didn't bother to tell him (or George and Ringo) about Sessions until it was almost out of the gate.
Sleeves for the LP and 45 were designed, sleeve notes written (in Aug 84 by Allan Kozinn, later replaced by Brian Southall's notes), label copy was prepared (on 14 Dec 84), catalogue numbers were assigned (Parlophone EJ 2402701 and Capitol ST-12373 for the LP, Parlophone R6088 for the single), release dates were finalized (28 Jan 85 for the single, 25 Feb 85 for the LP).
Original Sessions album cover art
(courtesy of Harald Gernhardt's web site)
Then The Ex-Beatles found out about the project.
Everything came to a dead halt; EMI tried to put the best face on things. An article published 26 May 85 quoted EMI representatives as follows: "We're now discussing the matter with the remaining Beatles and representatives of John Lennon's estate with an aim to releasing an album sometime. The format that (EMI) suggested was not acceptable, but one obviously has to start somewhere. And then we move on from there. We move on to other formats now, other suggestions and discussions." This after nine years of hemming and hawing and FINALLY deciding on a format!!
It mattered little, since a copy of the Sessions master reel was traded around collectors and pressed onto bootlegs by early 1986. Together with the 'in-house cassette' of 1978, the pristine session reels stolen and copied in 1982 and 1983, and the audience tapes of the Abbey Road Show, the Sessions bootlegs meant fans now had a treasure trove of invaluable, entertaining, and historically important Beatles recordings miles beyond anything EMI could come up with officially.
Check out the author's sister article: A History of Beatles Bootlegs
Visit the author's web site.
BEATLES ALBUM TRAVELS A LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO RELEASE By Rip Rense (Los Angeles Times) There's that sound again: The Beatles are coming! The Beatles are coming! Every few years there are reports of "new" Beatles tapes discovered in somebody's garage or basement or back pocket. Most of these stories are like the boy who cried wolf. This time, however, there is evidence that an album is in the works. EMI, the Fab Four's old British record company, has put together a new Beatles album--not a repackage of singles and album tracks as were Love Songs and Rock 'n' Roll Music, released in the late 70s. Titles Sessions, the new record is a collection of 13 previously unreleased odds and ends ranging from alternate versions of LP cuts to a George Harrison track that didn't make it on the White Album. An executive at Capitol Records, an American subsidiary of EMI, said that Sessions was set for release last November, but was bumped because of the release of Paul McCartney's Give My Regards To Broad Street album. What's holding up the release now are McCartney's objections to Sessions current format. But that's not the end of the story. "We're now discussing the matter with the remaining Beatles and representatives of John Lennon's estate with an aim to releasing an album sometime," said Brian Southall, general manager of public relations for EMI records. Which is to say: "The format that(EMI) suggested was not acceptable, but one obviously has to start somewhere. And then we move on from there. We move on to other formats now, other suggestions and discussions." A spokesman for McCartney in London said that "EMI is not throwing you a red herring--I can confirm that discussions are under way. Beyond that, we have nothing to say." That discussions between EMI and former members of the Beatles(and the Lennon estate) are even taking place is surprising. McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr historically have dismissed the idea of releasing leftover material, saying they issued everything they wanted to. But now, for the first time, the ex-Beatle with the biggest clout in the matter is publicly not bristling at the idea of releasing old tracks. And, for the first time, EMI records is not only acknowledging that there is enough material for one LP, but that it would be glad to put the album together. Why? Explained Southall, "There's been an awful lot of demand over the years for various tracks that people have alleged the Beatles recorded. A lot of fans have been forced to buy illegal bootleg recordings of dubious quality and excessive price." EMI had long acknowledged that it possesses a "few tracks" left over from Beatles recording sessions. In 1980, the company actually planned to release two of them--the Beatles' versions of Johnny Preston's Leave My Kitten Alone and Mitch Murray's How Do You Do It?--as a single. The plans were cancelled after the murder of John Lennon. "Obviously we knew we had Kitten and odd tracks and things like that," Southall said. "But never sufficient material for an album. Now we do." Southall and the Beatles Committee then came up with "a number of different proposals" for the album. "Label copy"--official listings of songs for forthcoming albums--was sent from EMI to Capitol under the code name Mary Jane. The titles on the Sessions label copy were the "most significantly interesting" tracks in EMI's vaults, Southall said. The album was to begin, amusingly enough, with the Beatles' version of Badfinger's Come And Get It(written by McCartney), possibly featuring only McCartney and Ringo. The rest of side one: Leave My Kitten Alone, Not Guilty, an alternate take of I'm Looking Through You, and What's The New Mary Jane, the much-bootlegged "debunk the Beatles myth session"(1968) featuring Lennon, Harrison, Yoko Ono and others. Side two: How Do You Do It, Besame Mucho, One After 909(an early version dating from 1963), If You've Got Troubles, That Means A Lot, an acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Lloyd Price's Mailman Blues from 1969, and a snippet of an original Beatles Christmas song used in their 1967 fan club message titled Christmastime Is Here Again. Southall felt it inappropriate to do more than confirm the track titles. Some of the tracks, especially Christmastime and Come And Get It, are not terribly interesting; they are more or less for the curious. Kitten, however, is a great recording that rivals the power of the Beatles' reading of Rock and Roll Music. Not Guilty is rumored to feature Eric Clapton. Southall confirmed that Clapton and Mick Jagger might be on one or two tracks, but said that even EMI doesn't know for sure. Although Southall said EMI has enough material for probably "only one" LP, he expressed interest in collecting other tracks from other sources. "While there is a little work still to be done(in listening to tapes in EMI's possession), I would suspect that what we have discovered so far is all that we have," Southall said. Beatles' fans may have heard that song before.