"Carnival of Light" (lost experimental Beatles track; 1967)
On January 5th, 1967, shortly after vocal overdubbing sessions took place for their song Penny Lane, famed British rock band The Beatles (on request) recorded an experimental track for use in a then-upcoming art, light, and sound festival titled The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave that was to be held at the Chalk Farm Road Roundhouse Theatre in London on both January 28th and February 4th of the same year.
The track, which they titled "Carnival of Light", is said to be 13:48 minutes in length, and besides the two original events in which the track was played, it has never been heard by the general public.
The song's origins can be traced back to December 1966 when designer David Vaughan (after having painted a psychedelic design on Paul McCartney's piano) asked McCartney if he would be willing to submit a track for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave organized, in part, by Vaughan himself. Much to his delight, McCartney agreed, and the track was recorded the very next month.
Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn (who was personally allowed to listen to the song in 1987, while compiling his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions) has been quoted as saying that the song included "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'".
Others who have heard the song, such as McCartney biographer Barry Miles added in his 1997 publication Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now that the song had "no rhythm, although a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding piano", and that it also had "no melody, although snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through". The base track consists of an organ playing bass notes and drums and was recorded in fast motion, as to create a slower, more droning sound when played in real-time. The song's instruments make heavy use of reverb, and it contains many vocal samples from Lennon and McCartney, from audible samples such as Lennon shouting "Electricity!", to distorted gasps, coughs and the final echo-soaked sample (heard just before the song's end) of McCartney asking "Can we hear it back now?".
Other instruments heard throughout the track include bursts of guitar feedback, gushy cinema organ, and fragments of clinking pub piano. McCartney himself described, in a November 2008 interview, the song's production, saying "I said 'all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum, then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around'".
McCartney tried to have the track released in 1996, intending to include it on their compilation record The Beatles Anthology 2, although George Harrison voted against it, stating that he "didn't like avant-garde music", and as a result, the track never made it to the compilation. In the same year, McCartney also claimed that he had been working on a photo collage film for which he intended to use Carnival of Light in the soundtrack, although the project has never been seen, and the last time McCartney spoke of it was in 2002.
McCartney confirmed himself in the prior mentioned November 2008 interview that he was indeed still in possession of the master tapes, and was still eager to release it, saying that he felt as though "the time has come for it to get its moment. I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off-piste", although he also stated that such a release would require consent from the group's estate (Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as Ringo Starr). As of 2013, the track has still not received a public release (though many fakes have shown up online). McCartney most recently mentioned it during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel on September 23rd, 2013, in which he briefly described the tone of the song.
As of 2017, the track remains unreleased. Many anticipated that it might be included as a bonus track on the super deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it failed to appear in the released track listings. At a preview event hosted at Abbey Road Studios to unveil the new Sgt. Pepper stereo remix, Giles Martin commented that while "Carnival of Light" was considered for inclusion, "it wasn't really part of Pepper. It wasn't part of the Sgt. Pepper recording. It's a very different thing". However, he expressed an interest in "doing something interesting" with the track in the future.
- Wikipedia page on the Chalk Farm Road Roundhouse Theatre. Retrieved 09 Mar '13.
- independent.co.uk article on the track, featuring quotes from BBC Radio 4's 2008 interview with Paul McCartney. Retrieved 09 Mar '13.