Album review by Eric Sandberg
George & John - Photo: Michael Herring
Never, in the history of repackaging classic albums to make a few extra bucks, has a bonus disc of demo recordings been this utterly mesmerizing and compelling. A distant second may be Roger Waters' demos for Pink Floyd's The Wall, included with the "Immersive" edition of that album several years ago.
Where those demos exposed a shambolic series of lyrically astute, albeit tuneless, sketches, which were developed (rescued) by the true genius of producer Bob Ezrin, the Esher Demos paint a picture of three complete songwriters laying down acoustic demos of songs that were striking and emotive long before they were arranged in the studio.
Anniversary project producer Giles Martin chose to sequence the songs in the order they appear on the album, a thoughtful choice as it creates a bubble around the listener that dare not be burst until the last song plays.
The sound quality is tremendous, as is the tone of the acoustic guitars used, and the skill of the writers on these instruments is clearly evident. One of the fascinating aspects of the demos is that Paul, John and George all used the same method of double-tracking two complete takes of each song, with the left channel being the first take and the right channel being the second.
You can tell that the second takes were played along with the first. In "Dear Prudence" the right-channel John shout "Oops!" after flubbing a lyric he can obviously hear being sung correctly in the first take.
The fact that virtually every demo presented here is recorded in this way suggests that this may have been standard procedure by this point for the band before entering the studio. They were creating a playbook for the recording sessions. In some cases the second track adds something new to the original, such as early backing vocal sketches and different guitar lines, that hint at the ultimate arrangement the writer is hearing in his head. The twin takes on other tracks generally mirror each other.
These recordings, which were never meant to be heard and dissected by the outside world, go a long way toward confirming some long-held impressions of the personalities involved. John is serious and professional on his first takes but often devolves into his patented, giddy, Goon Show antics in the right channel.
Paul is fairly uniform throughout but his occasional bouts with whimsy sound as self-conscious as ever.
George, the "Serious Beatle," is the most down-to-business of the three. He was, after all, in an uphill battle for space, even on a proposed double album.
Perhaps the most fascinating revelation on this set is John's explanation of the impetus for writing "Dear Prudence," which he rattles off in a rapid fire timbre at the end of the demo. This may well be the first time that legendary story was told.
Another interesting aspect of the set is John's demo for "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" which differs starkly from the arena-rock-riffed final version, and sounds more like a blueprint for Stephen Stills.
Also included are some songs that didn't make the final cut, including "Sour Milk Sea," "Circles" (the only demo recorded on a keyboard) and "Not Guilty" from George, "Mean Mr. Mustard" (whose sister was originally named Shelley), "Polythene Pam" and "Child Of Nature" (the music for which became "Jealous Guy") from John, and "Junk" from Paul.
The set as a whole is quite capable of putting the listener into a trance that is ultimately disrupted by the final track, the widely bootlegged "What's The New Mary Jane" an unfortunate number that serves to snap you out of your reverie and let you get on with your day. Some songs are better off for never having made it on to an album.
The Beatles — The Esher Demos
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