Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Walrus is Paul

Indeed. The Walrus is Paul...that is, Paul Newell. Who the hell is Paul Newell, you ask? I don't really know but he's managed to pull off a stunt that is more than a little uncanny.

Back in January 1994, when The Beatles were planning their Anthology documentary, Paul McCartney acquired two tape cassettes of John Lennon demos from his widow Yoko Ono. These songs, "Free as a Bird," "Real Love," "Now and Then" and "Grow Old With Me" were home recordings of songs that Lennon never completed or released commercially. "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were made into "Beatle" songs by having the surviving group (with the help of producer Jeff Lynne) provide backing. In the case of "Free as a Bird," they also added new verses and altered the original meaning of the song. (Lennon was writing about his feeling of personal liberation at receiving both his Green Card and the legal settlement of The Beatles' affairs; Paul McCartney added a verse that made the song appear to be about Lennon's nostalgia for the better days of the group.)

In March 1995, the three began work on "Now and Then" even recording a rough backing track that was to be used as an overdub. But, after two days of recording, they stopped work on the song and scrapped any more "Beatle" music. For one thing, George Harrison felt that it would be too much work because they would have to add more verses than they did to "Free as a Bird." There was also a technical defect in the original recording. (Blogger Jeff Chandler will likely complain that there is more than just a technical defect at work in the tune.) But I suspect that they didn't want to complete the song because, like most of Lennon's late music, it was all about his relationship with Yoko. There wasn't a larger perspective in the track that would invite the evocation of the band. They would end up feeling like Lennon's sidemen.

Although rumours continued throughout 2005 and 2006 that McCartney and Starr would release a complete version of the song in the future, it was highly unlikely to happen. But in 2007, a mystery musician named Paul Newell got his hands on the demo and apparently finished what the band couldn't. He not only cleaned up the technical issue that was hampering The Beatles' efforts, he completed the instrumentation on the track, playing guitar, keyboards and drums. What is unsettling about "Now and Then" is that it sounds like a Beatles song - even though they don't play on it. Although it's not a very good track, you can't entirely pull yourself away from the soft ghostly pining in Lennon's voice. "Now and Then" is made even more eerie though by the fact that Paul Newell has invoked the ghosts of The Beatles themselves.

When the group was doing "Free as a Bird," they rationalized their involvement in recording it by pretending that John was going on holiday and he told them to finish it while he was away. My friend Greig Dymond commented, upon hearing Newell's version, that "it's as if Newell is pretending that the whole band was going on holiday and they left it to him to complete it - even though he never met them." Newell posted "Now and Then" on YouTube where you can puzzle out how he faithfully copied Ringo's drum style and Harrison's soft-slide efforts towards the end:

1 comment:

  1. that is definitely the saddest piece of music I have ever's sadder than randy newman!...

    surely not everything lennon squeaked out is worth that much musical attention? I mean, isn't it just another of his my mummy's dead but I found a new mummy songs?

    but I agree about the drumming though, and the tambourine is nice...

    but I found myself soon jumping ship and switching rapidly to "baby you're a rich man" just to hear the happy john...

    by the way, I came across a book called "the walrus was ringo"...