April 1, 2017 – More details have emerged about Apple’s 50th anniversary release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As expected, the album will come in several formats, including a deluxe box set with a new 5.1 mix of the album by producer Giles Martin, the son of the album’s original producer George Martin, as well as an unreleased early version of the album entitled Liverpool Stories. Liverpool Stories contains early versions of songs that would end up on Pepper, as well as several songs that have never before been released in any format. In fact, the existence of these tracks had escaped the notice of even the most ardent Beatles bootleggers.
As most Beatles fans know, The Beatles returned to EMI Studios in November of 1966 to begin recording their first album as a studio-only band. The sessions began with work on a new John Lennon composition, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” named after an orphanage in Liverpool where Lennon sometimes played as a child. The song gave Paul McCartney an idea for a concept album based around songs about The Beatles’ childhood. McCartney began work on “Penny Lane” and suggested revisiting a song that Lennon and McCartney had written in their Cavern Club days, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
Since there had been no new Beatles product in the market for some time, manager Brian Epstein pressured Martin to release a Beatles single. He decided to release a double A-side of “Strawberry Fields Forever” backed by “Penny Lane,” and the idea of a “Liverpool album” was scrapped in favor of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
What had been unknown until now was that The Beatles had just about completed the Liverpool album prior to their decision to abandon it. In addition to the two songs that appeared on the single and “When I’m Sixty-Four,” the Liverpool Stories album also included an early version of two other songs that would later appear on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with different arrangements, as well as five never-before-heard songs by Lennon/McCartney, George Harrison, and even Ringo Starr.
The version of “A Day In The Life” that appears on Liverpool Stories was recorded in late 1966. At that time, the song was called “A Day In Someone’s Life.” The dramatic orchestral build-up that was so important to the Pepper version of the song is missing, although roadie Mal Evans still counts off the 24 bars in between John’s verses and Paul’s bridge. In addition, the final verse of the song has different lyrics. Instead of four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, there were “two thousand holes in a shop on Carnaby.” The song ends not with a crashing piano chord, but with the faint ping of a triangle.
The other song from Pepper that appeared in a dramatically different form on Liverpool Stories was “She’s Leaving Home.” The song in its earlier form was entitled “He’s Leaving Home” and was presumably about the teenage Lennon running away from his Aunt Mimi’s house to visit his mother, Julia. The song’s chorus contains the following lyrics:
(He didn’t have to go far)
(Bringing his beat up guitar)
(Mommies and Aunties mixed up in his mind)
He’s leaving home
Down the cold cobblestone
To a better place.
Liverpool Stories also includes five never-before-heard songs that were recorded by The Beatles in December of 1966. These songs, which never received a final mix by George Martin, appear on the restored album with masterful productions by Giles Martin with engineering assistance from original Pepper engineer Geoff Emerick. Here’s a breakdown of the five new tracks:
“Dead Man” (Lennon/McCartney) – This song begins with a distorted guitar riff and biting lyrics about a “bass player who had it all.” The singer (Lennon) blames the bass player for spending a “careless night on a moped.” The feel of the song shifts dramatically in the chorus as a spectral, haunting choir accompanies the dead man’s assent to heaven. In the final verse of the song, the singer extracts his revenge by replacing the bass player with the singer of a local pub band. The song fades to the sound of voices chanting “William Cheers! William Cheers!” It is unclear who the dead man represents or why this would have been considered a “Liverpool story.”
“I Wanna Pet Your Goldfish” (Starr) – From “Yellow Submarine” to “Octopus’ Garden,” Starr always had a fascination with songs about the sea. In a mostly disturbing manner, Starr pretends his lover is the pet fish he had as a small child:
Honey, you can be my trout
Your gills bring thrills when we go out
Baby, please just let me in
I love to watch your caudal fin
The song is a cross of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” but with whirling vocals and dual sitars (played by Harrison and friend Neil Aspinall). In the chorus, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison accompany Starr’s lead with “glug glug g’joob,” foreshadowing the nonsense phrase that Lennon would sing in “I Am The Walrus” less than two years later.
“Tom’s Diner” (Lennon/McCartney) – In what could have been a sequel to “Penny Lane,” McCartney sings of strolling down Penny Lane and entering a local diner. He observes the other customers watching football [soccer] on the “telly” (“eating butties and jam while watching West Ham”). Although the melody and accompaniment seem to indicate McCartney’s hand, it is Lennon’s humor that is apparent in the lyrics (“found a mouse in my scouse and a bee in my tea”).
“Hooray for Bollywood” (Harrison) – The strangest song on Liverpool Stories is Harrison’s “Hooray for Bollywood.” In typical Harrison fashion, the title has nothing to do with the song. (Harrison often had trouble naming his songs, and it is likely that this title would have changed.) The song sounds like an early version of “Only A Northern Song” and features Harrison’s vocal accompanied by nothing more than the drone of a tambura. (Other instruments would probably have been added had The Beatles continued work on the song.) Harrison intones simple lyrics about his childhood (“northern son, southern sun, eastern moon, coming soon”) while Lennon and McCartney chant monotone mantras behind him. The group eventually dissolves into laughter. It is possible that this is the same laughter that briefly occurs after Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“Astronomy Dominoes” (Lennon/McCartney) – This song is the biggest surprise from Liverpool Stories. It is without a doubt the most psychedelic sounding track that The Beatles ever created. Astronomy dominoes was a combination of dominoes and strip poker that the young Beatles used to play with girls at the Liverpool Art Institute. The song features Lennon’s trippy vocal, McCartney’s wah-wah’d bass, Harrison’s whirly guitar, and Ringo’s flanged drums. Lyrically, the song reflects a game of astronomy dominoes as it might be played while taking L.S.D.:
Time and tepid green, another scene
Eyes of blue that you once knew
All the sound spins around
While dominoes fly to the ground.
Only several months later, Pink Floyd would be working in EMI’s Studio 3 on their first album, Piper At The Gate Of Dawn, with an opening track that sounded suspiciously like “Astronomy Dominoes.” It is unclear whether Lennon and McCartney threatened to sue the band when Piper was released.
Given the way that Beatles scholars have poured over every facet of The Beatles’ lives and recordings, it is astounding that the existence of Liverpool Stories has been kept secret for over fifty years. With the release of Liverpool Stories, esteemed Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn has promised to devote several hundred pages to the album in the next volume of his three-part biography of The Beatles, All These Years. Meanwhile, Beatles “deconstructionist” Scott Freiman is hard at work on a new film for a summer 2017 release, Deconstructing Liverpool Stories.
Liverpool Stories Track List
- Astronomy Dominoes
- I Wanna Pet Your Goldfish
- He’s Leaving Home
- Penny Lane
- Strawberry Fields Forever
- Hooray for Bollywood
- When I’m Sixty-Four
- Tom’s Diner
- Dead Man (segues into “A Day In The Life”)
- A Day In Someone’s Life (early version)
Bonus Track: Carnival of Light (Lennon/McCartney)
Photo: Getty Images