The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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"Polythene Pam"

Appropriately, the next song on the Esher demo tape ultimately followed "Mean Mr. Mustard" on Abbey Road. Lennon has alternately offered two tales behind "Polythene Pam," a "half a song" he wrote in Rishikesh. The PG version is that Pam was Pat Hodgett, "a mythical Liverpool scrubber dressed up in her jackboots and kilt" known to the band in the early Sixties. A hardcore Beatles fanatic and Cavern club regular, she also had the unusual habit of eating polythene – a plastic substance – earning her the nickname "Polythene Pat" from Lennon. "I'd tie it in knots and then eat it," she explained in A Hard Day's Write. "Sometimes I even used to burn it and then eat it when it got cold. Then I had a friend who got a job in a polythene bag factory, which was wonderful because it meant I had a constant supply."

But it was a kink-filled night on the British isle of Guernsey that left a stronger impression on Lennon's subconscious. Following a gig there on August 8th, 1963, Lennon met up with Royston Ellis, a local Beat poet known to the Beatles since their earliest Liverpool days. Described by Lennon as "England's answer to Allen Ginsberg," Ellis invited Lennon back to his attic apartment to meet his girlfriend. "He said she dressed up in polythene, which she did," Lennon recalled in 1980. "She didn't wear jackboots and kilts, I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about." Ellis later clarified, albeit slightly, exactly what went down in the bed they shared that night. "We'd read all these things about leather and we didn't have any leather but I had my oilskins and we had some polythene bags from somewhere. We all dressed up in them and wore them in bed," he told Steve Turner. "I don't think anything very exciting happened and we all wondered what the fun was in being 'kinky.'"

These two memories apparently fused into one in Lennon's mind, leading to the tune he demoed at Kinfauns. It's truly just a snippet, less than 90 seconds long and clearly in his "needs work" pile. As he does on the final version, he spits out each word with his finest Scouse accent, a tribute to the track's Northern muse. The lyrics consist of a pair of verses, the ones heard on record, endlessly looped. At this stage Lennon extols Pam's virtues with the line "It's a little absurd but she's a nice class of bird," rather than comparing her to the bombshells found in the pages of the down-market English newspaper News of the World. Though the running time is brief, it's clear that just two verses aren't going to cut it for a full song. As the track disintegrates, Lennon can be heard saying, "It's too long, that!" The version on Abbey Road is markedly shorter, even with the addition of a 30-second guitar solo.

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