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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"What's the New Mary Jane"

Fans perplexed by "Revolution 9" in 1968 would have undoubtedly been left scratching their heads by another Lennon soundscape that fell at the final hurdle before the White Album was issued that November. One part nursery rhyme, one part musique concrète, and (presumably) several parts hallucinogens, "What's the New Mary Jane" began as little more than a chant when it was first captured on tape at Harrison's house. Lennon leads the charge, guiding his bandmates through the anarchic chorus, written with infamous Beatles associate "Magic" Alex Madras, bemoaning the pain Mary Jane endured at a party. He handles the surreal verses on his own, singing in a childlike falsetto that's a full octave higher than the key he would later use in the studio. The lyrics, which amount to a list of vaguely Indian references – "12 chapattis and cream," "Mongolian lamb," "Patagonian pancake" – are mostly in place, except the line "he cooking such groovy spaghetti" would later morph into the even less coherent "he grooving such cookie spaghetti." While not technically atonal, the simple melody is discordant, like a demonic rope skipping song. The track is at times frightening, but the band's fundamental humor does comes through as they offer Goonish shrieks of "What's the new Mary Jane? Oh, my goodness," just before the half-song sputters to a merciful stop.

Unlike the refined "Child of Nature," which didn't make it into the studio during sessions for the White Album, Lennon put significant effort into "What's the New Mary Jane." As with "Revolution 9," it bears the avant-garde fingerprints of Yoko Ono, whose artistic union with Lennon began to solidify in tandem with their romantic one. Also as with "Revolution 9," George Harrison was the only other Beatle to contribute to the maelstrom of shouts, tape loops, percussive rattles, creaks, plinks and plonks that stretched the two-and-a-half minute demo to more than six minutes. "That was me, Yoko and George sitting on the floor at EMI fooling around," a pleased Lennon said later. "Pretty good, huh?" He remained fond of the song even after it was cut from the double album, ostensibly due to space limitations, and attempted to release it in December 1969 as a Plastic Ono Band track coupled with the equally eccentric "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." The single was given a catalogue number, APPLE S1002, before the other Beatles halted the release. It remained locked away until finally getting its moment 38 years later on the Anthology 3 collection.

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