How best to improve an album that most people agree is too long at 30 songs? Make it longer, of course. Such a counterintuitive move has come about now that the widely bootlegged Esher Demos recorded at George Harrison’s Surrey home finally get an official release for The Beatles’ 50th anniversary. Those 27 demos join a new Giles Martin mix which, like his take on Sgt. Pepper’s… last year, generally beefs up the original album. Also familiar from last year, if Martin Jr’s takes on the acoustic tracks are a tiny bit too bassy, then he undeniably adds bounce to the likes of Birthday and Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Here, even Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? becomes menacing, rather than the undercooked slap of the original.
You’ll have your own opinions of which of the songs should be dropped from the tracklisting to make The Beatles more cohesive – can anyone really justify The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill? But you’ll almost certainly have to do it based on the 2018 vinyl version from now on – since the Anniversary Edition last year, it’s been nigh-impossible to find an original mix of Sgt. Pepper’s… on vinyl, apart from in second-hand shops. As deft as the new version is, it’s odd of Apple not to give buyers the choice. The 4LP Deluxe version adds the Esher Demos, which sound as clear as could be hoped for. There are 19 songs which were recorded properly for the finished album, offering many fascinating alternative universes. Should Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da have stayed rootsy? Is Piggies better as an ancient madrigal? How did George Harrison make While My Guitar Gently Weeps golden from its surprisingly unpromising beginnings?
Esher Demos is rounded off by eight songs that didn’t make it to The Beatles. An electrifying Mean Mr. Mustard is better than the finished kitsch version on Abbey Road. There is the unfulfilled promise of how the full band could have handled songs that eventually ended up on solo albums – it may generally be regarded as a classic, but John Lennon’s Jealous Guy could have been better still had its psychedelic patina been developed under its original guise here of Child Of Nature. The same goes for Harrison’s Circles.
It’s frustrating that another aspect of the Sgt. Pepper’s… box is repeated: the Super Deluxe boxset is unavailable to vinyl purchasers. The Beatles routinely shun download codes with their vinyl releases, so it’s too much to hope that fans paying £90 for the 4LP set get a digital copy of Esher Demos, let alone access to the additional 53 songs added to the £125 CD/Blu-Ray Super Deluxe box. Which is annoying, as it means there’s no chance of getting the mono remaster, the 10-minute take of Revolution, the acerbic studio chat, a cover of Elvis’ Baby I Don’t Care and on and on. But let’s not carp too much. Esher Demos is finally available and, saved from bootleggers, at 50 years old, it’s sounding better than it has any right to. Now, what are Apple going to do for Abbey Road’s 50th?…
Written by John Earls. Released on Apple.