Rob Sheffield’s book Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World is a celebration of the band, from the longtime Rolling Stone columnist. It tells the weird saga of how four lads from Liverpool became the world’s biggest pop group, then broke up – yet somehow just kept getting bigger. Dreaming the Beatles, out in paperback on June 19th, follows the ballad of John, Paul, George and Ringo, from their Sixties peaks to their afterlife as a cultural obsession. In this section, Sheffield explores one of the Beatles’ unheard treasures – the May 1968 Esher demos they recorded at George Harrison’s pad, preparing for the White Album, not suspecting their friendship was about to turn upside down.
The end of May, 1968: the Beatles meet up at Kinfauns, George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher. Just back from India, gearing up to go hit Abbey Road and start their next album, the lads bang out some rough acoustic tunes into George’s newfangled Ampex reel-to-reel tape deck. The result is one of their weirdest and loveliest unreleased recordings: the Esher demos. There’s nothing else in their music quite like this. Most of the 27 songs ended up on the White Album, yet there’s none of that record’s tension and dread.
In an excerpt from his new book ‘Dreaming the Beatles,‘ the author looks back at the ups and downs of the former Fab Four adrift in the Seventies.
Fifty years later, the Esher demos remain one of the Beatles’ strangest artifacts. When the boys gathered at George’s pad in the last days of May – nobody’s sure of the exact date – they had excellent reason to feel cocky about their new material. They wrote these songs on retreat with the Maharishi in Rishikesh, India, a place where they had no electric instruments. As John Lennon said years later, “We sat in the mountains eating lousy vegetarian food and writing all these songs. We wrote tons of songs in India.” John, the most distractible Beatle, had the hot streak of his life during his three months in Rishikesh, which is why the White Album is their most John-intensive record.
When the Beatles regrouped in England, they decided to get together and tape home demos on their own turf before stepping into Abbey Road – an innovation they’d never tried before and would never revisit. So they met at George’s hippie bungalow in the Surrey countryside, decorated in the grooviest Indian style. John showed up with 15 tunes, more than Paul (7) or George (5)….
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