Carnival of Light

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"Carnival of Light"
Recording by the Beatles
Recorded 5 January 1967
Genre Experimental
Length 13:48

"Carnival of Light" is an unreleased experimental piece recorded by the Beatles on 5 January 1967 for "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave", an event held at the Roundhouse Theatre on 28 January and 4 February 1967. The track is nearly 14 minutes long and contains distorted sounds of percussion, keyboards, guitar, vocals, and various effects.

The piece has not yet appeared on any official Beatles release. In 1996, Paul McCartney tried to release the track on the compilation album The Beatles Anthology 2, but George Harrison voted to reject it. The track was confirmed by McCartney to be in his possession in 2008, but his attempt to release it to the public has been unsuccessful. As of 2016, he was still considering the track's release.


The genesis of the track came in December 1966 from designer David Vaughan (part of the designer trio Binder, Edwards & Vaughan), who had recently painted a psychedelic design on a piano owned by Paul McCartney.[disputed ] About the same time as he delivered the piano to McCartney's Cavendish Avenue address, he asked if McCartney would contribute a musical piece for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave. To Vaughan's surprise, McCartney agreed to make a contribution.

The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (sometimes referred to as "The Carnival of Light Rave") was an art festival organised by Binder, Edwards & Vaughan as a showcase for electronic music and light shows. It was held at the Chalk Farm Road Roundhouse Theatre and featured on the bill not only a public playing of "Carnival of Light" but performances by Unit Delta Plus, whose members included early electronic music pioneers Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and fellow electronic artist Peter Zinovieff. "Carnival of Light" was created for this event.

Recording and mix[edit]

Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn was granted access to the completed recording of "Carnival of Light" in 1987 while compiling his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.[1] In his description, the song included "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'"[2]

McCartney biographer Barry Miles wrote in Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now that the song had "no rhythm, although a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding piano. There is no melody, although snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through."

"I said 'all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum, then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around'," said McCartney in November 2008.[3]

The basic bed track of an organ playing bass notes and drums was recorded at a fast speed, meaning that when played back at a regular speed they are deeper in pitch and slower in tempo. There is also a huge amount of reverb used on the instruments and on Lennon's and McCartney's vocals (the only two voices on the track); Lennon and McCartney also recorded Native American war cries, whistling, close-miked gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation. Other overdubs to the song include bursts of guitar feedback, schmaltzy cinema organ, snatches of jangling pub piano and electronic feedback with Lennon shouting "Electricity!" The track concludes with McCartney asking the studio engineer in an echo-soaked voice, "Can we hear it back now?"[citation needed]

Also, according to Barry Miles, musically it "resembles 'The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet' from Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music ... is more fragmented, abstract and serious."[full citation needed]

Dudley Edwards (one of the organisers of "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave" and friend of McCartney's) said that an early take of "Fixing a Hole" with a piano appeared during the song.[4] It is unlikely that a sample of an early take was heard since the recording of "Fixing a Hole" did not commence until five days after the last "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave", but it is not impossible that McCartney played a few bars of the song on the track.[original research?]

Some reports indicate that it is around fourteen minutes long[5] and McCartney has said it was around fifteen minutes.[citation needed] In Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Chronicle, it is listed as lasting 13 minutes and 48 seconds.[full citation needed]

Although Lewisohn's book says that a rough mono mix was given to Vaughan, Miles claims that the mix down "was made with full stereo separation, and is an exercise in musical layers and textures". Whether a second mix was made after the event or Vaughan was in fact given a stereo mix which was not logged in Abbey Road’s records is unspecified. Edwards has said the tape was taken to San Francisco by one Ray Anderson (who was brought over from the United States to assist with the light show). The master session tapes of "Carnival of Light" are still[when?] at Abbey Road Studios.[citation needed]


"Carnival of Light" has not yet appeared on any official Beatles release. In 1996, McCartney tried to release the track on the compilation album The Beatles Anthology 2, but George Harrison voted to reject it.[6] According to McCartney, the reason was that "he didn't like avant garde music" and referred to avant garde as "avant garde a clue". However, Harrison had created avant-garde music as a solo composer (in 1969 he released an experimental album using the then new Moog synthesizer called Electronic Sound), and dabbled in the avant-garde with a couple of his Beatles compositions. Sir George Martin, the Beatles' former producer, also considered it unworthy of release.[7][8] In a 2016 interview, Lewisohn said: "Everything on those albums had to be agreed on by all of them ... I was pushing for ["Carnival of Light"] to be on Anthology 2, with some resistance from a number of people on the team. It certainly didn't get beyond George [Harrison], I'm not sure it got beyond Ringo or Yoko either. It was something that was going to, potentially, spotlight only Paul in a good way and I don't know that was something they collectively wanted."[9]

In an interview with Mojo magazine in August 1996, McCartney claimed that he was working on a photo collage film of the Beatles that was similar to a film made about the Grateful Dead in 1995 called Grateful Dead – A Photo Film. He said he was planning to use "Carnival of Light" in the soundtrack. This project has yet to be seen, and McCartney has not commented on the film's status since 2002.

In November 2008, McCartney confirmed he still owned the master tapes, adding that he suspected "the time has come for it to get its moment. I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off-piste." McCartney would need the consent of Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as Ringo Starr to release the track.[3][10] In 2016, McCartney stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that he considering issuing unused Beatles recording takes. During this interview he again admitted he was still toying with the idea of releasing "Carnival of Light".[11]

As of 2017, the track remains unreleased. Many anticipated that it might included as a bonus track on the super deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it failed to appear in the released track listings.[12] At a preview event hosted at Abbey Road Studios to unveil the new Sgt. Pepper stereo remix, Giles Martin commented that while "Carnival of Light" was considered for inclusion, "it wasn't really part of Pepper. It wasn't part of the Sgt. Pepper recording. It's a very different thing". However, he expressed an interest in "do[ing] something interesting" with the track in the future.[13]


  1. ^ Holmes 2012, p. 445.
  2. ^ Lewisohn (1988), p. 192.
  3. ^ a b "'Mythical' Beatles song confirmed". BBC News. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008. 
  4. ^ ""Carnival of Light" The history of the Beatles' most mysterious unreleased track". Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "'Lost' Beatles track could finally be heard". CNN. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2008. 
  6. ^ "Carnival of Light". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Brend 2005, p. 79.
  8. ^ Holmes 2012, p. 444.
  9. ^ "Travels In Music: Ep. 1: The World's Leading Beatles Historian, Author of 'Tune In' Mark Lewisohn". Travels In Music. 
  10. ^ Grey, Sadie (16 November 2008). "The weirdest Beatles track of all may be released, 41 years on". The Independent. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  11. ^ Entertainment News (10 August 2016). "Paul McCartney considers releasing Beatles studio outtakes". Xposé Entertainment. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  12. ^ Ultimate Classic Rock. 5 April 2017 Retrieved 9 April 2017.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "The Beatles / Remixed Sgt. Pepper unveiled at Abbey Road Studios". Retrieved 2017-04-21. 


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