Carnival of Light

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"Carnival of Light"
Composition by the Beatles
Recorded5 January 1967
StudioEMI Studios, London

"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 Beatles' outtakes compilation Anthology 2, but its inclusion was vetoed by his former bandmates, with George Harrison said to be the most opposed to releasing the piece. 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]

The Beatles recorded the piece on 5 January 1967, at the end of an overdubbing session for the song "Penny Lane".[1] 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.[2] 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!'"[3]

In his book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, Barry Miles writes that the song had "no rhythm, though a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding on the piano. There is no melody, though snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through."[4]

"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.[5]

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]

In his description of "Carnival of Light", Miles adds: "It most resembles 'The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet' from Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album, except there is no rhythm and the music here is more fragmented, abstract and serious."[6]

Dudley Edwards, one of the organisers of "The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave" and a friend of McCartney's, said that an early take of "Fixing a Hole" with a piano appeared during the song.[7] 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 "Carnival of Light" is around 14 minutes long[8] and McCartney has said it was around 15 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 says 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]

Geoff Emerick said in his 2006 memoir Here, There and Everywhere that Lennon's "Barcelona" yell and other "bits and pieces" from the 'Carnival of Light' sessions were later used in "Revolution 9", although it has yet to be recognised as the original composition has not been released for comparison.[9]


"Carnival of Light" has not yet appeared on any official release. In 1996, McCartney tried to issue it on the Beatles' compilation album Anthology 2, but it was vetoed by George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Lennon's widow Yoko Ono on the grounds that the track was never intended for release.[10] In a 2008 interview for BBC Radio 4, McCartney recalled that "The guys didn't like the idea, like 'this is rubbish'", and that Harrison opposed it as he did not like avant garde music.[11] 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 avant-garde with a couple of his Beatles compositions. George Martin, the band's former producer, also considered "Carnival of Light" unworthy of release.[12][13]

Lewisohn said he had advocated for the track to be included on Anthology 2, but: "It certainly didn't get beyond George, 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."[14] One of the few others to have heard "Carnival of Light", Barry Miles dismissed it as "really dreadful".[15] He also said: "It doesn't bear being released. It's just masses of echo. It sounds like they put it through twice. It was the same thing that everybody was doing at home."[15]

In an interview with Mojo in August 1996, McCartney said 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.[citation needed] In his 2008 Radio 4 interview, McCartney confirmed he still owned the master tapes and that "the time has come for it to get its moment. I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off-piste."[11] He would require the consent of Starr, Ono, and Harrison's widow Olivia Harrison to release the track.[5][16] In 2016, McCartney stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that he was considering issuing unused Beatles recording takes. During this interview he said he was still toying with the idea of releasing "Carnival of Light".[17]

Fans anticipated that it might be included as a bonus track on the 50th anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it failed to appear in the released track listings.[18][19] 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.[20]


  1. ^ Heylin 2007, pp. 69–70.
  2. ^ Holmes 2012, p. 445.
  3. ^ Lewisohn (1988), p. 192.
  4. ^ Miles 1997, pp. 308–09.
  5. ^ a b "'Mythical' Beatles song confirmed". BBC News. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  6. ^ Miles 1997, p. 309.
  7. ^ ""Carnival of Light" The history of the Beatles' most mysterious unreleased track". Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  8. ^ "'Lost' Beatles track could finally be heard". CNN. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  9. ^ "The Beatles' "Carnival of Light"". 26 September 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  10. ^ Badman 2001, p. 554.
  11. ^ a b Thorpe, Vanessa (16 November 2008). "Forty years on, McCartney wants the world to hear 'lost' Beatles epic". The Observer. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  12. ^ Brend 2005, p. 79.
  13. ^ Holmes 2012, p. 444.
  14. ^ "Travels In Music: Ep. 1: The World's Leading Beatles Historian, Author of 'Tune In' Mark Lewisohn". Travels In Music.
  15. ^ a b Heylin 2007, p. 70.
  16. ^ Grey, Sadie (16 November 2008). "The weirdest Beatles track of all may be released, 41 years on". The Independent. Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  17. ^ Entertainment News (10 August 2016). "Paul McCartney considers releasing Beatles studio outtakes". Xposé Entertainment. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  18. ^ "The Beatles confirm expanded track listing". Ultimate Classic Rock. 5 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Hidden tracks: the unreleased music from major stars we may never hear". Billboard. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  20. ^ "The Beatles / Remixed Sgt. Pepper unveiled at Abbey Road Studios". Retrieved 21 April 2017.


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