It’s Sept. 11, 1968 in Studio Two at Abbey Road. The Beatles had just finished their ninth attempt at recording “Glass Onion” when John Lennon, the song’s chief writer, calls out to Chris Thomas sitting in a control room above the studio. “What do you think upstairs, Chris?” The 21-year old assistant to producer George Martin replies on a talkback microphone, “It wasn’t quite together on the first verse, I don’t think.” And so, The Beatles launch into take 10 (which you can hear below).
John Lennon is singing lead vocals and playing acoustic guitar, Paul McCartney is on bass, George Harrison on electric guitar and Ringo Starr is playing drums. It’s the whole band performing together, unlike much of what took place while recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their previous album. And if you know this song, you can hear that John hasn’t yet figured out how all his surreal lyrics fit together. “Glass Onion” is a song which takes a poke at Beatles fanatics and their desire to know more about the band by reading between the lines of their lyrics, looking for clues into the lives of The Beatles who, at this time, were less and less visible to the public.
There’d be another 22 takes until “Glass Onion” was ready. When producer George Martin returned from holiday, he would add four violins, two violas and two cellos to the track, giving it a distinct eeriness. Chris Thomas and Paul McCartney played the recorders after the line about “the fool on the hill,” mimicking the instrumentation to a song from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour EP and television program.
This outtake comes to us just about a week before the release of a 50th anniversary edition of The Beatles (‘The White Album’), due out Nov. 9, with a newly remixed version of the album by producer Giles Martin and mix engineer Sam Okell. Here’s a sample of what these completely new mixes sound like:
I’ll have an extensive conversation with Giles Martin on All Songs Considered on Nov. 13. There will be both stereo and 5.1 surround audio of the album and, most revealing, 27 early acoustic demos and session outtakes like this one, giving an insight into this remarkable album.