A veil of mystery shrouds the Beatles recordings known, among other names, as “The Esher Demos.” No one knows exactly when, how, or why they were recorded, but we do know this: Sometime during these waning days of May, someone had the bright idea that The Beatles should get together to talk about their next album.

And not a moment too fucking soon, am I wrong? At this point it had been almost exactly a year since Sgt. Pepper was released, and they had spent most of that time dicking around with movies, meditation, and various experiments in reverse capitalism. It was well past time to get back to the main business of Beatledom, which was music.

Thus did it come to pass that John, Paul, and Ringo traveled to George Harrison’s place in Esher, Surrey, a bungalow known as Kinfauns.

At some point this get-together turned into an off-the-cuff recording session. It’s not clear whether the boys decided to home-record their new songs just for fun, to test out George’s brand-new reel-to-reel Ampex multitrack tape recorder, or as references for future recording sessions. But they ended up demoing 27 new songs (15 of John’s, 7 of Paul’s, 5 of George’s), using mostly just voice and guitar with some handclaps and tambourine, the occasional dash of organ (or is it harmonium?). A few overdubs were added later but for the most part these were straight-to-tape live performances.

A handful of the demos were included on The Beatles Anthology 3,1 but most of them have never been officially released. That may change later this year if a rumored White Album 50th anniversary deluxe reissue materializes, which it probably will — the Beatles Industrial Complex never sleeps. But in the meantime, it remains possibly the best bootleg in existence. Fortunately, probably because there is no official release, the B.I.C. does not guard the copyrights for this stuff with any great alacrity. And so I can, at least for the moment, embed it for you here:

It’s really quite wonderful. Magical, even. As the estimable Rob Sheffield says,

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. At Esher, they’re having fun; they don’t realize all the tortures they’ll inflict on each other making the White Album. Instead, it’s a moment of jovial, intimate warmth – for almost the last time, you can hear they’re still in love with being Beatles together.

Of special note is John’s “Child of Nature,” which — despite being possibly the most beautiful song here — didn’t make it onto the album, and was later recycled to create “Jealous Guy.” I prefer the original.

Also notably lovely is the version of “Dear Prudence,” which some kind citizen combined with film footage from Rishikesh to create this great video:

And there are about a thousand other things to unpack from these recordings, but the sun is up and the sky is blue. The Esher Demos are beautiful and so are you. Over and out for now.

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