As many people know, during the recording sessions that completed the two John Lennon tracks that were released on the Anthology series, the surviving Beatles were often at odds with many of Jeff Lynne’s production ideas. The “Threetles” felt that Lynne’s approach was too safe, too glossy, and they wanted to incorporate more of the experimentation that characterized their peak years together, especially as Lennon had been a key component of that experimentation. Of course, the two Lennon songs (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”) ultimately reflected Lynne’s approach, being fairly conventional (if almost parodically “Beatlesque,” particularly “Free as a Bird”‘s coda).
However, it’s long been rumored that the Beatles would sneak into the studio after hours, free to explore their musical impulses outside of Lynne’s more commercial impulses. Any results of such recordings have long been assumed to be lost – but (as you’ve probably heard) an Egyptian collector discovered a cache of digital tapes left him by an eccentric British cousin who worked as a custodian at The Mill Studio in Sussex, where the two Lennon songs were completed. Most of the tape was unusable – but one track was nearly complete. Labeled “Zebra Ticket,” the short excerpt (slightly over one minute long) is a compelling example of the way the Beatles could bridge experimentation with pop melody and appeal. While the loop that underlies the track is clearly a product of the ’90s, the rest of the track is truly a Beatles song, featuring the melodicism of Ringo, McCartney’s bracing cynicism, and Harrison’s newly found instrumental expertise on the rare Javanese treadle-driven water organ (heard in the high-pitched, wavery drone).
So here it is: the Beatles’ last-known recording, “Zebra Ticket.” It’s no “Fool on the Hill,” but it is what it is.