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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Buzz Over Lost Beatles Treasure Gets Submarined

May 23, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN

To paraphrase the old adage, hell has no fury like a Beatlemaniac scorned.

Recent reports of a supposed "lost treasure" from the Beatles' vaults got fans excited, even if they wondered how a Fab Four song could have escaped detection for three decades.

But that emotional rush quickly turned to disappointment when word started to spread that the track in question is apparently not a new song, but a new mix of "Hey Bulldog," a fierce, John Lennon-led number from the soundtrack to the 1968 animated feature "Yellow Submarine."

And disappointment soon turned to anger--much of it aimed at Geoff Baker, spokesman for the Beatles' Apple organization.

"The damage is done," said Pete Howard, a Beatles scholar and the editor and publisher of the CD news monthly ICE. "The credibility of the Beatles, or at least their press department, took a major hit with this. Whatever happened to the Beatles' air-tight, classy information organization?"

When reports of a coming Beatles single surfaced--it would be released in the fall in conjunction with the reissue of the "Yellow Submarine" film and a new album featuring all 15 songs heard in the film--Baker did little to douse the speculation, refusing to give the title of the song and stating only that it was "a real rocker" taken from the "Yellow Submarine" sessions, with Lennon singing lead.

Baker, reached at his home in England, still refused to state what the song in question is and continued to fan the mystery.

"I can't really explain it without giving it away," he said, admitting that the song is not entirely unknown to fans, as had been implied in some reports. "Some people will know the song, some die-hards. But the majority of people will not know it, and nobody will know of this song in the form in which it's coming."

Baker, who was on the hot seat last year for misleading responses to inquiries about the location and circumstances of Linda McCartney's death from breast cancer, is confident that fans will not hold his role in the current matter against him.

"As to whether anyone's going to be disappointed, I don't think so," he said. "A lot of people will be delighted and surprised. I don't think there will be a hanging party for me in October."

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THE NOT-SO-QUIET BEATLE: While waiting for this mystery to settle, fans can hear a true Beatles-related "lost" nugget, a song really recorded for a 1968 film but never used. The track, "In the First Place," was produced by George Harrison for his score of "Wonderwall," but since he felt there was no place for anything but instrumental pieces in the film, he never submitted it to director Joe Massot.

The song is credited to and was written by the Remo Four, a group from the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool, with some vocal contribution from Harrison. Lennon, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton were uncredited guests on some "Wonderwall" sessions, but it's unclear whether they were involved in this song. In any case, it was shelved and forgotten.

Massot recently decided to reedit "Wonderwall" and hoped to remaster the music. Original tapes were located at Abbey Road studios in London and EMI's Bombay facility--the two places the music was recorded--as well as in Harrison's personal vaults. It was among tapes from the last location that Massot discovered the unknown song. With Harrison's blessing, he decided to include the piece of psychedelic pop as the theme song in the new edit.

The song and the new version of the film will get their premiere as part of the America Cinematheque's Mods & Rockers festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood starting June 25.

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RIDIN' THE RANGE: Another refugee from Geffen Records' absorption into Interscope as part of the Universal/PolyGram merger has headed for other pastures. The Cowboy Junkies, after releasing two Geffen albums as part of a three-album deal, came to a mutual agreement with Interscope to move on and are close to a deal with another label.

First, though, the Toronto group is returning to its indie roots by releasing "Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes" through its own Latent Records, the label on which it had its first albums: 1986's "Whites Off Earth Now" and 1988's "The Trinity Session." The latter was picked up by RCA and became a U.S. hit.

The new collection of various unreleased or obscure tracks (including versions of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and the Grateful Dead's "To Lay Me Down") will be released June 1 and will be available only online, ordering through Amazon.com or the group's new Web site, http://www.cowboyjunkies.com.

Songwriter-guitarist Michael Timmins says that the Internet offers great opportunities for the group, which has generally sold between 300,000 and 500,000 copies of its albums in the U.S. and has a solid audience base for touring. Terms of the pending deal also take advantage of audience loyalty, allowing the band to retain ownership of its masters and continue recording side projects for Latent.

"It's a very exciting time for us," Timmins says. "With this deal, the bar is set reasonably. If we sell 300,000 records, everyone makes money. And we have in Latent an outlet that can be exciting over the years. Every company we've been with has made money from us. We're a good investment. But that's less the way the industry works now, where it's based on needing a big pop splash."

The group will support "Rarities" with a brief tour, including a July 16 show at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

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