John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s secret ‘cocaine-fuelled’ final recording
In an interview in 1975, John Lennon admitted that he and Paul actually did record after the Beatles split up in 1970. “I jammed with Paul,” Lennon confirmed, “I did actually play with Paul. We did a lot of stuff in L.A., but there were 50 other people playing—all just watching me and Paul.”
Although every member of the Beatles collaborated with one another after the split, Paul and John never appeared on an album together and frequently trashed each other in the press. The brief admission of a secret recording led many to believe that the Beatles may actually get back together someday, but what recording was he referring to? It remained a mystery until Lennonʼs mistress, May Pang, released her first book ‘Loving John’ in 1983 which confirmed that John and Paul actually did record together March 28, 1974, in Burbank, California. Pang remembers, “They made joyous music together that night.” So what happened to this historic recording, who are the “50 other people” and what was recorded?
In 1973, Lennon was becoming disillusioned by his life in a post-Beatles world and was in the middle of his “lost weekend” in which he and Yoko split up for 18 months. John was attempting to make his album Rock ʼNʼ Roll with Phil Spector and was slipping deeper into alcohol addiction. The tumultuous recording sessions at one point saw Spector coming into the studio dressed as a surgeon and firing a gun near Lennon, hurting his ears. Spector was also taking the master recordings home every night without Lennon knowing. This became problematic when Spector was in a car crash that left him in a coma, thereby halting the project altogether.
Lennon decided to produce his friend Harry Nilssonʼs album Pussy Cats while Rock ʼNʼ Roll sat in limbo. Lennon and Nilsson were notorious drinking partners, who were a part of the legendary ‘Hollywood Vampires’ drinking club, and at one point were allegedly tossed out of the Troubadour for heckling the Smotherʼs Brothers. Two weeks after the event, Nilsson and Lennon found themselves in Burbank studios with none other than Paul McCartney.
Something that has always fascinated me is how insecure Paul and John were despite being the most prolific musicians of the 20th century. Whether it is John overproducing all of his vocal tracks because he didnʼt like his voice or Paul fighting to get his name in front of Lennonʼs on some of the Beatlesʼ songs they co-wrote, each had their own private struggles. Perhaps that is why Lennon says, “…there were 50 other people playing” out of his insecurities over what was recorded that night. In fact, there were seven people in the studio that night in addition to Paul and John: Linda McCartney, May Pang, Harry Nilsson, Stevie Wonder, Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Ed Freeman (bass), and Bobby Keys (sax). The result of the chance encounter is The bootlegged tape, A Toot and a Snore in ’74.
When Lennon and McCartney met up that night it was the first time they had seen each other in three years. Since that time, each had fired off diss tracks at the others expense. On McCartneyʼs ‘Ram,’ Paul fired the first shot with ‘Too Many People’ which attacked Johnʼs relationship with Yoko Ono, the scapegoat of Beatles fans for decades to come. John responded with ‘How do You Sleep?’ which contains the brutal dig, “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’ / And since you’ve gone, you’re just ‘Another Day.ʼ” But time had passed and May Pang was encouraging John to mend his relationship with Paul, and also with his estranged son Julian, which John did. Upon meeting Paul in the studio that night, it is reported that John said: “Valiant Paul McCartney, I presume?” which was a reference to a Christmas special the Beatles did in the early days. Paul responded with, “Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume?” (The name I later would give my son.)
Before listening to the tape it is important to lower your expectations. I remember almost losing my mind when I heard that there was a secret recording of John and Paul in 1974. After processing that idea I had to come to terms with the fact that Stevie Wonder was there to jam just seven months after releasing Innervisions. What you have to consider before listening is that Lennon was not used to working in such an unstructured studio. As May Pang said in her second book ‘Instamatic Karma’: “There mustʼve been something in the California air—between the ‘Pussy Cats’ sessions and Johnʼs initial ‘Rock ʼNʼ Roll’ sessions, the studio mood was a bit more ‘Partyʼ than John was accustomed to. Things were not going as John had planned.”
This idea is evidenced by the first 20 seconds of ‘Toot’ in which Lennon says to Stevie Wonder, “You want a snort Steve? A toot? Itʼs going around.” When asked about the night McCartney said the “session was hazy… for a number of reasons,” which kickstarted the most mysterious of Beatles fan conspiracy theories of a ‘cocaine-fuelled’ recording session like no other.
What ensues can only be imagined as one of the most coked-up alcohol-fuelled recordings of all time. It is difficult to know exactly how long the group was in the studio recording this mess. Several times throughout the recording Lennon complains about the sound in his headphones, other times he is asking for a drink. The only songs that really comes to fruition is the Little Richard classic ‘Lucille’ and the Santo & Johnny track ‘Sleepwalk’. From there it is fragments of songs and a massive struggle to get through ‘Stand By Me’. I assume these songs were where Lennonʼs head went while his Rock ʼNʼ Roll album sat on the shelf.
For years I was always led to believe the relationship between Paul and John never recovered after the Beatles split in 1970. Now, nearly fifty years later, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. If nothing else, this bootlegged album may not provide us with much in the way of music, but it does provide us with evidence of a major moment in rock history, it also provides a delicious taste of the Lennon/McCartney relationship in a post-Beatles world.