About ten years ago Stephen Baxter wrote an alternate history story entitled “The Twelfth Album.” Its premise? Two guys, going through a dead coworkers effects, discover a mysterious, impossible LP — a Beatles album entitled “God.”
The cover was elementally simple: just a black field, with a single word rendered in a white typewriter font in the lower left hand corner. “God.”
Suppose Abbey Road weren’t the Beatles’ final album? What if there were worlds where the Beatles made a twelfth album for release in late 1970? An album called “God”? Such was the subject of Baxter’s story.
He gave the running order for the album:
- Gimme Some Truth
- It Don’t Come Easy
- Every Night
- All Things Must Pass
- Child of Nature
- Back Seat of My Car
- Instant Karma
- Isn’t It A Pity?
- Wah Wah
- Maybe I’m Amazed
I decided I’d put this “album” together myself. Now, obviously, it’s not going to be the album from the story — all of these tracks exist, but not the way that they were heard in the story. “Maybe I’m Amazed” in the story, for instance, has a lead vocal by John Lennon instead of our version with Paul McCartney. Linda McCartney isn’t on that version of “Back Seat of My Car.” And “Child of Nature”? Well, that would be my one major bone of contention with Baxter’s choices — I doubt very much that the Beatles would have recorded a song explicitly about Rishikesh two years after Rishikesh. (Also, the “Child of Nature” lyrics, though interesting, are horribly underwhelming.) Therefore, I decided I would use “Jealous Guy” in its place — same tune, better lyrics. (Also, I can’t find my CD of the Esher Demoes at the moment, and that’s the only version of “Child of Nature” I have.)
I used the versions of all of these songs from the contemporary solo albums with two exceptions.
- “All Things Must Pass” — I used George’s demo of the song as it appeared on Beatles Anthology 3. It’s quieter, lacking the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” that is really the only thing that mars All Things Must Pass, the album. And the reverb effects on the demo give the song an experimental edge that’s lacking from the rest of the track choices on “God.”
- “Jealous Guy” — I used the version from the Lennon Anthology. It has a laid-back feel to it.
I’ve listened to this “album” twice now. It’s not perfect. It’s far from perfect, actually. I find myself questioning the album in terms of Baxter’s choices for what would have been on the twelfth album. It doesn’t feel cohesive. But then, I’m hearing the album as best as it can be put together, not the way the characters in the story would have heard it. In that sense, then, it stands to reason that “God” would be imperfect.
My main issue? It’s too conservative. See, I could imagine a hard-rocking version of “Working Class Hero” on the album. That’s just it — this album really lacks anything that rocks hard. When Ringo brings the hardest rocking song to the table, you know you’ve got problems. Well, okay, “Instant Karma!” That’s hard. And to some extent, so is “Gimme Some Truth.”
And “Back Seat of My Car”? It’s not a terrible song by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it a terrible choice for the album. But if we’re going to look for something from Ram, wouldn’t McCartney have been more likely to bring forward “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” during the sessions as the song he really believed in, the song he put a lot of effort into, much as he did with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” during the White Album sessions and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in the Abbey Road sessions? That said, I do see a reason for “Back Seat of My Car” — lyrically it’s an interesting contrast to “God”. Compare “We believe that we can’t be wrong” in “Back Seat” with “I don’t believe in Beatles” and “The dream is over” in “God.” The album seems to say, then, that the Beatles are going out on a high, and there’s nothing more because it’s over.
And it occurs to me. The preceding few paragraphs are likely the very reason Baxter wrote the story, to provoke discussion on his choices, what they mean, and what might’ve worked better. And I wonder what the contemporaneous single would have been. I’m thinking George’s “What Is Life?” as the A-side. For the B-side? “Working Class Hero”? “Mother”? I don’t know.
The irony of this post? I’ve not read the story. I’ve only read about the story. I’m going to track down a copy of the David Hartwell Year’s Best anthology the story is reprinted in… one of these days.
The wonders of technology, may they never cease.