R/E/P > Terry Manning

The Bizarre Beatle Mystery Story

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This happened a while ago, but it is still very fresh in my mind, and has always been a mystery.  Since it is the 38th anniversary of the incident, almost to the day, here it is.

One day in the famous 1960's, I was working at Ardent Studios' original commercial location on National Street in Memphis.  I was, as often happened, the last one to leave the studio that particular night.  I straightened things up in the control room sometime between midnight and 1 AM, and walked through the entry lobby, past the front desk, and prepared to leave by the front door.  As always, I turned and gave one last look to see that everything was OK; all looked normal.  The front desk was right there beside me, and was completely free of anything on it.

Well, as also often happened, I was the first one back the next morning (except for Janie the Maid, who always came about 8 AM to clean).  I showed up to unlock and get ready for the day's session about 10.  When I entered through the same front door through which I had left a few hours earlier, I immediately saw an acetate disk laying right in the middle of the front desk.  I was sure it had not been there the night before, and I had never seen this particular disk before.  I immediately asked Janie if the door had been locked, or if anyone had come by to drop this off.  She answered that no, she had come in through the back door, locked it immediately as always, and no one had been there at all.

I was puzzled.  There was no writing on this acetate, neither on a label, nor in grease pencil (Chinagraph).  [For those of you who are post acetate-lathe-vinyl records, an acetate was a phonograph-type disk cut manually on a lathe, usually for reference purposes.  The grooves were somewhat soft compared to a pressed vinyl record, and it was thus only playable a few times before degradation occurred.  This was usually placed in a paper sleeve, and sometime had a label manually applied, with the hole in it, of course.]

As I wasn't sure exactly what this was or why it had appeared there, I was determined to find out some answers.  But first, I had to turn on some control room equipment, and be sure everything was operational and ready for the upcoming session.  I performed these tasks quickly, so that I would have time to check out the mystery acetate.  Finally, I was able to put it on the turntable, and listen through the JBL control room monitors.  There was one song only, on one side only, of this 10 inch disk.

A plaintive acoustic guitar started playing...

...then a voice...

........"I heard the news today, oh boy..."

This song was unknown to me, but it sure had a hauntingly familiar sound to it...

The track progressed through the verses.  Long languid tom rolls, perhaps slowed down...sure sounding like a group I knew about...

Then the bridge...a familiar type of chord change...

"Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head..."

OK, this was certainly either an amazing copy of The Beatles sound, or...but it couldn't be The.......impossible...

Well, MAYBE someone could imitate Lennon somewhat, and MAYBE someone could imitate McCartney somewhat...there were some pretty good Beatle knock-offs out there on occasion...but surely NO ONE could imitate BOTH singers so closely....???  What was going on?  I immediately grabbed a roll of Sony 1/4" tape (thank goodness!) and made a dub of the song.

Soon, other people arrived.  I related my story to, and played the song for, John Fry, owner of Ardent.  He knew nothing about how the acetate might have gotten there, but he agreed it sure did sound like you-know-who...A couple of other people also heard and agreed.  But NO ONE had any idea where the mystery acetate had come from.

Later in the day, I was really bursting with puzzlement, and couldn't stand it any longer.  So I found the phone number for Abbey Road Studios in St. John's Wood, London (still remember that number, too), and placed a transatlantic phone call.  This was a really big thing to do back then...one didn't often correspond with "the rest of the world" as we do today.  The phone rang...and rang...and rang...finally someone answered, so far away from little National Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Of course, at Abbey Road (as I found out so well several years later when I based myself out of that wonderful building), they were completely used to, and quite btired of, strange people calling up trying to talk to The Beatles, or to ask Beatle questions, or some sort of tomfoolery.  So I wasn't exactly greeted warmly.  But I explained to the receptionist, very slowly and carefully, that I was calling from a professional recording studio in the United States, I was not a rabid fan, and I was pretty sure I had a copy of an unreleased Beatles' song, AND I had no idea from whence it came!  Eventually she was persuaded, and asked me to hold on...I held on, and held on....and held on.  Finally, a male voice came on the line.  It was a man who said he "worked with" the Beatles.  I explained my story to him, and he laughingly said that thanks, but this was impossible.  So I sang him the first verse of the song...."HOLD ON A MOMENT PLEASE!!!!!"

After a great pause, another male voice came on the line.  This was someone I definitely knew about...Mr. George Martin, speaking from the control room of Studio 2.  I told him the story, sang him the song, and thoroughly befuddled and confused him.  He agreed that yes, this was indeed a Beatles' song.  It was brand new, having been recorded only some days earlier, and was to be included on a new album to be released some time later.  But he had NO CLUE as to how I had this.  Nor did I!  A complete mystery!

I promised that I would do nothing untoward with this, as I was a professional in the same business (well, maybe not quite the same business as Mr. Martin, but related), and I understood the need for privacy...I wouldn't sell it, nor give it to radio, nor do anything else unacceptable with it.  He asked me to send him the acetate, if I could, but he still had no explanation. He thanked me.  Interestingly, in the background, I could clearly hear toms being bashed repeatedly on a music backing track.   "Boom, boom, boom..."  It was "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" being recorded.  What a privilege to listen in to a Beatles' session!!!!!

I took the acetate, and carefully hid it, inside of a large book in John Fry's bookshelf, in his office.  I put the 1/4" dub away in a box of other tapes.  I did plan on returning the disk to Mr. Martin.  However, when the next day I went to retrieve the acetate, it had disappeared!  Honestly, it just wasn't there!  No one else had known where I put it, nor seen me hide it.  Another strange mystery.

I never saw that acetate again.  Nobody ever had any explanation.  I asked everyone I possibly could think of, but NOTHING.  I do still have the dub, however.  I listened recently, just to "pinch myself" again, as I have done several times over the years.  This version of the song is obviously not the final released mix.  AND, it starts cleanly...only the acoustic guitar.  On the album, there are sound effects cross fading into it...no hint of those here.

As strange as this sounds, I swear every word of this is completely true.


Otitis Media:
That has got to be the coolest story ever.  Holy shit.  Sgt. Pepper's is one of my fave albums of all time, it still holds up today, and when you realize WHEN it was all done.  My god!

I inherited, well, took for myself, my parent's (boomers) copy of the LP.  How amazing not only to have the dub, but have heard it as it was going down.  Of course, nobody knew what it was at that point in time, but still...holy shit.  

Bob Olhsson:
Brian Holland got one at Motown too around the same time and from an unknown source!

Barry Hufker:
I have to admit Terry that's the best story I've ever heard.


that is so strange!!! i cannot belive that after all this time, someone hasn't owned up/confided in you as to why Ardent would get that disc....


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