The best thing people can hope for, in regards to new music each year, is that The Arctic Monkeys get in the studio, next big thing emerges, or Kanye West postpones his next album.
However, could this year see the release of material from the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones? Intrigued? Let us explain. For this article, we’ve purposely focused on The Fab Four, or we’d be waffling all day, but the same theory applies to any band of that era.
Chances are you don’t know much about copyright law. It’s pretty complicated and tedious. Heck, not even the artists know the rules, cue Paul McCartney suing Sony for clarification after Duran Duran’s interpretation of the laws was “rejected.”
We’ll try and keep this simple as possible. The law we’re focusing on here relates to the amount of time the performance rights of copyrighted material remains the property of performer before it eventually enters the public domain. Composers already own copyright over their music until 70 years after their death.
Did you know for instance “Happy Birthday To You” was copyrighted until December 31, 2016? That essentially meant that for every non-private performance of the song, the PRS were entitled to collect royalties for publishers Warner/Chappell.
The layman’s explanation is that until recently all recorded works were copyrighted for 50 years. After that, the material would enter the public domain. This law changed in 2011, due to what was nicknamed “Cliff’s Law,” after a certain pop singer; not the deceased Metallica bassist. This extended copyright on recorded music to 70 years. Good news for performers like Cliff Richard who don’t collect composers royalties on the majority of their music.
But there’s one loophole. In this extension of the law, it only applies to the released music. Unreleased material leaves copyright after 50 years; meaning, come to the end of the year, any material recorded in 1967 that has not yet released will enter the public domain.
Bands have already acted on this issue of copyright. In 2013 The Beatles issued a collection of unreleased material to iTunes. Apple took the music down as swiftly as it went up, but the release of the material ensured that Apple would retain control over the recording for the next 70 years. Thus, stopping it leaking out to the public on unauthorized and sub-par “legal bootleg” recordings. The group also released a substantial amount of demos through the anthology project in the 1990’s.
Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan have also acted. The Floyd released their “The Early Years 1965–1972″ box set last year. The box set contained 25 hours of unreleased material, while plans are in place to continue the project across the rest of the group’s career. Dylan was even less discreet in his reasoning for 2012’s “The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1″, which he followed by similar releases in 2013 and 2014.
So onto The Beatles. It’s hard to say for sure but following the release of “The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963” and last year’s Eight Days A Week soundtrack it would appear that the majority of material that would be worth bootlegging that hadn’t been covered in Anthology has now seen release. That is up to 1966. It’s fair to assume – in chief due to the fantastic The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, which tracks everything the group every laid to tape in Abbey Road, Trident and Apple Studios – that 1965 and 1966 were pretty lean in regards to unreleased Beatles material. With the group touring every moment they weren’t in the studio, there just wasn’t time for wasted material to go unreleased. The group would also hand “cast offs” to other artists during this period (see “Like Dreamers Do,” “Step Inside My Love” and “A World Without Love”).
Once the band “retired” to the studio after their retreat from touring in late 1966, the group gathered more and more unreleased material. Much of it is bootlegged (see The Nagra Tapes and The White Album (Kinfauns) demos). However, reports suggest that certain songs have continued to fall through the cracks of the extensive “Beatleg” network. The Holy Grail of these is Carnival Of Light.
Recorded in 1967 – for “The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave” at The Roundhouse – the Avant Garde piece featured. According to Mark Lewishohn “distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘Barcelona!'”
McCartney, who possesses the master tapes of the track, has been trying to get the song released for years, including on the Anthology project, but was vetoed by George Harrison who referred to avant-garde music as “avant-garde a clue.” Just last year he hinted to Rolling Stone that the track might see release, along with other unreleased Beatles recordings and studio outtakes. Speaking about “Carnival Of Light” he said “Is it worthwhile? The thing about the Beatles, they were a damn hot little band. No matter what you hear, even stuff that we thought was really bad, it doesn’t sound so bad now. Because it’s the Beatles.”
The song – among others – would have to have its release approved by the Paul and Ringo alongside the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison. But with the approach of the copyright deadline on December 31st, it may just be the case that all four parties decide to cash in on one of the most sought after unreleased tracks in the history of music.
On the other hand (sorry to be a downer), If McCartney securely holds what is presumed to be the only copy of “Carnival Of Light,” surely he can be secure in the knowledge that the chances of the song leaking after all this time are pretty slim. But like we said at the beginning of the article, we can hope.
Check out a couple of bootleg Beatles recordings set to leave copyright in the next two years below – there’s plenty about if you know where to look. However, YouTube isn’t that place.