What’s The New Mary Jane

Anthology 3 album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 14 August 1968, 29 November 1969
Producers: George Martin, Geoff Emerick, John Lennon
Engineers: Ken Scott, Mike Sheady

Released: 28 October 1996

John Lennon: vocals, piano, effects
George Harrison: vocals, acoustic guitar, effects
Yoko Ono: vocals, effects
Mal Evans: handbell, effects

Available on:
Anthology 3

Written by John Lennon in 1968, What’s The New Mary Jane was one of The Beatles’ strangest recordings. It was considered for inclusion on the The Beatles (White Album), though remained unreleased until Anthology 3 in 1996.

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The lyrical playfulness of the song suggests it was written in India or shortly afterwards. Based on the phrase “What a shame Mary Jane had a pain at the party”, it was, along with Revolution 9, one of Lennon’s first forays into the world of the avant garde.

This was a thing I wrote half with our electronic genius Alex [Mardas]. It was called What A Shame Mary Jane Had A Pain At The Party, and it was meant for The Beatles album.
John Lennon, 1969

Beginning in a fairly simple nursery rhyme style, of the kind Lennon mined more successfully on Cry Baby Cry, the song also has the same throwaway air as The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill. The title could be interpreted as a reference to marijuana, although the surrealistic lyrics give few solid clues.

The Beatles recorded a demo of What’s The New Mary Jane as George Harrison’s Esher house prior to the commencement of the White Album sessions. That first recording was performed on acoustic guitars with a cacophony of voices joining in on the free-form chorus.

In the studio

At Abbey Road, the song began to take on a quite different shape. Lennon and Harrison were the only Beatles to appear on the recording. They taped four takes on 14 August 1968, with assistance from Yoko Ono and Mal Evans.

While the first take was incomplete, the other three lasted 2’35″, 3’45″ and 6’12″. Lennon sang and played piano, with Harrison on guitar, both double tracked. Other instruments on the recording included handbell and xylophone, with various effects added to give the impression of a particularly bad acid trip.

The longest version of What’s The New Mary Jane was widely bootlegged after The Beatles split up, and was the one chosen for inclusion on Anthology 3. It ends with Lennon saying “Let’s hear it, before we get taken away.”

Although Lennon wanted the song to appear on the White Album, it sat uneasily with the other songs and was discarded in October 1968 during the final mixing sessions.

Lennon created three new stereo mixes on 11 September 1969, for a potential release by the Plastic Ono Band. He wanted the song to be issued as the b-side of You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), which would surely have been one of the most bizarre singles by any mainstream artist in modern musical history.

On 26 November 1969 Lennon made another stereo mix, simultaneously adding new vocals and sound effects with Yoko Ono. He then carried out a number of edits and further mixes.

The single was to have been released on 5 December 1969 with the catalogue number APPLES 1002. The Beatles or EMI may have objected to the move, and the project was shelved, although a press release from Apple did claim that the single would feature John and Yoko with “many of the greatest show business names of today” – a somewhat thinly-veiled reference to The Beatles.

22 Responses to “What’s The New Mary Jane”

  1. amm

    It’s strange that George always spoke of a distaste for experimental music but it seems every weird song the beatles came up with (Revolution 9, What’s the New Mary Jane, Tomorrow Never Knows, and ,solo, Electronic Sound) he had a pretty big part in it adding effects and loops.

    Reply
  2. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

    I have something that you may want to add:
    The 1996 Anthology Mix is really different to the 1968 Original Mix, and also, the 1968 Original Mix, lasts ”6:37”. In Anthology was heavily remixed to sound less cynical and maniac as originally was, and to don’t sound like a ”Revolution 9” track. It sounds like that the original mix but not at all. This is one of my favorites (1968 mix), the 1996 mix i hate it after i discovered that was heavily remixed. But it’s a good remix, but i prefer the original ”6:37” version.

    Reply
  3. Thomas

    George released his own version of expermental music on a LP titled “Electronic Sound” so he must not have had too strong a distaste for it.
    Cheers

    Reply
    • Donald Kirkbride

      im sure jane asher was paul mccartneys girlfriend before he met linda also its possible the song refers to her as the kinks song waterloo sunset makes a reference to terry meets julie referring to terrence stamp and julie christie
      possible the idea was borrowed from the kinks perhaps? then again maybe not?

      Reply
    • StarrTime

      I think it’s interesting to listen to this and then listen to “You Know My Name” because I think Lennon could have really gone somewhere with “avant-garde a clue” type music…just with Paul rather than with Yoko. I mean this song is certainly better than anything on “Two Virgins” or those other two painfully bad albums he and Yoko did, but still these are the type of songs that even the most die hard Lennon fans just can’t deal with.

      Reply
      • EditDave

        I’ve always liked this song. The verses are catchy and silly, and the chorus is catchy and ridiculous. It’s Lennon having a lark and it’s fun. I don’t care much for the Yoko-inspired avant-garde segment, but the “song” section is just fine. Hey, back in the ’70s it was one of the only truly “new” finds to appear on a bootleg.

        Reply
    • JP

      Totally agree! Heroin and Yoko were a bad combination for John – musically speaking. This combo would continue to hinder John a few months later during the Get Back/LIB sessions.

      Reply
  4. The Walrus

    The structure of the song is based on what it’s like to be on marajuana.

    It’s like you hear about the paty, then you get to BE the party.

    That’s why there’s a four minute freak out. I do like the part when Mal Evans screams randomly “FUCK YOU ALL!”

    Reply
    • Travis

      Is that true about Mal shouting that? Omg that’s hilarious. What point in the song? I’ve listened to this song dozens of times and never noticed, so now I’m all excited.

      I love the line “He grooving such cookie spaghetti” (presumably the Yeti she like to be married to). That cracks me up every time. Also the song mentions “Aldebaran”, which you should ALL learn about if you want to truly be Beatle-fanatics/obsessives

      Reply
      • The Walrus

        In take two (which can be found on YouTube) at one point near the end Mal Evans shouts “DAMN IT FUCK YOU ALL”

        Reply
  5. GeorgeTSimpson

    I don’t really like this song. I mean I like it better than Revolution 9, but I like it less than You Know My Name (I like this one, mostly the uncut Anthology stereo mix). I think it was the right decision to not release it on White Album, but if they would have released it instead of Revolution 9, I would like it. I’d also like to know how Carnival of Lights sounds, but because of my dislike against Avant Garde, I think I wouldn’t like it.

    Reply
    • You know my name

      Agreed. I actually like You know my name. Mary Jane is a little bit better than Revolution 9

      Reply
  6. Jonathan

    I`ve always imagined that the guys spent most of the India trip smoking the quality hash that is apparently available there, and one day someone turned up to turn them on and the question was asked “What`s the new mary jane”….

    Reply
  7. eNothing

    I’ve always found this song to be interesting to listend to (perhaps not all that enjoyable though) for several reasons: 1. Lyrically the song reflects John Lennon’s own poetic genius and is a logical progression from his early beatles writing days. Remember that John published two very unusual books during 64 and 65 — “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works” which, even in the “pre marijuana” stage of the Beatles career were very unusual publications, filled with surrealistic “doggerel” rhymes and clever sketches and drawings (John was actually an accomplished artist having attended Liverpool Art Institute for several years). He WAS a freak back then but just didn’t look the part.
    2. The avant garde music comes from all of them (except Ringo) learning and experimenting with sounds and tape loops and distortion and echo and backwards tapes, etc. and so on – remember they were brilliant composers and were trying to absorb all that was going on around them. This is the first evidence I’ve ever heard of the infamous Magic Alex actually appearing on a recording, so that is VERY cool. We know about John and Avant Garde; we know about George and Avant Garde – what many DON’T know is that intellectually Paul was the most of all. Many of the tapes and sound effects on Sargeant Pepper came from Paul’s own experimentation, including the earlier backwards tape loops on John’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” which Paul brought from his home on Cavendish avenue in a plastic bag and arranged for Abbey Road engineers to hold up pencils to provide tension so they could be run through the machines there…

    Bottom line, they were incredible and its great to get a rare one every once in a while!

    Reply
  8. Donald Kirkbride

    I read somewhere that whats the new mary jane was released as a b side and some labels were misprinted as whats the news mary jane not sure which single it was a b side of though

    Reply

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