Claim: The Beatles recorded songs entitled "Colliding Circles," "Left Is Right (And Right Is Wrong)," "Pink Litmus Paper Shirt," and "Deckchair," all of which remain unreleased to this day.
Origins: In the three decades between the break-up of the Beatles and the rise of the Internet as a means of sharing both information and music, collecting unreleased Beatles material (and trying to find that holiest of holy grails, an actual unreleased production-quality original Beatles song) was often a difficult and disappointing chore for devout Beatles fans. Information about what unheard Beatles recordings might still be gathering dust in a vault somewhere had to be gleaned from a myriad of books, music magazines, and fan publications, many of them inaccurate and contradictory. Obtaining such recordings was primarily accomplished by purchasing bootleg
Trying to separate the wheat from the chaff was a difficult chore for Beatles enthusiasts, as no official master list of everything the Fab Four had recorded existed to help guide collectors. Fans and writers compiled their own lists from a variety of sources (primarily borrowing from each other). Lists of unreleased Beatles material swelled but rarely grew smaller, as it was difficult to prove any particular title didn't exist.
As it turned out, no treasure trove of lost Beatles recordings existed. EMI had preserved all but the very earliest of the Beatles' session tapes; in 1982 an Abbey Road Studios engineer named John Barrett methodically listened to and cataloged all of them, and in 1988 writer Mark Lewisohn presented the details to the world in his book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. The reality was that the Beatles had left behind only a handful of completed outtakes, nearly all of which were eventually released on the three-part Anthology series of CDs in
So what happened to those dozens of "lost" songs with intriguing titles that kept popping up in Beatles discographies? Many of them were familiar Beatles tunes misidentified by their working titles, previously unreleased material (mostly from the Let It Be sessions) mislabeled by bootleggers unfamiliar with the real titles, or songs the Beatles had given away to other artists but never properly recorded themselves. And some of them were made up out of whole cloth.
In my teens I was as unabashed a Beatles fan as ever there was, and I spent hours poring over books such as the 1975 Beatles discography All Together Now, studying the "Bootlegs" section and trying to imagine what recorded-but-never-released songs such as "If You've Got Trouble" and "That Means a Lot" might sound like. And entries like the following were even more intriguing:
A very early version of a song George provisionally entitled Pink Litmus Paper Shirt, while John sang lead on an unreleased track Colliding Circles.
"Pink Litmus Paper Shirt" always sounded a little too bizarre to be a real Beatles song title to me, but I thought the same thing when I first gazed upon the back of the Let It Be album and found tracks with names such as "I Dig a Pony," "I Me Mine," and "One After 909," so I couldn't dismiss it on that basis alone.
Turns out I'd had good reason to be skeptical. Back in 1971, writer-humorist Martin Lewis, later an assistant for former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, and a consultant on Beatles-related projects such as the Live at the BBC and Anthology CDs, had compiled a Beatles bootleg discography for Disc & Music Echo. Concerned that his list didn't have anything compelling and new to offer, Lewis inserted four song titles he'd simply made up: the John Lennon polemic "Left Is Right (And Right Is Wrong)," George Harrison's "Pink Litmus Paper Shirt," a Paul McCartney vaudeville-style number (similar to the White Album's "Honey Pie") with the improbable title "Deckchair," and another John Lennon track, "Colliding Circles." Lewis publicly confessed to his prank nearly thirty years later as part of his autobiographical one-man show ("Great Exploitations!"), which debuted in 1999:
But that throwaway gag has grown into a monster that won't go away. Many years later Lewis discovered that other writers and authors had incorporated the erroneous information into their own listings of rare unreleased Beatles tracks. Several books have featured fictitious embellishments to Lewis's original information — mentioning instrumentation and recording dates! One respected author's Beatles book — which boasted chapter titles named after Beatles rarities — used three of Lewis's fake titles as chapter headings!
Stephen Peeples, a very respected producer and researcher of "The Lost Lennon Tapes” — a Yoko Ono-sanctioned American radio series documenting unreleased John Lennon material — told Lewis that he had spent 5 years searching through Lennon's unmarked tapes looking for one of the elusive songs, "Colliding Circles"!
Since everyone knows that anything appearing in print must be true, Lewis' "outfakes" were picked up by other compilers who continued to propagate them, despite the complete lack of any evidence for their existence. Even as the Beatles were issuing the little bit of unreleased material left in EMI's vaults on their Anthology series, reviewers were still holding out hope that these mythical tracks would turn up:
Sightings: Neil Innes worked all four of Lewis' "outfake" titles into "Unfinished Words," a track on Archaeology, the Rutles' 1996 spoof of the Beatles' Anthology albums:
Since all the Rutles’ songs (since their 1977 debut) have always affectionately played off real Beatle songs, titles and lyrics, this mischievous act perpetuated the mythology.
Gundersen, Edna. "Meet the Beatles Expert Who Started a 30-Year Hoax." USA Today. 5 June 2001 (p. D1). Hochman, Steve. "Mystery Tour." Los Angeles Times. 10 January 1999 (Calendar; p. 67). Lewisohn, Mark. The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books, 1988. ISBN 0-517-57066-1 (p. 100). Castleman, Harry and Walter J. Podrazik. All Together Now. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. ISBN 0-345-25680-8 (pp. 245-263).