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Crying Over “Sour Milk”

Lamenting a Beatles' song that never was.

by Dr. Spin
December 1, 2003

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Crying Over “Sour Milk”_Dr. Spin-Lamenting a Beatles' song that never was Though it may come as a shock to those who know me, I do not know everything about the Beatles, and I can be occasionally surprised. Recently, I was listening to “Breakfast with the Beatles,” a syndicated program that plays Beatles and Beatle-related music, when they were talking about the “White Album” sessions. As many fans know, there was quite a bit of material recorded for the “White Album,” even more than the double-album release allowed. Many of these songs were recorded and released later on, either as solo material, or popping up on Anthology 3. However, one song that was not released, because it was only recorded as a demo, was an excellent George Harrison tune called, “Sour Milk Sea.”

“Sour Milk Sea” was eventually recorded by Jackie Lomax, one of the “discoveries” of the Beatles’ Apple Studios. While Lomax does a fine job with it (and members of the Beatles played on his album, with George Harrison producing it), I cannot fathom why the Beatles never made more than a demo of it themselves. Granted, it was a George Harrison song, and George had to really lobby to get his usual two cuts. But Harrison should have pushed harder to get this one recorded and released, even as a B-side on a single. And did they really need “Revolution #9” or “Wild Honey Pie?”

What makes “Sour Milk Sea” an even bigger loss was Harrison never went back to make his own version, like he did with “Not Guilty.” There is some speculation that Harrison felt his voice wasn’t powerful enough to pull this rocker off; perhaps he felt Lomax’s voice did it enough justice.

Either way, with all the work that went into Anthology, and the reworking of Let It Be... Naked, the remaining Beatles owe it to their public to give this great little number the life it deserved 35 years ago. Again, this would have given George Harrison an unprecedented three tracks, but couldn’t Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have “finished” this song (the way Paul, George and Ringo finished “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” for the Anthology series) and included it on Let It Be... Naked instead of “Don’t Let Me Down?” Wouldn’t that make the album all the more valuable, with a “new” unreleased song?

* * *

Dear Dr. Spin,

Whenever we hear the exhortation, from Aretha Franklin in "Spirit in the Dark," or from Sly and the Family Stone in "Dance to the Music", and maybe other places, to "Ride, Sally, Ride!" is that in reference to "Mustang Sally" or does the song "Mustang Sally" refer to something else? It seems that the song "Mustang Sally" is a bit obscure to be paid this kind of tribute. Is Sally Walker from "Spirit in the Dark" supposed to be "Mustang Sally?" Is there a funky dance move in which I but my hands on my hips and shut my eyes, as Franklin tells me to do after she says "Ride Sally Ride"? Does all of this just prove that I'm a white person?

Sincerely,
Looking for Sally


Dear Sally,

I did some research on your question, and according to my research, this is the truth.

Mark Rice, the man who wrote “Mustang Sally” was hanging out at Della Reese’s place in New York. He heard Reese’s band leader was looking to buy a new car. Rice assumed he wanted a big car, like a Lincoln, but no, the guy wanted a new Mustang (this was 1965). Rice thought he was crazy for wanting such a little car and began to write a song called “Mustang Mama.” The chorus, “ride Sally, Ride” came from the children’s rhyme, Little Sally Walker, “rise, Sally rise.” When Rice played the tune for Aretha Franklin, she told him to change the title to “Mustang Sally.”

Apparently there is also a dance to Little Sally Walker where people form a circle, with one person in the middle. As the song is sung, the person in the middle chooses someone to join her (or him), where the first person does the dance and second one mirrors the first’s movements. So, essentially Aretha Franklin is asking you to participate in child’s game.

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Bill Lopez from Los Angeles writes:
May 14, 2007
I wholeheartedly agree about Sour Milk. One of George's greatest songs. It has it all. It is one of the greatest Beatle jams ever. Considering the group that played on the track, I wouldn't have minded at all if the Beatles had put it on the White Album just as it was. When you realize that more than few songs on the album featured just a couple of Fabs on them, it would have been fine by me. Dig the line-up:

Paul, George, Ringo, Jackie L., Clapton, and Nicky Hopkins! This should have been on Anthology. It is so unfortunate that George didn't revive this one and Not Guilty for the Get Back sessions.

Bill

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