When was it recorded? Aug. 14, 1968 and Nov. 29, 1969
When was it first released, and on which album? Oct. 28, 1996 on “Anthology 3”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
“That was me, Yoko, and George sitting on the floor at EMI fooling around. Pretty good, huh?” – John Lennon
John wrote “What’s the New Mary Jane” in India or after returning from there. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “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.” According to Wikipedia, “In a 1969 interview with NME, Lennon credited head of Apple Electronics and friend Magic Alex with writing half of the song, though this credit was later revoked without explanation.”
John recorded a demo in May 1968 at George’s Esher home.
When brought to the studio during the White Album sessions, John and George were the only Beatles to work on the track. With Mal Evans and Yoko Ono, they recorded four takes of “What’s the New Mary Jane” on Aug. 14, 1968. The last take was deemed the best and used for overdubs. “However,” writes Wikipedia, “during the album’s final mixing stage, it was dropped due to time constraints, bringing the album down to 30 songs.”
John wasn’t about to give up on the tune though. He remixed the stereo Sept. 11, 1969, before he and Yoko recorded more overdubs on Nov. 26, 1969 and prepared “What’s the New Mary Jane” for release as a Plastic Ono Band single. According to the Beatles Bible, “The single was to have been released on 5 December 1969 with the catalogue number APPLES 1002.” However, the planned B-side was Beatles discard “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” and somebody pulled the plug (either Apple Corps. or the other Beatles) when they heard of John’s plan to release a Beatle track under his new band’s name (Wikipedia).
After that, “What’s the New Mary Jane” bounced around from bootleg to bootleg (including the eponymous “What a Shame, Mary Jane Had a Pain at the Party”). The tune was supposed to see wide release on the “Sessions” album of 1985, which got scrapped. Quoth Wikipedia, “The song was not released until over 10 years later, on Anthology 3, during which time period it gained a certain aura of mystery.”
Well I certainly like it as a curiosity, but I don’t know how much rotation it will get at my future parties…