This post began as a proposal for a regular Beatles column in a journal edited by a friend. He was warm to the idea at first but perhaps was simply being kind (he’s a very nice guy). The idea went nowhere.
In considering the material again I thought I might try to line it up with an auspicious Beatles anniversary. This month, however, it seems the pickings are slim, although I did come across one nugget 60 years ago this week, when the boys were teenagers known as the Quarrymen:
“A somewhat bizarre booking for the nascent Quarrymen: they performed two raucous sets for the social club of Liverpool’s Stanley Abattoir.
“The event was a dance held for the members of the social club, which included employees of the huge slaughter house, meat porters, and their families.
“This was a one-off booking for Quarrymen; they never subsequently performed at the social club. It’s unlikely they minded too much.”
The meat house gig was roughly a month after 15-year old Paul McCartney joined the band and set into motion what would become an undeniable trajectory. It took another five years, but the Quarrymen; later Johnny and the Moondogs, the Silver Beetles, and finally the Beatles, worked their way to stardom in England, and then, more than a year following that, they reached an astonishing level of worldwide fame.
A casual music fan has undoubtedly heard 15-20 Beatles songs, even if they don’t know them by name. If you’re of a certain age and maintain some passion for rock music, you probably know quite a bit more. The very first Beatles greatest hits package, the twin albums 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (the Red and Blue albums), contains a total of 54 songs, and all of them have likely made a large number of appearances on Classic Rock, Oldies and Sirius radio stations.
As a bit of a Beatles geek I would argue that a number of those tunes would be in the less-than-essential category (example – Ob La Di Ob La Da), and that there are many others worthy of consideration. I’d like to present 20 lesser-known but in my opinion essential Beatles cuts – none of them appears on the Red or Blue albums. Links are provided below if available.
By the way, someone needs to tell Yoko or whoever controls the publishing rights these days (Yoko is always a good scapegoat), to back-off You Tube and allow the music to be widely shared.
1) I Saw Her Standing There – A song that helped start it all. The first cut on side one of Please Please Me, the Beatles’ debut album. Paul calls out, “One-two-three-faw!” and a rocker erupts that’s still fresh and crisp today.
2) Baby You’re A Rich Man – Lennon’s peak period began in 1967 with the much better-known Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day in the Life. However, this tune from ’67’s Magical Mystery Tour album is a gem. It features an early synthesizer called a clavioline that creates a unique sound, and it grabs you with its edgy opening line, “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Knowing Lennon, he delivered it with a sneer.
3) I Want to Tell You – George contributed this one to the Revolver album and liked it so much he opened with it during a tour of Japan 25 years later.
4) Dear Prudence – Lennon with an impossibly infectious dirge about Mia Farrow’s sister during the Beatles’ folly with a guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in India. From the White Album.
5) Two of Us – Paul and John singing about the way they were, from Let it Be.
6) I Will – One of three ridiculously beautiful acoustic ballads from Paul on the White Album; the best known, of course, being…
7) Blackbird – Paul said in interviews years later that the song was about civil rights; that he was thinking of an African-American woman when writing it. He liked the cut so much he basically did it again on his Band on the Run album – the re-worked tune was Bluebird.
8) Long Long Long – also from the White Album. George gives us a glimpse into the mystical sound of his early solo career.
9) I’m So Tired – And yet another one from the White Album. Lennon sounds convincing when he sings that he hasn’t “slept in years.”
10) Dig a Pony – lyrical nonsense from Lennon in a stunning slice of Rock-and-Roll, from Let it Be.
11) You Never Give Me Your Money – Paul as a lone voice in the wilderness attacking Beatles manager Allen Klein. Paul would eventually be vindicated, but the cost was steep. The song is aching at the beginning, then shifts gears several times and serves as a lead-in to the legendary Abbey Road medley.
12) Happiness is a Warm Gun – Is this one about drugs? Sex? Both? Something else entirely, like a gun? It’s generally believed Lennon was writing about heroin (I need a fix ’cause I’m goin’ down), but then ‘Mother Superior’ (thought to be Yoko) jumped the gun, and John had his finger on her trigger, so who knows? From the White Album.
13) I’m a Loser – Beatles historians point to songs like this from Lennon as the transition period between the love-you mop tops and the more introspective, experimental band that was coming. As for John, he was delivering the same message as in ‘Help!’ a short time later – he wasn’t feeling worthy of the rarefied air the Beatles were inhabiting.
14) No Reply – A Lennon power ballad about unrequited infatuation. A sort-of companion piece to I’m a Loser.
15) Oh Darling! – A doo-wop soul masterpiece by Paul, from Abbey Road.
16) Got to Get You Into My Life – Paul’s sentimental love song to weed, packaged in one of the boldest, brassiest R&B tunes ever. Covered perfectly by Earth, Wind and Fire.
17) Julia – A tender ballad from Lennon on the White Album. It’s about his mom, who didn’t raise him (his Aunt Mimi did) and died when he was a teen. John came up with a pair of more primal tunes about his mum, Mother and My Mummy’s Dead, on his first solo album.
18) Mother Nature’s Son – The third stunning ballad from Paul on the White Album.
19) Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End – The epic sign-off at the end of the final Beatles album – Abbey Road. McCartney carries the vocals and joins Lennon and Harrison for a guitar solo mash-up, leading into one of the most famous lines in rock history: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” And that’s it, or so it seems, until something pops up a few seconds later…
20) Her Majesty – Perhaps the first hidden bonus cut in rock. Paul with a guitar singing a folk ditty about taking liberties with Queen Elizabeth, for all of 23 seconds. And then Abbey Road actually concluded, and the Beatles were done for all time.