[In recognition of the release of The Beatles: Rock Band today, guest writer Trevor Siegler takes us on a walk through their back catalog. Only one of these songs is on the Beatles Rock Band playlist – can you guess which one?]
The Beatles are so iconic in our modern pop culture, it’s impossible to imagine a time before their meteoric rise to fame and eventual dissolution. Their songs are legendary, and almost anyone can name more than a handful of their most popular songs: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Hey Jude,” “Revolution,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” etc. But on the eve of the world release of “The Beatles Rock Band,” I think it’s time to recognize some of the lesser-known nuggets from the Fab Four’s catalogue, songs that might have been pop gold in the hand of lesser artists but exist as mere afterthoughts or album filler. I’m limiting myself to five for considerations of space, but not from lack of material to choose from. This list could be even longer.
1. I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party (Beatles for Sale)
In the waning months of 1964, the Beatles were trying desperately to survive the first full onslaught of “Beatlemania” with their psyches intact. Their contractually obligated third album, coming on the heels of the first two masterpieces “Please Please Me” and “With the Beatles” (released Stateside with a different track listing as “Meet the Beatles”), was bound to suffer from the lack of time on the road to write new material, much less perfect it onstage in front of screaming female fans. So the lads can be forgiven for dipping in the well of their prodigious record collection for some decent covers. But one of the better originals on the album (alongside the better-known “I’ll Follow the Sun”) is “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party.” A rockabilly-infused ditty which catches John at his most melancholy, the tune echoes the contrast of “I’m a Loser” by juxtaposing depressing lyrics (in this case, a jealous guy who leaves a party where his girl is obviously having more fun without him) with an upbeat melody. It’s a slight tune, for sure, but it’s one of the first hints that, underneath the bubbly surface of “Beatle John,” there lies the soul of a poet and artist with more personal concerns. It’s no small leap from “Party” to “Nowhere Man,” “Imagine,” and “Jealous Guy.” This is truly one worth seeking out.
2. Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver)
1966 was a tough year for the Beatles, what with John saying that they were “bigger than Jesus” and setting off a firestorm of controversy (nevermind the fact that he was essentially foretelling the rise of celebrity cultural icons who dominate the news while more important issues are pushed to the backside). “Revolver” is probably the best album of the pre-“Pepper” incarnation, where the guys are still functioning as a cohesive unit while also indulging in the vices that fame facilitated. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the closing track on the album, sounds at least twenty years ahead of its time, in terms of how it uses backward taping to add atmosphere to a song. Lennon reportedly wanted to record monks chanting on the top of a mountain, but George Martin wisely kept the boys in the safety of the studio. It’s one of John’s first forays into mysticism, and owes a lot to George Harrison’s recent infatuation with the sitar. In the years to come, the groundwork laid by “Tomorrow” would be explored on “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the Sgt. Pepper album. On its own merits, however, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Chemical Brothers or post-“Kid A” Radiohead album.
3. Your Mother Should Know (Magical Mystery Tour)
Enough of the John Lennon love-fest, let’s give some credit to his longtime writing partner Sir Paul McCartney. The concept of “Magical Mystery Tour” (the record and TV special) lay in Paul’s decision, following the death of original manager Brian Epstein in August 1967, to take a trip through the country and see what happens. Luckily for the Fab Four and their entourage, they didn’t run into any “Deliverance” territory, but they didn’t run into any interesting locations either. The special has since become a cult hit, and the album (while suffering in comparison with the year’s other Beatles release, “Pepper”) salvaged some interesting ideas by packaging them with already-released singles like “I Am the Walrus.” But of the originals, “Your Mother Should Know” is charmingly anachronistic, an old-fashioned song thrust in the midst of LSD-fueled soundscapes. The music-hall atmosphere of the track suggests the Beatles’ debt to the Brill Building and other “music factories” where songs were written by committee and recorded by prefabricated singers or groups (sound familiar?). One of the great ironies of the bond between Paul and John was the fact that both lost their mothers at an early age. Whether such maternal sadness colors the tune’s bouncy insistence that your mother should know is up to the individual listener, but it helps give a hint to the pop-friendly direction that Sir Paul’s post-breakup career would take, first with Wings and then on his own.
4. Because (Abbey Road)
The Beatles could nail three-part harmony almost from the very beginning, when various early lineups whittled down to the core vocalists of John, Paul, and George. Their early records show this extremely well, but as the years wore on such togetherness became a casualty of warring egos and differing visions. So it’s a treat to the ear and the heart to hear the guys harmonizing on “Because,” an almost a cappella tune which is one of the highlights from the first half of “Abbey Road.” In fact, the version available on the third set from “The Beatles Anthology” is a cappella, and is just as beautiful. To get John, Paul, and George in the same room, much less singing at the same time, by this time was nothing short of a miracle. A cynic would say that such layering could be done in production, but it sure sounds like the three-part harmony that made earlier tunes from a happier era so distinctive. It’s highly unlikely that this one will turn up on “Rock Band,” but you should look into adding it to your personal soundtrack if you ever need a quick pick-me-up.
5. I’ve Got a Feeling (Let It Be)
And in the end…the Beatles’ swan song was “Let It Be,” which began life as a movie/album project (Paul not learning a damn thing from the “Mystery Tour” experience), but which was shelved when tensions ran high and Phil Spector ran the recording board into “Wall of Sound” territory, ruining great songs like “The Long and Winding Road” by adding syrupy strings and an angelic chorus. “I’ve Got a Feeling” was one of the songs left from those sessions that captured what the group was trying to achieve, that is, a back-to-basics rock approach that hearkened back to their endless nights of playing in seedy Hamburg clubs. While the group literally revisited old stomping grounds (recording a version of “One After 909,” one of the oldest Lennon/McCartney compositions), “Feeling” was a product of the tension-soaked sessions in which John and new soulmate Yoko Ono sat opposed to anything Paul wanted to do, leaving George and Ringo no option but to leave the band separately for a few days. “Feeling” is a great, stormy rocker, with point/counterpoint vocals from Paul and John which describe the emotions stirred by rock, love and the desire to have a good time. John gets the best lines, of course (“everybody had a hard year/everybody had a wet dream”), but it feels like an honest-to-God collaboration, on a par with “Two of Us” in suggesting that, despite the rancor of the past few years, some bonds will not be broken. That the group broke apart on the heels of this album is perhaps out of necessity; there’s only so much looking back you can do before you have to start looking ahead of you. But brother, wasn’t it a great ride?
[Got any obscure favorites that we missed? Did you guess which song wasn’t on the Beatles Rock Band playlist? Or did you Google it like some Mean Mr. Mustard? Sound off in the comments!]
The truth is, “I’ve Got a Feeling” has long been my favorite track off of “Let it Be”. It’s odd to realize that it isn’t actually one of their most well-known songs.
“Old Brown Shoe” may be the single most criminally overlooked song in the discography. It is so damn good, SO good, but since it’s a B-side rather than an album track or a proper single – and since it is George’s tune – it just doesn’t get the love that it so richly deserves.
Technically… 1.5 of those songs are in Beatles: Rock Band.
Also, don’t forget about DLC (downloadable content) — ALL of the Abbey Road tracks will be available in October, so you’ll get to play (well, sing) “Because” after all. Sgt. Pepper goes on sale in November, and Rubber Soul in December.
I suppose the bigger problem in this article is with the “I’ve Got a Feeling” writeup… Yes, it’s true that the Let It Be sessions didn’t go well… but it is NOT true that “the group broke apart on the heels of this album.” Nor is it true that Phil Spector produced the album into the ground — well, not at the time, anyway, as he wouldn’t even come on to the project until 1970, more than a year after the recording sessions (and after The Beatles had agreed to break up the band). Glyn Johns was the original producer.
While Let It Be was the final Beatles album released… it was *Abbey Road* that was the last Beatles album to be recorded, and was always intended to be “The End.” After the acrimony of LIB, without a strong producer to guide them, they knew they had to give it one final shot (especially since the boys weren’t even sure anything would ever be released from the LIB sessions). They got serious, told Martin he’d produce for them again, recorded some absolute classic songs (esp. George, whose work on Abbey Road bests John and Paul’s, in my opinion), and made *that* their “swan song.”
If history had been fair (as it’s about a million times better than Let It Be), Abbey Road would have indeed been their final album, as the Beatles themselves had always intended. It’s the medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” that they intended to be their final statement on their relationship and the band itself (and is the big reason I love it so much).
Maybe it’s just because it’s a category in the RPM edition of Trivial Pursuit, but I never would’ve considered “Your Mother Should Know” to be a lesser-known cut. Then again, I grew up so immersed in the Beatles that it’s hard to tell what is or isn’t well-known. A personal favorite of mine is “If I Needed Someone;” George’s songs never get the credit they deserve, generally speaking. Lennon/McCartney, blah blah blah I’m over it. Harrison was a genius – “I Want to Tell You” is one of my favorites too, and of *course* “It’s All Too Much.” Oh, and would “I, Me, Mine” be considered lesser-known?
What I love is how Harrison’s tracks feel differently in your body than the Lennon/McCartney offerings. I know that’s incredibly vague… but by and large, John & Paul wrote “head” songs or “feet” songs, while George went straight for the gut. Lennon and McCartney were phenomenally adept at taking the music, playing with it, getting it to do what they wanted, drawing whatever they pleased out of it… but with Harrison’s tunes, I get the distinct impression that the music was in the lead, and he was just following along, seeing where it wanted to go.
Wow, that’s easily the least-concrete musical analysis I’ve ever written. I’m feeling some chagrin right about now…
I think “Because” is my favorite one there.
I find it rather telling that in the piece and the discussion (so far), no one has brought up any of Ringo’s songs.
I suppose I should point out that the vocals on “Because” were overdubbed three times, so it effectively sounds like nine singers.
Let’s be fair, Ringo didn’t write that many songs. I love “Octopus’s Garden,” but that’s not really obscure. “Don’t Pass Me By” is a cute little song. And there’s your Ringo love for the day.
I’m also not sure what songs are obscure or not, but here are some of my favorite not-so-famous Beatles tunes:
-She Said, She Said
-I’ve Got a Feeling (see above)
-And Your Bird Can Sing
-I’m Only Sleeping
I’ve always had a soft spot for “She’s Leaving Home” from Sgt. Pepper, considering it second only to “A Day in the Life” on that album. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a compilation of their work, heard it in a movie, or even discussed critically, but there’s something about it (particularly the way the chorus seems to be a duel between interior monologues) that I’ve always found to be haunting.
I thought I was alone in holding “Ive got a feeling” in my top 5 Beatles songs. Its damn near perfect. Especially being followed up with “One after 909”
Hmm, perhaps I should’ve gone with a term other than “obscure.”
Kevin: I agree that Abbey Road is for all intents and purposes “the” final Beatles album, but LIB didn’t come out until April/May 1970, by which time Paul left the group (trumping John’s attempts to leave a little over a year earlier) and thus dissolving the group. Not that the “Naked” version of LIB is any better, but LIB in the hands of Spector is an absolute mess on some of the tracks (The Long and Winding Road is a glaring example; compare it to the stripped-down demo version on Anthology). We can agree to disagree in terms of our likes/dislikes regarding albums, but technically the group did split in the immediate time frame as LIB was finally released.
Wow… Mr. Bateman, is that you? I thought I’d never find you again! Your taste in music has significantly improved.
I don’t mean to be the odd man out here, but I always liked the Wall of Sound version of the Long and Winding Road (incite anger). That being said, Let it Be Naked was interesting, but I wouldn’t call it “better.” As for obscure Beatles songs, I always liked Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, which I rarely hear played, though it is referenced a decent amount. Also, Chains off of Please Please Me is a great song.
And, before it was brought up above, I was going to throw Don’t Pass Me By into the ring, so there’s two for Ringo!
Lennon hated “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, referring to it as “more of Paul’s granny music”.
I always loved ‘I Need You’ from Help, a George Harrison creation, and as you said Genevieve, from the gut. Always gets me choked up, and I absolutely adore the phased guitars on it. ‘For No One’ (Revolver) is similarly heart-wrenching, about a break-up, where the guy seems still to be living with his ex-lady love, and reeling from the loss of her regard (though I always got the sense he knew he’d been a git and probably deserved to lose her). I just love those McCartney story-songs – he is a master of empathy IMO.
@Joe: if you’re a fan of “She’s Leaving Home” (as I am), check out the mono version if you haven’t already. It’s slightly faster than the stereo version, which for whatever reason was slowed down by whoever did the stereo mix. It’s a subtle change, but definitely noticeable.
The other songs that are probably the most different between stereo and mono are “Helter Skelter” (where Ringo no longer has blisters on his fingers, which I miss) and “Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise/Day in the Life.” It’s interesting being able to compare the stereo and mono mixes so easily now, thanks to the new box sets…