Beatlemania is making a comeback with the upcoming release of the Beatles edition of Rock Band and the welcome announcement that the band's remastered catalog (CDs only) set to hit store shelves in the fall. The digitally remastered CDs will enable fans to gain new appreciation for not only the most well-known singles, but some buried album tracks as well. What would a fantasy “deep Beatles cuts” compilation look like? The following list highlights just some of many Beatles songs that deserve more attention. Note that I'm including only original, officially released songs, as their many covers and bootlegs would merit separate columns.
“There's A Place” (Please Please Me): This song highlights the Beatles' gorgeous harmonies, again reflecting the Four Freshman and even The Beach Boys. While Ringo Starr's uptempo drums and John Lennon's harmonica keep the tone light, the lyrics suggest quiet introspection. The lyrics suggest that this place exists within the mind. “In my mind there's no sorrow/Don't you know that it's so/There'll be no sad tomorrow,” they sing, so when the narrator is “low” and “blue,” he can retreat to some place in his mind. Among relatively conventionally-themed love songs like “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do,” and “P.S. I Love You,” “There's A Place” definitely stands out for its more psychological subject matter.
“Yes It Is” (Past Masters Volume One): Did the Beatles listen to the Four Freshman's complicated harmonies? This little-played track suggests that the answer is yes. Listen to this beautiful ballad with headphones to fully experience the band's harmonizing artistry. Their vocals emphasize the sadness pervading the song, with the narrator begging his new love not to wear red, for “red is the color that my baby wore,” which reminds him of “all the things we planned.” Along with “Baby's in Black,” “Yes It Is” may be one of the darkest songs that the Lennon/McCartney team ever penned.
“No Reply” (Beatles for Sale): Anguish, anger, feeling betrayed: “No Reply” runs the emotional gamut. This tune kicks off the album, effectively setting the overall sober tone. The song begins on a relatively quiet note, with Lennon crooning over acoustic guitar and a shuffling beat. But a cymbal crash and escalating voices signal emotional turbulence: “I saw the light!” the band exclaims, illustrating the narrator's realization that his girlfriend is seeing another man. Those strong voices emphasize angry sentiments, the volume increasing on lines like “I nearly died” and, of course, the title phrase. Lennon allows some raspiness when singing “that's a lie,” dramatizing the narrator's despair. Again, the lyrics exemplify the group's growing sophistication and willingness to explore darker themes in their songwriting.
“When I Get Home” (A Hard Day's Night): So many songs from the seminal rock film remain in the national consciousness, but “When I Get Home” is often overlooked. The lyrics possess a raw sexuality not present throughout the soundtrack: “Come on, if you please/I've got no time for trivialities/I've got a girl who's waiting home for me tonight,” Lennon sings. He repeats that he has “a whole lot of things” to tell his lover, but seems interested in more than talking: “When I'm getting home tonight, I'm gonna hold her tight/I'm gonna love her till the cows come home/,” Lennon croons, but adds that “I bet I'll love her more/Till I walk out that door again.” Over a fast tempo Lennon (at times singing with Paul McCartney and George Harrison) announces that he needs to return home immediately, but adds this mysterious line: “I've got no business being here with you this way.” Is he speaking to a coworker? Another lover? While the topic stays vague, the romantic intentions ring loud and clear.
“I Need You” (Help!): Yes, With the Beatles features the first officially released Harrison composition, “Don't Bother Me.” Help, however, marks Harrison's true coming of age, as his interest in Indian music pervades the album. “I Need You” provides a glimpse into Harrison's willingness to experiment with different sounds—the distorted guitar exemplifies this fact—and the interesting chord changes show his increasing musical sophistication.
“The Word” (Rubber Soul): Want to hear true foreshadowing of 1967's “Summer of Love”? Look no further than this buried track, which features Lennon/McCartney lyrics that eerily predict the psychedelic era. “Have you heard the word is love/It's so fine, it's sunshine/It's the word love,” they sing, once again showing off their perfect harmonizing skills. Over an upbeat track punctuated by sharp guitar riffs, The Beatles demonstrate their interest in exploring deeper human themes: “Now that I know what I feel must be right/I mean to show everybody the light,” Lennon croons. This song signals a move away from the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” era toward the eventual “All You Need Is Love,” and the message retains its relevance.
“Love You To” (Revolver): Any doubt that Harrison's infatuation with Indian music was just a passing fancy was answered with this track. The sitar and percussion dominate, but the lyrics wax philosophical on staying true to oneself in a fast-paced world: “Each day just goes so fast/I turn around, it's past/You don't get time to hang a sign on me,” sings Harrison, his voice complementing the sitar's droning sound. Toward the end of the song the lyrics take on a darker tone: “There's people standing round/ Who'll screw you in the ground/They'll fill you in with their sins,” he warns. As the tune fades out, the tempo speeds up, emphasizing the world's turbulence. While Harrison would eventually write some of the Beatles' finest songs, “Love You To” announces his arrival as a truly distinctive singer and songwriter. For another example, try “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“I Will” (The White Album): McCartney possesses a true gift for crafting simple but lovely ballads. One of his finest compositions, “I Will,” inexplicably receives little radio airplay to this day. Over a gentle galloping beat, the spare instrumentation stresses the intimacy of the subject matter, which is the sometimes quiet elation of love: “And when at last I find you/Your song will fill the air,” he sings, “Sing it loud so I can hear you/Make it easy to be near you/For the things you do endear you to me.” Like “Here, There, and Everywhere,” McCartney successfully conveys all-consuming love and devotion in a deceptively simple melody.
“Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey)” (White Album): What better song is there for, to paraphrase Spïnal Tap, cranking up to 11? Hard-charging guitar solos and bass lines power this rocker, with Lennon's always-impressive rock vocals screaming the lyrics. The words' meaning may be debated, but all can agree that the White Album track illustrates how hard the Beatles could rock.
“Oh! Darling” (Abbey Road): Sure, the sprawling medley comprising the second side of the album (for those of you who remember LPs) is famous, and the album is also remembered for impressive singles like “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Come Together,” and “Octopus's Garden.” But this blues workout receives little attention, which is a shame since McCartney gives one of his finest vocal performances on the track. Normally Lennon would take the lead on such a gritty number, but amazingly McCartney pulls out a nuanced but impassioned vocal. Several books claim that Lennon wished he had sung lead on this song, which is unsurprising. But “Oh! Darling” should put to rest the notion that all McCartney could sing was ballads.
This list represents just a small sample of buried Beatles treasures. I’ll revisit this topic in future columns, focusing on lost covers, alternate takes, and live versions. The Beatles catalog contains such a vast amount of work that one can constantly unearth lesser-known cuts. Perhaps that is yet another reason why the group remains popular and hugely influential to this day. Go beyond the Beatles 1 compilation and dig into these deep cuts.