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The Best Beatles Songs You’re Not Already Sick Of

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by Nick Deriso and Pico

We are a couple of music reviewers who are proud of our divergent tastes. Nick's got you covered from David Allen Coe to Marcus Roberts, while Pico swerves wildly between The Subdudes and John Scofield.

But there's a place we come together (heh): The Beatles. A conversation we had the other day in the wake of the "Hey Bulldog" rave-up revealed that we share a lot of the same favorite non-hit Beatles songs. From there, an idea was born.

So in the spirit of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's songwriting partnership we decided to collaborate on writing a piece listing our favorite, lesser-known Beatles songs and take turns explaining why we think they're… so heavy.

I Me Mine
Nick:
A taut, unjustly forgotten gem — and one of the few songs Phil Spector didn't muck up on the Let It Be project. Here, his swirling strings add the perfect portent as Harrison delves into a favorite subject: How we're all really bastards, deep down.

Pico:
Phil also gets props for picking out the best take, which was only a minute and a half long, and deftly stretching it to full-song length. Even this song-lengthening edit survived the de-Spectorization that occurred for Let It Be… Naked. George lashes out at the mighty human ego on "Mine," which is in a way an ironic counter-point to "Taxman" (tackled below). This is also the last song the Beatles recorded prior to breakup, and John wasn't even around for it.

Hey Bulldog
Pico:
I already covered this one back in July, but one thing I failed to note back then was George's contribution. Consistent with the relaxed mood prevalent during the February, 1968 mini-sessions, Harrison reels off a loose, jangly solo characteristic of his knack for providing not the most flashy guitar work, but the one that fits the song just right. He was like having a crack session guitarist inside the band.

Nick:
This has the fun, loose and collaborative feel of the best of the group's early work, notable since by this point The Beatles were really just a backing group for whoever composed any particular track. As they howl, moan, and bark their way through a rollicking little aside, you remember not just what made these two remarkably listenable rock composers — but also what made Lennon and McCartney friends.

Getting Better
Nick:
I relish Lennon's drive-by cynicism on fluffy little tracks like this from McCartney. Paul, as he often will, threatens to float right off while the soaring chorus builds behind him. But no sooner does he sing "it's getting better all the time," then we have Lennon dropping anchor: "Can't get no worse." "Getting Better" might not be the best example of this brilliant balancing act — for that, head over to the worn copies of "We Can Work It Out" — but it certainly ranks as a tucked-away favorite in the genre. Great guitar riff, too.

Pico:
Musically, it's milking a single chord for all it's worth. Lyrically, it's as Nick noted, an example of the dichotomy of the sunny outlook of Paul and the skepticism of John. And like a brief afternoon thunderstorm popping up to spoil a perfect day, George swoops in with a tamboura while Lennon — via the lyrics — plainly alludes to his women beating days before Paul's eternal optimism breaks up the clouds again. That "magic" chord gets really pervasive at the end, courtesy of George Martin striking the strings inside a piano. Paul's cheerfulness wins the battle, but John's counterpoint makes that battle so much more interesting.beatles1967

Good Day Sunshine
Nick:
A shimmering, head-wagging explosion power pop that has never, and can never, get old — because it's as deep as it is joyful. There's the rolling piano signature, that gauntlet-tossing finish (match that, Beach Boys!), and a lyric made for days when the weather is nice enough to roll down your windows and drive a bit.

Pico
The harmonies belting out the title really make this song special. Paul goes high while John handles the low notes. This unabashedly happy-go-lucky tune is one of the earlier instances where McCartney draws more from the music of his parent's generation than his own for inspiration. He would go overboard with that later but for now, his mojo is working.

Taxman
Pico:
Not exactly uncommon, but not issued as a single, either. George's anticipatory count off grabs the listener even before meaty power chords that shortly follow do. What's more notable are his lyrics: a direct attack on the British government for it's confiscatory tax policies. Political songs in rock music were still just getting started in 1966, and "Taxman" remains one of more ornery examples compared to the many that appeared over the following years. Sending young men to die at Vietman was outrageous enough, but hell hath no fury like taxing a man to death. NOTE: that wicked, skittering guitar at the instrumental break is not Harrison; Paul provided this short but memorable solo.

Nick:
George was always good for a nasty putdown song, an impulse that would nicely balance his tendency toward hugs-and-Hari Krishna tunes later in life. This was one he got completely right. Now, that praise is tempered by the oft-told rumor that George used the theme song from "Batman," a favorite TV show of his in the 1960s, as inspiration for the melody. (Holy kitsch, Batman!) And that Paul did the guitar work. And that Lennon also helped with the lyics. (You can really see his fingerprint on the lyrics matching car/street, sit/seat, cold/heat and walk/heat.) Wait, what exactly did George do on this one, again?

No Reply
Nick:
One of the earliest Beatles songs with a complete story, inventive in that it has no chorus as such, and notable for the low rumbling tone of Lennon's voice — since it so completely captures the mood of a scorned lover. He builds to an anguished cry ("I saw the light" becomes "I nearly DIED") in an early glimpse of the pain that, up until this point, had been largely obscured by first-blush imagery involving hairstyle and yeah-yeah-yeahs.

Originally on Beatles for Sale, and issued on the U.S. edit Beatles '65, "No Reply" was an initial step down a path of personal revelation and unbridled honesty that would find its creative and artistic peak in Lennon's first solo release five years later. John reportedly wanted to sing the high harmony, handled here by McCartney, but couldn't coax his voice there because of wear and tear from the band's then-excessive touring schedule. "No Reply," a dark and special triumph, was better for it.

Pico:
John had one of the best singing voices in all of rock 'n' roll. And I think it's mainly due to his unmatched ability to naturally project scorn, frustration, anger, and pessimism. Real rock 'n' roll often has those qualities, after all. That wonderfully ragged throat is on full display on "No Reply." Lennon's attitude comes across so effectively, you'd hardly notice that it's a rock 'n' roll song played with acoustic guitars, an acoustic piano and a slightly Latin beat.


Martha, My Dear

Pico:
A light, pop confection that served as a respite from all the weirdness and unpredictability that graced most of The White Album, Paul wrote this as a ode to his English sheepdog, which also adds to the appearance of this being filler. But when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, it is his Beatles song that most anticipated the kind of pop he had a great deal of success making with his seventies band Wings. Which means, as with his Wings best, it's a tightly constructed melody that's catchy as hell. If he had chosen to re-record the song during the Denny Laine days with a little more production added to it, he would have easily had another hit on his hands.

Nick:
Confectionary, sure, yet somehow unforgettable. I listen, each time, in wonder — thinking: McCartney can write a song about his flipping dog, and I like it.

Mother Nature's Son
Nick:
Think about what follows on this record: a song about a monkey, a song about a roller coaster (or, the clarion call of end times; who knew?), the oh-so-appropriately titled "Long, Long, Long," a vaudeville tune, a song about a dessert treat, several minutes of noise loops and a nighty-night lullaby, among others. On a hodge-podge compilation where everybody goes all over the map, McCartney often provided the centering point — and never better than on this one.

Pico:
This is a very simply constructed; as a teenager playing mediocre guitar, I was able to self teach myself the song rather easily. But Paul's straightforward folk hymn had simple beauty to match; it flowed out naturally and George Martin's orchestral arrangements that gently nudge their way into the song on the second verse provide just the right amount of heft without needlessly weighing it down.

Dear Prudence
Pico:
After breakup, Lennon often mocked Paul's ballad tendencies, but John was just as capable to pour syrup as his erstwhile songwriting partner. "Prudence" was not just one of his best ballads, it was one of his best songs, period. Inspired by that ill-fated trip to India in 1968, the song's lyrics reads like a letter; a letter to actress Mia Farrow's sister, actually, both of whom had also made the pilgrimage to see the Maharishi. The descending chord progression is sublime and the backing vocals are just a tad creepy; creepy enough to tell you that this is Lennon's song, not McCartney's. Although Macca provided a mighty sweet looping bass line (as well as the drums, since Ringo had briefly quit the band).

Nick:
I think, on most days, that this is one of my favorite Beatles songs. And I can't always say why. After all, Lennon showed he could out-McCartney McCartney with these lyrics: The sun is up, the sky is blue — it's beautiful, and so are you. Maybe it's that there is a simple beauty here, an open-hearted emotion that Lennon didn't often allow himself to express. I never want this tune's simple charm, or that bassline, to end.

You Never Give Me Your Money
Pico:
Paul's song that kicks off the famous medley on side two of Abbey Road is a four minute mini-medley itself. It begins with a piano stating the melodic line of the first part and McCartney singing about not being given any money (what is really meant here is unclear to me). Soon, it transitions over to a more up-tempo rhythm and mood with Paul singing much like he did for "Lady Madonna." And then after some tasty lead guitar work by George during a second transition, the song enters the "sweet dreams" section. So, the song is really a pasting together of three seemingly unrelated frgments, but it works because all fragments are catchy and the harmony/backing vocals throughout are first rate; nearly as good as the rich vocals that graced Lennon's "Because" right before it.

Nick:
One of the initial song-cycles-within-a-song concepts by McCartney. Too bad Paul was just getting started. By the time we get to Wings' "Red Rose Speedway" a couple of short years later, McCartney has transformed a pretty good idea into nothing more than a handy way to tidy up his work station. But even those mashed-together edit jobs of half-finished song ideas can't tarnish this terrific effort. When I only have time for a moment with Abbey Road, you'll find me here, enveloped in a towering achievement that manages to fit in the personality, verve and specificity of each band member — even while deftly recognizing, by the final repeated chorus, both the hopeful optimism and crashing cynicism of the 1960s. I know, that's a lot. It's all in there. The last best thing this group ever did.

Everybody's got their favorite Beatles non-hits. What are yours?

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About Nick Deriso

  • http://thecastironshore.blogspot.com/ Colin

    Nice article chaps:
    Taxman always seems kind of mean-spirited from someone who went on to embrace rather more non-materialist philosophies and, despite the super tax rates, was very wealthy, All Things Must Pass George don’t sweat your tax rates. Still, the guitar solo is absolutely extraordinary and it’s a cracker. Absolutely No Reply as well, a real driver.
    I’ve got less time for Mother Nature’s Son than you, Macca at his sickliest.

    I’m always amazed by I’ve Just Seen A Face from the Help album – often derided as throwaway I just think it’s a cracking race-along pop song.
    There are far too many others to mention but I’ll try and match your ten:

    I’ve Just Seen A Face. I’m Looking Through You (rather similar I’m sure you’ll agree), She Said She Said, Don’t Bother Me (George being curmudgeonly again! But I love the surliness this time), Things We Said Today, Baby You’re A Rich Man (for the groove), Glass Onion, Sexy Sadie, In My Life (too well known?), ohhhh, and Cry Baby Cry….

    The list will change in my head in 25 seconds anyway but there are some top tracks there I’d contend.

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    “I Need You” – I found a new appreciation for this one after Tom Petty sang a great version of it at the Concert For George. The song gets a bit trumped by other tracks on the Help! soundtrack, but it’s a lovely song nonetheless.

    – Donald

  • Steve

    “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number” is one of my favorite Beatles songs.

  • zingzing

    ahh, wonderful. i’ve been on a beatles kick recently…

    “no reply” has always been a favorite, to the point where i have, several times, declared “beatles for sale” my favorite beatle album. beatle-tastic! i love the bossa-nova-esque beginning, the wonderful release of the “i saw the light” bit, which is a wonderful bit of literary whatsit. the song is much like “good vibrations” and “happiness is a warm gun” in its multiple sections, and wonderfully ignorant of its own brilliance (it seems). and ringo’s off-time cymbal crash just before the ending is so dramatic. definitely two minutes of beatle-beauty. oh yes. (and the following two numbers are no slouches either.)

    “you never give me your money” is probably paul’s best undervalued song. it’s just so damn good that, even as a john fan, i have to question my own preconceptions. paul could certainly whip it out, and how. lyrically, you’d expect this to be a john song. structurally, it’s as brilliant as “no reply” (or “hiawg”), but it, in typical paul fashion, knows it. how paul could put such gorgeous, ambitious music around so much personal gripe… just shows how much talent he could toss around.

    other underplayed beatle classics? hrm. how about “it won’t be long,” “golden slumbers,” “oh! darling,” “i’m only sleeping,” “yer blues,” “revolution 9,” “i wanna be your man,” “kansas city/hey-hey-hey?”

    of course, my favorites are all underappreciated, because they are too brilliant for words: “twist & shout,” “help,” “hiawg,” “she said, she said,” etc, etc, etc.

  • zingzing

    um, and “you never give me your money” is about the dissolution of the beatles. oh fun:

    “You never give me your money
    You only give me your funny paper
    and in the middle of negotiations
    you break down”

    *funny paper is legal papers. what with the general disagreement about who would be the beatles’ manager. paul wanted linda eastman’s father or uncle. the rest another. and so it goes.

    “I never give you my number
    I only give you my situation
    and in the middle of investigation
    I break down”

    *same thing, but with more emphasis of the breakdown in communications between the beatles.

    “Out of college, money spent
    See no future, pay no rent
    All the money’s gone, nowhere to go”

    *paul had about 900,000 pound sterling when he left the beatles. not chump change, especially in the late 60’s… but not a fair chunk of the money he was responsible for moving.

    “Any jobber got the sack
    Monday morning, turning back
    Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
    But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
    Oh, that magic feeling
    Nowhere to go”

    *dunno about that first bit, but the “magic feeling” is probably about paul lamenting the loss of the beatles’ particular synchronicity or something.

    “One sweet dream
    Pick up the bags and get in the limousine
    Soon we’ll be away from here
    Step on the gas and wipe that tear away
    One sweet dream came true today
    Came true today
    Came true today (yes it did)”

    *paul saying, “i’m out.” probably because john wanted to say it.

    “One two three four five six seven,
    All good children go to Heaven”

    *paul is dead.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Well, I figured in a vague sense “You Never Give Me Your Money” had something to do about the battle Paul was fighting against the rest of the Beatles, but except for a few lines, the lyrics made no sense to me.

    That was a mighty impressive breakdown, zing.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    two of my favorites, not yet mentioned. Polythene Pam and I Want You (She’s So Heavy), the latter of which I saw played by Cheap Trick with Al from Ministry at the Hollywood Bowl. And it was good.

  • JC Mosquito

    “I’ve Just Seen a Face” – seems to never tire me out.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’d have to rate their best unsung gem as “The Night Before” from the Help! soundtrack. It never gets any airplay, yet has a great hook and one of Macca’s best vocals sung in the “rock” voice.

    I’d go with “Hey Bulldog” as a close second. As far as Pepper tracks, I always liked “Lovely Rita” a lot — great psychedelic harmonies on that one. With “White Album”, I always liked George’s “Savoy Truffle” a lot, as well as John’s “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” Moving on to Revolver I’d have to say…oh shit, where does it really end with these guys?

    -Glen

  • Chaz

    she said she said,it’s all too much,cry baby cry,yer blues,i want you(she’s so heavy),not a second time,i’ll be back,i want to tell you,i need you,tomorrow never knows,every little thing….just to name a few,i agree….my mind will come up with others in a few minutes….thank you

  • johnozed

    ‘any jobber got the sack’ refers to Apple employees who got fired when Allen Klein came on the scene and cleaned out 3 Saville Row.

    My personal faves,

    Tomorrow Never Knows
    You Know My name(Look Up the Number)
    Baby You’re A Rich Man
    It’s All Too Much
    She’s A Woman (Reverb version)
    The Word
    Cry Baby Cry
    I Want To Tell You
    Rain

  • Jeri

    Things we say today. for no one ,fixing a hole she said she said , i will, i need you , oh darlin ,

  • http://andythesaint.livejournal.com/ Andy Sayers

    “Glass Onion” made my Top 10 Beatles songs list.

  • Londyn

    I have yet to hear a Beatles song I didn’t like. My favorite being ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’. Having not been born in the 60s but rather the way late 80s and my parents being too high to remember any of their childhood, I can say I do not know if it was a fan favorite.
    But, a close few ties for second are the cliche classics: ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (it’s so simplistic and innocent), ‘Here Comes the Sun’ (first song I EVER heard in my life), ‘Michelle’, and a favorite among the pseudohippies in my school- ‘I Am The Walrus’

  • JC Mosquito

    There’s plenty of Badfinger tunes that SOUND like the Beatles’ greatest hits they never made – I never tire of those ones.

  • FrodoBagginz

    no one ever talks about “The End” but it is such a great song!

  • nowheremanontherun

    Wow, so many.
    Wild Honey Pie, Sun King, The End, Octopus’s Garden, Because, You Know My Name, Sexy Sadie, Long Long Long, Happiness is The Warm Gun, Rocky Racoon, Good Night, Dear Prudence, Martha My Dear, Cry Baby Cry, Savoy Truffle, Piggies, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, I’ve Got A feeling, Dig A Pony, And Your Bird Can Sing, She Said She Said, I Want To Tell You, Got To Get You Into My Life, Tomorrow Never Knows, Lovely Rita, When I’m 64, Getting Better, Fixing The Hole, Girls, If I Fell, etc etc etc

  • gjk

    Nowheremanontherun, I believe the song is Fixing a hole. (But clever name and great song choices.)

  • hi

    Golden slumbers?

  • SomeDude

    Happiness is a warm gun is a great one.

  • wassup

    Got to get you into my life. Also had a great cover by Earth, Wind, Fire.

  • Chris

    Hi! In Martha My Dear Paul uses his dog’s name but the lyric is a defiant/unrepentant yet guilty/hurt/pleading address to his ex-fiance Jane after she left because of his affair/s – i.e. a post-break-up song from the ‘guilty party’. In the verses he admits that he still loves her and thinks they’re meant to be together etc., yet the chorus addresses his affairs when he tells Jane to be more understanding and to not be silly – that “when you find yourself in the thick of it, help yourself to a bit of what is all around you”…

  • Fiendish Thingy

    Really great article guys! If I may I would like to make a list of my person lesser known Fab Four favs. So her we go:

    You Like Me Too Much
    I Will
    Rocky Racoon
    Bad To Me
    Take Good Care Of My Baby (though it may not be there’s)
    Another Girl
    The Night Before
    I Need You
    And LOTS of others (:
    Thanks for this fantastic article and I hope you agree with me OH! And I almost forgot the song How Do You Do It! (: anyways…thanks a lot (like my name? Its a thingy! A fiendish thingy!)