6 Beatles Songs You Should Know
By: Ben McCool
“The Beatles are the most overrated band of all time. They’re also the best.”
My childhood music tutor was quite the connoisseur of head-scratching proclamations, and the effort quoted above stands amongst his most intriguing. (Alas, it still falls short of, “McCool, you walk like a penguin.”) Oddball outbursts aside, Mr. Lansberry also came clad with an extraordinary Beatles story. One that rocketed my 15-year-old mind into otherworldly orbit: He performed on one of The Beatles’ most celebrated songs.
Better/more astounding yet, the man had no idea he’d done so at the time. He was blissfully unaware of his contribution to musical immortality.
A student in Liverpool during the Swinging (drug-slinging) Sixties, young Mr. Lansberry spotted and responded to a classified ad seeking string musicians. Scoring the gig, he found himself playing a short, simple melody inside a recording studio. His contract offered no mention of The Beatles, George Martin (the band’s legendary producer and composer of the score in question), or any clue as to where the music was destined to appear. Not that he was particularly bothered; scoring some precious beer tokens (occasionally referred to as “money”) was the real victory here.
Cut to August 5th, 1966 and the UK release of Revolver, regarded by many as The Beatles’ finest hour. “Eleanor Rigby” is the album’s second track. And to Lansberry’s brain-broiling astonishment, he was among the octet of musicians offering backdrop to Paul McCartney’s vocals.
From 1962-1970, The Beatles released 12 studio albums, 13 EPs, and 22 hit singles in their native UK alone. “Eleanor Rigby” is one of their most defining moments of brilliance. But there’s no shortage of lesser-known, and in some cases, widely forgotten gems tucked away in the band’s discography. Behold this selection of my more furtive favorites!
I’M DOWN (B-SIDE — “HELP!”, 1965)
Paul McCartney was a huge Little Richard fan. Loved the bloke to bits. Having spent countless hours of his youth bellowing out the rock and roll legend’s songs, it seemed fitting for Paul to write his own take on a Little Richard track. The Scouse songwriter didn’t let his Macon, Georgia-born idol down, either—“I’m Down” is an absolute belter.
A booming B-Side on the “Help” single, the track all but disappeared for the decade following release—“I’m Down” didn’t see fresh print until the summer of 1976’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation. Audiophiles had it even worse—they had to wait until 1988’s “Past Masters, Volume One” to hear the song in stereo. For shame…!
RAIN (B-SIDE — “PAPERBACK WRITER”, 1966)
Another under-appreciated B-Side (first appearing on the “Paperback Writer” single), “Rain” was released two months prior to Revolver. No less than three promotional videos were made for the song, prompting George Harrison to later declare, “…I suppose, in a way, we invented MTV.”
Songwriter John Lennon offered glorious backdrop to the track in a 1980 interview: “I got home from the studio stoned out of my mind on marijuana, and somehow I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with a big hash joint.”
Don’t do drugs, kids. Well, unless you’re reinventing the entire fucking music industry forever.
BLUE JAY WAY (MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, 1967)
Haunting. Ominous. Downright peculiar. A fair assessment of John Lennon’s beard circa 1969, sure, but also apt analysis of George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way”.
Inspiration for its eminent melody and eerie lyrics arrived via the musician’s first night in Los Angeles. Deprived of sleep (jetlag likely not the sole contributing factor) and struggling to find a particular street along the fog-ridden Hollywood Hills (that’d be Blue Jay Way), Harrison described an “extraordinary sense of yearning and melancholy.”
Fifty years later, those same words could be used to describe my thoughts as I attempt to program a GPS device.
I’M SO TIRED (THE BEATLES aka “THE WHITE ALBUM”, 1968)
More sleepless inspiration! John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired” was written while attending a Transcendental Meditation camp in Rishikesh, India. Three weeks of meditation and lectures had left the songwriter besieged with insomnia. Also, he missed Yoko Ono, his soon-to-be girlfriend. Bless his heart.
Lennon declared the track one of his favourites, adding: “I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well.”
True story, bro.
IF I NEEDED SOMEONE (RUBBER SOUL, 1965)
“If I Needed Someone” further fuels the notion that if Harrison wasn’t in a band featuring John Lennon and Paul McCartney, his songwriting skills would be heralded to even greater acclaim.
Nonetheless, the band’s “third-best songwriter” is the man responsible for “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, both amid The Beatles’ most popular tracks. And though“If I Needed Someone” is shrouded from more widespread commendation by the aforementioned classics, it’s no less brilliant a song.
WHY DON’T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD? (THE BEATLES aka “THE WHITE ALBUM”, 1968)
Paul McCartney boasts a freakishly good singing voice. Rarely has it been put to better use than in “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”—progressively potent vocals feature a simple lyric with only two lines, yet manage to reduce one’s body to a goosebump-dappled, quivering bundle of bliss.
(In fairness, that might just be me.)
The track’s inspiration came via McCartney’s spotting of two monkeys as he strolled along an Indian street. Quoteth the songwriter:
“A male [monkey] hopped on the back of this female and gave her one, as they say in the vernacular. Within two or three seconds he hopped off again and looked around as if to say “It wasn’t me!” and she looked around as if there’d been some mild disturbance.”
The Beatles: Never a dull moment.