The Best Beatles Songs You’ve Never Heard


The Beatles are an amazing band in that if you go through their catalog you can find dozens of songs that never see the light of day on classic rock radio but would be hit songs for many other bands from the 60’s. Paste magazine recently ran a series of articles called The Coolest Beatles You Might Have Missed (the link goes to the final post in the series which lists all of Paste‘s songs).  Coincidentally, I have my own list (and iTunes playlist) called The Best Beatles Songs You’ve Never Heard.  I planned to write this post a couple of years ago, but after working on it for some time it just wasn’t working and I deleted my draft.  So I can’t accuse Paste of stealing my idea, but to quote Bono, I’m “stealing it back.”

The basic idea here is to find Beatles songs released during their career that were never featured as the A sides of singles, collected on compilations such as 1962–1966, 1967–1970, and 1 or otherwise overlooked by everyone but the most dedicated Beatles’ geeks.  From this I’ve culled 15 tracks spanning the Beatles recording career that I think make a fine alternate Best Of collection.

I’ve bolded the tracks that are also on the Paste list, and the song titles are linked to a youtube recording of the song.
There’s a Place

In that most pop music of the early 60’s focused on boy-girl love, cars, and frivolities, this is a daring song that is an anthem for introverts. “There’s a place/where I can go/when I feel low/when I feel blue/And it’s my mind,” is pretty brainy for pop music.  Of course, it is a love song too, but we hear John Lennon in his ‘guru’ persona telling his lady love that she too can find happiness in solitude and introspection.

Not a Second Time

A kicking rock song with some great harmonies.  But wait, who is it that Lennon is harmonizing with?  Why it’s himself!  This is one the earliest examples of the Beatles playing around in the studio to improve their music, in this double-tracking the vocals.  With or without that historical footnote, this should’ve been a hit

I’ll Follow the Sun

The Beatles for Sale is an underrated album in which the band both rejuvenates by going back to their rock and roll roots with a number of covers, as well as experiments with new ideas that they would build on in future recordings.  This song is a little of both, a McCartney original that was originally written in 1959.  It has a beautiful melody and peaceful vocals that belie that this is a pretty dark song about a man whimsically ditching a woman, probably due to a fear of commitment

You Can’t Do That

This is one of those songs where you just have to ignore the lyrics, because they’re icky, paranoiac, and somewhat misogynistic.  This song you listen to for the music, bluesy with some great changes between the choruses and verses, call & response vocals, and a jangly guitar.

I’ve Just Seen a Face

For all their innovation and influence on pop music in the sixties, I don’t think anyone ever credited the Beatles with inventing folk rock.  And yet listening to this stripped down, cheerful love song with a bluegrassy feel, I think the Beatles out-folk a lot of the folkies.

I’m Down

This is a great rock & roll rave up, but I think it benefits from a live performance such as the one at the dearly departed Shea Stadium where their joy and energy shine  through, and John famously plays the organ with his elbows.

The Word

This another innovative song in which the idea of love is presented in abstract, universal terms as opposed to the boy-girl romance themes that dominate pop music.  Here is guru John again preaching about love.  The theme is revisited in the more well-known song “All You Need is Love,” but I think the “The Word” is musically better with it’s funky beat, and lyrically it avoids the cliches of the later song.

I’m Looking Through You

More great folk music, in a sadder and somewhat slower track than “I’ve Just Seen A Face.”  Then it all changes with the bouncy rave-up on the chorus.  Groovy, man.

I’m Only Sleeping

I love naps, so this is practically my theme song.  Listening to the music, you’d be right in guessing that psychedelic drugs had some influence, yet lyrically this song is about the feelings any of us (even the clean and sober) have as we’re dozing off. It turns out that Lennon enjoyed spending time in bed reading, writing, and thinking.  And he wrote a song about it.  That’s so cool.

And Your Bird Can Sing

Although the Beatles totally rocked-out on their cover of the thoroughly materialistic “Money (That’s What I Want)”, their own song writing often touched on anti-consumerist themes.  “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” and this song are examples, with “And You’re Bird Can Sing” being a great rocker with tight harmonies and clever lyrics.

Don’t Pass Me By

The first song penned by Ringo Starr to make it on a record is this fun little ditty with a bluesy tune and country piano and fiddle flourishes.  Ringo worked long and hard to get a song out, and his effort pays off.

Long, Long, Long

This is a slow, sad, spiritual song with some contrasting speed-ups.  It’s both eerie enough to be disturbing and beautiful enough to make me weep.

The Inner Light

George Harrison recorded three songs with the Beatles influenced musically and thematically by Indian music and Eastern spirituality: “Love You To,” “Within You, Without You,” and the most successful “The Inner Light.”  In just two-and-a-half minutes, Harrison invents World Music and deftly summarizes Taoist philosophy.  Not bad for a pop song.

Two of Us

An introspective song about love and friendship, and something of a road song too.  I particularly like the line “Two of us sending postcards” since this is a favorite pastime I share with my wife.  I had the DJ play this song at our wedding reception.

You Know My Name (Look up the Number)

If you watch the Beatles’ movies, television appearances, and interviews you know that they were a hillarious group of young men.  Yet their humor rarely makes it into their music.  That’s what makes this song so special as the Beatles sing the same line over and over again in a variety of styles (the Anthology version includes a ska break!).  The lounge singer portion makes me bust a gut every time.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Josh on 25 May 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Hey Bulldog!

    Reply

  2. Most songwriters also have a catalog of stuff that never got recorded. Once in a great while such a song leaks out — Irving Berlin pulled out a number from a failed revue, modified the lyrics a little, and Kate Smith had a hit with “God Bless America.”

    But for the Beatles? Surely they didn’t record everything, did they? I’d love to hear a few tunes they didn’t record.

    Reply

  3. There may be a lost Beatles gem out there somewhere but I do know that a lot of songs they didn’t record as a band ended up on their early solo albums. Plus the stuff they did record but didn’t release until the Anthology series was not of high quality.

    Reply

  4. Posted by safsa on 8 May 2010 at 12:20 am

    Bob Dylan invented folk-rock wow.

    Reply

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