The Beatles' Lesser-known Nuggets
So many of The Beatles' songs are ingrained in the public consciousness that it's easy to forget that among their 204 published songs there are many that are barely hard. Away from the massive, era-defining hits such as I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Hey Jude, the Beatles often tripped into delightful musical corners and left tunes there which have gathered dust that is rarely blown away.
These songs are sometimes odd and sometimes cool and mostly just ignored because they sit in the context of one of the band's "minor" albums or b-side obscurity.
So this is an entirely personal list of a few Beatles songs that I think are languishing in relative and undeserved shade.
Flying: Magical Mystery Tour, 1967
Unique among Beatles songs as the only instrumental in their catalogue, Flying is also the only song credited to all four members of the band. During the summer of 67, in the post Sgt Pepper lull, the band were much given to free-wheeling experimentation in the studio (most of which, according to Ian McDonald was pretty much just "mucking about") and there is much from this era which is uncharacteristically slipshod in terms of quality, but this track has never sounded more contemporary.
In its mix of a proto hip-hop groove, minimalist instrumentation and 12-bar formula it foreshadowed much of what the likes of Beck and Primal Scream would do in the 90s and is far "cooler" than your typical Beatles number. The song itself clocks in at just over 2 minutes, showing that even under the influence of drugs the Beatles knew that leaving you wanting more was still a sound principle. The ultra-scary random tape loops that close out the song are merely the icing on the cake.
All I Gotta Do: With The Beatles, 1963
The Beatles albums before Rubber Soul are rarely considered as part of their weighty legend - and often derided for the amount of patchy cover versions and makeweight toss they include. There is something in these criticisms, but amongst even the earliest of their records the Beatles were pumping out tunes that easily stand up to some of their later - and more famous - material.
A case in point is this track - written as early as 1962 but containing many of the features that would make this track a 'classic' if it had appeared on, say, The White Album.
Against a sparse, halting and otherwordly arrangement, Lennon's impassioned vocal seems to conjure the spirit of black American R'n'B that was still the dominant influence on the group whilst creating something that still sounds fresh today. Perhaps borrowing slightly from the structure of the live staple Baby It's You, the song is downbeat but with the edge of obsessive menace that would colour much of Lennon's later output. With a more bass-heavy production, this song would sit comfortably on any of the Beatles latter-day albums, or even as a Lennon solo track.
The Inner Light: "Lady Madonna" B-side, 1968
George's contribution to the Beatles' catalogue has been given much overdue reappraisal since his death. As a guitarist, his contributions were often far more understated than superstars of the instrument like Hendrix and Clapton but were always completely effective within the context of the song. As vocalist, he was arguably fairly weak - his early songs in particular showcasing something of an adenoidal quality. However, his late-blossoming as a songwriter really added to the Beatles final years.
The Inner Light is characteristically Harrisonian in its devotion to Indian scales and quasi-mystical religious outlook - more or less quoting from book 47 of the Tao Te Ching. The instrumentation and vocalisation is very light and has a certain prettiness that is uncharacteristic of much of Harrison's output (Here Comes the Sun being the notable exception). Where the song scores most heavily is in its melody which weaves between the exotic instruments with cunning if simple melismas heightening the "Indian" flavour without ever tipping over into the ponderous territory of a song like Within You Without You.
That McCartney and Lennon both pressed for this song to be a b-side (Harrison's first) for the band shows the esteem in which it was held. Praise enough indeed, and highly merited for this long-forgotten gem.
The Inner Light
Old Brown Shoe: "Ballad of John and Yoko" B-side, 1969
Another unfairly buried Harrison effort that outshines much of what the band were committing to their albums in the last year or two. Based on an unusual chord structure and supercharged doubled-up bass/guitar line, lyrically it hangs around the yin/yang concept that informed a lot of Beatles lyrics (think: Hello Goodbye). Ian McDonald saw Dylan influences in the song, but personally Dylan's never really got production for me - and this is where this recording scores so heavily.
Also, that is an absolutely stellar guitar solo from George, and proof that if he wanted to do pyrotechnics he certainly had it in him.
Some great Beatles links
- The Beatles' recording errors and anomalies
What Goes On, The Beatles Anomalies List
- What children think of the Beatles
Forty years after they split, do the Beatles have relevance for a new generation? Does anyone really care about Hey Jude and All You Need Is Love in an age when High School Musical and the Nintendo DS rule the world? I