Deep Cuts: The Beatles


Deep Cuts: The Beatles

Assembling a list of deep cuts from the Beatles is one of the grandest exercises in futility that we’ve ever attempted. Is there anyone who doesn’t know all of these songs? Consider the following:

• The Beatles had 47 Top 40 hits in a six-and-a-half year period. The Stones, by comparison, racked up 41 Top 40 singles, but needed 25 years to do it.

• Those 47 Top 40 hits do not include any of the following songs: “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “In My Life,” “If I Fell,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Drive My Car,” “Taxman,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “Michelle,” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “I Am the Walrus,” or a single track from either Sgt. Pepper or the White Album (except “Revolution,” which was re-recorded and issued as the B-side to “Hey Jude”).

Add all of those tracks up, and that means there are just over 100 Beatles songs that are instantly stricken from the record. One hundred songs. Ye gods. Is there even anything left to assemble a decent list of deep cuts?

Yes. We’re going to cheat here and there, using lesser known Sgt. Pepper and White Album tracks, different versions of well known songs, and perhaps a B-side or two that charted back in the day. The key for us is that for a song to count as a Deep Cut, it could not have been on either the “Red” (1962-1966) or “Blue” (1967-1970) compilations, and even then, we ruled out certain songs – and even suites of songs, like “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” – because of their ubiquitous presence on the rock radio of our youths.

Beatles scholars will likely yawn at my suggestions – after all, for the really curious, there are scores of Beatles bootlegs out there that plumb far greater depths than this – but in the interest of saving the time and money of our dear readers, we’ll stick to the official Parlophone and Capitol-endorsed releases to assemble our list. Trust us; there are still scores of songs from which to choose.

Full disclosure: there will be a noticeable bias to this list, in that we have not included anything prior to A Hard Day’s Night. As wildly successful as the Beatles were in those early years, they were still a far cry from the band that they would become a mere two to three years later. A Hard Day’s Night is the first Beatles album with all original compositions, so it seemed like a good place to start.

“Tell Me Why”A Hard Day’s Night
Simply put, it’s the Beatles paying tribute to Martha and the Vandellas. There’s a strong “Heat Wave” vibe to the intro, and you get the first sense of the complex harmonies the band would come up with time after time in the years to come. It’s very telling that this and “If I Fell” were started and completed on the same day.

“Baby’s in Black”Beatles for Sale
As my colleague Will Harris observed, “Baby’s in Black” might be the first mope rock song ever written. When John sings, “She thinks of him, and so she dresses in black / And though he’ll never come back, she’s dressed in black,” suddenly songs like the Smiths’ “Unlovable” (“I wear black on the outside, ‘cause black is how I feel on the inside”) and Depeche Mode’s “Dressed in Black” make a lot more sense.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face”Help!
Pearl Jam fans will know this one, as it’s been a set list staple of theirs for years now. This folk and bluegrass-based track may be Paul’s answer to John’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” a Dylan-esque track with a rapid fire vocal and a lie-lie-lie-lie-la-lie singalong that Simon & Garfunkel would steal a few years later for “The Boxer.” Interesting note: Paul recorded this song, the rockin’ B-side “I’m Down,” and “Yesterday,” the mother of all ballads, on the same day. Laugh at him all you want for “Ebony and Ivory,” but back in the day, Macca had mad, mad skills. And speaking of that rockin’ B-side…

“I’m Down”Past Masters, Volume I
The B-side to “Help!”, “I’m Down” was Paul’s love letter to Little Richard, a larynx-thrashing boogie woogie stomper that’s been covered by both Aerosmith and the Beastie Boys. In fact, the Beasties’ version possesses a certain notoriety, as Michael Jackson refused to let them release it, presumably because it’s too dirty (it was recorded during the Licensed to Ill sessions). Insert your own Jacko-thinks-something-is-inappropriate joke here. At the end of the take that appears on Anthology 2, Paul can be heard saying, “Plastic soul, man, plastic soul.” Man, that would make a great album title. Except maybe instead we’ll call it…

“The Word”Rubber Soul
The origins of John’s many peace-and-love-and-happiness songs can be found right here, along with some great three-part harmonies, a kickass organ bit, a punchy guitar lick from George, and some nifty drum fills from Ringo. Say the word, and you’ll be free, indeed.

“You Won’t See Me”Rubber Soul
Rubber Soul is a pretty angry record when you look at it; John sets a girl’s house on fire in “Norwegian Wood,” and tells another that “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” Even George and Ringo get in on the girl bashing in “Think for Yourself” and “What Goes On.” But Paul’s melancholy “You Won’t See Me,” a few lyrical jabs aside (“I have had enough, so act your age”), is the one moment on Rubber Soul where a Beatle lets his guard down.

“I’m Looking Through You”Rubber Soul
I’d bet dollars to donuts that Kurt Cobain knew this song well, since that soft-LOUD-soft thing that Nirvana turned into a science was born here. Paul sings a soft, pleasant (but mean) verse, and then turns into Little Richard for the instrumental chorus, followed by John’s squawking organ and a busy little guitar lick from George.

“If I Needed Someone”Rubber Soul
George’s first truly great song. With his ringing, Byrdsy guitar plucking and some divine backup vocals from John and Paul, the song itself is somewhat reserved, with the vocals front and center. Is it a love song, or a right-girl-wrong-time song? (“If I had some more time to spend, then I guess I’d be with you my friend / If I needed someone.”) This, like “You Won’t See Me,” is one of the milder moments on Rubber Soul, but also one of the most ageless.

“Rain”Past Masters, Volume II
The B-side to “Paperback Writer,” this is arguably one of the best double sided singles in music history (though props must go to the one-two punch of “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever”). It’s technically ineligible because it reached #23 on the charts, but it merits inclusion solely because it puts to rest any debate over Ringo’s ability as a drummer. He doesn’t just play the drums on “Rain,” he attacks them, and Paul’s octave-jumping bass licks were years ahead of their time as well. “Rain” is also the first pop song to feature a backwards recording (John’s vocal, in the fadeout). But the song is really all about Ringo. The ‘90s Madchester scene in general, and the Stone Roses in particular, would not exist were it not for “Rain.”

The Beatles deep cuts 2

“Tomorrow Never Knows”Revolver
This song is a laundry list of firsts for the Beatles. John’s vocals in the last verse were run through a keyboard amp, the first of many times that John would experiment with the effects processing of his vocals. The series of strange sounds that surface and disappear – the seagull sound is actually a guitar – were tape loops assembled by Paul and chosen at random during mixing. And there’s That Drum Riff, Ringo’s super-heavy, relentless loop that anchors it all. Add a backwards guitar solo from George, another octave-jumping bass line from Paul, some barroom piano from John, and entire lines lifted from Timothy Leary’s version of the Tibetan “Book of the Dead,” and you have a song that is still light years ahead of its time. Dozens of artists have attempted to cover the song – Cowboy Mouth’s 2003 version is the only one I’ve heard that holds up – but nothing captures he spirit and ingenuity of the original better than “Setting Sun,” the collaboration between the Chemical Brothers and Noel Gallagher. John would have loved it, to be sure.

“She Said She Said”Revolver
Another song that launched a thousand pop bands. John was the first Beatle to experiment with psychedelic textures, so writing a song about an acid trip he took with Peter Fonda made perfect sense. Some more great drum work from Ringo, a signature riff from George, and a sweet, organ-fueled chorus with an odd time signature. The song’s most striking component, though, is its lyrics. Where he was singing, “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land” a few months before, this time around he’s saying, “She said, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead. I know what it is to be sad. And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.’” Whoa.

“I’m Only Sleeping”Revolver
If we’re favoring Revolver slightly, it’s because Revolver is the best, album, ever, okay? This acoustic-heavy John song gave birth to Elliott Smith and Badly Drawn Boy, sporting a super-catchy but slightly melancholy vibe that Smith would work to perfection a few decades later. It also has another backward solo from George.

“I Want to Tell You”Revolver
Last Revolver song, we swear. This was the first time that George got three songs on an album, and that makes sense, since he was a couple years younger than John and Paul, and needed a couple years to catch up in terms of songwriting prowess. Everyone knows “Taxman,” and while his first foray into Eastern music (“Love You To”), was yet another first for the Beatles, it’s George’s third song, “I Want To Tell You,” that warrants a spot here. Anchored by a barroom piano riff and some more three-part vocal splendor, “I Want to Tell You,” thankfully, doesn’t contain a hint of the bitterness that oozed out of his Rubber Soul track “Think for Yourself.” George is happy, and when George is happy, the world is a better place.

“Eleanor Rigby (strings only)”Anthology 2
Okay, so we lied about that last-Revolver-song stuff. Remixed in 1995 especially for Anthology 2, this instrumental version of Paul’s baroque ballad beautifully sums up George Martin’s instructions that the boys “think symphonic.”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The quick run-through the title track at the tail end of the Beatles’ biggest album gets no love, but we’re putting it here because, well, it rocks, dude. That, and it has been sampled by artists as diverse as the Beastie Boys (“The Sounds of Science”) and Thomas Dolby, who brilliantly smuggled the jump cut of the rooster and George’s guitar into his song “Close But No Cigar.” Eddie Van Halen plays on that Dolby song, too. Pretty cool, huh?

“Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7 & Edit Piece)”Anthology 2
George Martin, in a move that by itself earned him induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, took two different versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” each at different speeds and in different keys, and mixed them together in order to make the glorious final version we all know and love. The Anthology 2 mix here is one of those versions – the band performs the slower version of the song on their own, sans orchestra – and right as that version fades out, Martin attaches an outtake from Ringo’s frenetic drum sequence that caps off the album version, backwards cymbals and everything. This version also forever puts to rest the talk of John muttering “I buried Paul.” It is clear that he was indeed saying “cranberry sauce” all along.

“Baby You’re a Rich Man”Magical Mystery Tour
This charted back in the day – it was the B-side to “All You Need Is Love” – but it seems to have been left behind by rock radio in the last decade or so. The song’s big hook is the use of a Clavioline, a keyboard instrument that can only play one note at a time. The Beatles, of course, make it sound like bagpipes. John’s lyric bears likeness to the absurdity of “I Am the Walrus,” with a chorus of, “Baby you’re a rich man too / You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside the zoo / What a thing to do.” The falsetto vocal in the verses adds a nice contrast to the shout-out-loud chorus.

“Martha My Dear”The Beatles (a.k.a. White Album)
They may not have been able to be in the same room with each other while recording The Beatles, but Paul still found a way to turn that frown upside down and record this gorgeous, music hall-inspired number. It is widely considered to be a solo-Paul affair, with a handful of musicians to play the string and woodwind sections but no contributions from the other Beatles. Contrary to popular belief, this song is not about his sheepdog at the time. World Party did a spot-on remake of this back in 1998 for an album called Essential Interpretations. Find it if you can.

“Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”The Beatles
Paul: Hey Ringo, where’s John?
Ringo: He’s in Studio 3, naked, flicking lit matches at George. Why?
Paul: I got this thing, I’d love for you to play on it.
Ringo: All right, when do we start recording?
Paul: Oh, it’s already recorded.
Ringo: Eh?
Paul: Yeah, it’s all done. Drums, bass, guitar, piano, vocals, everything. Did it all in four takes.
Ringo: So, er, what do I do?
Paul: Play more drums.
Ringo: Righto.

“Cry Baby Cry”The Beatles
A sister of sorts to “Dear Prudence,” this spacey folk song is as fractured as everything else on the White Album, but the melody in the chorus is too strong to get weighed down by the band’s turmoil. Ironically, the day they recorded this sunny song is the same day that longtime engineer Geoff Emerick had had it with the band’s fighting, and quit on the spot. George Martin would eventually grow tired of the drama as well, though both would return to work on Abbey Road, under the condition that the band does whatever Martin tells them to do.

“Not Guilty”Anthology 3
If “Rain” gave birth to the Stone Roses, then “Not Guilty” unquestionably gave birth to Jellyfish. This slinky, harpsichord-driven George song, which was recorded during sessions for The Beatles but wouldn’t officially appear until his 1979 solo album George Harrison, is considerably spryer than the slow, jazzy version he did 10 years later, and even includes one of the first examples of flanging in a pop song. Side two of Jellyfish’s Bellybutton is one big tribute to this song.

“Hey Bulldog”Yellow Submarine
This one gets overlooked because it’s on Yellow Submarine, the only bad record the Beatles ever made, and that’s a shame. It’s one of the last times where you actually hear the Beatles having fun together, which is strange given that this was made after they sowed the seeds of hate on the White Album. The rhythm of the track will make you bob your head like you’re on “The Muppet Show,” and George lets loose with a nasty little solo. When the band starts making dog noises in the fade, you get the sense that maybe things will turn out all right. Of course, they made one more record and called it a day. Sigh.

“Because”Anthology 3
In 1995, when “Eleanor Rigby” was stripped to an instrumental, those same remixers turned “Because” into the spookiest a cappella you’ll ever hear. John often said that this was his favorite Beatles song (presumably before Alice Cooper murdered it for the Bee Gees-helmed “Sgt. Pepper” movie), and listening to the vocals alone, it’s easy to see why. Beautiful yet sad, it made perfect sense that Elliott Smith chose to cover this for “American Beauty.” And yes, we could do a list of nothing but Beatles covers. Maybe that will be a future Deep Cuts list.

The Ones That Got Away
I was thisclose to putting “You Know My Name (Look up the Number)” on the list, but in the end left it off, because it’s just so damn weird. Yes, Paul loves it, but it’s a tough love for the uninitiated. As for the rest that just missed the cut:

“I Need You” – Help!
“If You’ve Got Trouble” – Anthology 2
“Wait” – Rubber Soul
“Doctor Robert” – Revolver
“Lovely Rita” – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“Good Morning Good Morning” – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“Blue Jay Way” – Magical Mystery Tour
“I Me Mine” – Let It Be

In making this list, I was inspired to have some fun. To further show just how massive the Beatles’ influence on pop music truly is, I’m going to take a Beatles song, then list the artist or band that that song spawned. We’ve already discussed some of them:

“I’m Down” – Aerosmith
“Rain” – The Stone Roses
“Tomorrow Never Knows” – The Chemical Brothers
“Not Guilty” – Jellyfish
“Because” – Elliott Smith

But there are many, many more:

“If I Needed Someone” – Sam Phillips
“Taxman” – The Jam
“Eleanor Rigby” – E.L.O.
“Here, There and Everywhere” – The Bangles
“She Said She Said” – Matthew Sweet
“And Your Bird Can Sing” – Crowded House
“Magical Mystery Tour” – Cheap Trick (which explains why they covered it in 1991)
“I Am the Walrus” – Flaming Lips
“All You Need Is Love” – Tears for Fears
“Hey Jude” – Oasis
“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” – Queen
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – Nirvana
“You Never Give Me Your Money” – Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain
“Across the Universe” – Jon Brion

This merely scratches the surface, to be sure.

Post Script: Abbey Road and the White Album
I had a hard time figuring out what to do with Abbey Road. Most of the album was played to death on the radio, which rules out “Come Together,” “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Oh! Darling,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and the two main song suites on Side II (“Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came in through the Bathroom Window” and “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” The only songs left are ones I never need to hear again, like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Octopus’ Garden.” Abbey Road is a great, great album, but it’s so great that there’s really nothing Deep on it, hence the a cappella mix of “Because” serving as its sole representative.

The White Album gave me even more trouble. About half the record is off limits (“Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Helter Skelter,” “Birthday,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Glass Onion,” “Blackbird,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which makes me want to punch babies), and the other half, frankly, I find overrated. In fact, I’d argue that the White Album is one of the most overrated albums of all time.

Heresy to some, I know, but when I listen to it, I don’t hear the same genius I hear on every other Beatles record. Instead, I hear pure hatred, a band whose members are going out of their way to piss off the other three (“Yer Blues”). I hear a band that’s running out of ideas (“Savoy Truffle,” with a horn section that sounds exactly like the horns on “Good Morning Good Morning”). Mostly, I hear a band that’s flat out exhausted, like on the dull-as-dirt “Revolution I,” “”Long Long Long,” and, well, “I’m So Tired.” The Beatles, to me, sums up everything that would go wrong for the Beatles in their solo careers. Without the other members to keep them in check, each one went off and fulfilled whatever indulgence caught their fancy, when what they really needed was someone, anyone, to tell them no once in a while.

Last note: I must give credit to Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” which was an invaluable source for this piece and a must-have for any Beatles fan.


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