Monday 9 November 2015

13 Beatles Deep Cuts

The Urban Dictionary defines a deep cut as as: "A song by an artist that only true fans of said artist will enjoy/know. True gems that are found later in an album, a b-side. Rarely if ever played on the radio."

The Beatles are perhaps the most widely played band of all time. Yet, there exists a handful of songs, buried on albums and B-sides that are hardly ever played on the radio nor appear on compilations--but should be. We at Rowboat Syndicate unearth these gems here: 

IT WON'T BE LONG (With The Beatles)
John's charging vocals set against a breakneck tempo launch the album that heralded Beatlemania. The "yeah yeah" backing vocals of Paul and George echo She Loves You which, along with moptops and collarless jackets, were hallmarks of Beatlemania. Indeed, With The Beatles was recorded in the summer of 1963 while She Loves You was riding atop the British charts. It Won't Be Long is the perfect album opener, bursting with infectious energy, a galloping backbeat and exuberant harmonies. This is the sound of a hot, confident band on the rise--and knows it.

John was white-hot during the first flush of international Beatlemania, being the lead writer of 10 of the 13 songs on the album, A Hard Day's Night, but Paul made up for his lack of quantity with quality. Buried on side two of the original UK LP, and relegated to the B-side of the UK single of AHDN, Things We Said Today is an uptempo ballad marked by a strong guitar riff which grounds the song. Paul's vocal is cool yet assured, while the arrangement (vaguely Latin) runs against the typical love song and amounts to sounding like nothing else in the early Beatles period or this era for that matter.

I'M A LOSER (Beatles For Sale)
 Much has been said about the lyrics of this song, marking a maturity in Lennon's songwriting (as inspired by Bob Dylan), and deservedly so. It's the best song on Beatles For Sale, the band's weakest album, but I'm A Loser foreshadows the introspection found in the following summer's Help! single. While Rock and Roll Music and Eight Days A Week have appeared on compilations, the album's best song, I'm A Loser remains solely on Beatles for Sale.

(Rubber Soul)
The Beatles could have released half the songs off this album as singles, including these two anti-love songs. Paul wrote them during a difficult patch with then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher. They're both upbeat, rythmic numbers, the former inspired by the Temptations, which only underlies the anguish of the lyrics. "When I call you up, your line's engaged / I have had enough, so act your age," sings Paul in You Won't See Me while in I'm Looking Through You, Paul declares that, "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight." Solid vocals, catchy melodies and lyrics with bite make these two album tracks highlights on an album bursting with masterpieces.

Revolver boasts such depth of songwriting, arrangment and performance that several of its songs qualify as deep cuts. How to choose? These two Lennon tracks, which close side A and B respectively on the original long-player, showcase a new direction in Lennon's songwriting. The songs reflect on mortality and mysticism. Also, they were directly shaped by acid trips.

She Said She Said is a direct lift from Peter Fonda recounting a near-death experience he has as a boy when he shot himself. He imparted this George to guide him through a rough LSD trip, while The Beatles were visiting Los Angeles in the summer of 1965. Lennon overheard Fonda's morbid anecdote and was repulsed by it. In other words, Peter Fonda is the "she" in She Said She Said. However, there's a melancholy in the song's "middle-eight" that anticipates the childhood retrospection of Strawberry Fields Forever: "When I was a boy / Everything was right." It's a mystery why Paul didn't play on this track, apart from having an arguing (over what?) and storming out of Abbey Road, but the remaining three Beatles play marvellously on this track. I personally consider Ringo's drumming on this song his best among all the Beatles recordings.

Tomorrow Never Knows is, of course, the album closer that paved the way to Sgt. Pepper. It's a song built on one chord and coloured with sound effects galore. The Beatles were infiltrating pop music with the avant-garde. The song stunned many at the time, but has never aged.

It astounds me that neither song has been included on various greatest hits compilations over the years, namely 1962-66. You will find them only on Revolver, arguably the band's greatest album.

RAIN (B-side, Past Masters 2)
To my ears, Rain and Paperback Writer are a double-sided single that rivals their previous and forthcoming UK singles, but Rain has never received the attention paid to its more popular flipside. Rain sounded too experimental for the pop charts of 1966, particularly its brilliant backwards coda. Paul's deep bass, Ringo's stuttered drumming and John's distorted vocals blend into a multicolour pastiche that shimmers whenever you listen to it. Rain is an amazing audio experience and remains as fresh as the day it was released in mid-1966. Until the CD age, Rain was available only on the Paperback Writer single. Again, why the hell wasn't it included on 1962-66 or the Hey Jude compilation of 1970? 

(The Beatles)
Let's face it: The White Album is one long deep cut. By decreee, none of its 30 tracks was released as a single in the U.S. or U.K. (though Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was paired with While My Guitar Gently Weeps in a few smaller markets). The quality of album's songs varies wildly, but a handful stand above the others.  

Dear Prudence is a ballad, like Hey Jude, that builds in tempo and dynamics until it climaxes into a burst of sound and emotion. Both Prudence and Blackbird feature the debut of fingerpicking guitar-playing that Donovan taught the Beatles in India in early-1968. Blackbird is Paul's ode to the black Civil Rights Movement. Remember, this was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated and American cities were rioting. Featuring just Paul on acoustic, Blackbird is simple, direct and transcendent.

By contrast, Happiness Is A Warm Gun is one of The Beatles' most complex songs, featuring another abstract Lennon lyric ("lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime"), three distinct sections and several changes in tempo and instrumentation, all remarkably done in 160 seconds. The other Beatles nominated this the best song on the White Album and I wouldn't argue with that.

George began to blossom as a songwriter during this period. While My Guitar Gently Weeps gets all the attention, but this hymn-like ballad that closes the boistrous third side is moving. He could be singing about a lover, but really George is talking to God. He's finding spiritual peace and opening doors to higher levels of consciousness without being preachy (as he was in his solo career). This added layer gives Long Long Long a powerful, yet understated depth.

BECAUSE (Abbey Road)

Though Paul dominates Abbey Road, John contributes some key moments. Because is one of them. It's really a reworking of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but the song's spare, hypnotic arrangement and intricate three-way harmonies by John, Paul and George elevate it into a masterpiece. The spare lyrics, directly influenced by Yoko Ono, read like Zen philosophy and perfectly suit the spare arrangement: "Love is old, love is new / Love is old, love is you."