20 Beatles Buried Treasures

A list of the nearest things in the most overexposed catalogue in the history of popular music to “deep tracks”.

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a “buried treasure” in the Beatles catalogue. How could there be? This is the most picked-over band in the history of music. Every single thing they ever released is readily available in the form of an official CD -- and, yes, I know there are reams of bootleg materials out there, but for a band that was so focused and deliberate in the studio, such experiments, outtakes, and gestures hardly seem to count. Unlike with, say, Elvis Costello or the Who, or the Rolling Stones -- each of whom have both a canon of songs which (ahem) your mother should know and a raft of top-flight material that, while officially released, is often overlooked by casual listeners -- the Beatles’ work is pretty much all über-famous. And, while you might be able to make a case for a very limited number of tracks -- “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” springs to mind -- that people at large might not know very well, in the case of the Beatles this is usually because (and again, I’m looking at you “You Know My Name”) they are gawdawful.

So: what’s this list all about? It’s a collection of 20 tracks, as chosen by PopMatters writers and freelance contributors, which you may not hear enough. A list of great stuff by a band that made almost exclusively great stuff, but of material which doesn’t get heavy rotation on the classic rock stations, doesn’t spring to mind when you think of their most famous songs, or which represent the nearest things in the most overexposed catalogue in the history of music to “deep tracks”. Enjoy.


1. Tomorrow Never Knows

This isn’t the weirdest song in the Beatles catalogue, but it is certainly the best weird song in the Beatles catalogue. With lyrics cribbed from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Tim Leary’s own paraphrases of said same), a droning sitar, seagulls (or something) doing trippy things in un-rhythmic ways, much backward and speed-affected instrumentation, and a dark and pounding breakbeat -- the first ever in Western pop music? -- pushing this noisy soundscape along, this is the first time the Beatles really sounded like they might have stepped over the edge. (Fittingly, the original title for the track was “The Void”.) But, what treasures they seemed to have found there!

Eschewing melody and structure, relying almost entirely on one lonely chord (C-major), Lennon was aiming for that rarest of things: something entirely new. Indeed, he apparently told George Martin that he wanted the track to “sound like an orange” and that the best way to record his vocals would be to suspend him from the ceiling with ropes and swing him around a microphone. (The former request was, obviously, achieved, but the second was dropped in favour of using a Leslie speaker cabinet (which is the thing that gives Hammond organs their swirling effects) instead.) The soundtrack to countless acid trips, mushroom rides, and semi-conscious staring competitions with stereo speakers, “Tomorrow Never Knows” remains the best psychedelic artefact from the experimental era. It is, in a word, enveloping. Stuart Henderson


2. Rain

"Rain", originally released in 1966 as the b-side of "Paperback Writer", foreshadows the incredible creativity the Beatles would exhibit in the recording studio in years to come. While Rubber Soul, released the previous year, gave some hint as to the Beatles' increasing facility in the studio, it gave no indication of the anything-goes experimentation that characterize Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The defining feature of this song is the hazy, dreamlike vibe that the band conjures in their performance. Producer George Martin achieved this effect by recording the band playing the track, then artificially slowing the tape down.

As a result, guitar chords and cymbal hits that would have originally been crisp and defined now spill out slowly like waves crashing on a beach (incidentally, this means that they must have really been rocking when the tape was rolling -- Ringo's drum fills in particular are pretty hot even on the slowed-down version). As if that's not enough, the song ends with one of the first recorded instances of backwards recording, a quick sample of John's vocal in the first verse, played in reverse. In addition to being historically significant (and, y'know... cool), it also heightens the sense of weird dislocation running throughout the song.

"I'm Only Sleeping" may be the closest lyrical analogue to "Rain". Both songs find John singing about what would seem to be a mundane, everyday occurrence -- sleeping in, grousing about the weather -- but through a combination of his delivery and the songs' narcotic atmosphere, such ordinary subject matter is elevated to something strange, vaguely ominous, and inspired. David Gassmann


3. Hey Bulldog

Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick has said that “Hey Bulldog” was the last track on which all four Fabs worked amicably, and esprit de corps fairly leaps out of the grooves of this mid-tempo Lennon rocker, an early example of the genre of riff-based heavy metal that would come to dominate early to mid-'70s popular music. The song is based on a portentous riff played in unison by bass and guitars across three octaves and includes most notably Paul’s trademark bumblebee bass pattern, an obbligato that lasts for the duration of the song. Paul is a virtuoso in this mode (which can also be heard on such later songs as “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Something”) and in this song the effect is electrifying.

Another highlight is the scorching yet cheery guitar solo, one of the fieriest in the entire Beatles oeuvre. The lyric itself is likewise upbeat, even reassuring (“you can talk to me”), yet scathing (“you think you know me but you haven't got a clue”). During the vamp leading to the outro, Paul, according to studio lore, spontaneously began barking like a dog, leading to his and John's impromptu spoken exchange prior to the fade-out, the upshot of which was a change in the song's title. “Hey Bulldog” is apparently the only Beatles' song the recording of which was filmed, affording us our sole glimpse of the band in action as they recorded what was to be their final carefree tune. Steve Leftridge


4. She's Leaving Home

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band occupies a unique place in rock and roll history. For many, it is viewed as popular music's Citizen Kaneand has been generally accepted as rock's defining masterpiece of artistry and innovation. However, one of its most emotionally powerful songs is also one of its least innovative compositions, and that fact itself is rather innovative. The heartbreakingly beautiful "She's Leaving Home", easily one of the group's most undervalued compositions, is a rare gift of music, a quiet piece of controlled perfection that showcases how powerful a unit the Beatles really was.

At a time when the Beatles were using every single instrument and trick they possibly could to produce records, they also recorded this staggeringly simple ballad that does nothing more than tell the rather commonplace story of why a young girl leaves her parents' home and how the parents react to her leaving. Compared to the rest of Sgt. Pepper's the song is quite spare. It is just a meager arrangement of strings and two incredible voices: one to narrate the actions of the girl who leaves to find her life's first excitement, and the other to tell us the thoughts of the parents, who struggle to understand why she's left. The song is simply written, simply performed, simply stunning and simple proof that when all is said and done, no amount of innovation (and the Beatles were the authors of more than their share) can take the place of a beautiful melody and a story well told. Gregg Lipkin

Next Page

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.