Friday, 8 May 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 30 (Top Five): Beatles B-Sides

And now for the latest in our series of top fives – the best Beatles B-sides (not counting tracks also released on album!):

5) Thankyou Girl (B-side of ‘From Me To You’ 1963; available on ‘Past Masters Volume One’). Oh oh oh you’ve been good to me little B-side, made me glad when I was blue. And eternally I’m always going to be in love with you. So there. We’ve mentioned it a few times on this website already, but one of the reasons for the Beatles’ key success was their close relationship with their fans (along with talent, hard work and good timing of course). Every Christmas until their demise members of the Beatles’ fan club would get an exclusive bright shiny disc in the post to play over their Christmas Day lunch and the sheer amount of ‘exclusives’ in the very-little-profit Beatles Book show just what a lot of helpful and pleasant guys the fab four were despite all the fame going to their heads at times. This B-side, recorded at a time when the Beatles had become about the biggest thing in Britain though not yet the planet, is a knowing nod to all their early fans for getting them this far, couched in the terms of a love song. We never actually do find out in the song what the girl is being thanked for (other than for ‘loving me the way that you do’) – but for Beatles fans the message was clear – this was the nicest and friendliest group on the planet at their nicest and friendliest best. And the melody’s good too.

4) Don’t Let Me Down (B-side of ‘Get Back’ 1969; available on ‘Past Masters Volume Two) Beatles fans seem to forget nowadays just how long the gap was between the enthusiastic reception of the single of ‘Get Back’ and the rather muted reception delivered to final Beatles album ‘Let It be’. Sometime in-between the whole polished ‘Abbey Road’ project had come and gone and yet fans were still clamouring for the delightful ‘back to basics’ sound they’d heard on both sides of one of the band’s more popular late-period releases. What a disappointment the album must have been, with both of the album’s best tracks already released on this single – and how annoyed Lennon must have been to have one of his better compositions booted off the album to maintain the Beatles’ ‘no B-sides on an album’ policy. ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is, you see, one of the few genuine love songs Lennon wrote for Yoko in his Beatles period and is one of the most impressively constructed too (songs like ‘Happiness Is A warm Gun’ and ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ are equally impressive but more about addiction than love). You really feel for Lennon when he howls the chorus over and over again, even if you also feel for first wife Cynthia after Lennon’s dismissive line ‘I’m in love for the first time – don’t you know it’s going to last’).

3) Yes It Is (B-side of ‘Ticket To Ride’ 1965; available on ‘Past Masters Volume One). This introverted harmony-based ballad is an obvious nod back to the 1964 B-side ‘This Boy’ but it’s oh so superior in every single way. Lennon’s really showing his true colours in this period, inspired by drugs and Dylan in equal measure, and a lot more of his heart comes pouring out on this song than on the rather formulaic predecessor. The girl of the narrator’s dreams comes painfully close to reminding him of a former girlfriend, one who either died or broke up painfully with him in the past. The painful reminders (which some commentators say refers to former Beatle and close Lennon friend Stuart Sutcliffe who died aged 21 just as the Beatles were on the verge of reaching stardom and who was certainly on Lennon’s mind a lot in the ‘Help!”’ and ‘Rubber Soul’ period given the amount of songs of death and betrayal) are developed very carefully here, being triggered off by nothing more than the colour of the dress the new girlfriend wears (this song is a little bit like 1964’s ‘Baby’s In Black’ too, but superior to that track too). George Harrison continues his short-lived 1965 love of the pedal steel guitar, gently enhancing the mode by having his instrument sound like the tears the wasted-lennon vocal is too tired to cry (it’s all over ‘Help!’ but will be replaced by the sitar come ‘Rubber Soul’ time). An interesting experiment that cuts far deeper than virtually everything else in the pop market in 1965 (except, perhaps, the A side). 

2) The Inner Light (B-side of ‘Lady Madonna’ 1968; available on ‘Past masters Volume Two’). George Harrison at his poetic best – and amazingly this is his first songwriting appearance on either side of as Beatles single! The basic track was recorded in India during George’s solo sessions for the soundtrack of the ‘Wonderwall’ film – an underrated, mainly instrumental project that’s almost all up to this kind of standard. The lyrics come from a book that George was given during his early days of friendship with the ‘hare Krishna’ movement and, despite being added later, fit the backing track like a glove. ‘The further one travels the less one knows’ is something of a Harrison mantra in this period, pre-cursing many of the lyrics for solo LPs ‘All Things Must Pass’ and especially ‘Living In the Material World’. No other Beatles appear on the track, barring the final line which is sung by George in harmony with John and Paul and was most likely taped during sessions for the A-side. Much as I enjoy the catchy groove of the A-side, this B-side (which is catchy and deep) is vastly superior in every way.

1) Rain (B-side of ‘Paperback Writer’ 1966; available on ‘Past Masters Volume Two). The prototype sound for much that’s aboput to arrive on ‘Revolver’ and ‘Sgt Pepers’, this song about how different people perciev their surriundings differently to one another would have been a fine song in its own right – but it’s as a recording that it becomes the 100% classic that fans know and love. The whole backing track was recorded at a very very fast tempo and then slowed down to give it that shuddering thunder-in-the-air heavy feeling. The Beatles weren’t playing all-at-the-same-time that often by the 1966 period, but they turn in one of their greatest group performances for this track – Ringo, especially, gives the performance of his live, with some amazing drum rolls that are even more staggering when you consider how slowed down the tape must have been (why oh why didn’t Anthology issue this track at the proper speed? What a waste of six CDs!) The vocal effects are magic too – Lennon finally finds the proper medium for the ‘tired old man’ voice he’s been trying to get on tape since ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (the answer, play the tape back through a revolving speaker housed in a leslie organ, giving it that muffled and resonance free sound that will dominate the Beatles’ sound for the next two years) and the reverse-tape ending ‘nnnaaaiirrrrrrrrrr’ is still extraordinary now, never mind back in the Summer of 1966. It’s much more than just a gimmick here too – hearing Lennon singing something that sounds familiar but is just out of our comprehension beautifully fits this song about how for some people the rain of life can be so much better for us than the sun because of what it tells us about ourselves. A masterpiece then now and always.

Well, that’s it for another week my fellow musical mates. Join us next week (if the computer works!) for more Alan’s Album Archiving! Bye till then!             


  1. Oh, my dear sir, how could you not list "I'm Down"?

  2. Sorry sir/madam, just too many classics and not enough room. These top five lists turned into top ten and then top twenty lists before too long to cover everything, but I'd run of writing time back in these early days! 8>)