Monday, 14 October 2013

Top Ten Songs The Beatles Gave Away (News, Views and Music Issue 215




Brian Epstein used to enjoy telling reporters in 1963 that Lennon and McCartney had written 'hundreds of songs' even before he'd met them and they could keep the band going up to 1970 alone; we know now that this was something of an exaggeration and the composers would end up so stuck for material that they were still resorting to cover songs as late as 1965. However, we do know of a good 20 songs the Beatles 'gave away' over the course of their career (many of them never recorded by the fab four themselves) and us Beatles fans can only look on in horror at reports that there were at least a dozen more scribbled in a notebook that Jane Asher threw away during some 'spring cleaning' one year. While only a few of these songs can be labelled 'classics' on the same level as the Beatles' better known songs some of them are well worth seeking out and both John and Paul seriously thought about a career as 'songwriters to the stars' when the hits started drying up (50 years on and we're still waiting...) John and Paul had their favourites, though, and this list could easily get full of Peter and Gordon and Cilla Black, so we've listed what we think is the 'best' song given away to each of these artists and added an 'appendix' about any other songs at the end of each relevant entry. We've also had fun trying to work out how a Beatles version might have sounded different and how at home each song might have sounded on a contemporary Beatles LP!

1) "Goodbye" (Mary Hopkin, 1968)

Mary Hopkin is, in effect, the female Paul McCartney and the sister he never had. Legend has it that Paul saw her singing on Oppurtunity Knocks and hired her straight away - actually it was Brian Epstein's assistant Alistair Taylor who spotted her first and got Macca to watch the repeat. However, the pair were close - briefly anyway - and Paul either wrote or 'suggested' all of her biggest hits. Frankly, most of them are awful, but Macca cared enough for her to give him one of the best songs he never used himself. Pretty, cute and full of that singalong McCartney magic that makes the song sound as if it's been around at least a century, 'Goodbye' might have been tossed out in five minutes but it shows just how effortlessly musical McCartney naturally is. Sadly Hopkins version loses the innocence and fluffyness of the original in favour of a rather irritating oompah-brass part, but the McCartney demo (now available on 'Anthology Three') is a thing of beauty and as great as any of his songs written for the 'White Album' that year, at one with the tranquillity of 'I Will' and 'Mother Nature's Son', even if it is in effect the happiest break-up song ever written.

2) "Sour Milk Sea" (Jackie Lomax, 1968)

George Harrison wasn't the most prolific of writers until late-on in his Beatles career, so it's no real surprise he only ever 'gave' one song away (though Billy Preston was handed 'My Sweet Lord' until George realised it might become a hit and took it back again!) 'Sour Milk Sea' is an absolute classic 'Harrisong', first demoed during the Beatles' jaunt to Rishikesh with the Maharishi and a complete mix of the two sides of his 'other' songs from the period, containing the turbulence of 'Piggies' and 'Savoy Truffle' with the spiritualism of 'Long Long Long' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Kicking himself for frowning, George tells himself that all his problems are man-made and that the 'sour milk sea' is nothing to do with the real purpose of life which is spirituality ('You don't belong there!') Liverpudlian friend Jackie Lomax had a great voice and his first album (released on 'Apple') has intermittent sparks of genius; however Jackie's heavy voice is in danger of singing this song back into the sea: George's own fragile-but-tough vocals suit it much better but sadly his demo for this song still hasn't ever had an official release.

3) "Step Inside, Love" (Cilla Black, 1967)

The best of three Cilla songs Paul gave to his old friend and one-time Cavern cloakroom attendant (so says us anyway) 'Step Inside, Love' was - unusually for this list - written deliberately for Cilla on request. Cilla was starting a new TV show and wanted a theme that was 'inviting' and asked Paul to write one to different lengths. Pleased to be set the challenge of working to order for once, Paul took Cilla's notes to heart and wrote this song where Cilla appears to be inviting her tired husband in from work but could also be singing to all the audience at home. The melody is wonderfully Macca, fragile and delicate before breaking into storm and fire on the catchy chorus. The Beatles never considered this song themselves, but you can hear Paul 'improvising' a version of this song on 'Anthology Three' (he's actually bored slogging through 80-odd takes of 'I Will' for the Beatles White Album at the time) and an even better demo played for Cilla and George Martin at Abbey Road that's oft-bootlegged (perfectionist to the last, Macca even knows where the orchestra will go - and how the 'reprise' of the song can be edited for the end credits). The song would have made a nice addition to 'Magical Mystery Tour', though, had the band wanted it (you can just picture it actually: 'roll up roll up...and step inside!') The Hollies 'borrowed' the idea for their own superb song 'Step Inside' on 'Butterfly', which Cilla should have done as a follow-up! Cilla's 'other' two Beatles songs include a pre-Beatles Righteous Brothers-style ballad 'Love Of The Loved' which suits the Beatles (as can be heard on 'Anthology One' from another Decca audition tape) but never really suited Cilla and the similar, under-rated silky ballad 'It's For You', which has better dynamics but worse lyrics.

4) "World Without Love" (Peter and Gordon, 1965)

The only people who seem to remember Peter and Gordon nowadays are Beatle fans and followers of actress Jane Asher. Peter was her brother, you see, in the days before he became a businessman and helped run 'Apple' and for a time looked as if he was about to become Paul's brother-in-law. The duo had an almighty run of hits, though, coming close to outperfoming the Beatles in 1965! Many of the best ones were written by Paul, convinced that Peter and his schoolfriend Gordon Waller (whose the spitting image of The Byrds' Gene Clark incidentally). Legend has it that Paul felt threatened and never gave the band anything good, but actually McCartney was very giving with his time and often plugged the pair as his 'favourite band' whenever he was asked. The only one of P+G's songs recorded by the Beatles was the also-excellent 'I'll Be On My Way' (see 'Beatles at the BBC'), although they did try and record more including the best-by-a-nose 'World Without Love'. However, the Beatles had to abandon the song when Lennon couldn't stop giggling every time Paul sang the opening line 'Please...lock me away!' Other songs for the duo include the under-rated and surprisingly moody 'I Don't Want To See You Again' (written when Paul was hitting problems with Jane Asher - was this song a comment?) and the rather oddly written 'Woman', a song released not under the Lennon-McCartney name but under the psudeonym 'Bernard Webb' (Paul wanted to see if it was just his name selling everything and whether he'd be as successful if no one knew who he was - however this rather odd and unlikable track probably wasn't the best one to try with!)

5) "That Means A Lot" (P J Proby, 1965)

The Beatles' abandoned version of this song - originally intended for 'Help!' and since released on Anthology Two - has long been regarded as one of the few Beatles songs people laugh at. Most of this seems to come down to the very McCartneyesque chorus line 'Sometimes things are so fine - and at times they're not', which is indeed a rare slip of quality, undoing the emotion of the rest of the song. However, personally I've always been fond of this piece, which repeats the drama of 'Ticket To Ride' but in happier circumstances, and the band would have got it to work in most other eras had the marijuana they'd recently discovered caused them to giggle all day and go to 32 takes (most of them breakdowns, in more ways than one). One of the Motown acts would have done a great version of this song, which needs a smoky smouldering power the Beatles haven't quite learnt to play yet (Smokey Robinson could have repaid the compliment of the fab four covering 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' - the two are quite similar!), but P J Proby still has a good go. In fact his arrangement, which speeds up the 'can't you see?...' chorus is actually better than McCartneys, although you miss the group harmonies of John and George. The song would have made a fitting extra to 'Help!'

6) "Like Dreamers Do" (The Applejacks, 1964)

One of Paul's earliest songs, you can imagine how well this song would have gone down on the Hamburg stage, with its slightly proper before-the-war gentleman feeling and a powerful basic beat that was tailor-made for Pete Best to play on. Similar in feel to Macca's favourite cover song of the era, 'Besame Mucho', this is a song that uses more chord changes than normal for the period (1961 is the earliest performance on record) and a build-up of steam that's really effective. Sadly the Applejacks don't quite do the song justice, singing more like Elvis than the 'crooner' image Paul had for his song and the backing is slightly perfunctory. The Beatles' Decca Audition though (again heard on 'Anthology One') is a minor gem and would have been one of the highlights on 'Please Please Me'.

7) "Hello Little Girl" (The Fourmost, 1964)

'Hello Little Girl' is a lovely Lennon song and one of his earliest (they have him writing it in his bedroom the day his mother Julia dies in the 'Nowhere Boy' film, which isn't quite right but near enough as dating goes. It's actually a very McCartneyesque song with its breezy melody although the quick-stepping puns are more Lennon (was he inspired to write this by McCartney's own similar 'I Lost My Little Girl?' A regular of the Beatles' Hamburg set and one of the songs played by the band at their Decca audition on New Year's Day 1962 (as heard on 'Anthology One'), it would have made a fine addition to 'Please Please Me' or as one of the band's earliest B-sides, even if its a bit white-shiny-teeth for the Beatles even this early on. Listen out for the narrator losing his 'mi-mi-mind', a writing trick Lennon will re-use many times over the years. The Fourmost ham their version of the song up for all it's worth; much better is a version by Gerry and the Pacemakers (unreleased till the 1990s) - the song suits them a lot better than their 'other' Beatle outtake 'How Do You Do It?' (a Mitch Murray song the Beatles scrapped in favour of 'Please Please Me'). Still, the song is a sweet one that deserved better recognition, with the 'Decca' version still the definitive one.

8) "Come and Get It" (Badfinger, 1969)

Most fans rate 'Come and Get It' as the 'number one hit that got away', possibly McCartney's best song of 1969 and indeed it was the biggest hit Badfinger ever had. However, I've never really warmed to this song which is like an evil twin of 'You Never Give Me Your Money', sarcastically taunting someone else (Lennon?) to come and get some money because 'it's going fast'. The song makes more sense when you realise it was written specifically for the 'Magic Christian' film which Ringo starred in alongside Peter Sellers whose basic premise was that you can make someone do anything if you pay him enough money. Paul should have done it himself though, instead of giving it to Badfinger - sadly this film categorised them for years as a hard-edged pop band when they were the most emotional and fragile band around. McCartney's demo version, released on Anthology Three, is far superior simply because he understand the song better and it suits him more, although even then there's alarmingly little going on in this song and the message of 'dog eat dog' only 18 months from the co-writer 'All You Need Is Love' seems devastating to me, even if it was written for someone else. If ever a song heralded in the death of the 1960s it was this one (alongside the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter' anyway).

9) "Bad To Me" (Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, 1963)

Most of this list is made up of McCartney songs; this one just sounds like it. Yes, its John Lennon, asked to write a song for Brian Epstein's new find and a friend of the band in a hurry and figuring that Paul can get away with it so why not him? Lennon's song is every bit as bright and breezy as the others on this list and the simply awful rhyme of 'bad' and 'glad' is the sort of thing he'd tease Paul about years later. 'Bad To Me' is far from the best Lennon composition, then, but its also far from the worst - it's nice to hear John write a 'happy' song for once and both the cute guitar riff and the clever middle eight that gets three rhymes out of the same words not two is the hallmark of a writer giving this his best shot ('But I know you won't leave me...') The song would have sounded badly out of place on any Beatles album, especially 'A Hard Day's Night, and has yet to be officially released with Lennon singing, although a charming Lennon demo does do the rounds on bootleg (famously he couldn't find anywhere quiet to record a demo for Billy so he used the bathroom of Abbey Road and afterwards pulled the chain of the toilet he was sitting on - his comment on how much he thought of the song!) Other Billy J songs given away by the Beatles include McCartney's rather opaque 'From A Window' (which sounds like an early version of 'No Reply', right down to the stomping rhythm) and the rather gormless Lennon original 'I'll Keep You Satisfied'.

10) "Tip Of My Tongue" (Tommy Quickly, 1964)

"Tongue" is arguably the least well known song here and easily the poorest selling - poor Tommy Quickly (real name Quigley) did everything he could to get a hit and nothing seemed to work; frankly if he couldn't get a hit with a Lennon-McCartney song at the height of Beatlemania in 1964 he had no chance with anything else. That said, the only L-M song not to make the charts at all doesn't sound much like their work - it's more like the lighter end of the Searchers or Gerry and the Pacemakers' repertoire. The song is more Paul than John and features some very Macca rhymes ('After all is said and done, I'd marry you and we'd live as one, no more words on the tip of my tongue') and wouldn't have sounded out of place in some Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about stammerers ('OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOklahoma...'. That said, it's still worth looking out for and could have been really something sung in a Beatles version with Macca doing his gritty 'Little Richard' voice. In actual fact the Beatles did record this, at one of their earliest sessions in November 1962, but George Martin wasn't too impressed with the song (amazingly this is one of the few fab four recordings never to come out on bootleg to date!) That's the Remo Four backing Tommy, by the way, who go on to be big friends of George Harrison and play on the 'Western' side of his 'Wonderwall Music' soundtrack.

Right that's all from us for another week. I'm not too sure we'll be able to 'give away' anything except more news, views and music but come and join us next week anyway!

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