I love The Beatles. If you know my musical taste, you’re well aware of this fact.
My history with the group is hardly unique. I’ve listened to them from a very young age. In fact, I was basically raised on “1”, a collection of their greatest hits. When I reached high school, I received Rubber Soul as a gift from my Mom. I was shocked. I hadn’t heard of any of these songs. These weren’t their biggest hits. Where was “Hey Jude”? What about “Eight Days a Week”?
There was a whole new world of music waiting for me. Sure, I had already heard a bunch of songs off of The White Album and Abbey Road (among others), but I had significantly underestimated their discography.
Now, these aren’t the objective 10 most underrated songs by the Liverpudlian quartet (there are simply too many people out there and too many great songs to compile a definitive list), but these are a few that I wanted to shout out. These also aren’t my favorite Beatles songs by any means (although a few of these would sneak onto that list). Anyway, let’s get on with it. These are in release order. Please enjoy:
1. Till There Was You (from With the Beatles)
When it comes to the lead singers, John brought the Dylan-esque introspection, George brought the Indian flair, and Paul brought the rest of Europe. Yes, it’s an oversimplification, but the fact remains: Paul frequently repurposed dance-hall numbers from his childhood, and was quite fond of continental European music. Arguably the least known of these experiments is “Till There Was You.” It’s achingly pretty, and it transports you to a sun-soaked, idyllic European countryside. The lyrics are simple, yes, but the imagery is powerful and the unconventional instrumentation (for the time) gives it a wonderful atmosphere.
2. If I Fell (from A Hard Day’s Night)
This is one of the very best harmonies ever recorded by the Fab Four. It’s just gorgeous. And this song is a love ballad, which they were often critiqued for eschewing in their early days. Although this is credited to Lennon-McCartney, this is a John song through and through. The early signs of their musical breakthrough on Rubber Soul can be found here.
3. I’m Happy Just to Dance With You (from A Hard Day’s Night)
Next we have the song that directly follows “If I Fell” on A Hard Day’s Night. It’s a pretty simple song, but there’s something about the rolling rhythm of the song that gives a hypnotic quality. The lyrics are as basic as ever, and John and Paul didn’t really rate it that highly, which is why they gave it to George to sing. This is really all about the interplay between the guitar and the drums. It meshes together in a way I don’t have the music theory knowledge to articulate
4. Tell Me Why (from A Hard Day’s Night)
Here’s another one from A Hard Day’s Night, which I think is certainly their best pre-Rubber Soul work, thanks to songs like this one. It’s amazing to me that this didn’t become a bigger hit, because it’s incredibly catchy (“Tell me wwhhhhhhyyyyy you crrryyyy/and why you llliiieeee to mmmeee”) and it’s no worse than a number of their chart-topping singles from this time period. I guess you can only have so many hit songs at once. This is definitely one that got a little overlooked.
5. Rain (from Past Masters, Vol. 2)
Listen to this song, and then tell me that Ringo can’t drum. Then consider the fact that the track was actually slowed down. Yes, he’s playing faster than that, and he’s already carrying the entire song. Of course, Rain is much more than just a display for Ringo’s drumming, but I believe it deserves a spot on this list for that alone. It’s got a wicked bassline and some nice backwards vocals (which were a happy studio accident). It’s the first great psychedelic song the group made. And we might have to blame the Fab Four for killing the radio star: The Beatles made three promotional videos for “Rain,” widely thought to be one of the earliest music videos.
6. The Inner Light (from Past Masters, Vol. 2)
The last of three Indian-based songs George wrote for The Beatles (the first two being “Love You To” and “Within You Without You,” no “Norwegian Wood” doesn’t count) and easily the least well known, “The Inner Light” was actually the B-side to the hit single “Lady Madonna,” released in the interim period between Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. It’s got some lovely transcendental and meditative lyrics, and although it’s not one of their best songs, I think it deserves a little more love. Oh, and there’s a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode named after it, so that’s pretty cool.
7. I Will (from The Beatles (The White Album))
This is the first of a trio of picks from The White Album, the Beatles’ sprawling 1968 release. It’s really a compilation of three solo albums (and one Ringo-composed song!), as the band was incredibly fractured at this point. However, this ditty is Paul through-and-through. It’s not even two minutes long, and it contains more sweetness and genuine emotion than most albums. This track definitely has its fans, but its absolutely overshadowed by some of the heavy hitters on the first LP. The vocal bassline, the twangy guitar interludes and the wistful lyrics all add up to make one of my favorite Beatles songs. It sounds like nostalgia.
8. Long, Long, Long (from The Beatles (The White Album))
In general, I much prefer the first LP of the White Album to the second, but this is just such a wonderful song. The track placement didn’t do it any favors (it’s right after “Helter Skelter”), and it’s incredibly quiet for some reason. However, in terms of the actual quality of the song, that doesn’t matter. Like many Harrison songs, it’s unclear whether the song is talking about his lover or God, but it’s a perfect mix of esoteric and personal lyricism. He has since confirmed that it’s directed towards God, but the lyrics work both ways. It’s a hushed and deeply spiritual song, and George’s voice fits it perfectly.
9. Good Night (from The Beatles (The White Album))
Speaking of voices fitting songs perfectly, there’s perhaps no better example of this in the entire Beatles catalog than this song. Ringo’s always had a little bit of a grandfatherly timbre to his voice, so it’s only natural that he would sing a lullaby. John actually wrote this song for his son Julian, and the love shines through in Ringo’s voice. The George Martin-conducted orchestra sounds a lot like “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, yet it also reminds me of the opening song from Lady and the Tramp. Whatever the influences are, it’s just wonderful. It’s also the perfect way to end the album, as it acts as a palette cleanser after the madness that is “Revolution 9.”
10. You Never Give Me Your Money (from Abbey Road)
I’ll get this right out of the way: this track contains one of my favorite moments in any Beatles song (I won’t leave you in suspense: it’s the “Ooh, that magic feeling” bit). It’s approximately twenty-five seconds of bliss and brilliant songwriting. That section alone would put it on this list. However, this song also has some added significance. It kicks off the medley that runs throughout the rest of side two, but it also stitches together a number of songs in its own right. It’s complex, beautiful and highlights all four members’ talents. This song just rules. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
So, yeah. Those are a few of my picks. For the past two weeks on my radio show, 20th Century Rocks, I’ve been doing a retrospective of The Beatles. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. I’m continuing with it this Monday, April 17th at 8PM ET on our website and the RadioFX app! I hope you’ll be there.