Underrated Beatles Songs

Introduction

With the relatively recent release of Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, The Beatles have found themselves in the spotlight yet again. Therefore I thought this would a good time to shine some light on some lesser known Beatles tracks that deserve more attention, in other words: underrated Beatles songs.

The criteria I use for “underrated” are great songs (in my opinion) that are not often talked about when great Beatles songs are discussed and mentioned. The second criterion is that the songs should be original compositions- no cover songs.

Please feel free to let me know what songs you consider underrated in The Beatles catalogue!

1) It Won’t Be Long (Lennon/McCartney) From With The Beatles (1963)

The opening track on the Beatles second album perhaps doesn’t grab as much attention as “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You” or “Roll Over Bethoven”, but in my opinion it is the equal of those songs. The chorus is very catchy with its call-and-response vocals. The bridge is quite harmonically sophisticated, proving why The Beatles were several cuts above most early 60’s Pop.

The way the song ends is also another showcase of The Beatles’ understanding of classic songwriting tricks taken from Jazz music and the Tin-Pan alley tradition of songwriting. The final chord flows neatly into the first chord of the next song (see below).

2) All I’ve Got To Do (Lennon/McCartney) From With The Beatles (1963)

From the first Jazzy chord to Ringo’s unique interplay between the hi-hat, kick drum and snare drum to McCartney harmonizing with Lennon in fourth intervals, this song unveils itself as an early gem in the Lennon/McCartney songbook. I’ve always felt that these first two songs on this album go together and should be listened to back to back.

3) I’ll Be Back (Lennon/McCartney) From A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

This is a fantastic song featuring Lennon and McCartney harmonizing in thirds during the choruses. In an unusual fashion, the song actually begins with the chorus. Another great thing about this song is how the song changes from minor to major in an unexpected way. “I’ll Be Back” is the closing song on the album A Hard Day’s Night, and I think it’s a very classy choice to end such a (mostly) high-energy album with a calm ballad that uses some unusual songwriting techniques like those mentioned above.

4) No Reply (Lennon/McCartney) From Beatles For Sale (1964)

“No Reply” is a very unusual song in The Beatles catalogue for many reasons. This is one of few songs of theirs that has a Bossa Nova influence (listen to Ringo’s snare drum accents during the verses).

Lyrically and musically it’s also kind of a downer of a song which is very unusual for an opening track on a Beatles album.By today’s standards, the contrast between the calm verses and the loud choruses sound pretty tame, but I imagine it was quite revolutionary at the time going so quickly from a calm, major-key chord sequence to a loud, minor-key chorus.

I love how the chorus literally comes crashing in with Ringo’s cymbals and the piano adding some more darkness- pretty “heavy” for its time.

There are plenty of examples of The Beatles using unusual chords throughout their songs, and this is no exception as the final chord of the song is a Major 6 add 9 chord, usually heard in Jazz music- especially so called Gypsy Jazz with the likes of Django Reinhardt.

5) Yes it Is (Lennon/McCartney) B-side single from 1965

This song was released as a single and was the B-side of “Ticket To Ride”. Although “Ticket To Ride” appeared on the album Help!, “Yes It Is” was left off. The song is quite complex for its time and further proves how far The Beatles had come in songwriting in such a short span of time.

The song features close 3-part harmony singing and George Harrison playing lead guitar with a volume pedal (something he would also do on his composition “I Need You” from Help!).

“Yes It Is” is in 12/8 rhythm and has a very tranquil and laid back chord sequence. It sounds a bit like an old Country ballad, and all in all is a very pleasant song.

6) Another Girl (Lennon/McCartney) From Help! (1965)

This has always been one of my favourite songs from Help! In general, I think Help! is an incredibly strong and underrated album.

“Another Girl” is an up-tempo Blues and Country style song. I’ve always thought that McCartney sings in a slightly lower register on this song compared to many other songs, and I think it sounds great- there’s a more serious attitude to his voice that fits the lyrics of the song.

George Harrison also delivers on this song with some very cool lead guitar fills throughout the song. Another thing worth mentioning is how there’s some role-reversal on this song as McCartney sings the lower harmony on the chorus while Lennon sings the high part.

7) If I Needed Someone (Harrison) From Rubber Soul (1965)

This song basically sounds like Crosby, Stills & Nash before that band even existed. Does that mean George Harrison invented their sound? Perhaps…

Just like “It Won’t Be Long” “I’ll Be Back” and “Another Girl”, the song starts with the chorus. What makes this song sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash is the close 3-part harmonies in the chorus, which is amazing. “If I Needed Someone” also features one of the best Beatles riffs.

8) I’m Only Sleeping (Lennon/McCartney) From Revolver (1966)

Oh, how I love this song. Revolver is one of my favourite Beatles albums and this has always been one of my favourite songs on that album.

Everything about his song is just absolutely stellar; the melody and chords, the way the acoustic guitar sonically melts together with the drums, Lennon and McCartney’s harmonized vocals, Harrison’s backwards guitar solo and the start-stop moments.

9) And Your Bird Can Sing (Lennon/McCartney) From Revolver (1966)

This is such a fun song. Lennon delivers another awesome Beatles riff. What’s so cool about this one is that it’s actually two guitars playing the riff in major third intervals.

The bridge section (“When your prized possessions start to way you down…”) also features a great melody and great descending guitar line playing a line cliché. On the last chorus of the song, McCartney joins by singing a harmony part a major third above Lennon’s original melody.

10) I Want To Tell You (Harrison) From Revolver (1966)

This opening riff is so badass, I just wish they would have played it a little longer before the vocals come in. The chorus has a dissonant chord (diminished) in it which Harrison decided he really wanted to hammer in, and so he stays on that chord for quite a long time. The diminished chord actually works really well in the context of the song and works as a good way to set up the return of the opening riff.

11) Within You Without You (Harrison) From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club (1967)

This is to my knowledge the most overtly Indian song that the Beatles recorded. I think there are only Indian instruments featured on this song. The chord sequence and melody is perhaps not strictly speaking purely Indian, but the instrumentation and arrangement gives it that sound anyway.

The lyrics are very philosophical in nature and I’ve always loved this set of lyrics, they are very direct and to the point.

12) Blue Jay Way (Harrison) From Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

This song is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve never heard this song I would recommend listening to it with headphones in the dark- it will be an experience!

My first time hearing this song, I didn’t like it so much because I thought it was too weird. As my musical taste has expanded over the years, especially for darker music, I really enjoy this song a lot now. In fact, when I first thought of the idea of underrated Beatles song, this was the first one that came to mind.

“Blue Jay Way” is a haunting song that probably served as the soundtrack to many nightmares after its release. Harrison’s vocal melody is based on the diminished scale which has an inherent dissonant sound.

Another thing worth noting is Starr’s drumming throughout the song. The way they come in and out of the song really adds to the nightmarish vibe of the song. The backing vocals in the third verse add so much to the haunting quality. It sounds like these backing vocals are treated to a bit of tremolo effect giving them an underwater quality.

13) The Inner Light (Harrison) B-side single from 1968

Another one of Harrison’s experiments with mixing western music with classical Indian music, “The Inner Light” is a song that has really grown on me. The parts of the song with the Indian instruments up-front are my favourite. I love the melody of the string instrument (Sarod) and the reed instrument (Shehnai) and how they play off each other. The percussion in these parts is also infectious.

14) Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Lennon/McCartney) From The Beatles (1968)

The Beatles (also known as The White Album) is notoriously diverse in music styles, which this and the next entry really show. In “Happiness Is Warm Gun”, Lennon gives us a quite progressive Bluesy song with multiple moods and time signatures.

The contrast between the moody 1st verse, the Bluesy pre-chorus and the 1950’s Pop style chorus may sound like a weird mix on paper. But this mix absolutely works, give this one a listen.

15) I Will (Lennon/McCartney) From The Beatles (1968)

On this song, McCartney gifts us with a very light-hearted song with a very memorable and sweet melody and chord sequence. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-60’s Beach Boys album. “I Will” also has a very American sound just like “Rocky Raccoon” (another McCartney song from this album). “I Will” sounds like an ode to Brian Wilson (songwriter, singer, producer, and leader of the Beach Boys) and the stripped down Americana-influenced music he was writing around the same time on albums like Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969).

16) You Never Give Me Your Money (Lennon/McCartney) From Abbey Road (1969)

Picking an underrated song from Abbey Road seems a bit like an impossible task as each and every song is arguably legendary. However, I chose this song because the first seven songs on Abbey Road are untouchable in legendary status, so I opted for something from the medley on side 2 of the LP. My choice fell on “You Never Give Me Your Money” because it is a self-contained song.

There are many movements in this song, meaning you could arguably label this song as Progressive Pop/Rock. McCartney crammed this song with lots of great hooks, whether they be piano riffs, guitar riffs or melodies. This song has always been one of my favourite songs on side 2 of Abbey Road for just that reason. How about that outro arpeggio? And can we talk about Harrison’s lead guitar work and his guitar tone during that outro?

17) I Me Mine (Harrison) From Let It Be (1970)

This song throws the first-time listener a lot of curve balls. The moody minor-key intro with guitar and organ leads into a major-key verse. The pre-chorus then goes back to another moody minor-key buildup which concludes with a descending line cliché. The entire song so far has been in waltz-time, but the chorus goes into a straight 4/4 which fits the harder rocking bluesy music extremely well.

Final thoughts

There are plenty of other Beatles songs which I could mention, but there are simply too many! Some other examples off the top of my head would be “Love You To”, “Rocky Raccoon”. “I’m Looking Through You”, “Yer Blues”, “Tell Me What You See” and “Rain”. Please let me know which Beatles songs you would consider underrated!

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