The Beatles’ meteoric rise to populist acclaim, which involved six studio albums and ten hit singles between January 1963 and December ’65, tended to obscure the majesty of their more overlooked songs. There are certainly plenty of them to be found across that particular timeframe, from downbeat ballads to bristling rockers and various points in between. Here are some of the best of the bunch…
10. The Night Before (Help!, 1965)
A terrific McCartney vocal is further elevated by Lennon/Harrison harmonies and lead guitar breaks – courtesy of Paul and George – in different octaves. John, meanwhile, gets busy on electric piano. The Night Before featured in one of the more memorable scenes from the Help! movie, The Beatles performance on Salisbury Plain crowned by an exploding bomb.
9. There’s A Place (Please Please Me, 1963)
Described by Lennon as an “attempt at a sort of Motown, black thing”, the title of this McCartney co-write was inspired by a line from the West Side Story tune, Somewhere. The upbeat nature of the music is in direct contrast to its introspective lyric, an early example of The Beatles retreating into a secret inner realm where solitude is a comfort.
8. Don’t Bother Me (With The Beatles, 1963)
Harrison’s first Beatles song was written during a summer season in Bournemouth in August 1963. Despite his dismissive attitude – “At least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good” – it’s a double-tracked nugget with a deliciously sour lyric and oddly alluring percussion, courtesy of tambourine, woodblock and an Arabian bongo.
7. I’m Down (b-side of Help!, 1965)
Twinned with Lennon’s Help!, McCartney’s less anguished plea for succour is perhaps his most direct vocal homage to Little Richard. It remains one of The Beatles’ most feverish rockers, complete with trembly guitar solo and requisite yelp. Unsurprisingly, I’m Down quickly became a live favourite, the band performing a particularly frantic version at Shea Stadium in August 1965.
6. She’s A Woman (b-side of I Feel Fine, 1964)
McCartney channels his inner Little Richard on this perky rock‘n’roller, expertly fuelled by Lennon’s insistent licks. “John did a very good thing,” McCartney explained to biographer Barry Miles years later. “He just stabbed on the off-beats. Ringo would play the snare and John did it with the guitar.” The otherwise throwaway lyrics contain arguably the first drugs reference in a Beatles song: “Turn me on when I get lonely”.
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5. I’ll Follow The Sun (Beatles For Sale, 1964)
This dry run for Yesterday was actually written by the teenage McCartney at home in Liverpool in 1959. Although way too brief at under two minutes long (and left on the backburner because it didn’t suit the tough R&B image of The Beatles’ early days) it’s a classic example of his gift for a subtle melody, a tender break-up song clouded in sweet melancholia.
4. Yes It Is (b-side of Ticket To Ride, 1965)
In Lennon’s opinion, his attempt to rewrite This Boy didn’t quite work out, but he was clearly deluded. Yes It Is ranks as one of his finest ballads and shows his growing maturity as a songwriter, his yearning lyric buoyed by a tricky time signature and complex three-way harmonies. It’s also distinguished by Harrison’s haunting volume-pedal guitar.
3. Things We Said Today (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964)
Written by McCartney while on a Caribbean holiday with then-girlfriend Jane Asher, Ringo Starr and his soon-to-be wife Maureen, the sombre wistfulness of this song anticipates a future nostalgia for the moment they’re living in. Dramatic key changes heighten the mood as the band switch between folk and pop, driven by Lennon’s rhythm guitar and McCartney’s double-tracked vocal.
2. I’ve Just Seen A Face (Help!, 1965)
Recorded on the same day as Yesterday and I’m Down, this McCartney corker uses a brisk country shuffle to capture the rushing optimism of first love, motored by acoustic guitar. “It was a strange, uptempo thing,” he said of the track, in typically understated fashion. “I was quite pleased with it.”
1. If I Needed Someone (Rubber Soul, 1965)
The sound of George Harrison’s Rickenbacker was a huge influence on The Byrds, whose lead guitarist Roger McGuinn adopted it wholesale for their early recordings. This Rubber Soul standout sees Harrison repay the compliment, basing his chiming 12-string riff on The Byrds’ version of The Bells Of Rhymney. Peerless harmonies and a great McCartney bassline too.