12 best hidden Beatles gems
Let's be honest: most of us know The Beatles pretty well.
Even if you don't consider yourself a huge fan, there's no escaping songs like Hey Jude or A Hard Day's Night. All those glorious singles, alongside a fair amount of album tracks and even b-sides, are coded into the DNA of us all. They're ingrained in the culture, an integral part of the musical landscape that is as impossible to deny as is is to ignore.
But what about the hidden corners of The Beatles' back catalogue? Live tracks, alternate versions, obscure demos - that's where the real treasure lies for the Beatlemaniac in search of something outside of the familiar.
So here we present some of our favourite Beatles tracks that are a little beyond the usual, a dozen hidden gems that represent the secret history of the world's greatest band...
In Spite Of All The Danger
A crackly demo recording made in 1958 credited to McCartney and Harrison, In Spite Of All The Danger is the sound of talented teenagers finding their feet.
Acoustic guitars plod along, there's traces of a stomping foot in there, and you can hear the nerves in the room as the boys have their first exposure to real recording - even if the end result is slightly rough. But even through all the hiss and hum, a nagging melody pokes through - early proof of McCartney's prodigious talent - and the harmonies are as fresh and innocent as the lads singing them.
Hello Little Girl
Would you have signed this band? On the basis of this - and fourteen other songs, all recorded live in just under an hour - Decca Records decided against it.
One of John's earliest songs, this perky piece of pop is more sophisticated than you might expect from four rough-looking Scousers in 1962. Paul and John nail the close harmony vocal, George's needly little solo serves the song perfectly, and the shuffley rhythm is spot on. Incidentally, if you ever wondered what The Beatles sounded like with Pete Best on drums, here's your chance. He's no Ringo, but we've heard much, much worse...
Some Other Guy (Live)
About as close to footage of The Beatles in Hamburg as exists, this grainy piece of film shows a band in their element, playing a staple of their live set to a packed Cavern, the Liverpool cellar that was to pass into legend.
The club is rammed, the band is a crack unit after those long Reeperbahn nights and the song is just ace. Some Other Guy was a popular cover on the Liverpool circuit at the time, and John absolutely nails it to the floor, aided and abetted by George's prominent lead guitar part. The group has a looser swing with Ringo behind them, and with the final piece of the puzzle in place they look ready to take on the world. And don't they look nice in their tank tops?
I'll Get You (live)
The b-side to She Loves You was a slice of innocent early ‘60s sugar, and an excellent demonstration of Paul and John's growing confidence as writers.
Most bands at the time would have released this as a single, but for The Beatles is was a little more than a throwaway number. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not thoroughly brilliant, especially Paul's reaching vocal line in the verse and a yearning middle eight.
This recording, captured live at Val Parnell’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium in the winter of '63, is a bit rawer than the studio version that appeared on the b-side of She Loves You, and all the better for it. Plus, it captures all that early Beatlemania in all its screamy glory.
Soldier Of Love
To our mind, this is right up there with Twist And Shout as one of the greatest covers The Beatles ever recorded.
A reinterpretation of an obscure soul b-side that they completely make their own, Lennon's pleading, ragged vocal alone would be enough to elevate this to greatness. But it's got a great band performance behind it as well. Paul and George's backing vocals chime together as a single unit, and Ringo lays some heavy sizzle on the hi-hat, driving the whole thing along with characteristic bounce.
She Loves You (Live)
Arguably the greatest Beatles single, delivered to a howling Hollywood Bowl crowd at the height of their early American success, you'd be hard pushed to find a better performance of She Love's You.
This is the sound of The Beatles as an all-conquering live band in their pomp. Ringo propels the song through the madness with a pounding back beat that the rest of the band hang on to for dear life. The screaming and the cavernous echo, John's chatter and Paul's celebratory 'yes!' at the end - it's enough to put you right there in the front row.
Yes It Is
A splice of the early, stripped back second take and a later 14th take, this version of Yes It Is - released as part of the Anthology series - shows how the Beatles built a song up from bare bones into a polished, finalised state.
The harmonies that come soaring in at 1:07 are enough to make a grown man cry, an emotional gut punch that comes out of nowhere after Lennon’s half-remembered lyrics and silly voice. Humour, vulnerability and pure vocal class, all in under two minutes.
Strawberry Fields Forever, Take 1
The first studio attempt at the Lennon classic, this features a different structure and stripped back arrangement that captures something of the wide-eyed wonder of early psychedelia.
While the eventual single featured the fruits of The Beatles burgeoning interest in studio experimentation, it's clear that right from the off this was a special song, and this is a special performance. Simple and charming, with an undeniable melancholy undertone, you can almost hear the doors of possibility swinging open.
You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
When The Beatles had fun, they knew how to do it. You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) was a Lennon oddball of a song, that the band - alongside Brian Jones on sax - stretched and twisted into as many different directions as they could.
The intro is a great example of The Beatles throwing away something that genuinely sounds about 30 years ahead of its time just because they could. As the song progresses, from howled hook to helium-voiced bounce-along and beyond, there's never a dull second.
The club section, with John and Paul camping it up at imaginary northern club Slaggers, is nothing short of hilarious, and the parade of silly voices that follow could be straight out of The Goon Show.
Across The Universe
Recorded in 1968, Lennon sounds more relaxed on this version – one of three released – which was laid down shortly before the group decamped for Rishikesh.
It’s full of cosmic swishing guitar, prettily plucked sitar and swirling atmosphere, basic but undeniably beautiful, and certainly testament to the theory that early takes are usually the best. The latter re-recorded, overcooked versions of Across The Universe never managed to capture the hippy vibe of this one.
The Long And Winding Road
Stripped of Phil Spector’s strings, the stark beauty of this McCartney classic is laid bare.
This version is actually a completely different take to the one Spector used, and was recorded the day after the rooftop concert. It features Lennon on Fender VI bass, Harrison playing through a Leslie speaker, and Ringo at his restrained best. Plus, let’s not forget, a phenomenal McCartney vocal and piano performance. About as near to perfect as it’s possible to get.
The second single released as part of the Anthology project in the mid-'90s, Real Love is the last recording The Beatles have released, and if you ask us it's a fitting footnote.
Using an old demo of John's, the reunited Paul, George and Ringo holed up with Jeff Lynne to work it up into a finished song, and the results are pretty astonishing. John's unmistakable, haunting vocal floats over a rock-solid Ringo backing, Paul and George's backing vocals underpin John as well as they ever did and George also throws in some truly fabulous guitar work. Well worth revisiting - it's better than you remember.