The Songs the Beatles Gave Away

Slate's Culture Blog
April 22 2013 4:55 PM

The Songs the Beatles Gave Away

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Brow Beat is following the Beatles in “real time,” 50 years later, from their first chart-topper to their final rooftop concert. 50 years ago this week, Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Be on My Way” was released by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, becoming the first of many songs that the Beatles gave away over the course of their career. Andrew Jackson, author of Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of the Beatles’ Solo Careers, covers the songs the Beatles gave away in 1963 and 1964.

When Lennon and McCartney skipped school to write songs as teenagers, they envisioned themselves becoming a great composing team like Leiber and Stoller or Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 1963 and 1964, they gave their best shot at it, not only writing songs for the Beatles but giving away 16 compositions to other artists, including the Rolling Stones. Half were originally written for themselves, and half they wrote for other artists under Brian Epstein’s management—such as Billy J. Kramer and Cilla Black—or for the pop duo Peter and Gordon.

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In the U.K. two of the songs were No. 1s and ten more made it to the Top 40, while in the U.S. one hit the top spot and five more made the Top 40—an impressive record for any songwriting team. It’s true that they abound in puppy love clichés, but they also reveal the composers’ growing sophistication.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – “I’ll Be on My Way”

The first Lennon-McCartney song debuted by another artist, “I’ll Be on My Way,” was released on April 26, 1963, as the B-side to Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas’ first single. (The A-Side was “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” which the Beatles had put out on Please Please Me a month earlier.) One of the most popular singers on the Liverpool scene, Kramer had also been signed by Brian Epstein; George Martin produced his singles, as he did with all Epstein’s artists. The single reached No. 2 on the U.K. charts, blocked from the top by the Fab Four’s “From Me To You.”

The Beatles gave a terrific radio performance of “I’ll Be On My Way” on April 4, later included on the 1994 compilation Live At the BBC. The song was McCartney’s dry run for “I’ll Follow the Sun,” with its bright, Buddy Holly-esque guitar belying the bitterness of a love gone cold.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – “Bad to Me”

Lennon wrote “Bad to Me” as Kramer’s follow up. As in Lennon’s later “If I Fell,” the singer asks his lover for assurance that she won’t hurt him. It’s ironic Lennon wrote it while on vacation with Epstein in Spain, as Lennon could be capriciously cruel to his manager, who had a crush on him. After its release on July 26, 1963, “Bad to Me” hit No. 1 in the U.K. It went to No. 9 in the U.S. the following year, after the Beatles led the British Invasion.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – “I Call Your Name”

The B-side to “Bad to Me” was “I Call Your Name,” a song Lennon wrote before the Beatles, which McCartney later theorized reflected Lennon’s abandonment by both parents. Lennon didn’t like Kramer’s version, so the group re-did it a year later.

Tommy Quickly – “Tip of My Tongue”

The Beatles attempted “Tip of My Tongue” during their “Please Please Me” session in November 1962, but then gave it to Epstein client Tommy Quickly—wisely, as it’s the only true dud in this collection. Released on July 30, 1963, it did not chart.

The Fourmost – “Hello Little Girl”

The Fourmost, friends of the Fab Four from the Liverpool club circuit, released “Hello Little Girl” on August 30, 1963. Composed in 1957, it was the first song Lennon ever wrote, inspired by his mother singing Cole Porter’s “It’s De-Lovely.”

“Hello Little Girl” was also one of three originals the Beatles included in their first professionally recorded audition, for Decca Records on January 1, 1962. With the song’s tight doo wop harmonies and warm mmmm’s, it’s surprising the Beatles abandoned it. A ridiculous falsetto almost capsizes the Fourmost’s version at the start, but the band then settles into a faithful re-creation of the Beatles’ demo. It made it to No. 9 in the U.K.

Cilla Black – “Love of the Loved”

On September 27, 1963, Cilla Black released her cover of another original from the Decca audition, “Love of the Loved.” Black was the coatroom attendant of Beatle haunt The Cavern Club and became Epstein’s sole female client. She was a belter in the Shirley Bassey mold, so “Loved” was tweaked into a cabaret number to serve as her debut single. McCartney had performed “Loved” (written by him circa 1958) in his early Latin lounge-singer persona, emulating his hero Elvis, who was scoring hits with Italian ballads at the time. Perhaps that accounts for Black’s quasi-mariachi brass. The lyrics are convoluted—“each time I look into your eyes, I see the love of the loved” —but show McCartney striving to be clever. It only reached No. 35 in the U.K.

The Rolling Stones – “I Wanna Be Your Man”

McCartney had only the chorus for “I Wanna Be Your Man” when the Beatles’ former PR agent, 19-year old Andrew Oldham, mentioned that he needed a single for the new group he was managing, the Rolling Stones. Lennon and McCartney, who had met the Stones weeks earlier, joined them in the studio and finished off the song for them in 20 minutes. Jagger and Richards would be inspired to form their own songwriting duo (and, aside from writing their own tracks, would themselves pen over 19 pop songs for other artists in 1963 and 1964). The Stones’ version of “Man” came out on November 1, 1963, and made it to No. 12 in the U.K., giving them their first Top 20 hit. Ringo Starr sang it on the album With the Beatles, which came out three weeks later.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – “I’ll Keep You Satisfied”

The same day the Stones released their single, Kramer issued McCartney’s “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” a pleasant retread of “From Me To You” that hit No. 4 in the U.K. and No. 30 in the U.S. McCartney said in his official biography that he still whistles this one in the garden.  

The Fourmost – “I’m in Love”

Lennon recorded his haunting demo for “I’m in Love” in the vein of Arthur Alexander and the girl groups the early Beatles often covered, then coached Kramer to emulate his ragged, impassioned vocals. But the Fourmost’s tamer version was chosen for release on November 11 and went to No. 17 in the U.K. After this songwriting effort, Lennon focused his time outside of the Beatles on books and movies.

Peter and Gordon – “A World Without Love”

McCartney wrote “A World Without Love” at age 16, but whenever he would sing the first line to Lennon—“Please lock me away”—Lennon would say, “Yes, OK,” they would crack up, and the song would progress no further. The tune was offered to Kramer, but he passed, so it was still available when McCartney moved into the London townhouse of his girlfriend Jane Asher’s family in autumn 1963. McCartney shared the sixth floor with her 19-year old brother, Peter, so when Peter and Gordon Waller secured a record deal, McCartney wrote a bridge for the song just in time for their first recording session on January 21, 1964. The arch “I know not” lyric hints at the growing influence the upper class Ashers would have on McCartney, as he absorbed theater through Jane and classical music through her music professor mother.

Released on February 28, “A World Without Love” hit No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it in its 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

The Strangers with Mike Shannon – “One and One Is Two”

After McCartney cut an ebullient demo of “One and One Is Two” for Kramer in a Paris hotel room in January 1964, Lennon cracked, “Billy J. is finished when he records this.” Harrison asked if they could take out the “one and one is two” part. Kramer and the Fourmost passed, so it went to another Liverpool band, The Strangers with Mike Shannon. Their version lost the demo’s swing and did not chart when released on May 8, 1964.

Peter and Gordon - “Nobody I Know”

McCartney’s followup for Peter and Gordon, “Nobody I Know” is dated by their stilted, childlike singsong, but the bridge’s soaring vocals and 12-string guitar (in the vein of the Rooftop Singers’ 1962 smash hit “Walk Right In”) reflect the beginning of a shift from Merseybeat to folk-pop. Released on May 29, it went to 10 in the U.K. and 12 in the U.S.

The Applejacks – “Like Dreamers Do”

McCartney pitched “Like Dreamers Do” to a Birmingham pop group called the Applejacks when the two bands rehearsed for the TV music show Thank Your Lucky Stars. The group was unusual for having a female bassist, Megan Davies. They downplayed the Latin lounge-singer influence audible in McCartney’s demo from the Decca audition, which had “Ay Ay Ay Ay”s out of the Mexican Ranchera “Cielito Lindo.” Written when McCartney was 15, it’s a sturdy garage bubblegum gem that could have inspired the theme to Tom Hanks’ ’60s tribute film That Thing You Do! (1996). Released on June 5, 1964, it made it to No. 20 in the U.K.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – “From a Window”

McCartney wrote one final hit for Kramer, “From a Window,” which Lennon said sprang “from his artsy period with Jane Asher.” Perhaps influenced by Peter and Gordon, Kramer himself affects a more genteel vocal. Released on July 17, 1964, it reached No. 10 in the U.K. and 23 in the States. Lennon wrote his own darker take on the scenario of seeing a lover in a window with “No Reply” later that year.

Cilla Black – “It’s For You”

After Cilla Black had a No. 1 U.K. smash with Burt Bacharach’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” McCartney constructed “It’s For You” as a jazzy waltz, threw in a hint of “A Boy Like That” drama from West Side Story, played piano along with George Martin’s orchestra, and hyped it as one of the best Lennon-McCartney compositions in press conferences that year. Released on July 31, 1964, it made it to No. 7 in the U.K. but stalled at 79 in the U.S. Still, its artistic triumph outside the Beatle mold paved the way for McCartney’s adoption of orchestration starting with 1965’s “Yesterday.”

Peter and Gordon – “I Don’t Want to See You Again”

Peter and Gordon’s “I Don’t Want to See You Again” was not produced by Martin, and its syrupy strings embodied what McCartney did not want when the Beatles began crafting their chamber-pop masterpieces. Still, the pop duo sound adult as they sing one of the many songs about lovers fighting that McCartney wrote while living in the Asher household from ’63 to ’66. How awkward must it be to live with your girlfriend’s family when you’re the world’s No. 1 heartthrob? Released on September 11, 1964, it made it to 16 in the U.S. but didn’t chart in the U.K.

While Lennon’s compositions dominate the Beatles’ early albums, McCartney wrote more of the songs that the duo gave away. It’s possible the group was letting too much of Paul’s creative energy get siphoned off. For the three years after 1964, he would give away only one song a year.

Now you can also listen to just about all these songs (minus only “One and One Is Two”) on Spotify, with our Spotify playlist:

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