by Marshall Bowden
The last Beatles album, Let It Be, was released 49 years ago, on May 8, 1970. As we approach a half-century without the Fab Four, I decided to take a shot at the Lost Beatles Album Game. This game is a favorite among Beatles fans the world over. The idea is to create one more Beatles studio album from their collective output in the period following the breakup of the group.
When all is said and done, the decision comes down largely to sequencing and to the rules you put down for yourself. I’ve seen discussions where people are willing to include any solo work through 1975–the year when John Lennon went into self-imposed semi-retirement, but that seems preposterous, essentially making all of Lennon’s solo work available except Double Fantasy.
But allowing only 1970 or 1971 (released) material seems to offer few choices about what to include, and some of the group were writing less at that time. So I’ve chosen 1973 as my cutoff. This allows some additional material that leads to a more balanced group of songs without trying to pretend the group never broke up. In addition, some of the tracks released in 1973 had been kicking around for a while before that, some even before the group broke up.
I also chose to try and stay away from the biggest solo hits. There’s nothing here from Mind Games or from All Things Must Pass because those tracks really didn’t present themselves as possible Beatle tracks in terms of production. There’s no “My Love” or “Band on the Run.” I made exceptions for “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) because they sounded so Beatle-esque. In the end, I got a Beatles album weighted to my preferences, with a heavier rock sound (mostly from Lennon) overall, some very melodic and winning contributions from McCartney, and a couple of tracks that show Harrison’s influence going forward.
I humbly offer my Lost Beatles Album, Beatles ’73, track listing here, with explanation and annotation on each track
1. Too Many People (Paul McCartney/Ram) A solid McCartney song opens this album with a bang. Good lyrics, nice melodic work, classic McCartney vocal, hot guitar solo (by Hugh McCracken), and a nice psychedelic freak out ending. It all sounds so Beatles. Lennon felt that some lyrics were directed at him and wife Yoko Ono, which Paul even admitted. But you know, it’s a great song and this is Beatles ’73.
2. Well Well Well (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) Stripped down Lennon during his primal scream days. At 5:59 this was the longest track on Plastic Ono Band, but this is the kind of raw rock sound that The Beatles needed to play if they were going to stay relevant going forward, and this became Lennon’s signature sound until Imagine. Plus Ringo plays drums on it.
3. Not Guilty (George Harrison/The White Album sessions Take 102) 102 takes…but this song didn’t make it onto the White Album. I’d have to say that I’d have preferred it to “Piggies.” But of course, this was a song where Harrison was addressing issues with his bandmates, their time in India, and coming into his own as a songwriter. It has all the hallmarks of Harrison’s best work around this time. Of course, he finally got it right for his 1979 George Harrison album in a version that is more relaxed and less brittle than The Beatles managed.
4. I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama (Lennon/Imagine) From the Imagine album comes this piece of urban soul rock that sounds like nothing else any of The Beatles ever recorded. Maybe his friendship with Elton or the Thin White Duke came into play here, but it’s a mind-blowing track that also manages to feature King Curtis on tenor saxophone and George Harrison’s slide guitar. Robert Christigau referred to the song as “an instant folk extravaganza worthy of Phil Spector”.
5. Mamunia (McCartney/Band on the Run) A personal favorite from Band on the Run. There may be better Macca songs, but you have to admit this is catchy, positive, and has nice vocal overdubs. It was first issued as a B side to “Jet” but after initial pressings, it was switched with “Let Me Roll It” because “Mamunia” was being considered for single release. When McCartney sings ‘strip off your plastic mac/You’ve never felt the rain my friend/Til you’ve felt it running down your back’ it’s so hippie suggestive.
1. It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr/Single) This ends up being the only really great Ringo choice. Not only his best song–better than any he got to sing on a Beatles album (ok, not better than “A Little Help From My Friends”)– but also co-written by George Harrison and with Harrison guitar work and production. George gave Ringo sole songwriting credit, an act of generosity that isn’t generally associated with the group at this stage of their career. On VH1 Storytellers Ringo recounted how he helped turn Harrison away from making the song a Krishna screed, and that’s definitely a worthwhile contribution.
2. Big Barn Bed (McCartney/Red Rose Speedway) This song fragment just has a great vibe and demonstrates as well as anything how McCartney could take next to nothing, lyrically and musically, and build it into something glorious that you’d happily sing while you drive down the road. Lenny Kaye acknowledged this phenomenon in his Rolling Stone review of Red Rose Speedway: “Neither verse nor chorus are anything much, but the song draws you slowly in with the same steady roll of traction demonstrated by that odd union of records which score heavily in the discotheque markets, reaching its peak with the endless repetitions of the chorus line in the end.”
3. Cold Turkey (Lennon/Single) Not a happy period for Lennon songs, but an incredibly hard-rocking one. “Cold Turkey” was actually presented by Lennon as a possible Beatles record during the Abbey Road sessions, but it was rejected. Was it about his recovery from a brief heroin addiction or a case of food poisoning, as a long time personal assistant stated in his book on Lennon? It doesn’t matter. It’s another hard rocker for Lennon with Eric Clapton on guitar.
4. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) (Harrison/Living In the Material World) One of Harrison’s most beautiful devotional songs and one that almost anyone could sing regardless of belief. On its release in May 1973, the song promptly knocked McCartney & Wings’ “My Love” from the top spot. There’s not a lot you can say–it’s one of George’s best songs.
5. Every Night (McCartney/McCartney) From Paul’s first solo album on which he plays pretty much all the parts, including drums. So we’re down to Paul doing the one man band. McCartney introduced this song during The Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be sessions, and the group gave it a go, but it was not to be. A pretty, romantic song that takes us into the sunset and off to a world without The Beatles.