The Beatles, “You Know My Name” from Past Masters (1970): One Track Mind

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Paul McCartney declared it is “probably my favorite Beatles’ track” and yet, it’s also one of The Beatles’ silliest, discombobulated and for decades, one of their most obscure. For me, “You Know My Name (Look up The Number)” just brings me back to a long-ago time.

My family (I say “family” but it probably belonged to one of my older brothers) had the “Let It Be” single with it first came out in the spring of 1970. As a kid, I found that song kind of droll and depressing, so I often flipped it over on our little plastic portable record player and listened to the throwaway song on the B side for kicks. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” wasn’t just the title, it was the entire lyrics, sung in every imaginable way.

The melody itself itself was repeated over and over in discreet sections, covering tongue in cheek many of the stylistic territory the Beatles managed not to cover anywhere else in their discography: lounge jazz, samba, vaudeville, ska and more. The vocals went from strident harmony to lounge singing to indiscernible mumbling.

The campiness fit the kind of hip, zany humor I was seeing on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In at the time, and like that show, I was too young to understand much of it but it still seemed cool to me. So as a comedy song, I never took it all that seriously…which makes kind of sense since it was never intended to be taken seriously.

It’s only in recent years I found out some basic facts about this song: Lennon wrote it after seeing “you know the name, look up the number” on a telephone book left on McCartney’s piano. Most of it was recorded in the spring of 1967, and John and Paul only finished it off by adding the vocals to it in April, 1969.

It was nearly issued near the end of the year as a Plastic Ono Band release, but those plans were shelved at the last minute and was finally released in March, 1970 as the flip side to the “Let It Be” single, a copy of which found its way into my household forty years ago. For the single, the song was cut down from its 6:08 full length to 4:19.

The song finally saw the official light of day on an album in Rarities (1980) and the Past Masters, Volume Two CD compilation (1988). A different, stereo version appeared on Beatles Anthology 2 (1996).

Probably the most interesting tidbit is that the jazzy tenor saxophone that can be heard most prominently at the end of the song was played by the late Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones.

The bitter end of the Beatles? The flip side of the “Let It Be” single begs to differ. They were cutting up and being the lovable fun-loving rascals of A Hard Days’ Night right up to the curtain call.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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  • Diana

    In my opinion the b-sides (oh how the young miss out on things like b-sides these days!) were always the best – a really chance for creativity or cheekiness!

  • Charlie

    I would call this song a success. It may have been beyond stupid but since it was supposed to be stupid it was cool. It was far better than an artist who wrote something he felt was serious and in the end people are laughing.

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