10 Surprising Songs Never Performed Live by the Beatles
The Beatles stopped touring before they reached their early studio pinnacle with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band, leaving a string of un-played era-defining late-'60s hits. Then John Lennon and George Harrison died without ever mounting the never-ending tour cycles later favored by former bandmates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Still, Lennon and Harrison returned to several of their best-known Beatles songs during rare solo shows, and both McCartney and Starr have made highlights from the Fab Four's catalog a staple on their respective tours. McCartney has even covered songs by Harrison and Lennon, including "Something" and "Day Tripper." Harrison did Lennon's "In My Life" on his 1974 U.S. tour, too.
As a result, most of the expected songs from their time together have been performed onstage – either by the Beatles as a unit or by members of the group. But not all of them, as shown by the following list of 10 Surprising Songs Never Performed Live by the Beatles.
Of course, the Beatles never played studio concoctions like "I Am the Walrus" or oddball things like "Wild Honey Pie" and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." Some tracks weren't meant for a live audience, either because they can never be properly recreated or because they're simply goofs. Other songs, quite frankly, weren't good enough to get plucked out of obscurity all those years later.
But that still leaves a number of tracks that would have made terrific additions to any set list.
10. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
From: Abbey Road (1969)
John Lennon didn't tour as a solo artist, only taking part in a string of one-off appearances. Still, even with such a small sample size, there was a notable tendency toward harder-edged Beatles fare: Solo versions of "Yer Blues" from 1968's White Album made their way to both The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus and Live Peace in Toronto. He returned to "Come Together" for Live in New York City, where "I Want You" would have been a perfect replacement for similarly constructed but far lesser fare like "Well Well Well" or "It's So Hard."
9. "Every Little Thing"
From: Beatles for Sale (1964)
The Beatles never played this quietly melancholic early love song, likely because it wouldn't have been heard over the incessant shrieking. That it's never been performed at all is what's surprising, since "Every Little Thing" is the rare track written by one Beatles member (McCartney) and sung by another (Lennon). McCartney has spent the winter of his years staking a larger and larger claim to the Beatles' legacy, in particular when it comes to tracks that have long been considered Lennon creations. He already took back "I Wanna Be Your Man," on 1993's Paul is Live; hard to believe he hasn't done the same with "Every Little Thing."
From: Single (1968)
There were two versions of this song: the somnambulant take found on the White Album, which nobody in their right mind would perform onstage, and the torrid single update, which Lennon definitely should have played. It's particularly easy to see him grinding through "Revolution" with the Elephant Memory's Memory Band, featured on the One to One concerts that produced Live in New York City. And it would have given Lennon an opportunity to mimic the cool studio video where he marries these two versions lyrically – singing the "in/out" line from the White Album while tearing through the single arrangement.
7. "I Need You"
From: Help! (1965)
George Harrison did two major tours, in 1974 and 1991, while also appearing onstage for one-night events like the Concert for Bangladesh and Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session. In every instance, he brought along Beatles-era favorites – including a fun return to his old Carl Perkins cover "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" during the Blue Suede Shoes show. Yet the lovely "I Need You" somehow never resurfaced in concert, despite its standing as Harrison's first major song contribution to the Beatles' catalog. To be fair, he later admitted to having serious trouble with the original part played on a volume foot pedal.
6. "Honey Pie"
From: The Beatles (1968)
Lennon never liked old-fashioned songs like this one from McCartney, describing them as "granny-music shit," according to Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. So, no, this song likely wouldn't have been played onstage, even if the group had still been touring when it arrived on the White Album in 1968. But McCartney's passion for the style never abated. He notably included "You Gave Me the Answer" from 1975's Venus and Mars on Wings Over America, and went on to record 1979's similarly constructed "Baby's Request," 2005's "English Tea" and the 2012 standards project Kisses on the Bottom – the latter of which actually included an update of "Baby's Request."
5. "The Ballad of John and Yoko"
From: Single (1969)
Lennon's live shows were always played in tandem with Yoko Ono, save for a pair of mid-'70s performances with Elton John and in honor of Sir Lew Grade. The ad-hoc bands he put together for the Rock and Roll Circus and Live Peace in Toronto (both of which featured Eric Clapton) also performed with Ono, as did Elephant's Memory in the One to One shows. These set lists paired Lennon's work as a solo artist and with the Beatles alongside Ono tracks like "Don't Worry Kyoko," performed in both Toronto and New York City. "The Ballad of John and Yoko," which basically served as their wedding diary, would have tied it all together.
4. "Oh! Darling"
From: Abbey Road (1969)
McCartney has always loved a belter, dating back at least to the Beatles' 1964 recording of Little Richard's roaring "Long Tall Sally." They were a regular feature on the Beatles' tours, and he's made them a part of his solo set lists, too. At the same time, McCartney has subsequently delved quite deeply into Abbey Road, including "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" on 1990's Tripping the Live Fantastic, "You Never Give Me Your Money" on 2003's Back in the World Live and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" on 2006's The Space Between Us, among others. Still, no "Oh! Darling."
3. "I Me Mine"
From: Let It Be (1970)
Harrison immediately began offering live updates of his 1969 recordings with the Beatles, playing songs from Abbey Road and Let It Be during 1971's Concert for Bangladesh and his 1974 American tour dates. "Something" appeared on both set lists, then returned for the 1991 shows in Japan with Eric Clapton. He played "Here Comes the Sun" in 1971 and 1991, "For You Blue" in 1974 and "Old Brown Shoe" in 1991. Unfortunately, Harrison's only other released Beatles song from their final year together was left unperformed. Maybe he felt that the completed version of "I Me Mine," featuring extensive post-production from Phil Spector, simply couldn't be duplicated.
2. "Good Night"
From: The Beatles (1968)
Ringo Starr's All-Starr tours combine songs he wrote and performed as a member of the Beatles with his most familiar solo tracks and material from others in a typically ever-changing lineup. But Starr sang lead on only 11 total Beatles songs, and received songwriting credit on just four ("What Goes On," the throwaway instrumental "Flying," "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden"). That makes the Beatles song mix understandably tight: He's sung "With a Little Help From My Friends," for instance, in 717 of the 731 pre-pandemic shows listed on setlist.fm. The only one of the 11 that he hasn't done: "Good Night," the gorgeous White Album coda that Lennon wrote for Starr. Wouldn't that be a great way to send everybody home after each concert?
1. "Martha My Dear"
From: The Beatles (1968)
McCartney's first post-Beatles live appearances focused exclusively on music from his next band Wings. He finally began reaching back into the Beatles catalog during the period that produced 1976's Wings Over America, and then the flood gates opened. Through it all, however, he's steadfastly ignored "Martha My Dear," the Beatles song that sounds most like Wings – from its shaggy-dog inspiration to its jaunty brass accompaniment. Doing so would seem to have been increasingly difficult, too: Only five of the 28 songs on Wings Over America were Beatles covers. By the time McCartney got to 2009's Good Evening New York City, 20 of the 33 songs dated back to the '60s.
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