The Forgotten Beatles Song You Should "Know"
"You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" might just be the weirdest Beatles' song
I'm a weird guy. I like weird things: sounds, smells, feelings, thoughts. One could say I live a weird "lifestyle." In the words of George Carlin, "if you want to know what a moronic word 'lifestyle' is, all you have to do is realize that, in a technical sense, Attila the Hun had an 'active, outdoor lifestyle.'" Isn't it fun using people's own language against them? Another weird hobby of mine!
That weirdness brings me to the Beatles' song "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" which is one of my favorite tracks. My old iPod Nano even lists "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" as being my seventh most played Beatles track. Even Paul McCartney stated “You Know My Name” is his personal favorite to Beatles' Biographer, Mark Lewisohn. So, I'm in fine company with this being an all-time personal favorite. Never heard of it? Well, you're not alone. This is not a song you will find on their Greatest Hits (Beatles 1), and you'll never, ever find it on an internet playlist.
"You Know My Name" blows "Revolution #9" out of the water in terms of weirdest Beatles' songs. And that's a good thing! Amongst the Beatle Fanatics, "Revolution #9" has always been the de facto weirdest Beatles track based on the elongated sound collage's nature. It is odd, haunting, demoralizing, and has a mad-hook ("Number nine, number nine, number nine"). Thus, it's easy to tack this as a top "guilty pleasure" song of the Beatles catalog. Although one could argue anyone loving "Maxwell's Silver Hammer '' should deem it as a guilty pleasure; you should be embarrassed for liking that song.
But, "You Know My Name" is almost a "lost song" in the Beatles catalog that deserves more credit and recognition. It definitely drives the weirdness scale up to 11! It is one of those avant-garde comedy pieces that acts like a mini-variety show. Actually, it is what the Beatles thought Sgt. Pepper was supposed to be, except it was done in this five minute song.
"You Know My Name" was constructed in four sessions, three of which were shortly following the Sgt. Pepper album and one in 1969 after the failed Get Back (Let It Be) sessions. While Ringo and George Harrison did not partake in the 1969 session, all four Beatles and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones played on this track. The one of a few times members of the Stones and Beatles recorded together.
Now, there are two versions of the song: Past Masters Vol. II which features the original B-Side release (A-Side - "Let It Be") which lasts 4:20, and The Beatles Anthology 2 extended version. I will be referencing the Anthology extended version as it has a lot to unpack compared to its shorter version, and it was the seventh most played Beatles track on my iPod.
"You Know My Name" begins with a suave opening containing Paul's bass, Ringo's hard rhythm track, some heavily echoed handclaps, then a clunky piano plucks in before Paul and John enter vocally. The dissonance in Paul's and John's vocals are great to hear over the clunky piano and melodic bass-line. They have always tried their best to stretch and challenge their vocals, and "You Know My Name" is one of their best efforts.
Within a minute, they are already switching directions with a chill rhythm from Ringo and simple sax playing from Brian Jones while Paul and John repeat the same mantra of "you know my name" over and over again. It's very much like birds chirping, and this has always given me the sense of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."
The Denis O'Bell section follows and brings that next act feel which is magically brought to life. A beautiful dive into the conga, cabaret performing style with a lazy Boogie-Woogie piano piece and Paul's vocals in the driver's seat. John screams and yips in the background driving the line between party-time music and comedic jabbing.
After this section, the song carries on in a similar controlled absurdity for another two minutes finishing at 5:43. But it is that last 26 seconds which brings me chills when Brian Jones brings it home with his sax. There are several Beatles songs to include some brass instruments, but this sax performance really brings home the bacon. Jones plays a random melody and steals the show even though there is the vibraphone playing beautiful notes below it (thank you, George Harrison!).
This song fulfills my weirdness scale and brings me balance in life. This song shows not only the depth of their songwriting and music ability, but shows the good natured innocence of the Beatles when they are practicing their art. In a way, the wild nature and comedic approach to "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" is very much not a jam, nor a spontaneous occasion. John approached Paul with this very idea of a song with many sections using "you know my name, look up the number" as the only lyrics to the song. The genius in the idea and performance makes this composition stand as one of rock's greatest hidden symphonies.