The Beatles’ Bluesiest tracks: Part 1
Most people don’t usually associate the Beatles with the blues. They’re not wrong to do so. Compared to their contemporaries, the Beatles never really had that much of bluesy sound, especially when you compare them to the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.
The closest they ever came to producing anything that resembled blues was usually playing covers of songs by Chuck Berry and Little Richard. However, that doesn’t mean that they were incapable of producing blues material, as demonstrated by this list of tracks.
“I’ve Got To Find My Baby”-Beatles: Live at the BBC (1994)
The Beatles were in the habit of adding covers of obscure B-sides and little known tracks into their sets in order to set themselves apart from other groups who relied exclusively on rock standards like “Johnny B. Goode” or “Blue Suede Shoes”.
Chuck Berry put out this track as a single in 1960. The song was originally written by Doctor Clayton in the early 1940s and was later covered by Little Walter in the late 1950s before Berry even thought to record it.
Although it failed to make the charts, that didn’t stop the Fab Four from adding it into their setlist in both the Cavern and in Hamburg. While listening to this version that they recorded for the BBC in the early ‘60s, you’ll notice that this is probably as far from their typical sounding material as you could get.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this song was being done by the Rolling Stones or the Yardbirds as George throws in some Hubert Sumlin-esque licks and John blows on the harmonica like a White Jimmy Reed.
“Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey”-Beatles For Sale (1964)
You couldn’t call yourself a band in the ‘60s unless you had this 12-bar standard in your repertoire. This track was written in the early 1950s by Leiber & Stoller, the only songwriting partnership in pop music that is arguably more famous than Lennon & McCartney.
It’s quite evident that the lads seem to be doing Little Richard’s version of the song as Paul is singing his head on lead and George and John follow on backing vocals.
While their cover was released their least impressive album,“Beatles For Sale”, that didn’t stop it from making the girls scream, as evidence by this 1964 performance on “Shindig”.
“For You Blue”-Let It Be (1970)
Blues purists may take offense to George Harrison’s remark “Elmore James got nothing on this baby”. Irregardless, this is a great deep cut off their final album.
George does lead vocals on this 12 bar jam as John plays lead guitar lap steel-style, using a cigarette lighter as a slide. Meanwhile, Paul plays Piano with paper in the muting the strings as Ringo supplies drums, per usual.
“Yer Blues”- The Beatles (AKA the White Album) (1968)
This song was the brain child of John Lennon, who got inspired to write a blues song while the Beatles were on retreat in India and was intending to mimic the sound of blues artists he heard while he was at Art School, such as Sleepy John Estes.
This track was quite a departure for Lennon due to it’s grungy, stripped-down nature as opposed to other Lennon penned tracks like “Strawberry Fields” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, both of which had a heavy emphasis on experimentation and studio tricks.
Lyrically, it’s probably one of the most profound tracks that Lennon wrote. It makes references to Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and mocks the British blues movement with the line “I feel so suicidal, I even hate my rock ‘n’ roll” and then transitions into a more uptempo beat giving Lennon, the Rhythm player, a rare chance at lead playing.
This was one of only two Beatles tracks that Lennon would play live in his solo career, once on the Rolling Stones ill-fated, never to be aired Rock ‘n’ Roll circus and once again with the Plastic Ono Band at the Rock ‘n’ Roll peace festival in Toronto in 1969. Both times, Eric Clapton traded licks with Lennon, effortlessly displaying his prowess at playing the blues.