Hear now: Beatles vocals-only tracks highlight harmonies, passion

The Beatles perform "Your Mother Should Know" for the Magical Mystery Tour film finale.
The Beatles perform “Your Mother Should Know” for the Magical Mystery Tour film finale.
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Just when you thought it wasn’t possible to experience the Beatles’ work with fresh ears, there arrives a reminder of their power, focus and vocal skill.

As the fantastic website Dangerous Minds pointed out, a trove of a cappela recordings are floating around YouTube, featuring the voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in perfect harmony. The best of them further reveal the untapped riches still to be discovered in the Beatles archives.

A stumble on one of them can often lead into a YouTube wormhole in search of more gems, and sure enough, the bounty reveals music perfect for afternoon surprise. Whether the eerie Moog synthesizer that roams “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” Lennon’s melancholy vocal for “A Day in the Life” or his blissful lead, and yawn, in “I’m Only Sleeping,” exploring the crannies of the Beatles’ work is worth the time.

PHOTOS: The Early Beatles Collection


Whole volumes could be filled with the various takes, tracks and experiments that went into the making of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” for example. In fact, bootlegs of the multi-tracks offer stunning glimpses into the various approaches and sounds the band and their expert producer, George Martin, crafted. Whether they’d ever see official release is up to the estate.

But historically, they’re fascinating. For example, here’s the arrangement for “Strawberry Fields,” minus vocals, below.


Or the isolated vocal tracks for the second side of “Abbey Road.” (Before you click, understand that it’s over 16 minutes long, and it will be virtually impossible to abandon it once you start listening.) Words don’t do justice.


The band had long perfected those collaborative vocals, the result of hard nights in Hamburg and extended sessions with Martin. The proof is within the isolated tracks for “In My Life,” from “Rubber Soul.” Featuring Lennon leading the way, the group croons along confidently, with obvious debt to the Beach Boys.


Lennon’s vocal for “Don’t Let Me Down” is far less harmonious, a scream of hope and desire nearly animalistic in its expression. As the blog Open Culture noted, “The Beatles were in the process of breaking apart when Lennon wrote the song. It was a dark time in many ways, and he was becoming more and more dependent upon Ono for personal and creative support.”


Paul McCartney’s wail from “Helter Skelter” hits a level of intensity that he has seldom matched -- no wonder Charles Manson mistranslated the song’s meaning. It’s a dangerous work. Stripped of the hard guitars and Ringo’s pound, the intensity remains.


One of the unsung gems in the Beatles catalog is “And Your Bird Can Sing.” The song wasn’t even originally included on the American version of “Revolver,” but the dueling guitars as isolated below reveal a seamless lock between Harrison and Lennon. (Right, Beatlemaniacs? Is that Lennon teaming with George on guitar?)


Oh, and that Moog from “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is really cool, especially coupled only with the guitar line.

Want to find more? Just search on “Beatles” and “isolated” on YouTube.


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