The Beatles Song That Spanned Entire Eras Of The Band

It took almost four years to finish...

The Beatles helped revolutionise the way pop acts utilised the studio. The band’s quick-fire debut album ‘Please Please Me’ was famously completed in a matter of hours – by the time of ‘A Day In The Life’, the Fab Four would spend entire weeks on a single tracks. One song, however, went further – and spanned entire eras of their creative lives.

Released as the B-side of ‘Let It Be’ – their final UK single, and penultimate American single – ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ is a jaunty music hall pastiche that epitomises The Beatles’ offbeat, surrealist sense of humour. It also stands as evidence both of their fastidious nature in the studio, and the ruptures during their final years together, taking some four years to perfect.

John Lennon initially sketched out the song during writing sessions in the Spring of 1967 – a hugely productive time for the songwriter, with LSD helping to unblock his pen. In one interview, he recalled how the title came to him after glancing through a nearby phonebook.

That was a piece of unfinished music that I turned into a comedy record with Paul. I was waiting for him in his house, and I saw the phone book was on the piano with ‘You know the name, look up the number.’ That was like a logo, and I just changed it.

The song was initially recorded in the summer of 1967, with all four Beatles in attendance – curiously, a passing Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones loaned the song a saxophone solo.

Left on the shelf, it was dug out in 1969 with the atmosphere amongst the Fab Four famously frosty. Putting aside their differences, John Lennon and Paul McCartney completed the song, the latter adding some lyrical flourishes and further comic asides.

Nick Webb was second engineer at this session, later telling Beatles academic Mark Lewisohn:

John and Paul weren’t always getting along that well at this time, but for this song they went out on the studio floor and sang together around one microphone. Even at this time I was thinking ‘What are they doing with this old four-track tape, recording these funny bits onto this quaint song?’ But it was a fun track to do.

George Harrison and Ringo Starr weren’t present for this session – a sign of the times, with the band more frequently opting to record separately.

For all the rancour of the times, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ seemed to tap into the humour that bonded Lennon & McCartney – the latter even told Lewisohn that it was “my favourite Beatles track”.

Which that accolade might change from day to day, the song holds a special place in Paul McCartney’s heart:

…it’s so insane. All the memories … I mean, what would you do if a guy like John Lennon turned up at the studio and said, ‘I’ve got a new song’. I said, ‘What’s the words?’ and he replied ‘You know my name look up the number’. I asked, ‘What’s the rest of it?’ ‘No, no other words, those are the words. And I want to do it like a mantra!’

So, revisit the song below:

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