The Beatles, “You Know My Name” from ‘Past Masters’ (1970): Deep Beatles

Since I began writing “Deep Beatles,” readers have challenged me to write about “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” one of the strangest tracks in the Beatles catalog. Never one to back down from a dare, I gladly accept the challenge! While the song can be dismissed as a throwaway or novelty, its roots can be traced back to music hall as well as the flourishing 1960s British comedy landscape. In addition, it was almost released not as a Beatles single, but as a Plastic Ono Band track.The majority of “You Know My Name” was recorded just after the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The Beatles were in a highly experimental mood musically and technically, with the recording studio becoming their artistic playground. According to Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now, John Lennon arrived at the recording studio chanting a kind of mantra: “You know my name, look up the number.” Paul McCartney told Miles that he thought the statement may have been aimed at Yoko Ono, but Lennon never verified that. “He brought it in originally as a 15-minute chant when he was in space-cadet mode,” McCartney remembered, “and we said, ‘Well, what are we going to do with this then?’ and he said, ‘It’s just like a mantra.’ So we said, ‘Okay, let’s just do it.’”

In his 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon agreed that the song was meant to be humorous, but did not suggest an Ono connection. “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 the words, ‘You know the name, look up the number.’ It was like a logo, and I just changed it. It was going to be a Four Tops kind of song – the chord changes are like that – but it never developed and we made a joke out of it.” [ . . . ]

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