If you were to believe the media reports of the day, then you’d be pretty sure that The Rolling Stones and The Beatles shared an acrimonious position as Britain’s leading lights in pop music. The Fab Four and the Stones were the top of the tree when it came to selling singles and peddling a new style of pop music, and this often meant that they were pitted against one another — rivalries were invented and battle lines drawn in the imaginary sand. The truth is, the two bands were actually quite civil to one another, especially during their heyday.
In fact, it’s a little known secret that George Harrison helped to get The Rolling Stones their first-ever contract. The songwriting powerhouse of Lennon-McCartney also gave the Stones their first hit when they sold them a track they had written titled ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. Later in the decade, Lennon and the Stones guitarist Keith Richards would even share a kaleidoscopic trip together, all the way to Lyme Regis. As you can plainly tell, the idea of any fierce rivalry bubbling between the bands was pure fabrication or, better yet, clever marketing. The Beatles even invited one of The Rolling Stones into their safe space; the studio.
Not many people were invited into the inner sanctum of The Beatles studio space at the height of their fame. The band were so enveloped by the idea of making music that including too many hangers-on into their daily routine recording songs would upset the balance. However, in 1967 with a brand new song ready to record, the group had welcomed The Rolling Stones founder and guitarist, Brian Jones, to sit in on the session. There’s perhaps no better vision of the British music scene at the time than this.
The Beatles were turning their attention away from traditional pop and even moving on from the “philosorock” they had begun to cherish and were starting to loosen up a bit, introducing psychedelia to their sound. It meant their music was becoming more and more experimental: “John had arrived one night with this song which was basically a mantra: ‘You know my name, look up the number’,” recalled McCartney when speaking with Barry Miles for his biography Many Years From Now. “And I never knew who he was aiming that at; it might have been an early signal to Yoko.
“It was John’s original idea, and that was the complete lyric. He brought it in originally as a 15-minute chant when he was in space-cadet mode, 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’.” It was the exact ethos that had seen the grou[p become the biggest band on the planet, and so they dived in.
Later, Lennon recalled the song as a bit of a joke, referring to the London telephone directory of the time: “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. 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 of it,” then as a final caveat t the song, Lennon revealed, “Brian Jones is playing saxophone on it.”
As well as once calling the song his “favourite Beatles track,” McCartney revealed the major impact of having Brian Jones perform on the song, sharing the exciting moment the late great Jones entered the studio. “He arrived at Abbey Road in his big Afghan coat,” remembered McCartney, noting that even the Stones founding member felt some butterflies when beginning a recording session with the Fab Four. “He was always nervous, a little insecure, and he was really nervous that night because he’s walking in on a Beatles session. He was nervous to the point of shaking, lighting ciggy after ciggy.
“I used to like Brian a lot,” continued McCartney reflecting on the loss of the late musician. “I thought it would be a fun idea to have him, and I naturally thought he’d bring a guitar along to a Beatles session and maybe chug along and do some nice rhythm guitar or a little bit of electric twelve-string or something, but to our surprise he brought his saxophone. He opened up his sax case and started putting a reed in and warming up, playing a little bit. He was a really ropey sax player, so I thought, Ah-hah. We’ve got just the tune.”
The song, of course, would be ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ and although it wouldn’t be released until three years later, sadly after Brian Jones mysteriously died, it has since become a classic in their canon.