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Credit: Rosario Lopez

Music

Frank Black of Pixies names his favourite Beatles song

@SamWKemp

It says a lot about the strength of Frank Black’s songwriting that Kurt Cobain once described Nirvana’s 1991 hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as a Pixies rip-off. Formed in 1986 in Boston, Massachusetts, Pixies managed to blend the anthemic hookiness of classic pop songwriting with a distinctly left-field sensibility – bringing the lo-fi grit of The Velvet Underground kicking and screaming into the golden age of alternative music, while harking back to a time when songs stuck to the brain like pink bubblegum on a city pavement. It’s no wonder, then, that Frank Black has always had something of a penchant for The Beatles’ more wayward musical offerings.

“The fact that the Pixies covered ‘Wild Honey Pie’ sheds a little bit
of light on the obscure, quirkier tracks that get overlooked,” Black recalled in a 2009 interview. “They have a lot of beauty and emotional strength in them, even if they seem throwaway. That minimalism is something I appreciate. ‘YouKnow My Name’… is an example of that.”

Originally recorded in 1967, it wouldn’t be until the release of The Beatles‘ final album, Let It Be, that ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ would reach listeners. Featuring a host of spoof characters and ridiculous voices, it’s unsurprising that this particular track was recorded following the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s – perhaps the most surreal and theatrical of all The Beatles’ releases. “I love how it’s very British in its humour – Americans would say Pythonesque,” Black continued.

Much of that humour is due to the song’s jocular origins. As John Lennon recalled, the track “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. Brian Jones is playing saxophone on it.”

For Black, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ is also an example of Paul McCartney at his very best: “It’s also got this soulful, Ray Charles-like walk, which I think is courtesy of McCartney — the much-dissed Beatle, Black added.

“I love all the Beatles equally, but I have to give two thumbs-up to Paul. He gets a lot of criticism for being a little uptight, a little white, or too soft, but he’s presented just as much of the tougher side of the Beatles as John. Listen to Helter Skelter and tell me that Paul is the softie of the
band.”

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