One of the strangest songs in The Beatles’ entire canon, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ was originally recorded in 1967, but remained unreleased until the ‘Let It Be’ single three years later.

A multi-part song containing a nightclub cabaret pastiche and a host of silly voices and effects, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ was recorded in the weeks following the completion of the Sgt Pepper album.

By this time The Beatles had lost some of their focus, and were experimenting with a number of songwriting and recording techniques.

John had arrived one night with this song which was basically a mantra: ‘You know my name, look up the number.’ 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’.

In fact, the song was inspired by a slogan on the front of the London telephone directory for 1967, which Lennon had seen at McCartney’s house.

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. Brian Jones is playing saxophone on it.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In 1988 Paul McCartney, somewhat unexpectedly, named ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ as his favourite song by The Beatles.

People are only just discovering the b-sides of Beatles singles. They’re only just discovering things like ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ – probably my favourite Beatles track, just because it’s so insane. All the memories…
Paul McCartney
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Structurally, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ consists of five separate parts. The first was the most conventional, consisting of the song’s title chanted by Lennon and McCartney, with a prominent piano backing.

Part two, which was later edited out at Lennon’s behest, repeated the mantra to a ska backing. This was restored in 1996 in a new stereo mix prepared for Anthology 2.

The third part was the nightclub section, introduced by Lennon with the words, “Good evening and welcome to Slaggers. Featuring Denis O’Bell”.

O’Bell was a fictional lounge singer character played by McCartney. The name was similar to film producer Denis O’Dell, who had worked on A Hard Day’s Night and with Lennon on How I Won The War.

O’Dell later produced Magical Mystery Tour and became the head of Apple Films. Following the song’s release in 1970, he received a spate of phone calls from Beatles fans who took the song’s invitation literally.

There were so many of them my wife started going out of her mind. Neither of us knew why this was suddenly happening. Then I happened to be in one Sunday and picked up the phone myself. It was someone on LSD calling from a candle-making factory in Philadelphia and they just kept saying, ‘We know your name and now we’ve got your number’.

It was only through talking to the person that I established what it was all about. Then Ringo, who I’d worked with on the film The Magic Christian, played me the track and I realised why I’d been getting all these mysterious phone calls.

Denis O’Dell
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

The song’s fourth part – actually recorded as part five, as the sections were later edited in a different order – was a Monty Pythonesque swing version, containing cuckoo sounds, harmonica, bongos, piano, other effects from the Abbey Road collection, and some supremely silly voices.

The final section was another piano-led jazz version, with a vibraphone part and a series of incomprehensible vocal mutterings. It also featured a saxophone solo performed by The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, whom McCartney invited to the session.

He arrived at Abbey Road in his big Afghan coat. 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. 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 chung 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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

The Beatles began recording ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ on 17 May 1967. they recorded the backing track for part one in 14 takes, along with a number of rehearsals. The best of these was take 10, which featured guitars, bass, drums, handclaps and bongos.

They returned to take nine of the song on 7 June, adding a number of overdubs. They then recorded five takes lasting a total of 20 minutes. The instrumentation was flute, electric guitar, drums, organ and tambourine, and the music was little more than an unstructured jam.

Part two was recorded on the following evening, and was completed in 12 takes. Four attempts at part three followed; six of part four; and finally a single take of part five. This was the session which Brian Jones attended.

The song was edited on 9 June, and rough mono mixes were made. The song was then left dormant until 30 April 1969, when John Lennon and Paul McCartney oversaw the addition of all the vocals and more sound effects.

John and Paul weren’t always getting on that well at this time, but for that song they went onto the studio floor and sang together around one microphone. Even at that 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.
Nick Webb, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Among the sound effects were handclaps, bizarre voices, and The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans running a spade through gravel.

We had these endless, crazy fun sessions. And eventually we pulled it all together… and we just did a skit, Mal and his gravel. I can still see Mal digging the gravel. And it was just so hilarious to put that record together. It’s not a great melody or anything, it’s just unique.
Paul McCartney, 1988
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

On 26 November 1969 John Lennon edited the song from 6’08” to 4’19”, with the intention of releasing it as a Plastic Ono Band single, with ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’ on the b-side. The idea was vetoed by the other Beatles, and ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’ eventually saw light of day in March 1970 as the b-side to ‘Let It Be’.

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