Blogging the Beatles 2: ‘Love Me Do’/’P.S. I Love You’

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You”
Released: 5 October 1962

Hard to believe this song is fifty years old as of last Friday. The official debut of the Beatles–official meaning this was their first release on a major label (Parlophone) and the start of a long and interesting relationship with EMI. Recorded a month previous (September 4th, fifteen takes), this song has some interesting background: the most obvious reason for recording was for the boys to get their first single out after being signed. They’d had a tryout at Abbey Road Studios with producer George Martin a few months previous (6 June), but this September session was the real thing. This was also the first recording session with their new drummer, Ringo Starr, after booting Pete Best in mid-August. And lastly, this was also the session where Martin insisted that they record a cover. Well…the Beatles had learned their chops doing covers, but they’d written numerous songs themselves by then, and weren’t about to budge.

Cover songs were actually more profitable, and more successful, back in the fifties and early sixties, it was a surefire way to get a hit, especially if you’re a band that isn’t too well known outside your hometown. And the track, “How Do You Do It”, isn’t that bad of a song, to be honest. But you can definitely tell that the boys really weren’t that into it…John’s vocal delivery is strong but uninspired, and the rest of the band don’t seem to want to put much energy into it. The track was quickly shelved, lesson learned. They focused the rest of their time and energy on the other two songs slated for that day.

Side A: Love Me Do
This track is definitely indicative of the songs John and Paul wrote from around the Quarrymen days of the late 50s to their Hamburg days (this one apparently dates back to about 1958 or 1959). It’s a playful riff on the “moon in June” rhyme scheme they knew so well–so much, they had it down to an artform. There’s nothing more obvious than the “I love you/always be true” couplet. It could be a song you’d hear anywhere on the radio at the time. But less noted is how regional the song is. It’s almost a country song, a working-class sound in a way, with its steady but unassuming beat and John’s harmonica–it’s a riff you’d hear someone play while walking the docks in Liverpool. Their hometown was considered the boonies back in the day, well north of metropolitan London, and this “Mersey Sound” (as the locals termed it) gave them a unique edge. Also different from most songs at the time is the shared vocal–after all, this wasn’t John and the Beatles or Paul and the Beatles, but The Beatles…a group, not a lead singer and his backing band. Only when the “someone to love” middle eight comes in does it waver between Paul alone and Paul and John together, as well as Paul’s solo “love me do…” when John jumps in on the harmonica again.

This first single version is nowhere near as polished as it really should have been, really. Musically, it’s as tight as they could get at the time, but considering this was their first real session for an actual release, nerves are definitely to blame for its shakiness. Martin was apparently not too impressed with Ringo’s drumming on the track and hired session musician Andy White to fill in, demoting Ringo down to tambourine. There’s also the fact that Paul’s voice is clearly not as strong in the first version–he warbles during the middle eight and his “love me do…” sounds far from perfect. The second version is much tighter both in the music and vocals, and Paul gives a much braver delivery. After the first edition of the single, this second version took its place and also made its way onto the debut album.

Side B: P.S. I Love You

Honestly, you’d think this was a track from The Music Man or one of those musicals of the time that they were so fond of covering (such as “A Taste of Honey”, which they would soon record for their first album), given the complex melody of this song, but no…it’s one of Paul’s, and one he wrote during one of their stints in Hamburg. It’s an interestingly simple melody that utilizes some pretty complex chord changes. It’s also an epistolary song, another easy and winning songwriting trick at the time. Sort of inspired by the “letter” songs about a woman waiting at home, hoping her man would return, Paul writes this as himself being the man on the road, promising he’ll be home when he can. But it’s the amazing melody he wrote that elevates it from a simple love song to a gorgeous one. There’s no slow intro here…it starts off with the letter, pen already in hand, already writing. It’s a fast love song, played uptempo with a cha-cha beat, which makes the track feel romantic and hopeful, rather than wistful. Lastly, Paul does something unconventional by singing both the call and response parts of the last round of the main verse: “As I write this letter (Oh!)/Send my love to you (You know I want you to)/Remember that I’ll always (Yeah!)/Be in love with you…” There’s so much going on in this little song that in retrospect, it’s amazing that this was the b-side to their first single. It’s a lovely track and one of my favorites of their early recordings.

All in all, it’s not a bad debut. It’s not a phenomenal single at any stretch, and perhaps it’s a bit reminiscent of every other poppy love song out there at the time, but it was unique enough for people to take notice. It only hit #17 on the British charts, but for the boys, just getting on the charts at all was enough to excite them and aim even higher.

[More on these songs when I review the Please Please Me album.]

Next up: “Please Please Me”/”Ask Me Why” single

Blogging the Beatles 1: ‘My Bonnie’/’The Saints’

NOTE: Welcome to the first of many ‘Blogging the Beatles’ posts! I’ve been wanting to do this for some time now, considering I’ve been a fan of the band since I was a child. My aim is to go through all of the Beatles’ official music releases in the UK catalog, in chronological order. My approach to this series is going to be twofold: first, I’ll give some detail to the release, including any recording notes as well as what was going on in the world at the time, just to give the release some cultural background. Secondly I’ll give my own take on the release, any opinions and/or thoughts about it. Hope you enjoy this series!

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Single: “My Bonnie”/”The Saints”
Released: October 1961 (Germany), 5 January 1962 (UK)

Some background is in order:

The era was the summer of 1961, and popular music was evolving at an amazing rate. Only a few years before, Elvis was singing countrified blues and Bill Haley and His Comets were playing dancy swing. The popular music of the day spanned all kinds of disparate genres by the start of the sixties, from the soul of Motown, the jazz of Brubeck, the country of Patsy Cline, and the rebellious new “rock and roll” of The Shadows and more. And with the sudden influx of youngsters grooving to these new beats, the music labels knew a cash cow when they saw one.

At this time, it was still de rigeur to have a lead singer (preferably a pin-up of some sort) backed by a band, whether it was a solo singer backed by the ubiquitous Wrecking Crew, or Cliff Richard and his Shadows. It was a holdover from the jazz orchestra days when you had So-and-So and His Band filling the dance floors. This was especially exciting in post-WWII Europe, when everyone was just about sick of hiding in their houses and wanted to get out and have fun. The historic transport hub of Hamburg, Germany became a hotspot of youth activity, especially with art and music. After a few years of playing around Liverpool, The Beatles made their way to Hamburg for two stints at various music clubs in the red light district, with two aims: learn their chops, and get famous. You could most likely call this the Beatles’ “bar band” era, since in essence, that was what they were. They didn’t get famous, but they had a regional following and they stuck with their killer schedule, playing multiple shows a night.

During the first stint, they had met a solo singer/guitarist named Tony Sheridan, a fellow Liverpudlian who played nightly at various clubs and had set a name for himself in Germany as a mid-level rock crooner. They hung out, jammed, and occasionally even played on stage together, and in the summer of 1961 Sheridan had asked the band if they wanted to be his back-up band for some of his songs. Now, considering the band’s wishes for fame, how could they resist? They recorded a small handful of songs under the name “The Beat Brothers” which were soon released in October of that year. [Rumor states that the name change was warranted because “Beatles” in a German accent sounded like “peetles” which was apparently slang for a man’s naughty bits…but I’m more inclined to think that the label (Polydor) wanted a more generic yet still catchy name for the band to make Tony’s name stand out, which was a common label move.] The above two songs were selected as a lead single.

It sold reasonably well in Germany, and the oft-told story goes that someone brought a copy of this single into a small London record/hi-fi equipment shop hidden on the upper floor of a furniture store, handed it to its manager Brian Epstein, and the rest is history. It’s not often considered part of the official Beatles canon, but it is definitely their first released recording. It’s by no means an exciting debut, but it was enough to get them noticed by the locals and give them a step towards a professional level.

Side A: My Bonnie
The song itself is a typical rock interpretation of an old standard, of course. This was a common trick in the 50s and 60s, to “update” the sound of a well-known song so the kids would love it and even the older generation would enjoy it. Tony and the band start the track off in typical showbiz fashion as a slow ballad with harmonized vocals and some well-played guitar…then BAM! A repeated G7 chord swings it into high gear, and we’re off on a wild surf ride. Paul McCartney’s voice is obvious about a minute in, singing the high end, while John Lennon hits rather comedic vocal bass notes. The guitar work is tight but not mechanic, as you can hear both Tony and George Harrison hitting some Berryesque riffs every now and again. Pete Best, here being one of the very few songs he’d record with the band, keeps the beat strong but never gets overbearing. It’s a dirty, unkempt version of the song, and Tony warbles quite a few of the notes as if he couldn’t quite hit them, but that’s part of its charm–this is the Beatles as Bar Band, cutting loose and having a bit of fun in the studio.

Side B: The Saints
Another old standard–this one an old Christian hymn from Belgium–given the rock and roll treatment. Fats Domino did it first and Bill Haley had introduced their own swing versions, but Tony and the band give it their own interpretation as a rocker. It starts off as a quiet shuffle and slowly builds until you’re not sure if it’s a lively gospel song or if it wants to do the Twist. Again, this is very typical of the time–get a song everyone knows and remodel it in a way that will get the crowd out on the dance floor. This track isn’t quite as thrilling as ‘My Bonnie’ is, and a few of the other tracks the band worked on with Tony are much stronger, but it’s a good b-side nonetheless.

Personally, I could go either way with their Sheridan-era recordings, as they’re good for historical purposes, but nothing that would hint at greatness. They were still wet behind the ears here, learning what being a professional musician was about: hard work, long days and nights, bouts of loneliness and insanity, all at a level most would have not dreamed of nor wanted. But they were stubborn enough to want it, and persevered.

NEXT: the official debut single, ‘Love Me Do’/’PS I Love You’