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.
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