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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Love Me Do b/w P.S. I Love You

First day in the studio - September 4, 1962
To paraphrase Tim Riley in his book Tell Me Why, it's difficult to imagine a more inauspicious debut than Love Me Do.  I daresay that nobody hearing this song for the first time in October of 1962 could have predicted that in less than a year these four young men would be the biggest act in the world.  John Lennon's Aunt Mimi, never one to mince words, flatly told him: "If you think you're going to make your fortune with that, you've got another think coming."

And yet, it is easy to imagine that nothing else on the radio sounded remotely like it.  The recording has a raw, stripped-down, bluesy feel to it, with John wailing away on his harmonica.  The lyrics are simple bordering on simplistic.  Rock and roll was not yet ten years old at this point, but it had already lost its edge.  The great early rockers who were the Beatles' heroes had given way to an array of slickly-produced teen crooners.  Though this song is not strictly rock and roll (the influence is more British skiffle than American R&B), the overall sound hearkens back to early rock more than anything else released at the time.  The Beatles were true to their root sources.

They were, however, lucky to get it recorded and released at all.  When they had auditioned for EMI's Parlophone label back on June 6th,  this was the song that made engineer Norman Smith perk up and send for producer George Martin, who had set up the session, but was not initially present.  It was not the Beatles' music that got them a recording contract on that day.  Martin and the staff were won over by their collective sense of humor and engaging personalities - with one exception.  Pete Best's sullen demeanor and uneven drumming did not serve him well in the producer's eyes, and manager Brian Epstein was duly informed of Martin's reservations.

When the group returned to the London studio on September 4th, Ringo Starr was behind the drum kit and George Harrison was sporting a black eye, courtesy of a scuffle with some unhappy Pete Best fans back in Liverpool.  The Beatles set about recording two songs for their debut disc on this day, the first being How Do You Do It, a slick pop number which Martin had provided for them.  This was standard practice at the time.  It was not the norm for recording artists, particularly new, untested ones, to write their own material.  And Martin, quite frankly, was not very impressed by what they had presented to him thus far. 

The Beatles do a creditable job on How Do You Do It - you can hear it on Anthology 1.  It's light, perky and perfectly harmless.  It would have blended in nicely with the music of the teen crooners I mentioned above.  And they probably would have had a very different career as a result.

But Lennon and McCartney were insistent on recording their own material, and so, after completing the first song, they launched into Love Me Do.  As simple as the song is, it took fifteen takes before it was done to everyone's satisfaction.

Well, not exactly everyone's.  Listening to the finished product after the session, George Martin was not happy with the result, but he was still willing to give the song a chance, so he set up another session a week later.  The Beatles returned to London on September 11th for another go at it.

To poor Ringo's chagrin, Martin had brought in a session drummer named Andy White to play with the group.  Apparently, Martin had already decided to shelve How Do You Do It by this point, because the first order of work on this day was to record another Lennon-McCartney number called P.S. I Love You.  White's work on this number is quite distinct from Ringo's style.  Listen to the tap, tap, taptaptap of his drumsticks along the rim of his snare.  The sound is filled out by Ringo on maracas.  The song itself has a brisk, pop feel to it.  It, too, would have made a fine A-side, but it would have given the public a very different perception of who the Beatles were right off the top.  In the end, it wound up being the B-side of the single.

Now, it was time to re-record Love Me Do.  It took eighteen takes on this day, and to my ears at least, Andy White's drumming is not significantly different from what Ringo had done a week earlier.  The tempo is the tiniest bit faster, but the performances by Paul, John and George are practically identical to the original recording.  Indeed, the only way most people can distinguish one version from the other is by the fact that Ringo plays tambourine on version two.

Ultimately, George Martin himself must have realized that the differences were minimal, because he chose the September 4th version for the single.  However, when the song was added to their first album, he opted for the Andy White version.

And how did the single fare in the charts?  It peaked at number 17 in the UK, not a bad showing for a debut by a group from up north that most Britons had never heard of before.  The fact that Brian Epstein bought up 10,000 copies for his NEMS record shop in Liverpool didn't hurt matters, either.

Epstein could not find an American label willing to take a chance on an unknown act from England, not even EMI-owned Capitol Records.  No British act had ever done well in the States before and there was no reason to believe that that was about to change.  The songs were released several months later with no fanfare on the VeeJay album Introducing the Beatles, which promptly went nowhere.

A year and a half after the original recording sessions, when the Beatles had finally hit it big in America, the single was released on Tollie Records.  It must have already sounded quaint and unsophisticated when compared to their most recent release Can't Buy Me Love.  But so insatiable was the appetite of the American public for anything by the Fab Four that it achieved the feat it had failed to do in the UK - it went to #1.  It was, in fact, already the fourth #1 for the Beatles in the US.

Not too shabby, that.






1 comment:

  1. Great blog, cannot wait for the next chapter :>

    ReplyDelete