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Friday, October 14, 2016

Ask Me Why

Even at the time of its release, Ask Me Why sounded like an old-fashioned song, a delightful throwback demonstrating the love the Beatles had for a broad array of popular music.  Yet the inspiration for principal composer John Lennon was actually What's So Good About Goodbye, a recent release by the Miracles on the American record label Tamla Motown.  Lennon wrote the song around April of 1962 with help from Paul, then taught it to George and Pete.

The group felt confident enough about the composition to perform it at their initial session at EMI's Abbey Road Studios on June 6th.  Only days later, on June 11th, they played it for BBC Radio before a live audience in Manchester, thus significantly making it their first original song to be broadcast.  Although it was not chosen to be recorded at the September sessions for their first single, it was still in contention when they reported to the studio on November 26th to record their second.  By this point, the band (now with Ringo in the lineup) had been playing the number in their live repertoire for months and so, after spending quite a bit of time working on the A-side Please Please Me, they perfected Ask Me Why in only six takes - live with no overdubs.

The song is a somewhat complex little crooner.  John's voice is a bit raw at times, yet he also has some lovely falsetto moments, and Paul and George alternate between joining him for some three-part harmonies or supplying backing vocals.  George's lead guitar is busy throughout providing some unobtrusive but beautiful fills while Ringo plays a Latin-flavored drum pattern also inspired by the Miracles' recording and probably not much different from the way Pete Best originally did it.

Before the record was even released, the boys played it at their final dates at the Star Club in Hamburg, West Germany.  The performance on December 31st was taped and has been widely available in various packages for many years.  Paul's bass is more prominent on the version I have, they play at a faster tempo, George's fills are less elegant and they repeat the entire second verse, which does not occur on the record.

After the single was released on January 11th, 1963, the song was played only sparingly as Lennon and McCartney's songwriting abilities rapidly developed and newer material gained favor.  The final performance was recorded on September 3rd, 1963 for their radio program Pop Go the Beatles and is available on On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.  This lovely rendition is on par with the original, though it is truncated, omitting the repeat of the bridge, and John holds out the word "mine" instead of the usual "mi-yi-yi-yi-yine," confirming that it had been some time since they had last visited the number. 

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