Ringo Starr- “The most momentous moment- that we had a record out, that we had a bit of plastic with us on it. My God, a record that you hadn’t made in some booth somewhere…. You don’t believe how great that was!”
60 years ago the Beatles released their very first single, “Love Me Do”, and the world was never the same. More pertinent, the release of this song changed the music industry in dramatic ways, ushering in the great era of the self-contained band. “Love Me Do” proved that acts can successfully sing and play their own written and recorded compositions. Up to this point, no artist had successfully attempted this simple, but direct, strategy before.
Written by Paul McCartney with help from John Lennon, the Beatles had initially recorded “Love Me Do” in June of 1962, as part of their “try-out” session with their new recording boss, producer George Martin. Three historic elements came out of the session:
- Martin was disappointed with their performance and conveyed his views that drummer Pete Best didn’t have the chops to be a recording drummer (leading to his dismissal two months later).
- Martin picked up on the Beatle’s special personalities and although he was not sure of their abilities to become successful recording artists, he fell in love with their charm and saw why they had a following in their home city of Liverpool- “I did think they had enormous talent, but it wasn’t their music, it was their charisma. In fact, when I was with them, they gave me a sense of well-being, of being happy.”
- Martin planned to have them back for a second session, one in which he would push for the band to record a selected pop song written by a professional songwriter, rather than their self-penned materials- “I was looking for a hit song and didn’t think we had it in “Love Me Do”. I didn’t think the Beatles had any song of any worth.”
Naturally, as a producer, George Martin was exercising what was the standard process for recording popular music up to that point in time. Most pop acts were selected by talent scouts or recording executives (usually being young and good-looking was the first qualification). They tended to be single singers like Adam Faith, Cliff Richards, and of course, Elvis. These acts would be coached to carry the tune that was selected for him/her to record. The song would be written by a professional songwriter, and its arrangement developed by the producer. The recorded instrumentation would be performed by professional session musicians. Even the artwork for the record sleeve of the 45rpm disk would be determined by the recording company.
With their penchant for the unconventional, this standard recording approach would be blown up by the Beatles, starting with “Love Me Do.” They were initially handed the trite song, “How Do You Do It”, and asked to record it. The band (in particular, John) would beg, cajole, and take a stand for their abilities in writing and performing their own material. George Martin would eventually take their requests seriously. John would reflect years later, “They forced us to do a version of ‘How Do You Do It’. We wouldn’t let ‘em put it out. We said, ‘We’d sooner have no contract than to put that crap out’-all the tantrums bit. We thought it was rubbish compared with ‘love, love me do’. We thought ours had more meaning.” “How Do You Do It” went on to be a #1 hit for the fellow Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers.
By the time the Beatles returned to Abbey Road studios in September, they had a new drummer named Ringo Starr in tow along with a new song, called “Please Please Me” (which would eventually become their first tune to go to #1). But first, they needed to finish the business of “Love Me Do.”
Never a big fan of the tune, George Martin made sure this would be a solidly played session by hiring a professional drummer, Andy White to record with the other three Beatles (White would later immigrate to live in Caldwell NJ in the late 80s and live there until his passing in 2015). This left poor Ringo, who was a member of the Beatles for just a few weeks, relegated to playing the tambourine on the track that ended up on the album version of the song. The good news for Ringo was that he was indeed the drummer for the track that ended up as the single.
The session would conclude with the Beatles creating the first real single to be fully self-performed and self-penned, thus becoming the first performers to present themselves as a self-contained unit. Going forward, all pop/rock acts would be called upon to play, sing, write, arrange, and develop their own public image for the next six decades. Indeed, the Beatles did it all first. (Additional factoid- “Love Me Do” was published as a McCARTNEY/LENNON composition, but the EMI disk printers made a mistake with everlasting implications, thus this record would be credited as LENNON/McCARTNEY, a practice never changed going forward).
So, what was the fate of the “Love Me Do” single? This mid-tempo blues tune, (played with only acoustic guitars) whose main hook was a harmonica theme played by John Lennon, had the odds stacked against it. History shows that the big four UK record labels of the early 60s (EMI, Decca, Pye, and Philips) on average, would release 128 singles a week in hopes that something would stick in the listener’s ears and sell enough to make money. How would “Love Me Do” get played on the radio or even get noticed enough so that the record would not drown in the sea of new materials?
The Beatles had one inside advantage going for them- the band was truly developed from the grassroots. They were not contrived or “discovered’ by a fast-talking entertainment scout, as was the conventional way of talent development. Rather, the Beatles had been playing the long nights in various venues in Liverpool since 1958. This hard work paid off, as they became the first act in UK history to already have a big following BEFORE their first record was released.
Therefore, once the fans in their hometown city of Liverpool were notified that the Beatles had a record out, they bought the single in droves. This bounced “Love Me Do” into the top 50 upon the first week of its release. The single would soon go national and climb to its high point of #17. “Love Me Do”– the little song that could- stayed on the charts for an unheard of 18 weeks, just long enough to meet up with the Beatle’s next release, the blockbuster “Please Please Me,” in the early months of 1963.
This lofty level of record sales created a lot of rumors and accusations that their manager Brian Epstein, (through the buying power of his several record shops in the northern province), was mass buying units of “Love Me Do” to impact the song’s chart position. History has shown there is little-to-no evidence of such a strategy by Epstein. It is far more plausible that the rabid fans in their home city were buying multiple copies of the record…some purchasers have subsequently been interviewed over the years to claim that they didn’t even own a record player at the time. It didn’t matter, to have and own a Beatles recording was the point.
Although the industry didn’t know it then, the release of “Love Me Do” stands as a tectonic shift in popular music’s development and approach. The music world owes a lot more to the Beatles than just thanks for their great tunes; they also created a platform for others to expand the boundaries of creative art.
Thank you for not referring to Paul McCartney as “Macca.” 🙂
Aren’t you forgetting the Beach Boys, who by the time of “Love Me Do” had already had a hit with :Surfin’ Safari?”
And the Crickets before them.
Yes, interesting point, thanks…. but I would argue that the members of the Beach Boys were quite “controlled” by the record people until the Pet Sound era….especially in the production. …and if those stripped shirts they wore were any indication, they were certainly being “managed” by others…but its a close call.
Oh, sorry, as for Buddy Holly, he was a single player with a back up band…. no any different from Chuck Berry in a way… this was the launch of the self constrained band with no leader, per se….
My comment was specifically about bands writing/performing their own material (I tried to copy text from your article, but for some reason it did not make it to the post…hence the <> at the top of my comment…The excerpt I intended to copy was supposed to be seen there,). And to that end I still say The Beach Boys beat the Beatles to it. The 1962 Beach Boys were a self-contained band writing and recording their own songs, Their first album, which came out just before “Love Me Do,” was mostly originals. If the striped shirts are a sign of them being “managed” then so are the matching suits the Beatles wore. (Incidentally, in 1962 the Beach Boys weren’t in the striped shirts yet. They instead wore matching Pendleton shirts,..which was **their** idea.).But as far as their records in 1962, it was pretty much the five BB’s going in and being allowed to do what they do.
“Surfing’ Safari” was both written and performed by members of the band. Whatever outside advice/direction they were getting, that’s still a self-contained effort by any reasonable measure.
A great article, but the Beach Boys were truly self-contained…Brian composed the songs, wrote with different lyricists, but he arranged and produced as well. The Beatles had the great Sir George Martin. So if we’re talking really self-contained musically, it’s the Beach Boys. As to the remark about striped shirts, etc., the Beatles were in leather before Brian Epstein told them that if they wanted to get bigger, they would need suits.
NICE SUMMATION OF THE BEATLES EARLY DAYS.
Thank you for your kinds words-SV
McCartney told friends back then about The Beatles having to buy enough copies to get it in the top 20 . Thats a bit far from rumor . Same thing Elton John did for Lennons Whatever Gets You Through The Night to get it number 1 . It was a pretty common practice actually , Not some dastardly deed in need of deep deep cover ups lol . Also , How Do You Do It isnt that bad a song . Is Thank You Girl or You Like Me Too Much really that much better? When I write I spew my own vitriol , not borrowed rage from some crappy book somewhere .
That would take a lot of friends buying a lot of records. Maybe that would be more feasible today. How Do You Do It was a great pop single for Gerry and the Pacemakers (as was the followup I LIke It) and a great #1, but the Beatles had more of a bluesy “edge” from the very beginning. .
Steve, these columns get increasingly rich in content. You pour yourself into them with so much love of the subject matter.
Hoagy Carmichael was a songwriter/pianist/singer from the mid 1920s on. He wrote some of the greatest American songs, including Stardust, Georgia on My Mind, Skylark, I Get Along Without You Very Well, and on I could go. He frequently appeared alone at the piano, but I have read a great deal about Hoagy, and when other musicians were in on it, I guarantee that the term, “uncompromising taskmaster” could be justifiably used to describe him.
The same paragraph as the previous one, with different songs mentioned and possibly the omission of the term, “uncompromising taskmaster,” could have been written about Fats Waller and his various sidemen ( he never had many ), and about Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn and their orchestras. It’s my impression that most of Woody Herman’s stuff came from within The Thindering Herd band. I’m sure I’m omitting people.
Look, I love The Beatles, and have since I was 11, in 1964, but these hagiographical attempts to present them as this Staggering New Thing in the history of music do not wear well, at all.
Thanks for your comments Bob, but the piece was about the birth of the self contained BAND, not artist … the Fabs were 4 parts of a unit with no “leader” (i.e Gerry and the Pacemakers) and for it’s time, that was new… the facts are, the industry changed from this point toward… think of all the self contained bands that came afterwards… we take it for granted now….enjoy! Thanks for reading with such interest. -SV
Great info in this article. Generally American Beatles fans thought Meet the Beatles was their 1st album. Most still do. Please Please Me album should be remastered & resold w advertising stating it created Beatlemania in ’63.
Yes, I remember the “Early Beatles” album which was a collection of various tracks that came from the UK albums and singles… it should have been call d “We’re Late Beatles”.. thanks for the comments -SV
“Guitar groups are on their way out” – Decca Records
Yes, Dick Rowe on the phone with Brian Epstein…. Thanks SV
Rowe also said something like: “ You have a nice (record store) business Mr. Epstein, you should stick with that”….. in which Epstein went out on the limb and stated- “They will be bigger than Elvis!”….. so, who was right?
What drivel! The Beatles were late to the game: Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, etc., etc. Hardly the first and hardly the best by any measure to write and record their own material.. Teenybopper pap at best! John and George did their best work after the B’s.
1. Cliff Richard – no “S”.
2. Please Please Me went to #2 in the Official UK Charts, but #1 on Melody Maker and others. From Me To You “ was their first official UK #1 at Easter 1963. I was there.
The Shadows were writing their own tunes back in 1960
Ian, that may be true, but they are a perfect example of what I am describing: Cliff wasn’t part of the writing nor the band’s creative make up… His selection of tunes did not come from inside (only occasionally, and most of them were instrumentals for the guitar section of the band)…they were not a band unit like we know the Beatles to be or all others to become. Thanks for writing- SV.
Great article! Despite being a Beatles fan since ’62, I continue to learn things about them each day from articles like yours, so thank you! The Beatles certainly broke the mold with writing and playing their own material, however the ever-hungry/greedy record companies continued to hire studio musicians and have songs written for many ’60s bands that were either “discovered” or created specifically to churn out hopeful hits, including Mersey bands that rode the Beatles coat-tails (Herman’s Hermits, the Searchers, etc.) and the US record companies got into the act with the Wrecking Crew backing up hundreds of hits over the years, then of course there’s Motown, etc.. But I take solace knowing that my favorite band, under immense pressure and despite their desire to go “to the top”, believed in their own writing and performing abilities enough to push the boundaries and convince the industry to change, and in turn, changed the direction of music and style forever.