“Love Me Do” was the first single released by The Beatles, released on 5 October 1962, backed by “P.S. I Love You”. It peaked at #17 on the UK charts, and would be #1 in the U.S. when it was released in 1964, after Beatlemania was in full swing.
The song, written in 1958-1959, mainly by Paul during a day he skipped school, then finished by Paul and John, has about as rich a recording history as any Beatles track. It was first recorded 6 June 1962, with Pete Best on drums. This version would not be heard until 1995, when Anthology 1 was released. The Beatles came to London from Liverpool, rehearsing six songs, including “Please Please Me”, but this wouldn’t be recorded as the arrangement wasn’t settled yet. They would also record a cover, “How Do You Do It?”, as producer George Martin had yet to see convincing evidence that they could write hit singles on their own, and so was following standard practice of the time of using available songs by other professional songwriters. It’s not surprising that the song went unreleased for so long, as it’s a pretty poor version. Best’s drumming is very plodding, and McCartney, assigned the lead vocal for the song for the first time, as Martin felt Lennon couldn’t segue between singing and playing harmonica smoothly enough for record, sounds flat in spots.
Stories differ, but it was felt that Pete Best wasn’t cutting it, and so on 4 September, the song was remade with Ringo Starr on drums. This would be the version used in first pressings of the single, although Martin (and McCartney) weren’t terribly impressed with Starr’s drumming, probably due to his being underrehearsed. So one week later, on 11 September 1962, Ron Richards, in charge of the session in Martin’s absence, brought in session drummer Andy White, whom he’d hired in the past, and the “final” version was recorded. This would be the one used in most pressings of the single, and on their album debut, Please Please Me, no doubt to Ringo’s chagrin. As Starr was officially part of the group by this time, he was present during the session with White, and actually played tambourine on the track, though it’s hard to make it out. So, yes, Ringo is actually on any single version of the song, but not necessarily on drums.
The song remains a classic and it’s a great early example of Lennon and McCartney synthesizing their influences into something fresh and new. The rhythm has that old skiffle sound, while Lennon’s chromatic harmonica parts show his admiration for Bruce Channel’s hit of the time, “Hey Baby”. As to whether the Starr or White version is superior, it’s a matter of preference. The White version has probably more inventive and aggressive harmonica playing by Lennon, while the Starr version has somewhat livelier Lennon/McCartney harmonizing, bouncier and louder drumming, and that classic splash cymbal after Lennon’s last harmonica solo.
The Beatles have never been above a little history maintenance, and so the remastered Please Please Me contains the Starr version of the song, as it probably always should have. One can also find a live-in-the-studio version with Starr recorded 10 July 1963 on the Live at the BBC album, and the band would revisit the song in a slower, bluesier arrangement during the Get Back sessions, though that take has not been released.
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The Beatles would perform and record this song several times; however this ’40s hit written by Consuelo Velazquez would never make it onto any of their studio albums. It’s basically a novelty song, a rare Spanish language U.S. hit, although The Beatles always performed it with English lyrics different from those written by Velazquez.
Paul sings this one. Although they would record it slightly earlier, for their Decca audition, and near the end, during the Get Back sessions, the only officially released version is featured on Anthology 1, taken from their audition for EMI. Again, it’s a novelty song, a sincere love song written by a fifteen-year-old girl who had actually never been kissed when she wrote it (“became mucho” means “kiss me a lot”), but The Beatles play it tongue-in-cheek, with Paul capping off each verse with a bouncy “cha-cha-boom!”
(Next time: a song even the casual Beatles fan actually knows)
Yes, another song recorded for The Beatles’ 1962 Decca audition tape. We’re almost done with those. Just like Paul McCartney wrote “Like Dreamers Do” on his own before his songwriting partnership with John Lennon began in earnest, “Hello Little Girl” is one Lennon came up with on his own. There exists a bootleg home recording of this one, with Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, but the Decca version is the one now known best, due to its appearance on Anthology 1.
The song is extremely slight, a string of redundant lines about seeing the little girl, thinking about the little girl, thinking about seeing the little girl, etc. Worse, it lacks a strong riff or other hook. It’s just another of The Beatles’ early tries at songwriting, a stepping stone. And because of their meteoric fame just a year or so later, it’s a song they were able to get some cash from even as they left it behind, with another Brian Epstein-managed band, The Fourmost, covering it in September, 1963. Three months later, they recorded another Lennon-McCartney composition, “I’m In Love” (which The Beatles never recorded). Although these represent some of the earliest Lennon-McCartney songs to reach the U.S., none of The Fourmost’s songs ever charted there, and neither single reached the Top 20 in the U.K.
Another song from The Beatles’ unsuccessful 1962 Decca audition tape, “Like Dreamers Do” is credited to Lennon-McCartney but actually written by McCartney in 1957. Although the choppy opening chords give it some energy, McCartney’s later opinion of the song as a throwaway isn’t far off. Not a musician myself, I can at least recognize that the chord choice at the end of the line from the title doesn’t really work. McCartney also sounds winded on his vocal.
As would often happen with Lennon-McCartney songs they weren’t that fond of, The Beatles gave this one to flashes-in-the-pan The Applejacks, who reached the UK Top 20 singles chart with it in 1964.
We have a first for this little project of mine: this will be the first review to discuss two different versions of a Beatles song. This will happen more often as we get into the various alternate takes and versions appearing on the Anthology sets, live versions vs. studio versions, stereo vs. mono mixes, and things like Let It Be vs. Let It Be…Naked.
“Ain’t She Sweet” is the final song from Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers to be discussed. As mentioned, I understand there may have been some other Sheridan tracks where the Beatles backed him up, but nobody seems to be exactly sure which of those they actually played on and which had other musicians. We’re only really sure about “The Saints”, “My Bonnie”, “Cry for a Shadow” and “Ain’t She Sweet”, and maybe “Why”, with both Lennon and Sheridan claiming several other tracks were recorded but have never turned up, and the remaining tracks in existence either featuring other musicians or perhaps only one or two Beatles on them, as the contract only required all four members for two songs minimum.
The Sheridan version of “Ain’t She Sweet” is a brisk, Lennon-sung take on the 1927 Milton Ager/Jack Yellen standard, a song I remember my grandfather singing sometimes when I was a kid. Lennon’s got a great raspy vocal here, with a nice bit of echo, and the band is tight and aggressive, just about at the skill level they would bring to their first album. George’s guitar solos still quite primitive and a little hesitant here, but it gets the job done. The Best and McCartney rhythm section hold it down really well.
The second version dates from a 1969 jam session at Abbey Road Studios, this time obviously featuring Ringo Starr on drums rather than long-departed Pete Best. It’s from 1995’s Anthology 3 and without a doubt was never seriously considered for release except for this collection of rarities long after the band was kaput. For one thing, Lennon’s voice is shot, which makes listening to the track almost as painful as the results of his famed screaming contest that nearly ruined pal Harry Nilsson’s career. Also, the band, who were heading towards their breakup, don’t play very seriously here. It sounds like an easy number someone suggested to get them warmed up and ready for the real business of recording tracks for their final album (in terms of recording chronology, not release), Abbey Road. One of my least favorite Beatle tracks, actually, due to that vocal. Warts-and-all is usually fine when one loves a band so much, and when they have done so much to prove their worth, but this was a version that should really have been left in the vault or confined to bootlegs, not an official release.
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Another song from the band’s unsuccessful Decca audition. Written in 1921 by Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder, this Tin Pan Alley hit might be the oldest song The Beatles ever recorded. It was officially unreleased until 1995’s Antholoy 1. George Harrison takes lead vocal on this, which, to be honest, is a good indication of the band’s relative lack of interest in the song. Oh, they play it well enough, but it sounds like just another song mastered so that their drunk Cavern fans could dance, with an energetic but flat Harrison vocal. The only real bit of charm are Paul and John’s overloud, exaggerated “Ah ha” interjections, which sound more like, “Nyah-Ha!”. It’s nice that, even when recording an auction for a possible recording contract, the band can’t help but interject some insouciance into their performance.
Another track performed for the famous Decca audition in 1962, in which The Beatles were rejected, “Three Cool Cats” is, like “Searchin’” from the same session, a Lieber/Stoller composition, this one from 1958. And it was also a Coasters song, the b-side to their enduring “Charlie Brown”. Like “Charlie Brown”, “Yakety Yak” and dozens of others, Lieber/Stoller used humor in “Three Cool Cats”, and the young, playful Beatles make the most of it here. George sings, “I want that middle chick”, followed by Paul howling, “I want that little chick!”, and then John affects a Latin accent on, “Hey man, save one chick for me!”. Another part of the charm of the recording is how upfront the vocals are. It’s closer to the raw, live Beatles rather than the more polished studio efforts.
After their road manager Neil Aspinall got them lost on New Year’s Eve, instead of getting them an audition, The Beatles celebrated New Year’s Day, 1962 with a 15 song two-track live recording intended as a showcase of their many facets. Produced by ex-Shadows drummer Tony Meehan, much of the now-famous “Decca Audition” tape has been lost, leaving five songs that eventually turned up on Anthology 1. Many of the others appear in George Martin-produced versions on early Beatles albums, on the Live at the BBC collection, or in grey market/bootleg versions from this one hour Decca session.
Meehan is one of three culprits suspected of passing on the chance to sign the unknown Beatles, the others being Decca executive Dick Rowe (who reportedly said guitar groups were on the way out, although he did end up signing The Rollling Stones and Van Morrison among many other big acts), and producer Mike Smith. Of course, The Beatles were not long after signed to EMI imprint Parlophone, and the rest is history.
“Searchin’” is a 1957 composition by the famed songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, written expressly for The Coasters. The song is notable for its references to topical crime fighters of the day, from the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan and Sam Spade, to the real Canadian Mounties. Paul McCartney handles the lead vocal on this one, and it’s a good early example of his ability to hide himself in a sort of assumed swagger learned from Elvis, Little Richard and others. It’s different from Lennon’s early vocals, which did assume a manly rasp but somehow felt more authentic. That is, Lennon sounds masculine, while McCartney is still very boyish, and some would say he has never really let that go. That being said, McCartney’s lead is a lot of fun, and Lennon’s “Searchin’!” and “Yay-yay” backgrounds are also terrific. And not to beat a dead horse, but George Harrison’s guitar solo is somewhat fumbling, as if he doesn’t quite know where he wants to go. In fairness, this was only an hour-long session to lay down 15 songs, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think it through.
Written in 1949, becoming a standard for country star Hank Snow, “Nobody’s Child” is one of the oldest vintage of Beatles covers. It’s one of the many songs recorded with Tony Sheridan, used as b-sides to both “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Although I’m not as familiar with George Harrison’s post-Beatles career, I’m certain he didn’t do a whole lot of covers, so it’s interesting that he returned to this song in 1990 with the Traveling Wilburys for the title track to a charity album for Romanian orphans. That makes sense, as the song is about an orphan whom no one wants, because he’s blind. Pretty heavy stuff for a beat combo, which may explain the loose, late night club kind of arrangement, pretty bluesy for the band at this time.
The one and only song credited only to Lennon/Harrison, nonetheless, “Cry for a Shadow” gave no indication of a terrifically promising songwriting partnership. It’s one of The Beatles few instrumentals, this one a throwaway pastiche of the type of instrumental rock very popular in 1960 and 1961 by Cliff Richard’s backing band, The Shadows. It would seem the very title is a nod to them. It’s not a bad song but without vocals, they’re pretty much just another band at this point.
Originally the b-side to Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers’ “Why”, it was later reissued in the U.S. once The Beatles became popular, with “Why” relegated to the b-side.
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