“P.S. I Love You” was the b-side to the band’s first single, “Love Me Do,” and the same version was used on their album, Please Please Me. It’s a song primarily written by Paul McCartney and probably inspired by other “letter” songs of the time like “Soldier Boy” by the Shirelles and “Words of Love” by Buddy Holly & The Crickets. It’s interesting the attempts at mythologizing the song, such as the suggestion that Paul wrote it about a girlfriend at the time, Dot Rhone, or that the “P.S.” in the title was a reference to “Peggy-Sue” from the Buddy Holly song, though of course it’s a reference to the post-script of a letter.
It’s a simple but to me, really interesting, song. McCartney’s lyrics and singing border charmingly on florid with lines like, “Treasure these few words until we’re together”, but what saves it are the earnest, “You, you, you“‘s and some intriguingly dark key changes that suggest a greater depth of emotion than the typical teen pop song. Two big members of the Beatles’ story were either absent or in reduced roles on the session: George Martin was not present, with Ron Richards manning the board, but Martin had already hired session drummer Andy White to play, unaware at the time that The Beatles had already found a replacement for drummer Pete Best in Ringo Starr. Ringo, not one to grumble, played maracas. There will rarely be a time this song comes on that I don’t croon along to it.
“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.