NINE U.S. SINGLES BEFORE “MEET THE BEATLES”: #1-3
#1 LOVE ME DO
#2 P.S. I LOVE YOU
#3 SHE LOVES YOU
I should say upfront that I realize my lengthy Beatles postings may have limited appeal—I know I tend to get “into the weeds” in talking about them—perhaps resulting in TMI?—too much information?—for many. But, I do think, for those whose lives and whose musical appreciation were shaped, in part, by the Beatles, there may be something of interest in these postings.
The Beatles released their first US album, MEET THE BEATLES, in January, 1964. Their appearances on the Ed Sullivan show occurred the next month, in February. In order to meet the overwhelming demand from U.S. fans prior these events, two record companies—Capital and Swan—released a number of singles in a very short period of time, which provided both an introduction to the group, meant to coincide with their US appearances, and made a lot of money for Capital Records. In thinking back to 1964, it’s important to remember that album sales were not nearly as significant to record companies as singles sales were.
As I’ve mentioned, the order of releases of Beatles albums, and the content of those albums, in the U.K. and the U.S. was not synchronized, especially at the start of the Beatles’ career. The singles that were released in the U.S. paved the way for the group’s success, and for the success of all their future album releases. Although all of these singles would later find their places on albums that would be released in the United States, I think it is easier, in talking about the early Beatles, for us to remember that era (in addition to being chronologically accurate) through nine singles releases that created a superhighway of success for the Beatles in America.
It is also worth re-stating and underscoring here that by the time the Beatles came to America, they had logged many hundreds of performances—in Liverpool, Scotland, and especially in Hamburg—and had spent thousands of hours onstage. They had played for audiences small and large—mostly large, especially by 1960 standards. They were seasoned. They thought of themselves as performers.
Lennon and McCartney had been writing together from the moment they met, in 1957—Lennon age 17, McCartney age 15. As the wonderful book CAN’T BUY ME LOVE by Jonathan Gould (a much-appreciated recommendation from my friend Ted Ganger, a pianist, conductor and song-writer himself) relates: “it is of prime importance when considering their future lives as singers and song-writers to realize that most of what John Lennon and Paul McCartney learned about music, THEY LEARNED IN EACH OTHER’S COMPANY (emphasis mine). Although collaboration has long been the rule in the writing of popular songs, it is hard to name another pair of successful popular songwriters whose musical educations were so closely intertwined from such an early age.” (Even the Gershwin brothers did not collaborate until they were in their twenties.)
Finally, I mentioned I will be rating songs and albums—obviously, a purely subjective thing to do. I’ll be doing this with stars—asterisks, actually—on a 1-5 scale.
#1 LOVE ME DO ****
• written by Paul McCartney at the age of 16 (1958) while truant from school! – years before it was actually recorded
• the recording features the debut of John’s harmonica playing – the harmonica was the first instrument Lennon played, before he played guitar
• George Martin, their producer, had insisted that “How Do You Do It?”—a song later released by Gerry and the Pacemakers, another group he was producing—be the Beatles first single release. The Beatles, though, were adamant that their first release be something THEY had written, which—surprising to us now—was simply never done in the pop records industry. Pop groups did not write their own material. Martin lost that argument.
• RINGO STARR. There was a bit of controversy involving Ringo and “Love Me Do.” Since Ringo was the Beatles new drummer (new in 1962), George Martin felt that he was not professional enough to do the recording. Ringo had to step off the drum pedestal and just play tambourine while Andy White, the professional that Martin had brought in, recorded with the Beatles. This humiliation was something Ringo resented for many years afterwards. And justifiably so—Richard Starkey—Ringo Starr—was, by all accounts, the best drummer in all 350 of the Liverpool bands! Martin, though, working in London, was not acquainted enough with Starr, and felt he was not worth the risk. The version of “Love Me Do” that everyone knows features Andy White on drums.
• LENNON/MCCARTNEY SINGING. Three observations to make in this very first song that will ring true again and again—hundreds of times—in their complete discography—are:
* John Lennon and Paul McCartney were really good singers together. For those who quickly think of “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “She’s Leaving Home”, and many other songs that feature McCartney alone, there would be no disagreement about his singing—he could be an expressive, lyrical singer. What is sometimes overlooked, I think, when comparing Lennon to McCartney is that Lennon was an incredibly accurate singer—he hit all his pitches spot-on, and he had a great ear for ensemble. This is one reason that the sound of the two of them singing together was always so appealing. When they sang in unison, it was often really difficult to even hear two voices, so totally in sync were they with each other—every phrase, every syllable, every rhythmic turn, always together.
* A particular feature, which happens again and again in their songs, is their singing in octaves—with Paul on top. Octave singing is all the more impressive when you consider how much easier it is for most people to hear imperfections in octave singing than in unisons. Listen to them go from unisons—“Someone to love”—to octaves—“Somebody new”—to unisons—“Someone to love”—to octaves—“Someone like you.”
* And finally, their harmony—which occurs from the very first syllable in “Love Me Do”—was always impeccable. McCartney had a slightly higher vocal range than Lennon, and therefore usually sang the upper part (of the two). Like John, his ear also was amazingly good. I would venture to guess that if it hadn’t been—if McCartney’s ability to sing in harmony had only been so-so, the Beatles would have been a failure.
• quick juxtapositions of major and minor keys in Beatles songs were common – this song, written when Paul was just 16, shows that it was already, intuitively, part of his style to write them
• since “Love Me Do” was not released on a U.S. album, it appeared only much later on an album. The track can be found on the BEATLES 1 album:
#2 P.S. I LOVE YOU ****
• written by Paul McCartney while the group was performing in Hamburg, spring 1962
• it is a solo song for McCartney, with Lennon and Harrison chiming in harmonically on the downbeats of many measures
• at the time, Paul had a girlfriend back in Liverpool, and some of have suggested that his writing of this song, while on the road in Hamburg, was meant for her – but he has always said this was not the case at all
• melodically, McCartney goes down and back up: D-C-natural-B-flat-C-natural-D a number of times. Although musicians would see this kind of melody—while in the key of D Major—as being “modal”—descending down to a flatted sixth of the scale (a “melodic minor” descent)—what it unconsciously does for the average (particularly British, non-musician) listener is to connect him with previous centuries of melodic writing, when modality predominated. This would have been in the ears and in the blood of Englishmen. His ascending succession of chords here: B-flat major, C major, D major for “You-you-you” is typically modal. This, and what I’ll refer to at a later time as “open fifths” writing, connect the Beatles, in many of their songs, to an ancient past. Of course, the odds of them knowing this would have been minimal—they did not read music or know any music theory. They just “composed” what came naturally to them.
• “P.S. I Love You” was the B side of “Love Me Do”, and therefore recorded in the same session – Ringo, again, was excluded from playing drums, just contributing a bit of maracas playing – this flip side of “Love Me Do” was later included in the EARLY BEATLES album:
#3 SHE LOVES YOU ****
• written by Lennon and McCartney
• surpassed all sales records for recordings in the U.K.
• was one of five Beatles singles that concurrently held the top five sales positions in the U.S. in April, 1964
• was their most popular, best-selling single, ever
• the writing of “She Loves You” was begun on a tour bus at night between performances in northern Britain in June, 1963 – and finished in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning
• was unusual for a love song, the lyrics don’t reflect the narrator’s love for someone else, but rather are those of someone trying to bring two lovers back together – Lennon would later say that lyrics like this—about someone else—storytelling, in other words—was Paul’s style, while his was much more about writing his own thoughts, in the first person voice
• “She Loves You” STARTS with the chorus—Yeah, Yeah, Yeah—which was quite unusual—this ultimately (and unintentionally) provided the HOOK for fan popularity and identification, and may have been a critical key to their entire success (my opinion)
• features their signature use of falsetto “wooo’s” while shaking their heads from side to side
• the final chord utilized on the final “Yeah” created a debate in the recording session between George Martin and the Beatles: Lennon wanted to end on a triad with an added sixth, spelled from bottom to top: G-B-D-E. Martin strongly felt this should not be done, that it was just too jazzy—but the Beatles won the argument—much to all future fans’ delight.
• the group was asked to re-record “She Loves You” in German for the German market, which they agreed to do – “Sie Liebt Dich” was subsequently released
• shortly after its release as a single, “She Loves You” was included in the BEATLES SECOND ALBUM:
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