Love Me Do: first faint chime of a revolutionary bell

According to Robert McCrum, writing in The Observer last week, ‘the 60s arrived with the sound of a bluesy ‘dockside harmonica': the launch of ‘Love Me Do’ on Friday 5 October. The Beatles’ raw working-class candour, mixed with Lennon’s riff, went into the nation’s teenage bloodstream like a drug. Well, we do love our anniversaries, and journalists love a neat turning point.

But it didn’t seem like that at the time – and anyway ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t enter the charts until 15 December, rose only to number 17 and remained in the Top 20 for only two weeks.  I had turned 14 that year, addicted to Radio Luxembourg and the pop charts.  My memory – for what it’s worth – is that ‘Love Me Do’, while interesting and catchy, didn’t stand out that much from a lot of the other stuff in the charts at the time.  It was to be another five years before I came to Liverpool as an undergraduate, but for older teenagers already familiar with the Beatles’ shows at the Cavern, ‘Love Me Do’ was a pale shadow of what they sounded like live.

In fact, the week that ‘Love Me Do’ was released the nation’s teenagers were getting high on the space-age sound of ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados, the record named after the Telstar, the first communications satellite, which had been launched into orbit on 10 July that year. Written and produced by Joe Meek, the effects were created in Meek’s recording studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London.  Coincidentally, Our World, the first live, international television broadcast to be relayed by satellite, which was broadcast on 25 June 1967 to what was the largest worldwide TVaudience ever at the time, featured The Beatles performing ‘All You Need Is Love’.

Back in December 1962 when ‘Love Me Do’ entered the charts, the big hits were ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Frank Ifield, ‘Swiss Maid’ by Del Shannon and Elvis’s ‘Return To Sender’ – The Beatles first single sounded fresher than that lot. John Lennon’s wailing harmonica, the first sound we heard on ‘Love Me Do’, was unusual but not unprecedented – it sounded a lot like the one on Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’ that had risen to number 2 back in April. The harmonica on that record had been played by Delbert McClinton; the Beatles shared a bill with Channel and McClinton at the Tower Ballroom in Wallasey on 21 June 1962.

What I’m getting at here is that, unless you had seen The Beatles live, at the end of 1962 they sounded good – but not that good.  All that changed in March 1963 when ‘Please Please Me’ roared up the charts.  What I really remember, in the months of Beatlemania that followed, is the truly shocking, raw sound of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ blasting from the radiogram as we listened to Two-Way Family Favourites on the Light Programme. That’s when the sixties began.

According to Ian Macdonald’s brilliant and vital Revolution In The Head, ‘Love Me Do’ was made up by McCartney while sagging off from the Liverpool Institute four years earlier.  He wasn’t sure how to finish it and showed it to Lennon, who may have contributed the ‘rudimentary middle eight’.  The song was recorded – along with awful Mitch Murray song, ‘How Do You Do It’ (eventually palmed off on Gerry Marsden’s outfit) – in EMI’s Abbey Road studios on 4 September 1962.

George Martin was producing, and liked the sound – apart from Ringo’s drumming, the problem being that his drumming was actually looser than was considered acceptable at the time.  So it was re-recorded a week later with an EMI session musician on drums.

Despite what I’ve said about my memory of hearing ‘Love Me Do’ at the time, Ian Macdonald averred that it sounded ‘the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell. A new spirit was abroad: artless yet unabashed – and awed by nothing’.  I’ve come across no better description of the spirit of the sixties.

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11 thoughts on “Love Me Do: first faint chime of a revolutionary bell

  1. Faint chimes? Yep I agree, Love Me Do was a little better than other tracks around, but it wasn’t significantly different, owing quite a bit to Hey Baby; Telstar was deservedly Number 1. George Martin wasn’t interested in Love Me Do, Ken Scott thought the Beatles equipment was primitive nor had they hadn’t mastered the art of the recording studio. Given that they had mastered live performance and that they had recorded an excellent studio version of Cry Me A Shadow for Bert Kampfert, not everyone was pulling their weight at EMI in the Autumn of 1962. It didn’t matter. George Martin got interested in recording Please, Please Me, arranging it into a Mersey Beat template, and the purchase tax on recorded music was slashed on January 1st meaning that singles were no longer a luxury item. January 1963 was when the sixties began. November 4th 1963 was when WW2 finished.
    More on Love Me Dr on October 5th; http://jpgringo2.wordpress.com/

  2. I remember first hearing ‘Love Me Do’. I find it impossible to capture in words its impact on my teenage head. I’d heard nothing, absolutely nothing like it before. It was the first ‘single’ I ever bought; and a substantial disappointment that it didn’t rise higher in the charts.

    To this day, I believe I was the first to discover the Beatles; the first to recognise their brilliance; the first to buy their ‘single’. The rest of you have simply jumped on the bandwagon subsequently, following my lead

    • I hope my memory is correct – recalling that ‘Please Please Me and, especially, Twist and Shout were the ones that sounded like nothing before. Whatever. I believe we are a generation for whom, for ever, the Beatles will be the defining sound, our heart and soul.

      • It was the ‘flatness’, the ‘off-key’ sound that I remember; the falling away at the end of the line. Everything else available to me at the time was perky, jolly, trivial. In short, nothing like I could relate to as a morose, brooding 15 year-old. But ‘Love Me Do’, for all its blandness as a lyric, sounded more ‘my music’. And so it became – for all of us

  3. I loved the comment by George Martin in the repeated film about George Harrison, screened last week, in which he said that when he first heard and saw The Beatles in the studio, he himself was not impressed by their first three songs, but also could not work out who to break the bad news to as there did not seem to be a natural leader of the group. So he took them into the control room and said urbanely, ‘Have a listen and please tell me if there is anything you don’t like’. George Harrison in his thick, laconic scouce accent quipped, “Well I don’t like your tie for a start”. Martin said it was so cheeky that it endeared him to George rightaway and broke the ice.
    I took the magical Mystery tour in Liverpool last week with some American friends and we had a ball. For the first time since childhood I could see where there inspirations came from, Penny Lane, perhaps little unchanged from the sixties? Kinda scruffy and yet homely.The gates of Strawberry Fields where Lennon played, all their houses still standing, just, Ringo and Georges looking worse for wear now. Such humble beginnings for George particularly made me aware of the fact that Sinatra recorded I believe only two Beatles songs, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Something’, which he regarded as the greatest love song of the last 50 years, not bad for a cheeky scouse kid. Lennon once quipped acerbically that not only was Ringo not the best drummer in the world, he wasn’t the best drummer in the Beatles. But many drummers were so influenced by his work and as someone said, he may not have been the best drummer, but he was the right drummer.
    Sitting outside Lennon’s house was actually very moving for me, in the light of having watched ‘Nowhere Boy’ at least six times and how it showed the number of times love was given to him and the snatched away from him during his formative years, father, mother, uncle, band members, manager, finally his own. No wonder he said after his mother got killed he went off the rails for two years, he said he sang about peace and love because he knew the value of it, he was contradictory of course, but then who of us isn’t sometimes. He struggled with his own demons like we all do, until someone else’s demons downed him. Such a shame they couldn’t have been given the chance to grow old and maybe reconcile themselves with each other, if only privately.
    I remember the early songs as 9 year old kid, it will never last more than 3 months someone said, well here we are 50 years later, still singing their songs.
    I met an American woman, big Beatles fan, in Sicily last year and in the hostel I was playing Beatles songs on my I Pod and speakers. Two American (Californian) girls, early twenties, were bopping and singing along. I said ‘You know all these songs?’ ‘Yes, we love them’, they said. I was amazed they knew them or found them relevant.
    I guess they dared to be different, Martin exposed them to everything and they dared to be different, you could almost hear them growing as each single, album came out.
    Maybe that will be their greatest legacy, we were just four young lads who had a go and as they say ‘they shook the world’, now its your turn.

    “Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.”
    Guillaume Apollinaire ( French Poet )

    .

  4. Loved this, Les. You had me in tears by the end with that wonderful Apollinaire quote. Did you join the National Trust tour of John & Paul’s childhood homes? That had me teary-eyed, too (see: http://wp.me/poJrg-qk). Tra-la for the Mystery Tour (tonight).

  5. No we didn’t have the time for that Gerry, but the MMT bus stops outside for a minute or two, but I may come up and scout round a few more Beatle-ish place, I’m sure my USA friends would appreciate the photos.

  6. Hi Gerry, just wanted to say this is a great blog and many thanks for taking the time to put it together. Much appreciated!

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