Beatles' First Hit Gets 50th Anniversary Re-Release: Here's Why America Rejected It in 1962
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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' debut on Oct. 5, 1962, the survivors plan to release a replica of their first single, “Love Me Do.” John Lennon thought Paul McCartney wrote it around age 15 or 16, circa 1958 (when he also wrote the melody to “When I’m 64”), but McCartney says it was 50-50, one of the first five or so songs he co-wrote with Lennon (after “Too Bad About Sorrows,” the execrable “Just Fun,” the catchy “One After 909” -- recorded on Let It Be -- and “Like Dreamers Do”). Lennon vaguely recalled contributing something “in the middle,” where the melody goes from pop to bluesy:
Someone to love,
Someone to love,
Someone like you.
This might be the first example of acerbic Lennon’s sardonic reaction to McCartney’s sweetness; if the song’s narrator wants somebody new -- anybody -- just how reliable is his preceding vow “I’ll always be true"?
The Beatles (with Pete Best as drummer) honed “Love Me Do” in Hamburg in 1960 and at their London recording audition June 6, 1962. Best got fired, and they recorded it with new drummer Ringo Starr on Sept. 4. (This is the version used on the debut single.) Then producer George Martin had them record it again Sept. 11 with session man Andy White on drums (the version used on the first Beatles LP). “Martin had doubts about Ringo too,” New York Times writer Allan Kozinn, author of The Beatles, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The only thing that makes the White version arguably superior is that because White was drumming, Ringo played tambourine, and the tambourine gives that version a slightly brighter, fuller sound.”
But the crucial change -- the one that rescued The Beatles from being a cover band and established Lennon-McCartney as composers -- was not the switch of drummers but the last-minute addition of Lennon’s harmonica solo. "Despite its plodding beat, there was no question it had a catchy melody," Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick wrote in his memoir Here, There and Everywhere. " 'Well, I suppose you've got the kernel of something there,' George Martin said, 'but it needs something extra to make it stand out. Don't you play a bit of harmonica, John? Can you give me something bluesy? Perhaps do a solo?' "
Since then-de facto bandleader Lennon couldn’t both sing lead and play harmonica, McCartney sang lead. You can hear the fear and exhilaration in his voice when he comes in alone after Lennon’s harmonica solo.
“Martin suggested Paul sing,” says Martin biographer Jason Kruppa, “but I don't believe he suggested the harmonica. The harmonica was almost certainly John's idea.” Notorious Lennon biographer Albert Goldman said the solo was suggested by Bruce Channel’s recent hit “Hey Baby,” with Delbert McClinton on harmonica (and also that the guitar hook in "I Feel Fine" and "Day Tripper" was filched from Bobby Parker's “Watch Your Step”). Kozinn calls Goldman “loathsome” and “inaccurate” and hears no McClinton influence in “Love Me Do.”
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Kruppa thinks they were simply being trendy. “Melody Maker, in the summer of 1962, had predicted that the harmonica would be ‘the most popular instrument of 1962’ and by August, Hohner Ltd. had reported a significant increase in sales of the instrument,” says Kruppa. “I think The Beatles were simply plugged into what was going on around them.”