October 5th marks the 50th anniversary of the release of “Love Me Do”, the very first single by an English band called The Beatles. If this song was all that the world had ever heard from them, then there simply would be no Beatles as we now know them. Contrary to popular mythology, The Beatles were not instant superstars once they teamed up with George Martin. However, this song does illustrate how fast they were developing at the time, and the blind serendipity that characterized a lot of their earlier work.
Consider the following lesser-known facts about their debut single:
- It almost never got recorded. George Martin felt the band needed “professional” songs, and was pressuring them to record “How Do You Do It?”, a more schmaltzy number which was later made into a modest hit by Gerry & the Pacemakers. The Beatles felt that they would never be respected after recording such a song, so eventually Martin relented and let them record an original composition.
- John Lennon supposedly played a stolen harmonica on the chorus.
- The final “love me do” in the chorus was supposed to be a duet between John and Paul. Because of the primitive recording technology at the time, John had to play the harmonica part live in the room, leaving Paul to sing the chorus hook by himself. This is said to be the reason that McCartney’s voice quavers so enigmatically during this phrase: he was nervous.
- Ringo Starr didn’t play on the single version of the song. George Martin thought that Pete Best, the original drummer, wasn’t up to snuff, so he told Brian Epstein that he would hire a session drummer from now on. In response, the lads fired Best and hired Ringo (the most professional drummer in Liverpool at the time). But Ringo was brand new to the band, and Martin was unwilling to waste any more studio time on amateurish drummers, so he brought in some professional hack named Andy White to play. It’s White, not Ringo, who played on the famous single version of the song.
- “Love Me Do”, as a single, peaked at number 17 on the British music charts upon its initial release. The Beatles’ real first number one was their next release, the vastly superior “Please Please Me”. “Love Me Do” didn’t become a hit until after “Please Please Me” was released in the United States, when their American record label selected “Love Me Do” as their second US single. So it was a moderately successful first single in England, and an extremely successful second single in the US, but not until after “Please Please Me” changed the musical landscape forever.
- The song doesn’t even really sound like The Beatles. Sure, the basic ingredients of their early sound are all there: the harmonies, the dual lead vocals, the harmonica, the instantly catchy melody. It’s a really good Everly Brothers approximation. But it lacks any drive or energy, especially as compared with the rush of ‘Please Please Me”, which takes off from the very first bar with an exhilarating chorus and an innovative guitar sound.
“Love Me Do” was the test flight for the rocket that later became The Beatles.