Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 7:31 am | Fair 35º

 
 
 
 

Mark Brickley: The Beatles’ First Record

It all started for the Fab Four in Liverpool in 1962, but their music wasn't an instant hit with everyone

In 1962, four young Liverpool musicians faced a decision that would transform the future of popular music.

The Beatles had come home after playing 48 dates in German nightclubs. Their appearances were far from glamorous. The group performed in the seedy, red-light district of Hamburg. They had accepted the tour after a disappointing audition with London’s Decca Records.

Their new manager, Brian Epstein, had set the band’s demo session for Jan. 1, 1962. The band arrived at the recording studio the morning after celebrating New Year’s Eve. They played 15 cover songs for their session, including “Till There Was You.” Decca passed on The Beatles, instead signing pop act Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.

Back in Liverpool, fans were amazed by The Beatles’ bold, rocking performances. The band played to standing-room-only crowds. Lines formed the day before their Cavern Club shows. The Beatles’ whirlwind musical skills had been honed by playing up to 10 hours a night, seven days a week in Germany. From 1960 to 1962, they played hundreds of shows in Hamburg and Northern England.

While the band was abroad, Epstein hunted for another record deal. None of London’s major labels expressed interest. Epstein’s persistence finally paid off. Through family business connections, he was introduced to George Martin, the head of Parlophone Records. Like today’s indie labels, the small EMI subsidiary was scouting new music talent. Martin wanted to supplement Parlophone’s classical and comedy releases. He offered Epstein a standard demo recording contract. The Beatles were one of several Liverpool bands being auditioned.

The Beatles’ manager transformed the band’s image. He made adept adjustments to their appearance and showmanship. The Beatles’ leather jackets were replaced with matching tailored suits. The band’s performances now highlighted their lyrics and harmonies. The Beatles ended each song with a deep choreographed bow.

Epstein didn’t invent the group’s famous haircut. The ungreased early 1960s look was popular in Hamburg with its art students. Beatles bass player Stu Sutcliffe was the first to have his hair cut “Beatles” style by German girlfriend Astrid Kirchher. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison followed, but drummer Pete Best’s wavy hair resisted restyling.

Demo Test

The group drove from Liverpool to London’s Abby Road studios for their June 6, 1962, recording session. They had prepared four original songs, including a slow, bluesy version of “Please Please Me.” The demo test would determine whether Martin would sign the prepared contract. Some of their originals, including “Love Me Do,” had been written while they were in their mid-teens. The songs had received strong fan reaction in their live Hamburg and Liverpool shows.

The band’s decision to feature original songs was driven by their growing popularity. The Beatles were Liverpool’s headline band. In multiact shows, they had to wait their turn until the other groups finished. In 1962, few bands performed their own music. Most played covers of American rock-‘n’-blues tunes. Waiting backstage, The Beatles regularly heard their whole set list being performed! To stand out, it was necessary to pen original songs.

In addition to being Parlophone’s lead producer, Martin was also a gifted classical pianist and arranger. Those skills would later be called upon to help shape The Beatles’ sound. The band’s initial recordings were overseen by Martin’s assistant, Ron Richards. While Martin thought the group’s bright vocals were interesting, he had not been impressed with their Decca recordings.

Richards remembered that The Beatles’ amps were so noisy that they had to be jerry-rigged to continue recording that day. He guided the group through songs including “Ask Me Why” and “P.S. I Love You.” During the take of “Love Me Do,” Richards called Martin back to the studio. He believed he had heard something unique.

McCartney later revealed that the opening harmony of “Love Me Do” set against a syncopated beat was hard to master. Martin listened to the song and took charge of the session. Beatles biographers say Martin suggested Lennon’s soulful opening harmonica solo. Martin later invited the group to the sound booth to listen to the playback. He was blunt with his review of the band’s microphone technique and maintenance of their sound equipment.

The quasi-lecture was followed by one of The Beatles’ most quoted conversations. Martin paused and asked the band for feedback. Was there anything they disliked? It was Harrison who famously quipped: “Well, for one thing, we don’t like your tie.” That opened a floodgate of Liverpool-style jibes and pokes. Martin and Richards reportedly laughed until tears ran down their cheeks.

Some have speculated that the band’s wit sealed their recording deal. Martin’s decision to sign the agreement created little risk for EMI. In 1962, single records sold for about $1. The Parlophone contract paid The Beatles only one pence for each single sold. The band had to split that penny four ways. With Epstein’s management fees taking 25 percent off the top, the band was left with fish and chips money.

The Beatles returned to Northern England to resume their busy performance schedule. Epstein often booked the band to perform twice a day. After reviewing the demo tapes, Martin sent word to Epstein that he would be forced to use a studio drummer at their next recording session. Martin was blunt. He said drummer Best couldn’t keep a steady beat.

Martin wanted The Beatles’ first recording to be a knockout. Compelled to produce a sure-fire hit, Martin thought he had found the perfect single. He sent Epstein a song he wanted The Beatles to learn. It was a cherubic tune written by 20-year-old songwriter Mitch Murray titled “How Do You Do It.” Lennon and McCartney felt the song’s melody was predictable and its lyrics were sophomoric. They had no interest in recording another songwriter’s material. Under protest, they followed Epstein’s lead and learned the cover tune.

Enter Ringo

The band’s more immediate concern was what to do about drummer Best. They had hired him just before their first Hamburg trip. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had always hoped to find a better musician. Best had now become a liability. While the group may have feared their record deal could be canceled, it’s likely they saw the problem as opportunity.

The Beatles had become the North’s top act, and they wanted Liverpool’s best percussionist. His name was Ringo Starr. He was well known to The Beatles. Starr had filled in for Best in both Liverpool and Hamburg. His drum sticks powered the group Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Storm valued Starr’s talent and featured his solos and vocals in the Hurricane’s act. Ringo was regularly recruited to play in other bands. Gerry & the Pacemakers reportedly asked Starr to be their bassist even though he had never played the instrument.

The decision to fire Best was unanimous, but the group left the job to their manager. Before Epstein could move, Ringo had to agree to leave his current act. The Beatles’ new recording contract made a big impact on his decision. Starr gave Rory Storm three days’ notice. On Aug. 12, 1962, Ringo shaved off his beard, combed his hair and became a Beatle. Two days later, Best was summoned to Epstein’s office and let go. The Beatles feared a fight would ensue if they were present. Violence did follow the decision. After Best’s sacking, Harrison received a black eye from an angry fan after a Cavern Club show.

Two weeks before The Beatles’ long-awaited recording date, Lennon married Cynthia Powell. Epstein asked them to keep their civil ceremony a secret, but it wasn’t because Powell was pregnant. Epstein didn’t want to upset the band’s surging momentum. The group had a show to play that same evening.

The Single

On Sept. 4, 1962, The Beatles arrived at London’s Abby Road studios to cut their first single. Epstein flew them in from Liverpool. They practiced six songs that morning. Two were selected for the evening recording session, including Martin’s “How Do You Do It” and Lennon and McCartney’s “Love Me Do.” Over dinner the band pressed Martin to consider their original material. They wanted to release something new and different. The Beatles felt their hard-won Liverpool reputation was at stake.

The rhythm and musical track for “Love Me Do” required 15 takes to complete. Lennon’s lips were numb after playing the harmonica part. The vocals were finally dubbed on the single mono track. “Love Me Do” was The Beatles playing the blues. What made the song difficult to perform was its unique arrangement. Its bass line and acoustic rhythm guitar were supported by the snare and double-kick drum. Ringo reportedly struggled to find the beat.

Martin wasn’t satisfied with the Sept. 4 session tapes. He decided to bring The Beatles back to Abby Road a week later to re-record the tracks. Ron Richards was again the group’s producer. Apparently Martin had directed his staff to book 32-year-old session specialist Andy White to play drums. Starr was shocked when he learned of the decision. He had just been hired as the band’s permanent drummer and was now being replaced on their first record. Ringo reportedly never completely forgave Martin for the slight.

Now 82 years old, White replayed his memory of that session in a recent telephone interview: “The call from EMI seemed routine. I worked at Abby Road regularly. I didn’t know I would be playing with The Beatles until I set up my drums that morning. My wife was from the North, but I hadn’t heard of them. I said hello to Ringo and George, but it was mostly business. I chatted with the songwriters (McCartney and Lennon ) about the music. We recorded three songs in three hours, but there were multiple takes because we stopped and started. I cottoned the drum part to follow Paul’s bass line. I remember Ringo played tambourine and maracas.”

White recalled that The Beatles’ creativity was apparent: “Their material was original, which was fresh.”

After the session ended, White said he never again talked with members of the band. “They didn’t publish my playing on ‘Love Me Do’ for 20 years. The band didn’t want that fact to come out.”

For his drumming that day, White received union wages of less than six pounds, or about $9. “Love Me Do” had now been recorded with three drummers: Best on June 6, Starr on Sept. 4 and White on Sept. 11. Martin believed White’s version was the strongest take.

EMI’s Decision

In 1962, record release decisions at Electric & Musical Industries LTD were made by committee. As the head of Parlophone, Martin’s backing was critical. He knew The Beatles weren’t interested in compromise. They didn’t want to sacrifice their original music for a surefire hit. Starr later recounted how adamant they were. McCartney underlined that their songs defined them.

Martin decided to acquiesce. In a 1989 Internet interview, Martin said “Love Me Do” had become “quite a good record.” His support ensured the song would become The Beatles’ first single release. Martin’s intuition about the direction of pop music may have driven his decision. England’s teen music scene was vibrant and volatile. Martin sensed that The Beatles’ music had the right ingredients to make it explode.

“Love Me Do” was released on Oct. 5, 1962, with “P.S. I Love You” on the B side. Shortly after its issue, The Beatles appeared in a live radio concert broadcast. Listening to the show 48 years later, one can feel the crowd’s excitement. The announcer attempts to introduce The Beatles, but his voice is immediately overpowered by screaming female fans.

With little publicity from EMI and the group’s decision to honor their last Hamburg contract, “Love Me Do” still rose to No. 17 on the UK charts. The single was released a year later in the United States on Toille Records. It went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Starr’s version of “Love Me Do” would later appear on The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me.

Martin’s handpicked song “How Do You Do It” became a No. 1 UK hit in 1963 for Gerry & the Pacemakers. The Beatles’ demo recording was reportedly used as their template. The Beatles would give away many of their original songs to fellow performers, including The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger reportedly was present at Abby Road studios as McCartney finished writing The Stones’ first smash single, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The Beatles also wrote hits for Badfinger (“Come and Get It”), Peter and Gordon (“World Without Love”), Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas (“Bad To Me”) and Mary Hopkin (“Goodbye”).

Destiny

The Beatles’ ambition to record original music propelled their phenomenal success. The band’s destiny was controlled by events and decisions with unpredictable outcomes. Each chance occurrence helped form a magic circle of circumstance.

Sutcliffe’s brain hemorrhage compelled McCartney to pick up the Hofner bass guitar. Adding drummer Starr completed the band’s chemistry, freeing Lennon, McCartney and Harrison to focus on songwriting. Hiring manager Epstein led to signing with Parlophone producer Martin. Epstein’s focus on The Beatles’ business never interfered with the music’s unique voice. Martin translated The Beatles’ raw musical genius into unparalleled artistic compositions.

The Beatles’ eventual catalog of 27 No. 1 hit singles and 12 original UK albums is widely recognized as the “gold standard” of popular music.

It all began in Liverpool in ’62 with “Love Me Do.”

Noozhawk contributor Mark Brickley is a freelance writer in Carpinteria. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.