Beatles Singles 1962-64
Trevor Horn, who in November 1963 was inspired to become a producer when he noticed the difference between the Beatles “error-strewn” live performance (that turned them into multi–media stars in the UK) on the Royal Variety Show compared to the exuberant polish of their studio songs, observed that there is always one weak member of a group when it comes to recording; which is why he says he never recorded U2 (Mojo June 2010). George Martin thought the same with Pete Best and, sadly, I think that Pete was a live rock n roll drummer and not cut out for all the studio work supporting the song that Ringo delivered at Abbey Road; check this out as The Beatles try to find their recording feet whilst auditioning with Pete Best on Love Me Do. There is a version of this post on the Beatles YouTube Album. To my ears Love Me Do is the transition song between the live rock n roll band Beatles and the first self-contained rock band which had unparalleled domination of the pop singles world during 1963 & 1964. Deni includes it as key live track in The Beatles live show late ’62. They weren’t moptops yet.
The Beatles most significant act in 1962, apart from George joking about Martin’s tie, was insisting on recording their own songs. This was to transform popular music in the 1960s. But even the polished final version of their Love Me Do didn’t strike gold dust and Martin, the ambitious Head of Parlophone Records as well as their creative producer, insisted that The Beatles should record the future number one (for Gerry and The Pacemakers) How Do You Do It. When you compare the breezy piano-driven performance that Gerry Marsden eventually turned in, to The Beatles own exuberance on Please Please Me, then this polite demo for Martin, in September 1962 can only have been a kind of lazy protest to avoid recording it as a single.
One of my tenets about the Beatles creativity is that they are collaborative craftsmen, a Unit 4 plus too many to mention; a collective of Fifth Beatles. But at EMI George Martin started off by giving them an education in making hit singles. They had great musical ears, were quick studies and didn’t suffer fools gladly. But they recognised that Martin had something to teach them and they were diligent. And intensely ambitious. Martin himself in All You Need is Ears says that he was “like a school teacher with them”. Determined to write their own hits The Beatles upped the tempo of the self-penned Please Please Me and offered 1′ 10” of energy. Martin responded by putting the chorus up front, the band put the excitement of their live performances into the music and boom! They had learnt how to please please us; their listening public; finally The Beatles were the Merseybeat kings of the transistor radio.
But whilst they were being schooled in the arts of hit singles the Beatles were also learning a range of musical tricks. Their early B-sides were Latin flavoured, P.S. I love you and Ask Me Why, and they were developing their musical skills in the studio. Ringo quickly became “Master of the Beat” for George Martin, unerringly picking rhythmic approaches that amplified the song. George Harrison with his new guitar learned that less is more playing lead. Their apprenticeship as a live band happened in Hamburg, especially in 1960, now during the long and miserably cold winter of 1962/63 they were classroom apprentices to recording sorcerer George Martin. Martin is the under-praised musical wizard who demanded from his pupils that they took their O level exams early (Please Please Me album), did an extra A-level (From Me to You) and, whilst they were first team stars at school (She Loves You), take those elitist Oxbridge entry exams (I Wanna Hold Your Hand). The playground scruffs with street smarts turned out to be even better than the Teacher’s Pets (Brian Poole and the Tremeloes). In the meantime apprenticeship calls. P.S I Love You is one of their minor songs, but one where they all pushed their skills on just a little.
By the spring of 1963 with From Me To You, the follow-up to their first Number One, they had nailed Merseybeat as a recording phenomenon. So much so that it sounds like they are already repeating the hit single formula; intro as hook, chorus up-front, catchy harmonica, Me/You lyrics topped off with with those trebly harmonies ideal for the kids cheap transistor radios. B-side similar but uptempo. Whilst being possibly the only original single where the Beatles were treading water, it worked; From Me To You was Number One in the UK for 7 weeks. By the time they came to record the follow-up George had a new guitar, Ringo was leading off with his brand new, iconic, Ludwig drum kit and John and Paul were evolving their lyrical focus to the third person (Paul’s strength). So well were George Martin’s pupils learning that when he commented that the closing note didn’t work as it ripped off Glenn Miller, The Beatles, who discovered this unresolved sixth by themselves, scoffed knowingly that “the kids will love it.” And we did. In the UK nothing matches the joyous impact of She Loves You. This was the biggest selling UK single ever until 1977. And, yeah, they also created a teenage catch phrase, Yeah Yeah Yeah! And ended sensationalist media interest in Mandy Rice Davis and replaced it with real Beatlemania. She Loves You was such a phenomenal smash hit that it stayed in the top three for six months and inspired the BBC to introduce the TV show Top of The Pops.
The massive pop success of the Please Please Me LP and She Loves You put pressure on the Beatles to record a follow-up album quickly even though the LP was number one in the album charts for 30 weeks. Stretched and pushed for time With The Beatles was partly a polished retread of Please Please Me and partly experimental as they had more studio time (such as on All My Loving); it became the biggest selling album of 1963 in just six weeks. The covers were well worked and well sung (You Really Got a Hold on Me), at Martin’s direction they repeated the big finish with Money, but their self-penned stuff is the most interesting. The opening trilogy easily outstrips their debut album by highlighting the quality of their emerging songwriting especially All My Loving which was an airplay hit and released as an EP; and they gave I Wanna Be Your Man to the Stones. So good was their developing writing that they can provide a classic Merseybeat track as an opener and it wasn’t even a single; they were treading water with panache – look no hands! It Wont Be Long was simply comforting their fans with its reassuringly familiar earthy transcendence; Yeah!
I’d always accepted the story that the Beatles broke big in the USA because Amerians were ready to be cheered up after Kennedy’s assassination. Certainly the end of Mad Men Series 3 leaves the protagonists very uncertain about the future at the end of 1963, and February 1964 may have been the point in a long winter when people want to be cheered up. However Kenneth Womack points out that Brian Epstein asked Lennon and McCartney to write a song to crack the American market and they spent all of two hours on a piano in Jane Asher’s house until Paul found a chord and Lennon said “that’s it!” That’s the way you crack America. Such good students of the hit singles that they are fine-tuning them for the different markets. George Martin says something else but his was how they they took America by the hand and left them in love for ever. Loaded with two very good albums and four great singles the Beatles were equipped to cheer up teen age and old age America, helping them forget Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. In February 1964 they conquered the States via TV via the most watched TV programme ever, the Ed Sullivan Show. The rest of the world then just fell. Returning to Abbey Road to complete Can’t Buy Me Love studio engineer Geoff Emerick commented on how their confidence had changed and the record just oozes it. Now a jazz standard thanks to Ella this lead The Beatles charge to the top 5 singles in the USA in April 64. And to the Top 6 places in Australia a week later.
They had mastered chart-based poppery and were beginning to extend its vocabulary, grammar and timbres. And then came Hard Days Night, the first single I personally heard the first time it was played. Phoney Beatlemania had bitten the dust and real Beatlemania had set in permanently. Was it imitative or did we all want to be Beatlemaniacs? This time the director Richard Lester was making demanding requests on the Beatles creativity. Big song to open the movie and creation expectation. Hard Days Night was a multi-media gem of a creation, meet the Fab Four – who’s life do you want to share; John Paul George and Ringo? Box-office second only to the definitive Bond film Goldfinger in 1964 and listen up! Here’s that gloriously hanging Hard Day’s Night open chord.
Hard Days Night was identified by Q in 2003 as the fifth best British album of all time, which might come as a surprise until you listen to all of its Lennon and McCartney compositions. It is a complete representation of all The Beatles had learned by the middle of 1964. Bursting with pride and confidence after conquering the very USA that they had worshipped and adored, they creatively poured their enthusiasm, craft, musicianship and pop-nous into all the film tracks on Side One and the bonus cuts on Side Two, turning the souvenir soundtrack into a Be Here Now authentic album just fifteen months after Cliff’s Summer Holiday had perfected the souvenir experience. I Should Have Known Better is both the first pop video by the “father of MTV” jazzer Richard Lester and an acoustic precursor of Rubber Soul (and even George’s marriage). Turn left at Marylebone for the very clean Liverpool Shuffle.
They had moved on from the early aspirational songs, beyond the formulaic Mersey hit Beat and were starting to try fresh approaches. After surprisingly covering five girl group songs on their first album the macho sex warriors revealed their feminine side on several of the movie songs. John wrote If I Fell and “lucky guy” Paul composed Things We Said Today for Jane Asher so they could remember their love in the 21st Century. Kenneth Womack rates “And I Love Her” as the first of Paul’s long tradition of great ballads. It is an open feminine ballad and you can hear it any time at all.
Amazingly on June 19th, just two weeks before Hard Days Night opened The Beatles released one of their classic EPs with four new tracks, perhaps reminiscing about Hamburg. EPs were critical elements in cementing The Beatles popularity in the UK as they were much more affordable than albums, which were often bought at Christmas, like With The Beatles, or as presents in the early sixties. In Australia the All My Loving EP topped the singles charts in April 1964 ahead of five other Beatles single. Long Tall Sally is in some ways their most democratic recording, they all get a song, it rocks like crazy and sounds like they are a real band. I’m guessing it is a long hard days yelp of release to show they can really move when set free from the repetitive limitations of package tours. Paul in simply awesome voice on Long Tall Sally.
Toppermost and Poppermost
The Beatles, who on their return from Hamburg were asking “what’ve you got?” to rebel against, now super-ceded Martin’s requests with “is that all you want us to do?” Their pop smarts were so good after one year that when in October 1963 Epstein asked them to write a song to crack the American market, they could write “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Lester asked them for a song with a climactic start for their first film and they wrote Hard Days Night. They had completed the “pedagogic” phase of their learning to be creative in six months. Call them feral, call them provincial but their liminal abilities were focussed for one year on writing perfect hit records and they graduated with 110% or even more; they rewrote the stylistic and sales records book with 15 separate million-selling records in 1964 in the USA alone.
By the summer of 1964 The Beatles had used up all their ears had taught them as an audience-responsive live band and then recycled it back creatively as a pop singles machine. They had answered calls for a UK number one, an American number one, a movie theme tune, a classic rock n roll EP and also, in delivering a soundtrack album with six bonus tracks, accidentally invented the modern rock album. The studious Beatles were bored. And then Bob Dylan turned up.