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Fifty Years of “Love Me Do”
Half a century ago today, a little-known band called The Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do”. While it never did climb past number 17 on British charts, it kicked off an eight-year stretch of creativity that changed music forever.
Beatlemania wouldn’t overtake the UK until 1963, and “Love Me Do” wouldn’t even hit the States until a year after that, but “Love Me Do” is evidence of a young band already committed to the rigors of their craft. Guided and overseen by manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, “Love Me Do” was recorded three times in 1962, with a different drummer each time, as The Beatles and their collaborators attempted to achieve something as close to perfection as possible.
The Beatles were still toying with the song in 1969, when they hooked up with Billy Preston to record a radically reworked version of the sugary pop gem.
This sort of restless retooling and studio perfectionism defined the entirety of The Beatles’ output. What better way to honor The Fab Four’s grand coming out party than charting the evolution of their opening shot?
And so while fans gather in Liverpool for Love Me Do Weekend, which will feature an attempt to break the world record for “most people singing in a round”, let us celebrate by taking a close and careful look at what started it all.
Below you will find a brief audio history of “Love Me Do” that takes a detour into B-side “PS I Love You” before ending up in 1990 with Paul McCartney as he attempts to marry the two compositions.
Okay then. Let’s have a listen to how it all began. And began again. And began again.
“Love Me Do” with Pete Best on drums; recorded June 6, 1962
Recorded with original drummer Pete Best, this early rendition of the song that would catapult The Beatles into the stratosphere was not officially released until 1995, when it appeared on the Anthology 1 compilation. It was recorded as an audition and never intended for release, so let's forgive the rather lackadaisical playing and singing from all involved. What might have become of Liverpool's finest had this wan version been released instead of subsequent superior recordings? This is not to say that this take of “Love Me Do” isn’t very good. It just doesn’t have the zip and thrill of the official versions.
“Love Me Do” with Ringo Starr on drums; September 4, 1962
Released in the UK fifty years ago today, this version of “Love Me Do” featured the newly recruited Ringo Starr on drums. Initial pressings of the single feature this recording, but subsequent pressings subbed the September 11 recording (with Andy White on drums) for Ringo's Beatles debut. Although recorded only three months after the audition with Pete Best, this stab at “Love Me Do” is a marked improvement, with Lennon and McCartney fully committing to vocal duties and Ringo's drums shuffling along with an enthusiasm that Best's offering lack.
“Love Me Do” with Andy White on drums; recorded September 11, 1962
This is the version we are all probably most familiar with, as it is this iteration that ended up being released in the UK (in 1963) on Please Please Me and in America (in 1964) as a single. It has since appeared on numerous Beatles greatest hits packages. Poor Ringo. Although Starr was replaced by session drummer Andy White here, the only thing that really distinguishes this version is the addition of a tambourine. A tambourine played by Ringo Starr. Take that, Andy White!
“Love Me Do” live at the BBC, with Ringo Starr on drums; recorded July 10, 1963
This just might be the greatest recorded version of “Love Me Do”. It’s a bit more raw than the earlier studio takes, but the live energy lends the song an immediacy that the three 1962 recordings lack. Plus it’s always nice to hear The Beatles play live sans the hordes of screaming fans that usually accompanied their concerts.
“Love Me Do” with Billy Preston on keyboards; recorded January, 1969
Recorded during the Get Back sessions, which found The Beatles teaming up with keyboardist Billy Preston to pursue a less produced, more “live” sounding album, this alternate universe iteration of “Love Me Do” transforms the bubblegum pop of McCartney’s composition into a bluesy jaunt. It is an unfinished curiosity, a tossed off lark, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the studio process of a band bent on experimentation and artistic progress.
“PS I Love You” with Andy White on drums; recorded September 11, 1962
Recorded with Andy White on drums (Ringo got to play maracas), this “Love Me Do” B-side would later appear on Please Please Me. Not surprisingly, given The Beatles’ inability to write a dud, “PS I Love You” could easily have been released as a single in its own right. They were just that good, even early on. “[Paul] was trying to write a "Soldier Boy" like The Shirelles,” Lennon once said of the song. “He wrote that in Germany, or when we were going to and from Hamburg. I might have contributed something. I can't remember anything in particular. It was mainly his song.”
“PS Love Me Do” from the Flowers in the Dirt sessions; recorded sometime between September 1987 and February 1989
This is a strange one. Definitely a fan-only oddity. Recorded during the sessions that would eventually result in Paul McCartney’s 1989 solo album, Flowers in the Dirt, “PS Love Me Do” is a very eighties mash-up of “Love Me Do” and “PS I Love You”. Let’s just call it a very creative experiment and leave it at that, shall we?
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