This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #390: Love Me Do by The Beatles.
Liverpool sits on the west coast of England in the Borough of Merseyside. It is a seafaring city, for the most part. On a clear day, one can see the southeastern coast of Ireland from the docks. It was in this city of almost half a million people that one of the most momentous events in the entire history of modern music occurred way back in 1957.
Not far from the coast there sat a church. In that church was a gathering that featured a local band known as The Quarreymen. The lead singer of The Quarreymen was a teenage boy named John Lennon. In the audience that day was another teenage boy named Paul McCartney. Impressed by Lennon’s performance, McCartney approached him and told him that he, also, knew how to play guitar. Lennon lent his guitar to McCartney and asked him to play. McCartney obliged. He played a Bluesy song by Eddie Cochran. Lennon was as impressed with McCartney as McCartney had been with Lennon. An invitation to join The Quarreymen was offered by Lennon and accepted by McCartney. Thus began the most prolific musical partnership in the entire history of recorded music.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were both heavily influenced by the early US Bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, along with early Rock n’ Roll stars such as Elvis and The Everly Brothers. Initially, Lennon and McCartney honed their skills by imitating their heroes. After much practise playing the songs they loved, it only seemed natural to them to try their hand at writing their own material. So they did. Over the course of their career as partners, John Lennon and Paul McCartney co-wrote hundreds of songs, that ended up selling over 600 million copies worldwide, making them the most successful songwriting partnership of all time. One of the things that separated them from other successful songwriting duos (such as Rogers and Hammerstein, for instance) was that both men wrote lyrics and both men worked on the musical structure of their songs, as well. They was no set division of labour; where one wrote the words and the other wrote the tune. A Lennon-McCartney song was a true creation of equals. In fact, in 1962, the two young men forged an agreement that stated that they would share songwriting credits for all songs, regardless as to the percentage of effort either put into a specific song.
The Quarreymen evolved into The Silver Beatles and, eventually, simply, The Beatles. Along with George Harrison and drummer, Pete Best, The Beatles honed their chops in local clubs, as well as, in Germany. Thinking it was time to actually put out a record, Lennon and McCartney approached several producers; eventually, meeting up with a man named George Martin. When Martin first heard them play, he was unimpressed by their music. However, he was impressed by the chemistry of the players within the band and by the charisma that Lennon and McCartney, in particular, exuded outwardly and, so he agreed to work with them. Fortunately for all concerned, their was no ego involved and the members of The Beatles readily agreed to try the advice offered by Martin. One of the single, most important moments in the entire evolution of modern music happened next.
In the early 1960s, record companies had their talent compartmentalized within their organizational structure. In all cases, artists and bands never performed their own music. They were always handed material created by teams of writers and forced to use those songs if they wanted a record to be made on their behalf. The Beatles were the very first Rock n’ Roll act in the UK to write their own songs. Initially, Sir George Martin balked at Lennon and McCartney’s insistence that they release two of their own songs, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”. But, to his credit, Martin saw something special in this band and reluctantly agreed to give them some leeway. Thus, the boys were allowed to record and release, “Love Me Do”. In doing so, The Beatles set a precedent that acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and others followed and, as a result, the studio-system was broken for good and all artists became freer and more independent in producing their own work.
It was this same sense of empowerment that shook the US music industry, too, when “The British Invasion” swept up upon their shores and stages. “Love Me Do” was the first single released by that band called, The Beatles. It reached #1 on the charts and opened the door for the start of Beatlemania in England and around the world. The song is a simple song, as far as structure and lyrical composition goes but, it is noteworthy because of the use of the harmonica by John Lennon off of the top of the song. The harmonica was a deliberate instrument choice because of its association with Blues music in the US.
What amazes me about the story of The Beatles is how innocuous it all was in the beginning. Two teenage boys at a church picnic, playing around with guitars, was how it started. How easy it would have been for Lennon and McCartney to have failed to connect or to have rubbed each other the wrong way that day and never have gotten together at all. As well, how many people have goofed around in garages and basements of homes, covering the songs of their heroes and never doing more with it than that. Finally, how many of us have shoeboxes filled with stories, poems and songs that no one will ever see until we die and someone is cleaning out our “junk”. At any point in the early days of their friendship, any number of things could have derailed the process that resulted in “Love Me Do” being released. I think we are so fortunate that they found each other and believed in each other and found mentors (like George Martin) who believed in them, too. We are all richer as a result.
Obviously, every journey begins with a first step and, in the case of The Beatles, “Love Me Do” was that first step. As our list grows closer to #1, we will re-visit The Beatles several more times so, no worries about them appearing way back here at Song #390. This isn’t over for The Beatles just yet. This is merely the beginning of the most famous musical journey of all-time. Here is, “Love Me Do” by The Beatles. Enjoy.
The link for the video for “Love Me Do” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.
Thank you to KEXP for supporting new and emerging talent with the same fervour as they do for established stars. A link to their website can be found here.