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That's the stuff

Monday 11/21/22

To this excerpt, I will add before the fact: If the Beatles existed right now and were writers, and did the writing version of what they did musically--only better--there isn't anyone who would go near them in the whole of publishing, unless they found a way to change the system and kept at it for years. There would be no one with the vision to allow anything that different, or even not be threatened and terrified by it. When it is that thing that changes the world. And makes the most money, too.


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Martin’s other issue—and one that it was hard not to have—was that John Lennon stuck his harmonica in his mouth and began wailing away right when he—or someone—was supposed to be singing the title phrase.


The solution: have Paul do it. We might think this is some small moment, but I think it’s huge. The Beatles were John Lennon’s band. The primary singer—at this junction—was Lennon. There would always be a certain amount of deferment to the de facto leader. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Lennon plays the final guitar solo on the final song of the final Beatles album at the end of “The End”? He saw that as his privilege, and McCartney and George Harrison were still going along with it then, so imagine where matters stood in the middle of 1962.


McCartney steps to center stage; it’s his big, “Hello, I’m Paul,” moment. We can hear a touch of nerves. You want to impress your band mates, you want to impress Lennon and not let down the side, you want to impress George Martin, you want to nail something special for posterity, for the record buying public, and strike a blow for English beat music and rhythm and blues on behalf of a band that was doing the near-unthinkable at the time: using their own material.


His voice pairs perfectly with the chug-a-chug rhythm, the Liverpool variant on the Bo Diddley beat. Listen to how hard the guitarists strum on “Love Me Do.” The same happens with Lennon’s driving rhythm guitar throughout the A Hard Day’s Night album. That’s the skiffle, which is also a homespun sub-genre we’re already moving well past, despite the discernible elements.


The harmonica is used again on the band’s next single, “Please Please Me”—and the one after, in “From Me to You,” with liberal B-side usage as well—but the harmonica of “Please Please Me” has more of a carillon intonation coupled with the chiming tinkling of a celeste. Harrison’s guitar utilizes a bell-like peal itself—his ornamental fills help make the song—and harmonica and guitar work in symbiosis, in essence “singing” together, as Lennon and McCartney so often would.


The harmonica riff, meanwhile, of “Love Me Do” seizes and tugs; it takes you with it, to wherever we’re going: back to someone’s house to cut school and delight in some boss sounds; to the Cavern Club where a new form of excitement is building; to the eventual toppermost of the Poppermost. You pick the place, “Love Me Do” seems to say. It’s less a song than the sound of possibility.


In writing, we talk about voice; “Love Me Do” has voice, and I’m not referring to the quality or quotient of the vocals. This is idiomatically the Beatles. Now, that will prove to be a wide idiom, with much play within it, but you always know it’s them, and “Love Me Do” was the first time—the announcement—that it was that way and a keen, prescient listener might surmise it would always be that way.


The Beatles who made that final pre-fame—barely—trip to Hamburg at Christmas to see out the end of 1962 were likely to have been nostalgic themselves. In the larger sense of building a career, they wanted to be back at the musical front—which had already been identified as EMI Studios at Abbey Road—but to put the Beatles on stage in a bar was to unleash the most natural version of the band within.


They will someday make Revolver and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but at heart these were cool guys who loved cool music and playing together such that were a question asked just who, exactly, in the audience had had their minds blown, the result would be everyone in attendance putting a hand in the air.


That spiritedness drives everything about “Love Me Do.” We don’t talk about it as one of the great singles, or even one of the great debut singles, but I think that’s because it transcends the normal categories, just as the Beatles themselves defied expectations and were in an environment where they were encouraged to do precisely that—or at least not deterred.


“Please Please Me” is obviously a song whose lyric is built around that simple and essential word of “please” in which we make a form of entreaty that defines so much of our lives.

“Please call me when you get home.” “Please pass the salt and pepper.” “Please love me.”


Entreaties were big for these early Beatles. They asked a lot of themselves. They asked a lot of George Martin, too, to do what few people ever have: employ trust and vision, or faith, or whatever one wishes to call it, with someone—some people—so clearly doing what others had not done before.