60 Years Ago Today: Love Me Do by The Beatles

Someone to love.
Somebody new.
Someone to love.
Someone like you.

Time plays odd tricks. It’s 60 years ago that The Beatles released Love Me Do on 5th October 1962. The opening harmonica hook remains haunting and evokes the grainy black and white early Sixties. Melancholic images of fog on the Mersey. John, Paul, George and Ringo playing the smoky Cavern Club. Screaming teenage girls tearing out their hair. The thaw in post war austerity. Yes, the first few notes of the harmonica hook are instantly recognisable as redolent of a seeming moment of cultural change in Britain.

By the time I was conscious that I was listening to music by a band I could identify as The Beatles sometimes in the Seventies, they had broken up and their quotidian grip on British culture was already legendary (and certainly mythologised when Lennon was shot dead in 1980). My mum was far more likely to play Led Zep or The Kinks at home but I remember my first experiences of The Beatles was through a black box of their collected singles. It included black and white photos of the band as they went through their transformation from juvenile boy band through beatniks and psychedelic warriors to long-haired otherworldly prophets. There was something of the religious artefact about the box. The care needed to load a single on the record player gave the act of listening to them a ritualistic quality. I remember that one of the classes in my primary school had done artwork based on songs from Magical Mystery Tour which was displayed in the school hall and I distinctly recall sitting looking at the pieces happy knowing that I knew the songs. I could even sing them. That might have been the point I realised that there was connection between music and art (and, implicitly, British culture). The Beatles were part of the fabric of a (idealised) childhood Britain that included The Queen, James Bond, PG Tips, Doctor Who and red post boxes.

Love Me Do had been recorded three times before release with a different drummer each session (Pete Best had been kicked out the band, George Martin wasn’t impressed by Ringo so session musician, Andy White played drums on the third recording). The single released on the 5th October 1962 featured Ringo by mistake (the album, Please Please Me, “corrected” this with the Andy White recording featuring Ringo’s tambourine). The song is by McCartney, who claimed he wrote it in 1958 when bunking off school with some help from Lennon with the middle eight (the “Pleeeeeeese Love me do”). It’s likely that McCartney had been influenced by the country sound of the Everly Brothers’ 1957 hit, Bye Bye Love and squint your eyes watching Don and Phil perform their song and you could be fooled into seeing John and Paul performing.

Supposedly, George Martin didn’t want Love Me Do as The Beatles’ first release. He had the rights to How Do You Do It by Mitch Murray – later released by Jerry and the Pacemakers – and believed it was perfect for the band. The Beatles disagreed, thinking it was too typical and lacked their rock and roll attitude. Of course, they were right. Love Me Do has been mythologised into establishing Merseybeat as an overnight success, but in reality, the song peaked at number 17 after eleven weeks. It only reached number 1 in the US in May 1964 during Beatlemania. Their fame would only grow after this release.

Over the years, The Beatles have become for me something slightly emblematic of a Lost Golden Age of Sixties innocence and idealism just before I was born. It’s hard not to be nostalgic when hearing Love Me Do and have the backbeat not become part of the rhythm of your life. Today, I experience Love Me Do as more of a ghostly lament to a lost Britain that called out for future love and a better life after the war. For a moment it seemed to be answered only to end as yesterday. I experience it now – as I’m sure many others do – as an aspect of my lost youth. It was always really a slow, melancholic, unrequited song.