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The strange, atmospheric and unassuming song was recorded in two versions, wasn’t meant to be the first single and was a delayed hit in the US. So what’s the appeal of Love Me Do?
It was 50 years ago today. There in the Parlophone schedule, next to the King Brothers, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, Matt Monro, the Temperance Seven and James Brown (Shout and Shimmy: a future Mod perennial, later covered by the Who) is the Beatles’ first single for the label. Out of the 11 records in those particular “Latest Releases”, only two were hits, Monro’s My Love and Devotion (29) and Love Me Do – which after a tortuous 12-week journey through the darker reaches of the charts eventually hit No 17 in the last week of December.
The Beatles had the biggest hit of that week’s releases – a fact which did not reflect the label’s confidence in their new act. The story of their audition with George Martin and their signing to EMI in June 1962 is common knowledge, of course. The Beatles’ story has been told and retold so many times and it would be easy to write off Love Me Do as a stale tale, a simplistic stepping stone to future glory. But that would be ahistorical, and would serve to deny this strange, atmospheric single its due.
Listening to it with fresh ears, Love Me Do sounds unlike anything else in the charts of the day – only the prominence of the harmonica in the arrangement recalls Bruce Channel’s soulful Hey! Baby, a No 2 hit in the UK in spring 1962. Autumn that year was dominated by Elvis, Frank Ifield and the Tornados’ Telstar. The biggest British act of the time was Cliff Richard; the biggest producer Norrie Paramor (Cliff, Ifield, the Shadows) who had 26 weeks at No 1 that year.
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