This week marks 50 years since The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do.
Since the group lasted 8 years, that presumably means we’re about to spend every year until 2020 celebrating all kinds of 50 year anniversaries involving the Fab Four, which should make the bank managers for the two surviving members, and EMI, very happy indeed.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how the 50 year celebration goes for John Lennon saying The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, sparking riots and widespread burning of Beatles albums in the USA in 1966…
But I digress. Everyone’s been talking about that first song this week, from segments on BBC1’s The One Show sending reporters back to Liverpool’s The Cavern, to newspaper articles suggesting that October 1962 was the month popular culture was born.
What most of them agree on, bearing in mind the popularity of hundreds of Beatles songs, is that Love Me Do was an inauspicious start for the group.
Love Me Do didn’t hit number one. It didn’t get anywhere near, peaking at number 17 in the charts. It’s probably the only single by the group that didn’t hit at least number 2 in the charts.
Indeed, if you watch the video of the group singing the song below, all four of them look pretty darn bored.
But Love Me Do means something different for me.
Along with the Beatles’ better regarded Yesterday, it was the song that, for me, bridged the gap between children’s songs and popular music. It sent me on a record-buying odyssey that lasted until I discovered Oasis and Britpop, and finally had something in common with my friends.
And it’s very simplicity was the reason I liked it so much.
I’d discovered Yesterday when we sang it in primary school. It was a refreshing change from the usual hymns, and I even asked a teacher to give me a copy of the lyrics. Fast forward a few months, and on a family holiday in the Lake District, my Dad bought me The Beatles’ Red Album, full of their most popular gems from 1962-66.
Back at the holiday cottage, my brother, 8 years old, and me, 10, put the tape in the machine, and the very first sound we heard through our hearing aids was John Lennon’s harmonica. My brother and I loved Love Me Do the second we heard it.
Was it a great song? Not really. Would I listen to it now? Not unless you forced me to, frankly. But the reason we loved it was simple.
We could understand it.
This was a time before you could search for song lyrics online. Heck, this was a time before music programmes on TV even had subtitles.
My brother and I could hardly ever work out what Michael Jackson was really saying, or Madonna, or whoever else happened to be riding high in the charts at the time. We couldn’t even get the lyrics of New Kids on the Block. We may not have been missing out, in that regard.
But we could understand this opening verse: Love, love me do. You know I love you. I’ll always be true. So pleeeeeassse. Love me do…
We duly wrote down all the lyrics. We told Dad that we understood them. We made him listen to it all the way back home to Oxfordshire.
He may have regretted his generosity in the end.
A few months later, after a lot of repeated listening (which is how I’ve always come to understand a song), I discovered the other fantastic songs on that album. Later, I got the Blue album, covering 1967-70, which was even better.
Nowadays, I don’t listen to The Beatles that much. All that record-buying and autobiography-reading wore it all out.
But I still have good memories of the first time we heard Love Me Do.
Us Swinbournes (though not my Dad) salute you, mediocre Beatle debut song. You meant something to us.
Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.
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