Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Love Me Do

Richard Furnstein: Oof. Open a window. I'm sorry but the stench of this one really lingers. I guess we have to cover it, though. Alright: "Love Me Do" is The Beatles' first single, so I guess that counts for something. The problem is that it's just not very good. I find it hard to imagine that "Love Me Do" was really their first huge step in becoming the superpower of the century as it offers very few hints as to the genius, majesty, prose, and social commentary of The Beatles' best work. Is there any greater leap than from the lifeless thud of "Love Me Do" to the cosmic awakenings of Revolver in less than four years? First off, the title of "Love Me Do" is complete nonsense. It's not a phrase that is actually used by English speaking human beings. John and Paul try to cover up the idiotic lyrics with their best Everly Brothers routine, but the song's stark instrumentation and non adventurous arrangement don't offer much in the way of support. John insists on bringing his mouth harp to the party and everyone is quickly annoyed. Is this supposed to be skiffle music? I guess skiffle music is terrible, then.

Robert Bunter: I can imagine the hypothetical responses of “Love Me Do” defenders – “You’re not being fair. You have to look at the context of what was happening in the British pop scene at the time. ‘Love Me Do’ was revolutionary because the Beatles were writing and performing their own material, plus it had a nice raw sound that was refreshing to listeners who were being inundated by teen idols and slick pop confections.” That all sounds plausible, but to my ears, this record still falls flat. Maybe the boys were holding their high cards close to the vest, giving it the old slow play so the world would have time to adjust to their haircuts. They’d lay more chips on the table with “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You,” then drop the hammer with the all-in one-two jackpot knockout of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” I guess it’s possible, but the 1963 UK music scene wasn’t the World Poker Tour, and the Beatles weren’t Hoyt Corkins. Listeners familiar with the primitive live Hamburg bootlegs know that the Beatles could have recorded a debut single of considerably greater impact and merit. I’m picturing a beer-stained, Preludin-jacked proto-punk 7”, “One After 909” b/w “Nothin's Shakin'.” I can tell you with certainty that I would cherish my NM+ mono picture sleeve copy of this Parlophone single, if it existed. Instead, the Beatles gave us this penny ante plod-and-wheeze (backed with the equally heinous "P.S. I Love You"). Do George Martin and Brian Epstein deserve part of the blame?

The 1963 UK music scene wasn’t the World Poker Tour, and the Beatles weren’t Hoyt Corkins.
Richard Furnstein: It's possible, but I doubt it was strictly a slow play. George Martin was a respected producer with EMI, with professional roots in the BBC's classical music department. The Beatles were just another handsome beat group and his role was to capture whatever milk leaked from their shallow teats. I'm sure Martin heard "Love Me Do" and thought it was an innocent crossover. It had a spark of spook in the arrangement and a lyric that avoided the sexual confrontation of American rock (The Beatles would head in the opposite direction for the lascivious "Please Please Me"). Martin's role was to gently suggest material since contemporary pop performers were typically too idiotic to write their terrible songs. Epstein certainly had a better idea of their potential, both musically (the pillhead hysteria from the German skratch-und-klaw) and in terms of female and homosexual fantasies. Yet he made a series of nearsighted business decisions, suggesting that he saw their appeal as disposable and limited. It may not have been a slow play, EMI/Martin/Epstein may not have understood the significance of the cards that they were holding.

Here's the greater point: the selection of "Love Me Do" as the first single suggested that The Beatless--despite the famous origins story--were hardly a sure thing. There isn't much evidence to suggest that they were better than "Love Me Do" at the time. The ascent of Beatles man to "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You" was surely against the odds. The Beatles were given their big break and then realized that they only had a stale container of "Love Me Do" soup in the back of the cupboard. They'd warm it up slightly and deliver it in a clean bowl but it was hardly a memorable meal.

Robert Bunter: You’ve got a point there. With hindsight it’s easy to imagine that staid, conservatory-trained producer George Martin and delicate furniture salesman Brian Epstein would have treated their soon-to-be-incredibly-profitable meal ticket with awed deference, but the reality must have been much closer to your description. Their callous disrespect extended to their treatment of Ringo, who had only recently joined the band to replace the broodingly handsome Pete Best. Martin and the rest of the brisk, professional EMI studio staff quickly decided that his drumming on the original take wasn’t up to snuff and ordered a new session, handed Ringo a tambourine, then turned the drum duties over to faceless studio hack Andy White. One can only imagine the smug expression on Mr. White’s face as he settled his pale, underfed London flanks into the lightly-cushioned drum throne and picked up Ringo’s favorite pair of drumsticks. Some (me) even speculate that Ringo’s drumwork was not even the issue – the EMI brass just kept Andy White on hand for all sessions with new groups, in order to bring the poor lad’s confidence down a few notches and show them who was boss. Later, in my fantasy, the drunken sticksman for Derry and the Seniors (the criminally-underrated Giles “Ladbrooke” Gloanbottom) socked Andy White in his swarthy, over-fed face during a particularly tense first session. Meanwhile, hapless Ringo shook the tambourine with all the gusto he could muster on this revised take, recorded almost exactly 50 years ago on September 11, 1962. Subsequent re-issues of this track on various albums and singles have been split about evenly between the Ringo and the Andy White versions; you can tell the Andy White by the presence of the tambourine.

Richard Furnstein: It's entirely possible there was another angle to the Ringo dismissal. Have you heard the drum part on "Love Me Do"? It's hardly a Bill Bruford punishing workout. It's a simple thump/plonk pattern that a child can play. In fact, if your child can't play this beat you should mail him back to the hospital and conceive a new child and then name him Andy White. My point being that it would never happen because that drum part is garbage.

Robert Bunter: Ha! I’m sorry, but when it comes to pale drummers named “White” who can confidently handle a simple beat, I’m choosing Meg White of the White Stripes. Her primal, animalistic rhythms are extremely stimulating, and that beatific, glazed expression on her adorable face is infinitely easier on the eyes than Andy White’s self-satisfied smirk or even Ringo Starr’s hangdog droop-and-frown. She gives us all a lot to think about. I’m sorry, but these are the facts. 

Richard Furnstein: I hear you. It's easy to forget about all of the troubles of a Beatlemaniac when you see the fairer White Stripe handle the sticks and pound out some plump beats. It lends clarity to the vague yearnings and empty pleas of "Love Me Do" and other early Beatles failures. We are all just cavemen, drawn to the pale flesh and tribal rhythms, pulsing in a beautiful collection of need/want/love. Er, pardon me. I've said too much.

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