The first song recorded by The Beatles was written by Paul McCartney when he was just 16
The Beatles massive explosion in music can be traced back, largely, to their incredible songwriting talent. Unlike today, though the band had a great image and were certainly fresher than anything around at the time, the real reason the Fab Four started Beatlemania is that they knew their way around a tune.
It would appear it started at an early age too. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were fooling around on guitars for some time before The Beatles became popstars and one song, the first they ever recorded, proved that Macca was a special talent from a young age.
At just 16, when most of us are happy to pick the fluff out of our belly buttons for six hours at a time, Paul McCartney was writing one of the most recognisable pop songs of all time, ‘Love Me Do’. Featuring on the band’s first album, the song was also the first track they put down on disc and signalled that The Beatles ha d “arrived.”
Speaking in 1972, Lennon revealed that the song was born out of Macca’s teenage years, “Paul wrote the main structure of this when he was sixteen, or even earlier.” While the song’s content—heavily leaning on the rock ‘n’ roll tropes of old—may scream teenage lust and love, there’s still a marked amount of maturity in the track’s construction.
Unlike much of the band’s catalogue, it would seem that Paul was happy to share the credit on this song though as he stated later, “‘Love Me Do’ was completely co-written … It was just Lennon and McCartney sitting down without either of us having a particularly original idea. We loved doing it, it was a very interesting thing to try and learn to do, to become songwriters. I think why we eventually got so strong was we wrote so much through our formative period.”
‘Love Me Do’ provided the gateway for the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership to flourish. According to Ringo Starr it was the song that signified the band had truly made it: “The first record, ‘Love Me Do,’ for me that was more important than anything else. That first piece of plastic. You can’t believe how great that was. It was so wonderful. We were on a record!”
It was something later confirmed by Macca: “In Hamburg we clicked… At the Cavern we clicked.. but if you want to know when we ‘knew’ we’d arrived, it was getting in the charts with ‘Love Me Do.’ That was the one. It gave us somewhere to go.”
Though the initial structure had been born in Liverpool, it was heavily influenced by the delta blues. It encouraged George Martin to employ Macca as the lead vocalist (it had originally been earmarked for Lennon) and ask the bespectacled Beatle to play harmonica, as McCartney remembers: “George Martin said, ‘Can anyone play a harmonica? It would be rather nice. Couldn’t think of some sort of bluesy thing, could you John?’ John played a chromatic harmonica… I actually had one too but he’d been clever— he learned to play it. John expected to be in jail one day and he’d be the guy who played the harmonica.
“The lyric crossed over the harmonica solo, so I suddenly got thrown the big open line, ‘Love me do,’ where everything stopped. Until that session, John had always done it. I didn’t even know how to sing it… I can still hear the nervousness in my voice.” Despite any nervousness the song began to climb the charts and peaked at 17 in the UK—no mean feat for four nobodies form Liverpool.
It was a situation which wasn’t missed by London’s glitterati, as Lennon remembers in 1963: “It came to the charts in two days. And everybody thought it was a ‘fiddle’ because our manager’s stores send in these… what is it… record returns. And everybody down south thought, ‘Aha! He’s just fiddling the charts.’ But he wasn’t.”
The song was later re-promoted (not re-issued) and landed a little higher in the charts. The track remains a favourite for anyone who hears it today and acts as a reminder that The Beatles were always destined for greatness.