“That was a pivotal song. Our songwriting lifted a little with that song.” — Paul McCartney
The world was a darker place before The Beatles announced themselves in the tender years of the sixties. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr arrived like a breath of fresh air capable of blowing away the cobwebs of the post-war world. The band did it by looking backwards and bringing a taste of ragtime jams to a brand new audience. When you add the nostalgia of the past with the modernism of marketing, you have a scintillating song like their third-ever single, ‘From Me To You’.
“It could be done as an old ragtime tune,” claimed Lennon when speaking about the song in 1964, “Especially the middle-eight. And so, we’re not writing the tunes in any particular idiom. In five years’ time, we may arrange the tunes differently. But we’ll probably write the same old rubbish.” The band were on the precipice of announcing Beatlemania in earnest. Previous singles ‘Please, Please Me’ and ‘Love Me Do’ had seen the band gain some serious traction, but it was ‘From Me To You’ that confirmed their status as the latest craze. And to think, the song could have easily ended up as someone else’s.
The track was originally written for Helen Shapiro. Inspired by the New Musical Express letters section of the day, ‘From You to Us’, the band’s principal songwriters Lennon and McCartney penned the tune on the back of a tour bus. “The night Paul and I wrote ‘From Me To You’, we were on the Helen Shapiro tour, on the coach, travelling from York to Shrewsbury,” recalled Lennon in The Beatles’ Anthology.
“We weren’t taking ourselves seriously – just fooling around on the guitar – when we began to get a good melody line, and we really started to work at it. Before that journey was over, we’d completed the lyric, everything,” continued Lennon. “I think the first line was mine and we took it from there. What puzzled us was why we’d thought of a name like ‘From Me To You’. It had me thinking when I picked up the NME to see how we were doing in the charts. Then I realised – we’d got the inspiration from reading a copy on the coach. Paul and I had been talking about one of the letters in the From You To Us column.”
Perhaps owing to the tour the group were on at the time, the song was initially slated for Shapiro. “I remember John and Paul coming up to me to ask if I would like to hear a couple of songs that they had just written,” remembered Shapiro. “They were looking for opinions because they were undecided about which should be their next single. We crowded around a piano, and Paul played while the two of them sang their latest composition. One was ‘Thank You Girl’, and the other was ‘From Me To You’, which I liked best.” It landed with Lennon: “We’d already written ‘Thank You Girl’ as the follow-up to ‘Please Please Me’. This new number was to be the b-side. We were so pleased with it; we knew we just had to make it the a-side, ‘Thank You Girl’ the B.”
The Beatles clearly saw the value in the song, and with the word of George Martin ringing in their ears, they decided to keep the tune. The band’s producer had been at the helm for their first two singles and was keen to keep churning out the hits and encouraged the songwriters to employ formula of sorts. “There was a little trick we developed early on and got bored with later,” recalled McCartney in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now, “Which was to put I, Me or You in it, so it was very direct and personal: ‘Love Me Do’; ‘Please Please Me’; ‘From Me To You’ – we got two of them in there.”
However, to try and undercut the landmark moment of the song is pointless, it remains one of the greatest tracks in the band’s arsenal, if only for what it allowed the Fab Four to pursue: “That was a pivotal song,” continued McCartney, “Our songwriting lifted a little with that song. It was very much co-written. We were starting to meet other musicians then, and we’d start to see other people writing. After that, on another tour bus with Roy Orbison, we saw Roy sitting in the back of the bus, writing ‘Pretty Woman’. It was lovely. We could tradeoff with each other. This was our real start.”
There aren’t many people who would include ‘From Me To You’ in their top ten list of Beatles tunes. The song has later been revised as pure pop revelry — the kind of bubbly tune that grabbed the public’s attention at the time but feels deflated in the 21st century. However, the song was the moment that The Beatles realised they had permanently “arrived”. While the track’s conception helped to perpetuate that feeling, the chart position only added further gravity to the argument, and the ease of writing also showed that the Lennon-McCartney partnership was a winner — it would take a milkman to rubber-stamp the notion.
“I’d come back from a club and I was just getting to bed and I heard the milkman whistling ‘From Me To You’. I thought ‘That’s it, I’ve arrived – the milkman’s whistling my tune’.” It was this moment that confirmed to Paul McCartney that The Beatles had finally arrived and were here to be reckoned with.
Though we’d imagine that even he couldn’t have predicted their stunning longevity.