No band has been as meticulously plotted and historically catalogued as The Beatles. As the group that brought rock music to the forefront of popular culture, their legacy is secured as the biggest band of all time, and the timeline of their meteoric rise has been heavily detailed for decades.
The same can be said for Beatles firsts. Want to know when John Lennon first met Paul McCartney? Well, there’s tons of information, including a photo of Lennon performing with The Quarrymen from that specific date in history. Want to know about The Beatles failed audition for Decca Records? Here’s the story. Pretty much as far back as their teenage years, just about every moment in The Beatles’ lives is preserved somewhere by somebody.
So why is it so hard to get a straight answer regarding what the first song recorded by The Beatles is? Well, that’s because there’s a couple of different scenarios that fit what would seem like a pretty specific inquiry. Throughout their early career, whether it was with different names or in different incarnations, the bands that would eventually become The Beatles did some amateur recording. There’s even a tape from the day Lennon and McCartney met of The Quarrymen playing Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Puttin’ on the Style’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Baby Let’s Play House’.
On July 12th, 1958, The Quarrymen assembled at Phillips’ Sound Recording Services in Liverpool to record what was ostensibly a demo. The band recorded straight to acetate, as going from tape to vinyl would have been an expense that the band couldn’t afford. The group recorded two songs, each on a single take. The first was an original song by McCartney with a solo from George Harrison entitled ‘In Spite of All the Danger’, credited to McCartney/Harrison and sung by Lennon. The second was a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’, which was also sung by Lennon. At the time, Lennon was 17, McCartney was 16, and Harrison was 15.
By the time the band started their residency in Hamburg, their name had officially changed to The Beatles and the group solidified around Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best. Bootlegs from the band’s time in Germany can be found, but their next officially recording came as part of fellow Englishman Tony Sheridan’s backing band. With the Beatles, Sheridan recorded ‘My Bonnie’ as a Germany-only single in 1961, along with a version of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ as the B-side. This record would be credited to ‘Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers’.
In order to get the band out of their contract with German producer Bert Kaempfert, one final recording session was organised that wound up being held on to until June of 1962. When the band signed Brian Epstein on as their manager, he eventually secured them their legendary audition with Decca. The band recorded 15 songs on New Years Day, 1962, with the first number attempted being ‘Till There Was You’, a McCartney lead that would eventually appear on With The Beatles, albeit in re-recorded form. Decca rejected the band, and they eventually found their way to the offices of EMI.
During the band’s first recording session with George Martin on June 6th, 1962, the first song attempted was ‘Besame Mucho’ which the band also performed at their Decca audition. More important, however, was the B-side attempted that day: ‘Love Me Do’. The band informed Martin that it was an original and the producer was impressed. When they eventually signed with EMI, ‘Love Me Do’ was the first song recorded with the intention of being the band’s first single, although they had to run through a song Martin brought in called ‘How Do You Do It’ to placate the producer.
This session happened on September 4th, 1962, although Martin insisted that the band re-record the song and its B-side ‘P.S. I Love You’ with studio drummer Andy White a week later. Still, the first song recorded by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as The Beatles and intended for official release was, in fact, ‘Love Me Do’.