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'Love Me Do' at 50: Five fab facts about the Beatles' first single

When the fresh-faced Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do,” on Oct. 5, 1962, they probably couldn’t have imagined being age 50, much less anyone marking the single hitting the half-century mark. But the record’s silver anniversary is being celebrated in places ranging from the BBC to Rolling Stone magazine and for good reason: it’s one of the most important records ever made.

If any one record could be said to be a harbinger of the musical and social upheavals of the 1960s, “Love Me Do” is it, since it kicked off the career of a rock group that many have called the greatest musical act of all time. To mark this anniversary, we’ve come up with a list of five fab facts about the record.

1. That’s not vibrato, that’s nerves
When the Beatles first congregated Sept. 4 in Abbey Road studios to record “Love Me Do,” they had overhauled the arrangement and John Lennon now had a harmonica part. But Lennon’s harmonica got in the way of his singing the song’s a cappella chorus tag so the vocal duties needed to be changed as well, said producer George Martin. That left a very anxious, 20-year-old Paul McCartney to go it alone on the chorus. “Until that session John had done it,” said McCartney in Barry Miles’ “Many Years From Now.” “I didn’t even know how to sing it ... I can still hear the nervousness in my voice.”

2. Sometimes illegal activities pay off
Beatle compatriot Bill Harry writes in “The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia” that “Love Me Do” was primarily written by McCartney “one day when he was playing truant from school.” If so, then it was the most profitable day in the history of playing hooky since the song eventually went to No. 1 in the United States. Not one to be outdone on the illegal activities front, Lennon contributed his share of lawbreaking to the record as well, having purportedly stolen the harmonica he plays on the record. And people thought the Rolling Stones were the bad boys of British rock?

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3. It wasn’t such a bad start
Compared to all the chart-topping hits the Beatles later had, the No. 17 chart placing of “Love Me Do” seems like a minor failure. But compared to the debuts of some other major artists, it wasn’t so bad. The Beach Boys’ first single, “Surfin’” only got to No. 75. Madonna’s first, “Everybody,” didn’t even make the top 100 and stalled out on the Bubbling Under chart at No. 107 (it was a Top 5 dance hit, however). Bruce Springsteen’s first single, “Blinded by the Light,” didn’t chart at all until a cover version became a hit three years later.

4. Brits got Ringo, Americans didn’t
Beatle lore has it that Ringo Starr plays only tambourine on “Love Me Do” since an unimpressed George Martin booked session pro Andy White for the date. But according to Mark Lewisohn’s “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” that happened the second time the group recorded the song on Sept. 11, 1962. Their first try, on Sept. 4, did feature Ringo. And although Martin was originally unhappy with the drummer’s playing, that’s the version he ultimately picked when the single was first issued. But in America (where the song topped the charts in mid-1964), the Sept. 11 version was used. Americans didn’t officially get to hear the original UK 45 until the 1980 “Rarities” album. You can tell the difference because only the Sept. 11 recording has tambourine.

5. No stereo for you!
Only a handful of Beatles recordings were never issued in stereo and “Love Me Do” is one of them. Singles were only issued in mono then, so no stereo master was ever made for either version of “Love Me Do” or its B-side, “P.S. I Love You.” They didn’t have the chance to create stereo mixes later on because the tapes were thrown away. According to “Recording Sessions,” it “wasn’t customary” to keep session tapes lying around in 1962. So how did they go about getting “Love Me Do” on CD if there are no tapes of it left? An old 45 record. But a really, really clean one.

Tony Sclafani owns an original U.S. copy of “Love Me Do” on the Tollie label and can be found at www.tonysclafani.com.