The 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ UK release of “Love Me Do” is being celebrated by a number of media outlets here including The BBC and The Guardian. The latter carries a great article which reprints a 1963 review of the UK’s first home grown contemporary global pop phenomenon:
Written across the front of St George’s Hall, Liverpool (a building dear to the heart of John Betjeman), are huge chalked letters declaring: “I Love the Beatles.” There is hardly anything cryptic about this declaration to anyone who has ever viewed Juke Box Jury, listened to Pick of the Pops, or fathered a teenage daughter, for in the last six months the Beatles have become the most popular vocal-instrumental group in Britain, and as everyone with any pretension towards mass culture should know, the Beatles are from Liverpool.
In fact, there is a connection between Liverpool and the four young musicians that seems to go deeper than pride for hometown boys; something, perhaps deep in the mysterious well of English and especially northern working-class sentimentality. When Liverpool, and the north in general, was a forgotten second class citizen, this rock group suddenly made Liverpool fashionable in the entertainment world. After their first two records it became necessary for people in the business in London to learn a few words of Scouse.
This 1963 article nails an aspect of the group’s appeal which, as someone who hails from the North of England, has always been close to my heart. I remember being told by a relative that John’s harmonica signalled to “Northerners” at the time that the world was changing. According to them it meant that class barriers were crumbling in post-war Britain. As a result, for me, there’s a distinctly authentic flavour to that song which reminds me of the cobbled streets and no nonsense style of my homeland.
The Beatles themselves acknowledged this particular track’s ‘credibility’ in interviews requoted in the exhaustive “The Beatles Anthology Book“. Here they are speaking about the tune in relation to another song their producer, George Martin, had suggested they record and release instead:
PAUL: We listened to the demo and said, ‘It’s a hit, George, but we’ve got a song, “Love Me Do”.’ George said, ‘I don’t think yours is such a big hit.’ We said ‘Yes, but it is us, and it is what we’re about. [...]
GEORGE HARRISON: We had played ‘Love Me Do’ on stage and it felt quite good and it was one of Paul and John’s. We wanted that; the other song we were being offered was really corny”
Art and music is of course built upon intensely subjective notions and value judgements. The BBC’s celebrations of the anniversary are too expansive to list here but there’s an interesting video to be found on this page of their website where the tune is played to children in 2012 who attend a South London school. It makes for amusing viewing.
The UK’s “north south divide” is not well understood by most Americans but I’m optimistically inclined to think reaction would be different from school kids born and raised in the north of England.