“Love Me Do” / The Beatles
MAY IS BRITISH INVASION MONTH!
The song that started it all.
This was the Beatles’ first single, and though it only reached #17 on the UK charts in January 1963 (and wasn’t even released in the States until May 1964, after “I Want To Hold Your Hand" and “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” had already burned up the US charts), it was truly the start of SOMETHING BIG.
I can imagine how it felt to a British teenager to have homegrown talent – a provincial Liverpool band, even better – burst open a music market long dominated by American pop artists. But I don’t have to imagine how it felt here in America; I remember it for certain, the delirious impact of that fresh new sound. For two or three years after Beatlemania broke, we were deluged by one British rock band after another, most of them astonishingly good. I was at a VERY impressionable age. The British Invasion made me the rock fan I am today; devoting a month to this music seems the least I could do.
When this single hit, I wasn’t aware I was hearing things out of order – that Capitol Records had scrambled to re-release earlier UK material. I should have noticed that “Love Me Do” sounded a whole lot more primitive than “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which was recorded almost a year later. (It’s stunning what fast learners the Beatles were.) All I knew was that I recognized those close Beatles harmonies, putting my ear close to the speakers, trying to tell which voice was John’s and which was Paul’s. I adored how their voices melted together on the dizzy loop of “Plee—ee-ee-eeee-ee-ee—eeeeze” before an offbeat of silence, then Paul coming in low and sincere to enter his plea, “Love me doo-oo / Oh yeah, love me do.” Could anybody EVER sing as sincerely as Paul McCartney?
Of course, the hook is that bold, blaring harmonica. I’ve read that George Martin didn’t even like this song until Lennon added the harmonica, and then suddenly the whole thing gelled. Otherwise, the song is dead simple. The chorus repeats one musical phrase three times, leading up to that drawn-out begging “Please.” The rhymes are absurdly basic – “do/you/true” – and repeating the chorus, they don’t even bother to give us new lyrics. The middle-eight comes as a relief because it’s different: “Someone to love / Somebody new / Someone to love / Someone like you,” with actual chord changes in it.
And yet this song just throbs with unfulfilled, just-about-to-burst-with-it desire. That puppydog pleading, with all of McCartney’s most adorable vocal flourishes, is just the tip of a hormone-steeped iceberg. Underneath – where Lennon’s insistent harmonica and Ringo’s shambolic drumming drive us – is a frantic undertow of sex, and when Paul drops his voice low for the “Love me do,” there’s more than a whisper of darkness and danger. That one line slipped casually into the middle-eight, “Somebody new” – it means he had a girlfriend before, who didn’t work out. He probably told her too that he’d “always be true.” And then you start to notice that it’s just “Someone to love” he’s looking for; it’s the love he wants, not the specific loved one. “Someone like you.” There’s plenty of fish in the sea, baby, so if you don’t put out he’ll find someone who will. You’ve got two minutes and twenty seconds to make up your mind.
And of course we all said yes.