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50 Years Ago Today: The Beatles Released Their Debut Single, 'Love Me Do'

The surprise hit helped kick-start Beatlemania

Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.
Harry Hammond/V&A Images/Getty Images
October 5, 2012 6:00 AM ET

Exactly 50 years ago today, on October 5th, 1962, a new single titled "Love Me Do" hit record stores all over England. It was the debut 45 by the Beatles – though, at the time, that name didn't mean much to many English fans outside of Manchester and their native Liverpool. (The band's frequent performances at the Star Club in Hamburg had already won them a devoted following in Germany, however.) The song was a surprise hit, rising to Number 17 on one of the many weekly charts around the U.K., a strong enough showing to convince EMI they had made a smart bet in signing the Beatles. 

Paul McCartney began writing "Love Me Do" a few years earlier, in 1958, when he was playing hooky from school at age 16. Soon afterwards, he sat down with John Lennon to flesh it out. "It was completely co-written," McCartney later said. "It might have been my original idea, but some of them really were 50-50s, and I think that one was. It was just Lennon and McCartney sitting down without either of us having a particularly original idea."

Lennon had a slightly different recollection of events. "'Love Me Do' is Paul's song," he said in 1980. "Let me think. I might have helped with the middle eight, but I couldn't swear to it. I do know he had the song around, in Hamburg, even, way, way before we were songwriters."

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The Beatles' setlist during the Hamburg days consisted entirely of covers by Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and other American rock pioneers.  They eventually found the courage to work in their own material, beginning with "Love Me Do." The track worked surprisingly well in their set, and when they first visited Abbey Road studios on June 6th, 1962 for an audition with EMI, they played "Love Me Do" alongside "Besame Mucho," "P.S. I Love You" and "Ask Me Why."

Pete Best was still drumming for the Beatles at the time, but producer George Martin was unhappy with his playing. "George Martin was very used to drummers being very 'in time' because all the big-band session drummers he used had a great sense of time," McCartney said. "Now, our Liverpool drummers had a sense of spirit, emotion, economy even, but not a deadly sense of time. George took us to one side and said, 'I'm really unhappy with the drummer. Would you consider changing him?' We said, 'No, we can't!' It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. but our careers were on the line. Maybe they were going to cancel our contract."

Everybody in the band has a slightly different account of exactly why Pete Best was let go from the band two months after that first EMI session, but when the band returned to Abbey Road on September 4th, 1962 new drummer Ringo Starr was behind the kit.  They ran through "Love Me Do" around 15 times, but Martin still wasn't happy with the drum sound. When they returned for another go-round on September 11th, session drummer Andy White was brought into the studio, much to Ringo's shock and horror.

"I was devastated that George had his doubts about me," Ringo says in The Beatles Anthology. "I came down ready to roll and heard, 'We've got a professional drummer.' He has apologized several times since, has old George, but it was devastating – I hated the bugger for years. I still don't let him off the hook!" Martin let Ringo play tambourine during the recording of the song that day, but it hardly made up for the slight.

Ringo was vindicated when the "Love Me Do" single came out on October 5th, 1962 – EMI wound up using one of the takes with him on drums. When they re-released it the following April, however, one of the Andy White takes was used. That was also the version that subsequently wound up on Please Please Me in England and Introducing . . . The Beatles in America. 

Everyone in the band was shocked when "Love Me Do" began climbing the British charts in late 1962. "First hearing 'Love Me Do' on the radio sent me shivery all over," George Harrison said. "It was the best buzz of all-time…After having got to 17, I don't recall what happened to it. It probably went away and died, but what it meant was the next time we went to EMI they were more friendly: 'Oh, hello, lads. Come in.'"

In early January 1963, the band released their second single, "Please Please Me." It shot to the top of the charts all over England, kick-starting Beatlemania throughout the country. It would be another long year, however, until the madness spread to America.

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