The stuttering start to the Beatles' EMI recording career between June and September 1962 witnessed the dismissal of one drummer (Pete Best), and the temporary suspension of another (Starr) in favour of installing a seasoned professional (Andy White) for the "Love Me Do" session of September 11, 1962. The fading memories of all involved have, too often, conflicted in comparative recollections regarding these early sessions.
Furthermore, the fact that EMI willingly destroyed the tapes and all session sheets after the recordings means that there is no existing evidence to study, other than the finished product itself of course. This is why the sudden appearance of an earlier recording of "Please Please Me" in 1994 is so interesting; here at last was an existing piece of evidence which could be compared with the final released version recorded on November 26, 1962. But at which early Beatles session was this earlier version captured – September 4 and 11, or November 26?
The official sleeve notes on Anthology tell us that the acetate (flexible plastic disc cut at the end of a session) dates from September 11, and various internet sources suggest this disc contains a catalogue number of E47852. This is of course the infamous session for which George Martin had hired professional drummer White, and during which the Beatles, with White on drums, cut the versions of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" which were featured on the Please Please Me LP.
So, is Martin simply confused, a victim of mixed memories in a head rammed to the bursting point with dates and sessions, songs and faces? Perhaps he was referring to the yet earlier session of September 4, during which "Please Please Me" was first presented to EMI in a rehearsal, but not recorded?
Surely we can turn to the established Beatles scholars for answers. Famed Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, author of the seminal and wonderful The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, attributes the drum credits on September 11 (including this attempt at recording "Please Please Me") to White, with no mention of Starr, aside from his tambourine and maraca cameos. Lewisohn was, after all, writing six years before the discovery of the earlier acetate version. His work was so definitive that its details have never been questioned or revisited, and pretty much every author who picks up the story thereafter falls in with Lewisohn’s production credits. John C. Winn in Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles Recorded Legacy also echoes Lewisohn’s credits.
Curiously however, critic Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records And The Sixties, claims that the newly discovered version was actually an earlier take from the November 26 session which harvested the released version. McDonald seems to offer this alternate idea as an afterthought; it’s even presented in parenthesis. The problem is that he fails to reference it at all. A common problem throughout his book is the author’s replacement of fact with his own opinion, and this remark seems to be no different. Besides, why would EMI staff cut an acetate of an inferior and seemingly random take of a song, from an evening that produced the final released master version? It makes no sense.
It seems we are left to conclude that the rediscovered acetate was a cut from the session of September 11 after all, and the overwhelming written evidence seems to point towards White on drums.
But wait – the defence has just produced a star witness, and as his memories were recorded in 2005, none of the classic Beatles scholars have had a chance (or bothered) to depose him. Geoff Emerick, the young engineer behind the sounds captured on Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and so much more in the Beatles' later canon, was in 1962 a young EMI apprentice tape-op (button pusher to you and me). Emerick was present at the September 11 session (aged 16), and in his book Here There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles, he recalls that after White had recorded drums on "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," he packed up and left. Emerick witnessed Beatles roadie Mal Evans setting up Starr's kit, and later the group’s recording of "Please Please Me" with Starr on drums. Thank goodness for that, because to be honest, the drumming style and feel on both versions seems just too close to be the work of two separate drummers, captured almost three months apart. Of course Emerick too could be wrong.
On the other hand, as interest in the Beatles shows no signs of waning, and the growing number of new and old Beatles books stress-test the industrial shelving in Amazon's aircraft-hanger sized warehouses, I think it's important to focus on facts over opinion. Many of these Beatles books still retain glaring inaccuracies, questionable myths, and more annoyingly, journalistic opinion. It's important that we continue to ask questions and seek the objective truth behind the band's history, in the same way we would treat any other historical topic.
We may never know for sure who sat on the "beat-seat" for this early recording, but based on the available evidence, my money’s on Ringo Starr.
If you like this article check out the new Please Please Me album guide, available on iPad/iPhone and Kindle, from December 2011. For more details visit: http://www.dinosauralbumguides.com/