Thursday, March 1, 2012

From Him To Them: 50 Years Ago George Martin's Advice Cements The Beatles Fame

“On Tuesday 5th March we all got it absolutely spot-on in Studio Two […] the recording of ‘From Me To You’ was pure magic.”[ii]...Norman Smith, EMI Engineer

'From Me To You',  released on April 11th 1963 was - technically speaking - The Beatles first UK number one single. The second in a sequence of four devastating body-blows delivered to the British singles chart in 1963, the record raced up the charts upon its release knocking 'How Do You Do It' - a song the Beatles had rejected - off the top spot. 

“The third single, ‘From Me To You’, was really important, because that put the stamp on it. We'd had the first one, ‘Love me Do’, which did well. Then they let us back in the studio and we did ‘Please Please Me’, then we had the album, and then ‘From Me To You’, the success of which assured us some fame”[i]...George Harrison

The single cemented the group's claim to the title as the Kings of British pop. Its fresh originality, bluesy feel, catchy melody and surprising chord changes became a backdrop to The Beatles blitzkrieg of Britain's media and the general population throughout the summer of 1963. Incredibly however - like 'Please Please Me' before it - but for the intervention of EMI producer George Martin, 'From Me To You' almost ended up a B-side.

Twenty-two days after recording the bulk of their debut LP and eighteen days prior to its release the Beatles were back in Abbey Road’s Studio Two to record the follow up to ‘Please Please Me’, the single which had given the group a number one on two out of three national record charts only weeks previous.
The night before the recording session on March 5th the group had celebrated their very first performance for the milestone sum of £100. That same performance in The Plaza Ballroom, St Helens, was the 25th the group had given since the sessions for the Please Please Me LP concluded on February 11thThe group's nationwide popularity was rocketing and their star was truly in its ascendancy. Evidence of their rapidly growing celebrity status was demonstrated when - during one of the bitterest British winters on record - a February 19th engagement at The Cavern Club in Liverpool had drawn a queue of fans onto the street for two nights prior to the show[1]
On February 28th Lennon and McCartney sat down on the back of the tour bus travelling from York to Shrewsbury with the intention of writing new material in response to pressure from George Martin and Brian Epstein. Upon arrival at Shrewsbury the new song was complete.

 “[…] this was our real start.”...Paul McCartney

With their confidence as a song writing partnership beginning to bloom in earnest Lennon and McCartney began experimenting with new ideas to inject into their original compositions. ‘From Me To You’ - possibly the duo’s first 50-50 collaboration - is notable for introducing several new departures.

The lyrical inspiration for sending love ‘From Me To You' was apparently lifted from the mail-bag section of the music publication NME, titled From You To Us, a copy of which was present on the tour bus. This particular February 1963 copy was the same issue which featured an Alan Smith article reporting on the group’s success with the single ‘Please Please Me’. Smith had been present at the ‘Please Please Me’ LP recording session and was credited with the suggestion of the inclusion of ‘Twist And Shout’.  

It was in this same article that Paul McCartney had made the rather bold statement that the group had almost 100 originals in the bag ready to be recorded and released. Whether this was true or not Lennon and McCartney evidently felt the need to write new material, perhaps feeling that their previous Quarrymen/Beatles originals fell below the bar they had already set for themselves thus far. The title evolved a second time to become ‘From Us To You’; a lyrical variation of the original song which the group performed on four holiday-specials at the BBC during 1964. 

The Beatles entered E.M.I studios on Tuesday March 5th (the same day that country legend Patsy Cline died in a plane crash) and participated in two sessions which lasted from 2:30-5:00pm and 7:00-10:00pm respectively. In addition to the new compositions of ‘From Me To You’ and ‘Thank You Little Girl’ (the working title for Thank You Girl’) the group also intended to record two older (mainly Lennon) compositions; ‘What Goes On’ and ‘The One After 909’.
As it transpired, time constraints only allowed an attempt at taping ‘The One After 909’ although this version was ultimately shelved and did not surface again until Anthology 1 in 1995. Both songs were later recorded for the albums Rubber Soul (1965) and Let It Be (1970) respectively...the Beatles rarely wasted songs.

The instrumental setup for the recording session was similar to the Please Please Me LP session on February 11thLennon played his Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric plugged into his Vox AC-30 amplifier and McCartney his 1961 Höfner 500/1 mic’d through his Tannoy/Leak rig. Harrison played his Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric, also plugged into a Vox AC-30, while Starr was still using his Premier drums.

The backline setup is confirmed by the presence of E.M.I staff photographer John Dove who snapped several iconic shots of the day. These early black and whites photographs are instantly recognisable with Lennon, Harrison and Starr wearing uniform black waist coats over a shirt and tie.

In the final mix, the tones of an acoustically recorded guitar can clearly be heard while aural evidence of a second amplified six string is lacking. Dove’s photos clearly show Lennon and Harrison’s Gibson’s plugged into their amplifiers and in the detailed book Recording The Beatles, Ryan & Keweh state that Lennon’s Gibson was plugged into his AC-30 amp. (Recording The Beatles, p. 355)

Yet, these details seem to conflict with the guitar sounds not only on ‘From Me To You’, but also on the other surviving recordings from that session; ‘Thank You Girl’ and ‘One After 909’ (Anthology 1). Indeed, an out-take of ‘One After 909’ features an acoustic intro which is probably Lennon, while the out-takes of ‘From Me To You’ - most notably Take 6 - also feature a solitary acoustic strum prior to the start. The most likely explanation for the conflicting visual and aural evidence is that his amp may have been off  and the acoustic guitar in the mix is bleed from Lennon’s strumming into the vocal microphone. Either the main vocal mic or a nearby secondary Neumann which can be seen in the pictures.

It seems that as the session began Lennon and McCartney favoured ‘Thank You Little Girl’ as the next A-side with ‘From Me To You’ penciled as its flip-side partner. However, George Martin suggested a few changes to the latter and convinced the group of its commercial qualities over the former. As with ‘Please Please Me’ previously his intervention and advice bought the Beatles another number one record.

Despite ‘From Me To You’ being a rather straightforward pop song the reality of composing songs on the road, and the difficulty of trying to record them during a studio-dash before they had become familiar to the group was demonstrated with the messy and complex recording of this particular track. The finished version is constructed from four separate takes, edited together to form the final master. In all there were seven takes at capturing the song then a further six edit pieces featuring various harmonica and vocal overdubs. 
The studio tapes reveal that between Takes 1-5 the structure of the song was different from the familiar released version, being noticeably shorter and lacking the call and response middle eight which was suggested by George Martin.

Martin showcased his keen senses as an on-the-fly producer by suggesting this addition as well as a vocalised harmony and harmonica part to match Harrison’s guitar riff on the intro. The first order of business was to run through the track and find a satisfactory rhythm track; this was to be Take 7.   Moving to edit pieces, twin-track to twin-track overdubbing was used to add the additional parts required. Effectively, this meant playing the recorded take from one machine directly onto another, while adding an overdub at the same time.

Lennon dubbed harmonica onto the intro, middle eight and ending while McCartney and Harrison dubbed similar bass and guitar riffs to back the harmonica in the middle eight.  Take 12 - another edit piece - involved adding the familiar vocalised intro with Lennon singing and thus in this particular take, not playing harmonica. Several other vocalised improvisations were attempted and eventually rejected before recording ceased. George Martin was satisfied he had enough material on tape to edit the track together at another session and so the group turned their attention to recording the flip-side.  

With 13 takes and 6 edit pieces in the can Martin and engineer Norman Smith literally had their work cut out for them (pun intended) to edit the song together using scissors, tape and twin-track tape copying. The track they edited together on March 14th resembled somewhat of a Frankenstein creation. 
The final edit was made up of Take 12 (intro with the vocalised 'da-da-da-da-da-dun-dun-da'), and a combination of Takes 8, 9, 10 for the verses, middle-eight and ending. 
It should be noted that the ability to  construct tracks in such a manner was greatly facilitated by Starr's steady drumming over multiple takes. Even slight changes in tempo over various takes would have seriously hampered this type of track assembly. 

During the post-production session Martin had one final change of heart.  He had previously decided the intro would feature the vocalisation/guitar riff intro, omitting the harmonica part which existed on a different take at any rate.  However, during the editing process he liked the harmonica parts on the middle and coda so much that he decided he also wanted them on the intro. Central to his thinking no doubt was that following the release of ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ the harmonica intro would form a consistency of sound for the groups fans.

This decision presented a major headache however as it meant that the only way of joining the harmonica to the vocal/guitar riff (both existed on separate takes remember) was a trial and error process called 'flying-in'. This involved syncing two tape machines containing separate parts, and recording the content onto a third tape machine, hoping in the process that the tapes would not go out of sync with each other.[iv] With this complete the mono version released as a single in 1963 comprised all three elements of vocals/harmonica/guitar playing the melody on the intro.

One of the recordings unusual oddities is the existence of two versions, one with harmonica on the intro and one without. Actually, they are not different versions but rather different mixes. The stereo mix on general release has never featured a harmonica intro. According to Mark Lewisohn, the stereo version created on March 14th 1963 had been scrapped by the time a stereo release was considered for a greatest hits package in 1966. (Complete Beatles Recording Sessions p.86). 
This version may have had the same Take 8 harmonica edit piece synced onto the intro, although at this late stage of post production and with stereo mixes a minor consideration in Martin's mind he may just have left it off the intro completely. We may never know.
When it came to create a stereo mix of the track in 1966 the harmonica intro was omitted, either as an oversight or for the same reasons stated above. 

Structurally speaking, what Lennon and McCartney recognised as genuinely breaking ground on ‘From Me To You’ was the impact of the shift to the bridge. Beginning on a Gm, the bridge effectively shifts key from C Major to F Major. This change of key - and throttling back on the overall performance - totally alters the mood of the song just as the lyric elaborates what the protagonist has to offer;  [...] arms that long to hold you / and keep you satisfied”

Down the years McCartney has been understandably proud of the song and it's implications upon his songwriting partnership with Lennon:

"The thing I liked about 'From Me To You' was it had a very complete middle. It went to a surprising place. The opening chord of the middle section of that song heralded a new batch for me. That was a pivotal song. Our song writing lifted a little with that song. It was very much co-written."…Paul McCartney

The opening of the song pulls no punches; the listener is launched straight into the harmonica (on the mono version) / vocal hook which has the immediate effect of association with the the groups previous two singles. 

The transition between the intro and the first verse is sublimely marked by a snappy backwards styled drum-fill of triplets from Starr on the snare and tom-tom. Starr and Lennon - on his Gibson J-160E acoustic - combine to provide the straight rhythm while McCartney and Harrison add a sense of syncopation. It’s difficult to imagine the finished product maintaining the same appeal without Harrison’s subtle, yet very effective jaunty rhythmic style and well placed licks. Harrison graces the song its dimensions.

‘From Me To You’ is sung by both Lennon and McCartney almost in unison which likely highlights the 50-50 collaboration of its creation. McCartney harmonises Lennon's main vocal on key phrases, adding to the bluesy feel of the track while both betray a subtle American influence on the word ‘want’ which is bent for effect becoming “anything that you wan’”. 

However, apart from the individual performing elements and sounds which were by now creating a totally original sound this session was further evidence of the dynamic relationship that was beginning to develop between group and its production team. 

Writers,  performers and production staff  were fast becoming masters at packaging the perfect pop single into two minutes of space on a vinyl single. 

The fact that this song entered the studio unfinished, rough and destined as a B-side yet emerged as an enhanced, extended, well polished and totally successful A-side was testament to the fact that The Beatles success was the sum of many parts. This was not simply the result of the individual or combined genius of two songwriters. In 1970 Lennon was quick to dismiss George Martin's formative role in their success. However his brutal honesty or misguided notions - depending on your viewpoint - could never undermine the crucial role their E.M.I team played in translating their rough diamonds into polished gems, especially during their early career.

In the same way that a director will utilise cameras, props, editing and various other tools to bring a script to life on the screen, the Beatles and E.M.I production staff were becoming seriously adept at making the most of instrumentation and dynamics of performance to bring the groups creations to life through the loudspeakers. 
This is evident in several places on ‘From Me To You’; particularly the careful placing of the songs catchy riff (intro/middle/ending), but most notably the groups dynamics at the ending of each bridge. Here, all four members reinforce the offer of unconditional love with an enthusiastic instrumental climax which see’s McCartney building on the bass, Harrison providing off beat strumming and Starr literally letting fly with an energetic flurry across the snare and toms. All of this is matched by falsetto "oohs" resulting in a climactic venting of sexual tension which gave the record an immediate and relevant appeal to its target audience. 
The careful - if sometimes formulaic and contrived - usage of dynamics in this manner allowed the group to tap its audience with far greater effect than many of their contemporaries who - often armed with similarly light lyrical content - failed to evoke similar reactions.

On the ending the group used some familiar tricks. The final line of the song is repeated as with ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, and like the latter Starr brings proceedings to a close with an energetic set of four drum fills on the off-beat. Perhaps most interestingly of all however is that the song end’s not on the home key of C Major, but on a rather reflective A minor. 
As a further example of how the group was learning to use arrangements and dynamics to embellish their lyrical content, this bold move has the effect of (surely unintentionally) creating a musical cliff-hanger; the protagonist has declared his unconditional love but this last note seems to beg the question…will the object of his affections accept it?

Although lyrically speaking, 'From Me To You' was clearly a thematic shift from the pleading and frustration of their previous two A-sides, ‘P.S. I Love You’, the flip side of ‘Love Me Do’, had explored similar ground with its own ‘letter’ idiom.

The more relaxed style of ‘From Me To You’ was overlooked in the wake of the group’s astonishing career as a mere link in the chain between the energetic ‘Please Please Me’ and the proto-punk thumping of ‘She Loves You’. Sandwiched in between these two rockers ‘From Me To You’ often suffered the fate of being seen as a tame ‘filler’. However over the last decade or two this bluesy track with its complex arrangement and infectious melody has regained ground in its consideration among Beatles critics.[2]

The release of ‘From Me To You’ initiated a critical mass with fans and the public alike which paved the way for the full blown explosion of Beatlemania several months later. ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ had merely offered a taste of what was to come, but this cleverly packaged two minutes of pop with its bluesy appeal, catchy harmonica, arresting vocals, and the immediacy of its falsetto climaxes created an instantaneous Beatles sound even before the ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’s’ of its 7" successor .

The Beatles were conquering Britain with their fresh and often outrageously original material, but they owed a debt of gratitude to Martin and his team of talented technical staff at Parlophone. The group themselves were in no doubt as to the role ‘From Me To You’ played in achieving their success; McCartney recalled that he realised the group had made it when he heard a milkman whistling the melody of the song outside his bedroom window.[v]

Incidentally, ‘From Me To You’/’Thank You Girl’ were the last Beatles songs released credited to McCartney-Lennon. From ‘She Loves You’ on, every Beatles song published by Northern Songs (Harrison and Starr compositions aside) were attributed to Lennon-McCartney.

John Lennon: 1962 Gibson J-160E Acoustic-Electric Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul McCartney: 1961 Höfner 500/1 Electric Bass Guitar, Vocals
George Harrison: 1962 Gibson J-160E Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Ringo Starr: Premier 54/58 Drums / Zyn Cymbals
Norman Smith/Richard Langham: Engineer(s), (March 5th)
George Martin: Producer
Key: C Major

If you liked this article, you may enjoy the authors' eBook & iPad/Android app; Please Please Me - The Album Guide, a complete deconstruction and analysis of The Beatles debut LP. 
More details here

[1] Lewisohn, Mark,  The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, , 1988, p.100
[2] Ian McDonald (Revolution In The Head) declared ‘From Me To You’ to be “a brilliant consolidation of the emerging Beatles sound”. 

[i] George Harrison, Beatles Anthology
[ii] Smith, Norman, John Lennon Called Me Normal, p.300
[iii] Kehew, Brian, Ryan, Kevin, Recording The Beatles, Curvebender Publishing, 2006, p. 355
[iii] Club Sandwich #41, p.6
[iv] Kehew, Brian, Ryan, Kevin, Recording The Beatles, Curvebender Publishing, 2006, p. 363
[v] Club Sandwich #41, p.6

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