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Notes on "Love Me Do"
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This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song
Notes on "Love Me Do"
KEY G Major METER 4/4 FORM Intro-> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge (solo) -> Verse-> Outro (fadeout)
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
To those who argue that the early original songs of The Beatles are just the same old stuff of which the Top 40 was made in the early 60s, I present this quirky first official release of theirs.
Granted, by itself, "Love Me Do" is hardly the blockbuster of which legendary careers are made. In contrast, those silly lists of "The 500 Most Golden Oldies of All Time" promoted by certain radio stations are peppered through with songs by groups whose claim to fame rests on the strength of just one single; I expect general agreement from you all that "Love Me Do" wouldn't have done that for our Boys.
In fact, it's tempting at first blush to dismiss this one as too simple and even unappealing. After all, we have what must be very nearly the skimpiest Lennon/McCartney lyric ever, a gawky post-skiffle beat which threatens to break into a polka in a couple of places, and a vocal duet that would appear to be ripped off from the Everly Brothers. But just beneath the surface, you find not only that certain bristling intensity in their voices, but also a great deal of idiosyncratic originality in the compositional details. One might even call it stylistically prophetic, especially in regards to the phrasing, the vocal harmonies, and the modal melody.
The most intriguing aspect to this intuitive innovation of the early Beatles is the question of how much of it was motivated by intentional originality and how much a by-product of less-than-entirely-adept emulation of their derivative influences. It's a quite serious question, the answer to which, in spite of the seeming pejorative value judgment in my choice of words, has nothing to do with the relative merit of the final product itself; but I leave this question for now in the hands of the aestheticians.
The form used here is none other than the standard two-bridge model with a single verse intervening. The positioning of the instrumental solo within a repeat of the bridge rather than a verse is unusual and likely accounts for the absence of there being a pair of verses in the middle. Contrast this with other Beatles songs of the same period that more typically place a solo in one of two intervening verse; e.g. "I Saw Her Standing There," or even "How Do You Do It."
The verse lyrics are unvarying through four repeats, ditto for the bridge through two. This is possibly an all time Beatles record.
All sections begin exactly on the downbeat, yet another factor in the somewhat clunky overall impression made by the song.
Melody and Harmony
"Love Me Do" is ostensibly in the key of G Major though it contains a strong Mixolydian modal inflection from the heavy use of both F-naturals in the tune and in its reliance on the I-IV-I to establish a feeling of tonal center. The non-modal Major V chord with an F# is used only in the bridge.
Another different sort of modal inflection in this song comes from the liberal melodic use of bluesy bent-notes on B-flat over the G major chord (with its B-naturals) in the accompaniment.
The verse tune covers the range of an octave and its overall contour is a downward sweep in spite of the rhetorically repeated upward phrase that it starts off with. The bridge tune also has a downward shape and is interesting placed in range below where the low end of the verse range ends off.
It doesn't get much closer to a completely natural recording of the Beatles than this. The lead harmonica part is just about the only detail here that you might not have expected. The rest of it, a backing of rhythm guitar, bass, drums, with Paul and John singing their duet in close harmony, would emerge in short order as an unmistakable trademarkable sound.
The 6/62 demo recording of the song with Pete Best, released on Anthology 1 reveals that the reportedly late-breaking decision to modify the arrangement to include John on harmonica had already been made, and that this arrangement would remain essentially unchanged through the two officially released recordings of it the following September. The demo also reveals Pete Best as an incredibly unsteady and tasteless drummer, with his changing the backbeat for each of the bridges, and his apparent slowing of the tempo for the verses following them; but that's a separate issue.
A question begged by this demo is what part there was on the backing track for John before his switch to harmonica; a second rhythm guitar part? Hard to imagine, no matter how likely.
The intro is a balanced eight measure phrase and utilizes just the two chords of G and C:
------- 3X ------ |G |C |G |- | G: I IV I
We're treated right at the outset to another soon-to-become signature device of John's: the slow triplet rhythm, as it is found here in the harmonica part, measure 3. Furthermore, we find in this harmonica solo a very early example of the use of a hook-phrase used throughout an entire song: the little descending motif of "F-E-D-G", with its bluesy emphasis on the seventh note of the scale (F) and the heavy use of flutter-tonguing on the repeats, so suggestive of a sob or a cry. There's also the melodic emphasis in this little riff on the note "D." as it appears superimposed over the C chord, lending an overall jazzy C9 flavor the song.
As we'll soon see, this introductory hook is made ubiquitous in the song by the incorporation of this intro within the final portion of the verse section; or shall I say that the final part of the verse is set-up as the hook by virtue of its having already appeared in the intro? Just a matter of semantics, I suppose.
The verse is an unusual thirteen measures long and is broken into the sub-phrases which pretty much follow the scanning of the lyrics, creating an unusual pattern of AAAB (2+2+2+7):
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 ----------------------- 3X ------------------- |Love, love me |do. You | |know I love|you. I'll| |al- ways be |true So | |G |C | G: I IV 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 |ple- e- e- |e - |-ease Love me | |C |- | | IV |Resume harmonica hook ... |do |... |G |C |G |C | I IV I IV
For clarity of graphic presentation I've simplified the rhythmic scanning of the words above by eliminating the effect of the syncopated performance of them.
This sort of free meter in the scanning of the words (no iambic pentameter for These Boys) is a noteworthy, not infrequent feature of their later songs, especially those written by John. Its appearance here in such an early, and otherwise not so ambitious, piece of work is astonishing.
The music continues on with just the same two chords from the intro. Note how the break of the regular harmonic rhythm in measures 7 - 9 (on the elongation of the word "please") enhances the impact of the irregular phrasing.
The vocal harmony of this verse contains two specific seminal details which would soon become telltale characteristics of "that Beatles sound"; one being the use of open fifths instead of the more typical thirds or sixths, as in the phrase "Love, love me do":
G F / Paul: D D D / C John: G G
Note in the above example the special coloration, a melding of the two voices, that arises from this sort of harmony. I'm fairly certain that it's John on the bottom (though there's that interview clip with Paul discussing the infamous Quarrymen-period acetate of "That'll Be the Day" in which he sings the bottom part of this same fragment), though with Paul in a busking partial falsetto on the top they're hard to distinguish from each other.
The other vocal detail is the sustaining of the same note in the upper part against the scale-wise movement in the lower, as on the drawing out of the word "please"; Paul's bending of the note so reminiscent of the harmonica part. Check out "Please Please Me" for another dramatic example of this technique.
Paul: G G G G John: E D C E
One final point of interest here is in the careful working out of the arrangement no matter how spare and simple it is. Note the unity amidst variation that is achieved by following the harmonica solo of the intro with a verse that first features a vocal duet and then concludes with solo voice and the opening harmonica hook figure as backing.
And a detail within a detail: note how at the end of the verse when Paul sings "love me do" solo, he's actually jumping the octave down from his earlier part to the range where John was singing in the duet. According to the interview with Paul in Lewisohn's preface, this was an artifact of a last minute change in the studio to the arrangement; John was supposed to sing it but it was impossible for him to get the harp in his mouth quickly enough to also play the hook on time. Regardless of the motivation, it's a nice serendipitous touch.
The harmonic shape of the verse section is closed, both starting and ending on I. The bridge begins with an harmonically open gesture, finally introducing the third of the three chords used in the song on its downbeat as part of the bluesy V-IV-I chord progression. For all its simplicity, it is still rather dramatic in that, not only haven't we seen this V chord ('D.') yet, but we haven't seen the pitch F# at all in the melody either; the verse staying exclusively with those bluesy/modal F naturals. Of course, just to keep the game interesting, the vocal melody in this bridge alternates continually between the F# and F natural.
The first appearance of the bridge is eight measures long, and features the only new words to be found in the song outside of the first verse. In contrast to the verse, the phrasing of 4 + 4 is quite square, almost too much so; at a distance of almost thirty years, I still find the "bim BOM" rhythm on beats 2 and 3 of the eighth measure disconcertingly teetering toward the lame:
-------------- 2X -------------- |D |- |C |G | G: V IV I
The arrangement of this bridge is just as careful as that of the verse. Here we have Paul singing solo while doubled by the harmonic alternating with Paul and John singing in octaves. Note how, just as in the verse, Paul makes another octave jump (upward this time) between his solo and duet parts; just coincidence or true choreography ?
The second appearance of the bridge is an instrumental section of twelve measures, the first eight of which are an adaptation of the previous bridge with John playing a harmonica part in place of Paul's vocal.
Tacked onto this first phrase are four additional measures of harmonica riffing over mostly just the G chord with an oom-pah bass line. In a manner analogous to the ending of the first bridge, this four measure extension concludes with another (dare I say) even more lame "Booomp" on the third beat of the last measure; the solo note of D in the bass, punctuated by a crash of the cymbal here serves in place of the V chord which begs for the next verse.
The outro, in typical fashion provides a final reinforcement of the hook phrase, with its repetition of the intro/end-of-verse section ad infinitum into the fade-out.
Some Final Thoughts
An Overflow of Comparisons
We've come to the end of this song but not yet the end of the article. I've got three sorts of brief comparative analyses up my sleeve for a grande finale.
"Love Me Do" versus "How Do You Do It"
Just how does our current offering stack up against the Mitch Murray cover that George Martin would've had them perform for their first single instead ?
Some interesting contrasts:
o HDYDI uses "more" chords though nothing more exotic than the so-called Brill Building selection; in addition to I-IV-V, there's vi, ii, and and V-of-V. Compared to the raunchy modality of "Love Me Do", it's quite diatonically Major sounding.
o HDYDI does have a catchy touch of syncopation in its hook phrase, but note how the phrasing is unrelievedly four-square throughout. o HDYDI positions its instrumental solo in a more traditional verse section, and furthermore features solo guitar in place of harmonica. o You have some of the same sorts of duet/solo alternation in the arrangement of both songs, though HDYDI features straight-line parallel thirds.
o Though less countrified than "Love Me Do", HDYDI is still closer to pop than hard rock or blues.
Point-for-point, HDYDI clearly wins out as a less risky, more "conservative" choice in terms that may explain both the lackluster albeit well mannered performance given it by the Boys as well as their ultimate rejection of it by them. Besides, they hadn't written this one anyway; "aaaaah, let Gerry have it."
"Love Me Do" versus the other L/M originals on the "Please Please Me Album"
Again, there are some interesting point-for-point contrasts. No surprise, but some of the same signature devices of the nascent Beatles sound that we found in "Love Me Do" are also found in these other songs:
o Uneven phrasing in "Do You Want to Know a Secret", "P.S. I Love You" , and "Ask Me Why" o Slow triplets in "Ask Me Why" , and "There's A Place",
o The harmonica, again, in ("Please Please Me"),
Similarly no surprise, but these other songs have several telltale Beatles signatures *not* to be found in "Love Me Do":
o Strong rock flavor (including some fancy drum fills) in "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Please Please Me" o Backing vocals in "Please Please Me", and "Do You Want to Know a Secret"; three-part vocal harmony (I think) in "P.S. I Love You", and "Ask Me Why"
o Slow, vocal intros in "Do You Want to Know a Secret", and "Misery"
"Love Me Do", this time quite surprisingly, is unique overall, because of the modal inflection of its harmony. By the way, you might note how, in spite of their well known R&B background both as Quarrymen and as Beatles at the Beeb, this early set of eight originals overall is rather more pop-than-rock oriented, the promise of, say, "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Please Please Me" notwithstanding.
The two officially released versions of "Love Me Do" compared
A lot has been made of the fact that the official version released on the "Please Please Me" album contains a studio drummer (one Andy White) with the unfortunate Ringo relegated to the lowly position of hitting the tambourine on the off beats.
I'd venture to say that as a commercial recording, the Andy White version is the one performed with greater polish and confidence, and recorded with better presence and clarity. Yet, for a unique early snapshot of the Boys at work, the Ringo-drumming version (thankfully now generally available on Past Masters I) is definitely the one to be preferred because of power with which it speaks to both your ears and heart.
With your ears, you can more easily hear the handclaps in the bridge of this version, though without the tambourine, the overall texture sounds a tad thin. More importantly, from the quiver in his voice, you can tell just how nervous Paul is at this first "for real" recording session; the dotted notes in his bass line sounding tentative and uncertain; the same for Ringo's drumming.
But best and most precious of all is what your heart responds to in this version of the song, if only you'll open it widely enough. There's a lot of "self" invested in those long, drawn-out phrases; you can keenly feel them putting their "all" on the line. And if you've ever been so lucky in life, it ought to resonate in you with some past experience of your own.
Let's say, a situation in which your words weren't all you wanted to say, but you were brave enough anyway to commit it to print and give it to the world ? Where you knew, in your heart, that someday all your hopes and wishes would come true, even if everyone told you "a guitar's all right, but you'll never earn a living by it"--- or words to that effect ? Where you had to prove it to yourself, somehow, some way, somewhere that you could make the future really *happen* for yourself?
That's what "Love Me Do" meant to our own sweet Boys. It may not have been the best song they ever wrote, but it was the Prime Step for them; it was their first shot at immortality. And such a humble offering...but what a seed of passion contained therein, don't you think ?
Regards, Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright (c) 1990, 2000 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.
These articles were originally posted in the News Group rec.music.beatles. The content from this newsgroup is archived at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/awp.html. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.
If you want to learn more about the musical side of song writing, chord progressions, harmony and theory through The Beatles songs (and/or The Beatles in particular), I recommend the following book:
Artist: Dominic Pedler
Arranged by The Beatles
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