Saturday 19 January 2013

The Beatles First EMI Recording Session - 6 June 1962 - Page 3

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With the session complete, George Martin invited The Beatles up to the control room to listen to the tapes and to discuss technicalities.

"We gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists," Norman Smith told Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. "They didn't say a word back, not a word, they didn't even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said 'Look, I've laid into you for quite a time, you haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?' I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said 'Yeah, I don't like your tie!' That cracked the ice for us and for the next 15-20 minutes they were pure entertainment. When they left to go home George and I just sat there saying 'Phew! What do you think of that lot then?' I had tears running down my face."

Richards and Martin had not been particularly impressed by the music, and felt that there was nothing special about it. There, however, a unique and undefinable quality to their sound. The group were also, with exception of the ever reticent Pete Best, exuberant and natural comedians,  and Martin recognised that this would work in their favour. He also noticed Paul McCartney's pretty-boy looks, the mop-top fringes worn by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, and the matching suits chosen, with an eye on presentation and commercial potential, by the fashion concious Epstein. Deciding that he had nothing to lose, he sanctioned the addition of a binding EMI signature on The Beatles' contract.

But one thing worried him. Pete Best, he decided, was not up to studio standard as a drummer. The contract was issued with the proviso that a session drummer would be used on The Beatles' recordings. Four years previously, Cliff Richard had recorded his debut single, Move It, in the the same studio using session musicians to replace his regular guitarist and drummer (in fact Frank Clarke, who played the double-bass on Move It, would go on to contribute double-bass to The Beatles' own Penny Lane several years later.)

Best's unsteady playing on this session's version of Love Me Do demonstrates all too clearly why Martin wanted to substitute a session player for recording, and why Lennon, Harrison and Starr decided to sack him two months later.

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The Beatles First EMI Recording Session - 6 June 1962 - Page 2

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The Beatles as they were when they first met George Martin
Photo: Harry Waughman
While Smith and Townsend were engineering this repair, The Beatles went for a cup of tea in the studio kitchen. George Martin, not impressed by this carry on, decided that the Beatles were not worth the effort and took himself off to the canteen, leaving Assistant Producer Ron Richards in charge. Richards was more familiar with pop and rock'n'roll than Martin, who had a background in classical and comedy recordings. Richards explained to The Beatles that rather than work their way through their list and hope for a perfect take of each song, it would be more effective to limit themselves to four songs and to perform four or five takes of each.

Besame Mucho

The Beatles chose to begin the evening's proceedings with Besame Mucho, (which they obviously thought highly enough of to make their opening song of their opening medley). This song, written by Consuelo Velazquez and Sunny Skylar, was a Latin standard that the Beatles knew from The Coasters' 1960 single (Atco 6163).

The surviving tracks from the Beatles' very first EMI
recording session finally saw official release
on Anthology 1 in 1995.

This recording eventually surfaced on the unissued 1985 compilation album, Sessions, from a private reel discovered in 1983. The final line has been looped to repeat during the fade-out by producer Geoff Emerick. This version eventually received an official release on Anthology 1.

Love Me Do

Next up, The Beatles chose to showcase their own songwriting skills, beginning with a song that McCartney had written in 1958, Love Me Do. Richards and Smith had not been impressed with Besame Mucho, but this next song, simple but catchy, made them prick up their ears.

"Norman said to me 'Go down and pick up George from the canteen and see what he thinks of this," tape operator Chris Neal told Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. George Martin returned, and took over the rest of the session, making several changes to Love Me Do.

"When we went to London for the first recording, Love Me Do was a slow number like Halfway to Paradise, you know, DUM-di-di-di-DUM," Lennon told Melody Maker in their 9th February 1963 issue, and quoted (attributed to McCartney) in Bruce Spizer's Beatles For Sale on Parlophone Records  "but George Martin our recording manager, suggested we do it faster. I'm glad we did."

Martin also suggested adding the song's distinctive harmonica riff, after hearing Lennon playing on their version of Bruce Chanel's Hey! Baby!, one of the songs on their prepared list from earlier in the day. Because Lennon couldn't sing and play the harmonica simultaneously, Martin swapped the lead vocal from Lennon to McCartney, much to McCartney's dismay.

The Beatles' first version of Love Me Do, featuring Pete Best on drums, long thought lost, was to see release on Anthology 1, after it was discovered in 1994 on an acetate by George Martin's wife while she was cleaning out a cupboard.

The Beatles went on to record two more original songs, P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, both written by Lennon and McCartney during their recent Hamburg trip as a response to Brian Epstein's request to rehearse new material. Although all four songs were cut onto 7-inch acetates after the session, neither of the latter recordings are known to have survived.

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The Beatles First EMI Recording Session - 6 June 1962

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Wednesday 6 June 1962
EMI Abbey Road Studio 2 7:00-10pm
  • Besame Mucho (unknown takes)
  • Love Me Do (unknown takes)
  • P.S. I Love You (unknown takes)
  • Ask Me Why (unknown takes)

John Lennon rhythm guitar (Rickenbacker 325 guitar), Vocals
Paul McCartney bass (Hofner 500/1 bass), Vocals
George Harrison lead guitar (Gretsch Duo Jet guitar), Vocals
Pete Best drums (blue Premier kit with 26" kick drum)

Producers: Ron Richards / George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Technical Engineer: Ken Townsend
Tape-Op: Chris Neal
(Source: Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald, Vintage 2005, and Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments from Stage to Studio, Andy Babuick, Backbeat Books 2002)
On Wednesday, 6th June 1962, The Beatles rusty white van rolled into the car park at EMI's studios on Abbey Road, London, for the first time. Dressed in black leather coats, they unloaded their battered equipment from the van and set up in Studio Two.

This was their first official EMI recording session - George Martin had signed them after a recording audition at Abbey Road Studio 3 on 27 March 1962 (qv. Brian Epstein Negotiates Beatles Deal With Parlophone), but had not yet added an official EMI signature to their contract.

Martin was looking for a group that he could use to compete with his opposite number at Columbia, Norrie Paramor. Paramor was producer for Cliff Richard and The Shadows, and Martin needed a band that would rival them and match their enormous UK chart success. Like The Beatles, Martin did not hold Richard's brand of watered-down rock'n'roll in high regard, and believed that his commercial success could be copied, and perhaps even surpassed.

The Beatles had arrived home from their third trip to Hamburg only four days previously, and had spent two nights rehearsing diligently at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, prior to heading south to London the day before the session.  It was to be Pete Best's second and last EMI session - by the time The Beatles returned to Abbey Road on 4th September, Best had been replaced on drums by Ringo Starr.
The Beatles' Song List - EMI Studios

Opening Medley
  • Besame Mucho (sung by McCartney)
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow (sung by Lennon)
  • Open (Your Loving Arms) (sung by Harrison)
Paul McCartney Song List
  • P.S. I Love You (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Love Me Do (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Like Dreamers Do (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Love of the Loved (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Pinwheel Twist (Lennon / McCartney)
  • If You've Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody
  • Till There Was You
  • Over The Rainbow
  • Your Feet's Too Big
  • Hey! Baby
  • Dream Baby
  • September In The Rain
  • The Honeymoon Song
John Lennon Song List
  • Ask Me Why (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Hello Little Girl (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Baby It's You
  • Please Mister Postman
  • To Know Her is to Love Her
  • You Don't Understand
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • A Shot of Rhythm and Blues
  • Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
  • Lonesome Tears In My Eyes
George Harrison Song List
  • A Picture of You
  • The Sheik of Araby
  • What a Crazy World We Live In
  • Three Cool Cats
  • Dream
  • Take Good Care of My Baby
(Source: The Unreleased Beatles, Richie Unterburger, Backbeat 2006 (p30))

Just as they had with the Decca audition, The Beatles arrived with a song list drawn up by Brian Epstein (see sidebar) designed to demonstrate their versatility. Of the 33 songs on the list, only seven are Lennon/McCartney originals (including the unreleased "Pinwheel Twist"), and only six ("Love Me Do", "P.S. I Love You", "Ask Me Why", "Baby It's You", "Please Mr.Postman" and "Till There Was You") would end up on their official EMI catalogue.

Duff Equipment

The Beatles seem to have assumed that the staff at Parlophone were wanting to hear their entire repertoire. They did not get very far into the list before engineer Norman Smith stopped them and pointed out that if they were to do any actual recording, then McCartney's distorted bass amp would have to be replaced.

"They had such duff equipment," Smith told Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. "Ugly unpainted wooden amplifiers, extremely noisy, with earth loops and goodness knows what. There was as much noise coming from the amps as there was from the instruments. Paul's bass amp was particularly bad and it was clear that the session wasn't going to get under way until something was done about it."

"George Martin turned to Norman and I and said 'You know, we've got to do something about this,'" Technical engineer Ken Townsend continues in Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments from Stage to Studio. "Fortunately that evening there wasn't a session in Studio One, which meant that studio's echo chamber wasn't in use. So Norman and I went in and carried out the echo chamber's great big Tannoy speaker, which weighed about half a ton. We carried that through - it was on the same floor - into Studio Two for the test. I then fixed up a Leak TL12 amplifier, soldering a jack socket onto its input stage. It wouldn't be considered very high wattage today, but they were quite powerful amplifiers at the time. I think it took about a quarter of an hour to do. We plugged it in and there was no distortion any more on the bass guitar, so we used that system for the session."

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Sunday 6 January 2013

Brian Epstein Negotiates Beatles Deal With Parlophone

Brian Epstein
It is commonly believed that The Beatles were hired by George Martin at EMI's Parlophone label following their 6th June 1962 audition at Abbey Road. The series of events that led The Beatles to be partnered with this extraordinary producer are less well known.

On Monday 1 January, The Beatles attended a formal audition for Decca. There, in less than an hour, they recorded a 15 track set list, devised by manager Brian Epstein to show off their versatility, consisting of three original Lennon-McCartney compositions, two old standards, seven cover versions of 50's rock and roll, R&B and country hits, two ballads and a contemporary chart hit. The session was produced by Tony Meehan, ex-drummer with The Shadows, now working as a producer and A&R man for Decca.

Decca later released The Beatles audition
on the back of their massive success
Decca let Epstein know at the start of February that they would not be adding The Beatles to their roster, telling him that "guitar groups are on the way out". Furious, Epstein travelled to London. On Tuesday 6th February 1962, he met with Decca's head of singles, Dick Rowe and sales manager Sidney Arthur Beecher-Stevens, at Decca's offices on the Embankment, to plead The Beatles' case. The executives were adamant that a Liverpool act would not appeal to a national audience. Despite this, they were happy to allow Epstein to take away a copy of the group's audition on two reel-to-reel tapes. Epstein took the tapes to both Pye and Oriole, who both offered similar rejections. He also had a meeting arranged with Meehan the following day, but Meehan arrived late for the meeting and told Epstein to stop wasting his time.

HMV's Oxford Street store as it was in the
late 1950's and early 1960's.
On Thursday 8 February 1962, a disenchanted Epstein took time out to catch up with his friend Bob Boast, whom he had first met on a record retail management course run by Deutsche Grammophon in, of all places, Hamburg, the previous year. Like Epstein, Boast was a record store manager, and was now in charge of HMV's prestigious flagship store at 363 Oxford Street, London. Having taken time to chat, Epstein played the tapes to Boast. As a record store manager, Boast was in no position to help, but he advised Epstein that he should get the tapes converted to discs, as these would be less cumbersome and would appear more professional. As luck would have it, there was a small studio in the store where customers could make 78rpm records.

Jim Foy, the HMV engineer who cut the discs for Epstein, was impressed that three of the songs on Epstein's tapes were original compositions. He fetched Sid Coleman, manager of publishing company Ardmore and Beechwood, whose office was on the top floor of the HMV building. Coleman liked what heard, and, as soon as the discs were cut, invited Epstein to his office to discuss acquiring The Beatles' music publishing rights. Epstein was pleased with the offer, but made it clear to Coleman that has primary goal was to acquire a recording contract for The Beatles. Coleman understood, and made a call to his friend George Martin, head of A&R at Parlophone, which, like HMV, was a subsidiary of EMI. A meeting between Epstein and Martin at EMI's Manchester Square headquarters was arranged for the following Tuesday, 13 February 1962.

Returning to Liverpool, Epstein felt that progress had been made. That weekend he formally severed The Beatles' ties with Decca in a letter to Dick Rowe, in which he wrote:
I am writing to thank you for your kind offer of co-operation in assisting me to put the Beatles on records. I am most grateful for your own and that of your colleagues consideration of this Group and whilst I appreciate the offer of Mr.Meehan's services I have now decided not to accept.

The principle reason for this change of mind is that since I saw you last the Group have received an offer of a recording contract from another company.
(Source: The Complete Beatles ChronicleMark Lewisohn, Octopus 1992 (page 55) )
Epstein went back to London the following week for his meeting with George Martin. He played the discs of the Decca audition to Martin, who was not particularly impressed, but was nevertheless interested. He liked McCartney's voice and Harrison's guitar playing, and enjoyed "Till There Was You" and Lennon's original, "Hello Little Girl". He identified McCartney as the band's front-man. Martin decided that he would like to meet The Beatles.

There was a problem, however. The Beatles were still under contract with Polydor in Germany (See "The Hamburg Tapes"), and Martin was not prepared to sign them until that contract expired. Consequently, on Tuesday 20 February 1962, Epstein wrote to Bert Kaempfert, the A&R man at Polydor in Germany, asking him to sever their contract, which was not due to expire until the end of June. Kaempfert wrote back on Saturday 3 March 1962:
I should like to inform you that it was agreed upon with "THE BEATLES" that they would return to Germany around February 1962 and that recording should be made with them at that time. My understanding is that "THE BEATLES" are to come to Hamburg again in April of this year. I'm in principle willing to release this group from their agreement before the official exploration of their contract. However, I would appreciate if a way could be found that they are still recording for the Polydor label during their stay in Hamburg in April or May. I do not want to spoil the chances of the group to get recording contracts elsewhere, but I do think that we should have the chance to make recordings with the group for the Polydor label whilst they are in Hamburg.
(Source: The Complete Beatles ChronicleMark Lewisohn, Octopus 1992 (page 55) )
In his book, Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper, George Martin recalls a recording audition with The Beatles in EMI Abbey Road Studio 3, probably on 27 March 1962 - their only day without a concert that month (qv Ask Me Why: When Was The Beatles First Audition At Abbey Road). The Beatles ran through their set - according to Martin it was much the same as he had heard on the Decca Audition tape that Epstein had played him.

The date is corroborated because that same day, Epstein wrote back to Kaempfert:
As it happens the particular recording Company with whom we have negotiated are unable to record the group until they return from Germany and in any event prefer to wait until their existing contract with yourself has expired.

In the circumstances therefore I would like to give you formal notice of our wish to terminate the contract at the end of this contractual period (30th June 1962).

With regard to their recording when in Germany I would myself be very pleased to discuss this with you as I shall be arriving in Hamburg on April 9th - a few days in advance of the group. I will, therefore contact you then and possibly we can settle details of their actual recording sessions.
(Source: The Complete Beatles ChronicleMark Lewisohn, Octopus 1992 (page 54) )
As Epstein said, The Beatles were gearing up for their third trip to Germany. They were to play at The Star Club, 39 Grosse Freiheit, Hamburg from Friday 13th April until Thursday 31 May 1962. The Star Club had its own backline, so they would not need to bring any of their own amplifiers with them, only their guitars and drums. Thus it was that Lennon, McCartney and Best flew into Hamburg airport on Wednesday 11th April 1962. Amongst their luggage was a tape of eight songs from their Decca audition - a present for their ex-bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, now living in Hamburg with his fiancé, Astrid Kirchherr. They were met by Kirchherr, who delivered devastating news. Sutcliffe had died of a brain haemorrhage the previous day. He was 21 years old.

As it was, Epstein did not arrive in Hamburg until Thursday 12th April 1962, accompanied by George Harrison, who had been suffering from German measles. Sutcliffe's mother was also on the flight, on her way to identify her son's body and to return him home. Epstein set about making final arrangements for their Star Club stint, and to hammer out recording dates with Kaempfert. A final recording session for Polydor was arranged for Thursday 24th May 1962, after which their contract would be terminated. Epstein flew back to Liverpool, and lost no time in arranging a meeting with George Martin.

Epstein's Telegram to Bill Harry
On Wednesday, 9th May 1962, Epstein met with Martin at EMI's studios in Abbey Road. Martin had liked what he had heard at that initial recording audition in March, and at that meeting, he immediately offered Epstein a recording contract for The Beatles. A date was set to record their debut single: Wednesday 6th June 1962.

Martin, unknown to Epstein, was a desperate man. Parlophone was seen within EMI as a joke label. Their main output was comedy, and they were very much a poor relation to EMI's internationally famous labels, EMI and Columbia. Martin wanted a pop group on the label - a band he could use to raise Parlophone's image and to compete with his opposite number at Columbia, Norrie Paramor, producer of Cliff Richard and The Shadows.

An hour later, Epstein left EMI Studios and went straight to the Post Office on Wellington Road, where he telephoned his parents, and sent two telegrams. The first telegram was to The Beatles in Hamburg:
Congratulations boys: EMI request recording session. Please rehearse new material.
(Source: The Complete Beatles ChronicleMark Lewisohn, Octopus 1992 (page 56) )
"We were all still in bed", Pete Best told Hunter Davies for his 1968 biography, The Beatles. "Whoever was first up always went for the post. George was first up this day and got the telegram. We felt terrific. John and Paul started composing straight away. Brian came out to see us and negotiated a new contract - £85 a week each I think we got then. He thought 'Love Me Do' would be a good one for the recording session."

According to Ray Coleman in  Lennon - The Definitive BiographyThe Beatles sent their delighted replies back to Epstein on postcards: McCartney jokingly asking for £10,000 advance royalties, Harrison suggesting that they order four new guitars, and Lennon wanting to know when they would be millionaires.

The second telegram was to Bill Harry, editor of Liverpool music paper, Mersey Beat:
Have secured contract for Beatles to recorded [sic] for EMI on Parlaphone [sic] label. 1st recording date set for June 6th.
(Source: The Complete Beatles ChronicleMark Lewisohn, Octopus 1992 (page 56))  
Martin set about organizing The Beatles' contract. On Friday, 18th May 1962, he sent an "Application for Artiste Contract" to EMI's administration department. A contract - post-dated 4th June - was duly returned to Martin on Thursday 24th May, which was sent off, with no official binding EMI signature, to Epstein in Liverpool for The Beatles to sign. The Beatles returned from Hamburg on Saturday 2nd June, 1962, and Epstein returned the contract on Tuesday 5th June, 1962, signed by him and witnessed by Cavern Club DJ Bob Wooler.

Also on June 5th, The Beatles travelled to London following two days of intensive rehearsals at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. The following day they arrived at EMI's studios in Abbey Road for the very first time. Once there, they performed a number of songs. However, McCartney's amplifier kept cutting out, and EMI engineers had to improvise a bass amp for him. Martin was unimpressed by their performance, and departed to the canteen, leaving his assistant Ron Richards, and engineers Norman Smith and Chris Neal to tape The Beatles first session.

In all, The Beatles' recorded four songs at that first session:
  • Besame Mucho
  • Love Me Do
  • PS I Love You
  • Ask Me Why

Richards, Smith and Neal were also not impressed with The Beatles' first number, but the second song changed their minds. Love Me Do prompted Richards to send Smith to fetch Martin back from the canteen, and he listened, intrigued, to the remaining songs - all of them Lennon-McCartney originals. After the session was ended, Martin invited The Beatles up to the control room, where they impressed him with their humour, and he impressed them by revealing that he had produced records by Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers of The Goons. Martin concluded that he had nothing to lose, and sanctioned the addition of a binding EMI signature to their contract.