In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
“Love Me Do” was eight years old by the time it hit #1. A 16-year-old Paul McCartney had written most of the song while skipping school in 1958, with his friend John Lennon helping out on a few parts. The two of them hadn’t even formed the Beatles yet. “Love Me Do” was also the Beatles’ first single; they released it in the UK toward the end of 1962. They recorded three different versions of it with three different drummers, though the one that featured the newly recruited Ringo Starr was the one that ended up coming out. The song only made it to #17 in the UK, but it established the group as something. It was only a beginning.
Still, to Americans who heard “Love Me Do” on the radio in 1964 and who didn’t know the band’s whole history, “Love Me Do” probably sounded like progression. Where the Beatles’ first three #1 hits had all sounded like tiny explosions of trebly excitement, “Love Me Do” is slow and more casual. It’s a graceful lope, a sunny front-porch jam that would’ve sounded at home on the radio next to, say, Buck Owens’ speed-freak California country.
The Beatles added the song’s harmonica at the behest of producer George Martin; Lennon had famously shoplifted his instrument in Amsterdam in 1960. And that harmonica, coming in on the chorus, echoing McCartney’s melodies with its own, is one of the things that makes the song. The other thing that makes it is that unearthly Everly Brothers-style Lennon/McCartney harmony singing, which already spoke to all the hours that the two had spent singing together in German strip clubs. “Love Me Do” is so simple that it’s only barely a song, and yet its hooks seem to bubble up naturally, as if they’d always existed. And it hinted at a future where this band would be perceived as something more than just a soundtrack to teenage-girl screaming.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the freakishly sunny “Love Me Do” cover that the kids from The Brady Bunch released in 1972: