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.
Paul McCartney was 16 when he wrote “A World Without Love.” The song was credited to both John Lennon and McCartney, but Lennon didn’t have anything to do with the song. In fact, he vetoed the idea of the Beatles recording it, mostly because he thought the opening line — “please lock me away” — was stupid. So instead, McCartney gave it away.
In the early ’60s, McCartney was dating an actress named Jane Asher. Her brother was a former child actor named Peter. Peter had a singing group, a duo called Peter & Gordon, who’d signed to Capitol with the idea that they could be a UK answer to the American folk-pop that topped the charts so often in the early ’60s. He needed something to record, so he asked McCartney to finish writing “A World Without Love,” which was just a sketch at that point. And that’s how we know that, in 1964, the Beatles were such a big deal that one of their castoffs could sneak its way to #1 for a week.
Lennon was right about “A World Without Love.” It wasn’t good enough to be an early Beatles song, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t any good. It’s a fun little jangle, a prettily harmonized number about being dumped and wanting to isolate yourself from the universe. Asher and his singing partner Gordon Waller have tremulous, fragile voices, voices that might fit the song better than those of Lennon and McCartney. And the song is more of an early-’60s studio production than most of what the Beatles were doing, with its murmuring organ and its standard-issue early-’60s guitar-ripples. The song might even anticipate the fey folk-rock that would come into style a year or two later.
Peter & Gordon went on to score a few more hits, and then Asher became an exec at the Beatles’ Apple label. He went on to produce for Linda Ronstadt and 10,000 Maniacs, and now his daughter is in Cobra Starship.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Supremes cover of “A World Without Love,” from their 1964 British Invasion tribute album A Bit Of Liverpool: