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Nov 04

THE BEATLES – “From Me To You”

Popular18 comments • 2,607 views

#151, 4th May 1963

Merseybeat was the fad that changed the world. Or at least it changed the world this blog cares about. Of the 20 number ones after “How Do You Do It?”, fourteen were by Liverpool groups or singers, and a fifteenth was written by The Beatles. As for the old order? Elvis Presley had 9 #1s in the first three years of the decade, two in the rest of it. Cliff stuck around but his lock on the top three was broken. The teen balladeers of the early 60s? Kaput. And so on. By the time the Merseymania died down, leaving the Beatles legends and everybody else with a free pass on the revival circuit, pop’s cast was different.

What about pop’s sound, though? That shifted too, but not as quickly or completely – from 1963 to today, records get to No.1 which could credibly have been chart-toppers before Merseybeat. Wholesomeness, big sloppy ballads out of films, deference in the face of a string section – these things never went away. But nevertheless something is different in British pop after ’63. If I had to sum up what Merseybeat brought to the top of the charts I’d say it boils down to two things: voice and aggression.

I’ve mentioned British accents a lot on Popular because I think they’re important – British pop pendulums all the time between valuing transatlantic mimicry and valuing rougher regional voices: this is a legacy of Merseybeat. The early-60s vogue for exaggerated London voices was a kind of dry run for Merseybeat but the absurd Cockney stylings of “Poor Me” et al lacked a certain amount of conviction. The scouse voices on Merseybeat hits are always naturalistic.

And their naturalism is backed up by the aggressive playing. Merseybeat, like skiffle, was a small club music and even if technique was valuable it was rarely shown off: what counted was energy and pace. There had been aggressive music at the top of the British charts before (“Great Balls Of Fire”!) but generally played by Americans (and so not connected to a British experience of live music) or incorporating safer comic aspects (Lonnie Donegan – and the wider homebrewed skiffle movement was I suspect more or less by ignored by record companies).

Merseybeat had its own ways of defusing the aggression but crucially they aren’t so much part of the records. The well-kept and cheeky public image of most of the Liverpool groups may have been a put-on but it made their mass appeal less threatening. When I talk about ‘aggression’ of course it’s all relative – most Merseybeat records sound pretty cuddly now, but at the same time there’s generally more bite than in earlier pop – though often at the expense of subtlety: a change is not always an improvement.

I’ve talked about Merseybeat because it shouldn’t be reduced to The Beatles, even though they were its commercial motor. The Beatles are the sole cause, though, of another meta-effect: from this point on the well-known pop songs outnumber the lesser-known. British pop history doesn’t start with them, but they are its 1066 – the point at which the traditional curriculum really gets going. The language of pop before the Beatles is obscure in places – it’s hard to know what a Vera Lynn record might have meant to the people who bought it; it’s harder to work out how to take a Guy Mitchell song today. The Beatles’ records, and what came after, are still not often speaking the language I hear in the pop I love today, but they are intelligible. (If you want to push the linguistic metaphor, 60s pop and rock are like Latin – a dead language which still has vast taxonomic and institutional weight.)

Popular up to this point has been for me a trip through an unfamiliar region with occasional reassuring landmarks. That changes now: the roads are better trodden. The chances of me making a howling mistake are lower, the chances of me falling back on received wisdom higher. Self-indulgent asides aside, though, I’ve a song to deal with.

“From Me To You” is crisp, catchy and hip – more of that fashionable harmonica; throaty Everleys harmonies; a teasing lyric; a no-nonsense beat that accelerates thrillingly into the chorus; and shouting. It’s the shouting where a line is really drawn – that last “if there’s anything I CAN DO”, where the harmonies break and reform and the sense of mates playing this stuff in real time is most compelling.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous on 24 Nov 2005 #

    If you like 60’s Mersey Sound, visit http://www.merseybeatnostalgia.co.uk for a host of pre-Beatles info and original Merseybeat music.

  2. 2
    Bill Harry on 18 Oct 2006 #

    During the heyday of the Mersey Sound, it was NEVER called Mersey Beat by the media. It was always referred to as ‘the Mersey Sound’ or ‘the Liverpool Sound.’ Mersey Beat was the newspaper and the name was copyright at the time and couldn’t be used without permission.
    To call the music Merseybeat now is an anachronism.

  3. 3
    Tom on 18 Oct 2006 #

    Point noted – though I won’t change it on subsequent edits, as that’s how the sound is known now, and all post-facto listening is necessarily anachronistic.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 18 Oct 2006 #

    The question surely is whether the music itself is an anachronism.

  5. 5
    Lena on 16 Feb 2007 #

    I like the harmonies on this, the way it is sung. I have no idea if that’s The Beatles or Merseybeat or what.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 16 Feb 2007 #

    More the Beatles – the rest of Merseybeat followed suit. Part Little Richard, part US girl groups passim.

  7. 7
    Tom on 28 Nov 2008 #

    The ‘cover version’ of this in the John Lewis adverts is the single most horrible thing I have heard in 2008.

  8. 8
    Mark G on 28 Nov 2008 #

    You know when you get to FT, and on the right is the last bunch of posted messages, truncated?

    This one had it as “The ‘cover version’ of this in the John Lewis adverts is the single”

    Just came here to say “IT IS NOT!”

  9. 9
    Erithian on 1 Oct 2009 #

    I’ve only just made the connection, clicking onto this from the discussion on the previous thread – that post at #2 above from Bill Harry, assuming it’s not a hoax, is from the founder of the Mersey Beat paper, the man who introduced Stuart Sutcliffe to John Lennon, and the man who coined the phrase “Merseybeat” for the paper – “In his mind he formed a visual image of a map of the area to be covered, then the picture of a policeman walking over it popped into his mind – a policeman’s beat. Thus he coined the phrase ‘Mersey Beat’, based on a policeman’s beat and not that of the music.”

    One heck of a mover and shaker there, and we didn’t twig at the time! Take a look at http://www.mersey-beat.com/

  10. 10
    Cumbrian on 17 Jan 2013 #

    I can’t see how anything can go wrong with this:

    http://www.nme.com/news/the-beatles/68229

  11. 11
    Mark G on 18 Jan 2013 #

    Wow, laying down all the tracks in ‘just-one-day’, blimey. It’s like they are treating it as a gig!

  12. 12
    mapman132 on 12 Feb 2014 #

    Interesting thing about the Beatles’ first official UK#1: It never made the US Top 40. It was however the first Beatles record to appear on any Billboard chart, peaking at #116 on the Bubbling Under section of the Hot 100 in August 1963. When Beatlemania hit the US in early 1964 it was re-released as the B side to “Please Please Me” and apparently got lost among the avalanche of Beatles records at the time, peaking at the unfortunate position of #41. As a result, I don’t think I’d heard it until it appeared on the “1” album that was released in 2000.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jan 2015 #

    having recently worked my way through the hits of 1960 to ’62 helps me to appreciate how raw this sounds compared to the tastefully arranged tunes by Elvis, Cliff and The Shadows. The song opens with the band enthusiastically ‘na-na-ing’ the tune when an arranger might have used horns, guitar or strings. The first two lines end in ‘WANT’ and ‘DO’ lustfully sung by Lennon, with McCartney adding a prophylactic coating of harmonies to sweeten the deal. The language is casual and intimate leading to the middle eight(?) where Lennon promises ‘lips that long to kiss you and KEEP YOU SATISFIED’ at which point McCartney gasps ‘OOOOO’. Pop hadn’t sounded this horny for years. No wonder Philip Larkin said (albeit with some irony) ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963’

    EDITED TO ADD: I’m intrigued by the underlying rhythm to the song – I’m assuming it’s vaguely latin but almost sounds like ska

  14. 14
    Mostro on 29 Apr 2015 #

    @13 (LonePilgrim); Wasn’t “Please Please Me” more overt- by 1963 standards anyway- about its horniness? (Unless I’m misunderstanding what the title was meant to be hinting at(!))

    When I was growing up in the 80s, some of the early Beatles stuff- which would only have been around 20 years old at the time- did seem quite old-fashioned sound and production-wise. (*) Yet “From Me to You” was still one of my favourite early tracks by them- there’s something about the melody I liked then, and still do.

    Though it’s fairly short at under two minutes, it’s the right length for a song that doesn’t even have a separate verse and chorus and is only broken up by the bridges- yet it works because what *is* there is great and doesn’t outstay its welcome. On reflection, I think it was always the bridge sections that were what I *really* liked about this song- the icing on the cake.

    (*) When you’re seven or eight years old and your memory is about half that time, twenty years *is* an incredibly long time. And, to be fair, record production had progressed massively in that period, helped along- ironically- by The Beatles and George Martin!

  15. 15
    Erithian on 9 Mar 2016 #

    Perhaps the best place to mark the passing of the catalyst of it all, as another genius leaves us. RIP Sir George Martin, with thanks for your influence from the Goons to Sgt Pepper and beyond.

  16. 16
    Erithian on 9 Mar 2016 #

    I hope he finds that George Harrison likes his tie a bit more now.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 9 Mar 2016 #

    a fascinating figure who was the perfect producer to nurture and showcase the Fab Four’s creativity

  18. 18
    enitharmon on 9 Mar 2016 #

    Although the better place would be with the Temperance Seven, which I believe was George’s first number one. Genius indeed.

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