‘From Me To You’, released on April 11, 1963 was, technically speaking, The Beatles’ first U.K. number one single. The second in a sequence of four, devastating body blows to the British pop scene in 1963 (the others being ’Please Please Me’/'She Loves You’/'I Want To Hold Your Hand’), ‘From Me To You’ raced up the charts upon its release, knocking ‘How Do You Do It?’ (a song the Beatles had rejected) off the top spot.
The single cemented the group’s claim to the title as the Kings of British pop. Its fresh originality, bluesy feel, catchy melody and surprising chord changes became a backdrop to the group’s blitzkrieg of Britain’s media, and the general population throughout the summer of 1963. Incredibly however, like ‘Please Please Me’ before it, but for the intervention of EMI producer George Martin, ‘From Me To You’ almost ended up as a b-side.
‘The third single, ‘From Me To You’, was really important, because that put the stamp on it. We’d had the first one, ‘Love Me Do’, which did well. Then they let us back in the studio and we did ‘Please Please Me’, then we had the album, and then ‘From Me To You’, the success of which assured us some fame’, said the late George Harrison
Twenty-two days after recording the bulk of their debut LP, and 18 days prior to its release, the Beatles were back in Abbey Road’s Studio Two to record the follow-up single to ‘Please Please Me’, the single which had given the group a number one on two out of three national record charts only weeks previous.
The Beatles’ nationwide popularity was rocketing, and their star was truly in its ascendancy. Evidence of their rapidly growing status as stars was demonstrated when, during one of the bitterest British winters on record, a February 19 engagement at The Cavern Club in Liverpool had drawn a queue of fans onto the street for two nights prior to the show (Complete Beatles Chronicle, Lewisohn, p.100).
On February 28, during this intense period of touring, Lennon and McCartney sat down on the back of the tour bus travelling from York to Shrewsbury with the intention of writing new material in response to pressure from George Martin and Brian Epstein. Upon arrival at Shrewsbury the new song was complete. ‘This was our real start’, said Paul McCartney
With their confidence as a songwriting partnership beginning to bloom in earnest, Lennon and McCartney began experimenting with new ideas to inject into their original compositions. ‘From Me To You’, possibly the duo’s first 50-50 collaboration, is notable for introducing several new departures.
The lyrical inspiration for sending love ‘From Me To You’ was apparently lifted from the mail-bag section of the music publication NME, titled From You To Us, a copy of which was present on the tour bus.
The title evolved a second time to become ‘From Us To You’; a lyrical variation of the original song which the group performed on four holiday specials at the BBC during 1964.
‘On Tuesday 5 [of] March we all got it absolutely spot-on in Studio Two […] the recording of ‘From Me To You’ was pure magic’, according to Norman Smith, an EMI engineer.
The Beatles entered Studio Two on Tuesday March 5 and participated in two sessions, which lasted from 2:30-5:00 p.m. and 7:00-10:00 p.m., respectively.
The instrumental setup for the recording session was similar to the Please Please Me LP session on February 11. Lennon played his Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric plugged into his Vox AC-30 amplifier and McCartney his 1961 Höfner 500/1 mic’d through his Tannoy/Leak rig. Harrison played his Gibson J-160E acoustic-electric, also plugged into a Vox AC-30, while Starr was still using his Premier drums.
The backline setup is confirmed by the presence of EMI staff photographer John Dove who snapped several iconic shots of the day. These early black and white photographs are instantly recognisable with Lennon, Harrison and Starr wearing uniform black waist coats over a shirt and tie.
It seems that as the session began, Lennon and McCartney favoured ‘Thank You Little Girl’ as the next a-side with ‘From Me To You’ pencilled as its flip-side partner. However, George Martin suggested a few changes to the latter and convinced the group of its commercial qualities over the former, and as with ‘Please Please Me’ previously, his intervention and advice brought the Beatles another number one record.
Despite ‘From Me To You’ being a rather straightforward pop song, the reality of composing songs on the road, and the difficulty of trying to record them during a studio-dash, before they had become familiar to the group, was demonstrated with the messy and complex recording of this particular track. The finished version is constructed from four separate takes, edited together to form the final master. In all, there were seven takes at capturing the song, then a further six edit pieces featuring various harmonica and vocal overdubs.
The studio tapes reveal that between Takes 1-5, the structure of the song was different from the familiar released version, being shorter, and lacking the call-and-response middle eight which was suggested by George Martin.
Martin showcased his keen senses as an on-the-fly producer by suggesting this addition as well as a vocalised harmony and harmonica part to match Harrison’s guitar riff on the intro. The first order of business was to run through the track and find a satisfactory foundation take; this was to be Take 7. Moving to edit pieces, twin-track to twin-track overdubbing was used to add the additional parts required. Effectively, this meant playing the recorded take from one machine directly onto another, while adding an overdub at the same time.
Lennon dubbed harmonica onto the intro, middle eight, and ending, while McCartney and Harrison dubbed similar bass and guitar riffs to back the harmonica in the middle eight. Take 12, another edit piece, involved adding the familiar vocalised intro, with Lennon singing and thus in this particular take, not playing harmonica. Several other vocalised improvisations were attempted and eventually rejected, before recording ceased. George Martin was satisfied he had enough material on tape to edit the track together at another session, and so the group turned their attention to recording the single’s flip side.
With 13 takes and six edit pieces in the can, Martin and engineer Norman Smith literally had their work cut out for them (pun intended) to edit the song together using scissors, tape and twin-track tape copying. The track they edited together on March 14 resembled somewhat of a Frankenstein creation. The final edit was made up of Take 12 (intro with the vocalised ‘da-da-da-da-da-dun-dun-da’), and a combination of Takes 8, 9, 10 for the verses, middle-eight, and ending.
It should be noted that the ability to construct tracks in such a manner was greatly facilitated by Starr’s steady drumming over multiple takes. Even slight changes in tempo over various takes would seriously hamper this type of track assembly.
During the post-production session, Martin had one final change of heart. He had previously decided the intro would feature the vocalisation/guitar riff intro, omitting the harmonica part which existed on a different take at any rate. However, during the editing process, he liked the harmonica parts on the middle and coda so much that he decided he also wanted them on the intro. Central to his thinking no doubt, was that following the release of ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, the harmonica intro would form a consistency of sound for the group’s fans.
One of the recording’s unusual oddities is the existence of two versions, one with harmonica on the intro, and one without. Actually, they are not different versions, but rather different mixes. The stereo mix on general release has never featured a harmonica intro. According to Mark Lewisohn, the stereo version created on March 14, 1963 had been scrapped by the time a stereo release was considered for a greatest hits package in 1966. (Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, p.86).
This version may have had the same Take 8 harmonica edit piece synced onto the intro, although at this late stage of post-production, and with stereo mixes a minor consideration in Martin’s mind, he may just have left it off the intro completely. We may never know.
When it came to create a stereo mix of the track in 1966, the harmonica intro was omitted, either as an oversight, or for the same reasons stated above.
Structurally speaking, what Lennon and McCartney recognised as genuinely breaking ground on ‘From Me To You’ was the impact of the shift to the bridge. Beginning on a Gm, the bridge effectively shifts key from C Major to F Major. This change of key, and the throttle-back on the overall performance, totally alters the mood of the song just as the lyric elaborates what the protagonist has to offer; ‘Arms that long to hold you/and keep you satisfied’.
Down the years, McCartney has understandably heralded the changes in this song upon their partnership, and upon the group’s sound:
He said, ‘The thing I liked about ’From Me To You’ was it had a very complete middle. It went to a surprising place. The opening chord of the middle section of that song heralded a new batch for me. That was a pivotal song. Our songwriting lifted a little with that song. It was very much co-written’.
The opening of the song pulls no punches; the listener is launched straight into the harmonica (on the mono version)/vocal hook which has the immediate effect of association with the the group’s previous two singles.
The transition between the intro and the first verse is sublimely marked by a snappy backwards styled drum fill of triplets from Starr on the snare and tom-tom. Starr and Lennon, on his Gibson J-160E acoustic, combine to provide the straight rhythm, while McCartney and Harrison add a sense of syncopation. It’s difficult to imagine the finished product maintaining the same appeal without Harrison’s subtle, yet very effective jaunty rhythmic style and well placed licks.
‘From Me To You’ is sung by both Lennon and McCartney almost in unison, no doubt underlying the 50-50 collaboration of its creation. McCartney harmonises Lennon’s main vocal on key phrases, adding to the bluesy feel of the track, while both betray a subtle American influence on the word ‘want’ which is bent for effect becoming ‘anything that you wan’‘.
This vocal style and delivery, reused for ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, was another key factor in the group’s unique appeal. To fans and onlookers, the group projected that they were just that, a group. There was no clearly defined leader, no front-man; they operated as an equal entity.
However, apart from the individual performing elements and sounds which were by now creating a totally original sound, this session was further evidence of the killer relationship that was beginning to develop between group and production team.
Writers, performers and production staff were fast becoming masters at packaging the perfect pop single into two minutes of space on a vinyl single.
The fact that this song entered the studio unfinished, rough and destined as a b-side, yet emerged as an enhanced, extended, well polished and totally successful a-side, was testament to the fact that the Beatles’ success was the sum of many parts.
This was not simply the result of the individual, or combined genius of two songwriters. In 1970, Lennon was quick to dismiss George Martin’s—Smith, Emerick and other technical staff never seemed to gain the Beatle credit they deserved—formative role in their success. However Lennon’s brutal honesty or misguided notions, depending on your viewpoint, could never undermine the crucial role their EMI team played in translating their rough diamonds into polished gems, notably during their early career.
In the same way that a director will utilise cameras, props, editing and various other tools to bring a script to life on the screen, the Beatles and EMI production staff were becoming seriously adept at making the most of instrumentation and dynamics of performance to bring the group’s creations to life through the loudspeakers.
This is evident in several places on ‘From Me To You’, particularly the careful placing of the song’s catchy riff (intro/middle/ending), but most notably in the group’s dynamics at the ending of each bridge. Here, all four members reinforce the offer of unconditional love with an enthusiastic instrumental climax which sees McCartney building on the bass, Harrison providing off-beat strumming, and Starr literally letting fly with an energetic flurry across the snare and toms. All of this is matched by falsetto ‘oohs’ resulting in a climactic venting of sexual tension which gave the record an immediate and relevant appeal to its target audience.
The careful, if sometimes formulaic and contrived, usage of dynamics in this manner allowed the group to tap its audience with far greater effect than many of their contemporaries who, often armed with similarly light lyrical content, failed to evoke similar reactions.
On the ending the group used some, by now, familiar tricks. The final line of the song is repeated as with ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, and like the latter, Starr brings proceedings to a close with an energetic set of four drum fills on the off-beat. Perhaps most interestingly of all, however, is that the song ends not on the home key of C Major, but on a rather reflective A Minor.
As a further example of how the group was learning to use arrangements and dynamics to embellish their lyrical content, this bold move has the effect of (surely unintentionally) creating a musical cliff-hanger; the protagonist has declared his unconditional love, but this last note seems to beg the question: Will the object of his affections accept it?
The more relaxed style of ‘From Me To You’ was often overlooked in the wake of the group’s astonishing career as a mere link in the chain between the energetic ‘Please Please Me’ and the proto-punk thumping of ‘She Loves You’. Sandwiched in between these two rockers, ‘From Me To You’ often suffered the fate of being seen as a tame ‘filler’. However, over the last decade or two this bluesy track, with its complex arrangement and infectious melody has regained ground in its consideration among Beatles critics such as Ian McDonald (Revolution In The Head, p.80).
The release of ‘From Me To You’ initiated a critical mass with fans and the public alike, which paved the way for the full-blown explosion of Beatlemania several months later. ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ had merely offered a taste of what was to come, but this cleverly packaged two minutes of pop with its bluesy appeal, catchy harmonica, arresting vocals, and the immediacy of its falsetto climaxes, created an instantaneous Beatles sound even before the ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ of its 7″ successor.
The Beatles were conquering Britain, and soon the world with their fresh and often outrageously original material. But they owed a debt of gratitude to Martin and his team of talented technical staff at Parlophone.
The group themselves were in no doubt as to the role ‘From Me To You’ played in achieving their success; McCartney recalled that he realised the group had made it when he heard a milkman whistling the melody of the song outside his bedroom window.