Sunday, December 12, 2010

1963, February 11: Back-Story, Part 1



(above) prototype cover used for early advertisement

The journey to super-stardom continued, still in the middle echelons. With “Please Please Me” released, but not yet at Number One, and in the midst of a bus tour with Helen Shapiro (who topped the bill), the Fab Four entered Abbey Road Studios on February 11, 1963 to lay down new tracks for the forthcoming debut LP. In fact, they would record ten superb songs in just under ten hours, a tribute to the industrious nature and overflowing talent of our heroes (although Lewisohn states that it was common in 1963 for pop bands to record an entire album in a single day, he like we recognize the superiority of this particular effort). And, without hesitation, they resumed the Shapiro tour the next day.

RELATIVES:
Get an overview of Helen Shapiro: here. Many Shapiro videos are on YouTube.

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"THERE'S A PLACE"

This song was recorded first, possibly reflecting its importance in the minds of the fellows. We can make this assumption since it was unusual for its time, the title phrase meaning “the place was in the mind, rather than round the back of the stairs for a kiss and a cuddle. This was the difference with what we were writing, we were getting a bit more cerebral”1. It was co-written by John and Paul at the McCartney homestead on Forthlin Road, in January (or possibly February 3 or 4) 1963. John said it was mostly his, with a trademark stamp: “‘There's A Place’ was my attempt at a sort of Motown, black thing. It says the usual Lennon things: ‘In my mind there's no sorrow'... It's all in your mind”2. The title derived from Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” (the opening lyric for which is “there’s a place for us”) from the West Side Story soundtrack album, which Paul owned.

1 Miles, Many Years From Now, p.95
2 Sheff, All We Are Saying, p.193

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"I SAW HER STANDING THERE"

This rouser was next, a song they had been perfecting for at least six months. It was co-written1, but John said that he only “helped with a couple of the lyrics”2, to which Paul concurred that it was “my original. I'd started it and I had the first verse, which therefore gave me the tune, the tempo and the key. It gave you the subject matter, a lot of information, and then you had to fill in... It was co-written, my idea”3. John didn’t mind giving Paul the credit, saying later, “That's Paul doing his usual good job of producing what George Martin used to call a ‘potboiler’”2.

Paul had written the lyrics into a Liverpool Institute exercise book1,3. When John was called to help finish the song, he looked incredulously at Paul’s initial rhyme, “just seventeen/never been a beauty queen," and said, “What? Must change that”1. The line was changed to “you know what I mean.” Paul later modified this story slightly by saying that they both went “Ugh, this is one of these” and that “both of us cringed at that”3. But still later he gave John the sole credit for saying, “Beauty queen? Ugh!”4.

The inspiration for “I Saw Her Standing There” is not so clear. Paul said only that he wrote it for “our market" (seventeen-year-old girls)1. It has, however, been attributed with some force to Paul’s affinity for Iris Caldwell, an interesting figure in Beatles lore. Iris was the sister of Alan Caldwell, a.k.a. Rory Storm, who employed Ringo as drummer before he joined The Beatles. Her first boyfriend, at 12 years old, was a 14-year-old George Harrison (George even auditioned for Rory’s band), who remained close with the Caldwell family well into The Beatles’ career. Iris trained as a dancer and took a job performing at the Tower Ballroom in Liverpool. There, in December 1961, at the age of seventeen, she met another young man named Paul McCartney who was performing that night with The Beatles. He couldn't keep his eyes off her as she danced The Twist. Paul was impressed with her ambitions (and fishnet stockings), and they soon began dating. Iris remembered: “Paul and I dated for a couple of years. It was never that serious. We never pretended to be true to each other. I went out with lots of people. I was working away in different theatres at the time, but if I was back home then we would go out. There were never any promises made or love declared.” Iris never claimed to be the inspiration for this song, but she did state that Paul intended the song to be given to her brother, saying he thought “it would be a good song for him, but it wasn't dealt out that way. Brian Epstein didn't want Rory to have it”5.

The music for “I Saw Her Standing There” is an interesting story. Paul told Beat Instrumental magazine: “Here’s one example of a bit I pinched from someone: I used the bass riff from ‘Talkin’ About You’ by Chuck Berry in ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ I played exactly the same notes as he did, and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find few of them believe me. Therefore, I maintain that a bass riff hasn’t got to be original”11. MacDonald noted that Tony Sheridan’s “Eddie Cochrane guitar style” and “jive-hall ambience” were influences on the final recording, citing Martin’s use of the “1-2-3-faw!” count-off as evidence8.

The date of composition can be traced by some clues left for us. Paul once said, “I thought of the idea driving home from a concert in Southport”6. Referring back to the "Cavern Rehearsal” tape (1962, October, circa), it would appear that Paul's inspiration occurred shortly before August 1962, and indeed we find that The Beatles played two dates in Southport which correspond, July 23 and July 26. As further proof, a set-list for the August 3 Grafton gig does not include “I Saw Her Standing There”7 (113), prompting some belief that the song was still in the compositional stage at that point. Miles3 placed the completion date in September 1962, and MacDonald called that “a fair guess”8. But lest we think The Beatles were holding back this song for the album, we ought to know that it was played at the Star Club in December. More likely, its omission from any play in the UK was due to some missing spark in this song’s attitude, for the Cavern Rehearsal tape presents "I Saw Her Standing There" as more of a blues-beat “train” song with “clacking” drums, undoubtedly not the sound the boys were seeking (and the Star Club performances prove that point).

Now, a few inconsistencies in the source material. (1) "I Saw Her Standing There" had a much different style on the Cavern Rehearsal tape than on the Star Club tape, which means it was not really complete when John and Paul finished its composition. Yet Paul said, “We finished it that day”3, meaning the same day the duo were photographed working on this song9. There was obviously some confusion in either Paul's memory or his language. (2) Paul confused the issue again when he said, “We sagged off school, and wrote it on guitars, and a little bit on the piano that I had there”1. In fact, by 1962 they were no longer attending school. Perhaps Paul meant “sagged off" work. (3) Paul said also, “At the time, we were 18, 19, whatever”1. However, since he was born June 18, 1942, Paul would have been 20 when he sat down with John to complete the song. This conflict can be excused as an approximation by Paul. (4) Another time, Paul said, “All my first songs... were written on the Zenith; songs like ‘Michelle’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’”4, but the Zenith, Paul’s earliest guitar, was put aside by 1961: “Used this guitar until the Beatles' first trip to Hamburg. The Zenith... still hangs in his studio. He pulled it down for the Anthology video to play a bit of ‘Twenty Flight Rock'"10 (the guitar Paul is playing in the aforementioned photograph is not the Zenith, but a small Spanish guitar, perhaps a Framus). (5) Finally, Paul said that “I Saw Her Standing There” was one of the first Lennon-McCartney compositions, but this is not correct, since they had been writing together since 1960, “Ask Me Why” and “The One After 909” being two famous earlier examples.

It's possible that
Paul wrote "I Saw Her Standing There" in 1961. The Beatles did play Southport a few times that year (two before April, once on November 5)7 (82). Paul did write the lyrics into a Liverpool Institute exercise book, which could indicate he was still in school at the time, and that he was 18 or 19 years old. Paul did say he'd "started it," which could mean the germ of the idea came early, which would also correlate a little with his statement that this was one of the first Lennon-McCartney compositions, a standard normally given even if not earned. If 1961 is correct, it would also mean that Paul was correct about writing it on the Zenith guitar, and it fits perfectly that Paul nipped the bass part from "I'm Talking About You" (Berry) since that song was released in February 1961. Finally, this dating would not exclude Iris Caldwell as inspiration, since she would have been Paul's girlfriend when John and Paul worked up the final lyrics in 1962. Just a theory.

PHOTOS & INFORMATION: More photos from the day John and Paul composed this song are:
here.

1 Lewisohn, Recording Sessions, p.10
2 Sheff, All We Are Saying, p.193
3 Miles, Many Years From Now, pp.93-94
4 The Beatles Anthology, pp.20, 23
5 “Beatles Girls” website: here
6 Badman, The Beatles Off the Record, p.50
7 Lewisohn, The Beatles Live!, pp.82, 113
8 MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, pp.48-49
9 photo originally found in Remember, the Recollections and Photographs of Michael McCartney
10 “Paul McCartney’s Guitars” website: here
11 Flippo, Yesterday: the Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney (1988), p.197, repeated in later sources

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"A TASTE OF HONEY"

This third song recorded was originally a play by Shelagh Delaney, which premiered at a small fringe theater on the East End of London in May 1958, then moved to a larger theatre on the West End in 1959. If any of the lads knew of it, the subject matter may have been appealing to them, as it concerned sexuality, race relations, and changing social mores (and there is some reason to believe that John might have followed such revolutionary breakthroughs in British theatre), or perhaps one of them saw Ken Russel1's 1960 UK documentary on Delaney (America presented A Taste of Honey on Broadway in 1960, a smash hit starring Angela Lansbury and Billy Dee Williams).

The tune was originally an instrumental track for the stage play, and was included on an album by co-songwriter Bobby Scott, an accomplished saxophonist. It also was the theme song for the 1961 award-winning film of the same name. As previously mentioned (1962, October 25), the first vocal cover of this song by Lenny Welch was likely a great influence on The Beatles, as the arrangement is similar between their versions. However, we can’t discount Acker Bilk’s January 1963 release, which reached #16 on the UK Singles Chart, as having some sway on the Fab Four.

In 1965, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass had a #7 hit in the United States with “A Taste of Honey,” also winning the Grammy for Record of the Year.

In 1967, Paul wrote “Your Mother Should Know” based on a line taken from the screenplay1.

RELATIVES: Take a gander at Shelagh Delaney: here, facts on the stage play: here, and information on the film: here.

RELATIVES: Get up to date with Mr. Acker Bilk: here.

1 MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, p.211

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"DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET"

Fourth to be recorded was this composition from John1. Credit has been disputed by Paul, who called it “a song we really wrote”2, and said, more forcefully, that it was a 50/50 collaborative effort3 (95). Some have proposed that Paul’s contribution was the middle eight, which is said to have a Buddy Holly feel and a “McCartney signature” descending bass line4.

The story of this song’s inspiration is as mysterious as it is interesting. What is the secret? In my opinion, there are five possibilities, as follows:

(1) The Secret Girlfriend. Liverpool Beatles fans knew quite well that Cynthia was John’s girlfriend. However, when Brian Epstein became The Beatles’ manager in October 1961, “he told John that it would be better if all girlfriends kept a low profile”5 (78).

(2) The Shotgun Wedding. Unwed, Cynthia discovered in July 1962 that she was pregnant by John5 (90). While this situation may or may not have been scandalous in scruffy Liverpool, it still meant that John was morally obliged, according to the times, to marry Cynthia: “The fact that he had to marry was disturbing to him”6. John said, “I was a bit shocked when Cynthia told me, but I said, ‘Yes, we'll have to get married.’ I didn't fight it”7. Cynthia’s side of this was a bit more romantic: “Eventually, I plucked up all my courage and told him. As the news sank in, he went pale and I saw the fear in his eyes. For a couple of minutes we were both silent. I watched him as I waited for a response. Would he walk out on me? Then he spoke: ‘There’s only one thing for it, Cyn. We’ll have to get married.’ I asked him whether he meant it. I told him he didn’t have to marry me, that I was prepared to manage on my own, but he was insistent. ‘Neither of us planned to have a baby, Cyn, but I love you and I’m not going to leave you now’”5 (91). She continued, “Many commentators on John’s life have said that he would never have married me if I hadn’t been pregnant... Totally wrong”5 (93). John said somewhat differently: “I got married before I even knew what religion my wife was. Anyway, I never asked her... I just did it without thinking, she could have been anything”8 (although the subject of this Q-and-A was religion, not marriage, John’s demeanor seemed doleful, not happy).

At the time of the wedding, The Beatles, though not yet a household name worldwide (they hadn’t even released “Love Me Do”), were wildly popular in Liverpool. Brian didn’t want John to marry, as he believed The Beatles needed to retain an “available young men” image, and he told John to think about it, that he didn’t have to do it. Cynthia wrote, “No doubt Brian was thinking about the future of the group... But John insisted he wanted to marry me and Brian agreed to help”5 (92). After deciding to wed, John became panicked that being married would interfere with his career as a musician. Cynthia respected John’s fear; but, more so, “I respected him enormously for standing by me when he knew it might ruin his career, just as he was on the brink of success. He had a streak of fundamental decency that went far beyond simply observing the convention of the day, and I loved him for it”5 (93). John gave a slightly different account of his feelings at the time: “I thought it would be goodbye to the group, getting married, because everybody said it would be. None of us ever took girls to the Cavern as we thought we would lose fans (which turned out to be a farce in the end)”7.

On August 23, 1962, John married Cynthia (six weeks pregnant) in a semi-secret ceremony: “They tried to keep the marriage secret from Beatles fans, but one of the tea ladies from the Cavern saw them coming out of the register office, and the news leaked out, though they denied it”7. Ringo, new to the band, was also kept in the dark, having joined only five days earlier: “I didn't go to the wedding. John never even told me he'd got married. John and Cynthia were keeping it a secret from everyone. If something got mentioned it was, ‘Shh, Ring's in the room.’ It was kept from me because I wasn't considered a real member at the beginning. I was in the band, but emotionally I had to earn my way in. John didn't tell me anything until we went on tour and got to know each other in all the doss houses where we camped”9 (73).

(3) The Hidden Apartment. Brian’s wedding present to the couple was their own place, an apartment he’d used from time to time for his homosexual encounters. The flat, at 36 Falkner Street*, Liverpool, was unknown to the obsessive Beatles fans in town, and Brian wanted John and Cynthia to lead a private life, away from the press and fans, for the good of the band, and for the safety of Cynthia and her child. John said, “I'd just married Cyn, and Brian Epstein gave us his secret little apartment that he kept in Liverpool for his sexual liaisons; separate from his home life”1.

*correct spelling per Google maps; Cynthia misspelled it “Faulkener” in her book; other misspellings in various sources are “Falkener” and “Faulkner”

(4) The Life of Brian. In those days, especially in rugged Liverpool, homosexuality was looked upon poorly, and Brian Epstein was gay. This fact was well-known to The Beatles, but not to the public.

Another infamous part to this concerns John's relationship with Brian. Cynthia wrote, “Claims have been made that Brian and John had a gay relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. John was a hundred percent heterosexual and, like most lads at the time, horrified by the idea of homosexuality. The bond between John and Brian was one of mutual respect and friendship. They liked and admired each other. Brian could see John’s intelligence and distinctive talent. John appreciated Brian’s business acumen and his ambition for the group. They talked for hours and planned the band’s future together. They both wanted the Beatles to be the biggest thing since Elvis, and were hell bent on making it happen”5 (78).

In the Spring of 1963, John and Brian took a holiday together to Spain. When they returned to England, John was infuriated that “he had to put up with sly digs, winks, and innuendo that he was secretly gay” 5 (115). On June 18,1963, at Paul’s twenty-first birthday party, John, drunk, pummeled Bob Wooler (Cavern DJ and friend to all The Beatles) when the latter made a crack that questioned John’s heterosexuality 5 (115). Some sources (for example, Brown & Gaines, The Love You Make) tell a completely different story, weaving smut at a sunny villa in Spain. The choice to believe or not is ours to make (I choose not).

(5) The Beatle Wife. After the marriage, Cynthia was kept “hidden at home”5 (119). John parsed, “We didn't keep it secret, it's just that when we first came on the scene nobody really asked us. They weren't interested whether we were married or not. The question they used to ask was, ‘What kind of girls do you like?’ And if you get our early news sheets it says ‘blondes.’ I wasn't going to say, ‘I'm married,’ but I never said, ‘I'm not.’” George added, “It wasn’t hushed up; it just wasn’t mentioned in the press”9 (73). Riley wrote, “When the Beatles came along, John’s marriage was an open secret... His onscreen ID during the Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan revealed, ‘Sorry girls, he’s married.’ Manager Brian Epstein was cheeky about Lennon being ‘spoken for’ and yet the truth was more involved: his being spoken for only attested to his adult status, and greater desirability... None of this encroached on their individual or collective sex appeal one iota”10. However, we need to keep these reports in proper context, as the lyrics for “Do You Want To Know A Secret” were written well before the Beatles whirlwind success. At this point in the story, the marriage was not yet an “open secret” and Cynthia was a voluntary prisoner. I say voluntary because, apparently, “Cynthia was all for keeping their marriage quiet: ‘It was bad enough John being recognized and chased everywhere. I didn’t want that to happen to me’”7.

Falkner Street proved to be a seedy place with scary characters, so Cynthia moved back in with John’s Aunt Mimi in November 1962. There, she continued to keep the marriage and pregnancy secret at all costs, to her emotional detriment. After Julian was born (April 8, 1963), the secrecy continued (note that many sources incorrectly state that Cynthia remained at Falkner Street until Julian’s birth). Simultaneously (in a sad but comical double standard), Paul made no effort at hiding his relationship with Jane Asher – the “wife and child” bit apparently more “dangerous” to the welfare of the Beatles5 (119). Ostensibly, John was quite upset that Cynthia was hidden, but he did little or nothing to relieve that situation (marriage obviously did not suit him, and John partied relentlessly while on the road with The Beatles). In 1968, he said, “I did feel embarrassed, being married. Walking about, married. It was like walking about with odd socks on, your fly open”7.

Which of these secrets was the true inspiration? Who can say?

According to Turner11, the titular “secret” is that John had just realized that he was really in love with Cynthia. We can’t rule out this possibility. It’s not that difficult to picture Cynthia being somewhat happy (married, with child, to her sweetheart), yet depressed (knowing John’s unhappiness with marriage, knowing John’s popularity with other women). We can imagine Cynthia asking John, “Do you really love me?” and John responding coyly, “Sshh. It’s a secret.” Maybe to cheer up his expectant wife, he conceived the lyrics, even sang them to her. We simply don’t know.

Although by all accounts John didn’t relish being married, and probably resented the changes in his life, he dutifully kept his mouth shut as well as he could for the welfare of Cynthia, his unborn child, his family, Brian, and for the band’s future. However, knowing his temperament against restraint, his proclivity for emotional honesty, and his mischievousness, it’s easy to see how John could be motivated to rebellion against his gag order, and to write a song which would give him at least a little release: “Listen... do you want to know a secret (which one?)... do you promise not to tell (the press?)...” This song could be such an outlet, though it is so couched in fluffy teenage love that one would never imagine that John was bursting at the seams with angst. In a way, we might consider this an early form of John’s primal scream therapy.

“Do You Want to Know A Secret” was written between August 23, 1962, the day John and Cynthia moved into Brian’s apartment, and November 1, 1962, the day The Beatles left for Hamburg. The starting date is upheld by John, who linked Falkner Street as the place of composition1, and the latter date is upheld by Cynthia, who moved permanently out of that apartment, to Mimi’s, shortly after The Beatles left for Germany5 (103). This chronology allows for any of the secrets. The line “I’ve known a secret for the week or two” makes it appear that this song was written within a short time of the secret becoming known, but this doesn’t really help.

Undermining the entire idea that this song has deep meaning, Paul called it “nothing much”2. This air of ambivalence later devolved into almost hatred when Miles related that Paul called this a “hack song... written to order”3 (95). Either Paul (1) had absolutely no idea or recollection of the song’s importance, (2) intentionally buried the secrets of “...Secret” under ravaging denial, or (3) we are barking up the wrong tree and this song has no underlying meaning. Of the third theory, we can discard it since John answered that this song’s origins lie in that secret apartment following his secret wedding. Of the second theory, it is intriguing to believe that Paul was hiding something he considered sinister or debilitating but, given the number of books published on these subjects, it also seems wholly unnecessary (but that could have been a ruse!). Of the first theory, perhaps this is the most plausible, though least interesting; maybe Paul was simply oblivious to the connections between this song and reality (or, like a great lightning bolt, conspiracy theorists might say that only a “faux Paul” would have no recollection of this song’s true origin). One more thought: if Paul wrote “I’ve known the secret for a week or two” (the middle-eight he possibly contributed), was it a secret of Paul’s? I think not. More likely, he was simply adding to the ballad of the John and Cynthia.

While the idea for this song seems to have sprung from John’s life circumstances, some wording and phrasing originated with Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): “The idea came from this thing my mother used to sing to me when I was one or two years old, when she was still living with me. It was from a Disney movie: ‘Do you want to know a secret? Promise not to tell? You are standing by a wishing well.’ So, with that in my head, I wrote the song”1 (Playboy). Ryan wrote, “It is an early example of how precious any association with his mother’s memory was to become”12. At times, John misremembered the Disney movie as Cinderella or Fantasia13, or it has been incorrectly reported that “it was a line John remembered that Jiminy Cricket asks Pinocchio”14. Once again, Paul’s statement that this song was "nothing much" is undercut.


George said that the music for this song was inspired, to some extent, by “I Really Love You,” a rhythm-and-blues hit for The Stereos in 196115. Notably, the words “I really love you” appear at the start of “Do You Want to Know A Secret.” Paul stated that the music was somewhat more original: “We knew that in E if you went to an A-flat minor, you could always make a song with those chords; that change pretty much always excited you. This is one of those. Certainly ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ was”3 (163).

Whether John wrote it for himself as catharsis, or for Cynthia as solace, we know that by February 1963 John felt no special connection to this song, because he deliberately made it George’s debut. John said, “I wrote it and just gave it to George to sing”1. But that doesn’t mean it was meant for George: “I can’t say that I wrote it ‘for’ George”1. Paul contradicted John by saying that “Do You Want to Know A Secret” was written specifically “for George to sing. Before he wrote his own stuff, John and I wrote things for him and Ringo to do”2 , but I am not predisposed to give Paul much credence here.

This brings us to another puzzle, which is, If the song meant so much to John, why did he give it to George? “I thought it would be a good vehicle for him, because it had only three notes and he wasn't the best singer in the world. He has improved a lot since then; but in those days, his ability was very poor. I gave it to him just to give him a piece of the action. That's another reason why I was hurt by his book. I even went to the trouble of making sure he got the B-side of a Beatles single, because he hadn't had a B-side of one until ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’”1. This statement by John requires examination:

(1) John went out of his way to say just how very awful George’s singing ability was in 1963. This is debatable. Certainly John was one of the best rock singers of all time, but it seems like a stab in the back professionally, as George was an excellent backup singer. This part of John’s statement may have been revenge, John hurt personally by George (“by his book”). Taking the opposite view, it is a common enough observation that George lacked a brilliant vocal range (though his tone was melodic enough). Even George agreed that his vocal for this song was sub-par: “I didn't like my vocal on it. I didn't know how to sing; nobody told me how to sing: ‘Listen, do da do, Do you want to know a secret? do da do, Do you promise not to tell...’”9 (92). I think we can safely assume that George meant he needed guidance with his lead vocal ability, for surely he was not lacking confidence in the realm of backing vocals.

(2) To give a song to a poor singer would indicate that the song is not a winner. How then was this equivalent to giving George “a piece of the action”? Should George be thankful for receiving John’s garbage?

(3) John described this song as “only three notes.” Not only is this a false statement – “it spans a ninth, F# to G#1, including falsetto tones”16 - but it is also a deep and unnecessary dig on George’s vocal range.

(4) Most telling, John’s statement about George receiving a B-side is absolutely incorrect, for four reasons. First, “Do You Want to Know A Secret” was never a B-side, not even in the United States. Second, the first intentional Harrison B-side (that is, on a UK single) was “The Inner Light” (1968). Third, there is no evidence that John ever fought for George’s representation on any Beatles single. Fourth, “Do You Want to Know A Secret” was an A-side in America (see below), a status not due to John’s intervention on George’s behalf.

Given these things, the only reasonable conclusion is that John gave “Do You Want to Know a Secret” to George because he felt the song was beneath him. This might also explain why he gave Billy J. Kramer a demo of this particular song (see below). One layer down, there may be an additional answer, that John gave this song away because he felt that i he sang the lyrics it would be a betrayal of responsibility put on him by Brian and Cynthia.

Besides giving this song to George, John also taped a demo of “Do You Want to Know a Secret” for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Brian Epstein had signed this band in January 1963, and it seems reasonable to say that Billy J. may have needed a little enticement to get him to sign with Brian, and that John provided the necessary motivation with a Beatles composition, this being sufficient due to the Fab Four’s recording contract with Parlophone (though The Beatles had yet to crack Top 40). In other words, a carrot on a stick. Some sources claim that John taped the demo while sitting in a lavatory (John in the john, as it were) at The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, during their final run there (1962, December 18-31)4. Billy J. Kramer put it this way: “I had this tape given to me, and it was John Lennon singing it with an acoustic guitar. On the tape he said, ‘I’m sorry for the sound quality, but it’s the quietest room I could find in the whole building.’ Then he flushed the toilet”17. Kramer didn't mention Hamburg, but the idea that John could find no quieter place to record than a bathroom would indicate a busy and bustling place, which describes that section of Hamburg where the band quartered. When we add in that The Beatles lived there in a crowded hotel with other British bands18, this picture of John recording in the lav gains plausibility. Sadly, the demo is lost, so we cannot examine it forensically. Unterberger19 wrote that the demo was recorded in early 1963 (not in Hamburg), since The Beatles recorded their version of this song in February, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas recorded theirs the following month (Unterberger did not explain his carbon-dating). Concerning the flush of the toilet, perhaps it’s what John thought of the song, or of the deal Brian made with Billy J. Kramer, and he decided to add the sound for emphasis.

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas recorded “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” on March 21, 1963, with George Martin at the producer’s helm, and released it in the UK on April 26. Most sources say it hit #2, unable to topple The Beatles’ “From Me To You,” but some3 (180), e.g. claim it hit #1. Thus began a long and fruitful career for the Lennon-McCartney team as songwriters for other artists.


(above) Billy J. Kramer's single

It seems incredible that at this fragile early period John should be giving away songs, especially at a time when The Beatles needed every one they could muster for their first LP (and only “Love Me Do” under their belt), yet it’s true that John and Paul gave away not necessarily second-rate material to a slew of artists. In 1963 alone, besides “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” the following Lennon-McCartney compositions were released by others:

“Misery”
(Kenny Lynch), released 3/22/63 (UK), which did not chart;

“I Saw Her Standing There”
(Duffy Power with the Graham Bond Quartet), released 4/26/63 (UK), which did not chart;

“I’ll Be On My Way”
(Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, b-side to “Do You Want to Know A Secret”), of which Paul said, “A little bit too ‘June-moon’ for me”3 (180);

“Bad to Me” b/w “I Call Your Name”
(Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), released 7/26/63 (UK), which hit #1 in the UK, written by John between April 28 and May 10, 1963, while on holiday in Spain with Brian Epstein20;

“Tip of My Tongue”
(Tommy Quickly), released 7/30/63 (UK), which did not chart;

“Hello Little Girl”
(The Fourmost), released 8/20/63 (UK), which hit #9 in the UK, of which John said, “Me. This was another very early song of mine”21, and “That was actually my first song... It’s also connected to my mother. It’s all very Freudian”1;

“Love of the Loved”
(Cilla Black), released 9/27/63 (UK), which hit #35 in the UK, of which John said: “Paul. One of his very early songs, but I think he changed the words later for Cilla”21, and “That’s another of Paul’s written when he was a teenager”1;

“I’ll Keep You Satisfied”
(Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas), released 11/1/63 (UK), which hit #4 in the UK, of which Paul said, “That was a good one. Billy J. was having a bit of success and, because he was out of the same stable as us, it made sense for us, if we weren't having to write a lot of stuff for ourselves, to knock off a couple for friends. It was pretty much co-written. John and I sat down and purposely wrote it for Billy J. in a couple of hours. This one is one I still like. I find myself whistling it in the garden”3 (180), but John gave the full credit to Paul1,21;

“I Wanna Be Your Man”
(The Rolling Stones), released 11/1/63 (UK), which hit #10 in the UK;

“I’m In Love”
(The Fourmost), released 11/1/63 (UK), which hit #17 in the UK, of which John said, “That sounds like me. I don’t remember a hell of a thing about it.”1

Brian’s stable was a powerhouse. In May 1962, hot on the heels of landing The Beatles, he signed Gerry and the Pacemakers. By 1963, he was also managing The Fourmost, The Big Three, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and Tommy Quickly. By 1964, he’d grabbed Cilla Black, The Remo Four, and Sounds Incorporated. One source16 intimates that, by urging John and Paul to write hit songs for his other artists, Brian was hedging his bets with The Beatles. Not that we can blame him; Brian was a businessman, after all. Other sources18, e.g., however, vehemently disagree, stating that The Beatles were always Brian’s first priority, and that he worked doggedly, often to his own detriment, to create the sensation that we all know and love.

1 Sheff, All We Are Saying; “Playboy” indicates from the original interview transcript
2 Playboy interview, 1984
3 Miles, Many Years From Now, p.95, 163, 180
4 MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, p.51
5 Cynthia Lennon, John, pp.78, 90-93, 103, 115, 119
6 Barrow, John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Me
7 Davies, The Beatles, p.153
8 press conference, Los Angeles, August 23, 1964
9 The Beatles Anthology, p.73, 92
10 Riley, Fever: How Rock n Roll Transformed Gender in America, p.191
11 Turner, A Hard Day’s Write
12 Ryan, John Lennon’s Secret (1982), p.24
13 Aldridge, Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 2 (1971)
14 Brown & Gaines, The Love You Make, p.82
15 Musician magazine, November 1987
16 Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarrymen Through Rubber Soul, p.151
17 liner notes to 1991 CD, The Best of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas: The Definitive Collection
18 Norman, Shout! (et al)
19 Unterberger, The Unreleased Beatles
20 Miles, The Beatles: A Diary
21 Record-Mirror, October 1971

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GENERAL REFS: Winn, Way Beyond Compare; Lewisohn, Chronicles; Castleman & Podrazik, All Together Now

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RELATIVES: Follow the exploits of Cynthia: here.

TOURISM: Seek out the secret apartment at 36 Falkner Street, Liverpool.

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Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise.

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