On April 11, 1963—54 years ago today—the Beatles released their third single, “From Me to You” b/w “Thank You Girl.” With the group following closely on the heels of “Please Please Me” with yet another UK chart-topper, “From Me to You” proved to be an early success in what would eventually come to be known as British Beatlemania.
The story of “From Me to You” had begun more than a month earlier on Tuesday, March 5th, when the Beatles and producer George Martin first tried their hand at the song. With Norman Smith serving as balance engineer and Richard Langham working as second engineer, Martin recorded seven takes of “From Me to You,” which had been inspired by a regular column that Paul McCartney had seen in NME entitled “From You to Us.”
Initially, the Beatles had intended to begin the song with a guitar solo, but after hearing their original arrangement, Martin had other things in mind. As Ron Richards later recalled, “The Beatles had marvelous ears when it came to writing and arranging their material. But George had real taste—and an innate sense of what worked.” To Martin’s ears, the song’s opening chorus was the hook. The producer recommended that Lennon and McCartney sing the song’s opening motto—“da-da-da da-da-dun-dun-da”—to which the A&R man overdubbed a harmonica part by John. Disc cutter Malcolm Davies helpfully loaned him a harmonica, later recalling that “artists never came to the cuts in those days but John [Lennon] popped up to see me because he wanted to borrow my harmonica, thinking it might make a better sound. He brought it back a little later saying that it tasted like a sack of potatoes!”
For Martin, continuing the Beatles’ harmonica sound with “From Me to You” was more than a mere creative decision. To his mind, it was invaluable in building their audience from “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” through their most recent effort. “It was an identifiable sound of the Beatles on those first singles,” he later wrote. They were self-consciously drawing on Lennon’s expertise as a “blues harmonica player.” As Martin recalled, John played a “diatonic harmonica, one with no black notes. He had a number of different harmonicas tuned to different keys”—when he wasn’t borrowing a mouth harp off of Abbey Road’s disc-cutter, that is.
As with “Please Please Me,” Martin had afforded “From Me to You” with a more commercial sound by virtue of a few tiny, but vastly significant alterations. By now, the producer had adopted a very particular and economical approach to working with the band. “I would meet them in the studio to hear a new number,” he later recalled. “I would perch myself on a high stool and John and Paul would stand around me with their acoustic guitars and play and sing it—usually without Ringo or George, unless George joined in the harmony. Then I would make suggestions to improve it, and we’d try it again. That’s what is known in the business as a ‘head arrangement.’”
For Martin, working with the Beatles had given him a renewed sense of purpose as Parlophone’s A&R head. As he later pointed out, his working life during the early years of the Beatles “was a mixture of many things. I was an executive running a record label. I was organizing the artists and the repertoire. And on top of that, I actually supervised the recording sessions, looking after what both the engineer and the artist were doing. Certainly I would manipulate the record to the way I wanted it, but there was no arrangement in the sense of orchestration. They were four musicians—three guitarists and a drummer—and my role was to make sure that they made a concise, commercial statement.”
With “From Me to You,” the Beatles’ “concise, commercial statement” saw them fairly easily score their second chart-topping single. Martin and the band had clearly captured a new sound, a new urgency in British pop, that even outpaced the press. An NME critic admitted that “From Me to You” had “plenty of sparkle” but ultimately concluded that “I don’t rate the tune as being anything like as good as on the last two discs from the group.”
The Beatles’ national audience clearly saw things differently, as “From Me to You” exploded onto the charts, opening in the number-six position and selling an astonishing 200,000 copies during its first week of release. Things were shifting in the Beatles’ world, and their professional success under Martin’s tutelage was mounting at an astonishing rate. As events would later prove—with triumphs at London’s Palladium and, later, CBS television’s Ed Sullivan Show in the offing—the Beatles were only just getting started.
Ken Womack is an internationally renowned Beatles authority regarding the band’s enduring artistic influence. His latest book, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), is forthcoming in 2017. His previous Beatles-related books include Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles and The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. You can learn more about Ken’s work at kennethwomack.com.