Various Artists – Love Me Do (review)

Various Artists – Love Me Do – 50 Songs That Shaped the Beatles (Fantastic Voyage) review

A 2-disc audio genealogy of the greatest band in the world. .

What made the Beatles so great is how diverse their music was.  The same band that wrote the pop confection of “She Loves You,” delved into the deeply personal “Julia,” the Tin Pan Alley homage “When I’m Sixty Four,” and the raw mix of hard rock and politics of “Revolution.”  But, the Beatles didn’t come up with all of this variety by living in a bubble. They were profoundly affected by a wide array of popular music, which then filtered into their own songs.  A new, two-CD compilation, Love Me Do – 50 Songs That Shaped the Beatles, takes an unique look at the multi-colored landscape that helped meld the Beatles into worldwide superstars.

While other collections have focused primarily on songs the Beatles covered, this set digs much deeper, into music that they were hearing, even as children.  Disc one opens with Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” from 1935, a song that Paul McCartney would open his most-recent solo album with (Kisses on the Bottom – read our review).  Also surprising is the inclusion of the cheeky 1940’s ballad from Les Brown (and sung by Doris Day) “Sentimental Journey,” which Ringo would cover for his first solo album.

Some influences are obvious – it was John & Paul’s mutual love of Little Richard that first brought them together as bandmates.  They ended up covering “Long Tall Sally” for a 1964 EP, as they did with Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy.”  “Rock Island Line,” by skiffle king Lonnie Donegan, was an early blueprint for their first band, the Quarrymen.  The Crickets were also a huge influence – McCartney would eventually purchase “That’ll Be the Day” along with the entire Buddy Holly catalog.  There’s also tracks by early rock n’ rollers like Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran – all artists covered by the Beatles in their salad days.

But the band was affected by more than just early rock n’ roll, they loved the pop and hillbilly music of the day, as tracks by Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Slim Whitman and Hank Williams attest.  The Beatles were also known for their keen sense of humor, and early influences like the Coasters’ wacked-out version of “Besame Mucho,” and the dig-at-stardom novelty of Peter Sellers’ “Puttin’ on the Smile,” show where some of their craziness came from.

We get to see direct influences of songs like “Bad Penny Blues” by Humphrey Lyttelton, which the Beatles aped for the rhythm of “Lady Madonna,” while “Kathy’s Waltz” off Dave Brubeck’s Time Out album, was an early inspiration for McCartney’s “All My Loving.”  We also get a complete version of “Maggie Mae” done here by the Vipers – in the Beatles hands, they tackle a mere :40 seconds of it to end side one of Let it Be.

And, there is actually one Beatles song on the set – billed as the Beat Brothers, they backed Tony Sheridan on the standard “My Bonnie,” which closes disc one.  Another song that’s part of the Beatles’ lore is “Hey! Baby” by Bruce Channel.  The harmonica player on that track, Delbert McClinton, became friends with a young John Lennon during a European tour, and taught the young musician how to play harmonica – evidenced later by songs like “Love Me Do.”

In keeping with the theme of other Fantastic Voyage releases, this collection is wildly eclectic.  But, there’s plenty of stone-cold classics like “Please Mr. Postman” from the Marvelettes, and “Save the Last Dance For Me” from the Drifters, interspersed among the lesser-known material to make for an diverse, yet enjoyable listen.  There’s also an excellent booklet, with each song getting a paragraph explanation of why it was included.

It’s easy to take the genius of the Beatles for granted.  Their music has been a part of our lives for decades now.  Yet, just as they influenced generations of musicians, so too were the Beatles influenced by the music around them.  Love Me Do delves into the diverse ingredients that helped shape their legendary career.   –Tony Peters