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Remember When: George Martin Tried to Convince The Beatles to Use a Cover Song as Their First Single

We tend to think of the relationship between The Beatles and producer George Martin as one of support and mutual goodwill and, for the most part, it was. But in the earliest going, Martin tried to sneak a song past The Beatles and was rebuffed, not once, but twice.

This is a story about a song called “How Do You Do It?” that Martin tried to foist upon The Beatles as their first single and then, failing that, their second. The Fab Four had other ideas, which was a good thing, because who knows how music history might have been altered otherwise.

Martin and the Boys
Before we get into the tale of “How Do You Do It?” it helps to know The Beatles weren’t exactly in demand as a group when they signed with EMI Records. They had been turned away by other labels before finally getting a deal in 1962. In other words, it’s not like they came into their relationship with the label in a position of strength.

Luckily, they secured an immediate fan in EMI Parlophone in-house producer George Martin. Martin enjoyed their sense of humor and their cheekiness. (When asked by Martin to speak up if there was anything they didn’t like, George Harrison famously pointed to Martin’s tie.) But Martin wasn’t so sure about the songwriting capabilities of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, at least not at that stage.

The Beatles’ first recording sessions with Martin were already fraught with some drama when Ringo Starr showed up to drum. Martin put his foot down: Since nobody had communicated to him that the new Beatle Starr was coming, he had hired a session player named Alan White. Starr was relegated to playing tambourine after Martin thought he struggled in the first session. There was one other battle that Martin was going to fight against the band, and it turned out to be a much tougher go for him.

The Producer vs. the Songwriters
At this point in music history, it was exceedingly unusual for a rock and roll band to come up with their own material. These were still the days when professional songwriters came up with the songs, which were then collected by music publishers, who pitched them to the bands.

George Martin didn’t think the process would be any different with The Beatles. As mentioned, Martin was more impressed with the group’s personalities than their musical capabilities. And the original songs they had presented him just didn’t blow him away.

Martin thought he had an ace up his sleeve. He had a demo of a song called “How Do You Do It?” that had been written by songwriter-for-hire Mitch Murray. The song was polished and light on its feet, the kind of thing that did well on the pop charts around that time. Martin thought it was an obvious hit, the perfect vehicle to launch this new band.

But John Lennon and Paul McCartney had other ideas. Not only weren’t they huge fans of “How Do You Do It?” they also were determined to write the majority of The Beatles songs going forward. They stood their ground and insisted on using their original “Love Me Do” as their first single.

As a compromise, they did record “How Do You Do It?” for Martin at the initial recording session, doing so in rather perfunctory fashion. Their stance paid off and “Love Me Do” was the choice as the debut single. It was a modest hit in Great Britain, squeaking into the Top 20.

The Song that Wouldn’t Go Away
The Beatles’ intent was to record “Please Please Me” for use as their second single. Martin had heard them running through the song before, and he thought that the pace of the track was a bit too sludgy for a single.

He again suggested that The Beatles release “How Do You Do It?” instead. But the band heeded his suggestion and worked up a speedier version of “Please Please Me.” Upon hearing it, Martin famously predicted that it would be the band’s first No. 1 single—and he was right.

Lest you think that Martin’s stubbornness with the band was too far off-base, it’s important to note he was also right about “How Do You Do It?” When The Beatles passed on it, he brought it to another band from Liverpool named Gerry and the Pacemakers. Their version closely followed the Fab Four’s demo, and it went to No. 1 in both the U.S. and UK. In other words, it was always the right song, but initially the wrong band.

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