I Want To Hold Your Hand & Going Global

The Beatles in Twelve Songs (2)

It was 50 years go today that the Beatles taught America to play, with the biggest prime-time TV show audience ever (73 million viewers) on the Ed Sullivan show, February 9th 1964. In the UK I Want To Hold Your Hand had been the cherry on the cake of their annus mirabilis 1963 where it went to Number One in the charts by knocking off their own She Loves You, which had been in the Top 3 ever since it was released, and had just returned to the top after Beatlemania had gone national. In the USA I Want To Hold Your Hand popped a nations cherry and they laid down begging for the first British Invasion since 1812. This is how The Beatles woke them up and how America succumbed

Surprising huh? Quite a flat performance of a song tooled by McCartney to be a hit single written specifically to break the American market whilst he was living in the house of his girlfriend Jane Asher. Asher’s father was a Harley Street doctor, and her musical mum, Margaret Elliott, was a Professor at the Guildhall School of Music where she had taught producer George Martin the oboe. Frustrated by Capitol Records not promoting, or even releasing, early Beatles singles, manager Brian Epstein had asked Lennon and McCartney to write a song specifically to be a hit in the USA, and it was Paul who did. Jane’s brother Peter Asher was the first to hear the song, played on piano, as his room was opposite Paul’s  at 57 Wimpole Street London. This is what a made to order US hit record sounds like

Peter Asher’s bedroom proved to be amazingly strategically placed. He became good friends with McCartney, showing him round London and later became head of Apple Records, signing James Taylor with whom hejumped shipped when Allen Klein came a-terrorising, ultimately producing many key singer-songwriters in the USA during the 1970s, artists like Linda Ronstadt. More fortunately musically for Asher in 1964 McCartney gave him and Gordon Waller a song that went on to be a global number one for Peter and Gordon – World Without Love;  

In 1963 The Beatles wrote 3 key songs; Please Please Me, that defined their first hit Merseybeat sound, She Love’s You, that broke open the British Market (it was also the biggest selling UK hit of the 1960’s) and I Want to Hold Your Hand, that broke open the American market. This was the key to their global domination once Capitol finally got behind their epoch-making artists in 1964. It also became their biggest-selling single globally. Lennon and McCartney had learnt well under Martin’s direction in early 1963 but once She Love’s You breakthrough gave them real confidence in their songwriting ability they began driving the development of their own material. By the end of 1963 they could even stick obvious hit singles on albums and not even bother to release them, as they did with the pure MerseyBeat of It Won’t Be Long; 

Epstein was indebted to German producer Bert Kaempfert who released them from an old Hamburg contract, signed when he recorded the late Tony Sheridan, and so The Beatles re-recorded I Want to Hold Your Hand in German; somewhat by numbers and lacking the vocal exuberance of the English language version – it just sounds patronising. Even so, at the behest of their record companies, many British artists, such as the Rolling StonesSandie Shaw and Lulu, were recording songs in various European languages in the early sixties, advised that it was impossible to score hits overseas otherwise; Italian, German, and French being key. Petula Clark, of Downtown fame, was married to a French record producer and she could even write songs in French, like Ya-Ya Twist. However this minor sub-culture of British Pop was ended once the Beatles globalised the sixties with the very sound of their music; She Loves You became enough of a hit in Europe for The Beatles and they toured Sweden in October 1963. So, from their only recording session in German, recorded in Paris (!) here is Komm Gibt Mir Deine Hand;   

Like kids on the Internet today finding out obscure information about anything they are interested in, the Beatles were music fans and record collectors being well aware of the latest music they loved, wherever it came from. However in the communications challenged fifties and sixties it was mostly American music, often black or ‘race’ music, as it was called until Jerry Wexler came up with the name Rhythm & Blues Records, and the Beatles were mostly interested in this R&B, especially Soul and Motown.  Their first two albums, as well as the rushed fourth, had plenty of American covers, and this is one of their great ones Please Mr Postman; 

1963 was the only year that 2 foreign language songs ever topped the US charts. Clearly recorded American music was not satisfying everyone in the early sixties, and attention drifted elsewhere, but those two hits did reflect popular genres. First, in early 1963, was the Japanese Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto which was bland, middle-of-the-road, early muzak, and then, in the Autumn, the surprisingly charming Singing Nun, who tapped into the folk revival Peter, Paul and Mary style with her ever delightful Dominique

The week before The Beatles smashed to the top of the American charts, so initiating the pop/rock transformation that we saw in the 60s, the number one single in the USA was by one of the evil trinity of the soporific crooning Bobby’s; Rydell, Vee and in this case Bobby Vinton. This was an excruciating song that Vinton recorded in just one take, he obviously couldn’t bear to hear it twice, and nor will you – the truly dire There I’ve Said It Again

The week after The Beatles 3 months run at the top of the US chart in 1964 was ended, after a string of their own chart toppers, the new number one record was by the wonderful jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, but with a show tune from a hit musical. In the late 50s & early 60s singles were mostly for kids and albums were for grown-ups and adults typically bought albums as souvenirs for shows or films they had seen in the theatre or at the cinema. In the UK The Dave Clark Five had followed the Beatles to the top of the charts with the ferocious Glad All Over but in the USA, for a short time, normal service was resumed and the 50s returned with Hello Dolly; 

Top 6 down under! But perhaps the most remarkable example of The Beatles dominance of a chart was in Australia where, the week before they had the top 5 in the USA, April 4th, they had the top 6 in Australia. I think the reason that the Beatles crashed the top of these overseas charts with several records at once was because they were the only people recording these new beat-driven pop songs, which they had pretty much invented. In the land of Oz the top 6 included I Saw Her Standing There at number one, Roll Over Beethoven was in the mix, but at Number 4 was All My Loving; not a single but an EP. This went to Number 1 as well and is much loved in Australia. Live on TV from the Festival Hall Melbourne All My Loving 

So why was I Want To Hold Your Hand so important? With their original recorded ‘MerseyBeat’ sound, developed in partnership with producer George Martin, The Beatles had learnt how to record successfully for the British market. But, like all teenagers in the UK, The Beatles had sucked up American music ever since Elvis had broken into their lives in 1956. The first album recorded in February 1963 had songs by Arthur Alexander and Goffin and King and in their live act they played Little Richard and Chuck Berry, so they were not only well aware of American popular music, they absolutely loved it. I Want To Hold Your Hand was written explicitly to crack a different market to the UK, which was still dancing to their MerseyBeat, and in cracking America The Beatles opened up their music to the world, and opened up the world to the sixties as well. If you go and see the Love show in Last Vegas the first few songs acted as a kind of prologue to the The Beatles fame and Martin & Son cleverly capture the fans own anticipation of the British Invasion by introducing screaming at 4′ 25″ in on the fade up into this breakthrough smash and so “here they are; The Beatles!” 

This is the second blog post in the series The Beatles in 12 Songs. First post on Please Please Me & MerseyBeat Third post on Act Naturally & Celluloid Beatles in March 2014 If you like this blog post you might like the series analysing the Beatles Creativity – starting with Beatles Live 1957-63


One Response to “I Want To Hold Your Hand & Going Global”

  1. […] YouTube Archive « Magical Mystery Tour I Want To Hold Your Hand & Going Global […]

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