Recording: Besame Mucho, Love Me Do, PS I Love You, Ask Me Why – The Beatles’ first Abbey Road recording session

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producers: George Martin, Ron Richards
Engineer: Norman Smith

6 June 1962 was the date of The Beatles' historic first visit to EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, London.

The session took place in studio 2 from 7-10pm. The Beatles first ran through a number of songs, and then recorded four. Precise numbers of takes are unknown, but they were taped in the following order: Besame Mucho, Love Me Do, PS I Love You and Ask Me Why.

The Beatles didn't make a very good impression, apart from visually. I mean, we heard nothing of John and Paul's songwriting ability. They had tiny little Vox amplifiers and speakers, which didn't create much of a sound at source. Of course, every sound engineer wants some kind of sound at source that he can then embellish and improve, but I got nothing out of The Beatles' equipment except for a load of noise, hum and goodness-knows-what. Paul's was about the worst — in those days we had echo chambers to add onto the reverberation, and I had to raid the Studio Two echo chamber in order to fix him up with a sound so that we could get something down on tape.
Norman Smith
Sound On Sound

McCartney's bass amp wasn't the only problem during the session.

We actually had to tie string around John Lennon's guitar amplifier to stop the rattling. There were also problems with Pete Best's drums - his cymbals, I believe. But we eventually got everything sorted out and finally we started to record.
Norman Smith
Recording The Beatles, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan

Most documentation for the session has long been destroyed, but we know it was produced by George Martin with assistant Ron Richards, and was The Beatles' only EMI session to feature Pete Best on drums; when the band returned to Abbey Road on 4 September, Ringo Starr was the group's new drummer.

Prior to the session Brian Epstein assembled a list of song suggestions, the majority of which were never recorded by The Beatles at EMI.

Brian Epstein's list of song suggestions for The Beatles' first EMI recording session on 6 June 1962

Ron Richards was initially in charge of the session - George Martin was only brought in when balance engineer Norman Smith was struck by the quality of Love Me Do. It was unusual for a producer to be present for an artist test. However, on this day Martin stayed for most of the session.

The control room door opened and in walked George Martin himself. And I thought to myself, 'This must be some kind of special artist test for him to show up.' Because producers didn't normally attend artists test. It was always their assistants. And, of course, up to that time, George was not involved at all with any guitar groups. He did a lot of comedy records, like Peter Sellers and stuff like that.
Norman Smith
Recording The Beatles, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan

Smith instructed tape operator Chris Neal to fetch Martin, who took over the rest of the session. Afterwards he invited them to the control room to talk and listen to the playback.

We gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists. They didn't say a word hack, not a word, they didn't even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said 'Look, I've laid into you for quite a time, you haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?' I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said 'Yeah, I don't like your tie!' That cracked the ice for us and for the next 15-20 minutes they were pure entertainment. When they left to go home George and I just sat there saying 'Phew! What do you think of that lot then?' I had tears running down my face.
Norman Smith
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Only the recordings of Besame Mucho and Love Me Do survive today - the former was discovered in a private collection in the 1980s, and the latter in 1994. Both appear on the Anthology 1 album.

The other recordings were destroyed after it was decided that nothing from the session could be commercially released - a practice not uncommon in the early 1960s.

They left, and George turned to me and said, 'Well, what do you think?' And I said, 'I've seen a lot of groups come in for artists test, but this one - there is something special about them. I can't tell you what, but there is something there.' As I said, the test hadn't gone too well, and I wasn't impressed by their sound. But they had an appealing quality, a kind of charisma. And I told George, 'In my view, I think they should be signed.' And I'll never forget, his last words to me before he left were, 'Okay. I'll think about it.' Now, there was quite a bit of controversy that came about after that, as to whether they were actually signed before the artist test. A lot of it that came out did make sense as to why, in my view, George Martin turned up himself for an artist test, when no other producer ever did that. As I said, it was always their assistants.

For the artist test, it was George Martin himself. And there was no question of them them being signed at that time. But, later I began to wonder, 'Were they already signed? Is this why George Martin himself turned up? Was it because this was the first time that he'd seen them? Was there something more attached to the whole thing?'

Norman Smith
Recording The Beatles, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan

Ken Townsend was the tape operator on the session. He later recalled how The Beatles failed to make much of a lasting impact.

We did that test, and the tape went into the library. And about a week later, Norman says to me, 'Here Ken, what's the name of that group we had in last week? I've got to send a tape down to Manchester Square.' I said, 'The Beatles'. I mean, he'd actually forgotten the name of the group!
Ken Townsend
Recording The Beatles, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan
Travel: Liverpool to London
Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

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