In the summer of 1986, during a TV interview with David Frost, Paul McCartney was asked if he could pinpoint the moment he felt he had “arrived” as a composer. He recalled the time he had arrived home from a (very) late night at a club and heard the early morning milkman whistling ‘From Me To You’. You can only imagine how satisfying that must’ve been to a songwriter who was barely into his 20s. And though all their early singles played a key role in fostering Beatlemania, in one way or another, ‘From Me To You’ is perhaps the one which really lit the fuse, and signified The Beatles were more than just a flash in the pan. ‘Love Me Do’, though different from what all their contemporaries were doing, wasn’t especially good – George Martin only reluctantly agreed to release it because he felt the band had nothing better at the time. ‘Please Please Me’ was, of course, a major leap forward and topped most of the British singles charts, but could have been a freak; one-hit wonders were, and are, a dime a dozen. But when ‘From Me To You’ came out in April 1963 and did even better than its predecessor (this one topped all the singles charts, and for a long time), people must’ve thought this was a group with something to offer. Even more importantly, its success surely convinced John and Paul they knew what they were doing as writers, and instilled a burgeoning confidence which never really left them. ‘She Loves You’ followed in rapid order and the rest, if you’ll forgive the well-worn understatement, is history.
Famously written on a coach during The Beatles UK tour supporting teen pop chanteuse Helen Shapiro during February 1963, it was inspired by the title of the NME’s letters page, ‘From You to Us’, and continued the trend of including the first-person words “I”, “me” and/or “you” in the titles of the band’s early singles. But when it came to be recorded at Abbey Road on 5 March, there was nothing formulaic in its execution. While sharing a harmonica intro, harmony vocals and a similar tempo, it sounded quite different to ‘Please Please Me’, yet was equally catchy and irresistible. Paul has since described it as a pivotal song in his and John’s development as writers and is particularly proud of the middle-eight (“I got arms that long to hold you…”) section, saying it could have been part of an old rag-time tune. I share his enthusiasm. It tends to get a bit over-shadowed now by their other hits from the period, but when I was first discovering The Beatles – partly through a copy of the 1962-66 compilation album we had at home – it was probably my favourite of their 1963 singles. There’s such an uplifting quality to it, and that middle-eight really is special. I love how they manage to retain the wide-eyed boyishness of the verses it but also slyly inject some earthy sensuality when they sing “I got lips that long to kiss you/…and keep you satisfied.” The “ooohs!” that follow are like a knowing wink – it’s a dead clever, and a little bit naughty. Then there’s the call and response bit during the harmonica break, and the way they repeat the intro at the end, but with a different chord to finish on. It all flows so well. I might give the edge to ‘Please Please Me’ as the best early single now, but ‘From Me To You’ remains a two-minute blast of pop perfection.
Released in April 1963, it hit the top spot in May and stayed there for seven weeks, becoming the band’s first ‘official’ (ie. on what has become the authoritative singles chart) number one in the UK. For many people, it would have been their first exposure to The Beatles. The US was a lot slower to catch on though, as its release on minor label Vee Jay sold fewer than 4,000 copies and failed to chart anywhere. Interestingly, though, it became the first Lennon-McCartney tune covered overseas, when Del Shannon – who had heard The Beatles perform it while sharing a concert bill with them at the Royal Albert Hall – unleashed his version on Stateside audiences in June. Even his star power couldn’t push it any higher than #77 on the Billboard charts though, and while it did generate a few more sales for the Fabs’ original (particularly in the Los Angeles area, where it picked up some radio airplay), the song remained largely cold-shouldered by American audiences. Even when Beatlemania exploded there in early 1964, it surfaced only as a b-side to ‘Please Please Me’, and never cracked the top 40 in its own right. It’s strange to think that in the flood of Beatle hits which dominated the US charts that year, such a gem fell by the wayside.
That’s not to say the fans didn’t love it, though. You have only to look at the excitement which greeted the band’s performance of the tune during their landmark gig at the Washington Coliseum that February, their first gig after touching down in North America. It’s a great rendition, turbo-powered by Ringo’s drumming and with John and Paul singing in close harmony at one microphone. But that brief introductory visit to the States marked the end of the song’s life in the band’s concert setlists. Such was the rapid rate of their musical progression, and turnover of new material, ‘From Me To You’ was soon viewed as passé by its creators and – like much of their early 1963 material – permanently discarded from their live performances. That’s entirely understandable; as good as it is, it wouldn’t have sat comfortably next to more mature numbers like ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Things We Said Today or ‘ You Can’t Do That’. Even mega-hits like ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ were culled soon afterwards. They had moved on – the collarless suits, cherubic wholesomeness and more innocent tunes had to go.
Nevertheless, as the first of their many #1 singles, ‘From Me To You’ has enjoyed a stellar afterlife. It features on the best-selling 1962-66 and 1 compilations, which feature in millions of homes around the world. Pop promo films hadn’t been invented in April 1963, of course, but on the DVD counterpart of the 1 album released in 2015, Apple chose to represent the song with a live version taken from the band’s celebrated appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in November ‘63. It was their first number of the night and, watching it now, you can detect a hint of nervousness at the start, though I may be mistaking that for the giddyness they must’ve been feeling at coming so far in such a short space of time (less than a year earlier, they were still unknowns playing in Hamburg’s red light district). I especially love the cheeky grin from George to someone in the audience about 40 seconds in. They were a well oiled machine by this point, though the bare, gimmick-free nature of the clip might have today’s kids wondering what all the fuss was about. It reminds me of what my Mum said to when I first got into the band during the glitzy MTV age of the mid-1980s: “It all seems looks so ordinary now, but at the time people thought they were the best thing since sliced bread.” There was nothing ordinary about them, though – even in something as straightforward as this, you can’t take your eyes off them.
In 2018, some 54 years after he last played it, Paul McCartney added ‘From Me To You’ to his concert set list. He’s shied away from the teeny-bopper, head-shaking moptop singles over the years (he’s never done ‘She Loves You’ or ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ live, for example) but this was a seamless addition his repertoire. And after this performance in Copenhagen, you can hear him reiterating the importance of the song in The Beatles’ development. ‘From Me To You’ may now be viewed as one of the lesser lights in the band’s dazzling firmament, but it was crucial in turning on the power in the first place – a key rung in the ladder which took them to ‘the toppermost of the poppermost’. And it still sounds great today.