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Beatles fan mail, November 1963
“PLEASE MISTER POSTMAN”
(Georgia Dobbins – William Garrett – Brian Holland – Robert Bateman – Freddie Gorman)
The Beatles took pride in their recordings, whether it was newly written originals or well loved cover versions. When they entered EMI Studios for recording sessions in the early years, no matter what they were recording and no matter how rushed their schedules were, they were on top of their game.
As can be seen by the cover songs chosen for their second album “With The Beatles,” they were given more leeway to record what they felt strongly about, as opposed to having George Martin or Brian Epstein suggest the track list for them. The songs they chose to record usually weren’t big hits; in fact some were so obscure that many Beatles fans assumed that they had written them.
“Please Mister Postman” was the exception. The fifth and final “girl group” song The Beatles picked to record professionally was also the biggest hit they chose. The original version of the song by the Motown group The Marvelettes peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December of 1961, as well as the #1 position on the R&B chart. It was actually the first #1 hit the Motown label ever had.
Could The Beatles do the song justice? Would American audiences be interested in a young white British group covering a black R&B/pop smash hit? Capitol Records didn’t think so. They decided against including the song on their first album “Meet The Beatles!” for just that reason. On the surface, you can understand their reasoning, but after three million copies of the album had been sold by mid March, Capitol was ready to rush-release another album to cash in on the excitement. And you better believe they included “Please Mister Postman” on that next release, “The Beatles’ Second Album.”
An interesting mystery surrounding “Please Mister Postman” is the actual identity of the songwriter or songwriters. You would think that taking a look at the label on the original record would solve this issue, but that is not the case. On The Marvelettes record you will see the songwriting credit as “Dobbins / Garrett / Brianbert,” but on the label of The Beatles version of the song you will see “Holland” as the songwriter. The Songwriters Hall Of Fame credits the song to “Holland / Bateman / Gorman” while The Beatles discography book “All Together Now” even lists Motown founder Berry Gordy as the co-author.
To solve the mystery we need to look at the history of the song. The Marvels were a singing group from Inkster, Michigan made up of five high school friends Georgia Dobbins, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart and Katherine Anderson. In early 1961 they landed an audition with Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson at Hitsville, USA, home of Motown Record Corporation and their new Tamla record label. Although they performed well, they were required to come back with their own original song.
Georgia Dobbins took it upon herself to take a blues song written by a friend of hers named William Garrett and rework it for the group to perform at a later audition for Motown. William Garrett only had a small set of lyrics but no melody for a song he titled “Please Mr. Postman” and, when Georgia Dobbins asked permission to re-write it to be suitable for a girl group to sing, he agreed as long as he would get credit as a writer. Georgia Dobbins, keeping only the song’s title, turned the song into a plea for a letter from a boyfriend.
With this new song, they passed the second audition, but not until their name was changed from the plain-sounding (according to Berry Gordy) Marvels to The Marvelettes. He also felt the song needed some sprucing up, so he hired the songwriting team of Brian Holland and Robert Bateman (collectively known as “Brianbert”) to re-work it even more. Brian Holland also had a songwriting partner named Freddie Gorman (an actual Detroit postman) who was enlisted for the final touches on the song.
When The Marvelettes turned up at the studio to record "Please Mr. Postman" (which was produced by "Brianbert," aka Brian Holland and Robert Bateman), principal songwriter and vocalist Georgia Dobbins was not present. Influenced by her father who didn’t want his daughter singing in nightclubs, she left the group and was replaced by Wanda Young. Although Gladys Horton ended up singing lead on “Please Mr. Postman,” Georgia Dobbins was thankfully still credited as co-author of the song, which spent a week at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (as well as the R&B charts) in December of 1961. Georgia Dobbins, who can easily be credited as the main songwriter of "Please Mr. Postman," passed away on September 18th, 2020.
After The Marvelettes released the lackluster follow-up single “Twistin’ Postman” (capitalizing on their first hit and the "twist" dance craze), their continued chart success included “Playboy,” “Beachwood 4-5789,” “Too Many Fish In The Sea” and “Don’t Mess With Bill.” After assorted personnel adjustments, they finally disbanded in 1970 shortly after Motown moved their headquarters to Los Angeles, leaving the group behind.
Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, known collectively as “Brianbert,” joined Motown as songwriters, producers and engineers in 1961. They both were members of an early Motown vocal group called The Satintones, although Brian Holland had previously released a solo single in 1958 under the name Bryant Holland. Together they found their first real fame as co-writers and co-producers of the smash hit “Please Mr. Postman.”
Robert Bateman left Motown shortly afterward in 1962 and unfortunately dies of a heart attack on October 12th, 2016 just after attending an awards ceremony. After Robert Bateman's departure from Motown, Brian Holland continued a prolific songwriting career with Lamont Dozier and Freddie Gorman. In 1963, Freddie Gorman was replaced in the songwriting team with Brian’s older brother Eddie Holland, which began the hugely successful Holland / Dozier / Holland songwriting career.
Together, this trio worked as both songwriters and producers of an endless string of Motown hits, which included 25 #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Noteworthy among these are “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch (I Can’t Help Myself),” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “You Keep My Hangin’ On” and countless others.
Because of royalty and profit sharing issues, Holland / Dozier / Holland left Motown in early 1968 but kept busy in the music industry with their successful Invictus and Hot Wax record labels. A lawsuit with Motown continued all the way until 1977 when it was settled by Holland / Dozier / Holland paying a mere few thousand dollars in damages.
Freddie Gorman was known in the music business as a singer in such '50s R&B groups as The Qualitones (“Tears Of Love”) and The Fideletones (“Pretty Girl”). His biggest accomplishment, though, was with the successful vocal group The Originals, who recorded for Soul Records in the late '60s and early '70s.
Forming in 1966 and providing background vocals on such Motown hits as “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” and “For Once In My Life,” The Originals continued on, under the tutelage of Marvin Gaye, to score huge hits on the R&B charts. Their first single “Baby I’m For Real” became a #14 pop hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (#1 R&B) in 1969, while their follow-up “The Bells” peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#2 R&B), selling over a million copies. During the Disco era, they even scored a #1 hit on the Dance charts with “Down To Love Town.” They continued recording and performing until the group broke up in 1982. Freddie Gorman passed away in California on June 13th, 2006.
It’s also noteworthy that "Please Mister Postman" spent another week at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1975. The Carpenters remade the 14-year-old song, which became their third of three #1 hits for the group. Sadly, the song’s true originators no longer received writing credit on this release, the label reading “Holland / Gorman / Bateman” as the song's writers. Nevertheless, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Please Mr. Postman" as #331 on their list of "Top 500 Songs Of All Time."
The Beatles became familiar with "Please Mr. Postman," undoubtedly, because of its UK release by The Marvelettes in November of 1961 on the Fontana Label. “Brian (Epstein) had had a policy at NEMS (record store) of buying at least one copy of every record that was released,” George Harrison relates in the "Beatles Anthology" book. "Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before we were going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there…(records we) thought were interesting."
The Beatles first recorded "Please Mister Postman" months before they ever set foot into EMI Studios, this being for their very first BBC radio performance on March 7th, 1962 at The Playhouse Theatre in Manchester. With Peter Pilbeam producing and Pete Best on drums, they recorded the song between 8 and 8:45 pm on this evening, dressed for the first time in suits at manager Brian Epstein's insistence, before a live teenage audience for the radio show "Teenager's Turn - Here We Go." The program, which also featured Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby" and Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee," was broadcast the following day, March 8th, 1962, between 5 and 5:29 pm, this being the first time a Tamla / Motown song was played on BBC radio. Author Mark Lewisohn points out in his book "Tune In" that, "without really realizing it (and they'd have been thrilled to know), The Beatles broke the Detroit 'Motown sound' to the British listening public." Subsequently, Brian Epstein was impressed enough with The Beatles' rendition of "Please Mister Postman" to include the song on a suggested list for them to record at their first EMI session on June 6th, 1962, although they never got to it on that day.
About sixteen months after their first BBC recording of the song, The Beatles recorded "Please Mister Postman" once again for BBC radio on July 10th, 1963, this time in Studio Two of Aeolian Hall in London between 1:30 and 3:30 pm for the seventh edition of their radio show "Pop Go The Beatles." The recording was produced by Terry Henebery and was broadcast on July 30th between 5 and 5:29 pm. This latter date, interestingly, was the exact date that The Beatles recorded the song for their second British album, "With The Beatles."
Before this official rendition was recorded at EMI Studios, however, manager Brian Epstein needed to strike a deal with Berry Gordy, President of Motown Records in Detroit. Recognizing that the industry standard at the time was two cents per record sold, Brian Epstein offered one and a half cents, figuring that the money generated from Beatles sales in the UK alone, not to mention possible future US income, would suffice. Berry Gordy initially refused, agreeing only two minutes before the offer was due to expire. This agreement allowed "Please Mr. Postman," as well as "Money (That's What I Want)" and "You Really Got A Hold One Me," to be included on The Beatles' second UK album "With The Beatles."
July 30th, 1963 was the second EMI recording session held by The Beatles for their second album “With The Beatles.” The first session for the album on July 18th of that year consisted entirely of cover songs, and with “Please Mister Postman” (changing the title from “Mr.” on the original version) fresh in their minds from their recent BBC recording session, they continued the "cover versions" trend by resurrecting this chestnut from their 1962 stage shows. This was the first of six songs The Beatles recorded on this day.
The morning session ran from 10 am to 1:30 pm at EMI Studio Two. Being that they were very familiar with “Please Mister Postman,” The Beatles played the song live in the studio for the first three takes in the style they were used to, which was with all instruments playing throughout the song (as heard in their early BBC recordings). Starting with "take four," a decision was made (undoubtedly by producer George Martin) to stick closer to The Marvelettes arrangement, which incorporated the omission of guitars in the introduction as well as during the climactic vocal lines toward the end of the song (“check it and see…” and “deliver the letta…”).
"Take seven" was then determined to be the best take, onto which overdubs were performed to double-track John Lennon’s lead vocals and add handclaps from all four Beatles, this becoming "take nine." This completed their recording of "Please Mister Postman," the song being fully recorded approximately between 10 to 11 am on this day, attention then being given on the much more difficult original composition “It Won’t Be Long.”
The mono mix of the song was performed by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick on August 21st, 1963, along with the rest of the tracks recorded thus far for the British "With The Beatles" album. The same studio team (along with the mysteriously unidentified engineer B.T.) waited until October 29th, 1963 to create the stereo mix of the song, which was also done with the rest of the album (except for “Money (That’s What I Want)” created the next day). The mono mix of "Please Mister Postman" contained on the mono US release of "The Beatles' Second Album" was a "Type B" mix created by combining both the right and left channels of the stereo mix, while the stereo versions of this American album feature added reverb.
One final BBC radio recording of "Please Mister Postman" occurred on February 28th, 1964 in Studio One of BBC Piccadilly Studios in London between 6:30 and 9 pm for the second edition of their show "From Us To You," which was produced by Bryant Marriott and broadcast on March 30th, 1964 between 10 am and 12 noon. This apparently was the last time The Beatles ever performed the song.
Song Structure and Style
The structure for “Please Mister Postman” consists of a 'refrain/ verse/ verse/ refrain/ verse/ refrain' pattern (or abbaba), which is somewhat unique for The Beatles repertoire, altering the original Marvelette's version to the key of A major. Preceding this pattern is a short introduction, and then an alternate refrain is repeated three times after the pattern. No solo or instrumental section is required in this song.
What is quite common about this song in regards to pop music of the '50s and early '60s is the repeating four chord pattern, which encompasses every section of the song (except the introduction). Common as it may have been in pop music of that time, this pattern was virtually ignored by the Lennon / McCartney songwriting team throughout their career.
The song begins with a hi-hat beat just before the one beat of the four measure introduction, which signals Paul and George’s “Wait,” ushering in John’s lead vocals. Only drums and a hint of bass are heard instrumentally in this introduction, which basically features John’s double-tracked vocals and Paul and George’s background vocals.
A short bass run introduces full instrumentation of the band in this first eight measure refrain, which actually features the background vocalists (Paul and George) singing the melody line while the lead vocalist (John) sings accentuating vocal lines, such as “oh yeah” and “please, please.” The first two actual eight measure verses then follow, which allow the lead vocalist to tell his story as the background vocalists “ooh” in hushed tones to allow John center stage.
After an identical refrain is heard, a third verse appears which once again allows the lead singer to add to the story. Another refrain is then heard, but this time the lead vocalist mostly sings with the background vocalists, accentuating his having to wait “such a long time” to hear from his girl.
This moves directly into three eight-measure alternate refrains which feature the key phrase “wait a minute” being indefinitely repeated by the lead and background vocalists. The seventh and eighth measures of the first two alternate refrains present a rest for all guitars as the lead vocalist portrays the urgency of his request for a “letta” from the postman. An interesting note is Lennon’s choosing to chop off the last syllable of the cute lyric “deliver the letta, the sooner the bet…” to allow for him to lead off the “wait a minute” melody line for a third alternate refrain.
This third alternate refrain simply repeats the “wait a minute” vocals in mostly three-part harmony, which then segues into what would be a fourth alternate refrain, except that the song immediately fades out before it can get very far.
In contrast to the playfulness of the original version, The Beatles steamroller the song from beginning to end. From Ringo’s open hi-hat rhythm section and the clanging rhythm guitars from both John and George to all three vocalists singing at the top of their range, the song is transformed into a rock and roll powerhouse. The double-tracked urgency and desperation displayed by Lennon’s vocals is what, in many people’s minds, outdoes the original for sheer excitement.
The interplay between lead vocalist and background vocalists heard in this song is no doubt the inspiration for such later Beatle arrangements as “You’re Going To Lose That Girl,” “You Can’t Do That” and even “Help!”
Songwriter Georgia Dobbins has expressed that the lyrics are conveying the singer's distraught appeal for the mailman to deliver a letter from her boyfriend who has been away at war. Since The Beatles required a gender change in the lyrics, we can assume here that Lennon just really misses his girlfriend.
Although Capitol Records didn't think America would be interested in The Beatles version of a classic US #1 hit, their sister company Capitol of Canada didn't have such a thought. They included the song on their December 2nd, 1963 album release "Beatlemania!, With The Beatles" as well as placing it on the b-side of their December 9th single "Roll Over Beethoven." Since import copies of this single were so popular in the US, the a-side of the single charted on Billboard at #68 and made both of these songs available in the states only on this single.
This is where Capitol stepped in and saw fit to quickly put together a second US album "The Beatles' Second Album," released on April 10th, 1964, which included the song. Incidentally, mono copies of this album contained a "Type B" foldover mix of the song created by Capitol Records that combined both channels of the stereo mix into one instead of the legitimate mono mix originally created by George Martin. On January 21st, 2014, this album was released as an individual compact disc for the first time, the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD. Capitol also released an EP disc to be sent to radio and TV stations entitled "The Beatles' Second Open-End Interview," which featured "Please Mister Postman" as the first of two songs on side two. Side one of this disc featured The Beatles answering questions that were printed on the record sleeve for the disc jockeys to ask them, simulating an actual interview with the group for local airplay. Less than a thousand of these discs were made, so they are worth a fortune.
Since EPs were big sellers in Britain, Capitol tried their hand at it with Beatles music a couple of times. To highlight the fact that the Canadian "Roll Over Beethoven" single was now available in the US, they included both sides of that disc on the American EP "Four By The Beatles," released on May 11th, 1964. Probably because both of those songs were already available on "The Beatles' Second Album" by this time, the EP sold poorly, only reaching #92 on the Billboard pop charts.
Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes." These tape cartridges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "The Beatles Second Album" were released in this portable format, "Please Mister Postman" being on both of these releases. These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.
The first time the original British "With The Beatles" album was made available in the US was the "Original Master Recording" vinyl edition released through Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in January of 1987. This album included "Please Mister Postman" and was prepared utilizing half-speed mastering technology from the original master tape on loan from EMI. This title had a limited production, reportedly because of a damaged metal part that was needed for pressing the vinyl. Therefore, this album is said to be the rarest and most valuable Beatles album in the “Original Master Recording” series.
On February 26th, 1987, the original British album "With The Beatles" was released on compact disc in mono, a vinyl edition being released in the US on July 21st, 1987. On September 9th, 2009, a remastered CD re-release contained the stereo mix from 1964, the vinyl edition coming out on November 13th, 2012. The November 15th, 2004 box set "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1" also contains the song in both stereo and "Type B" foldover mono as originally heard on "The Beatles' Second Album." September 9th, 2009 was also the date the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which features a striking remastered mono version of the song.
November 11th, 2013 was the release date for the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2" which featured yet another version of "Please Mister Postman." This rendition was recorded on July 10th, 1963, which was nearly three weeks prior to their official EMI album version that was recorded on July 30th. This early version, which was featured on the radio program "Pop Go The Beatles," has one noteworthy difference in that they hadn't yet incorporated the breaks at the end of the song (during, for example, the lyrics "deliver the letta..."). Released also at this time was a limited edition five-song sampler of this album for promotional purposes, this BBC recording of "Please Mister Postman" being included.
Once The Beatles discovered "Please Mister Postman" in Brian Epsten's record store, they worked up a blistering rendition and added it to their set lists. Since The Marvelettes' rendition didn't make the Top 50 in the UK, "Please Mister Postman" became uniquely their own among the Liverpool groups at the time. With Pete Best still in the band, they began performing the song in December of 1961. In his book "Tune In," Mark Lewisohn relates that it "became the third Tamla song in The Beatles' repertoire (the first two being The Miracles' "Who's Lovin' You" and Barrett Strong's "Money") and all were sung by John, with Paul and George head to head at the second microphone to deliver the prominent backing vocals, and all three adding the handclaps high, at head level, as a visual attraction." Billy Hatton of the rival Liverpool group The Four Jays remembers the experience of seeing The Beatles playing "Please Mister Postman" as "a wow moment. I was struck by how tight they were. As a semi-pro group, The Four Jays would take a month to start playing a new song really well." In The Beatles case, they mastered it very quickly.
Throughout the rest of 1962, The Beatles frequently included "Please Mister Postman" in their repertoire, including their stints in Hamburg, Germany. As 1963 and national stardom set in, their set lists became smaller and their focus was on promoting their recent hit singles and album tracks. Therefore, the song was put on the back burner for the first half of the year.
On February 23rd, 1964, the day after they returned from their historic first American visit, they mimed a performance of the song for the British television show "Big Night Out." This performance can be seen on the Anthology program. After they recorded one more BBC radio version of the song on March 30th, 1964, as detailed above under "Recording Sessions," it appears that The Beatles retired "Please Mister Postman" for good.
It has been stated by some authors that when The Beatles' cover versions outshine the originals, it was usually because of Lennon. While his vocal delivery on "Twist And Shout" and "Money (That's What I Want)" surely come to mind, "Please Mister Postman" definitely fits this category as well. Jonathan Gould, in his book "Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain And America," states how John's vocal overpowers the lyrics while the band's backing "(explodes) off the record," thus "(epitomizing) all that is best about The Beatles' second album." Gladys Horton's charming vocal delivery for The Marvelettes original version suited it very nicely, but The Beatles tightened up the harmonies and performed the song with such confidence it almost makes the original sound like an imitation.
"Please Mister Postman"
Written by: Georgia Dobbins / William Garrett / Brian Holland / Robert Bateman / Freddie Gorman
Song Written: June, 1961 (approx.)
Song Recorded: July 30, 1963
First US Release Date: April 10, 1964
US Single Release: Capitol #T-2080 (The Beatles' Second Open-End Interview EP)
Highest Chart Position: #92 (Four By The Beatles EP)
British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3045 "With The Beatles"
Key: A major
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
Instrumentation (most likely):
John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325), handcaps
Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Harmony Vocals, handclaps
George Harrison - Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman), Harmony Vocals, handclaps
Ringo Starr - Drums (1963 Ludwig Downbeat Black Oyster Pearl), handclaps
Wriitten and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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