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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 they wrote them.

“Please Mister Postman” was the exception.  The fifth and final “girl group” song The Beatles picked to professionally record 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 pop charts in December of 1961.  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.”

The Marvelettes

Songwriting History

An interesting mystery surrounding “Please Mister Postman” is identifying the actual songwriter(s).  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 songwriters’ 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 co-author of the song.

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 Records.  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.  Garrett only had a small set of lyrics but no melody for a song he titled “Please Mr. Postman” and, when Dobbins asked permission to re-write it to be suitable for a girl group to sing, he agreed as long as he would get songwriters’ credit.  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 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 the song 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 their first song, 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 gratefully still credited as co-author of the song, which spent a week at number one on the Billboard pop charts (as well as the R&B charts) in December of 1961.

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 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.”

Although Robert Bateman left Motown shortly afterward in 1962, Brian Holland continued a prolific songwriting career with Lamont Dozier and Freddie Gorman.  In 1963, 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 number of Motown hits which include 25 number one songs.  Most 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 50's 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 60’s and early 70’s.

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 charts (#1 R&B) in 1969, while their follow-up “The Bells” peaked at #12 (#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 to mention that "Please Mister Postman" spent another week at number one on the Billboard pop charts in early 1975.  The Carpenters remade the 14 year old song, which became their third of three number one 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 songs’ writers.

The Beatles with George Martin in EMI Studio Two, 1963

Recording History

July 30th, 1963, was the second recording session The Beatles had for their second British album “With The Beatles.”  The first session for the album on July 18th consisted entirely of cover songs, and they continued this trend in resurrecting a chestnut from their 1962 stage shows, “Please Mister Postman” (changing from “Mr.” on the original version).  This was the first of six songs The Beatles recorded on this day.

The morning session on this day ran from 10 am to 1:30 pm at EMI Studio Two, after which they left for Playhouse Theatre in London to rehearse and record a performance for the BBC radio show “Saturday Club.”  Being that they were very familiar with “Please Mister Postman,” it was a pretty straightforward recording with all four musicians singing and playing live for seven straight takes.  Early takes of the song show them not breaking during the climactic vocal lines toward the end of the song (during “check it and see…” and “deliver the letta…”), so a decision must have been made (probably by George Martin) to accentuate these phrases by the time the seventh take was recorded.

Since take seven was the keeper, overdubs were performed to double-track John Lennon’s lead vocals, which took the takes to nine, which was deemed ‘best.’  They recorded the song approximately from 10 to 11 am, thereby finishing the morning session with the much more difficult (and less familiar) 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 album.  The same studio team (along with the mysterious 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),” which was created the next day).  These are the mono and stereo mixes that appeared in the US as well, albeit with some extra reverb added by the Capitol team.

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.  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 50’s and early 60’s 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 then is 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 features 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 to later Beatle arrangements such 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 singers’ 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.

American Releases

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 as the B-side to 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.  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 EP's 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.  Nonetheless, this was the third US release of "Please Mister Postman."

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges 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 Mr. Postman" being on both of these releases.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

On February 26th, 1987, the original British album "With The Beatles" was released on compact disc in mono, but then the September 9th, 2009 re-mastered CD re-released the stereo mix from 1964.  The November 15th, 2004 box set "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1" also contains the song in both stereo and 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 re-mastered 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.

 

John Lennon performing with the Beatles at the Casbah Coffee Club, March 1962

Live Performances

Once The Beatles discovered "Please Mister Postman," which did not chart in Britain and was virtually unknown there, they worked up a blistering rendition and added it to their set lists.  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 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.  They immediately made the song theirs in Liverpool."  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 there 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.

The Beatles performed the song on March 7th, 1962, taping it for their first ever BBC radio performance, which was for the 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.

Throughout the rest of 1962, The Beatles frequently included "Please Mister Postman" in their repertoire, including their stints in Hamburg, Germany.  As 1963 set in, and national stardom, 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 backburner for the first half of the year.

Because The Beatles liked to pull out old chestnuts to play for BBC radio, "Please Mister Postman" was dusted off and recorded on July 10th, 1963, for "Pop Go The Beatles," which was broadcast on July 30th, 1963.  This exact date was when the group entered into EMI Studio Two to properly record the song for their second British album, "With The Beatles."  Therefore, the song was somewhat back in their focus for live performances.

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.  They also recorded one more version for BBC radio on February 28th, 1964, for the show "From Us To You," which aired on March 30th.  After this, it appears that The Beatles retired the song for good.

Conclusion

It has been stated by some authors that when the cover versions of The Beatles 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.   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 the imitation.

Song Summary

"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
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST 2080 "The Beatles' Second Album"
  • 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"
  • Length: 2:34
  • Key: A major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

 Instrumentation (most likely):

  • John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325)
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Harmony Vocals
  • George Harrison - Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman), Harmony Vocals
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1963 Ludwig Downbeat Black Oyster Pearl)

 Wriitten and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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