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“P.S. I LOVE YOU”

(Paul McCartney – John Lennon)

The record charts in the United States were set up in a particular way in the sixties to allow both sides of a new single to have an individual chart listing.  Only a relative few recording artists were of the caliber to have both sides of their latest single receive a listing on the top 40 charts.  Elvis Presley was surely one of these, having done it 26 times in the fifties and sixties, five of these times achieving a top ten hit with both the A-side and B-side of the record.

This achievement was not commonplace, even among the top recording artists of the time.  Stevie Wonder, The Four Seasons and The Rolling Stones did this only once, while this privilege never occurred for powerhouses like The Supremes, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.  

As you might expect, The Beatles were able to achieve this status right from their first national hit, “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”  During their six year run on the charts in the sixties, they racked up 14 occurrences of both sides of their latest single appearing on the Billboard top 40 charts simultaneously.  And like Elvis before them, five of these occurrences placed both sides of their singles in the top ten. 

“P.S. I Love You,” a song which they contemplated releasing as the A-side of their first British single, became the first occurrence in the US of having a top ten placement on the Billboard singles chart as the B-side of their number one single “Love Me Do.”

Telegram sent from Brian Epstein to columnist Bill Harry concerning The Beatles first recording date at EMI Studios.

Songwriting History

From interviews of John and Paul through the years, it can be determined that the song was written approximately in the latter half of May, 1962.  Their manager Brian Epstein had sent a telegram to The Beatles during their stay in Hamburg, Germany indicating that he had secured a recording contract with EMI and stated that they should "rehearse new material."  The Beatles took this to mean they needed to compose new original material, so "P.S. I Love You" was among their first fruits after they received the telegram.  

As to the songs’ authorship, it is agreed by both John and Paul that it was mostly, if not completely, McCartney’s song.  Lennon is quoted as saying that he “might have contributed something,” but elaborates further in another interview by saying:  "I think we helped him a bit.  He was trying to write a 'Soldier Boy,' like The Shirelles track." "Soldier Boy" was a hit in April of 1962, a copy of this record being recently sent by Brian Epstein to Hamburg for The Beatles to consider performing, which they quickly incorporated into their stage act in Germany between April 11th and June 4th of 1962.  The Beatles interpreted the lyrics to "Soldier Boy" as a love letter being read out loud, thereby being the main inspiration for mimicking in "P.S. I Love You."

Other inspirations for the song include the first line, "As I write this letter" as coming from Pat Boone's 1956 hit "I'll Be Home," which was a favorite in the McCartney household shortly after the song's release.  As for the Latin rhythm of the song, The Beatles were already incorporating this feel in many songs in their repertoire, such as "Besame Mucho," "The Honeymoon Song," "Till There Was You," and their recently written original composition "Ask Me Why."  It has also been suggested that Paul had written "P.S. I Love You" as a letter to his girlfriend Dorothy "Dot" Rhone who was back in Liverpool while he was away in Hamburg.  "It's not based in reality," Paul explains in his book "Many Years From Now," "nor did I write it to my girlfiend from Hamburg, which some people think."

Paul also goes on the explain:  "It's just an idea for a song, really, a theme song based on a letter, like the 'Paperback Writer' idea.  It was pretty much mine.  I don't think John had much of a hand in it.  There are certain themes that are easier than others to hang a song on, and a letter is one of them.  'Dear John' is the other version of it.  The letter is a popular theme and it's just my attempt at one of those."

The Beatles with Pete Best, circa June 1962

Recording History

Session One:  The first time the song premiered in the studio was during their first recording session at EMI studios with George Martin on June 6th, 1962 between 6 and 8 pm.  It was the third of four songs recorded that day, the number of takes not being known.  George Martin did have something positive to say about this song, commenting that he liked the switches between major and minor chords throughout the song.  This recording of “P.S. I Love You” made on this day (with Pete Best on drums) has apparently been lost or recorded over, although some of the tapes have resurfaced later, as has happened with the version of “Love Me Do” recorded this day (available on “Anthology 1”).  As to whether this will too resurface, only time will tell.

Session Two:  Producer Ron Richards ran The Beatles (with Ringo) through a rehearsal session at EMI studios on September 4th, 1962, between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., in order to determine which two songs would be recorded for their first single.  Of the six songs rehearsed at this time, “P.S. I Love You” was one of them, being that they had already recorded the song three months earlier on June 6th with somewhat positive feedback from George Martin.  This song was not chosen at this time because Martin hand-picked the song “How Do You Do It” to be recorded as the A-side and, reluctantly, “Love Me Do” as the B-side.

As events transpired, “How Do You Do It,” although being recorded, was rejected by publisher Dick James because he didn't think The Beatles' version did the song justice.  This left a big question mark as to what the A-side of the first Beatles record was to be.  That question mark was still hanging in the air next week as they reconvened at EMI studios for their next recording session.

Session Three:  September 11th, 1962, was that session, with Ron Richards producing.  The session ran from 4:45 to 6:30 pm in EMI Studio Two.  Geoff Emerick, a newly hired teenage ‘button-pusher’ at EMI, was present at this session to witness the uncomfortable situation that ensued as Ringo arrived on this day to find a professional drummer, Andy White, had been hired for this session.  “We weren’t happy with the drum sound on the original ‘Love Me Do,’” explains Richards regarding their September 4th session, “so I booked Andy White for the re-make.  I used him a lot at the time – he was very good.”

Emerick’s book “Here, There And Everywhere” gives the details:  “Ringo looked around a little helplessly, at a loss as to what to do.  He began heading up to the control room.  As the door opened, (engineer Norman Smith) crossed the room to greet him.  ‘Morning Norman,’ Ringo answered in a funeral tone that matched his demeanor.  Where’s George (Martin)?  A flustered Ron (Richards) cleared his throat and introduced himself to Ringo…’Well, actually he’s asked me to tell you that we’ll be using Andy here today – he’s a professional drummer, hired for the session.’  Ringo’s face fell further still; he looked like he wanted to jump off the nearest bridge.”

Geoff Emerick continues:  “Andy White, looking embarrassed, stood up.  ‘Hello, mate,’ he said to Ringo, ‘I’ve heard a lot of good things about your group.’  They shook hands awkwardly, then White quickly headed down to the studio.  I remember being impressed by Andy’s decision to leave right away, thus avoiding what could have been an unpleasant confrontation – another lesson in studio etiquette.  Dejectedly, Ringo sank into a chair beside Ron and the session got underway.  The Beatles began by running through a new song, entitled ‘P.S. I Love You.’  After just a few run-throughs, White seemed to get the hang of it.  I was amazed at how quickly he did so, and how well he fit in with three unfamiliar musicians – the mark of a great session player.”

“Following some discussion, it was decided that full drums weren’t necessary on the song and he was relegated to playing bongos.  After a few run-throughs, Ron suggested that Ringo go downstairs and join in, playing maracas.  I could sense that he was growing increasingly uncomfortable at having the sulking drummer sitting beside him, and this must have struck him as a good way of getting Ringo out of the control room.”

“P.S. I Love You” was recorded live with no overdubs or edits and, after 10 takes, it was complete, take 10 being deemed best.  After the recording was complete, Emerick recalls that the group “came up to the control room for a playback.  They were enthused by what they were hearing, and eagerly discussed making it the A-side, but Richards dismissed them imperiously.  ‘It’s good, but it’s no A-side,’ he said.  ‘We’ll use it as the B-side of your first single.  Now we need get back to work; George (Martin) wants you to have another go at ‘Love Me Do.’”  Richards reveals another reason “P.S. I Love You” couldn’t be the A-side:  “I was originally a music publishing man, a plugger, so I knew that someone had already done a record with that title.”  A similarly titled song recorded by Peggy Lee was no doubt remembered by Richards.

The song took approximately only one hour to record, so by 5:45 pm, they recorded a version of John's recent composition "Please Please Me" for possible consideration for the B-side and then began work on “Love Me Do.”  “P.S. I Love You” was then mono mixed at the end of the session by Richards, Smith and an unknown 2nd engineer, in the control room of EMI Studio Two.  This mix was used for its’ British single release on October 5th, 1962.

Stereo Mixing:  February 25th, 1963, was the date chosen to create both mono and stereo mixes for the upcoming British album, “Please Please Me.”  Since “P.S. I Love You” was also to be on the album, and it was recorded on a single track only, they somehow needed to create a stereo mix for the stereo copies of the album.  To solve the problem, a “fake” stereo mix had to be made from the mono mix made on September 11th, 1962.  Like “Love Me Do,” the song was rechanneled to have primarily all the treble frequencies on one side and all the bass frequencies on the other, creating a stereo effect.  There has never been, nor ever will be, a true stereo mix of the song, since it was originally only recorded in mono. 

There are, however, additional official Beatle-related recordings of the song.  Sometime between September of 1987 and February of 1989, while Paul McCartney was recording his “Flowers In The Dirt” album, he and his band concocted a rhythmic rendition of both “P.S. I Love You” and “Love Me Do” which they entitled “P.S. Love Me Do.”  They were paired together, undoubtedly, because of these two songs being the only in the entire Lennon/McCartney catalog owned by Paul.  This studio recording was not included on this solo album except for the Japanese version, entitled “Special Package,” which included various bonus tracks.  A live version of this song was also recorded on April 21st, 1990 in Rio de Janeiro which was included on European copies of his EP “Birthday.”

Mid 1962 publicity postcard

Song Structure and Style

At first glance, this song seems to have an unorthodox structure, but after being analyzed, it is found to be of a similar structure as most of the early Beatles catalog.  The structure consists of ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse’ (or aaba).  The exception to this rule is the unique introduction to the song, which is an altered version of the bridge that is repeated twice later in the song.  The introduction, although identical in lyrics and number of bars as the bridge, is different in chord structure as well as melody line.  Whether this introduction was suggested by George Martin, as other early Beatles songs were subjected to introductory arrangements by Martin, or was McCartney’s original arrangement has not been revealed.  Either way, this opens the song in a very unique and impressive way.

After this eight bar introduction, the first verse commences, which consists of ten bars.  McCartney is clearly singing lead with background harmony vocals from John and George, interestingly accentuating whatever syllable appears on the one beat of the first five bars, which turn out to be, “Treasure these few words till we’re together, keep all my love forever.”  An interesting chord (B flat) is played during the first occurrence of the word “you,” adding anticipation which leads back to the resolve chord (D).  McCartney’s adept and effective songwriting skills are shown to be on display even this early in The Beatles’ songwriting career.

Each verse consists of an alternating between major and minor chords, which is what attracted George Martin to this song, and characteristically concludes with the title of the song, which becomes the hook-line.  

After a second verse which is identical in structure, the first actual occurrence of the bridge takes place, which consists of eight bars and features full three-part harmony from Paul, John and George.  This is followed by an identical repetition of the first verse before segueing into the bridge once again.  This time the bridge is accentuated by McCartney in between each lyric gap, which differentiates it from the first time the bridge is heard.

The final verse, which is a repetition of the second verse, is different this time in that the background vocals harmonize throughout the first five bars instead of the first syllable, as was done with each preceding verse.  Four additional bars are added to the end as the harmonies rise, which creates a suitable climatic conclusion.  So ends a satisfying and cleverly arranged production.

Andy White’s bongo style on the song hints at a rumba or cha-cha style (one even wants to say ‘cha-cha-cha’ at the end of the song).  And with Ringo’s maracas, we get a full Latin flavor to the song.

Many may dismiss White’s drumming style on this song, saying that he misses the mark by not incorporating The Beatles driving beat.  The big picture, no doubt, probably rests on either Paul McCartney or George Martin who instructed the song to sound that way.  George Martin is probably the one favored here, since The Beatles were bowing to his expertise in the studio this early in the game.  It should also be noted that White’s drumming on “Love Me Do,” also recorded this day, incorporated the rock/r&b style that The Beatles previously played on the song (witness Pete Best playing on "Anthology 1" and Ringo Starr’s released version on "Past Masters Volume 1").  We may never to be able to settle this argument fully because, even though Best and Ringo had played the song in the studio prior to Andy White, neither of those versions have survived for our ears to hear.  Ringo’s performances of the song after this, such as on the BBC, were mimicking Andy White’s drumming as heard on the released record.

Picture sleeve to American "Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You" single

American Releases

The first time the song was heard on American shores was with the initial release of the Vee Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles” on January 10th, 1964.  This version was only available for three weeks because of the Capitol records injunction concerning this song, as well as “Love Me Do,” being licensed to Beechwood Music, a subsidiary of EMI.  Therefore, on January 27th, the Vee Jay album was re-released substituting “P.S. I Love You” and “Love Me Do” with “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why,” which were not licensed to Beechwood Music.

A settlement was reached between Beechwood and Vee Jay in April of 1964, which allowed them to release the two songs as they saw fit.  Vee Jay wasted no time in releasing “Love Me Do” with “P.S. I Love You” as the B-side on April 27th, 1964 on the newly formed Tollie record label.  This was the first occurrence of The Beatles achieving a top 10 placement on the Billboard charts with both sides of a single.  Love Me Do” charted at number one on May 30th, while “P.S. I Love You” charted simultaneously at number 10.  A very noble achievement, especially when neither of these songs made it past number 17 in Britain.

In August of 1964, Vee Jay re-released this single on the short lived “Oldies 45” label, which makes it the third official release of the song in the US.  The fourth US release would be when Capitol gained full control of the early Beatles catalog and released the album “The Early Beatles” on March 22nd, 1965.  This album then appeared on an individual CD on January 21st, 2014, this CD containing both the mono and stereo mixes on one disc.  To continue the song’s sale as a single, Capitol released the original Tollie single on their “Starline” label on October 11th, which marks the fifth release of the song.

The ‘70s brought a new wave of Beatlemania and with it a number of ‘greatest hits’ packages.  Although “P.S. I Love You” was a top ten hit in America, it was not included in the “1962-1966” album (better known as the “Red Album”) because the track list was compiled with their British hits in mind.  It is a curious fact that, since the album was put together by Capitol records in the US, they omitted huge American hits, such as “Twist And Shout,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” as well as “P.S. I Love You” in favor of album tracks, such as “Girl, Drive My Car” and “In My Life.”   “P.S. I Love You” was also not included in the catch-all compilation album of June 1976 “Rock 'n' Roll Music” because of the song not fitting in with the ‘rock and roll’ theme of the album.

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 Early Beatles" were released in this portable format, "P.S. I Love You" being on one of these.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

October 21st, 1977, did see the inclusion of the song on The Beatles compilation album “Love Songs,” in which it fitted in quite well with the romantic theme of the album.  “P.S. I Love You” became the fitting conclusion of the double album.

On February 26th, 1987 the original British "Please Please Me" album, which contains the song, was first released on compact disc in mono.  The re-mastered stereo version of the same disc came out on September 9th, 2009 and, although the song sounds far more vibrant and punchy, no true stereo mix of the song exists.

Capitol released the box set “Compact Disc EP Collection” on June 30th, 1992.  “P.S. I Love You” was included due to its being on the original British EP “All My Loving” EP released on February 7th, 1964.

The song is also contained on the April 11th, 2006 released box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2,” which contains the original American album "Early Beatles."

Also on September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which features the entire “Please Please Me” album in clear re-mastered mono.

On November 11th, 2013, the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2" was released, this containing an unheard version of "P.S. I Love You" recorded on June 17th, 1963 for the radio program "Pop Go The Beatles."  Listen for Ringo's changing rim-shot accents on this version, him not being quite as familiar with this style of playing as originally performed on the released version by drummer Andy White.  Notice, however, the classy final chord, this undoubtedly giving us a clearer picture of their live performances of the song throughout 1963.

Also released around this date was a fourteen-track sampler of the above album for promotional purposes, "P.S. I Love You" being included therein.

 

Live Performances

It can be assumed that The Beatles performed this song during their third visit to Hamburg between April and June of 1962, although there is no direct evidence of such.  The assumption comes from the song being written during this time period and their long performance hours (sometimes 12 hours a day) which would allow for them to premier newly written material.  They then returned to Hamburg in November and then December of 1962, which was just after the release of the record.  It also seems likely, although unconfirmed, that they would have performed the song during these gigs as well.

The first known performance of the song was for the BBC show “Here We Go,” which was recorded on October 25th and aired on October 26th, 1962.   They also recorded the song on November 27th for the BBC radio show “The Talent Spot,” which aired on December 4th.  Also on December 4th was a live performance on a British children's television show entitled "Tuesday Rendezvous," The Beatles miming the song, although only 45 seconds of this performance made it to air.  The third and final BBC radio performance was on June 17th, 1963 for the show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which aired on June 25th.

Paul McCartney periodically performed the above mentioned “P.S. Love Me Do” rendition at various dates of his “World Tour” of 1989/1990, putting down all instruments, grabbing a microphone and pacing the stage while singing this unorthodox composition. 

Conclusion

Although “P.S. I Love You” may be very well stuck in American minds as just another slice of Beatlemania, it proves itself as an indication of the true diversity the band had to offer.  The middle age and older population, as revealed in the press, viewed The Beatles as long-haired talentless “youngsters from Liverpool” that infiltrated the minds of American teenagers with their unconventional din of sound.  If these older ones would have listened carefully to this top ten hit, for instance, they would have seen that their songwriting and performance style could be reminiscent of any and all music styles.  No doubt, many middle-aged Americans grew to like this song, only later to find out that this was the same ‘long-haired weirdos’ they scoffed at when on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Whatever the effect the song had, one thing that is evident is McCartney’s natural ability, even at this early stage, to write a well-crafted and impressively structured song.  Its’ effective major–to-minor chord structure, its’ haunting melody line, and its’ simple but convincing lyrics, make for an indication of the potential for better things to come.


Song Summary

P.S. I Love You

Written by:  Paul McCartney / John Lennon

  • Song Written: May 1962
  • Song Recorded: September 11, 1962 
  • First US Release Date: January 6, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 Introducing…The Beatles
  • US Single Release: Tollie #9008
  • Highest Chart Position: #10
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 Please Please Me
  • Length: 2:06
  • Key: D major
  • Producer: Ron Richards
  • Engineer: Norman Smith

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1)
  • John Lennon  Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gibson J160E), Background Vocals
  • George Harrison – Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gibson J160E), Background Vocals
  • Ringo Starr – Maracas
  • Andy White - Bongos

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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