Sunday, November 6, 2016

Way ahead of the rest...

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual, but serves to document an important feat achieved by Britain’s anonymous cover version industry. What we are referring to is the brilliant spot by Allan Crawford back in November 1962, of a little-noted record by a new group called the Beatles, and his decision to nail a version of his own.

Crawford was the brains behind the Cannon record label, launched in 1961 with the aim of packing in six hit songs onto one EP disc, retailing for the price of just one regular single. Towards the end of 1962, Cannon had four releases to its name, and was about to make a fifth EP. Here it is:

Home in on the first track on side 2 – instantly recognisable of course, with Lennon and McCartney’s names in the brackets. What makes this disc special, is that this was the first time anywhere in the world that the Beatles, and Lennon-McCartney, had been covered. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that “Love Me Do” had arrived without a splash, and had not even scratched the top 30 yet, making it an unlikely choice, but one which we are now discussing, more than half a century on.

Putting together a brief timeline underscores the matter. “Love Me Do” had appeared in Record Retailer’s listing for the first time on 17 October 1962, and scored successive chart placings as follows.

  • 17 Oct – position 49
  • 24 Oct - position  46
  • 31 Oct - position  41
  • 7 Nov - position  32

On the day the single reached the lofty heights of number 41, it finally received its first broadcast by the BBC. What drew Allan Crawford’s attention is unknown, but around now the track was selected for the next Cannon EP (right around this time of year, in fact). Maybe he had seen something special in this fledgling act – something others around him were somewhat slower to catch on to.

To put this in context, check out the other five tracks on the EP, and who the original artists were. We have:

  • If A Man Answers – original hit by Bobby Darrin
  • I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' – original hit by Kenny Ball
  • Devil Woman – original hit by Marty Robbins
  • Lonely – original hit by Acker Bilk
  • Reminiscing – original hit by Buddy Holly

Of these, only “Devil Woman” had gone top 10 in the UK, but look at the pedigree of the hit artists – stars of the day, all. By contrast the Beatles had never had a record out before (excluding an obscure German recording from 1961) and so were generally unknown.

Beatles fans will know all about Mark Lewisohn’s magnum opus, All These Years, the most epic project ever undertaken in pop music journalism, which is still ongoing. Thanks to Lewisohn’s sterling work, we know more about this one cover version than practically anything else in soundalike cover version history!

Lewisohn provides us with the following (the group name, the Sparrows, is of course a nom de plume):

“The singers were John Shakespeare (the higher line, Paul McCartney’s part) and Kenneth Hawker (lower, John Lennon’s)... Shakespeare thinks the harmonica on their version of Love Me Do was played by Harry Fitch (he played on Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’), with Alan Weighell on bass, and possibly Vic Flick on acoustic guitar. (He is best known for his fast lead guitar work on the James Bond Theme.) The drummer isn’t remembered.”

It’s ironic that the identity of the drummer on Cannon’s version of “Love Me Do” is unknown, echoing the problems which beset the Beatles themselves when they recorded it – first with Pete Best at the kit, then with Ringo, and then again with session man, Andy White, before producer George Martin was happy. (And interestingly, Andy White would later drum on a similar Beatles cover himself – as noted here.)

As the personnel had to be recalled from memory during Lewisohn’s research, it’s safe to assume that no actual session logs exist. Nevertheless, Lewisohn established that the musicians were on a flat rate for the session, not a royalty deal, and that the recording was made at Lansdowne Studios in Notting Hill Gate. The producer was Alan Moorhouse, the studio engineer Adrian Kerridge.

Here is the result in all its historic splendour:

Lewisohn was also able to confirm the timing of the release – “late November”. This means we can safely place the recording inside that month, and prove it was both recorded and released before the Beatles had ever dented the top 20, or even cut an album.

The first ever Beatles cover version, consequent of its status as a budget recording, has suffered the fate of being overlooked by most pop historians. What has falsely passed into folklore is that Kenny Lynch was the first performer to tackle a Beatle tune – for example, as of today, you can read on his Wikipedia entry, “Lynch is also known for a single, also issued in 1963, which flopped. That was ‘Misery’, the first cover version of a Beatles song to be released.

Sorry, Kenny, but you were beaten to it by several months - another good reason to acknowledge the mark the anonymous cover version has made on the British music scene. 


  1. Do you realise the vocalists became "Carter and Lewis" aka British group The Ivy League?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi - I heard that they went on to record as Carter-Lewis, but didn't know there was the Ivy League connection. Thanks for the info!

  4. they cop the arrangement exactly.
    whoever arranged it respected the songcraft.

  5. It's also worth mentioning that arranger Alan Moorhouse went on to arrange and conduct some of the early BWD covers LPs for Music For Pleasure - Hits 68 is one of his.