In mid-August 1962, the three senior Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – fired drummer Pete Best and replaced him with a chap they knew from their Hamburg days named Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey).
On September 4, 1962 – forty-eight years ago tomorrow – that new lineup went to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London and recorded together for the first time.
The Beatles were initially signed to a record contract by legendary producer George Martin on the strength of their personalities rather than on the quality of their original songs. He intended for the group to record a song called How Do You Do It? by songwriters Adam Faith and Mitch Murray as the band’s first single. The Beatles had other ideas, and chose to record an original McCartney composition, which Paul wrote as a sixteen-year-old while playing hooky from school.
Their song was called Love Me Do, which was an Everly Brothers-influenced, three-chord Bluesy number that featured Paul on lead vocals, and John mouthing a harmonica that he had swiped from a music shop in the Netherlands. (The band did record a version of How Do You Do It? that day which can be found on their Anthology I album. Gerry & the Pacemakers took the record to number one the following year.)
Martin didn’t much like what he heard that day out of the new drummer and called the group back into the studio a week later. This time, Ringo was relegated to playing the tambourine while session drummer Andy White laid down the beat. Both versions of the song were eventually released, with the White version rising to number 17 on the UK singles charts. (Ringo’s version can be heard on the Past Masters, Volume One album.)
There was actually a third version of the song recorded three months earlier as part of the Beatles’ audition at EMI, which featured Pete Best on drums. For years this version was thought lost, but reappeared, and can be heard on Anthology I.
Best was devastated by the firing, which depressed him to the point of a suicide attempt. He later became a civil servant in Liverpool and eventually formed a series of bands that capitalized on his association with the Fab Four. He was finally able to earn some royalties from his days with the Beatles (somewhere in the range of £1-4 million) from the sales of Anthology 1.
Andy White was paid £57 for his session with the Beatles. He later played for several acts, including Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, Herman’s Hermits, Rod Stewart, and Marlene Dietrich. He moved to New Jersey in the 1980s, where he still teaches Scottish pipe band drumming at the age of 80. His car sports a bumper sticker that reads, “5th Beatle,” which was given to him by one of his students, in reference to his one-and-only recording session with the band.
Ringo recovered from the slight (but resented George Martin for years because of it) and ended up manning the skins for the Beatles until their breakup in 1970.