Why the Beatles’ First Session at Abbey Road Was Forgettable
Even though the Beatles would record most of their classic songs at Abbey Road Studios, their first visit to the facility was far from perfect.
On June 6, 1962, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best showed up at what was then called EMI Studios for an artist test, a session for an act that has not yet secured a recording contract. The session went from 7-10PM and saw the band rehearse a selection of tunes before recording four: “Besame Mucho,” “Love Me Do,” “PS I Love You” and “Ask Me Why.”
At this time, the Beatles were still a fledgling group - and it showed.
"The Beatles didn't make a very good impression, apart from visually," engineer Norman Smith recalled to Sound on Sound. "I mean, we heard nothing of John and Paul's songwriting ability. They had tiny little Vox amplifiers and speakers, which didn't create much of a sound at source.”
According to Smith, the band’s shoddy equipment and limited studio experience made it virtually impossible to capture quality audio.
“I got nothing out of the Beatles' equipment except for a load of noise, hum and goodness knows what,” the engineer explained. “Paul's was about the worst — in those days we had echo chambers to add onto the reverberation, and I had to raid the Studio 2 echo chamber in order to fix him up with a sound so that we could get something down on tape."
Meanwhile, Lennon’s amp noise was overtaking his playing. “We actually had to tie string around John Lennon’s guitar amplifier to stop the rattling,” Smith noted in the book Recording the Beatles.
When the band finally started recording its songs, a person integral to its future success visited the studio. “The control room door opened and in walked George Martin himself,” Smith recalled. “And I thought to myself, ‘This must be some kind of special artist test for him to show up.’ Because producers didn’t normally attend artists' tests.”
Listen to 'Love Me Do' Recorded at the Beatles' First Abbey Road Session
Some would later question whether the Beatles had already signed a deal, which would explain why Martin decided to stop by. Regardless, the session ended with a stern lesson from the producer and his team.
“We gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists. They didn’t say a word back, not a word, they didn’t even nod their heads in agreement,” Smith recalled. “When he finished, George said, ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’ I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’ That cracked the ice for us, and for the next 15-20 minutes they were pure entertainment.”
Though the Beatles were extremely green during that first Abbey Road session, there was still something engaging about them.
“They left, and George turned to me and said, ‘Well, what do you think?’” Smith remembered. “And I said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of groups come in for artists test, but this one – there is something special about them. I can’t tell you what, but there is something there.’ As I said, the test hadn’t gone too well, and I wasn’t impressed by their sound. But they had an appealing quality, a kind of charisma.”
While few artifacts survived from that initial session, the recordings of “Besame Mucho” and “Love Me Do” were eventually released on the Anthology 1 album in 1995.