And so the first Merseybeat number 1 was by… hang on, it wasn’t The Beatles? No… at least, not officially speaking. Confused? I was.
By this point, there were several weekly singles charts, including those by Record Retailer, New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Mirror. As I’ve mentioned previously, the NME was the first, and the Official Charts Company treat this as canon from the chart’s inception through to 9 March 1960. From that point until the end of the decade, the organisation recognises Record Retailer. This has become a bone of contention for many chart aficionados and Beatles fans alike. There is a belief that Record Retailer’s chart was too much of an outlier to be treated as the official source. The NME‘s chart took it’s information from a much bigger reach of record shops, for example. Hardcore chart fans lay the blame at The Guinness Book of Hit Singles, originally published in 1977. This authoritative publication opted for Record Retailer, mainly because of the fact it was the only chart that covered the best-selling 50 songs for most of the decade.
The Beatles’ second single, Please Please Me, knocked Frank Ifield’s The Wayward Wind from number 1 in March, according to every chart but the Record Retailer one. Therefore, as far as the Official Charts Company are concerned, this didn’t happen. You can understand the annoyance of Beatles fans, and I agree with them. But this blog covers the official charts, and, well, The Beatles have no shortage of number 1 singles, do they? So, the first Merseybeat number 1 is indeed How Do You Do It? by Gerry and the Pacemakers, who were The Beatles’ main competition in 1963.
Gerry Marsden was born in Toxteth, Liverpool on 24 September 1942. One of his earliest memories involved him standing on top of an air raid shelter and singing to impressed onlookers. He formed the skiffle group Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars in 1959, with his brother Freddie on percussion. From there they became The Gerry Marsden Trio when bassist Les Chadwick joined, and with the addition of Arthur Mack on piano, Gerry and the Pacemakers began honing their act. They did this at home and in Hamburg, Germany, just like the fledgling Beatles.
In 1961, Mack left to be replaced by Les Maguire, and the group became the second act to sign with Brian Epstein. Despite having the same manager, the two groups were rivals, and Gerry and the Pacemakers signed with Columbia Records, meaning both groups were with EMI.
How Do You Do It? had been written by Mitch Murray, who had offered the song to Adam Faith, among others, but he kept being turned down. George Martin thought the song would make a great debut single for The Beatles, but the Fab Four were not keen, and wanted to push their own McCartney and Lennon compositions instead. So they duly recorded How Do You Do It? for Martin, but deliberately put in a lacklustre performance, and so they got their way and Love Me Do was issued instead.
Martin still clearly thought the song had worth, and Marsden and his group were happy to make it their own debut single, and were right to do so, as the song went to number 1 and stayed there for three weeks.
In the first half of 1963, there seemed little to distinguish the two groups. Both were happy-go-lucky Scouse four-pieces in suits, permanently beaming away for the cameras. The tunes were catchy, upbeat pop numbers, with a somewhat raw, fast sound, and of course the key element was the Liverpudlian accents, which were accentuated rather than hidden away. Unlike the wave of cockney number 1s a few years back though, the accents didn’t seem exaggerated, they seemed natural, and the music was more natural and earthy than the conservative approach of Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
The Beatles version of How Do You Do It? was released on Anthology 1 in 1995, so their version can be compared with this recording, and sure enough, it’s Gerry and the boys putting the effort in and delivering a more assured performance. They leave out the ‘ooh-la-la’ backing vocals but add an impressively bluesy piano interlude. Ultimately of course, The Beatles were right to go with Love Me Do – How Do You Do It? is a catchy but lightweight tune, and this first Merseybeat number 1 didn’t suggest the seismic shift in pop it ultimately caused. But it was a welcome change to Cliff and Elvis to my ears and must have been the same to many in the spring of 1963.
Written by: Mitch Murray
Producer: George Martin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 April-1 May)
Scottish footballer Mo Johnston – 13 April