- Please by The Blue Mountaineers (Released in 1932 by Broadcast Four Tune). “Please” was a hit for Bing Crosby in 1932, and it’s a song which made a big impression on the young John Lennon over a decade later. The first line of the song goes “Oh Please, lend your little ears to my pleas” and John, a big reader and interested in words, was fascinated by the double meaning of the words please/pleas. This influenced him later when he came to write the song “Please Please Me”. The Blue Mountaineers recorded quite a few records for the Broadcast labels from 1932-1934, and consisted mainly of musicians from Ambrose’s band, often with Nat Gonella or Sam Browne on vocals. Other Blue Mountaineers recordings include “Bahama Mama”, “Say to yourself I will be happy”, “Sweet Sixteen and never been kissed”, and “Is I in love? I Is!”.
- Ain’t she sweet by Eddie Sheldon (Released by Edison Bell Winner (4631) in 1927.) “Ain’t she sweet” was a popular song when it was first released in 1927, with multiple versions recorded. The song remained popular and was covered in 1956 by Gene Vincent, and it was this version that The Beatles covered in their early live sets, including when they played in Hamburg starting in 1960. In 1961 while still in Germany they scored a recording contract with Polydor, mainly as backing band for Tony Sheridan, but one of the songs recorded was their version of “Ain’t she sweet” with vocals by John Lennon. Unreleased at the time, it was released as a single in the UK in 1964, reaching number 29. Eddie Sheldon was active as a singer in the late ’20s but didn’t have a lasting career. Other recordings by him include “Let me call you sweetheart”,”Meet me at Twilight” and “Shepherd of the hills”.
- I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate by Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band (Released by His Master’s Voice (B 9047) in 1940). “I wish I could shimmy like my Sister Kate” was written in 1919 by Clarence Williams and Armand Piron. The song became a jazz standard and was revived in 1960 by The Olympics-it was probably this version that prompted The Beatles to start covering the song in their arduous Hamburg stage act, where they were expected to play for hours on end every night. They were still playing it when they were recorded live in Hamburg in December 1962, a recording subsequently released for the first time in 1977 (and many times since). Muggsy Spanier was born in Chicago in 1901 and went on to make his name as a cornet player in several Dixieland Jazz bands. During his career he worked with other legendary jazz musicians such as Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet and Bob Crosby. He died in 1967.
- Falling in love again by Jack Leon’s Dance Band (Released by Piccadilly (617) in 1930. “Falling in love again” was written in 1930 by Friedrich Hollaender and originally had German lyrics. The English lyrics were written by Sammy Lerner. The song was famously sung by Marlene Dietrich in the film The Blue Angel, and became a standard. The Beatles played it in their Hamburg sets and it’s another song captured on their live Hamburg tape. Jack Leon made several records in the late ’20s and early ’30s, including “Pagan love song”, “On the sunny side of the street” and “I want to be bad”.
- Robin Hood by Dick James (Released by Parlophone (R 4117) in 1956). George Martin started working for EMI’s Parlophone label in 1950 and was responsible for producing many of the records released on the label from then on; in 1955 he was promoted to head of the label. One of his successes was this recording in 1956 by Dick James, born in 1920 and a professional singer since 1940. As his singing career petered out in the late ’50s, James turned to music publishing, starting his own Dick James Music publishing company in 1961.Through his friendship with Martin, he became involved with The Beatles’ publishing-their Northern Songs company was administered via Dick James Music, although the relationship soured towards the end of the ’60s. Dick James began his own record label (DJM) and had huge success with Elton John in the ’70s. He died in 1986.
- Raunchy by Billy Vaughan and his Orchestra (Released by London (HLD 8522) in 1957. “Raunchy” plays an important part in The Beatles story as it was the tune which George Harrison played to John Lennon when he was introduced to him by Paul McCartney. Despite George being more than 2 years younger than John he was invited to join the band because of how well he played this song. “Raunchy” was originally released by Bill Justus, who co-wrote the song with Sidney Manker.American Billy Vaughan was born in 1919 and learnt to play several instruments as a child but it was not until after the end of World War 2 that he decided to make a career as a musician. He had success in the early ’50s as a member of The Hilltoppers, then began working for Dot Records as music director and started his own orchestra, going on to have over 40 hits in the US, although he had little success in the UK. He died in 1991.
- In the middle of the house by Alma Cogan (Released by His Master’s Voice (POP 261) in 1956). Alma Cogan was born in 1932 in London. She began singing as a child, and at 14 was recommended by Vera Lynn for a variety show in Brighton. By the age of 20 she had been signed to HMV, and had her first hit with “Bell Bottom Blues” in 1954. Many UK hits followed, including the number 1 “Dreamboat” in 1955. “In the middle of the house” made number 20 in 1956. Her popularity began to wane in the UK in the early ’60s, although she remained popular overseas. Alma met The Beatles at a recording of the TV show “Ready Steady Go!” in 1964 and became friends with them, being especially close to John Lennon who it is alleged she had an affair with. Alma made her last recordings in 1965, which included a couple of Beatles covers, but failing health meant her career started to falter. She made a few public appearances in 1966 but died in October, aged just 34.
- I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter by Billy Williams. “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter” was written in 1935 by Fred Ahlert and Joe Young and was an immediate hit when recorded by Fats Waller and again the following year when The Boswell Sisters recorded it. Later versions include those by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin. The version by Billy Williams was a major hit in 1957, and became a favourite of the young Paul McCartney, although it doesn’t seem to have been performed by The Beatles/Quarrymen at the time. (Bill Haley & The Comets also recorded a version around this time). Decades later, Paul McCartney finally recorded a version of the song for his 2012 album “Kisses on the bottom” (a title taken from the lyrics to the song). Billy Williams (not to be confued with the Australian Billy Williams of “Little Willie’s Woodbines” fame) was born in Texas in 1910 and was the lead singer of The Charioteers between 1930 and 1950, when he formed his own band. Although he had some smaller hits in the US, “I’m gonna…” was his biggest, and his only hit in the UK. He died in 1972.
- That’ll be the day by The Crickets (Released by Coral (Q 72279) in 1957). Buddy Holly and The Crickets were a big influence on John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison and when, as the Quarrymen, they made their first studio recording in 1958, they chose “That’ll be the day” as one side of the two sided acetate they recorded. (Their version was finally released on the “Anthology 1” album in 1995.) The Crickets hit version of the song was released in 1957, although Holly had recorded a version in 1956 with The Three Tunes. The song was written by Holly and Jerry Allison, although the Crickets version also credits producer Norman Petty, despite him having no hand in writing the song. Buddy Holly was born in 1936 in Lubbock, Texas and had his first hit with “That’ll be the day” in 1957. His career was short as he was killed in an air crash on Feb 3 1959 but in that time he wrote and recorded many classics (“Rave on”, “Peggy Sue”, “It doesn’t matter any more”, “Oh Boy”, “Maybe baby” etc.) and left a legacy which still resonates today.