Last week’s Deep Beatles took a closer look at the Beatles’ 1962 audition for Decca Records. Since manager Brian Epstein wanted to present Decca’s A&R department with a vivid picture of the Beatles’ live shows, he asked the band to perform covers of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Barrett Strong, and many others. Unlike many bands of the time, though, the Beatles brought in original songs as well: “Like Dreamers Do,” “Love of the Loved,” and “Hello Little Girl.”
After the audition, the group tossed aside these early John Lennon/Paul McCartney compositions in favor of more mature, sophisticated fare. Studying tracks like “Hello Little Girl,” however, reveals their influences and amazingly rapid creative growth.
Although Lennon composed “Hello Little Girl” in 1957, the song did not surface on any recording until 1960. (They had performed the song as well as “Like Dreamers Do” as the Quarrymen in concerts since 1958). Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison, and then-bassist Stu Sutcliffe recorded a demo of the track reportedly at McCartney’s boyhood home.
Only available on bootleg, the song suffers from murky sound quality, some sloppiness (it is a demo, after all), and half-finished lyrics. The tempo is slightly slower, perhaps because Pete Best apparently did not take part in this session. Still, the close harmonies reflect the Everly Brothers, while the chord progression resemble Holly’s early work.
In one of his last interviews, Lennon cited another unlikely muse: Cole Porter and his 1936 classic “It’s De-Lovely.” “I remember some Thirties or Forties song which was [singing] ‘You’re delightful, you’re delicious and da da da. Isn’t it a pity that you are such a scatterbrain,’” Lennon joked with writer David Sheff. “That always fascinated me for some reason or another. It’s also connected to my mother. It’s all very Freudian. She used to sing that one. So I made ‘Hello Little Girl’ out of it.”
Fast forward to January 1, 1962, when a clearly nervous Beatles entered Decca Studios to record an audition tape. Eager to show off their still-developing songwriting skills, they performed the now-more-polished “Hello Little Girl.” They never performed it again except for an audition for BBC radio on February 12, 1962. However, the track gained new life when it was offered to another Merseybeat group, the Fourmost, in July 1963. Not coincidentally, George Martin was producing the band at the time. Just two weeks before, Gerry and the Pacemakers had recorded a demo of the song, but ultimately elected to release another single, “I Like It.”
The Fourmost’s version reached No. 9 on the UK charts; according to McCartney, the song suited the group’s lighthearted image. “Unfortunately the words aren’t too wonderful. They’re a bit average, but the Fourmost were eager to have a hit and they were very good friends of ours,” McCartney told biographer Barry Miles. “They were more of a comedy group, a really very funny cabaret act, and when it came to making a record and being serious on a TV show, they always laughed and giggled.”
In a very short time, the legendary Lennon/McCartney songwriting team proved they could write memorable hits like “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.” While “Hello Little Girl” does not rank in quality with those songs, it represents an important stage in the Beatles’ career. They quickly learned that they had to leave the tougher image behind, perform polished sets, and write songs that, quite frankly, would sell.
Clearly Lennon had listened closely to the hits of the day, and mimicked them in “Hello Little Girl.” The tight harmonies recall early Everly Brothers hits such as “Bye Bye Love” or “Wake Up Little Susie,” while the beat and chord changes echo now-classics like “Rave On!,” and “Oh Boy!” Holly established himself as the master of the pop record, blending catchy hooks with intelligent lyrics; Lennon recognized that and tried to emulate Holly’s gift.
In addition, listen closely to the rhythm and vocals for another reason: they anticipate the Merseybeat sound, the term denoting bands deriving from Liverpool. Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Searchers were two notable acts of the genre, and it’s evident why “Hello Little Girl” was initially offered to the former group. The relentlessly upbeat, energetic sound, the close harmonies, and (somewhat) memorable chorus capture the sound perfectly.
The rest is history: The Beatles did not pass the Decca audition, but months later signed with Parlophone Records, a division of EMI. The three originals performed at the Decca session largely vanished from view until 1995’s Beatles Anthology series. At Martin’s urging, the band fired Best and hired drummer Ringo Starr. Soon the Lennon/McCartney team would demonstrate how they had grown as songwriters, and how they, like Holly, could blend catchy melodies with sophisticated chords and intelligent lyrics to create enduring hits.
Indeed, “Hello Little Girl” is one of the earliest signals of the change from the raucous “Silver Beatles” to the mature “Beatles.”