The Beatles, “Three Cool Cats” (Decca Audition, 1962): Deep Beatles

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Growing up in Liverpool, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had unique access to American R&B singles. Being a major port city, Liverpool imported American instruments and records. As such, the Mersey Beat sound would be heavily influenced by rock and R&B from the States. In fact, groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would reintroduce American audiences to their own artists through covers. (Think Arthur Alexander and Larry Williams.) Harrison, Lennon and McCartney were particular fans of the songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the duo who penned numerous hits for the Coasters and other classics such as “Kansas City.”

By 1959, the future Beatles became obsessed with another single: “Three Cool Cats,” the B-side to the Coasters’ “Charlie Brown.” It became a staple of their early stage shows, thus they naturally selected the song for inclusion in their Decca audition. As it turned out, “Three Cool Cats” was one of the true highlights of the Decca tapes.

According to Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the period found Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney constantly practicing the three-part harmonies essential to the song’s success. Then known as the Quarrymen, they would perform the track at the Casbah along with then-drummer Pete Best. After enthusiastic audience response, they kept “Three Cool Cats” in their setlists through Hamburg and their eventual return to Liverpool, most famously at the Cavern Club. Fans cheered Harrison’s lead vocals as well as Lennon and McCartney’s backing harmonies, particularly when Lennon would utter the line “Hey man, save one chick for me” in funny voices.

The Beatles’ cover of the Coasters’ “Three Cool Cats” became an obvious choice for the Decca audition. After all, the track always performed well in the clubs, and it showcased their onstage charisma.

The Beatles’ lineup for this track included Harrison on vocals and lead guitar; McCartney on backing vocals and bass; Lennon on backing vocals and rhythm guitar; and Best on drums. Harrison performs a decent guitar solo, but his voice is the star. It suggests that he sang the track with a wink, appreciating the sly lyrics. He enunciates the words, stressing how these “three cool cats” are actually penniless. Still, they try to pick up “three cool chicks” who are amusingly “splitting up a bag of potato chips.”

Next comes the dialogue, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney assuming the roles of the other two “cats.” “I want that little chick!” McCartney yells, as Lennon cries out the “save one chick for me” line in bizarre voices. The three Beatles harmonize on the title phrase as well as the “three cool chicks” lines, demonstrating that their endless rehearsals had resulted in tighter vocals. (This technique would reappear in such original Beatles tracks as “Yes It Is,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Baby’s in Black,” among many others.)

Lennon and McCartney may have also been inspired by the song’s “twist ending,” a method they would employ in the Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” The three main characters suffered from the delusion that they were cool; in actuality, George Harrison reveals, “three cool chicks made three fools out of three cool cats.”

Unlike other Decca tracks, “Three Cool Cats” features a more confident performance and a glimpse into the Beatles’ early stage shows. They had learned to “mach schau” during their Hamburg days, and their spirited rendition of the Coasters B-side proved they had internalized this lesson. By 1962, the Beatles had learned how to engage audiences with humor and musicianship.

While the Beatles would eventually drop the song from their concert setlists, “Three Cool Cats” remains an early favorite among fans and one of the few standouts from the infamous Decca audition. Judging from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, the Beatles never lost affection for the track; at one point they broke into a spontaneous slower version of “Three Cool Cats,” as if reminding themselves of their previous camaraderie.

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