The Beatles, “Please Mister Postman” from With the Beatles (1963): Deep Beatles

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The Beatles clearly had a fondness for the “girl group” sound, and no song better exemplifies that fact than “Please Mr. Postman,” the final entry in Deep Beatles’ look at the band’s best covers. Originally recorded by Motown act the Marvelettes, “Please Mister Postman” allowed the Beatles to demonstrate how they could interpret numerous genres, transforming them into their own sound. In addition, their enthusiasm and raw energy foreshadowed a change in pop culture, a musical revolution that the Beatles would lead.

Before examining the Beatles’ energetic take on “Please Mister Postman,” let’s rewind further back to 1961. That year five young women called the Casinyets entered Detroit’s Motown Studios, hoping to audition for label head Berry Gordy and songwriter/producer/singer Smokey Robinson. The two subsequently called in the group for another audition, but there was one problem: the group needed to perform an original tune. Under pressure, Georgia Dobbins and friend William Garrett penned “Please Mister Postman,” a bluesy number featuring only a few lyrics.

Dobbins departed the group after the second audition, but her song lingered. Gordy turned the promising track over to producers Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland and Robert Bateman to rework the tune (interestingly, Gorman moonlighted as a postman at the time). After Gordy rechristened the girl group the Marvelettes, the quartet recorded the song, accompanied by Motown house band the Funk Brothers and a new drummer: Marvin Gaye. By December, “Please Mister Postman” had become a massive hit, topping the R&B and Hot 100 and officially establishing Motown as a major force in music.

Flash forward two years later, when the Beatles were recording their second album With the Beatles. As with Please Please Me, the group chose a mixture of original compositions and selections from their live repertoire for the track lineup. Paul McCartney claimed in a 1984 interview that the Beatles were attracted to “Please Mister Postman” because of fan mail “We got it from our fans, who would write ‘Please Mr. Postman’ on the back of the envelopes,” he said. “’Posty, posty, don’t be slow, be like the Beatles and go, man, go!’ That sort of stuff.”

However, it may be more likely that they simply liked Motown cuts (they would rave about the label in subsequent interviews) and, as demonstrated by previous covers, seemed to have great affection for girl group tracks. Indeed, the Beatles had already included the Marvelettes hit in their live sets less than a year after the single was first released.

Despite the fact that they had performed the song numerous times, it took nine takes to perfect “Please Mr. Postman.” Under George Martin’s direction, the group assembled at Abbey Road on July 30, 1963, with John Lennon on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney on backing vocals and bass; George Harrison on backing vocals and lead guitar; and Ringo Starr on drums. In the end they decided to combine two takes, namely an overdub of take nine onto take seven. In addition, Lennon’s lead vocals were double-tracked to add punch to the track.

The Beatles would subsequently perform the song for several BBC sessions, including Teenager’s Turn (Here We Go) (1962) and Pop Go the Beatles (1963). Due to the rapidly increasing number of original compositions, however, the band would eventually drop the Marvelettes cover from their concerts.

In typical fashion, the Beatles took a risk in covering “Please Mister Postman”; after all, they were opening themselves up to criticism. How could a British band convincingly reinterpret an R&B tune by a Motown girl group? The Beatles delivered a decisive answer to the question: very well, thank you.

They pay tribute to the original through the tight harmonies and virtual call-and-response sections. As Lennon cries “wait a minute” and “oh yeah,” Harrison and McCartney either repeat his phrases or underscore on key lyrics such as “since I’ve heard from that girl of mine.” Lennon’s lead vocals rank among his best, as his powerful, slightly raspy performance adds an edge to the Marvelettes original.

George Martin also deserves a mention, as his production is flawless on the track. The 2009 stereo remaster fully reveals the crystal-clear sound, with Starr’s drums and McCartney’s bass thumping through the speakers. “Please Mister Postman” exemplifies the jolt the Beatles delivered to the music industry. Their youth, enthusiasm, and slight edge signaled a new era in pop culture, and all are present on the recording.

Nodding to the group’s early days, Lennon uses an amusing accent in the following line: “deliver de letter, de sooner de better.” It subtly refers to their Hamburg and Cavern eras, when they would add cheeky parts to their covers of “Sheik of Araby,” “Three Cool Cats,” and “Besame Mucho.” While they clearly adored the original versions, their irreverence and virtual winks to the audience indicate that the group’s members did not take themselves too seriously.

“Please Mister Postman” illustrates how the Beatles adapted other musical forms to create their own sound, both honoring their forebears and adding another dimension to the original versions. By choosing yet another “girl group” song, the Beatles revealed the fearlessness that would drive them through their entire career. Soul and rhythm and blues inspired the four musicians, and their cover of the Marvelettes’ hit pays homage to genres they loved.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Kit O'Toole
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