As the future Beatles members grew up in Liverpool, they keenly listened to songs of the day, learning them for their local gigs. While imitating these popular artists, they were also honing their own songwriting and musicianship skills. During the summer of 1957 — still in their pre-Beatles group, the Quarrymen — John Lennon, and Paul McCartney began experimenting with writing songs.
Just a year later, George Harrison, Lennon and McCartney found themselves in a crude recording studio, singing into one microphone, laying down two tracks: a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day” and a Harrison-McCartney composition (yes, you read that correctly) entitled “In Spite of All the Danger.” A blend of doo-wop, rockabilly, and rock and roll, the song is first time that Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney would appear on a recording.
“In Spite of All the Danger” represents one of McCartney’s earliest compositions. In Barry Miles’ Many Years from Now, McCartney described how the two would ditch school to write songs together during summer 1957. Once McCartney’s father left the house for work, the two friends would settle in for a three-hour composing session. Lennon would bring his first guitar (sporting the infamous “guaranteed not to split” label) and McCartney would play either piano or guitar.
“And because I was left-handed, when I looked at John I would see almost a mirror image of myself, I’d be playing the guitar as if it were upside down, he’d be reading me, upside down – so we would clearly see what each other was doing,” McCartney recalled. They wrote all the lyrics in a school notebook; McCartney remembered always scribbling “A Lennon-McCartney Original” at the top of each page.
McCartney would later tell Mark Lewisohn that Elvis Presley loomed large over “In Spite of All the Danger.” “It’s me doing an Elvis, but I’m a bit loathe to say which!” McCartney said in the Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. “I know which one! It was one that I’d heard at scout camp when I was younger and I’d loved it. And when I came to write the first couple of songs at the age of about 14 that was one of them.”
Eventually the song sported an atypical co-writer: Harrison. “We were mates and nobody was into copyrights and publishing, nobody understood: We actually used to think when we came down to London that songs belonged to everyone,” McCartney told Lewisohn. “And because George did the solo we figured that he ‘wrote’ the solo.”
Flash forward to July 12, 1958, when the then-named Quarrymen traveled to Phillips Sound Recording Service in Liverpool to record their very first record. The studio existed in the living room of 38 Kensington, a house owned by Percy F. Phillips – who also served as the recording engineer. The personnel consisted of John Lennon on lead vocals and guitar; Paul McCartney on backing vocals and guitar; George Harrison on backing vocals and lead guitar; and then-Quarrymen members John “Duff” Lowe and Colin Hanton on piano and drums, respectively.
Because the group had previously rehearsed the track, they managed to complete recording in about 15 minutes. They recorded both “In Spite of All the Danger” and “That’ll be the Day” into a single microphone, resulting in less-than-stellar-sound.
Phillips charged the group 17 shillings and three pence to make a copy for themselves: a 78-RPM disc that also contained “That’ll be the Day.” The group brought only 15 shillings, so Phillips held the disc until they came up with the entire amount. Sadly, Phillips erased the tape after pressing the 10-inch shellac disc.
Initially, the Quarrymen agreed that they would share the record, with each member taking a turn keeping the 78. Lowe was the last one to possess the single, and would not part with it until 1981, when McCartney purchased it from him for an undisclosed amount. While Paul McCartney had copies made for select friends and family, it would not see an official release until the Anthology project in 1995.
“In Spite of All the Danger” may not rank among the best Beatles songs, but it remains notable for multiple reasons. First, it stands as the first recording featuring Harrison, Lennon and McCartney. It also bears the unusual composer label of “McCartney-Harrison,” an occurrence that would never be repeated. Musically, the song contains the major influences that would shape the group’s music – namely 1950s doo wop, rockabilly, and early rock and roll.
Kenneth Womack speculates in the Beatles Encyclopedia that the song mimics Presley’s Sun Studio-era recording “Trying to Get to You.” In The Unreleased Beatles: Music & Film, author Richie Unterberger cites the Crescendos’ “Oh Julie” (1958) as another possible inspiration.
In chord changes and vocal arrangement, the song also faintly echoes Ritchie Valens’ 1958 hit “Donna.” Harrison’s guitar solo, however, derives straight from Scotty Moore’s iconic, blistering solo on Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Every one of these genres are present in “In Spite of All the Danger,” and the song represents an early exercise in incorporating what they were hearing on the radio into their own music.
Lyrically, the track is a far cry from some of McCartney’s best compositions. “In spite of all the heartache that you may cause me,” Lennon and McCartney harmonize, as Harrison provides a counterpoint “aah-aah-aah-aah.” “I’ll do anything for you, anything you want me to – if you’ll be true to me.”
However, the title intrigues the listener, along with its follow-up line. “In spite of all the danger, in spite of all that may be,” they croon, immediately capturing the listener’s attention. What is the danger? Perhaps that question is answered in the “heartache” line, or in the bridge where the narrator vows to “keep all the others from knocking at your door.”
He seems to feel great responsibility, as he claims he will “look after” her like never before. The “danger” could be physical and emotional, or it may simply represent the great risk one takes when falling in love.
Today, critics often dismiss “In Spite of All the Danger,” with Unterberger calling it “not that much” and “a routine doo wop-like early rock ‘n’ roll ballad.” In his review of Anthology 1, Mojo‘s Mat Snow writes that the song “gives no inkling of the band who would cut ‘Love Me Do’, never mind ‘A Day In The Life.'”
Clearly, McCartney retains affection for the track: He occasionally performs it live in concert, particularly during his 2005 world tour and the television special Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road.
Just four years after the primitive recording of “In Spite of All the Danger,” the renamed Beatles would record “Love Me Do” at Abbey Road Studios and launch their career. Their artistic growth developed rapidly, and this 1958 song is a baby step in their journey.
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