It was the Beatles’ 1962 debut single; a song penned a few years earlier by Paul McCartney that would get a songwriting assist from John Lennon.
A chord change and harmonica licks from Lennon gave “Love Me Do” a bit of a bluesy feel, says Miranda Morse, as students gathered in the Kuhn Annex classroom listen attentively.
“They released two different versions of the song,” she says. “One in the UK and one in the United States.”
The primary difference between the two singles is that one features drums by Ringo Starr, and the other by session drummer Andy White. After a brief discussion about the song’s recording history, Dr. Bill Kumbier plays it in its entirety for the class to hear.
Love, love me do
You know I love you I’ll always be true
So please, love me do Whoa, love me do
As the music fades, Kumbier notes the simplicity of the song’s lyrics and arrangement.
“I don’t hear anything that would make me think this was a band about to be catapulted to fame,” he says.
But their debut album “Please Please Me” (which hit U.S. shores the following year as “Introducing … the Beatles” on Vee-Jay Records, minus two tracks) would help usher in an era of fan frenzy that made its way across the pond and kick off a relatively brief recording period that changed rock music forever
Books of Beatles history and transcriptions line the top of a piano tucked in the corner of the classroom, which also sports a stereo, a box of vinyl records, a television and photographs of the Fab Four and their influences. It may not look like the traditional upper- division British literature course, but it’s an opportunity for students taking ENG 371 to consider “The Beatles in Their Own Write.”
When it comes to the Beatles, Kumbier says he considers himself to be “an enthusiastic amateur.” He was a latecomer to the band’s music, discovering them at the age of 12.
“At that point, I had no interest in rock music, then they appeared and I started to hear their songs,” Kumbier says. “In the seventh grade, I finally worked up the courage to ask my parents – in honor of my new status as a junior-high student – if I could buy a Beatles album.”
That purchase is the same “Introducing … The Beatles” album that sits in his vinyl collection in his classroom.
“It’s kind of a rarity because it came out on the Vee-Jay label,” he says. “It was an obscure American company that offered to put out an album by the Beatles when nobody else would.
“From then on, their recordings were on Capitol Records. I couldn’t restrain myself and within the next two or three months, I had three or four albums. I had to catch up.”
Fast forward to today and Kumbier is teaching a class on the Beatles’ enduring legacy, which he credits to a few different factors.
“One is their music is revolutionary,” he says. “It’s groundbreaking. Without being able to read music or discuss music in theoretical terms, they radically renewed rock music. Their lyrics were far beyond anything coming out at the time.
“Their lyrics began moving into areas that rock songs hadn’t explored before. They moved away from love songs. By the time they got to ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver,’ they were writing songs that were introspective and didn’t have anything to do with romance.”
The band themselves helped “engineer their own permanence,” says Kumbier. The then surviving members of the band – McCartney, Starr and George Harrison – released “The Beatles Anthology” documentary series in 1995, along with a set of three double albums with never-before-released songs. The marketing push and subsequent re-releases over the years have helped the band maintain their popularity.
The idea to create a class focusing on the Beatles came when he learned of a weeklong study-abroad package which includes visits to Liverpool, McCartney’s and Lennon’s childhood homes, lectures and more.
“I thought it was something I could build a course around,” he says. “But it turns out it’s the course that really caught on. There was a buzz from Day 1. Before I even walked into the classroom there were animated conversations happening, which I’ve never had for any class. It hasn’t stopped … I’ve had to quiet everyone down a few times.”
Yesterday and Today
One look around the crowded classroom answers any question one might have about the band’s cross-generational appeal.
Mike Wheeler, Missouri Southern’s head golf coach and a lifelong Beatles fan, signed up to take the class after spotting a flier while taking a recruit around campus.
“I’ve been a fan since I was 11 and saw them on (‘The Ed Sullivan Show’),” he says. “I can benchmark certain times in my high-school life by when a Beatles album came out. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were two of the best songwriters that have ever lived.”
Wheeler says the course has required a lot of reading outside the class that has only deepened his appreciation for the band.
“They were so fortunate that George Martin chose to take them on and produce them. He was a genius and he recognized how special they were. And I don’t think I knew what a struggle it was for (the band) … everything we saw on Sullivan that night was the result of about six years worth of work.
“One of the things I’m enjoying most about the class is the younger students … and what their interest is compared to my experience. I’ve heard several of them speak about a particular drum part or harmony in the songs. As we listen to them, you can see they’re individually growing to like and appreciate them even more.”
Sitting nearby is junior English major Keaton Campbell, who says the class (and one of her classmates in particular) is helping her develop a deeper connection to the Beatles.
“Obviously, some of their songs are really popular and you come across them as you’re going through life,” Campbell says.
That included playing “Beatles: Rock Band” – a video game similar to “Guitar Hero” – with her grandmother, Ellen Desmond. When she told her grandmother about the class, Desmond instantly asked if it was a course she could take as well. Now, the two sit next to each other in Kumbier’s class.
“I just loved them so much,” says Desmond, who says she was 11 when she first heard the music of the Beatles. “I got a little transistor radio so I could hear them and kept following them.
“I saw Paul in concert in 2009. That was a huge event for me and brought my love for the Beatles back into my life.”
During this particular class session, Campbell is giving a report on “There is a Place,” an original number by Lennon and McCartney that was one of the first songs recorded for “Please Please Me.”
“The Beatles initially had high hopes for this song,” she says. “It was the second to last on the album and didn’t end up as a hit for them. It’s a love song, but more introspective.”
After playing a recording of the song for the class, Kumbier settles down at the piano and plays a bit of the song, focusing on an unexpected harmony line that emerges.
“I make plenty of mistakes, but they get the idea of the song,” says Kumbier. “I don’t think I could do this class without some kind of keyboard here.”
The coursework for the class includes written and oral reports on songs from each of the Beatles’ albums, as well as a bigger project starting after the midterm that focuses on an aspect of the band not covered in class.
It’s one of the last courses Kumbier will teach at Southern. Having for 31 years, he plans to retire from Missouri Southern on June 1.
He’s enjoying leading the deep dive into Beatles music and lore, though it didn’t come easy. Music theory, song structure and other elements of the course required plenty of preparation on his part.
“I felt I had to go from being an enthusiastic amateur to being somewhat qualified to teach the class,” he says with a laugh. “And I think I may have overshot it.”