Early Beatles hit was no secret

Tonight’s the night for my radio re-entry. I’m nervous, but in a good way, the same way I get nervous before a choral concert.

The first time I remember singing in public was when I was seven, in front of classmates and teachers at the old Telford Elementary School in Telford, Pa. Every spring, the school had a competition it called “May Day” or “Field Day”; in the morning, the indoor events (vocal music, instrumental music and “declamation,” usually poetry reading) took place; then, after lunch, the outdoor events (50-yard dash, broad jump, overhead basketball throw, other feats of athletic prowess I know I’m forgetting) took place on the playground or in the grass. When I was in the second grade, I sang a song that started like this: “Oh, I’m gonna sing, gonna sing, gonna sing, gonna sing all along my way…”  I remember finishing second.

Fifth grade was the youngest one could be in my school district to join the chorus, and I did as soon as I was allowed. Though sometimes I had to be dragged into it and convinced of my ability, I sang all the way through high school and then into college. When I first arrived on the Notre Dame campus, I was too scared to audition for any of the choral groups, but a coed group from across the street at Saint Mary’s College had a booth at the annual activities night, and I was talked into  going across what was then U.S. 31 to join the Collegiate Choir. Eventually, I was encouraged to audition for the selective Saint Mary’s Chamber Singers, another coed group. I sang there until I graduated.

Then, except for a few important occasions – for example, three of my sisters’ weddings – I didn’t sing in public again until 1997. A notice appeared in the local paper that a nearby community choir was seeking singers for a performance of Handel’s Messiah.  Except for three of the choruses, I’d never sung Messiah and thought it would be cool to take part.  I’ve been singing in choral groups ever since, and I’ve wandered outside my comfort zone to become a soloist once in a while. In addition to many shorter numbers, I’ve soloed in Faure’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem and J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

In 2001, I was one of the founding members of the Wisconsin Master Chorale in Stevens Point, Wis.  I sang with them until the spring of 2013. Since moving to central Virginia, I’ve been a member of the Lynchburg-based Jefferson Choral Society. I enjoy singing very much; it brings me great joy, and at times it has been the only stable part of my life.

All of this is yet another roundabout way of getting into today’s entry from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s.

So far, I haven’t posted any entries about the Beatles.  They have by far the most songs in the countdown (26). Here’s one of them, a song that wasn’t a single in England, but hit #2 in 1964 in the U.S.

# 567
Do You Want to Know a Secret / The Beatles /
Vee-Jay VJ 587
(Total points: 1,138 / Chart debut: 3/28/1964 / Chart peak: 2 / Weeks on chart: 11)

How crazy was Beatlemania in early 1964? And how much did Vee-Jay Records, which claimed to own the rights to the first 16 tracks they recorded for Parlophone in the U.K., want to milk that cash cow before it gave out? One of its more interesting ideas was a short-lived plan to issue every song from Introducing the Beatles, the album it released in January 1964, as a single. Instead, it chose a couple of well-selected LP cuts, one of which was “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” with a rare lead vocal by George Harrison.

Recorded as part of the marathon February 11, 1963 session that resulted in 10 of the 14 songs that appear on the British Please Please Me album, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” was a true John Lennon-Paul McCartney collaboration (though Lennon later claimed he wrote most of it). It was inspired by the song “I’m Wishing” from the Walt Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both Lennon and McCartney agreed that it was tailor-made for Harrison’s then limited vocal range.

In England, the song was promptly covered by Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas for their first single, which was issued on April 26, 1963 and reached #2 on the British charts. In typical fashion for 1963, Capitol, which owned first U.S. rights to the Kramer hit, chose not to release it. Instead, Liberty Records picked it up and issued it as Liberty 55586 in June of that year. At the start of Beatlemania, Liberty would once again issue the Dakotas’ version of “Secret,” this time as the original B-side of “Bad to Me” (Liberty 55667). That single was quickly withdrawn, and Kramer and the band were moved to Imperial, which by then was a Liberty subsidiary. “Bad to Me” was re-released paired with “Little Children,” which is still to come in our Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s countdown.

Meanwhile, the original version was part of an ongoing legal battle between Capitol and Vee-Jay, which was finally resolved in April 1964. Before the settlement, Vee-Jay issued the Beatles’ “Do You Want to Know a Secret” on 45 only two weeks after it released “Twist and Shout” on the newly created Tollie subsidiary. Seven weeks after it debuted, it reached the runner-up spot, kept from #1 by the newer, fresher Capitol release, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Collector’s notes: As was true of all Beatles records on Vee-Jay, a dizzying number of label variations exist. At least 12 different pressings were made on different combinations of the oval, brackets and plain-text Vee-Jay logos, with or without the color ring along the outside of the label. One of the 12 was pressed, probably in error, on the yellow label that was used for early Tollie 45s rather than the typical black label. Most of these 12 have the catalog number as VJ 587, but a couple have a hyphen in the number (VJ-587).

“Do You Want to Know a Secret” was issued with a flimsy paper picture sleeve, which by the standards of Vee-Jay releases, is fairly common – certainly more common than either the “Please Please Me” or “Love Me Do” picture sleeves.

Fast fact: Of the 26 Beatles recordings in the Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s chart, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” ranks 22nd.

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