60 Years Ago: Beatles Introduced With Semi-Illegal First U.S. LP
Of all the confusion that surrounded the Beatles’ early U.S. releases, perhaps nothing compares with the story of their first American album. Introducing … the Beatles was released by Vee-Jay Records on Jan. 10, 1964, 10 days before Capitol issued Meet the Beatles!
The story of how and why this happened began about a year earlier.
EMI, the parent company of label Parlophone, offered "Please Please Me" to its U.S. label Capitol after releasing the single in the U.K. Capitol turned it down, so another EMI property called Transglobal was brought in to find an American home. The record was eventually picked up by Vee-Jay, a Chicago R&B label that had hits with Betty Everett, the Impressions, Jerry Reed and the Staple Singers. The company released "Please Please Me" on Feb. 7, 1963.
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While it didn’t become a national hit, "Please Please Me" performed respectably in a few major markets, and plans were made to release the Beatles' debut album of the same name in the U.S., albeit with a modification. At the time, American LPs didn’t usually have more than 12 songs, two fewer than Please Please Me. So the title track was removed along with the single's B-side, "Ask Me Why," and the album was renamed Introducing … the Beatles.
Learn More About Vee-Jay Records
A Rushed-Out LP, Then a Restraining Order
Vee-Jay intended to have the record in stores by the end of July, but a major financial crisis at the label which saw the resignation of its president would postpone the release date. Citing nonpayment of royalties from the single, Transglobal voided its contract with Vee-Jay.
By late fall, word about the group started to spread nationwide, and Capitol agreed to release the Beatles' new single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." As it climbed the charts, Vee-Jay still had the earlier masters and most of the artwork ready to go. So they decided to put out Introducing … the Beatles, beating Capitol to the punch and figuring that the much-needed cash was worth any legal troubles.
The label quickly discovered a different legal issue. A week after the record's release, Vee-Jay was slapped with a restraining order by Beechwood Music, which owned the rights to "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You." So Vee-Jay replaced the two songs with the pair they initially removed, and reissued the LP in early February. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, where it was kept from the top spot by Capitol's Meet the Beatles!
Then came the matter of the Transglobal issue. Over the next two months, Vee-Jay and Capitol fought in the courts, with Vee-Jay releasing a new version of Introducing … the Beatles every time one of Capitol’s injunctions was lifted. In April, an agreement was reached whereby Vee-Jay had six months to market the songs it controlled, at which point the rights would revert to Capitol.
By the time the changeover took place in October, 1.3 million copies of Introducing … the Beatles had been sold. Possibly because of all the myriad versions, the album has long been a target for counterfeiters looking to prey on unsuspecting consumers.
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso
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