Skip to main content

Questions regarding The British Invasion

Were the Beatles No. 1? Were the Stones Banned? Goldmine's Rock By Numbers columnist ponders these questions.

By Frank Daniels

It was a pivotalpoint in The Beatles’ career as recording artists. It might have been the pivotal point. The group had released one single for Polydor Records in the UK, “My Bonnie.” It had sold well, but it certainly didn’t launch any ships. Their first single for Parlophone, “Love Me Do,” was a success, but what they really needed was to knock the proverbial ball out of the proverbial park.

Their producer, George Martin was still hoping they would release a song like Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It” (which they had recorded along with “Love Me Do” on September 4th, 1962).

The Beatles had other plans. They had revised a song that Martin rejected, “Please Please Me,” turning it into a catchy pop number, and on November 26th they unveiled the new version. George Martin wrote of the session, “It went beautifully. The whole session was a joy. At the end of it, I pressed the intercom button in the control room and said, ‘Gentlemen, you’ve just made your first No. 1 record.’ They had ... It reached the No. 1 spot very quickly, and suddenly the whole thing snowballed and mushroomed and any other mixed metaphor you care to think of. From that moment, we simply never stood still.” (George Martin, All You Need is Ears, 1979, p. 130)

In their first (1963) Christmas record, John Lennon proclaims, “When we made our first record on Parlophone towards the end of 1962, we hoped everybody would like what had already been our type of music for several years already. But we had no idea of all the gear things in store for us. It all happened really when ‘Please Please Me’ became a No. 1 hit and after that, well ‘cor d’ blimey’s heathen oh!’” Yes, it had been a major moment. The song was number one on the most popular (and one could say “most important”) charts in Great Britain: the ones produced by New Musical Express and Melody Maker. Pop Weekly and Disc & Music Echo also gave the single top honors. The BBC announced it as No. 1 on their “Pick of the Pops” program, and their publisher and label congratulated them on their No. 1 hit.

At the time, Record Retailer was a magazine for people in the British music industry. Few fans ever read it, but eventually it became the “official” British music chart. On that chart, “Please Please Me” stalled out at No. 2. As the ‘60s generation gradually gives way to the ones after it, the story is being rewritten so that the single was NOT a number one after all. It was excluded from the Beatles “1” album — which contained all of their British and American chart-toppers. Modern commentators disclaim George Martin’s comment, stating that he was “almost right.” He WAS right in 1963, but now: not so much.

In America there was no dispute. There were three major national charts: Record World, Billboard and Cash Box. When “Please Please Me” first came out in 1963 it was barely noticed by any national magazine. When it was reissued in early January 1964, the single sold over a million copies — eventually (2014) earning it an RIAA Gold record award. However, in the mass of Beatlemaniac releases, “Please Please Me” was stuck at No. 3 behind two other Beatles songs. Americans were certain that the record was not No. 1 on their side of the Atlantic Ocean.


The Rolling Stones’ second British single also has an interesting history. After their first single, “Come On,” peaked at No. 21, the band was hoping for a bigger hit with “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and they got it. It wasn’t a chart-topper, but it got them noticed. British Decca’s American affiliate, London Records, decided to release the single. They waited until after Beatlemania hit the U.S., though, and by then the song was off the British charts.

Some people claim that “Stoned” was the A-side in America; that claim is demonstrably false. The single received almost no promotion, but the reviewers at Billboard listed “I Wanna Be Your Man” as the top side in the February 22, 1964 issue of the magazine. Furthermore, the copies of the promotional single pressed by Monarch Record Mfg. Co. give a job number of 51259 to “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The B-side, “Stoned,” has an additional “X” in the job number. At Monarch it was clear which was the A-side.

Promotional copies of the single exist in three configurations — from the Monarch, Columbia-Bridgeport, and Columbia-Terre-Haute factories. Bert-Co, which printed labels for Monarch, was still using the older “white label” promo backdrops — so its promotional copies look strikingly different from those from the Columbia pressing plants.

The date of that first American single has been disputed, too. Aside from an existing promotional copy having a date stamping of February 17 on it, there are other factors pointing to a date in mid-to-late February for the release of this single. Singles having Monarch numbers around this one were released at about the same time. “The Shoop Shoop Song” by Betty Everett, 51253, was released the week of February 22 and debuted on February 29. Ray Charles’ “Baby Don’t You Cry” was previewed on February 15, released near the end of the month, and debuted on the Billboard chart on March 14; its Monarch number was 51264. That information coincides with the fact that the Rolling Stones single was reviewed in the February 22 issue (on page 22). Therefore a date around February 22 is appropriate for the commercial release of the single.

Was the single withdrawn? Supposedly, London Records responded right away to poor reviewer reactions about a song called “Stoned” — even though the song was an instrumental. Such a strong reaction would be surprising in 1964. The famous Cab Calloway hit, “Minnie the Moocher,” contained lyrics about cocaine and opium use. “Kicking the gong around” was slang for using a gong to summon the attendant in an opium den.

“She messed around with a bloke named Smokey.
She loved him though he was cokey.
He took her down to Chinatown
And he showed her how to kick the gong around.”

In 1963, The Rooftop Singers had a No. 1 hit with “Walk Right In” — a song that was regarded as promoting marijuana use: 

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout a new way of walkin’.
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down.
Daddy, let your mind roll on.”

Meanwhile, there were assertions that “Puff (the Magic Dragon)” was about marijuana use. The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the false connection to drug use so annoyed Peter Yarrow that their concert album reveals that the trio sang the song at least once with Yarrow proclaiming, “Together we should sing it. It’s just a children’s song, and if you do not know the words, you’d better learn them.”

Still, none of the above records were withdrawn. Meanwhile in March, 1964, the Stones’ follow up single was moving up the British charts. The attention to their new record certainly caught London’s attention. They moved “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the back side of the next single and issued “Not Fade Away” as the A-side. Dates for this single are also confused in books. Billboard mentions in the April 4 (1964) issue that the single had been released “this week” — at the end of March. The Monarch job number coincides with other singles that were released during the week of March 28th — the first week that the American single was mentioned in Billboard. London took out a full-page ad for the single in the April 4 issue.Clearly, then, the last week of March is an accurate date for the repackaged single with its new A-side.

I was unable to find contemporary literature mentioning “Stoned” as having been withdrawn. Commercial copies do exist, but they are über-rare. Maybe it was banned. However, it could be true that the “Stoned” version of the single was pulled merely so London Records could release a more marketable single side. However, reports of the immediate banning of their first single would do well in establishing the reputation of the Rolling Stones as the bad boys of the British blues movement.

Frank Daniels discovered The Beatles when all of his friends were dancing the beat in the disco heat. He went on to teach a course called History of Rock Music, and another on The Beatles. He has written and co-written several books, including: Beatles for Sale on Parlophone (Spizer and Daniels); the Price Guide for American Beatles Records (Cox and Daniels); the Collector’s Guide to Cookbooks; and Captain Conspiracy Special #1 (Daniels and Martin). In his secret identity he is a professor of mathematics.

LETTER (In response to the above article, printed in the September 2016, Issue 872)

On (The Rolling Stones song) “Stoned” (re: “Were the Beatles No. 1? Were the Stones Banned?” August 2016, Issue 871).That is a record I have considerable familiarity with. (The stock copy I purchased from the Colony Annex in NYC when I started collecting US London 45s in 1965 or 1966 was featured, along with my profile, as the first collector profiled in Goldmine.) First, I want to thank you for clearing up the mystery (to me) of the old version promos. As I assumed, they were from one specific pressing plant, and, judging by their uncommonness versus the Columbia promos, it must have been much less used by London.

The DR master numbers of the two sides have “Stoned” one digit higher than “I Wanna Be Your Man.” This was a common practice among many labels when singles were recorded, the intended “A” side getting the lower number.

However, I do not agree with everything in the article. That the stock copy is very rare is not evidence of a withdrawal based on an outcry from radio stations. Stock copies of the Beatles Decca single are very rare, too. However, there are reasons to suspect that many stations did object to the song.

1). It isn’t quite an instrumental. Occasional comments about being totally out of it do appear in the song. And, unlike “Walk Right In” — which I never thought about at the time as being a drug song — or “Minnie The Moocher,” whose titles are innocuous, “Stoned” is blatantly about being high on something.

2). While the rarity of stock copies can be readily explained (and most or all of the copies may have come from the Colony Annex — apparently Colony Records ordered several copies of many releases as a matter of course, and there were maybe five more on the shelf — though not necessarily all stock), the rarity of promos is another matter.

It wasn’t the policy of many radio stations to discard unused records. Ask any major record dealer. The promo is just far rarer than it should be. I’d never even heard of a white label version, though you do list it. But that means that at least TWO plants pressed promos, and they were sent out. So where did they all go?

So yes, I do think it likely that London did quietly ask radio stations to return (or perhaps discard) their copies of 9641 when it was replaced a month or so later.

— Richard Kaplan

Metuchen, N.J.

The author replies: Hi, Richard,

Thanks for writing your thoughts about the first Stones single. Many people in 1963 did believe that “Walk Right In” was about drug use. The song wound up being featured prominently in anti-drug publications. Consider The U.N.’s own periodical about drug use, their “Bulletin on Narcotics,” referred to that song as marking the beginning of overt drug references in popular songs. It does not mention “Stoned.”

“Immediately after ‘Walk Right In’ there was scant mention of drugs in pop music for two or three years, with the exception perhaps of ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ by Peter, Paul and Mary (another folk group with popular appeal). This song, also reputed to focus on marijuana (the “dragon” of the title being a play on the words “drag in,” i.e., to inhale), achieved a moderate commercial success.” (S. Taqi, “Approbation of drug usage in Rock and Roll Music”, Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. 21, No. 4 (1969), pp. 29-35.)

“Walk Right In” was banned in Singapore and is usually listed in histories of psych music.

“Stoned” is not usually listed that way because it is, essentially, an instrumental — as much as “Wipe Out” is an instrumental.

Promotional copies were pressed at three factories: Monarch Record Mfg. Co; Columbia-Bridgeport; and Columbia-Terre-Haute.

These are not particularly scarce. That is to say that they are no more rare than any promo single by a virtually unknown group on the label in 1964.

The (Blue) Orchids’ “Love Hit Me” (London 9637) is known as a promo from both Columbia factories and is at least as scarce as “Stoned.”

The Bachelors’ “Diane”/”I Believe” (London 9639) exists as promos from all three factories. These are relatively scarce and have something else in common with the Stones.

The promos were sent out in late February, 1964. However, London reconsidered the pairing — thinking that “I Believe” might do well as an A-side.

With a new B-side, “Happy Land,” the single emerged commercially the following month. That commercial single is somewhat common. The promos are slightly more common, but the Bachelors were an established group in Great Britain. “Diane” was their only Top Ten hit in the U.S. market.

As I indicated, there seems to be no contemporary information (i.e., nothing from 1964) that indicates that “Stoned” was ever withdrawn. It may have been.

However, it may also have been London’s decision to include a stronger track to support the sales of the single. If there was any backlash against “Stoned,” it was very QUIET backlash — as no information about it was published in Billboard, and connections between the song and drug use do not appear in any contemporary mainstream or anti-drug publications. All of that mystique seems to have shown up later — after the group became popular as “bad boys” in the United States. It would be nice to know for sure.

I’m glad the article made you think!

— Frank Daniels