When was it recorded? Approx. Jul. 12, 1958
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 20, 1995 on “Anthology 1”
Who wrote it? Harrison/McCartney
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
Pro Tip: A working Internet connection really helps when you’re trying to run a blog.
Technically, “In Spite of All the Danger” is a recording by the Quarrymen. However, since at the time of this recording that was John, Paul, George, John Lowe (keyboard) and Colin Hanton (drums), I think it constitutes as a Beatles song by proxy. This song is also pretty important in the scheme of Beatles history, so let’s talk about it.
“In Spite of All the Danger” is the second song to be professionally recorded by the Quarrymen (they recorded a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” right before this song in the session). It was their only original song at the time. John sings lead but the writing is credited to Paul and George, the only song in the entire Quarrymen/Beatles catalogue credited as such.
“It says on the label that it was me and George but I think it was actually written by me, and George played the guitar solo! 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. …So that’s what we used to do in those days – and because George did the solo we figured that he ‘wrote’ the solo.” — Paul McCartney (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
Paul based the tune on an Elvis song, though he doesn’t remember which one. He’s quoted on the subject again in The Completed Beatles Recording Sessions, noting, “It was one that I’d heard at scout camp when I was younger and I’d loved it.” Most Beatles analysts infer Paul was talking about “Tryin’ to Get to You,” which according to Wikipedia appeared on Elvis’s first UK album in 1956.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “The recording was made at Phillips Sound Recording Service, a recording facility in the living room of 38 Kensington, a Victorian terraced house owned by Percy F Phillips.” The Beatles Source website I’ve linked to at the bottom has more information on Phillips and his unique-sounding business. None of the Quarrymen agree on exact date of recording, but most sources put it as Jul. 12, 1958, three days before the death of John’s mother, Julia.
“I remember we all went down on the bus with our instruments – amps and guitars – and the drummer went separately. We waited in the little waiting room outside while somebody else made their demo and then it was our turn. We just went in the room, hardly saw the fella because he was next door in a little control booth. ‘OK, what are you going to do?’ We ran through it very quickly, quarter of an hour, and it was all over.” — Paul McCartney (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
Phillips charged the group 17 shilling and six pence. According to the Beatles Bible, “However, as the Quarrymen had only 15 shillings between them, Phillips held onto the disc until they returned with the full amount. … The tape was erased after the 10-inch shellac disc was pressed, Phillips’ custom practice to keep costs down.”
An edited version of “In Spite” finally appeared in 1995 on “Anthology 1.” This version clocks in at 2:44 while the original acetate is rumored to run closer to three and a half minutes. According to the Beatles Bible, “It is believed that a repeated verse and chorus towards the end were edited out for the album.” (There’s a decent edit on YouTube of a version like this, but I can’t ascertain its authenticity, so I’m not including it here.)
As mentioned before, only one copy of the single featuring “In Spite of All the Danger” was made.
“When we got the record, the agreement was that we would have it for a week each. John had it a week and passed it on to me. I had it for a week and passed it on to George, who had it for a week. Then Colin had it for a week and passed it to Duff Lowe – who kept it for 23 years.” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)
In 1981, Lowe had the disc appraised by Southeby’s auction house and maybe kind of attempted to sell it (alas, my sources didn’t go into details). Paul intervened and “ended up buying it back for a very inflated price” (McCartney in Anthology). The Beatles Bible notes, “Lowe is known to have rejected an initial offer of £5,000, although the final amount paid by McCartney was not revealed.”
Paul then had recording engineers “restore as much of the record’s sound quality as possible and then made approximately 50 copies of the single that he gave as personal gifts to family and friends” (Wikipedia).
Record Collector magazine ranked the original pressing on “In Spite of All the Danger” as its most valuable record in existence, with the copies Paul made in 1981 as the second most valuable records in existence.
Alan Pollack summarized his views on “In Spite of All the Danger” nicely in his review.
“It would be an gross overstatement to say these tracks manifest any clearly prescient foreshadowing of the ‘greatness’ that was to emerge some four or so years later. By the same token I think you’d be precipitant to dismiss them as merely uninteresting or incompetent juvenalia. There’s certainly enough personality coming through these recordings to recognize the hand of the proto-Beatles in them, at least given perfect hindsight. The performances are comparable with, if not a notch above, the best of the other Quarrymen tracks referred to usually as ‘Liverpool 1960.’ Besides, a chance to hear this particular ensemble… is worth the price of admission on its own historical merits.”