“Please Please me” completes fifty years
It was 50 years ago yesterday; March 22, 1963, that The Beatles released their first album, titled Please Please Me. That means that it was 50 years ago that fans first dropped the needle on Side One and heard Paul McCartney yell “One, two, three, fa!” for the first time.
There’s some freshness about every band’s debut album and it was certainly no different for The Beatles- the world’s finest and most famous pop/rock & roll band. This is a band which has continued to inspire and fill joy in millions of minds- young and old. Some people have told me that they had no competition back in the sixties- well they had “The Rolling Stones” to compete with. The fact that even after so many years, their songs continue to be sung by the current generation shows how well they’ve dealt with competition. “Beatlemania” has never really died. The Beatles’ official website even posted a short behind-the-scenes video of the making of Please Please Me.
Before “Beatlemania” and all the other events like meeting yogis in the Himalayas, Lennon meeting Yoko Ono coming along, and their transforming western culture by dominating the music scene, in October 1962, they released some song titled “Love Me Do,” a bluesy tune that McCartney had first dreamed up when he was aged 16. That song was backed with another Lennon-McCartney original, “P.S. I Love You,” which was another reminder of their articulate song writing talents and the utterly weird mixture of “rock & roll roughness” and old-fashioned tunes, the bizarrely striking vocal harmonies, the wild chord progressions.
At just 32-minutes 45 seconds, the album’s 14 songs run at breath-taking speed. Ten of its songs were recorded exactly the way we hear them today, meaning they were done without any “studio magic” and all with the Beatles performing without overdubs. When you listen to Please Please Me, it feels like all the band members are singing right in front of you, personally.
While they finished with “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me,” along with their B-Sides, “P.S. I Love You” and “Ask Me Why.” In 1962, the rest of the songs on the album were recorded in one legendary ten-hour session at Abbey Road studios in February 1963. Featuring a mix of cover songs as well, it does quite well to capture the spirit of a live show. There were girl-group covers (“Boys” and “Baby It’s You,” both by the Shirelles), R&B songs (Arthur Alexander’s stormy “Anna [Go to Him]“) and show tunes (“A Taste of Honey”). There were rave-ups (“Twist and Shout”) and ballads (“Do You Want to Know a Secret”). There were unclassifiable things like “There’s a Place” – an unusually introspective mid-tempo ballad, whose melody was tugged downward by lustrous minor-seventh chords. Soon enough, they’d be calling songs like that “Beatlesque.” Noticeably missing are the clichéd rock songs that had become standards even by 1963; The Beatles were students of pop and they sent that message to their fans.
What’s interesting to see is that how these four impish boys of the rock & roll generation got along with their man-in-charge, George Martin, a restrained, formal and a bit taut of a person. Their odd relationship somehow worked both Martin’s sophistication and the Beatles’ rough and ready musical intuitions were on display during that long recording session on Abbey Road. Wrapping up ten songs in one session even without a lunch break is some feat.
And adding to that, the last song, Isley Brothers’ “Twist & Shout” had to be done with John Lennon having a cold. Even when agitated and panicky, their songs were still better than good.
Back in 1963, the album wasn’t important. The “single” was the most important part of the music industry (not the “album” like today), but the Beatles changed all that. Maybe not instantly, but with Please Please Me, they proved that a pop group could hold your attention for more than just two minutes and after that the Beatles never let go.
The “lads” from Liverpool have dug their names in history- with their other albums, which were more creative and sophisticated, but like I said before, there is some kind of purity in Please Please Me, their debut album.
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