Guide to British Music of the 1960s

October 2020

CD Review: The Beatles - Please Please Me

The importance of this debut album from the Beatles cannot be understated. Yes, Sergeant Pepper and Revolver may be seen as the most creative of the Fab Four's releases but Please Please Me was a game changer. Up to this point the record market was singles-driven with LPs usually released to capitalise on the success of a hit single. Often they contained the single and lots of filler to complete two sides. Please Please Me changed all that. Not only were the two singles and their b-sides included but there were staples from the Beatles' live set and a number of songs written by Lennon-McCartney. In 1963 this was quite unusual. Moreover, the Beatles had been surprised when George Martin invited them to make an LP as well as a second single. Not only had he already fulfilled the requirements of their initial Parlophone contract but LPs were not the preferred listening of young people. They were aimed more at an older, more affluent market who listen to more middle of the road music. Please Please Me would change that. While George Martin may have looked like a corporate EMI man, he was an innovator, looking for new challenges and he could now see there was something different about the Beatles and he wanted to unlock this potential. With a different record company and a different producer the Beatles recording may have been more formulaic. This would probably have resulted in a very different and much shorter career.

Love Me Do had introduced the country to the Beatles with two original songs on the single. The LP version featured session player Andy White on drums although Ringo Starr had appeared on the single version. The follow-up single Please Please Me was the group's first number one, depending on which chart you use. This is a much more uptempo song that also showcased John on the harmonica. The harmonica had provided a catch on Love Me Do and by including it on the follow-up there was a recognisable connection between the first two singles. Producer George Martin had wanted the band to record How Do You Do It as the first single but, by then, they preferred their own compositions. Please Please Me started as a ballad intended to sound like Roy Orbison but speeded up it is an incredible track. How Do You Do It was released by Gerry & the Pacemakers as their first single and first number one. The Beatles' version later appeared on Anthology 1.

Although original compositions were credited to Lennon-McCartney, most songs were primarily written by one of them. Both sides of the debut single were Paul songs while Please Please Me and b-side Ask Me Why were very much John Lennon songs.

The album opener is widely acknowledged as one of the great starts to an LP in rock history. "1-2-3-4 well she was just seventeen" is one of the best-known Beatles opening lines and it was not even a single. Paul McCartney had written it several years earlier but it is a wonderful rocking start to the LP. An uptempo sound also closes the album with Twist & Shout. While this may be one of the Beatles' best-known songs it was a cover version. It had been released by the Isley Brothers although their version from 1962 was a cover of a Top Notes original from the previous year. Liverpool groups had been keen to introduce the latest US numbers into their set and Twist & Shout was a staple of the Beatles performances very soon after the Isley Brothers version was issued. It remained in the Beatles set for some time and was, famously, the track played at the Royal Variety Performance when John Lennon invited the wealthier members of the audience to "rattle their jewellery."

However, these two powerful tracks are quite different from the rest of the LP which is primarily slower, quieter tracks. While rock & roll was their spark, they were already showing their appreciation of US girl groups with covers of the Shirelles' Baby It's You and Boys. The latter had appeared on the b-side of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It was the first recorded Beatles track to feature Ringo Starr on lead vocals and remained in the live repertoire up to the Hollywood Bowl performances. Prior to Ringo joining the band, Pete Best had taken the lead vocal. Ringo also song it, sometimes with Cilla Black, when he was a member of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes. The Marvelettes' Please Mister Postman was fairly unknown in England at the time but it was already in the Beatles' live set and would appear on the second LP.

A Taste of Honey had been introduced to the stage set in 1962 and had proved to be popular although only Paul McCartney had initially been in favour of its inclusion.

Do You Want to Know a Secret was a John Lennon song but he found that George Harrison's vocals were more suited to it and so this was George's first recorded lead vocal. At this point he had not started to write songs but this would change with the second LP. Do You Want to Know a Secret turned out to be a big hit for fellow NEMS artists Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas. Misery was the first example of John Lennon and Paul McCartney specifically writing for another artist, in this case Helen Shapiro. They were on tour with Shapiro but she did not record it as it was deemed unsuitable by her producer Norrie Paramor. However, Kenny Lynch's version became the first recording of a Lennon/McCartney song by another artist.

There's a Place is a standout track that showcases early vocal harmonies from John and Paul. Again, John's harmonica is used to good effect to make this uptempo track stand out.

The band had been listening to a lot of soul music by now an Arthur Alexander track is included here. Anna (Go to Him) was released in September 1962 and, like Twist & Shout, it shows that the Beatles were quick to get new releases into their set. Likewise, the Cookies' Chains was not released until November 1962 but it was quickly taken up by the Beatles. The song was written by the husband and wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carol King.

Please Please Me is one of music's most important albums. Although the Beatles continued to innovate throughout their career while remaining commercial, it is this LP that changed the way in which music was produced. There were more original songs, more high quality content and a mix of musical styles. Furthermore, apart from Andy White's drumming on Love Me Do and some piano from producer George Martin it is the four Beatles who are on the record at a time when session musicians were widely used in the studio. Please Please Me kicked down the door.

UK Chart Position: 1

Parlophone

Original release: 22 March 1963

First CD Release: 1987

Essential Tracks

  • Please Please Me
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • There's a Place

Track Listing:

Side One

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. Misery
  3. Anna (Go To Him)
  4. Chains
  5. Boys
  6. Ask Me Why
  7. Please Please Me

Side Two

  1. Love Me Do
  2. PS I Love You
  3. Baby It's You
  4. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
  5. A Taste of Honey
  6. There's a Place
  7. Twist & Shout

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