A new Pop sensation has arrived. Only the world doesn’t quite know it yet
Like many a pop/rock star in the 1950s and ‘60s, The Beatles were still in their early twenties when they recorded their first album for Parlophone in 1963. Of the 14 tracks presented, 10 were recorded on the same day, a staggering notion to anyone in these more modern times, but pop music back then was about product, and EMI/Parlophone were keen on cashing in on the ever lucrative teenage market, a market which, thanks to likes of Elvis Presley and others, meant that record companies could make a lot of money for very little outlay.
So, when Please Please Me was released, The Beatles were considered to be just another British teen group to be exploited until the next pop sensation came along. But clearly from the outset, The Beatles’ debut marked the beginning of a career not even the band members themselves could have imagined.
Recorded at Abbey Road on two-track, before being mixed into mono by engineer extraordinaire George Martin, Please Please Me is hardly the most sophisticated of listens, at least in terms of sound, but what the LP may lack in high-fidelity, if anything, it does at least capture much of the youthful enthusiasm of The Beatles themselves, an exuberance that would gradually turn to cynicism over the coming years.
“Love Me Do” and the album’s title track had already been issued as singles (although apparently a different recording of the former was used for the LP), and remain fine examples of how well Lennon and McCartney worked together as equal partners. “I Saw Her Standing There,” which opens the LP, is another classic tune, albeit one that reveals a band under pressure to write hits.
Though despite the somewhat unpolished nature on display (it was recorded in a mere one day after all), there is a certain naive charm to be had. The Beatles gambol their way through the upbeat “Misery,” instrumentally stumble on a cover of Arthur Alexander’s R&B hit “Anna (Go To Him),” before going all formal on the harmony-laden “Ask Me Why.”
“Chains,” sung by George Harrison, is a joyful, innocent run-through of girl-group The Cookies’ hit, while Ringo Starr contributes lead vocals on a cover of The Shirelles’ 1960 single “Boys.” Although what Starr was doing singing a song about boys is anyone’s guess. But even so, he managed to pull it off with aplomb.
The covers continue with “Baby It’s You,” another hit recorded by The Shirelles, during which Lennon gives a supreme vocal performance, and “A Taste Of Honey,” a tune which dates back to their Hamburg days. While The Beatles never really cared all that much for it, McCartney, ever the pop balladeer, rose to the occasion, even if the song itself was hardly what the band were about, or much less wished to be associated with.
Songs like “P.S. I Love You,” and “Do You Want To Know A Secret” may not be brilliant, but they do offer clues, academically speaking, into their future genius. On the upbeat beat tune “There’s A Place,” Lennon expresses his inner emotions in a way rarely heard in those days, even for the likes of Bob Dylan: “There’s a place where I can go/When I feel low, when I feel blue/And it’s my mind/And there’s no time when I’m alone.”
“Twist And Shout,” which closes the LP, was also the final number recorded during that marathon session on 11th February 1963, and perhaps the quintessential Beatles rocker from that early period. The fact that Lennon’s voice was knackered after a full day of recording, only adds to its appeal. At last, The Beatles had arrived!
Please Please Me is in equal measure both exciting and disappointing. However in those days, when it came to teenagers and their love of music, there was no real way of knowing what was going to work, hence The Beatles choosing to roll the dice and see which song would prove to be most popular. Because that did strike a chord amongst Britain’s youth, soon altered the course of pop music forever.