Please Please Me

Please Please Me

You have to hand it to The Beatles: They didn’t really know what they were doing. Their first single, “Love Me Do,” had fared pretty well, but was considered a little rough next to the soppy, Broadway-influenced stuff that constituted English pop at the time. Their second, “Please Please Me,” seemed like more of a sure bet: Simpler, sweeter, something to get the kids’ blood going. (After asking John Lennon to overdub harmonica on top of George Harrison’s guitar line, producer George Martin congratulated the band from the control room on their first Number One.) A few weeks later, as the national mind was cheerfully unraveling, the band went into the studio for a 10 am session at Martin's urging, and, about 13 hours and countless cigarettes and Zubes cough drops later (Lennon had a cold), finished their first album—essentially a studio snapshot of the material they’d been playing at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, right down to the set-opening count-off. That much of it was Black American R&B and soul—Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go To Him),” Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Chains” (popularized by The Cookies), The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” (the day’s last take, hence Lennon’s shredded larynx)—was novel, if not straight-up aberrant, especially when framed in such spartan sonic terms. (Bless The Everly Brothers and Bobby Darin; Please Please Me was neither.) That Lennon and McCartney’s originals showed such innate versatility—polite then raw, buttoned-up then scandalously loose, a synthesis of American rock, pop, and soul played with teenage guile and veteran poise—was cause for the culture to take a deep breath. (“Between them The Beatles adopt a do-it-yourself approach from the very beginning,” the album’s sleeve notes chirped. “They write their own lyrics, design and eventually build their own instrumental backdrops and work out their own vocal arrangements.”) The morning after the session, the band resumed their position as fourth slot on an 11-act bill supporting a 16-year-old pop singer named Helen Shapiro. (Lennon’s voice hadn’t healed; George and Paul did most of the singing.) Please Please Me—yes, The Beatles’ first album—was rush-released that March and stayed at the top of the charts for about six months. It was replaced by their second.

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