Recording: Please Please Me album

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

On this day The Beatles recorded 10 songs of their debut album Please Please Me, at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London.

Three sessions took place during the course of the day, with recording finishing at 10.45pm. Only two had originally been scheduled, but the third was added later on.

Well, it was a very cold morning and I didn’t know any of them. I actually had to ask Norman Smith, who was the engineer, ‘Who are they? Who are who?’ so he introduced me and everything else. They were very businesslike, and they just had come down into London from the gig they had done the night before. But they were fine, just like any other group that’s coming in to record.

We helped them bring all their equipment in and set it all up. Because they were rushing around the country all the time and their amplifiers maybe broke down or something like that, there were no backs on the amplifiers, you see; they were just boxes with their speakers. And as I was putting it all up, we’d look for dirt inside, but there were bits of paper lying around in there, and I picked them up. They were notes from the girls from the dance floor who threw them up on the stage—they said ‘Please play this, please play that, this is my phone number.’ I guess they just read them and then threw them in the back of the amplifier, all of these bits of paper in there!

Richard Langham, tape operator
Prosoundnews.com

The first session began at 10am. The Beatles recorded 10 takes of There’s A Place and nine of I Saw Her Standing There, which at the time had the working title Seventeen.

The first session finished at 1pm and the studio staff took a break for lunch. The Beatles, meanwhile, had other plans.

We told them we were having a break but they said they would like to stay on and rehearse. So while George, Norman and I went round the corner to the Heroes Of Alma for a pie and pint they stayed, drinking milk. When we came back they’d been playing right through. We couldn’t believe it. We had never seen a group work right through their lunch break before.
Richard Langham, tape operator
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The second session began at 2.30pm, and finished at 6pm. The Beatles began with work on A Taste Of Honey. The best version was take five, onto which Paul McCartney double-tracked his lead vocals. This overdub was recorded in two attempts, making the final version take seven.

In between recording the basic track for A Taste Of Honey and the vocal overdubs, The Beatles recorded eight takes of Do You Want To Know A Secret, with George Harrison on lead vocals.

With those two songs finished, John Lennon recorded a harmonica overdub onto There’s A Place in three attempts, and handclaps were added to take one of I Saw Her Standing There.

The final song to be recorded in the afternoon session was Misery, a Lennon-McCartney original which had originally been offered to Helen Shapiro. The song was recorded with the tapes running at double speed – 30 inches per second – to allow for a piano overdub to be laid down at the slower speed at a later date. This was added on 20 February by George Martin, without The Beatles being present.

The third session of the day took place from 7.30-10.45pm, although it had been scheduled to finish at 10pm. The Beatles firstly taped 13 takes of Hold Me Tight, which was later reworked for their second album With The Beatles.

Of this day’s attempts at Hold Me Tight, only two takes were complete run-throughs. Five were false starts, one broke down mid-way, and four of the takes were edit pieces intended to be spliced into the tape at a later date. The final version was to have been an edit of takes nine and 13, but this was never made and the tape was later destroyed.

The Beatles then recorded three takes of Arthur Alexander’s Anna (Go To Him), followed by a single recording of Boys, the latter featuring Ringo Starr simultaneously on vocals and drums.

Two more cover versions came next. George Harrison sang The Cookies’ Chains, written by Goffin and King. Four takes were recorded, although take one was later decided to be the best attempt. The Beatles then performed The Shirelles’ Baby It’s You in three takes, with Lennon on lead vocals.

By this time it was around 10pm, the time EMI Studios normally closed. The Beatles, however, still had one song to record. A discussion took place in the canteen about what this should be, and several suggestions were put forward.

Someone suggested they do Twist And Shout, the old Isley Brothers’ number, with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were tired and sore – it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right first time, The Beatles on the studio floor and us in the control room. John sucked a couple more Zubes [throat sweets], had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went.
Norman Smith, sound engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles had been recording Twist And Shout for many months, and regularly used it as a show-stopper. And so it was on this day, with The Beatles putting all their energies into one final electrifying performance, with John Lennon singing bare-chested.

The last song nearly killed me. My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.
John Lennon, 1976
Anthology

Two takes of the song were recorded, but the first was selected for the Please Please Me LP. Although complete, Lennon’s vocals in the second take were too far gone for it to be usable.

Everyone in the studio knew they had witnessed something truly special, and with the recordings complete The Beatles climbed the stairs to the control room to listen to the playback.

Sessions never normally over-ran past 10pm. At 10.05 you’d meet half the musicians on the platform of St John’s Wood station, going home. But on this occasion after the first playback they decided they wanted to hear certain songs again. I glanced at Norman and at the clock and said, ‘Look, I have to be in at nine tomorrow morning. How will I get home?’ Brian Epstein said that he would run me home if I played the tape again. So I played the tape and he drove me back to Camden Town in his little Ford Anglia.
Richard Langham
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Also on this day...

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2 responses on “Recording: Please Please Me album

  1. Hedley

    You know these recordings were done on twin-track machines with intruments sent to track 1 and vocals to track 2 (or vice-versa)?
    Well, were the vocals and instruments recorded at the same time with microphones sending the appropriate things to the appropriate tapes, or were the vocals and intruments recorded at completely different times on their appropriate tracks?

    1. Joe Post author

      This album was mostly recorded live, with vocals and instruments recorded at the same time, although some extra overdubs (eg double-tracked vocals, piano) were added after the basic track was complete.

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