Eight of the Please Please Me album’s 14 songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (credited here as McCartney-Lennon). At the time it was unusual for a group to write their own material; The Beatles, however, swiftly revealed to listeners that they were anything but a run-of-the mill band.
In early 1963 pop acts commonly released three-minute 45rpm singles, or occasionally four-song EPs. The long-player was normally beyond the fiscal reach of most teenagers, and the LP as art form was yet to emerge; albums tended to be a handful of hits and a selection of filler songs.
The Beatles were not immune to this trend – the cover of Please Please Me even carried the tagline “with Love Me Do and 12 other songs” – but the quality of the songs on the LP was testament to their ambition and musical knowledge, and the willingness of Parlophone staff producer George Martin to try to get the best from them.
And this he did, effectively capturing highlights from The Beatles’ live set. The sound that had wowed audiences in Liverpool, Hamburg and beyond was most evident in the album’s frenetic closer ‘Twist And Shout’, full of boundless energy and with famously hoarse vocals from John Lennon.
But it was with the original songs that set The Beatles apart from their peers. Opening song ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was one of McCartney’s earliest songs, yet after dozens of performances in sweaty basement clubs and dance halls it was something of a rock powerhouse.
‘There’s A Place’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ showcased their talents for melody and harmony, ‘PS I Love You’ and ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’ displayed the group’s lighter side, while the title track was simply one of the most exciting pop songs that 1960s listeners had heard.
In the studio
Please Please Me was recorded on a two-track BTR recording machine, leaving little opportunity for overdubs or elaborate arrangements.
The album contained both sides of The Beatles’ first two singles – ‘Love Me Do’, ‘PS I Love You’, ‘Please Please Me’, and ‘Ask Me Why’ – plus 10 new recordings made on 11 February 1963. That day’s recording cost just £400 and lasted for just under 10 working hours.
There wasn’t a lot of money at Parlophone. I was working to an annual budget of £55,000.
The Beatles were also entitled to collect fees of £7 10s for each of the day’s three sessions, under the terms of a Musicians Union agreement.
The stereo mixes, made on 25 February 1963, had one track on the left channel and the other on the right, with a small amount of reverb added to blend the two together.
The stereo version of ‘Please Please Me’ was made from a different take to the mono version, and featured a fluffed line on the third verse (“You know you never even try”/”Why do I never even try?”).
Furthermore, the version of ‘Love Me Do’ on the album is the one featuring Andy White on drums; the version with Ringo Starr was used for the original single only, and is now available on the Past Masters compilation.
The title and cover
George Martin initially wanted to call the album Off The Beatle Track; Paul McCartney drew some cover ideas, although the idea was soon dropped. Martin also had ideas for the cover artwork which failed to come to fruition.
I was a fellow of London Zoo and, rather stupidly, thought that it would be great to have The Beatles photographed outside the insect house. But the zoo people were very stuffy indeed: ‘We don’t allow these kind of photographs on our premises, quite out of keeping with the good taste of the Zoological Society of London,’ so the idea fell down. I bet they regret it now…
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
The cover photograph was eventually taken by Angus McBean at EMI’s headquarters on London’s Manchester Square. Other shots that were considered included a picture of The Beatles on a spiral staircase outside the HQ, and the group kicking their legs while jumping from the steps outside the Abbey Road studios.
We rang up the legendary theatre photographer Angus McBean, and bingo, he came round and did it there and then. It was done in an almighty rush, like the music. Thereafter, though, The Beatles’ own creativity came bursting to the fore.
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