The follow-up to The Beatles’ début single ‘Love Me Do’, ‘Please Please Me’ was originally written as a slow, bluesy song in the style of Roy Orbison. Producer George Martin persuaded The Beatles to rearrange the song, which duly became their first number one single.
We’d had a top 30 entry with ‘Love Me Do’ and we really thought we were on top of the world. Then came ‘Please Please Me’ – and wham! We tried to make it as simple as possible. Some of the stuff we’ve written in the past has been a bit way-out, but we aimed this one straight at the hit parade.
The song was written by John Lennon at his Aunt Mimi’s house in Menlove Avenue, Liverpool.
‘Please Please Me’ is my song completely. It was my attempt at writing a Roy Orbison song, would you believe it? I wrote it in the bedroom in my house at Menlove Avenue, which was my auntie’s place… I remember the day and the pink coverlet on the bed and I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only The Lonely’ or something. That’s where that came from. And also I was always intrigued by the words of ‘Please, lend me your little ears to my pleas’ – a Bing Crosby song. I was always intrigued by the double use of the word ‘please’. So it was a combination of Bing Crosby and Roy Orbison.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon was also influenced by Bing Crosby’s 1930s song ‘Please’, which opens with the line: “Oh, please, lend your little ear to my pleas”. The Beatles’ song, however, was much less innocent, containing what has been generally interpreted as a request for fellatio.
‘Please Please Me’ was the only song performed by The Beatles during their first national TV appearance, for the ITV show Thank Your Lucky Stars. It was recorded at the Alpha Television Studios in Birmingham on 13 January 1963, and was broadcast six days later.
The single, backed by ‘Ask Me Why’, caused many to take notice of The Beatles, and particularly Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting talent; it led to Dick James approaching them to found Northern Songs, their publishing company.
‘Please Please Me’ was excitedly received by reviewers, radio and the public. By its third week on sale George Martin told Brian Epstein to bring the band in from their tour with Helen Shapiro to record the Please Please Me album, which they did on 11 February 1963.
In the studio
We almost abandoned it as the b-side of ‘Love Me Do’. We changed our minds only because we were so tired the night we did ‘Love Me Do’. We’d been going over it a few times and when we came to the question of the flipside, we intended using ‘Please Please Me’. Our recording manager, George Martin, thought our arrangement was fussy, so we tried to make it simpler. We were getting very tired, though, and we just couldn’t seem to get it right. We are conscientious about our work and we don’t like to rush things.
‘Please Please Me’ was first brought to The Beatles’ 4 September 1962 session, in which they worked on ‘Love Me Do’. They played ‘Please Please Me’ during a studio rehearsal overseen by EMI’s Ron Richards, but didn’t formally record it.
On my first visit in September we just ran through some tracks for George Martin. We even did ‘Please Please Me’. I remember that, because while we were recording it I was playing the bass drum with a maraca in one hand and a tambourine in the other.
George Martin disliked the slow tempo and Roy Orbison-style arrangement, so The Beatles worked up a faster version for their next session.
At that stage ‘Please Please Me’ was a very dreary song. It was like a Roy Orbison number, very slow, bluesy vocals. It was obvious to me that it badly needed pepping up. I told them to bring it in next time and we’d have another go at it.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Although The Beatles attempted to record ‘Please Please Me’ on 11 September, with Andy White on drums, Martin saw room for improvement and opted not to release it on The Beatles’ debut single. He preferred Mitch Murray’s ‘How Do You Do It’, which the group had dutifully yet reluctantly recorded in a previous session.
For many years it was believed that EMI had destroyed the 11 September recordings. However, one take from the session was discovered in 1994, and was released on the Anthology 1 collection. Although not the slower Orbison-like arrangement, there are a number of differences from the final version, notably the lack of harmonica.
On 26 November The Beatles recorded a remake of ‘Please Please Me’. It was complete in 18 takes, which included Lennon’s overdubbed harmonica.
We sang it and George Martin said, ‘Can we change the tempo?’ We said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Make it a bit faster. Let me try it.’ And he did. We thought, ‘Oh, that’s all right, yes.’ Actually, we were a bit embarrassed that he had found a better tempo than we had.
Three mixes were made of the song, two in mono and another in stereo. The mono mixes were different on the single and album releases, with extra echo audible on the album.
The stereo mix was an edit of takes 16, 17 and 18, and contains a vocal error in the final verse, causing Lennon to sing “come on” with a slight laugh. The mix also has a slightly different guitar line by George Harrison prior to the final verse.
As with other songs on the Please Please Me album, the song was credited to McCartney-Lennon. The names were switched to the more familiar Lennon-McCartney on subsequent releases.