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The Beatles - Please Please Me CD (album) cover


The Beatles



3.05 | 474 ratings

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4 stars Exactly what can I say about the Beatles that hasn't been repeated 800 million times? They've pretty much always been a favorite, and they'll pretty much always be a favorite. Their popularity is very well deserved in my opinion, and those who "get it" already know why; unlike most other teeny-bopper bubblegum groups in the early 60s, these guys were self-sufficient musicians, due to the fact that they played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. Imagine, a time when real musicianship was appreciated for what it was (there's the "old man" in me talking)! And this isn't even to mention their (at the time) radical experimentation with pop genres and production techniques; like the contemporaneous Beach Boys, these guys would eventually become self-contained in the studio, using their recording environment as an instrument unto itself.

I'm not sure if I really have a unique take on these guys, but I well remember being a devout fan in my youth, absorbing anything Beatles-related that I was able to get my hands on, grateful for anything new to come down the pike from them (which at the time included the Anthology series, the updated Yellow Submarine and 1). Then I became a reactionary "jazz cat" in my late teens and railed against them and their songs being played pretty much incessantly (at least that's how I perceived it). It's only in the last five or so years that I've come back to them and renewed my appreciation for their artistry?and upon revisiting their entire catalog recently, I wonder why I ever went away in the first place. What was I thinking?

Anyway, I'll be starting off my Beatles reviews here, and of course I'll be using the UK discography (the real albums) as my basis for this series. This was the album rubric that I grew up on as a kid, and I'm happy that it has been preserved in the 2009 box sets as well as on this site. I also hope to present some trivia tidbits and new perspectives on the music that may not be obvious at first. Anyway, their debut album, Please Please Me, is a fairly accurate representation of their stage show at the time?in fact most of the record was done in a single day with very few breaks in between songs (including overdubbing time).

We start off with "I Saw Her Standing There," perhaps the definitive Beatles rave-up. One aspect of the "live" feel of this album is reflected in Paul's standard "1-2-3-4" count-off, which under ordinary circumstances would have been left on the cutting room floor. However, this is not your ordinary rock-n-roll record, and these guys knew it. Amazingly, this song was actually played as a ballad on its first gigs (perhaps that's where Tom Hanks got some ideas for That Thing You Do!), but you would never know it from the way it comes off here. Paul handles lead vocals and John harmonizes on the bridge and chorus; their songwriting collaboration was still in full swing by this time. George turns in one of his best solos (he wasn't yet 20!) and Ringo keeps the beat going in his inimitable Ringo way. Great track, and the longest one (2:55) for a good reason.

"Misery" gives the impression of having been written with another artist in mind (which in fact it was). Very quickly put together as most Lennon/McCartney songs were at this time, this song was only two weeks old at the time of this recording. One of the nice things about this tune is the contrast of upbeat music with downbeat lyrics, which would later be used to great effect by Steely Dan (among others). The hoary-sounding piano was overdubbed by producer George Martin and recorded at half-speed initially (on 30 i.p.s. tape instead of 15). Lead vocals are shared and double-tracked by John and Paul.

"Anna (Go to Him)" was the first recorded cover version by the Beatles, even though their stage shows were full of them at the time (as is borne out by several "unauthorized" recordings). Originally written and recorded by Arthur Alexander, this version is faithful to the original while also having the distinctive Beatles stamp of authenticity. A favorite of John Lennon's, he has the lead vocal honors here, and adds a sense of urgency and emotion to the song especially in the bridge ("Every girl I've ever had/Breaks my heart and leaves me sad"). Due to the cold he had during the sessions, his voice is a bit rough around the edges, and this only adds to the humanity in his performance.

Next up is "Chains," another cover version. Speaking of legendary songwriting teams, this one comes from the Gerry Goffin/Carole King hit parade and was given its release debut by the Cookies (how's that for a band name?). George debuts on lead vocals here, helped out by John (who also plays harmonica) and Paul. Not really one of their best efforts, although I appreciate the shuffle groove.

Our third cover song in a row is "Boys," which was always a feature for the drummer on lead vocals. Pete Best sang it when he was with the band in the early days, and Ringo takes over for the album version. He gets into it, too, egging George on just before his solo ("rock on, George"). Even if Ringo isn't the best singer in the world, and even if they failed to reverse the genders on what is essentially a "girls'" song, the whole thing is so bouncy and catchy that it really doesn't matter.

Back to original territory with "Ask Me Why," which is John's tune. This tune was actually around longer than most of the others, having been recorded with the original (with Pete Best) band in 1962 for EMI. Right away the sophistication in the group's compositions is growing, as this is not the standard 32-bar AABA song form; there are odd phrases all over the place. One of the "sleeper" Beatle cuts for sure.

The title track closes out side one and was one of the Beatles' best (and best-selling) singles of the time. More lyrical sophistication abounds via the use of both different meanings of the word "please" in the title and lyric. John appears on harmonica yet again and also shares the lead vocals with Paul while George sings backup. This recording also contains a slight goof in that John accidentally sings different lyrics in the third verse against George and Paul, realizing his mistake and chuckling slightly in the middle of the chorus. After the final chorus, the stereo mix overdubs the harmonica line on top of the track; unfortunately, the drums from the previous take are slightly behind the beat (creating a very weird echo effect) and, obviously in 1962, there was no way to get rid of the leakage. It's the only technical defect on an otherwise wonderfully-recorded and produced album (thank you George Martin).

The first two tracks on side two are the only ones not to feature Ringo playing drums (even though he appears on tambourine); Andy White sat in on tubs, ostensibly to try for a different drum sound. (The Ringo version can be found on various best-of packages.) "Love Me Do" was the very first single our boys ever released, and I have to say it's a far cry from what they would go on to produce, and no, I'm not accepting the fact that it was their debut as an excuse. The music and lyrics are extremely simple and repetitive, but somehow it works in its own way and obviously millions of people feel better about it than I do. I guess it's a good thing this came first, though, since without this, we wouldn't have so many other great songs. (Hey, you gotta start somewhere!)

"P.S. I Love You" is Paul's tune, recorded at the same session as "Love Me Do" two months before the rest of the album. This has a distinctly Latin feel to it due to the percussion used by Ringo (maracas) and engineer Norman Smith (more cowbell!). As usual the backing vocals (John and George) complement the lead very well, even though this is slightly less well-done than the other tracks (but only just). By the way, this track and "Love Me Do" are the only tracks here to exist solely in monaural form, due to the disappearance of the stereo versions after having been mixed down for single release.

Back to the land of covers with the Shirelles' "Baby It's You," originally composed by Burt Bacharach (who, along with his erstwhile lyricist partner Hal David, were basically Lennon and McCartney without a band). The Shirelles also did the original version of "Boys" so obviously they served the Fab Four well on this album. John sings lead here (he always did like soul music) and turns the Beatles' cover into a happier tune than the original by repeating the second verse rather than the first. George Martin returns to the keyboard, this time contributing some celesta (doubling low guitar) on the instrumental verse near the end.

"Do You Want to Know a Secret?" is next, notable for being the very first Lennon/McCartney tune to feature George as lead vocalist. Here he is out front and center for most of the track, unlike the earlier "Chains." This song repeats the same verse three times like "Love Me Do" but has more musical interest to make up for it (like the minor-key, free-time intro which contrasts with the rest of the tune). Listen closely during the bridge to hear Paul screw up a bass note.

Speaking of Paul, he is featured on "A Taste of Honey," double-tracking his lead vocals in the verse but singing harmony with John and George elsewhere. Being that it is a relatively slow, waltz-time number, there has been some criticism leveled at this track for (gasp!) not being an up-tempo rocker like everything else, but so what? I like hearing variety in music (which is one of the reasons I joined a site devoted to prog-rock) and I'm sure many serious listeners would agree. The presence of this tune doesn't detract from the album, anyway.

"There's a Place" is another sleeper track in the Beatles' catalogue, hitting the listener over the head right away with a major-7th harmonica note played of course by John. This track points the way toward the more "existential" tunes that Lennon/McCartney would pen later in the band's career (the "place" is the mind?get it?). One of the two shortest tracks on the album (with "Misery"), it does what it needs to do in the time that it has.

And then there's "Twist and Shout," which has been covered and written about and referenced so many times by others that I hardly need to say anything about it. I've mentioned before that John was suffering a cold while recording this album; this song came right at the end of the session. Listen closely at the very end; John tries to do his scream on the final chord but has already shouted himself hoarse, so you only hear a faint "yeah" and his coughing as the guitars die down. (Headphones are your friend here.)

Although the album is very well-done and the choice of material is nothing to complain about, one almost gets the sense that these guys could just as easily have picked 14 completely different songs (as they certainly had a lot more than this in their repertoire) and it would still have been a smash up and down the land. However, I'm happy with what they have presented here on this, their first go-round on the LP front. Early Beatles music has a definite "party" feel to it, so if you want to hear the "official" beginnings of this great band, and find out what everyone was raving about in 1963, now's your chance. 4 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 4/5 |


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