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The Beatles - Please Please Me CD (album) cover

PLEASE PLEASE ME

The Beatles

 

Proto-Prog

3.05 | 438 ratings

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The Anders
3 stars Seeing the Beatles featured on a prog site feels rather odd to be honest. I am of course aware that progressive rock wouldn't sound like it does if it weren't for all the sixties bands, the Beatles included, but as far as I am concerned, only Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road really bear any resemblance to prog. In Sgt. Pepper's case it is mainly due to the conceptual ideas, as well as the musical structure on a song like 'A Day In the Life'. On Abbey Road we have songs such as 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' and perhaps the medley on side 2. But even an album like Revolver, though experimental and containing many psychedelic sounds, contains short and relatively traditional compositions. Then of course there is a song like 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun' from the White Album with its changes in tempo and mood, but overall the White Album sounds more like a foreshadowing of alternative rock to me.

But I am a big admirer of the Beatles, so I'd love to take the opportunity to review their studio albums. Now their music up to, and including the Help album is possibly as far from prog as can be: straight forward dance pop and rock'n roll songs mostly with I-love-you-and-you-love-me lyrics, and it wouldn't make much sense to judge it from a progressive rock point of view.

The early Beatles is clearly not as artistically interesting as their later work. It is pop, and it works on pop premises mostly. However it sounded a lot more honest than some of the pre-fabricated machine pop that came before them in the early 60's (Paul Anka, Del Shannon, Cliff Richard etc.), and in that context the Beatles were clearly a breath of fresh air, and much less streamlined. Also their music had some energy that the above mentioned idols didn't have.

The first LP contains their first two singles and their B-sides. The rest of the album was recorded literally in one day, consisting of songs from their live repertoire. The songs were mostly recorded live in the studio with only a few overdubs (the handclaps on 'I Saw Her Standing There' and the piano on 'Misery'), and the limited amount of time of course means that the performances are not always flawless. It gives the album an aura of freshness and spontanity, but on the other hand some performances sound rather substandard, and even uninspired. This particularly goes for some of the cover versions: 'Chains', 'Boys' and, in particular, 'Baby It's You' (with terribly off-key backing vocals). The one cover version that really shines above the rest is 'Twist And Shout' with its raw energy and raw vocal performance by John Lennon. Probably the highpoint of the album.

Then there are the original compositions, and at this point Lennon and McCartney hadn't yet entirely matured as songwriters. The songs, having been written before the band signed with Parlophone, sound a bit unfocused and unfinished compared to their subsequent work. A good example is 'Ask Me Why' where the 9th to 12th bar of the verse sound like they are leading towards something that doesn't really come. Also the chorus sounds too much like the verse, and the middle eight ('I can't believe...') doesn't really make a contrast either, containing a cadence that ends with the tonic (main chord). As a result, the song sounds rather monotonous overall. Similar things can be said about 'Do You Want To Know a Secret', and even their first big hit, 'Please Please Me' lacks the sense of direction that chacacterizes the best work of the band.

The best original songs are 'There's a Place' which also goes beyond the lyrical cliches of the other songs (though not exactly in a subtle way) and 'I Saw Her Standing There' which is an uplifting and energetic piece of rock'n roll. Kicking the whole album off with the classic 1-2-3-4! it is a perfect opener, just as 'Twist And Shout' is a perfect finale. As for 'There's a Place', however, the verse ends in a rather unelegant way, both harmonically and melodically with 'when I'm alone', but fortunately the intensity of the rest of the song makes it up for that.

Shortly after this album, Lennon and McCartney would improve drastically as songwriters with songs that sound much more accomplished: 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. Here at this early stage their genius doesn't really show... yet.

Then there is the musicianship. Clearly the greatest music is not always made by great virtuosos, and it it would be fair to say that the Beatles were not the most virtuose instrumentalists, especially not in the early days. But their abilities work very well for the type of music they are playing, and the energy that they are able to reproduce together is indeed very infective. Judged by their individual playing, however, it is clear that they haven't yet entirely found themselves as instrumentalists. Paul McCartney does little more than keeping the bass note, and Gerorge Harrison has clearly not found his sound yet. The solo on 'I Saw Her Standing There', for instance, while energetic, it is also very unimaginative. Harrison would later develop a very personal and poetic style, perhaps most prominently heard in the solo on 'Something'.

But while the Beatles aren't the greatest instrumentalists in the world, there is no doubt that Lennon and McCartney are excellent singers, and a lot of their special energy and charisma clearly comes from the vocals. 'Twist And Shout' is probably the best vocal performance on the album.

So all in all it is a promising debut that doesn't entirely show off their true force. But you have to start somewhere.

The Anders | 3/5 |

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