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Please Please Me – Released on March 22, 1963
Producer George Martin said, “I asked them what they had which we could record quickly, and the answer was their stage act.” And so, in just short of 13 hours (a quick jaunt compared to their later use of studio time), a piece of rock music history was recorded.
I Saw Her Standing There: Paul McCartney’s opening count-off for this song — “One-two-three-faw!!” — is like the countdown to a new era of music. Despite the song’s opening innuendo (“She was just seventeen, and you know what I mean”), the song encapsulates the thrill of Beatlemania as thoroughly as does I Want to Hold Your Hand: raucousness for anyone looking for it, but relatively safe for generationally-threatened adults. And make no mistake: After all these years, the song still rocks. It’s hard to believe that it took some convincing of George Martin that Lennon and McCartney were real songwriters.
Misery: As opposed to Anna (Go to Him), this is a good old-fashioned cry-in-your-beer song. This feeling is bolstered by the clinking piano and John Lennon’s often-slurred delivery, not to mention the occasional snotty lyric (“She’ll remember and she’ll miss her only one”). More in keeping with Lennon’s early chauvinistic oeuvre than the later heartfelt stuff.
Anna (Go to Him): One of The Beatles’ first recorded unrequited-love songs, and it still packs a punch. John Lennon’s straight-from-the-throat delivery (it probably didn’t hurt that he had a cold while recording this album, giving some nasality to his vocals), backed by the withering guitar line, gets the job done. Only one question: Why is the song subtitled “Go To Him,” yet John consistently sings “go with him”? Another of his subtle defiances, perhaps?
Chains: They might not the kind of chains you can see (as the song says), but there’s still a certain masochistic edge to this tune, at least as delivered by The Beatles. From the opening harmonica blast to the melancholy vocals, the Fabs definitely provide an appropriate sense of imprisonment, though the subtext nearly suggests that they’re enjoying it.
Boys: In his Playboy interview (published posthumously in 1981), John Lennon found fans’ concerns about his spending too much time with Yoko Ono ironic in light of the fact that he used to spend most of his time alone with three other guys. Even more ironic is the unexplored subtext of Ringo helpfully describing the male species as “a bundle of joy.” Why are The Beatles so insistent on “talking about boys” here, anyway?
Ask Me Why: A happy early love song, definitely flamenco-flavored with the jaunty guitars and the “ei-ei-ei’s” all over the place. Much Beatle-related swooning probably begin right here.
Please Please Me: Legend has it that immediately after recording this song, producer George Martin told The Beatles, “Gentlemen, you’ve just recorded your first number-one song.” Nearly forty years later, in one of the Fabs’ greatest oversights ever, they release a compilation of their chart-topping hits titled Beatles 1 but leave this highlight off the CD. This one has it all: goosing harmonica blasts, snaky Lennon innuendo (just what was he wanting that girl to do in order to please please him?), and glorious rocking delivery. An all-time great.
Love Me Do: As a single, this was The Beatles’ first stab at recording, and it obviously wasn’t taking any chances: Unadventurous lyrics (the word “love” shows up a few dozen times for lack of better synonyms), middle-of-the-road singing and playing, and a studio drummer in place of Ringo (at least in its initial release). A pleasant enough tune, but hardly indicative of the heights to be hit shortly afterwards.
P.S. I Love You: Paul McCartney was to indulge in far worse schmaltz than this early bit of thoughtful sentimentality, in the form of a letter to a faraway lover. Wouldn’t have been out of place 25 years earlier in a wartime movie (and that’s mostly a compliment).
Baby It’s You: With great back-up by the other Fabs (you have to love that “cheat, cheat” chanting), John Lennon clearly gets across the underlying message of this song: You’re a slut, but I gotta have ya. With a few “sha-la-la’s” thrown in to sooth the questioning minds of adults.
Do You Want to Know a Secret: A Lennon-McCartney version of a movie lothario whispering nothings into his sweetheart’s ear. In this case, the lothario is George (probably a sop thrown to him to make up for having no compositions on their debut album), but it probably still had the desired effect on female Beatlemaniacs.
A Taste of Honey: How to sell a Beatles cover version: Make sure it has plenty of poetic synonyms for a woman’s kiss, then get Paul to deliver it at his most soppy. Shameless, but it gets the job done.
There’s a Place: The melody delivers far better than the lyrics. An early Beatle attempt at introspection (implying that the singer’s mind is the one place untrampled by the world) of the kind done more successfully in The Beach Boys’ In My Room. The rocking delivery doesn’t exactly mesh with the thoughtfulness, but it’s a nice try.
Twist and Shout: The story goes that in recording this debut album, John Lennon had to save this number for last because he knew it would tear his throat up. One imagines him spending the following week in bed, recovering. A perfect little rocker that makes The Isley Brothers’ original version look like an insignificant footnote. (And we’ll forgive teen-comedy filmmaker John Hughes for hijacking the Beatles version two decades later for Matthew Broderick to lip-synch in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) Anthology 1‘s version is equally nifty, taken as it is from The Beatles’ 1963 Royal Command Performance, where John closed the show with his immortal wisecrack about how the wealthier patrons should keep the beat of the song.
What do you think of Please Please Me or any of its songs? Share your opinion in the “Comments” section below. Tomorrow: With the Beatles.