The Beatles' rushed first album turns 60

23 Mar

When the album "Please Please Me" was released in the UK on March 22, 1963, it shot straight into the Top 10 of the British charts. Six weeks later it was number one, and stayed there for 30 weeks. It also spawned a number of hit singles including "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout."


But the record was a rush job. It was mostly recorded in one day by the Fab Four from Liverpool while Paul McCartney and John Lennon were suffering from a cold. At the time, the band played a grinding schedule of gigs in small clubs, or as an opening act for other artists. With a growing fan base, and as mainstays of the popular Liverpool Cavern Club, "The North's No. 1 Rock Combo" sometimes played two gigs a day. On New Year's Eve in 1962, The Beatles performed what proved to be their last gig at the Star Club in Hamburg, a venue where they had played residencies since 1960.

The Beatles' first number one

In between gigs, producer George Martin of EMI Records — with which the band signed in 1962 — called the band into Abbey Road Studios in London. The single "Love Me Do," released in October 1962, reached number 17 in the charts but still made the Beatles famous nationwide.

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A successor had to come quickly. Martin desperately wanted to record "How Do You Do It," written by composer Mitch Murray, but the Beatles wanted to release their own composition. They looked to John Lennon's "Please Please Me," which was recorded in September 1962 at the same sessions where "Love Me Do" was written. Peppered with sexual innuendo, the lyrics of "Please" seem almost raunchy by the standards of the time.

Producer Martin didn't like the style of this version of the song — too monotonous, too slow. And so they were all back in the studio recording the single that was to catapult the Beatles to number one. When the recordings were finished, Martin was confident: "You've just recorded your first number one." On January 11, 1963, the single with the B-side "Ask Me Why" was released and Martin was proven right.

Meanwhile, the hit single helped The Beatles promote their ongoing daily concert schedule, with manager Brian Epstein now firmly at the helm. It was not long before Martin called them back into the studio on February 11, 1963. The first long-playing record was to be made — and in one day!

The band was tight, having been playing so many shows, and they managed to record the remaining 10 songs live — in addition to the existing four titles. For the last number, "Twist and Shout," John had to give his battered voice a rest, forcing Martin to go with a scratchy take that has endeared the song to millions of Beatles fans to this day.

Martin only used a two-track tape recorder, and only a few instruments were mixed in. It took them between 15 and 90 minutes per song. After almost 13 hours, gallons of tea, milk, throat lozenges and cigarettes, the songs were recorded, with Martin later adding some piano tracks. Despite the rather simple recording technique, the production costs were relatively high: £400, which would correspond to about $9,200 (€8,500) today.

The start of Beatlemania

It unusual for a band to put so many of their own songs on a debut album at the time: only six of the 14 tracks on "Please Please Me" were cover versions. The fact that the Beatles had convinced their producer to record their own material meant that the Lennon-McCartney pair were quickly recognized as songwriters. Paul and John agreed to always use both their names, even if a song was only written by one of them.

The album "Please Please Me" still sounds fresh and testifies to the band's, and George Martin's, perfectionism and conviction to break new ground. The first of 12 studio albums, the debut long-play not only marked the start of a global Beatlemania but also the birth of a new way of making pop music that would inspire future generations of musicians.


Author Silke Wünsch

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