Beatles Week – Please Please Me

I’ve been visiting Stewart at Number1sblog for a few years. His blog never lets me down. Learning about #1 songs in the UK and how different the American charts can be from them. He is currently in the year 1989 but travel back to see the previous years also. He always gives you a quality take on every #1 song. 

Stewart writes about every UK number one single at He’s 630 singles in, give or take, and about to enter the 1990s…

When Max asked us to write a post on our favourite Beatles song, I instantly thought about choosing one of their seventeen UK number one singles. It would have been ‘on-brand’ for me, at least, at the number 1s blog. But I’ve been there and done those, so I decided to cast my eye one place further down the charts.

The Fab Four have two very famous #2 singles. One is the ‘Penny Lane’ / ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ double-A that became their first single in four years not to make #1, in March 1967 (famously held off by none other than Engelbert Humperdinck). The other is the single that introduced them to the British public in January 1963: ‘Please Please Me’.

‘Love Me Do’ had been the Beatles’ first single to make the charts a few months before. It has huge significance, for obvious reasons, in the history of the band but I’ve never loved it. It’s slow, it’s a bit predictable. Not terrible, not at all, but I can’t imagine many who heard it on the wireless in October 1962 thinking that this new band were going to change the world. ‘Please Please Me’, however…

There are many moments in the Beatles’ discography in which they took a lightyear-sized step towards the future, and this was the first. The tempo has increased a hundred-fold from ‘Love Me Do’, everything – guitars, vocals, drums – is tight, the harmonies inspired by the Everly Brothers, the harmonica in the intro an alarm announcing them to the world. John Lennon was the main player here: he wrote it, and it’s his harmonica that gives the song its distinctive hook. It’s a simple song (a lot of the early, early Merseybeat hits were traditional pop arrangements modernised with guitars and drums) and originally a slow, bluesy number that George Martin thought was dreary. It’s him we have to thank for upping the tempo, and turning this into a rattling, breakneck pop hit, with that wonderful, swinging middle-eight.

The record was released during one of Britain’s worst-ever winters, and legend has it that the audience for their performance of the song on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ on January 19th would have even larger than usual, with large swathes of the country snowbound. This was the first time most people had seen or heard The Beatles, with their long (by 1963 standards) hair and their natty suits. It created a buzz, and got them booked on tours supporting Tommy Roe, Helen Shapiro, and Roy Orbison. ‘Please Please Me’ began to shoot up the charts, and by the time those tours came around The Beatles had been bumped up the bill to headliners. Martin predicted that it would be the Beatles’ first number one hit, and he was correct.

Well, sort of… The singles charts of the 1950s and ’60s were a tad messy. There wasn’t just one of them, for a start. You had the ‘Melody Maker’ chart, the ‘NME’ chart, and the ‘Record Retailer’ chart. None of which offered a complete overview of a week’s sales – they all conducted ‘surveys’ of select record stores over the phone. ‘Please Please Me’ hit #1 in the NME chart (which had the largest circulation) and ‘Melody Maker’ chart, but it only reached #2 in ‘Record Retailer’, which was the one that the Official Singles Chart chose to follow. So, it may well have been the UK’s biggest selling single at some point; we’ll just never know for sure… The history books record it as having stalled behind Frank Ifield’s dull-as-dishwater country ballad ‘The Wayward Wind’ for two weeks.

It’s far from the only single to have suffered this unfortunate fate – it wasn’t until 1969 that the UK charts were unified into one – but it’s a landmark single from the biggest pop group in history, with one of the very best middle-eights. And it set the tone for the next two years, in which the Fab Four would release single after single of pop perfection. ‘From Me to You’, the record that officially gave them their first #1, was perhaps a step back towards ‘Love Me Do’. But then came ‘She Loves You’, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, and there was no looking back.

It’s interesting to note that an intervention from George Martin, and a particularly snowy winter, contributed to the official start of Beatlemania. Of course a band as good as the Beatles, with a songwriting partnership as prolific as Lennon-McCartney, would have made it eventually. It’s just fitting that ‘Please Please Me’, their first of many, many great songs, was the record that did it.


Beatles – Twist And Shout ….Under The Covers Week

Usually, I don’t like covers better than the original but with this song I do. John Lennon sounds demented and he pushed his vocals over the edge. Lennon has said he screamed the lyrics more than sang them but it worked. He provided the power to this song with just his vocals. The Beatles didn’t have monitors live…no one else at this time didn’t either so they had to sing loud to be heard.  Author Mark Lewisohn called it “arguably the most stunning rock and roll vocal and instrumental performance of all time.”

This is probably close to sounding like they did live in Hamburg and The Cavern. This session took place on February 11, 1963, at EMI Studios in London, which was later renamed Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles did 10 songs that day, nine of which ended up on Please Please Me, their first UK album. Think about that for a minute… in one day they recorded their debut album except for the song Please Please Me which was recorded later.

When The Beatles played the Royal Command Performance with the Queen watching. During the introduction to this song, John Lennon famously said, “For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.” He told Brian Epstein that he was going to say “rattle your fu**ing jewelry” and Epstein was on pins and needles worried that John would go through with that…but he didn’t. John wasn’t a fan of playing at these functions.

They actually did two takes of the song and kept the first one. John was sick with a cold and had stripped off his shirt to let himself sweat it out, but he pulled it off. The next day…February 12, 1963 – The Beatles played two shows, one at the Azena Ballroom in Yorkshire and another at the Astoria Ballroom in Lancashire. No rest for the weary.

This was the first song ever written by Bert Burns. He went on to write, Piece of My Heart, Here Comes the Night, Hang on Sloopy, Cry to Me and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love to name just a few. He signed Van Morrison to his first solo deal with Bang Records. Unfortunately, he died at 38 of a heart attack in 1967. Phil Medley did get a co-writing credit on the song.

The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard 100, #5 in Canada, and #1 in New Zealand in 1964. The Beatles version was not done yet. In the film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986, the song was used and charted again. It peaked at #23 on the Billboard 100 and #16 in Canada.

The Isley Brothers’ version is great and there have been many other charting versions of it.

Norman Smith engineer:  “Someone suggested they do ‘Twist and Shout’ with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were sore; it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right the first time. The Beatles on the studio floor and us in the control room. John sucked a couple more Zubes (a brand of throat lozenges), had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went.”

Twist and Shout

Well, shake it up, baby, nowTwist and shoutCome on, come on, come, come on, baby, nowCome on and work it on outWell, work it on out, honeyYou know you look so goodYou know you got me goin’ nowJust like I knew you would

Well, shake it up, baby, nowTwist and shoutCome on, come on, come, come on, baby, nowCome on and work it on outYou know you twist, little girlYou know you twist so fineCome on and twist a little closer nowAnd let me know that you’re mine, woo

Ah, ah, ah, ah, wowBaby, nowTwist and shoutCome on, come on, come, come on, baby, nowCome on and work it on outYou know you twist, little girlYou know you twist so fineCome on and twist a little closer nowAnd let me know that you’re mineWell, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby, nowWell, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby, nowWell, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby, nowAh, ah, ah, ah

Beatles – Please Please Me

This song broke it open for the Beatles in the UK. After Love Me Do peaked at #17 in the UK charts…this one shot to #1 in the New Musical Express, Disc and Melody Maker charts in 1963. The song would later peak at #3 in the Billboard 100 in 1964 after Beatlemania had hit.

George Martin never cared much for Love Me Do and told the Beatles that. He did like Please Please Me and thought it had potential if they would increase the tempo. They had played it to him very slow like a Roy Orbison song. They worked on it for the next studio visit and it started to take shape.

The song was a vast improvement over Love Me Do. The quick catchy riff with those harmonies are hard to resist. The climbing “come on come on come on” led to a perfect chorus hook.

John Lennon was partly inspired by a line from a Bing Crosby song that read, “Please lend a little ear to my pleas.” He recalled: “I remember the day I wrote it, I heard Roy Orbison doing “Only The Lonely”, or something. And I was also always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, ‘Please lend a little ear to my pleas’. The double use of the word ‘please’. So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby.”

From Songfacts

This was The Beatles first single released in America, and getting it issued in the States was a struggle. The Beatles first recorded “Please Please Me” on September 11, 1962. That version was rejected for release. They re-recorded the song on November 26, 1962 and that version was first issued in England on the EMI-owned Parlophone label on January 12, 1963. After EMI’s US affiliate, Capitol Records, rejected the song (and a lot of other early Beatles material), the small, Chicago-based Vee Jay label stepped in and released “Please Please Me” stateside on February 25, 1963 and again on January 30, 1964 and August 10,1964. The only release that charted was the second, when The Beatles finally made a name for themselves in America.

John Lennon, who was a big Roy Orbison fan, wrote this in the style of Orbison’s overly dramatic singing. Beatles producer George Martin suggested it would sound better sped up. In 2006, Martin told The Observer Music Monthly, “The songs the Beatles first gave me were crap. This was 1962 and they played a dreadful version of ‘Please Please Me’ as a Roy Orbison-style ballad. But I signed them because they made me feel good to be with them, and if they could convey that on a stage then everyone in the audience would feel good, too. So I took ‘Love Me Do’ and added some harmonica, but it wasn’t financially rewarding even though Brian Epstein bought about 2,000 copies. Then we worked for ages on their new version of ‘Please Please Me,’ and I said: ‘Gentlemen, you’re going to have your first #1.'”

This was rumored to be about oral sex. The Beatles denied this, since they had a very clean image to maintain at the time. Lennon said of the song: “I was always intrigued by the double use of the word ‘please.'”

Although in the UK this was officially a #2 record, three of the four charts used at the time – Melody Maker, NME and Disc – listed it #1. Only the Record Retailer chart had it at #2.

The group’s name was misspelled “Beattles” on the record label on the first American release of the single.

Typical for the verse in “Please Please Me,” and for many of Lennon’s songs, are the long notes (legato) that are also used in hymns – even sounding a bit like Mendelssohn’s Wedding March in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When Lennon was a little boy he used to go to church on Sunday. Afterwards he improvised his own counterpoints to the hymns.

The climbing in the melody “Come on, come on…” is similar to parts of two traditional folk songs: “New’s Evens Song” and “Come Fair One.” >>

In the UK, this was re-released in 1983 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of it’s initial release.

The Beatles performed this on their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1964. Sullivan was not a fan of many rock groups, but loved The Beatles and had them on his show whenever he could.

This was the second Beatles single released in England, the first being “Love Me Do.”

An early version of this song with session drummer Andy White playing drums instead of Ringo can be found on Anthology 1.

The Please Please Me album was The Beatles debut long player. When they recorded it at Abbey Studios in London, John Lennon was struggling with a streaming cold and all were tired after a tour supporting Helen Shapiro. However with the help and encouragement of producer George Martin within nine hours and 45 minutes they had recorded their groundbreaking LP.

The album was released to cash in on the success of this single in the UK. It took them about 12 hours to record, and was basically a re-creation of their live show, which was mostly cover songs. The album was released with the text “Please Please Me with Love Me Do and 12 other songs.” >>

The Beatles performed this on Thank Your Lucky Stars on January 19, 1963. It was their first ever UK television appearance.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown revealed in an interview on the British TV program GMTV that this was the first record that he ever bought.

George Martin told Music Week magazine that the first time the Beatles played this to him, he wasn’t very impressed. He recalled: “I listened to it and I said: ‘Do you know that’s too bloody boring for words? It’s a dirge. At twice the speed it might sound reasonable.’ They took me at my word. I was joking and they came back and played it to me sped up and put a harmonica on it, and it became their first big hit.”

Lennon was a great fan of Bing Crosby and when in 1978, Yoko gave him a vintage ’50s Wurlitzer jukebox for his birthday he loaded the machine with as many 78-rpm records by the easy-listening vocalist as he could find.

This is Keith Richards’ favorite Beatles song. He told Jimmy Fallon: “I’ve always told McCartney, ‘Please Please Me.’ I just love the chimes, and I was there at the time and it was beautiful. Mind you, there’s plenty of others, but if I’ve got to pick one, ‘Please Please Me’… oh, yeah!”

Lennon-McCartney was the standard alphabetical credit for their Beatles songwriters compositions except on Please Please Me, where for reasons unknown, the names were reversed.

Please Please Me

Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Please, please me, woah yeah, like I please you

You don’t need me to show the way, love
Why do I always have to say, love
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Please, please me, woah yeah, like I please you

I don’t want to sound complaining
But you know there’s always rain in my heart
I do all the pleasing with you,
It’s so hard to reason with you
Woah yeah, why do you make me blue?

Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Please, please me, woah yeah, like I please you
Woah yeah, like I please you
Woah yeah, like I please you