The Beatles' 'Please Please Me' 50th Anniversary
George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles in their London backyard.
Before Beatlemania and The Ed Sullivan Show; before they met Queen Elizabeth and smoked pot with Bob Dylan; before they sprouted drooping mustaches, dropped acid, discovered sitars and pilgrimaged to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Himalayan retreat; before John met Yoko, before the walrus was Paul; before they took over popular music and, um, transformed Western culture – before all that, at 10 in the morning on February 11th, 1963, the Beatles were merely the world's finest little rock & roll band, gathered at Abbey Road studios in London to make a debut album. Twelve hours later, they'd done it. Of all the astonishing things about Please Please Me – and there are many – the most impressive may simply be the quick-and-dirty haste with which it was recorded. In 2011, it can take a band a dozen hours to mike the kick drum. But in a single long day – with just a £400 budget – the Beatles laid down 10 songs for their album, including some of their most indelible early performances: "I Saw Her Standing There," "There's a Place," "Do You Want to Know a Secret," "Baby It's You." The day's work wrapped up, sometime around 10:45, with a shirtless John Lennon roaring himself hoarse through two takes of "Twist and Shout." "It was amazingly cheap, no messing, just a massive effort from us," Paul McCartney later recalled. "At the end of the day, you had your album."
Coming into that day, the Beatles already had two singles under their belts. In October 1962, they released "Love Me Do," the bluesy vamp that McCartney had first dreamed up while playing hooky from school at age 16. "Love Me Do" was backed with another Lennon-McCartney original, "P.S. I Love You," which offered further evidence of their precocious songwriting gifts and the sheer strangeness – the mixture of rock & roll toughness and old-fashioned tunesmithery, the weirdly beautiful vocal harmonies, the wild left turns of their chord progressions.
"Love Me Do" reached Number 17 in the U.K. and was followed up, on January 11th, 1963, by another single, the emphatically rocking "Please Please Me." A week later, on January 19th, the Beatles performed "Please Please Me" on Thank Your Lucky Stars, a nationally broadcast pop showcase. It was the harshest winter in many years, and a huge audience of snowbound Britons tuned in to a transfixing spectacle: four Liverpudlian lads with odd haircuts, bashing through a ferociously catchy song whose lyric sounded suspiciously like a plea for orgasmic reciprocation.
That performance was enough to make the Beatles the hottest act in British music. Soon the Beatles' label, Parlophone, sent a request for a full album. In those days, 14 songs were the standard number on a long-playing record. So the Beatles entered Abbey Road that winter morning knowing that their task was to churn out the additional 10 songs. It was a job for which they were uniquely well-suited. They had honed their craft, and made their name, as a volcanic live act. In Hamburg, Germany, and at the Cavern Club in their hometown of Liverpool, the Beatles were renowned for the intensity of their performances, and for their stamina – for playing marathon shows, fueled by a schoolboyishly giddy love of rock & roll, and by over-the-counter uppers. At Abbey Road on February 11th, the Beatles' producer, George Martin, sought simply to capture the band's live energy, to turn a staid studio – previously known for recordings made there by the London Symphony Orchestra and Peter Sellers – into an annex of the sweaty, sepulchral Cavern Club. "It was a straightforward performance of [the Beatles'] stage repertoire – a broadcast, more or less," Martin recalled. "I had been up to the Cavern and I'd seen what they could do. . . . I said, 'Let's record every song you've got.' "