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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Please Please Me

“One, two, three, four!” That’s how one of the most notorious debuts in rock history begins, with a simple count-in. Yet its exuberance and the perfection of the tracks that follow make Please Please Me a must have for all music collectors, even 45 years later.

Recorded in a single day after the song “Please Please Me” became a smash hit in the UK, the album Please Please Me is a mash-up of cover songs and Lennon/McCartney originals that somehow never seems to lose its cohesiveness despite the wealth of songwriters on the record*. By this point in early 1963, though the United States had yet to even hear of them, The Beatles were a seasoned and extraordinarily tight Rock and Roll group that had been spending every night at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England honing their skillful pop dexterity.

And it shows on the recording. Despite having only one day to complete the record and having only teamed up with drummer, Ringo Starr, a few weeks before, the band plays as though they’ve been together forever, especially, ironically, the rhythm section. But what sets this recording apart from its contemporaries is the surprising looseness of the vocal harmonies and the irreverent glee with which The Beatles attack the recording. It was the basis of the “British Invasion” sound which was soon to sweep through the US, a vitality and liberation that American pop acts, like The Beach Boys and Everly Brothers, couldn’t muster.

Songs like “I Saw Her Standing There”, “There’s A Place”, “Please Please Me,” and “Love Me Do” crackle with electricity, raising a smile even if the lyrics now seem a little naïve and trite for a group of twenty-somethings who had spent several months playing in brothels and strip clubs in Hamburg**. Even the slower songs, though less intense, are just as inspired. Versions of “Baby It’s You” and “Chains” are the stand-out cover tracks on the record, while “P.S. I Love You” and “Misery” sound like standards even though they are originals***.

But nothing on the record compares to the rocket blast that is “Twist And Shout”. The last song to be recorded because it would blow out John’s voice, The Beatles really only had one shot at it and in one take John nailed it, the definitive version of a song that had been covered tens of times before The Beatles took their stab. Listening to this song with fresh ears (and in remastered stereo) I couldn’t help but be blown away by the vitality and aggression in John’s throat-blistering take. It gave me goose-bumps.

All in all, Please Please Me is a solid album with standout tracks and solid production throughout. The remastering work is astounding, making a record that previously sounded dated and dusty into something modern and intense.

*14 in total.
**Yes, it’s true, my flabbergasted friends. The Beatles spent several months playing and carousing in the brothels, strip clubs, and music venues of Hamburg before George got deported for being underage and Paul nearly got arrested for lighting a condom on fire in their hotel room. The Beatles were not nearly as innocent as they were portrayed.
***I mean this as a compliment.