The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me
, marked the culmination of their gruelling apprenticeship as a performing act and their gradual rise to fame. As Paul McCartney has pointed out, "It was never an overnight success". From their skiffle-based days as The Quarry Men in the late fifties, John, Paul and George had honed their skills and stamina — first in Liverpool and the north, then in the seedy clubs of Hamburg and theatres around England.
The appointment of Brian Epstein as their manager in early 1962 had been fundamental in acheiving the coveted objective of a record deal. Bill Harry, Mersey Beat
magazine founder and long-term Beatle-buddy claims to have introduced them, having persuaded the record shop empresario to stock his publication: turning the tale of a teenager requesting "My Bonnie" into the world's first Beatle myth.
Even before his role was made official, Epstein had secured them a demo at Decca on New Year's Day, having previously persuaded them to tidy up their image (suits and ties) and clean up their act (no eating, smoking or swearing on-stage). Despite being famously rejected, that infamous 'guitar groups are on the way out' comment was probably never actually uttered. The decision to sign up Brian Poole's Tremeloes seems to have been based more on geographical common sense than musical prowess: London to Liverpool was a five-hour drive back in the pre-Motorway era. Thus pops Beatle legend number two.
Brian nevertheless continued to hawk the tape around the London studios, eventually securing an audition with George Martin of Parlophone Records in June. Martin, impressed as much by their cocky wit as by their musical prowess, agreed to sign the band on a temporary contract — with the proviso that they changed their drummer. Exit the increasingly unreliable Pete Best, enter his longtime stand-in, Ringo Starr.
Bill Harry has hinted that the pact was, in fact, pressured by the suggestion that the NEMS chain might decline to stock the label's releases though, given his subsequent track record of half-deals, this does sound somewhat unEppily strong-arm.
Ringo had been playing pro for longer than the others put together: not only 'the best drummer in the whole of Liverpool', but also the owner of a Zephyr Zodiac motor. The switch — and ensuing change of pace — was so swift that he didn't get time to get his hair sorted for the balcony cover shoot a few months later. Nevertheless, his integration into the ranks was instantaneous — and crucial.
'Mean, moody and magnificent' Pete Best may have been, but he'd always been the outsider of the band. Leaving musical aptitudes aside, it's also pretty hard to imagine him wise-cracking along with the others the way Ringo did, as they subsequently conquered the world; or closing the circle as 'The Four-Headed Monster'.
The debut single, "Love Me Do"
, was recorded in September '62 (with the new drummer forced to sit out in favour of a session player) and followed by a final stint in Hamburg, where they learnt of the death of their former bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe."Please Please Me"
came next, released in November with Ringo finally weilding the sticks, and its rapid rise up the UK charts at the beginning of 1963 prompted Parlophone to bring forward The Beatles' debut long-player. On February 11th, just as the single was peaking, the foursome returned to the studios and, in three three-hour sessions, with all of them suffering from heavy colds, their live set was transformed into a record.
There are six covers and eight original compositions, including the two singles and their respective B-sides
(credited to McCartney/Lennon, John not yet having exerted the influence of his eighteen-month seniority!). It's worth remembering here just how few performers were writing any
of their own material way back then. Fewer, too, were the bands who could boast four singers (more or less) within their ranks. George got two songs — "Chains"
and "Know A Secret"
— while Ringo just talked about "Boys"
The selection is diverse: from out-and-out rockers like the bookending belters
, to theatrical ballads
, demonstrating the band's wide range of musical influences and their readiness to experiment with different genres. Their borrowings from the Soul scene ("Anna"
) and from girl bands ("Baby It's You"
) highlighted their harmony capabilities. It's certainly a far more disparate collection than anything released by any of their contemporaries, and — aside from the odd nervous jitter — it's all as tight as hell.
In fact, that's what really makes Please Please Me
so special: the sheer enthusiasm of the performances which it includes. The band's exhilaration at finally getting to make an LP is evident in every note and every beat, and you can still smell the adrenaline which got mixed in with the acetate.
Released in March '63, and notching up thirty weeks as Britain's best-selling album, The Beatles had clearly arrived, and mania was just around the corner...