Sunday, January 11, 2009

Please Please Me

I don't want to go too overboard celebrating landmarks in Beatles history, but today's is big and important enough to merit it. Today in 1963 the "Please Please Me" / "Ask Me Why" single was released in Britain and kicked off the Beatles' history-making career-- a career without which the world would be a crappier place. Hurray for today! (And thanks to DM's Beatles Site for the tip.)

"Please Please Me" was originally written by John in the manner of a Roy Orbison song, like "Only the Lonely" or a similar mid-tempo piece. When John played it for George Martin, it sounded a bit too dreary to work, and it was Martin who suggested speeding it up. They did, and when they brought it back to the studio, it was awesome enough such that Martin could say his extremely famous line from the control booth: "Congratulations, boys. You've just recorded your first number one record." And so they had.

The song works so well, I think, because it mixes the right formula of perfect pop and total raunchiness. George Martin, of course, really wanted the Beatles' first single to be "How Do You Do It," which is ALL pop and no meat at all, which is why they detested it. But "Please Please Me" is more interesting in so many ways. John's awesome harp line on the opening chords launches into the shared John and Paul vocal, Paul wailing away on his one-note line up top. Then in the "Come on"s John gets throatier and throatier, truly pleading, while George and Paul sing back, Paul just getting higher and higher and more elated.

I always hear the vocals most prominently on this song, because the close harmonic singing is extremely good, and because the guitars, as awesome as they are, are really just punctuating that-- just supporting the ramping up of the energy. The exception is the drums, with Ringo's rolls and his quick stops making for a really unforgettable beat.

Some might think this is dated, but I think song sounds as sexy now as it did in 1963. Even if the song isn't LITERALLY about oral sex, as some have stipulated, it's definitely thinking some impure thoughts. I mean, truly, when he sings "Come on" John is all but snarling up your skirt. For all its poppy breeziness, "Please Please Me" is dripping with genuine desire. That's why the non-debate about Beatles vs. Stones, or Beatles vs. Elvis, or whatever, is such crap: the Beatles could, and did, rock as hard as anyone. They launched onto the national scene with a song that would heat up countless dance floors. And within a tight pop formula, with clean production, they were capable of making millions of girls think the dirtiest thoughts of their lives.

"Please Please Me," released in the U.K. as a single w/ "Ask Me Why," January 11, 1963; released and ignored in the U.S. as a VeeJay single w/ "Ask Me Why," February 7, 1963.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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