Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twist and Shout

Please Please Me, the Beatles' first album, was famously recorded in one all-day marathon session so that Parlophone could rush out an LP to capitalize on the success of the "Please Please Me" single. The one day in the studio was squeezed in between gigs on their tour opening for Helen Shapiro. (Who? you may well ask-- but yes, she was the headliner.) This was a far cry from the later days of tinkering in the studio, and it's always fun to say things like "recording 'We Can Work It Out' took longer than recording their entire first LP only two years earlier!" and so on. Anyway, this album is basically a recreation of the band's live set-- there's very little editing, and the whole thing was done on a two-track machine.

The album is also AWESOME, maybe their greatest early album (though I have a soft spot for With the Beatles). And according to DMBeatles, the one day they threw pretty much everything together for it was today, February 11, in 1963. This seems at least as important an anniversary as the Ed Sullivan one.

So in commemoration, today I'm listening to "Twist and Shout," which has the most famous story. John had a bad cold that day-- you can TOTALLY hear his cold all over the LP, especially on "Anna (Go to Him)," and it's wicked cute-- so producer George Martin wanted to leave "Twist and Shout" until the very end of the day, figuring that the vocal performance that had made this song a favorite in their stage set (Martin described it as the sound of "tearing flesh") would probably destroy John's vocal chords too much to record anything else. That's also why it had to be done in a single take. The pressure was on. But of course the Beatles were an amazing live band, and they did an amazing performance.

I've read that John later disavowed this a bit, saying that he had performed "Twist and Shout" much better on other occasions, and it's true that there's a bit of audible coughing on the album version. But still, it's hard to imagine how it would have been possible for it to be any better. Then again, there are enough live versions out there for us to decide for ourselves. The version on Anthology 1, recorded live at the Royal Variety Performance, is quite good (this is the song on which John asked the people in the expensive seats to rattle their jewelry). Then there's this one, from Swedish TV:

And this one, somewhere in Melbourne:

And of course they opened Shea Stadium with half the song (there's some bonus "Baby's in Black" on here for you too):

Me? I'll dance to any of 'em.

"Twist and Shout" has got to be one of their greatest covers, and one cover which, to me, is unquestionably better than the versions that came before. Written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell, its most famous version prior to the Beatles' was the one by the Isley Brothers, but that one definitely can't hold a candle. The Isley Brothers perform the song in a laid-back Motown style that's all very well and good (and apparently did it much, much better live than on their recording), but it took the Beatles to get all raw and crazy and sexy with it. Which is why it's the most famous version going. Like "Please Please Me," "Twist and Shout" is all about the sexy sexy sex-- John's vocals (and Paul's and George's) aren't really tearing flesh so much as they are humping it. God knows how no one's parents noticed.

"Twist and Shout," released in the U.K. side B track 7 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S., released side B track 6 of Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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