50 Years Ago: The Beatles Release ‘Please Please Me’
“Congratulations, gentlemen. You’ve just made your first No. 1.”
According to Beatles lore, those were the words spoken by producer George Martin on Nov. 26, 1962 after finishing the recording ‘Please Please Me,’ which was released, inconspicuously enough, as Parlophone 45-R 4983 on Jan. 11, 1963. Six weeks later, Martin would be proven right, with it topping the charts of two major British music magazines, Melody Maker and New Musical Express, thus kicking off the phenomenon that would soon become known as Beatlemania.
‘Please Please Me’ was one of the original songs the group recorded on their first recording session two months prior, but it would require a major modification. John Lennon, like everybody else cool at the time, was listening to a lot of Roy Orbison, and so he fashioned an Orbison-like ballad. For the lyrics, Lennon, whose fascination with wordplay was already in place, took inspiration from Bing Crosby’s ‘Please,’ which began, “Please lend your little ear to my pleas.”
Martin liked the song, but not the arrangement, and instead he had them record a song by an established composer, Mitch Murray, called ‘How Do You Do It?” The Beatles grudgingly complied, but were more enthusiastic to another suggestion of his, that they consider speeding up ‘Please Please Me.’ To Martin’s delight, they had it ready to go, adding Paul McCartney’s second vocal and Lennon’s harmonica to the song, when it came time to record their second single.
Unfortunately, EMI chose to erase the masters of the slowed-down version of ‘Please Please Me,’ so Beatles fans can only envision it in its original form.
The B-side, ‘Ask Me Why,’ is a ballad that shows off how much they had already learned about songwriting from the Great American Songbook, with a few jazzy chords and close harmony singing. It was recorded in the same session that birthed the A-side.