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“PLEASE PLEASE ME”
(Paul McCartney – John Lennon)
By the end of 1962, The Beatles were feeling rather frustrated and disillusioned. They had worked extremely hard during the previous three years to achieve national stardom, but were not able to penetrate any further than Liverpool and Hamburg. They began to feel “stale and cramped,” as Lennon had stated, and just wanted to “get out of Liverpool and break new ground.” Their appearances at the Cavern Club in Liverpool had become ‘old hat’ to them; they had a tremendous following there, but it hadn’t grown outside of their home town. They were given brief appearances in other towns, such as Peterborough opening up for Frank Ifield, but other than their five residencies in Hamburg, Germany, they always bombed when they were away from home.
Lennon also felt that they had “outlived the Hamburg stage,” which they reluctantly went back to in November and December of 1962, only because of contractual obligation. Even though they were able to secure a professional recording contract with Parlophone records earlier that year, their first single, “Love Me Do,” only reached #17 on the national British charts, this achievement being reached only because of local Liverpool sales as well as their manager Brian Epstein personally purchasing 10,000 copies for his NEMS record store, as rumors suggest. So, it seemed, The Beatles were not to go any further than Liverpool.
This is when a series of fortunate events, as well as a brilliantly written song, changed their fate as well as history itself. Little did they know that the song that they recorded on November 26th, 1962, which was earmarked for their second single, would be the one that would begin the chain of events to take them beyond their home town and, eventually, to the whole world. The song they recorded that day was “Please Please Me,” which finally opened the doors that they had been knocking on for over three years.
The first fortunate occurrence happened when Brian Epstein, as encouraged by George Martin, approached music publisher Dick James in order to secure a deal for publishing the new Lennon / McCartney compositions. Brian Epstein was unpleased by the lack of effort “Beechwood Music” had put forth to promote “Love Me Do.” In order to secure this publishing deal, Dick James played “Please Please Me” over the phone to Philip Jones, the producer of the national TV show “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” Since Philip Jones agreed to book The Beatles on one of his upcoming shows, it clinched the deal for Dick James to be The Beatles' new music publisher.
The new single was released in the UK on January 11th, 1963. Since Britain was seeing one of the worst winters in their history, most people were snowed-in at home on January 19th, 1963 to watch The Beatles perform “Please Please Me” on “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” The national exposure of this exciting song, as well as the unusual appearance and hair style of the group, garnered the band a lot of attention and propelled the record up the national British charts. And, because of the beginnings of success for the record, they were booked by promoter Arthur Howes on consecutive national tours. All of this gave The Beatles much press coverage and, combining all of these ingredients, propelled their second single to #1 on most of the British charts. And, as they say, the rest is history!
John Lennon's childhood home, 251 Menlove Avenue
It has been agreed by both Lennon and McCartney that “Please Please Me” was entirely written by John. As recounted in his 1980 Playboy magazine interview, Lennon states: “That’s me completely…I remember the day I wrote it. I remember the pink eiderdown over the bed sitting in one of the bedrooms in my house on Menlove Avenue, my auntie’s place." The actual date of the writing can be pinpointed to June 7th through 9th, 1962, just after The Beatles returned from their first recording session at EMI Studios in London. Producer George Martin didn't think the three original compositions they recorded that day (June 6th, 1962) were good enough to be used as their first single so, spurred on to impress him, John immediately set out to write a song that was commercial enough; the perfect pop song!
John continues: “It was my attempt at writing a Roy Orbison song, would you believe it?...I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only The Lonely’ on the radio.” He set out to write a ballad in the dramatic drawn-out style of Roy Orbison while incorporating the double use of the word “please.” This is the rendition of the song that was brought to EMI studios on September 4th, 1962 for consideration for their first single. The song was to change shape, due to the suggestions of George Martin a week later.
John then adds: “Also, I was always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went: ‘Please lend a little ear to my pleas…’ I was intrigued by the double use of the word ‘please.’ So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby.” The song John refers to was a 1932 hit simply entitled “Please,” which spent six weeks at the top of the American charts that year. "'Please Please Me' was a John idea," Paul wrote in his book "The Lyrics." "John liked the double meaning of 'please.' Yeah, 'please' is, you know, pretty please. 'Please have intercourse with me. So, pretty please, have intercourse with me, I beg you to have intercourse with me.' He liked that, and I liked that he liked that. This was the kind of thing we'd see in each other, the kind of thing in which we were matched up. We were in sync."
The following day after the song was written by John, June 9th, 1962, the group played a "Beatles Welcome Home Show" at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. After the performance, John and Paul, accompanied by young female fans Lindy Ness and Lou Stern, were driven over to Paul's home on Forthlin Road in Liverpool. "We spent the night there," Lindy innocently wrote in her diary. This evening is noteworthy because, as detailed in Mark Lewisohn's book "Tune In," the song "Please Please Me" was still taking shape.
Lewisohn writes: "Late night on June 9, Lindy and Lou watched them refine ("Please Please Me"), seated side by side at Jim Mac's upright piano in Paul's front parlor. Lindy (Ness) recalls them 'mostly working on the chord changes, with a lot of joking and messing about.' The two 15-year-old girls stayed through the night and, later, dozed under the piano while Lennon - McCartney explored chords above their heads. 'They asked us what we thought of it,' Lou remembers, 'and we said it was great. It was certainly great to see them writing, and that they didn't mind us being there - but they were always dead casual about things like that.'"
This is not to say that Paul should be viewed as a collaborator on the song. John made this point clear in a postcard he sent to Melody Maker magazine in 1971, saying: "I wrote 'Please Please Me' alone. It was recorded in the exact sequence in which I wrote it." As mentioned above, Paul never claimed authorship of the song, referring to it always as "John's." Interestingly, upon release, most record labels around the world listed this John Lennon song as a "McCartney / Lennon" composition, the US Vee-Jay single being a noteable exception, more accurately listing this as a "J. Lennon - P. McCartney" song.
The Beatles in EMI studio two on September 4th, 1962
On September 4th, 1962, The Beatles gathered in EMI Studio Two for their second EMI recording session, trying to nail down what would be the songs on their first single for the Parlophone label. Before the sessions began, producer George Martin and his assistant producer Ron Richards observed The Beatles going through a vigorous rehearsal session to determine which songs would be featured on their first record. George Martin had already determined that "How Do You Do It," a Mitch Murray-penned composition he had hand picked for The Beatles to record, would be the a-side of their first single. The objective now was to pick which of their original songs would become the b-side. The Beatles rehearsed six songs in these three hours, 2:30 to 5:30 pm, which included the newly written “Please Please Me.”
As this was the slow and bluesy Roy Orbison version of the song, George Martin brought forth some suggestions. "They played me 'Please Please Me' but it was very slow and rather dreary," George Martin relates in Mark Lewisohn's book "Tune In," adding, "I told them if they doubled the speed it might be interesting. I told them what beginning and what ending to put on it." Paul remembers: "We were a bit embarrassed that he had found a better tempo than we had." In any event, these suggestions were to be worked out and implemented by the group another time, thereby disqualifying "Please Please Me" for the b-side at this point. Of course, since this was a rehearsal session only, no tapes were rolling so there is no audio evidence of this bluesy version of the song as John originally envisioned it.
However, engineers Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick were present on this day to witness this early version of "Please Please Me" being rehearsed. In his book "Here, There And Everywhere," Geoff Emerick explains: "The song being rehearsed was soulful and was sung with great feeling by John, but it had a very slow tempo and was marred by a clumsy phrase that George Harrison played over and over again, repetitive to the point of annoyance. Ringo was doing something odd too - he was sitting behind his kit with a maraca in one hand and a tambourine in the other, all while hitting the bass drum pedal with his right foot, a ridiculous posture that caused Norman (Smith) to burst into laughter and shout out to us, 'Look at what that bloody drummer is up to now!" In the "Beatles Anthology" book, Ringo concurs, saying: "On my first visit in September we just ran through some tracks for George Martin. We even did 'Please Please Me.' I remember that because while we were (performing) it I was playing the bass drum with a maraca in one hand and a tambourine in the other." George Martin of course witnessed this display as well, which most probably cemented his earlier idea of using a studio drummer for The Beatles.
As it turned out, "Love Me Do" was chosen by George Martin as the b-side for the single at this point, the group proceeding to record it later that day. The other rehearsed songs, including "Please Please Me," were pushed back for possibly another time.
One week later, on September 11th, 1962, The Beatles reconvened at EMI Studio Two at 4:45 pm to continue the sessions for their first single. Because of disputes with publishing companies, the song "How Do You Do It" was no longer going to be a part of the first Beatles single. George Martin reluctantly agreed that "Love Me Do" would be the a-side of the record, the objective of this session being to record songs for consideration for the b-side. While Ron Richards was in the producer's chair, a decision was made to hire a session musician to act as drummer on this day, the choice being Andy White. The first song recorded was "P.S. I Love You," this being recorded relatively quickly, leaving a good portion of studio time still available.
Geoff Emerick remembers: “There was still another hour of time available to The Beatles. 'Have you boys got anything else you’d like to play for me?' (Ron) Richards asked over the intercom. 'Yes!' came the enthusiastic reply...Just then, George Martin walked in…and got on the talkback to say hello to the band…He announced that he was going to have a quick listen to what they’d done, and would then be right down to start work on the new song. Norman (Smith) lifted a few faders and we were able to hear what was going on downstairs." The Beatles had taken time in the past week to incorporate the changes that George Martin suggested for "Please Please Me," including increasing the tempo. However, Ron Richards made another suggestion on this day, something that the group had been playing the last time they brought the song into the studio. "George was playing the opening phrase over and over and over throughout the song. I said, 'For Christ's sake, George, just play it in the gaps!'"
Geoff Emerick continues: “After the first run-through, there was a great deal of discussion, and it was clear that George Martin was dissatisfied. ‘Look, you’ve definitely got something there, boys...we need to sort out...some harmony parts for Paul.’ They nodded enthusiastically and began experimenting along the lines that George had suggested." In the March 8th, 1963 edition of the British magazine "New Musical Express," John commented: "What made it exciting was that we almost abandoned it as the b-side of 'Love Me Do.' Imagine that, a number that could get us to the top just tucked away! We changed our minds only because we were so tired the night we did 'Love Me Do.' We'd been going over it a few times and when we came to the question of the flip side of 'Love Me Do,' we intended using 'Please Please Me.' Our recording manager George Martin thought our arrangement was fussy, so we tried to make it simpler. We were getting very tired, though, and we just couldn't seem to get it right. We're conscientious about our work and we don't like to rush things."
In his book "The Lyrics," Paul recalled: "George (Martin) liked the song when we brought it in, but he said, 'Do you think we could do it faster?' We were like, 'No, no, no,' but George, being very persuasive, said, 'Let's just try it. If you don't like it, we don't have to.' He said, 'I think this could be your first #1.' So grudgingly, we lifted the tempo." Another element of this new rendition was John and Paul's use of harmonies in the verses ala "Cathy's Clown" by The Everly Brothers, which George Martin undoubtedly preferred over the harmony-less version they played for him back on September 4th. "I did the trick of remaining on the high note while the melody cascaded down from it," Paul explained in his book "Many Years From Now." In any event, one of these "tired" experimentations with "Please Please Me" were caught on tape, an acetate disc of the recording done being evidence that it was indeed under consideration for the b-side of "Love Me Do." This version of "Please Please Me" was included on the 1994 compilation album "Anthology 1."
Interestingly, Geoff Emerick writes that drummer Andy White “was dismissed for the day” just before they started work on “Please Please Me.” However, listening to the evidence on the “Anthology 1” album, it appears that the drumming style is quite unlike that of Ringo. This newly found recording shows the drummer playing perfect drum fills in the bridge of the song, whereas Ringo’s usual staggered left-handed fills are prominently featured in the released version recorded on November 26th of that year. Mark Lewisohn's book "Tune In" verifies that Andy White was indeed the drummer on this version of the song. In a 2012 BBC interview, Andy White himself states: "From the drum sound I can tell that I was on it, because it was a vastly different sound to Ringo's drumset at that time. This was before he got the Ludwig set. Each drummer gets an individual sound, first of all by the way they tune the drums and then by the way they play the drums."
After this first version of "Please Please Me" was recorded, they utilized the remaining time of the recording session to record another version of "Love Me Do" with Andy White on drums and Ringo on tambourine. With this accomplished, the session ended at 6:30 pm. “We were standing in the corridor outside the control room after the session," Ron Richards remembers. "George (Martin) was saying, ‘We haven’t quite got ‘Please Please Me’ right, but it’s too good a song to just throw away. We’ll leave it for another time…” Listening to the “Anthology 1” version, you can see how close they really were to the finished version. The few missing ingredients could easily have been added in overdubs, which was a luxury that they would utilize very soon afteerward. However, the decision was eventually made that the first version of "Love Me Do" (with Ringo on drums) would be the a-side and "P.S. I Love You" would be the b-side of their first single.
In the meantime, The Beatles took to heart the suggestions made to rework "Please Please Me" once again for a future recording session. In the above mentioned "New Musical Express" article, Lennon states: "In the following weeks, we went over and over it again and again. We changed the tempo a little. We altered the words slightly. And we went over the idea of featuring the harmonica, just as we'd done on 'Love Me Do.'" In Paul's book "The Lyrics," Paul adds: ""That was one of the great things about working in collaboration. I could bring something in that John would spot needed alteration. He would bring something in that I would spot needed alteration. Then, if neither of us spotted the problem, George Martin would. That collaboration made The Beatles a very lucky little group to be in."
On November 16th, 1962, George Martin called a meeting with the group for a proposed plan of action for a second single. Given that their first single "Love Me Do" had only reached #17 on the British charts, producer George Martin recognized that they had been obligated to be out of the country in Hamburg, Germany during parts of November and December as the record began charting in the UK, thereby not being able to promote the song with live performances. Nevertheless, the record's modest showing on the charts propelled him to take a chance on investing in a second single for this new artist, wanting to be able to acquire for himself a Cliff Richard equivalent for his Parlophone label.
George Martin recalls that, during this meeting, he revealed to the group that he "was still thinking that we should release their (earlier) recording of 'How Do You Do It'" for the a-side of their second single, still feeling strongly that it had hit potential. Ringo recalled: "I remember us all being ready to stand up for the principle of, 'We have written these songs and we want to do them!'" Music publisher Dick James, however, did not like the rendition of "How Do You Do It" that The Beatles recorded and had a vested interest in having someone else record the song, having just secured the publishing rights to the future "Lennon / McCartney" catalog. George Martin relates, "I would still have issued 'How Do You Do It' had they not persuaded me to listen to another version of 'Please Please Me.'"
It was decided, then, that the original session for “Please Please Me,” recorded on September 11th, 1962, was unsuitable for The Beatles' second single, so the next recording session, scheduled for November 26th, 1962, was arranged to remake the song, as well as to record the b-side. "We'd had a Top 30 entry with 'Love Me Do' and we really thought we were on top of the world," Lennon relates in "Beatles Anthology." "Then came 'Please Please Me' - and wham! We tried to make it as simple as possible. Some of the stuff we've written in the past has been a bit way-out, but we aimed this one straight at the hit parade." One three-hour session was all that was thought to be needed, unlike the two three-hour sessions that were necessary for their first single. However, George Martin's instincts were correct, Gerry And The Pacemakers cutting "How Do You Do It" shortly thereafter and making it a #1 hit in Britain as well as international success.
When the day arrived to record their second single, November 26th, 1962 in EMI Studio Two, no session drummer was in sight, George Martin acquiescing to Ringo’s rightful place behind the drum kit. The band arrived in the studio at 6 pm for an hour long rehearsal with fan Roberta (Bobby) Brown present for moral support. In fact, during this rehearsal, Lennon suggested she play piano during the quick ascending chords in each of the three verses of "Please Please Me." In Mark Lewisohn's book "Tune In," she relates: "John was showing me these chords on the piano, saying, 'So Bobby, you can play this...' and I just said to him, 'You're mad. There's no way I can do this.' He said, 'But you can play piano,' and I said, 'Yes, but I have to have a piece of music in front of me.' It went on like this for some time, and in the end I just said 'I can't do it.'" Not being a member of the Musicians' Union would have prevented her performance, not to mention that George Martin probably would have put the kibosh to it anyway.
This rehearsal led straight into the proper three hour recording session that ran from 7 to 10 pm. The Beatles launched right into the newly arranged “Please Please Me” at 7 pm. It was suggested by George Martin that Lennon play the harmonica for the main riff of the song rather than it being played on guitar by George Harrison. But, unlike the situation with “Love Me Do,” it was decided to record the song live with John playing guitar and to overdub the harmonica afterwards. After a suitable recording of the song was recorded (the best 'take' unknown), the two-track tape was then re-recorded onto another two-track tape machine while John simultaneously recorded his harmonica parts. The result was a combination of Harrison on guitar and Lennon on harmonica both performing that recognizable riff, resulting in the harmonica once again being a distinctive feature on a Beatles single.
The total number of takes, including the harmonica overdubs, amounted to 18. "By the time the session came around," Lennon related in the above mentioned "New Musical Express" article, "we were so happy with the result, we couldn't get it recorded fast enough." At around 9 pm, after two hours of recording, George Martin made his famous exclamation from the recording booth, “You’ve just made your first #1.” This confidence on George Martin’s part continued from this point on, never again suggesting The Beatles to record other people’s material for their singles, this being maintained throughout their career. Although there were eight US singles released that featured cover tunes as the a-side, these were decisions made by American record labels and were not the official British releases.
Unlike the sessions for the first single, no mixes were made on this day. The rest of the three hour session consisted of recording two contenders for the b-side of the single, which were “Ask Me Why” and the ill-fated “Tip Of My Tongue,” which was never released and is said to be lost. The Beatles eventually gave the latter inferior song (George Martin’s opinion) to another artist in the Brian Epstein stable, Tommy Quickly, who released it as his first single in August of 1963, although it didn’t become a hit.
The mono mix of “Please Please Me” was done four days later, on November 30th, 1962, in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin, Norman Smith and an unnamed 2nd engineer. It is not known which take was used for this mix, but it was deemed suitable for the British single release (on January 11th, 1963) as well as the mono version of the British album release (on March 22nd, 1963), although a slight bit of added echo is present on the British album.
The Beatles brought "Please Please Me" to a recording studio twelve times in 1963, all of these recordings being specifically made for BBC radio broadcast. The first was on January 16th at The Playhouse Theatre in Manchester between 8:45 and 9:30 pm for the radio show "Here We Go," which aired on January 25th between 5 and 5:29 pm. Then on January 22nd, Jimmy Grant produced a recording of the song for the ever-popular “Saturday Club” show at Playhouse Theatre in London between 4 and 5 pm, the show being broadcast on January 26th between 10 am and 12 noon. Also on January 22nd, they recorded it before a live audience at BBC Paris Studio in London for “The Talent Spot” between 7 and 8 pm, this show airing on January 29th between 5 and 5:29 pm. February 20th brought them to Playhouse Theatre in London between 12:31 and 1:30 pm to record the song live on the lunchtime radio show “Parade Of The Pops.”
Curiously, when the “Please Please Me” album was being mixed for stereo on February 25th, 1963 in the control room of EMI Studio One, George Martin and his engineering staff (Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln) decided first to construct a new version of the song by editing "take 16," "take 17" and "take 18." This decision was made due to their wanting to incorporate John's overdubbed harmonica performance as heard in the mono mix, the above mentioned 'takes' not featuring John's harmonica since they were overdubbed afterward. After the editing was completed, they then made a stereo mix of the song which became the master for the stereo album in Britain as well as the US.
There are some subtle but noticeable differences, such as Lennon flubbing a line in the last verse. Instead of saying “I know you never even try, girl,” he starts out with the lyrics of the second verse by accident, which says “Why do I always…” Lennon catches himself mid-way through the line and joins McCartney who was harmonizing the correct line. This results in Lennon singing the next phrase “Come on” with a slight laugh, presumably knowing that he made the mistake.
Another noted difference in the stereo mix concerns the harmonica parts in the various parts of the song. In order to edit in those harmonica pieces into the stereo mix, they had to actually sync-up the finished mono mix with the stereo mix in those areas of the song. This resulted in an odd sounding effect because of two separate takes of the song going at slightly different speeds. This difference is especially noticeable is the final ten seconds of the song where the original mono mix with the harmonica doesn't match up very well with the harmonica-less 'takes' chosen to create the stereo mix. Nonetheless, this was deemed the best the EMI team could do given that the master tape containing the harmonica overdubs no longer existed.
More 1963 BBC radio recordings of "Please Please Me" followed, the next being on March 6th at The Playhouse Theatre in Manchester between 8 and 8:45 pm for the show “Here We Go,” which was produced by Peter Pilbeam and broadcast on March 12th between 5 and 5:29 pm. Then on March 16th in Studio 3A of Broadcasting House in London between 10 am and 12 noon, The Beatles recorded a live performance of the song for “Saturday Club,” which was produced by Jimmy Grant and Bernie Andrews. The next recording was on March 21st in Studio One of BBC Piccadilly Studios in London between 1 and 2 pm for the show “On The Scene,”which aired on March 28th between 5 and 5:29 pm. They were back in Studio One of BBC Piccadilly Studios on April 1st to record the song between 2:30 and 5:30 pm for the show “Side By Side,” which aired on April 22nd between 5 and 5:29 pm.
They also recorded it on April 3rd at The Playhouse Theatre in London between 8:30 to 9:45 pm for the show “Easy Beat,” which was broadcast on April 7th between 10:31 and 11:30 am. On April 4th, a surprisingly clear private recording of the song was made by John Bloomfield, a fifteen-year-old student in the audience of Stowe School at Roxburgh Hall in Stowe where The Beatles performed a total of 22 songs between 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Another private recording of the song was made on April 5th when The Beatles gave an early evening live performance for record company executives at EMI House in central London, during a presentation ceremony to celebrate the award of their first silver disc for their Parlophone single "Please Please Me," Paul counting off the song with "One, Two, Nine...!"
May 21st was the date for its recording at The Playhouse Theatre in London between 10 and 11:15 pm before a live audience for the show “Steppin’ Out,” which was produced by Terry Henebery and broadcast on June 3rd between 10:31 and 11:30 am. It was next recorded on July 16th at BBC Paris Studio in London between 6 and 8:30 pm for the ninth edition of their “Pop Go The Beatles” show, which was produced by Ian Grant and broadcast on August 13th between 5 and 5:29 pm. The last BBC recording of "Please Please Me" was on October 16th at The Playhouse Theatre in London between 9 and 10 pm for the radio show “Easy Beat,” which aired on October 20th between 10:31 and 11:30 am.
Interestingly, The Beatles did record a fragment of "Please Please Me" at The Playhouse Theatre in London on December 17th between 3 and 6:30 pm as part of what was called the "Chrimble Mudley," which was a 29-second recording featuring a small bit of each Beatles single up to that point along with "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." This was produced by Jimmy Grant and Bernie Andrews and broadcast on the Christmas edition of "Saturday Club" on December 21st between 10 am and 12 noon.
In order to be complete, mention should be made of a January 23rd, 1969 recording session at Apple Studios. The Beatles were rehearsing / recording material for their latest project, “Get Back,” which eventually became the album “Let It Be,” released on May 8th, 1970. The rehearsals for this project were done while the tapes were rolling, which caught the band joking, arguing, and engaging in impromptu jam sessions.
During one of the rehearsals for the song “Get Back” on this day, a suggestion was made to stand up to simulate them being on stage as in their early years. This resulted in a humorous rendition of the first verse of “Help!” and then the very beginnings of “Please Please Me,” followed by laughter erupting and a return to sitting down for the remainder of their rehearsals. This footage did not make it into the "Let It Be" movie but was included in Peter Jackson's "Get Back" series.
Also during these sessions, Paul briefly touched on "Please Please Me" while sitting at the piano in between the last two takes of the song "Let It Be" at Apple Studios on January 26th, 1969. Sometime in 2021, producer Giles Martin (George Martin's son) and engineer Sam Okell thought to include this while creating stereo mixes for an Anniversary release of the "Let It Be" album that came out later that year.
The Beatles playing live at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton on September 14th, 1962
Song Structure and Style
The study of “Please Please Me” demonstrates the proper way to write a hit pop song in the '60s. It has all the ingredients that demand attention from its listeners, which include an interesting eye-catching title, an introductory riff that effortlessly sticks in your head, a fair amount of breaks which make the listener take notice of the song's key focal points, and a dramatic ending that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction. Regarding the song's arrangement, as stated above, Lennon was quoted as saying that the band “aimed this one straight at the hit parade.”
The song was written in the standard style that encompasses most of the early Beatles catalog, which is the 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' style (or aaba). They opted not to include a solo of any kind or a repetition of the bridge and final verse, as they were prone to do. Either of these ingredients would have created a prolonged and ineffective mood, as well as exceeding the two-and-a-half minute rule for a pop song in the early '60s.
They start the song with a four bar introduction, which premieres the memorable riff played simultaneously by John on harmonica and George on guitar. We know that, even though George Martin had much to do with arranging the introductions on their original songs, the Beatles wrote this riff themselves, because Harrison was playing it repeatedly during the song’s rehearsal on September 4th, 1962 before George Martin had heard it.
We then enter into the first verse, which is sixteen measures long. The melody line starts with the opening riff being harmonized by John and Paul, John taking the true melody line with Paul sustaining one higher harmony note throughout the phrase. McCartney has called this a “cadence” and, after the fact, a Liverpool music teacher told them that she taught it to her pupils, citing “Please Please Me” as its source. As stated above, McCartney got the idea from “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers, which uses this cadence to good effect in its chorus.
The same melodic phrase is repeated (with different lyrics) before a dramatic break occurs, introducing a new guitar riff which segues into the anticipatory “Come On” call-and-response section of the verse. The ‘calls’ are sung solo by John, while the ‘responses’ are harmonized by Paul and George. This climaxes into the title of the song near the end of the verse, which acts as the true hook line of the song. And then, again, we hear the harmonica / guitar riff to set the stage for the second verse.
After the second verse repeats the identical musical structure, there is an unexpected break containing a drum fill by Ringo, which acts as a segue to the ten measure bridge. The drum fill, played by Andy White in the fourth measure on the version recorded on September 11th, is replaced by “in my heart,” which is harmonized by Paul and George. Instead, a drum fill is played by Ringo in the third measure. We see a partial reprise of the verse structure at the end of the bridge, starting with the words “you, oh yeah, why do you make me blue” mimicking the melody line of “please me, oh yeah, like I please you.” Each of these phrases could be sung interchangeably.
The bridge does not go to any uncharted territory with its chord structure, as the three chords heard in the verses are repeated throughout. The interest lies in the rapid fire eighth notes used predominantly throughout the bridge, in comparison with the quarter notes used in the verses. This suggests an urgency which creates a counterpoint to the verses’ simple-but-catchy melody line.
The final verse is a repeat of the first verse, with the exception of the conclusion, which repeats the “please please me” hook line three times for emphasis. Cleverly, the last line of the verse combines the word ‘please’ with the first word of the repeated last line, which becomes “like I please please me.” This clever subtlety is sung twice until the third repeated hook line ends with an exuberant and tight five chord progression which ends the song. This brings the final verse to a whopping total of twenty-one measures.
The lyrics of the song are written as if the singer is relating a personal experience between his ‘girl’ and himself. Actually, the only indication of this is in its opening line, which is repeated twice in the song, “Last night I said these words to my girl.” Other than this line, the rest of the lyrics sound as if he is speaking to his ‘girl,’ addressing her throughout the song as “you.” Therefore, it would probably be appropriate for most of the lyrics of this song to be in quotes, being that all of this is being related to a third party.
Another interesting observation concerning the lyrics is the suggestion, by author Tim Riley, that “Please Please Me” is the “first real oral sex pop song.” While, with this thought in mind, you can interpret the song to be written about this subject, it seems unlikely that Lennon would have tackled this subject this early in his career. In later years, he liked to touch on matters such as this, but in slyer ways, such as in “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Dig A Pony.” But since The Beatles, as of this date, specifically deny ‘oral sex’ as the subject of “Please Please Me,” Paul does explains in his book "The Lyrics," as detailed above, that John must have meant "Please have intercourse with me. So, pretty please have intercouse with me, I beg you to have intercourse with me!"
The excellent musicianship displayed on this track shows The Beatles to be an impressively tight unit, trained from years of experience in Hamburg as well as the Cavern. All the intricate breaks and unforeseen changes come across effortlessly, showing the public what they were really capable of even at this early stage.
Ringo shows himself very adept at holding his own, even while mimicking Andy White’s work from the previous recording session. McCartney is in top form performing excellent bass work while harmonizing without losing a bit of pitch. Lennon’s last minute adaptation to harmonica was an outstanding fit for the song, continuing the identifiable, although short-lived, trend of hit singles featuring that instrument.
Harrison also showed himself adept at performing the guitar riffs that became one of the trademarks of the song. He was a little shaky with this task when they attempted to record the song on September 11th, 1962, but during the two-and-a-half months that transpired between sessions, he was quite well-rehearsed enough to be up for the task.
A curious note is the change in the guitar riff at the end of the bridge. On the stereo version of the song, it is noticeable that the notes he is playing on the riff are different than the harmonica which he always plays in unison with. It is the same way on the mono version, although it’s hard to pick out of that mix. And, when listening to the many versions of the song done either for the BBC or on the September 11th version (available on Anthology 1), he always plays it with these different notes at the end of the bridge. You may either conclude that it was planned, or, more likely, that it was a mistake that became so ingrained that it always came out that way. One would think that if it was planned, Lennon's harmonica part would have been played the same way at that point. It also would not fit the established pattern of the song's structure to change the guitar riff in just that one spot. Well, no one ever claimed that The Beatles were perfect, and I’d be foolish to say they were.
No better song could have been given the privilege of becoming the a-side of the first Beatles' single in America. This occurred on February 7th, 1963, released on Vee-Jay records. There was nearly a month-long gap after its release in Britain (on January 11th) due to Capitol records refusing the song outright and Vee-Jay’s reluctance to release it, being that The Beatles were unknowns in the US. This delay was understandable since British acts were prone not to do well in the US up to that time. But when the song topped most of the British charts, most likely due to their ability to promote the song in the UK with live performances and national TV exposure, Vee-Jay thought to take the chance and release it in America.
Although WLS in Chicago did give the song airplay (February 8th, 1963 being the date of the first time The Beatles were heard on American radio), as well as placing for a couple weeks in their local charts, the single failed to take hold nationally. The song did not appear at all on the Billboard Hot 100, nor on any other national charts in the US. This was just as well, since the artist listed on the label, as well as on promotional ads, was misspelled as “The Beattles.” The lucky 7,310 people who had obtained a copy through the years now have a highly prized collector's item (if it's in good shape, that is).
The next US release of the song came on January 3rd, 1964, when the single was re-released by Vee-Jay records as 'Beatlemania' hit. Instead of having “Ask Me Why” as its b-side (as it was back in February 1963), they paired it with their second failed US single “From Me To You.” It made a huge impact on the Billboard charts this time around, peaking at #3, not being able to pass “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” in the top two positions. Vee-Jay actually spelled The Beatles name correctly this time, as well as produced promo record sleeves for the single that annouced it as "The Record That Started 'Beatlemania.'"
Then came the second version of the Vee-Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles.” The first version of the album, released on January 10th, 1964, didn’t feature the song since, when the track list was formulized back on July 22nd, 1963, Vee-Jay didn’t want to include a single that was previously a failure. Since the mother plates where already made back in July, 1963, they rush released the album as it was. But because of litigation with Capitol records concerning the inclusion of “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” (which were on the first version of the album), Vee-Jay records deleted these two songs from the album and re-released it on February 10th, 1964, with “Ask Me Why” and “Please Please Me” in their place. This album went on to become a million seller and peak at #2 on the Billboard album chart, not being able to bypass “Meet The Beatles!” at #1.
Vee-Jay records was quick to follow this with an album entitled “Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage” on February 26th, 1964. Both sides of the first two failed Vee-Jay singles from 1963, including “Please Please Me,” were the only Beatles songs on this album. The rest of the record was taken up with Frank Ifield songs, including his US Top 5 hit from 1962, “I Remember You.” This wasn’t enough of a draw for this supposedly ‘live’ album to sell well, as only 50,000 copies were sold, and a lot of these were returned shortly thereafter.
In August of 1964, we see the next appearance of the song as a Vee-Jay reissue single on their “Oldies 45” label. This made the song available as a single for another 14 months, still featuring “From Me To You” as its b-side.
Three more album attempts were made by Vee-Jay records to cash in on the Beatles catalog before they were ordered to ‘cease and desist.’ The first was “The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons,” released on October 1st, 1964, which coupled the “Introducing…The Beatles” album with “The Golden Hits of the Four Seasons” as a double album. This compilation album only peaked at #142 on the Billboard charts, selling a mere 20,000 copies. Then came a desperate act in repackaging the “Jolly What” album as “The Beatles And Frank Ifield On Stage,” which was released on October 10th, 1964 but only reached #104 on the Billboard album charts. The next appearance of the song was on a repackage of the “Introducing…The Beatles” album as “Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles” released on October 12th, 1964. It was actually the original “Introducing” album placed in a new sleeve. Many deceived Beatles' fans purhcased this album, which peaked at #63 on the Billboard album chart and sold 400,000 copies.
The next appearance of “Please Please Me” was on the Capitol album “The Early Beatles” which appeared on the scene on March 22nd, 1965. This became the only album to contain the song throughout the '60s. Incidentally, mono copies of this album contained a "Type B" mix of the songs created by Capitol Records that combined both channels of the stereo mix into one, the legitimate mono mixes of these songs created by George Martin appearing on the above mentioned Vee-Jay releases. "The Early Beatles" then appeared on an individual CD on January 21st, 2014, containing both the mono and stereo mixes on one disc.
The next release of "Please Please Me" was as a single, still paired with “From Me To You,” on the Capitol “Star Line” budget label. This was released on October 11th, 1965 and remained in print for a while in the '60s to allow “Please Please Me” to continually be available as a single.
Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes." These tape cartridges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "The Early Beatles" were released in this portable format, "Please Please Me" being on one of these. These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.
The next release of the song takes us into the ‘70s. It was contained on the first official ‘Greatest Hits’ package entitled “The Beatles 1962-1966,” better known as “The Red Album.” The album was released on April 2nd, 1973 and was certified gold by the RIAA two days before it was released (on March 31st). The album, featuring “Please Please Me” as its second song, peaked at #3 on the Billboard album chart, being unable to dislodge “The Blue Album” (“The Beatles 1967-1970”) and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses Of The Holy” from the top of the charts. The RIAA shows sales at over 15 million units sold of this album. However, the RIAA tabulates the number of actual records sold, which means that this double album sold over 7 ½ million copies, an amazing feat for a group which had broken up in late 1969. Incidentally, this album is still available on compact disc and is still selling quite steadily, its first release being on September 20th, 1993 and its remastered version being released on August 10th, 2010.
The next time "Please Please Me" was paired with "Ask Me Why" on a single in the US was on December 6th, 1982 as featured in the vinyl box set "The Beatles Singles Collection." When this package was released as "The Beatles CD Singles Collection" on November 11th, 1992 and as a reissued vinyl collection titled "The Singles Collection" on November 22nd, 2019, this same single was included.
The first time the original British "Please Please Me" album was made available in the US was the "Original Master Recording" vinyl edition released through Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in January of 1987. This album included the song "Please Please Me" and was prepared utilizing half-speed mastering technology from the original master tape on loan from EMI. This version of the album was only available for a short time and is quite collectible today.
The next release was on February 26th, 1987, the "Please Please Me" album being the first official Beatles compact disc. The US vinyl version of this album was released on July 21st, 1987. While this album came out in mono only, the remastered stereo version of the CD edition was released on September 9th, 2009, the stereo vinyl version coming out on November 13th, 2012.
On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released the box set “Compact Disc EP Collection” which contained the mono mix of “Please Please Me” due to its inclusion on the original 1963 British EP “The Beatles’ Hits.”
The September 11th, 1962 version of the song that was thought to be lost (which features Andy White on drums) was discovered and appears on the November 21st, 1995 release “Anthology 1.” This double CD (and cassette) sold an outstanding one million units in its first week, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts. The RIAA certified sales of eight million units, which translates to four million copies of the double album.
The next release was the box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2,” which came out on April 11th, 2006. This set included the album "The Early Beatles" in both stereo and "Type B" foldover mono as originally released.
There is much debate and/or disappointment about “Please Please Me” not being included on the mega-million selling album “Beatles 1.” The qualification for a song being included on this album was its appearance at #1 in either the UK or the US. Being that the song only reached #3 in America settles that issue, but its chart record in Britain is another story. Since there was no one accepted pop chart in Britain back in 1963, it depends on which music newspaper chart you look at. New Musical Express (said by some to be the main chart at the time) and Disc and Melody Maker both show the song peaking at #1, while Record Retailer shows it only peaking at #2. As it turned out, Record Retailer has since evolved into the standard "UK Singles Chart," therefore the determination was that “Please Please Me” didn’t quite deserve to be included on the “Beatles 1” album.
A 6 CD box set was released on July 17th, 2001 entitled "Produced By George Martin," which was a huge compilation set that included examples of George Martin's production work throughout his career. "Please Please Me" was included on the disc entitled "Disc Three (That Was The Decade That Was)."
The September 9th, 2009 released box set “The Beatles In Mono” includes a very vibrant remastered version of the mono mix of the song. Also released on September 9th, 2009, in promotion of the remastered Beatles catalog, the "09.09.09 Sampler" was distributed to retailers and radio programmers, "Please Please Me" being featured therein. This has become quite the find for collectors.
November 11th, 2013 was the date of release for the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2." A rare version of "Please Please Me" is contained on the album, this being recorded on July 16th, 1963 for broadcast on the radio program "Pop Go The Beatles."
On December 17th, 2013, iTunes released a 59 track compilation album entitled "Bootleg Recordings 1963" only available on their downloading platform. Two BBC versions of "Please Me Me" are included therein, these being the October 20th, 1963 rendition for the "Easy Beat" program and the March 12th, 1963 rendition for the "Here We Go" program. The purpose of this release was to extend the copyright of these recordings under European Union law from 50 years (which would have expired at the end of 2013) to 70 years (until 2033), this being considered an official release. This compilation album was only available in the US on that date to those in the know for a number of hours for $39.99 in its entirety or to be purchased as individual tracks, but was later made available for purchase as well.
In promotion of the 2014 box set "The US Albums," a 25-song sampler CD was manufactured for limited release on January 21st, 2014, this containing the stereo mix of "Please Please Me."
On October 15th, 2021, various editions of the "Let It Be" album were released that feature an interesting version of "Please Please Me." The "Deluxe" 2CD set, the "Super Deluxe" 5CD + Blu-ray edition and the "Super Deluxe" 4LP + 1 12" EP edition all include "take nine" and "take 10" of their recording of the song "Let It Be," between which Paul plays and sings a bit of "Please Please Me" on piano.
The Beatles on the British TV show "Thank Your Lucky Stars," January 1963
As stated earlier, there is no evidence to show that “Please Please Me” was performed live before its being recorded in the studio. In fact, it appears that they kept the song under wraps for a short time after it was recorded, wanting to premier this song when it would make the best impact. This turned out to be at the Mersey Beat Awards Night in Birkenhead in Merseyside, England on December 15th, 1962, just after they received their award for topping the Mersey Beat poll for the second year in a row. This first performance of "Please Please Me" occurred just nineteen days after their official EMI recording of the song and twenty-seven days (nearly four weeks) before its official release as their second British single on January 11th, 1963.
Three days before the record was released, on January 8th, 1963, The Beatles appeared on a live local Scotish TV show called "Roundup" miming a performance of "Please Please Me." Then, two days after the release of the single, January 13th, 1963, The Beatles taped a mimed performance of the song for the national British Saturday night TV show “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” which was broadcast on January 19th of that year. This opened many doors for The Beatles, helping propel the song to the top of most of the national charts. Then on January 16th, 1963, they mimed the song live on the Granada TV show "People And Places." And then came another appearance on "Thank Your Lucky Stars," this mimed performance of "Please Please Me" taped on February 17th, 1963 and aired on February 23rd of that year. Yet another mimed performance of the song was for the children's TV show "Tuesday Rendezvous" on April 9th, 1963, this live broadcast featuring 50 seconds of "Please Please Me" during the closing credits. Then came "The 625 Show," The Beatles performing "Please Please Me" at the close of the show, joined by the entire cast. This show was taped on April 13th, 1963 and broadcast on April 16th, 1963. The national BBC TV show "Pops And Lenny" was next, this being a live broadcast on May 16th, 1963, featuring a truncated version of "Please Please Me" that only lasted 1 minute and 5 seconds.
The Beatles began featuring the song in their live performances just after the record was released on January 11th, 1963, playing throughout the remainder of the month in Liverpool, Kent, Cheshire, Birkenhead and Flintshire, among others. Then, starting on February 2nd of that year, the band began a series of national tours, first with Helen Shapiro throughout February, Tommy Roe and Chris Montez in March, Roy Orbison in May, and throughout the rest of the year as the headlining act. Each tour featured The Beatles performing their #1 British hit, even catapulting them to top of the bill on the Tommy Roe and Roy Orbison tours, which found them quite uncomfortable in doing so.
As detailed above, The Beatles performed "Please Please Me" on April 4th, 1963, at a unique hour-long concert at Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School in Stowe, Bucks, which was an all-boys school. The following day, April 5th, 1963, they performed the song again at a special engagement in the early evening, this being for record company executives at EMI House in central London during a ceremony to award the group with their first silver disc, their Parlophone single "Please Please Me."
In addition to the song's extensive British television exposure in 1963, the following year brought "Please Please Me" into the American TV spotlight as well. The US was treated to an Ed Sullivan Show performance of the song on February 23rd, 1964, this being their third appearance on the show, although this performance was taped earlier on the day of their first appearance on February 9th, 1964. This February 23rd television broadcast of "Please Please Me" coincided nicely with the song’s first US appearance on the Billboard chart the day before, this TV show undoubtedly helping to propel it to the #3 position on the Billboard chart a month later. In Britain, they appeared on their own television special “Around The Beatles,” which was broadcast on May 6th and June 8th, 1964. The show included their miming to a previously recorded medley which contained a portion of “Please Please Me.”
The song also continued to be performed live in the beginnings of their first US tour in 1964, being heard at their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum on February 11th, as well as at Carnegie Hall on February 12th. The song does not appear to be included in their set list for any tours or concert appearances after this date, since they had three huge selling singles released in Britain since then to focus on, as well as multiple placements on the US singles and album charts. Their June 8th, 1964 broadcast of the song in the UK on their “Around The Beatles” TV special appears to be the last time the song was heard performed by The Beatles.
Surprisingly, McCartney chose to include “Please Please Me” as one of the final encore selections during his "The 'US' Tour," which ran from September 16th (Miami, Florida) to November 30th, 2005 (Los Angeles, California). This is especially surprising because, as previously stated, the song was written entirely by Lennon who also sang lead on the song. Prior to this, McCartney had always chosen Beatles material to perform live that he had been the lead singer on and/or had been the primary composer of. The inclusion of this song on this tour, as well as the song “I’ll Get You,” has indeed broken that pattern.
Manager Brian Epstein and Producer George Martin
America can indeed be grateful for the turn of events that led to the success of “Please Please Me” in Britain since, if this hadn’t happened, things wouldn’t have snowballed into international success for The Beatles. They might have remained a local Liverpool act and surely died a quiet death like most of the other local “beat” groups of their day.
One can speculate that since they were in Germany during the formative months that “Love Me Do” was released, they couldn’t promote the song with national tours or television exposure like they were able to do with “Please Please Me.” One can speculate that if they hadn’t stumbled upon people with connections who got behind them, such as Brian Epstein, Dick James and George Martin, they would have remained obscure local celebrities. One can even speculate that since Britain had the worst winter on record at the time "Please Please Me" was released, a huge British audience was snowed-in and had nothing better to do than see them perform the song on “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” thus creating great exposure and newspaper reviews.
All speculation aside, it can assuredly be said that none of this would have happened without a great song. “Love Me Do,” as innovative as it may have been, wouldn’t have had this impact. The creative songwriting ability of John Lennon came through to deliver a blockbuster song that had clever lyrics and an appealing structure which just hit home with the national audience.
The success of the song also became a ‘feather in the cap’ for George Martin, whose arrangement suggestions proved to be just what the song needed after all. Their respect for George Martin increased greatly after this, the group depending on him, to a greater or lesser degree, for musical direction throughout their career.
However you slice it, the United States, as well as the rest of the world, can be immensely grateful for what The Beatles brought forward with this song. America would not have been impacted the way it was, nor would you be reading this today, if John Lennon hadn’t written a song entitled “Please Please Me.”
"Please Please Me”
Written by: Paul McCartney / John Lennon
- Song Written: June 7 through 9, 1962
- Song Recorded: November 26, 1962
- First US Release Date: February 7, 1963
- US Single Release: Vee Jay #498
- First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 “Introducing…The Beatles”
- Highest Chart Position: #3
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 “Please Please Me”
- Length: 2:04
- Key: E major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineer: Norman Smith
Instrumentation (most likely):
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
The Beatles with manager Brian Epstein
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