It is hard to believe but yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the Please Please Me album recording session. On February 11, 1962 the Bealtes went into Abbey Road Studios–still called EMI Studios–and banged out ten of the fourteen songs that would appear on their first long playing record. (The other four songs had been recorded and released previously as singles.) Yes, the Beatles anniversaries are hitting the half a century mark. I am one of those people of the belief that the Beatles didn’t record a bad song. There are a few in the canon weaker than the rest (“Old Brown Shoe”?), but how many can be called truly awful?
I know it did not break ground the way Revolver and Sgt. Pepper would a few short years later, but Please Please Me has always been my favorite Beatles lp. For starters, it sounds different than the rest of their work. Basically it was the recording of live studio performances with little overdubbing or other studio gimmickry. This gives the record a fresh sound that it has never lost even after five decades. The great jazz records of the 1950s and 1960s, recorded in the same era with the same primitive recording equipment, have a similar freshness and vitality. The Beatles already understood the songs in-and-out because they had played them hundreds of times in Liverpool, Hamburg, and anywhere else they could land a gig. I often quip that the Beatles recorded Please Please Me in February 1962 and it was all downhill from there. In the thousands of times I have listened to it over the years, I have always better and more refreshed when the final chords of “Twist and Shout” fade away. It isn’t saying too much to call the album . . . life-affirming. It’s on my turntable right now.
I’m looking forward to volume one of Mark Lewisohn’s monumental trilogy, coming later this year. The wait has been frustrating but Lewisohn has been taking his time for the best reason: to tell the story properly. There have been other worthwhile, even essential Beatle books, but it is really a story only Lewisohn can tell in all its messiness, grandeur, and totality. It is almost now or never for the documenting of the Beatles story. Two of them are already gone; McCartney and Starkey are now in their seventies. It is hard to imagine, but in a few short years they and many of the people present during the creation will also no longer be with us to tell their part of the story. This book and its subsequent volumes are going to be a huge deal.
Put the record on right now. You’ll feel great.