On February 16th, 1963, “Please Please Me” by the Beatles reached the top of the British rock charts just a month after its release. It was quite an accomplishment, considering it was only the band’s second single.
Bill Harry was a friend of John Lennon, and as the music scene in Liverpool started growing bigger and bigger, Harry decided that local music fans needed a way to keep up with all of the groups emerging from the area. So he started publishing a newspaper called Mersey Beat (the Mersey River flows through Liverpool, and the music that was coming out of the area was known as the “Mersey Sound”).
In the January 3 – 17, 1963 edition of Mersey Beat, reported Alan Smith talks about witnessing the recording session where the Fab Four recorded “Please Please Me”:
“The seconds ticked away, high in the control room at EMI’s recording studios in St. Johns Wood, London. Through the glass panel I could se The Beatles, grouping themselves ‘round the microphone as they waited for the signal to begin. Recording manager George Martin made a few last-minute adjustments to the control panel.
“Everything was ready. He waived his hand and suddenly the silence was shattered. The boys had launched into the throbbing beat of “Please Please Me”, the number they hope will take them high into the Top Thirty when it is released this month. Believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised if it jumped right into the Top Ten.
“The Beatles rightly regard it as their most commercial number they’ve done so far. John told me: “I tried to make it as simple as possible. Some of the stuff I’ve written has been a bit way out, but we did this one strictly for the hit parade. Now we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
The article later went on to say that “For technical reasons, the harmonica was dubbed onto “Please Please Me” after the rest of the number had been recorded. But it’s been done so professionally that you won’t be able to tell when you hear it.”
When talking with producer George Martin, the reporter claimed that Martin “thought the group have a sound something like “a male Shirelles”. He may be right, but to my ears they come across something like The Drifters.”
I really enjoy reading real-life accounts of The Beatles’ career before they became the biggest band in music history. I know that’s a bold statement, but can anyone argue it? You may not be a Beatles fan, but you cannot underestimate their impact on popular music. They became not only a musical phenomenon, but cultural icons as well.
Yet, in 1963, when they were recording “Please Please Me”, they were still being compared to American pop artists. They were hoping that their new single would at least break into the Top Thirty. They were nervous about getting just the right sound.
In my last entry, I stated that I was going to back off on blog writing a little to devote more time to the book I’ve been working on for just about two years now. I mention it now because the book I’m writing centers around the theme of this entry: No matter how famous or semi-famous someone becomes, they all had to start somewhere. They all had to take risks, learn to rely on luck, and suffer disappointment in order to get to the top. In the coming weeks, I’ll probably be providing snippets of what I’ve written so far, and ask readers to offer their honest opinion.
In the meantime, enjoy The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, performing the single that the band hoped would make the Top Thirty…and instead helped catapult them into a level of stardom the likes of which were never before seen, and will probably never be seen again.