Monday, March 11, 2013

The Beatles - Please Please Me

That's right, I'm going to start going through The Beatles albums in order.

Please Please Me is actually the last of The Beatles albums I ever purchased. I didn't purchase it until quite late, when they did the 2009 remastered versions.  Why did it take me so long?  Well, let's go track by track and you'll probably see why:

  1. "I Saw Her Standing There" - You're probably already singing along in your head the second you read that title.  I know I am.  It's hard not to, with that wonderful poppy driving beat and the three part harmonies.  This song is a perfect example of what made them so popular and well liked.
  2. "Misery" - and they follow it up with a song that's a bit slower.  I think I can understand why this one isn't as well remembered, but it also shows that even from the beginning they were interested in doing things a bit different.  The guitar is country and the piano sounds like something straight out of a musical.  While John does some interesting vocal sounds toward the very end, it's otherwise not a particularly memorable song.
  3. "Anna (Go to Him)" - Our first cover, here because reportedly John really loved the song.  It allows him to do his own special version of soulful vocals, creating a sound that makes you think his throat is being torn apart, probably because it is.  While the song isn't terrible, John's done better versions of those vocals and overall it's really just a mediocre sad love song.
  4. "Chains" - Our first song with George on vocals, and it's another cover.  The three part vocals on the chorus feel slightly out of sync with each other, and I'm not sure that was intentional. The song itself isn't too great.
  5. "Boys" - And now it's time for Ringo to do his cover.  Probably the most interesting thing is that this was obviously a song originally written for a female lead, specifically The Shirelles, but they didn't let that stop them from covering it.  It's probably the strongest of the covers so far, as it has their energy and George gets to do a guitar solo on it.  I dare say even Ringo haters can enjoy this one.
  6. "Ask Me Why" - Back to original songs for a bit, and this one is slower than even "Misery."  It's a fairly standard sounding song for the time period, with a strong influence from doo wop groups.  It's not bad, but it's also kind of forgettable.  I appreciate this song more for the call back it gets later in their career, but I'll tell you about that when we come to it.
  7.  "Please Please Me" - The harmonica makes its first appearance! It's also their first number one, as I said before.  And it's well deserved.  This is quintessential early Beatles and everything they did right.
  8. "Love Me Do" - Their first single.  There's a version of this song on The Beatles Anthology that features a very nervous sounding Paul McCartney singing on the chorus because he's just been informed he's going to be doing it alone while John plays the harmonica.  This is another song that nearly everyone knows, so I find it hard to comment.  You've probably already made up your own mind about songs like this, after all.
  9. "P.S I Love You" - I wonder if other people listen to this song and know immediately that this is a song that Paul primarily wrote.  It's got that sappy sweet quality that usually signifies it's him.  The fact that he's singing lead is also a clue.  Like a lot of Paul songs, I don't dislike it, but it just seems to exist in some universe where everything is always perfectly lovely and wonderful, and since I don't live in that world I don't enjoy these songs as much.  I'm not enough of a romantic for that.
  10. "Baby It's You" Another cover originally done by The Shirelles, this time sung by John.  The "sha la la la la" makes it easy to sing along to, but otherwise it's not particularly special.
  11. "Do You Want to Know a Secret" - While sung by George, it's still a Lennon McCartney song, as George wasn't quite ready to write his own yet.  I find this one gets stuck in my head a lot, and is just plain fun to sing in its simplicity.
  12. "A Taste of Honey" - Another cover, apparently from a Broadway play.  I have to be honest and say I really don't like this one.  It's too slow, it's uninteresting, and it doesn't grab me in any way.
  13. "There's a Place" - This one has a lot of similarities to "Please Please Me" musically but just isn't quite as interesting vocally.  Not bad, but not exactly a stand out hit.  It feels exactly like what it is - album filler.
  14. "Twist and Shout" - This is definitely one of those songs where I don't think most people even realize this was a cover for them.  I knew it was an Isley Brothers cover, but in doing research I was surprised to discover it was actually originally called "Shake It Up, Baby" and recorded by a band called The Top Notes.  The Top Notes version is pretty different, and it's safe to say The Beatles were largely trying to copy what the Isley Brother did with the song.  The addition of the guitar is really what makes the Beatles version so distinctive, along with John's vocals.  While he's largely singing it in the same way, the fact that it wasn't entirely in his range meant he was screaming his way through, creating that fantastic throat ripping sound I mentioned earlier.  It's odd to think that such a sound would be pleasing, but I can't possibly deny that it is to me.

While there are undeniably some classics on here, there's also some rather mediocre ones as well.  The abundance of covers was pretty common for the time period, but in this day and age we're far more interested in hearing their original work.  Most of the classics are available through other means, like live versions on The Beatles Anthology 1 or in a collection like The Beatles 1.  Of course these days you can also download the songs individually through iTunes.If nothing else, I don't think this is a good starting point for someone who wants to hear more Beatles songs.  Start with a later album, and if you're really thirsting for more later on, you can always come back to this one.


  1. +JMJ+

    I must have owned this album (on cassette--LOL!) at some point because I know all the tracks, but I don't remember it at all. I might also have learned the songs separately, from compilations. I'm really not sure! (But I do recall that I put up with A Taste of Honey--a discography inclusion I don't understand to this day--only because it was too much trouble to fast forward to the next track with any accuracy.)

    Listening to them now, with a more critical ear, I totally get what you mean about the doo-wop influence and the generally immature sound. Take out Please Please Me and album would have sunk under the weight of all the musical shibboleths outnumbering the occasional hints of brilliance.

    That's an interesting point about Paul's songs being, on the whole, sappier than John's. In retrospect, that's kind of obvious; but I had never thought about it before. (I do, however, like the love songs Paul wrote for Wings. They have fewer musical cliches in the melodies and the arrangements are more complex, so the lyrics don't seem as sugary sweet as his earlier stuff.)

    I'm surprised to read that most people don't know Twist and Shout is a cover. I think I knew it after reading the album jacket and not seeing the usual "Lennon/McCartney" credit. That's the main reason I didn't choose it as my favourite Beatles song, despite loving it the most at the time: it wasn't "real" enough. =P But it's true that they "made it their own" (as we say these days) and their Twist and Shout is different in both style and spirit from the Isley Brothers' version. No one is going to rattle her jewelry to the original. ;-)

    1. I do recall that I put up with A Taste of Honey--a discography inclusion I don't understand to this day--only because it was too much trouble to fast forward to the next track with any accuracy.

      Oh man, that takes me back. The only Beatles I owned on cassette was the first Anthology, but I do remember having to play the fast-forward then rewind game for skipping on other albums. :)

      That's an interesting point about Paul's songs being, on the whole, sappier than John's.

      John's songs are frequently more about "I need you" than "I love you," which says so much about his psyche. There are songs of Paul's littered throughout his song writing career where I think he strikes the right balance, but there's also no denying that his post Beatles career is lacking something for me. Whether it's John's assistance or George Martin's production, I'm not sure.

      I'm surprised to read that most people don't know Twist and Shout is a cover.

      I'll fully admit that I may be wrong here. But I definitely don't think most people have heard the Isley Brothers version, at least.


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