The Please Please Me album gets off to a rousing start with Paul’s energetic “One, two, three, faaa!” count-in to I Saw Her Standing There. The song was written primarily by Paul in 1961. Its “boy sees girl at dance and falls for her” story line, complete with booming hearts and dancing through the night, was instantly appealing to teens. According to Paul, the first two lines of the song were originally “She was just seventeen, never been a beauty queen,” but John objected and came up with “Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean.” These were words that said nothing, but meant everything to a young mind’s imagination.
I Saw Her Standing There, which at the time was known as Seventeen, was the second song recorded during the morning session. From the start, all the ingredients for a classic rocker were present: Paul’s exuberant lead vocal backed by John, complete with strategic “woo”s towards the end of the verses; John and George’s driving rhythms on guitar and George’s exciting solo; Ringo’s pounding beat; and Paul’s pulsating bass. Paul lifted his bass part from I’m Talking About You, a 1961 Chuck Berry rocker that was part of the Beatles stage show with John on lead vocal.
Either of the first two takes could have been released as is. The group then ran through three edit pieces before attempting four complete run-throughs. Only the final one, Take 9, was complete. It begins with Paul’s energetic count-in that was later edited to the beginning of the finished master. The maxi-single Free As A Bird, released in 1995 along with Anthology 1, contains the full Take 9.
After breaking for lunch and working on a few other songs, the group returned to the song to overdub hand claps onto Take 1. After Take 11 breaks down, the boys keep clapping and Paul remarks, “We have to keep Britain tidier.” After the tape was rewound, they perfected the hand claps on Take 12, which was used as the finished master.
The album’s second track, Misery, is another Lennon-McCartney composition. It was written backstage at King’s Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, with John as the main contributor. Tony Bramwell was present that evening and recalls John and Paul getting stuck on one of the lines and receiving an assist from Allan Clarke and Graham Nash of the Hollies. According to Bramwell, “John and Paul were desperate to get it finished” because they wanted to get it ready for Helen Shapiro, who they would soon be touring with. A demo tape of the song was sent to Shapiro’s recording manager at EMI’s Columbia label, Norrie Paramor, but her management did not think a song titled Misery was suitable for the 16-year-old star who had hit it big with the upbeat Walking Back To Happiness. The song was then offered to Kenny Lynch, a black British singer, who became the first non-Beatle to record a Lennon-McCartney song. His recording of Misery, released as a single on March 22, failed to chart.
Misery was the last song recorded during the afternoon session. It opens with a slowly strummed guitar chord, followed by John singing, “The world is treating me bad, misery.” The song then proceeds at a medium pace with John and Paul singing about lost love. The group completed the song in 11 takes. The tape speed was run at 30 ips (inches per second), which was twice the normal speed of 15 ips. This was done to facilitate George Martin’s piano overdub, which was completed in four takes on February 20.
The record’s next three songs were originally recorded by American artists. All three were quickly recorded during the evening session.
Anna (Go To Him) was written and first recorded by Arthur Alexander, a black musician and songwriter from Alabama, whose soulful vocals influenced many sixties soul singers. The song had been a number 68 pop and number ten R&B hit in America in 1962. The Beatles recorded the song, misidentified on the session recording sheet as “Hannah,” in three takes (the first two being false starts). The track is highlighted by the passionate lead vocal of John, who idolized Alexander.
The Beatles demonstrated their fondness for American girl groups by including three songs originally recorded by girl groups on their first album. The first of these songs, Chains, was an American number 17 hit for the Cookies in late 1962. In the U.K., Record Retailer charted the song for one week in January 1963. Chains was written and produced by the Brill Building songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The Cookies were a trio of black female vocalists from New York who, at the time the song was recorded, featured Ethel “Earl-Jean” McCrea on lead vocals.
The Beatles recorded Chains in four takes, with George on lead vocal, backed by John and Paul on the verses, and solo on the bridge. George and John are on electric guitars, and John adds a bit of harmonica. Paul is on bass, and Ringo is on drums.
Boys was first recorded by the Shirelles, a group of four black teenage girls from Passaic, New Jersey, that had numerous hits in the early sixties and helped define the girl-group sound. The song was written by Luther Dixon, who produced the group, and Wes Farrell. Although not a hit, the song came to the attention of the Beatles as the flip side of Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which was a number one single in the U.S. and a number three hit in the U.K. in early 1961.
Whereas the Shirelles’ version of the song has a moderate tempo and sensual R&B groove, the Beatles recorded Boys in one explosive take as an all-out rocker with Ringo on lead vocals. Because engineer Norman Smith knew that the microphone recording Ringo’s vocals would pick up a significant amount of sound from the drums, he elected to record the drums on the vocal track. Thus, the stereo mix of the song has the guitars and bass on the left channel and Ringo’s vocals and drums on the right.
The closing songs on Side One, Ask Me Why and Please Please Me, were recorded on November 26, 1962, and had previously been issued on the group’s second single. The stereo version of Please Please Me differs from the mono version used for the single and mono LP. The single was edited from an unknown number of takes. When stereo mixes were being made for the album, apparently the engineers were able to locate only the later takes of the song. The stereo master consists of an edit of Takes 16, 17 and 18, whereas the single most likely contains some edits from earlier takes. The most noticeable difference between the mono and stereo versions is the flubbed lyrics in the final verse coming out of the middle eight.
The album’s second side opens with the two songs recorded in September 1962 for the group’s debut disc, Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You. Although the group’s first single has the version of Love Me Do from September 4 with Ringo on drums, the album track is the September 11 recording with Andy White on drums and Ringo on tambourine. Because the two-track tapes from these sessions were either lost or recorded over, it was not possible to create a true stereo mix. In keeping with the industry practice of the time that all songs on a stereo album should sound like stereo, fake stereo mixes of the songs were prepared for the stereo version of the album by transferring the mono songs to a two-track machine and then lowering the treble to enhance the bass in one channel and lowering the bass to tweak the treble in the other.
Baby It’s You, written by Burt Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams, was also recorded by the Shirelles. The single was a number eight pop and number three R&B hit in America in 1961. Its distinctive percussion, passionate vocals and memorable “sha la la la la” refrain make it one of the best girl group songs ever recorded.
John handles the emotional lead vocal on the Beatles version of Baby It’s You, which closely follows the Shirelles’ superb original rendition. It was recorded in three takes (one being a false start). Paul and George supply the “Sha la la la la” backing vocals. On February 20, George Martin superimposed celeste over the song’s instrumental break. A celeste (also known as a celesta) is a keyboard-operated instrument whose keys are connected to hammers that strike a set of metal plates suspended over wooden resonators.
Do You Want To Know A Secret, a Lennon-McCartney song, has George on lead vocal, backed by John and Paul. The song was written by John shortly after his marriage to Cynthia. Its inspiration came from a song John’s mother sang to him from the 1937 Walt Disney animated film, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Early in the film, Snow White sings to the doves, “Wanna know a secret? Promise not to tell? We are standing by a wishing well.” (The song, I’m Wishing, was written by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill.) According to George, the song’s music was based on I Really Love You by the Stereos, an American R&B group who had a number 29 U.S. hit with the song in 1961.
John made a demo of the song for Billy J. Kramer, who later recorded it with the Dakotas at Abbey Road on March 21, 1963. George Martin served as producer and overdubbed piano. Kramer recalls that on the demo John apologizes for the poor sound quality, but states that he is in the quietest room in the building. John then proves his point by flushing the toilet. Kramer’s recording was issued as a single, which peaked at number two on the May 30 and June 6, 1963, Record Retailer charts, unable to pass the Beatles From Me To You.
The Beatles completed the basic track for Do You Want To Know A Secret in six takes during the afternoon session. The “do dah do” backing vocals and tapping drum sticks were then superimposed onto Take 6 in two takes.
A Taste Of Honey was featured in the 1960 Broadway play of the same name. The Bobby Scott-Ric Marlow tune came to the Beatles attention from Lenny Welch’s recording of the song, which failed to chart in either America or the U.K.
A Taste Of Honey was the first song recorded by the Beatles during the afternoon session. The basic track, with Paul on lead vocal, was completed in five takes. After the group recorded Do You Want To Know A Secret, including the superimposed backing vocals, Paul double-tracked his lead vocal for A Taste Of Honey. This was completed in two takes, with his second vocal treated heavily with echo.
There’s A Place was written primarily by John, who described the song as “my attempt at a sort of Motown black thing, but it says the usual Lennon things: ‘In my mind there’s no sorrow.’ It’s all in your mind.” The song goes beyond being a simple love song; it hints at John’s future reflective lyrics.
There’s A Place was the first song recorded by the Beatles at the historic February 11, 1963, session. The basic track, with John and Paul on vocals, was completed in ten takes. John superimposed his harmonica onto Take 10 in three takes during the afternoon session.
The album’s closing track was also the last song recorded at the session. Although the group had been in the studio for 12 hours, and John’s voice was all but gone, one more song was needed to complete the album. During a break in the canteen, it was decided to record one of the more popular rockers from the band’s stage show, Twist And Shout. (Journalist Alan Smith claimed in the July 19, 1963, NME that he was present at Abbey Road towards the end of the session and that he suggested the group record the song.)
Twist And Shout was written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, who used the name Bert Russell for his writer’s credit on the song. It was originally recorded by the Top Notes in 1961 at a session produced by Phil Spector, who would later be enlisted by John Lennon to work on the Get Back/Let It Be project. Although Spector would gain notoriety in the early sixties for his “wall of sound,” his handling of the song is weak. Bert Berns’ reaction to Spector’s production of his song was similar to Paul’s initial reaction to Spector’s adding strings and female chorus singers to The Long And Winding Road. Both thought Phil had ruined their songs.
Relegated in the States to the B-side of a record that flopped, Twist And Shout would have remained unknown but for Berns’ belief in the song. When recorded by the Isley Brothers and released in the U.S. in mid-1962, the song became a number 17 pop and number two R&B hit. It was this version of the song (released in the U.K. on EMI’s Stateside label) that caught the attention of the Beatles, who quickly added the tune to their stage show. The song appears on Live At The Star Club, which was recorded in late 1962.
After the canteen break, the group returned to Studio Two. John, shirtless and revived by biscuits and gargling milk, gamely strapped on his guitar, stepped up to the microphone and belted out the song with an incredible intensity that all but destroyed his vocal cords. Paul and George supplied effective backing vocals. The band, propelled by Ringo’s steady beat, laid down a flawless instrumental backing. With this remarkable single take, the Beatles had recorded one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll performances of all time. Although a second take was recorded, it was never considered for release as John’s voice was totally shot from the first rendition.
At the end of the session, the group went upstairs to hear the playback. According to Tony Barrow, John’s vocal cords were bleeding, as evidenced by the red blood mixed with milk in the glass. John had given his all under extreme conditions for one of the most powerful and exciting rock ’n’ roll recordings of all time.