Dave Amitri on Please Please Me
60 years ago tomorrow 22nd March 1963 The Beatles released their debut album Please Please Me. I’ve often said how I’ve only ever heard Rubber Soul out of the thirteen Beatles albums they finally made. Like everyone of my generation ( born in 1965) their ubiquity and hours of radio listening in the 70s means I know loads of their songs intimately. That said I’ve never actively chosen to listen to them so as their albums start their 60th anniversary sequence I thought why not? Also why not do it around the anniversary rather than one after the other over a year as I did with Bowie. I have no idea how this will go or even if we’ll all be around on 8th May 2030 but let’s give it a go.
So what do I know of 1963 and its popular music? A quick search of the 100 best sellers of the year shows The Beatles 1 and 2 as expected with Gerry and The Pacemakers hot on their heels. Cliff was already making movies having been a star for 5 years already which I still find extraordinary. The rest as expected. Old rockers, young bucks, US girl groups, girl soloists and a wide mix of bands. I was instantly drawn to It’s My Party and I Only Want To Be With You, Dave Stewart clearly enjoyed 1963. Such was the power of radio in the 70s and in particular shows like Pick Of The Pops I know almost all the top 100 of 1963. Two years before I was born. I need context. I need to understand what was happening that allowed The Beatles to explode onto the scene. Of course the music but timing is always everything. On to the record….
I’ve read a little bit of Wikipedia. Enough to know this is pretty much a studio recording of their live act. All recorded in one day remarkably. George Martin was already on board which surprised me although his hand is apparent much like Louis Walsh and Westlife (kidding) and there appeared to be some equal billing going on with George and Ringo getting a go at song writing and or lead vocals. It’s a mix of band penned songs which was highly unusual at the time and covers. But you probably knew all that.
In my musical world Art School by The Jam has always been my go to track 1 album 1 for setting out a bands direction. Stating boldly this is us. We’re here. Deal with it. Friends, we have a contender. Starting with a 1,2, 3, 4 which interestingly Weller also used on Art School Saw Her Standing There is out of the blocks like a rocket. Have that! We’re The Beatles. What of it? Already making Cliffs Move It, a song I love, sound dated. That vocal, those harmonies, the ooohs and Ringo. I’m going early here but I must state that throughout this album Ringo is the star. What rhythm, what timing, what feel that man has. Ooh he’s good. Yes, I have lazily used that “not even the best drummer..” line. What a fool I was.
Misery is a disappointing follow up letting their foot off the gas. It doesn’t really go anywhere a fairly generic 60s number with a funny little piano interlude (George’s hand..) Not misery exactly but a bit flat. I was quite pleased it’s only 1 minute 47 seconds long. Ringo is still great though… From here the album does ebb and flow for me the slower songs seem fairly derivative with just Lennons vocals, harmonica and of course Ringo setting them apart. Chains with George singing is lovely but again there’s nothing to make it stand out from what else was going on at the time. Boys proves Ringo is more than capable of holding a rock’n’roll tune vocally while still getting noises out of two drumsticks that defy any sort of logic. I love his “alright George” and the ensuing guitar solo it’s a great fun tune. Ask Me Why is little bit Buddy Holly with the trademark harmonies. It all sounds like the work of a bunch of young men still learning which of course it is. At little more than 2 minutes per song side one rattles on the closes with the biggest of bangs.
Please Please Me straight from its harmonica intro it was made for radio and when added with what we now know as the Beatles look, head shakes, smirks and general boy band gold it must have been really exciting to witness on a black and white tv if you were lucky enough to have one. This is The Beatles for me.
Side 2 opens with another remarkable thing. Love Me Do is the song people should play if they have to justify Ringo’s place to an idiot like me. It’s perfect. I’ve written often of my love of the pop perfection of Love Plus One and while I’m not comparing, it has that feel of everything a pop song should be. It too is perfect. Ringo though, my god… Right here is the thing I was looking for. The difference maker. Imagine being a teenager and hearing this for the first time. If I had a time machine this, Hound Dog and Hey Joe is what I would travel back to experience in the moment.
We then go back into that familiar 60’s sound PS I Love You and Baby It’s you are standards with Burt Bacharach involved in the latter and beautifully sung by Lennon. I love George’s Do You Want To Know A Secret it sounds like a Beatles song, maybe that’s just it’s familiarity. George’s nasally Liverpool twang is so endearing . A Taste of Honey is also a stand out. I love the dichotomy the McCartney and Lennon vocals bring to the whole thing it’s very different to the basic feel of some of the other songs. It reminds of The Coral and that is a very good thing. There’s A Place is a back to basics filler but that’s ok.
Why is it ok Dave? Because the album closes on Twist and Shout so it’s unlikely you’ll remember what came before it anyway. What a way to close your debut album and leave people wanting more. It’s extraordinary isn’t it?
Fourteen in just over an hour, they didn’t mess about did they? The set up of the album with the 4 real stand out, grab you by the throat tunes opening and closing both sides was a stroke of genius. Why do other bands put all the hits at the start? The bits in the middle contain some lovely moments and I’m sure that if I’d heard this for the first time in 1963 and not 2023 it would have been very different. Certainly if I was a shy, unsure 16 year old as I was in my year of 1982 The Beatles would have given me something to cling on to much like The Associates did. This probably sounded and looked other worldly to someone born just after WWII and having their senses sent into overdrive by these four gorgeous, cheeky scousers being beamed into their homes. Lennon’s voice, Ringo’s drums, George’s guitar and even Paul’s whimsy (joking) his bass playing on Boys a real highlight for me, all combined to produce moments of real brilliance. Of course it’s dated but that spark is there.
An observation as an aside is how innocent it all is. It’s so much gentler than anything you might hear today. Parents at the time terrified of the bad influence of Twist and Shout would not believe what passes as ok in 2023. Dave stating the bleeding obvious as usual but these were very different times. Better? Probably but that’s another conversation. As always I hope this brief look at this 60 year old album sparks some conversation, memories and stories. Was anyone there who can share how it all felt? A great start to my Beatles adventure.
See you on November 22nd for With The Beatles