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Monday, September 19, 2011

PLEASE PLEASE ME - side two

Side two of the Beatles' debut album opens with the song that started it all, Love Me Do.  This is, in fact, the first release of the version with Andy White on drums and Ringo on tambourine.  The running order continues with the first B-side, P.S. I Love You.  Including the first two singles was a standard practice which helped insure sales of the album.

Baby It's You - Yet another girl group song co-written by another one of the Brill Building songwriters, none other than Burt Bacharach.  John takes the lead on this oft-covered number originally done by the Shirelles.  He once again gives an impassioned reading of someone else's material, with Paul and George supplying the silly "sha la la la la"s behind him.  On the wonderful Live at the BBC collection from 1994, you can hear host Lee Peters goofing around with the boys as they introduce this song.  This recording also received an overdub from George Martin - a celeste doubling Harrison's guitar line.

Do You Want to Know a Secret - George gets his second vocal outing on this number written by John.  It was his first to be recorded on this day, however, and you can hear the nervousness in his voice.  John said that his inspiration for this song came from Jiminy Cricket singing When You Wish Upon a Star in Walt Disney's Pinocchio.  It's not hard to imagine that tune as this one's antecedent.  And it had a special meaning for Lennon, as he had an early childhood memory of his mother Julia singing it to him.

The hidden beauty in this recording is McCartney's bass line.  He will gain a reputation in years to come as a virtuoso bass player, but you can hear an early indication of why he will attain that status right here.  

A year later, this song was released as a single on VeeJay Records in the US and rose all the way to number two, quite a coup for young George, who would not even get a song on a UK single until 1968.

A Taste of Honey - The most far-reaching selection on this record is this title song from a film based on a British play.  Yet from all accounts, audiences responded favorably when Paul would perform this tune in their live set.  His vocal in the bridge is the only one on the album to be double-tracked.

There's a Place - This little-known song is also one of the most highly-praised by those who write about the Beatles.  The composition is by Lennon and foreshadows by a few years his songs about states of mind.  Where is this place he can go?  "...it's my mind/And there's no time/When I'm alone."  In their essay Portrait of the Artist as a Rock and Roll Star, Robert Christgau and John Piccarella write, "...this early song typifies his urge to say a great deal...within the conventions of the rock and roll love song.  For the first time John makes a primitive style serve the ironic complexities of his own half-schooled modernism."

The song is also a delight to listen to.  From the opening plaintive wail of John's harmonica to the three-part harmonies in the fadeout, it is an aural celebration of the serene state of consciousness that John was always seeking but seldom found in his life.

Twist and Shout -  To close the album (and the "show"), George Martin wanted a real blockbuster, and he knew that this number by the Isley Brothers always brought the house down whenever the Beatles played it onstage.  He saved it for last on this day, but he knew he was playing with fire because John had a cold, and after almost ten hours of recording (and smoking cigarettes and drinking milk - I can imagine vocal teachers everywhere shuddering), he had next-to-nothing left.

Legend has it that Lennon stripped to the waist for this performance.  Employees from other parts of Abbey Road Studios wandered into the control room to see this band that had been recording all day long and was now into overtime.  Like most of the other songs on the album this is live, no overdubs, just four guys singing and playing their hearts out - and they got it in one take.  They did attempt a second one, but John's voice was truly gone.

This song was also released a year later in the US on Tollie Records, and it, too, went to number two.

The album was released in England on March 22nd, 1963.  It hit number one several weeks later and remained in that position for twenty-nine weeks.

In the US, manager Brian Epstein could once again only interest VeeJay Records.  They released it as Introducing the Beatles, after dropping the songs Please Please Me and Ask Me Why which they had already released as a single.  (The standard American album had only eleven or twelve tracks in contrast to the fourteen in Britain.)  And once again, with little or no marketing, the album went unnoticed.

In March of 1965, more than a year after the Fab Four conquered America, Capitol Records released eleven of these songs in a package titled The Early Beatles.  Two of the songs which they omitted, Misery and There's a Place, did not appear on the Capitol label until 1980 as part of a compilation titled Rarities.
 

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