Please Please Me & MerseyBeat

The Beatles in Twelve Songs (1)

It was fifty years ago today that The Beatles released their first smash hit, the second official release on George Martin’s Parlophone label, Please Please Me. beatlesnumber1

In this series of blog posts, in honor of many Beatles 50th anniversaries throughout 2013, I will be writing a history of The Beatles in 12 songs. Through this I hope to capture and reflect all that they gave us musically and culturally.

Merry Crimble; In The Beatles first Christmas record for their fan club in 1963 John Lennon is asked what most pleased him about the year 1963 and he replies (50 secs in),  “it was a gear year for us, and it all happened really when Please Please Me became a number one hit”: .

In the UK the breakthrough single for the Beatles was Please Please Me, which, to my ears, was the first recording that captured a British Merseybeat sound. (More on Mersey Beat here) Originally an attempt by John to write a Roy Orbison song (the biggest selling artist in the UK in 1962)  it was considered by George Martin to be too slow. The Beatles speeded it up and finally offered George Martin a version in the exuberant tempo that we now expect to hear. Martin re-arranged it and so created both the version we love, along with the template for recording other Merseybeat artists, it certainly pleased George. “Gentlemen you have your first number one record” 

So how did The Beatles become so good at writing smash hit singles when Love Me Do was a fairly minor piece? As John also said “This time last year we were all really chuffed because Love Me Do had got into the top 20,” but Love Me do was a slow record and Please, Please Me, originally the proposed B-side, started even slower. George Martin wasn’t keen on using such a ‘dreary’ piece, so they used P.S. I Love You. Live The Beatles were brilliant, but in 1962 they didn’t yet have a clue as recording artists, and the disruption of losing Pete Best and Ringo not being used meant that The Beatles ‘gang’ were being messed about in the studio and could not gel as a recording group. However Love Me Do did feature John’s harmonica…  

Thanks to Brian Epstein The Beatles had supported Bruce Channel, at a concert in Liverpool on June 21st 1962. Channel had a big Number One in the UK  with Hey Baby, which both featured, and was introduced by, some plangent harmonica playing. Lennon had talked to Channel’s harmonica player Delbert McClinton when they played together and had picked up some tips. Frank Ifield, had the biggest hit of 1962 with I Remember You, which also featured harmonica playing, and was actually was the Number One UK single in the UK at the time when The Beatles were recording Love Me Do. But it was Delbert McClinton who had inspired Lennon and the Beatles with Hey Baby

Between The Beatle’s desire to write their own songs and George Martin’s determination to have hit records, and so make Parlophone Records significant within EMI, they had produced the template for recording MerseyBeat, the sound of Liverpool in the early sixties. This was to have a driving beat that was reflected in the singing, which switched between harmonies and lead vocals. This was partly because most kids heard music on transistor radios, in which the sound was all trebly top; good for voices, but poor for instruments. The harmonica was a lead instrument that could be heard clearly on cheap radios. The silver disc presented for the record sales, at that time, of Please Please Me, meant that the formula was immediately repeated in the first of what they later called their, made-to-order ‘work songs’. Some work song! The follow up went to number one for 7 weeks in the UK and the B-side, Thank You Girl which also featured harmonica, was played just as much. Selling faster than Please Please Me, everyone went out and bought From Me To You

What happened next was really interesting as The Beatles started to take charge a bit more in the recording process. Having been shown how to record hit singles with Please Please Me and then demonstrated that they knew how to repeat that MerseyBeat formula with From Me To You, John, Paul, George and Ringo unlike, say, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, started to play with that successful formula for UK hit singles and do something original. George Martin thought that, because they used something that he associated with Glenn Miller, the next single would not catch on as much. However The Beatles were playing live concerts almost everyday in 1963 and felt that their fans would get what they were doing, and they also insisted on starting with drums rather than harmonica. So they went ahead and recorded the biggest-selling single of 1963, and of the sixties, also creating their own catch-phrase in the UK, ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ as they burned up sales records everywhere, She Loves You; 

1963 was the year of MerseyBeat and was not only a triumph for The Beatles who, by that summer, were starting to control their own recording destiny, but also for George Martin. Martin ended the year having produced single records that occupied the top spot in the UK charts for 37 of the 52 weeks of that year. As well as the hit factory known as The Beatles Parlophone records had another formula, artists who were signed and managed by Brian Epstein, produced by George Martin and, as often as not, recording songs written by Lennon and McCartney. Here’s that Merseybeat formula in action with Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, who were number one with two Lennon-McCartney songs,  Do You Want To Know a Secret and million-seller Bad To Me; 

So why was Please Please Me important? This was the song on which the writing and playing partnership between John, Paul, George and Ringo was forged and with which they learnt to work in the studio with George Martin on arranging and recording their songs. As this trust was built up on both sides it created the platform on which all their further recording developments concerning writing, instrumentation, arrangements and production, were built. The Beatles stubborn refusal to record hit songs written by others, How Do You Do It (a number one single for Gerry and The Pacemakers) being the prime example, had been vindicated, and George Martin’s ability to suggest improvements to what they had written, and capture it in a recording, had been proven. Allan Pollack says that ‘it was already a quantum leap in compositional terms over the first (single).’ Recording the hit single, The Beatles entry point into fame ‘less a follow up to ‘Love Me Do than a career fuse being lit” as Tim Riley put it,  was first mastered on Please Please Me

Part 2 of he Beatles in 12 songs is I Want To Hold Your Hand – Going Global. If you like this blog post you might like the series analysing the Beatles Creativity – starting with Beatles Live 1957-63

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3 Responses to “Please Please Me & MerseyBeat”

  1. Reblogged this on That's How The Light Gets In and commented:
    The first in a series of blog posts in honour of the many Beatles 50th anniversaries coming up in 2013.

  2. […] 1963 The Beatles wrote 3 key songs; Please Please Me that defined their first hit Merseybeat sound , She Love’s You that broke open the British Market, and was also the biggest selling UK hit […]

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