On February 11, 1963, four fresh-faced, young (one of them wasn't even 20 yet) musicians trooped into EMI studios to record their first studio album. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that the four lads were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison (still a teenager, at 19) and Ringo Starr. They called themselves the Beatles and they were about the change the face of the rock album forevermore.
As we look at the cover of Please Please Me, we see four incredibly naive and innocent-looking young chaps (and maybe they were at the time, but things would change quicker than any of them could ever imagine within the next few short months).
On the cover, looking down from the EMI studio stairwell, John, Paul, and George sport what would soon be recognized around the world as "the Beatle haircut" (combed down in bangs), while, strangely, Ringo's hair is still upswept in the more fifties-style of the times.
The album was originally conceived to be called Off the Beatle Track. Beatle producer George Martin was a member of the Zoological Society of London and his original idea was for the boys to be photographed at the insect house of the London Zoo (see, their name was "the Beatles" ... insects- get it?) it turned out to be a moot idea, as the society turned down his request to have the band shoot their cover shot there anyway.)
The boys were rushed into the studio to record in order to capitalize on the recent success of their first two singles: “Please Please Me” (the album's namesake), which had reached the #1 spot on every chart except one, and “Love Me Do,” their first single, which had charted at #17.
Eight of the album's 14 songs were co-written by Lennon and McCartney- soon to be the 20th century's most successful songwriting combination. Four of the 14 songs would be the four sides of the above two singles: “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me,” along with b-sides “P.S. I Love You" and “Ask Me Why.”
Of the remaining ten songs, Ringo was given his soon-to-be-customary one lead vocal, Oddly, on the the Shirelles very girly song “Boys.” At the time, no one seemed to notice or care that the Beatles drummer was singing about his longing for "boys" in the song.
George was a bit luckier, getting two lead vocals: on Lennon-McCartney's excellent “Do You Want to Know a Secret" and on the Goffin-King classic “Chains.” (After Please Please Me, George was to fall in with Ringo, almost always being given a cursory one lead vocal on each future album in these early years.)
Paul took the lead on the ultra-popular “I Saw Her Standing There" and the ultra-schmaltzy “A Taste of Honey,” setting the pattern for Paul singing lead on the "songs for girls to swoon over" for the next seven years.
Interestingly, all eight songs written by John and Paul were credited on the album to “McCartney-Lennon,” Please Please Me being the one and only Beatles album with this unique billing. All future Fab Four album songs were credited to the now-familiar “Lennon-McCartney.”
The original plan for the boys' debut album was to be a live recording of them doing their stage act at their most famous local venue, the Cavern Club. However, both acoustics and the time factor cancelled these plans and the boys essentially just recorded their stage act anyway, but at EMI studios instead. The one day recording session consisted of three separate three-hour sessions, totaling nine hours and 45 minutes (585 minutes). Yes, this incredible album was recorded in less than ten hours!
Originally (and very optimistically), producer George Martin had only booked two three-hour sessions; the third session was tacked on later. The album was recorded at the rock-bottom budget of 400 pounds- around $2,000.
Please Please Me was a huge breakthrough and established the Beatles as what Rolling Stone was to call "(the invention of) the self-contained rock band, writing their own hits and playing their own instruments.”
The album also set a precedent in aesthetics. Before Please Please Me, the usual contemporary studio album for both groups and individual singers consisted of the singers' latest hit single and a dozen mediocre, throwaway tunes tacked on to flesh it out. Not so with Please Please Me. It is chock full of gems and treasures, both the new Lennon-McCartney songs and the boys' reworkings of past rock classics.
Another pattern for all future early Beatle albums was also established that day- John Lennon got a majority of the lead vocals. John had been nursing a very sore throat all day, sucking on throat lozenges and drinking glasses of milk to get him through what must have been a very painful day.
Finally, it was time to record the final song of the day on Please Please Me, the Isley Brothers' raucous “Twist and Shout.” Dramatically, John took a last gulp of milk and, even more dramatically, took off his shirt. Then, he let loose a throat-shredding rendition that, to this day, still can make the listeners' hair stand up on end.
Luckily for poor John, this first take was used.
To this day, nearly fifty years after the fact, John's "Twist and Shout" is considered by some rock and roll aficionados to be the greatest rock ’n’ roll song ever recorded. After John finished the song, he sipped on another glass of milk. A witness says he saw blood in the milk from John's shredded throat.
According to Beatles legend, George Martin was so thrilled by John's vocal performance, he went around to each individual office of EMI the next day, carrying a tape of the song, and saying “You've got to hear this" to each EMI official and worker.
Please Please Me was released on March 22, 1963 in the United Kingdom and skyrocketed to the #1 spot on the album charts, a position it was to hold for the next 30 weeks, before being replaced by their second album, With the Beatles.