January 11, 2013 will be the 50th year anniversary of the UK release of the Beatles’ second single, the John Lennon composition “Please Please Me.”
In early January 1963 the Beatles were still relatively unknown outside Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany. They’d signed to EMI Records in England in 1962 and were being produced by George Martin and groomed by Brian Epstein. Their first single was Paul McCartney’s “Love Me Do,” released on October 17, 1962. But the song only hit number 17 in the UK. “Please Please Me,” however, was important for several reasons. Here are a few “firsts” about that song:
- 1st Beatles song to reach number one on the British charts, hitting that position on February 22, 1963
- 1st Beatles single to be released in the United States
- 1st Beatles song to be broadcast in the U.S. (by a Chicago DJ named Dick Biondi in February 1963)
- Broadcast during the Beatles’ first national television appearance on “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” January 19, 1963
- 1st and title song on the Beatles’ first album
Musically, “Please Please Me” was a big step from “Love Me Do.” It had a faster, more upbeat tempo. It also featured harmony that would typify many of the Beatles’ early and mid-period songs. Paul sang the same high note for the verse, with John dropping his voice through the scale.
It was a technique “the boys” had learned from the Everly Brothers song “Cathy’s Clown.” “Last-night-I-said-these-words-to-myyyy-girl.” By itself, Paul’s single-note vocal sounds odd. But combined with John’s descending melody, it created an exquisite harmony. Then John and George’s guitars pumped the song back up to the second verse. The chorus “Please pleeease me, WHOA YEAH, like I please you” drives the song home!
The combination of melodic, upbeat vocal harmony and forceful electric guitar was fairly new – it’s been referred to over the years as Merseybeat, the Liverpool Sound, British pop, “ear candy” – but it helped change rock ‘n’ roll as we know it!
The Beatles didn’t take off in America until a year later with their release of the U.S. number one “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” followed by their historic appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” This would officially kick off the British Invasion of rock musicians with long hair, matching suits, and cool accents (think Herman’s Hermits, Dave Clark Five, the Stones, Animals, Kinks, Hollies, etc.). But “Please Please Me” was where the ball started to roll, musically.
(Note: if you’re interested in the roaring 1960s, I hope to be doing more of these 50th anniversary posts. While the first couple years of the ‘60s were an extension of the ‘50s, things started to kick into a higher gear, at least culturally, with the year 1963. So… Happy New Year, and Happy 5oth Anniversary of the ‘60s!)