It’s hard to convince someone to listen to an album like Please Please Me
. In this day and age, in which The Beatles are still ubiquitous but rather quietly so, actually buckling down and giving a good listen to the band’s music seems at best redundant and at worst a monumental waste of time. Telling someone they should give The Beatles a thorough listen is like telling them reading through The Holy Bible
is a necessity; both are so deeply embedded into our culture that it’s hard to imagine missing out on anything important by choosing not to experience them “fully”.
Yet the first time I played Please Please Me
I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I was enjoying it. Even in their formative stage as a band, The Beatles were so good that they even today can transform a begrudging “researcher” only listening to expand his sociomusicological consciousness into a Beatles fan listening because he loves what he hears.
Please Please Me
isn’t the best “early Beatles” (since I can see myself using this phrase often, I’ll just quickly clarify that it refers to anything pre-Rubber Soul
, although the “early Beatles”/”later Beatles” dichotomy--which is sort of a wonky idea to begin with--is really not as smooth as that reductive definition makes it seem) record, but it’s perhaps the most likable, the most irresistible. This loose, fast-paced document of four young guys playing their own catchy songs as well as others’ (it should come as no surprise that the former usually outclasses the latter) is almost epiphanical through its power of charisma. This is some serious cynic-converting shi
To provide some reinforcement for these boilerplate praises: the famous songs here (a surprisingly small number, considering this is the debut album of the most popular band ever) are at least as good as you remember them being, and some of the relative obscurities are even better. Probably the most famous song here is closing track “Twist and Shout,” which, aside from being one of those universally popular songs that anyone can and will dance to, contains one of the most electrifying vocal performances in the history of rock music. Thanks in no small part to the 2009 remasters, the song has somehow gotten better with age; it may no longer be the apex of reckless musical abandon that it was in 1963, but there’s not an extra clarity in everything from John Lennon’s impetuous yowl to the subtly building dynamics of Ringo Starr’s drumming. “Love Me Do,” The Beatles’ first single, has also aged well, though for different reasons. The song still, as a skeptic might levy against it, sounds like it was written by a five-year-old (both musically and
lyrically), but there’s something comforting in its childlike simplicity. Most of us first started listening to this band when we were small children, and the innocence of “Love Me Do” hearkens back to youth in a way that is unique to The Beatles.
If you’re listening to The Beatles’s body of work, however, it’s probably more to discover new things than to re-evaluate songs you already knew. Luckily, Please Please Me
is chock full of hidden classics. First of, the covers (of which “Twist and Shout” is one) are generally very good. “Boys,” with its lyrics infamously unchanged from The Shirelles’s original, has a driving beat and what I submit as the best ever Ringo vocal performance in a Beatles song. “Baby It’s You,” though its Bacharachian schlockiness pervades, has that timbrally exquisite guitar-and-celesta solo towards the end. The lyrics of “A Taste of Honey” are even more laughable, but the song is nonetheless charming; it also has that clever little double-time section I’ve always enjoyed. The Goffin/King collaboration “Chains” is a little flat, but the band performs it with their characteristic exuberance regardless.
All this said, the real treasure of Please Please Me
is in The Beatles’s own compositions, some of which have undeservedly fallen into relative obscurity (I use “relative” here because it’s hard to call anything penned or performed by The Beatles “obscure”). For example, “Ask Me Why” is mentioned pretty much zero percent of the time in discussions of The Beatles, but it’s a perfect example of how disarmingly pretty both their harmonies and their melodies can be (see also: Rubber Soul
). Even better is the quick descending guitar riff at the center of the George Harrison vocal showcase “Do You Want to Know a Secret”. Best of all is the astounding “There’s a Place,” in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney vocally reach for the skies during the chorus and come out with an invigorating--not to mention totally underrated--performance.
The Big Point in my telling you how good each of these songs is is that even though we hear songs like “Hello, Goodbye” and “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” practically every day, The Beatles’s music--especially in their earlier period, which most tend to see as a stage of “just pop songs” or what have you--is somewhat overshadowed by their legacy or their influence. Of course, The Beatles were unbelievably influential and important and demand a sort of scholarly approach in some respects, but the best thing about them is right on this here album: just listening to them for the fun of it, singing wildly along to “Twist and Shout,” joining a new generation of listeners brought together by the revelation that hey, maybe the Best Band Ever were pretty good after all.