30th Anniversary of "Please Please Me"<br>

30th Anniversary of "Please Please Me"

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Sometimes you know it's right.

It depends what you do for a living, of course, but if you're good at whatever it is you do, or study, or create, there are times when there's no doubt in your mind: this is it.

Thirty years ago tomorrow the Fabs experienced one such circumstance.

As important as all dates in Beatles history have been over this year, tomorrow is one that's extraordinary. There's always a first time for everything---first contract, first recording date, first single release. The events of 26 November 1962 are, perhaps, unintelligible to the unpracticed ear. Maybe we hear the aura of accomplishment. Even its echo communicates something unutterably new.

Over the years, four gentlemen of our acquaintance had been honing their craft. There were no overnight-sensations with our Boys. It took time to work out the personal dynamic, to find the right notes on the guitar, to work out the arrangement, snatching chords from the air and pressing them into memory (the only available technique to songwriters who couldn't write music!)

They didn't spark, at first. No fires were lit in the eyes of those who first gave them a professional chance. For months the Beatles had been causing shrieks of passion from their local Northern fans, near-riots by some accounts. But the unsuspecting South was left mostly cold. Decca heard no such heat in the music played during a desperate audition. Even George Martin, intrigued by the sound on Brian Epstein's acetates of those audition tapes, was not entirely sure what he'd bought.

No question that there was potential. At EMI in June 1962 there was charm, certainly. But there was sufficient uncertainty about the group's future to suggest giving the boot to their handsome, hapless drummer; maybe sweetening their studio output with session men. And try as they might, their self-penned songwriting efforts at first caused no infernos. Martin had a tough enough time seeing anything of value in their oeuvre. Since March 1962 Lennon & McCartney had been aflame with their own creativity, embarking upon the first compositional wave of earnest love songs. But for a time they failed to convince Martin that they were worth as much as, say, Mitch Murray. Grudgingly, "Love Me Do" was recorded in September, and just as logy, it loped along in the charts, hovering below the top ten. Not bad, first time out...but no sparks.

They saved their fireball for 26 November. It took eighteen takes to get there, but when they were done with the song, there was no question where that song would go...at least to the practiced ear of Mr. Martin. The Orbisonesque ballad-that-was was punched up to full speed---no longer a lament, but a pulsating chorus of ardent desire. You don't even have to pay attention to the words to be pushed over the edge. It's a musical free-fall.

Even before I knew the history behind "Please Please Me", I guess I sensed something of its brashness, its sense of self. When it got airplay in the States in 1964, we'd already heard extraordinary music from the Fabs. "Please Please Me" came out of sequence in true British chronology, and for us followed on the heels of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "She Loves You", and "I Saw Her Standing There"--- all topnotch compositions in their own right. What "PPM" had, in its corner, was a nucleus of annunciation. *Here*, was its message, beyond lyrics alone: here is the change of history. This moment, this one.

It's quite honestly as if you can see, in retrospect, the point at which the Beatles learned what they had to do to create a number-one record. You can't see the mechanics of it; but behind a cloud of creativity, the music communicates that coalescence. It still takes my breath away to hear it. It makes me sit up and take notice, just as George Martin must have done when he told the Boys over the studio talkback where, in his humble opinion, their new single was destined to reside, chartwise; just as Dick James did when he heard it and offered, more or less on the spot, to be their music publisher; the way Philip Jones, producer of the British TV show "Thank Your Lucky Stars", must have felt when James played the acetate of "PPM" over a thin strand of copper wire, and in that phone call secured the Beatles' first important television exposure in the British Isles.

Before "Please Please Me" existed, there was only a group of musicians, their talent unrealized but filled with irrepressible promise. Once this single was committed to tape, so were the Beatles propelled, unknowingly but inevitably, into the forefront of pop music's evolution.

"What makes this foursome's history quite unprecedented is the fact that two of the boys write (with an output rate which is prolific-plus!) all the songs which The Beatles take to the top of the hit parade." -----------------------------------------------saki (dmac@math.ucla.edu) Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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