the first beatles album — 09/24/15

Today’s encore selection — from The Beatles: Ultimate Album-by-Album Guide by Rolling Stone. In 1963, a young band called The Beatles, forged in the nightclubs of Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany, had become the hottest act in British music after performing the song “Please Please Me” on the nationally televised pop showcase Thank Your Lucky Stars. Long play (LP) albums were first introduced in 1948 but still infrequently used by rock groups, and soon after Lucky Stars the Beatles recorded their first LP. Unlike most albums since, which take weeks or months to record, the Beatles completed their first album in twelve grueling hours:

“At 10 in the morning on February 11th, 1963, the Beatles … gathered at Abbey Road studios in London to make a debut album. Twelve hours later, they’d done it. Of all the astonishing things about the album Please Please Me — and there are many — the most impressive may simply be the quick-and-dirty haste with which it was recorded.

“In 2011, it can take a band a dozen hours to mike the kick drum. But in a single long day — with just a £400 budget — the Beatles laid down 10 songs for their album, including some of their most indelible early performances: ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ ‘There’s a Place,’ ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret,’ ‘Baby It’s You.’ The day’s work wrapped up, sometime around 10:45, with a shirtless John Lennon roaring himself hoarse through two takes of ‘Twist and Shout.’ ‘It was amazingly cheap, no messing, just a massive effort from us,’ Paul McCartney later recalled. ‘At the end of the day, you had your album.’ 

first session at Abbey Road

“Coming into that day, the Beatles already had two singles under their belts. In October 1962, they released ‘Love Me Do,’ the blues vamp that McCartney had first dreamed up while playing hooky from school at age 16. ‘Love Me Do’ was backed with another Lennon-McCartney original, ‘P.S. I Love You,’ which offered further evidence of their precocious songwriting gifts and the sheer strangeness — the mixture of rock & roll toughness and old-fashioned tune-smithery, the weirdly beautiful vocal harmonies, the wild left turns of their chord progressions. …

“The session was a testament to the Beatles’ warhorse durability — grinding out song after song, take after take, with unflagging adrenaline. They banged through 13 takes of ‘There’s a Place,’ 12 of ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ three of ‘Anna (Go to Him).’ They nailed Ringo Starr’s vocal showpiece, ‘Boys,’ in a single take. They even made 13 passes at ‘Hold Me Tight,’ a song that was left on the cutting-room floor. When [producer George] Martin, the engineer Norman Smith and the tape operator Richard Langham piled off to a nearby pub for a lunch break, the Beatles stayed behind to rehearse. No one at the session could remember a band playing through lunch.

“Finally, just around 10 p.m., the Beatles had completed nine songs. No one was sure what to do for the final number. Someone suggested the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist and Shout,’ a barnburning fixture of the Beatles live act, with Lennon on lead vocals. Lennon was suffering from a cold; after 12 straight hours of singing, his voice was nearly shot. But he decided to give it a try. He sucked on a couple of throat lozenges, gargled a glass of milk and headed onto the studio floor. Two takes later, the album was a wrap.

” ‘The last song nearly killed me,’ Lennon said years later. ‘Every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.’

“Even when frantic, the Beatles’ best was awfully good. Please Please Me is now considered a landmark. It captures the group at its scruffiest and most ‘bar band’ — it is a document, as Lennon once said, of the Beatles before they were ‘the “clever” Beatles.’ As their career took off, the Beatles got artier, more sophisticated, more visionary. But they were never purer than on Please Please Me.”

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