Please Please Me
Parlophone / Capitol Records, 1963
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/25/2003
Farting in church. Making an illegal lane change in front of a funeral. Giving the finger to a police officer while you're speeding. Declaring your candidacy for the governor's race in California. Walking into an AA meeting holding a Mai Tai. Admitting that you actually liked Gigli.
All of these, apparently, are far more acceptable than making any form of negative comment about the Beatles. Even after 30-plus years since they went their separate ways, the Fab Four are held in high regard among the music intellegentsia and the unwashed masses alike.
So I know I'm risking the chance of having to hire someone else to start my car in the morning when I make a few comments about Please Please Me, the debut effort from The Beatles (at least as far as their history on Capitol was concerned - many people forget that The Beatles were first signed to Vee-Jay Records). Yes, there's plenty on this disc to celebrate, even 40 years after it first hit the airwaves. But this first effort also shows a band which was desparately trying to find where they belonged genre-wise.
Now, I'm no fool. I wouldn't dare to slam such time-honored favorites as "I Saw Her Standing There," "Love Me Do," "Please Please Me" or "Twist And Shout". As overplayed as some of these may seem from time to time, they have held up extraordinarily well over time, and still are enjoyable to listen to, especially with the harmony vocals that The Beatles knew how to execute to perfection.
If anything, I've found over the years that the real gems on Please Please Me lie not in the time-honored songs but in the tracks which seem to have fallen through the cracks. Take their version of "A Taste Of Honey," for example. Two years before Herb Alpert would record the definitive version of this track (at least in my mind), Paul McCartney delivered a heartfelt rendition of the vocal lines while the whole band created a truly wonderful vibe behind it. In a sense, it almost seems like a slow shuffle rather than a rock song, and as such would never be touched by any self-respecting classic rock radio station. Too bad - it's one of the best tracks on the disc.
The same argument could be made for "P.S., I Love You" - which switches the shuffle out for an almost Latin backbeat which is nailed perfectly by McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Yes, I recognize that sometimes this track gets dusted off and played… good, 'cause it deserves more than to be relegated to the back of the vast Beatles discography.
Yet Please Please Me has more than its share of uncertain moments, showing a band which was still very much gelling together just before they exploded in popularity. Such tracks as "Chains," "Boys," "Misery" and "Ask Me Why" just don't have the kind of snap that the casual fan has all but come to expect from anything bearing the Beatles brand name. I recognize that one can't forget this was a first effort, and to try and compare this 40 years down the road with their later masterpieces is like comparing a Picasso to something he drew when he was a toddler. On their own merits, though, these particular tracks - indeed, nearly the first half of the album - don't have the power to light the firecracker that would become Beatlemania.
Still, it's not that the first half of the disc is a failure by any means. A track like "Anna (Go To Him)" - a song which will forever be linked in my mind to an episode of Married… With Children - or "I Saw Her Standing There" demonstrates that The Beatles went into the studio ready to swing, even if they didn't necessarily hit home run after home run with each subsequent track.
The fact that the second half of Please Please Me contains the strongest music without a weak song in the bunch should also speak volumes about where The Beatles were headed. In retrospect, this turns out to be a fairly decent first effort, even if it does take a little time for the wheels to get rolling. But while many of the classic tracks can be found on any number of the posthumous compilations, Please Please Me should best be remembered for the tracks that didn't make it to the top of the charts - or to the charts at all.