Shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday 11th February the Beatles arrived at Abbey Road Studios in London to begin work on their first long-playing record. Ten hours later it was all but finished. Two days later George Martin did a few overdubs, before the final mono and stereo masters were completed the following Monday.
In reality the band recorded just ten of the fourteen tracks for Please Please Me that day, but even so, it is an amazing achievement given that they were in the middle of a tour with Helen Shapiro, playing two shows every night, travelling from show to show the length and breadth of Britain. Truth is, that when they arrived at Abbey Road they were knackered, so much so that there were doubts in the mind of producer George Martin that that could last the two sessions they were booked to do, let alone the three that they ended up doing.
Today, we instantly preface so many songs with the words, Lennon & McCartney, but on that first album only eight of the tracks were written by John and Paul, the others were mainly songs that formed part of their live set.
During the morning session they recorded two of John and Paul’s songs, ‘There’s A Place’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, which at the time they were calling, “Seventeen.” After lunch, or to be more precise, after George Martin and the engineers had their lunch while the four Beatles stayed in the studio drinking milk and sucking throat sweets while rehearsing, they started work on the first of the cover songs. Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow’s, ‘A Taste of Honey’ – a song originally written for the Broadway play of the same name and recorded first by Lenny Welch the previous year was tackled first.
Next, George took the lead vocal for ‘Do You Want to Know A Secret’, another of John and Paul’s songs, a month later Bill J. Kramer and The Dakotas recorded the song at Abbey Road and took it to No.1 on the UK charts. After some more work on ‘There’s A Place’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ they did another Lennon & McCartney song, one they had written with Helen Shapiro in mind, but she turned it down; called ‘Misery’ Paul and John shared the lead vocals.
Come the evening session and the first song they tackled was ‘Hold Me Tight’, which Paul had written. This version has never been heard because it was rejected for the album and the tape was wiped; instead they recorded it again for their second album. From there on in they were on hyper-drive, rattling through five cover versions in quick succession.
First was Arthur Alexander’s ‘Anna (Go To Him), they nailed it in three takes. Next up a song written by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell, ‘Boys,’ with Ringo on lead vocals. This was the b-side of the Shirelles’ ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Next they recorded another Goffin and King song, ‘Chains’ that had been an American hit for the Cookies. What the Beatles almost certainly didn’t know was that Gerry Goffin, at home in New York, was celebrating his 24th birthday…nice present. The fourth of the covers was Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘Baby It’s You’, another hit for the Shirelles.
Just before the 10 pm curfew imposed by Abbey Road Studios they did one more song, and in one take nailed ‘Twist and Shout’. The Phil Medley and Bert Berns, although it’s credited to Bert Russell, song had been a hit for the Isley Brothers, having originally been recorded as ‘Shake It Up Baby’ by the Top Notes. They had to do it in one take because John’s voice was so shot, with the effects of his cold, that he could only do the one vocal. It was a defining number in the Beatles early career and remains one of the great rock vocals of all time.
And that was it, ten songs in ten hours. Add to them ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’, their first single and ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’, the follow-up, and you have the album named after their second hit. All in all, not a bad day’s work.
The following day The Beatles were in Sheffield playing the Avena Ballroom and later that evening, The Astoria Ballroom in Oldham, Lancashire. Between recording their debut album and 22nd March, when it came out, they did not have a day off, apart from two days in the studio every other one was spent on the road – like much of the rest of their first year of fame.
Please Please Me went to No.1 on 11th May and stayed there for the next thirty weeks.
This is history.