It’s one of those questions to which everyone is (pretty) sure they know the answer. What was The Beatles’ first No.1 on the official UK charts?
Just about everyone knows that “Love Me Do,” their first single, did OK on the charts, but didn’t reach the coveted top spot. So the answer has to be… “Please Please Me” recorded at the end of November 1962 and released as their second single on January 11, 1963. But the truth is, according to the Record Retailer magazine chart, “Please Please Me” only made No.2. What was the confusion about? Well, the good old BBC did place the song at No.1 on their chart, which was determined by an average of various UK charts published in the New Musical Express, Record Mirror, and other British pop papers.
It was on Monday, November 26, 1962, following a Sunday evening gig at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, that The Beatles headed to London to record “Please Please Me,” along with the B-side “Ask Me Why.” The next day, The Beatles were at the BBC’s Paris Studio, in London’s Lower Regent Street, for their first-ever London appearance on the UK’s national radio station. Released on January 11, “Please Please Me” charted a little over a week later, peaking at No. 2 in late February, where it stayed for two weeks and it made the No.2 slot again on March 16 for a single week.
In America, Capitol Records turned down the opportunity to release The Beatles’ first two singles, and so a deal was done with Vee-Jay, a US label whose main claim to fame was that they had The Four Seasons on their label. A few weeks before the impending arrival of The Beatles in New York to appear on Ed Sullivan’s Show in February 1964, Vee-Jay reissued “Please Please Me” with “From Me to You” on the B-side (having originally released “Please Please Me” in February 1963 that at the time did not perform well).
When The Beatles set foot on American soil, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday, February 7, 1964, it marked the beginning of what has come to be called, “the British invasion.” The following morning The Beatles, minus George who was unwell, did a press photo-call in New York’s Central Park. After lunch, there were rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show, and the band’s road manager, Neil Aspinall, stood in for George at a TV camera call.
The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast from Studio 50 on Broadway and West 53rd Street in Manhattan and The Beatles taped what became their third appearance on the show the following day. On The Beatles 1’s DVD and Blu-ray the clip of the band performing, “Please Please Me” is taken from the show that was transmitted on Sunday, February 23.
On the evening following the afternoon’s videotaped session, The Beatles performed live to a studio audience of 728 people. More significantly, the Sunday evening show was seen by 73 million Americans in over 23 million homes. It remains one of the most-watched broadcasts in TV history. Brian Epstein’s deal with the show resulted in The Beatles being seen on American TV on three consecutive Sunday nights – an unprecedented PR opportunity.
Their performance of “Please Please Me” was a significant reason behind the single peaking at No.3 on the week of March 21, 1964. Two weeks later “Please Please Me” was at No.5 on the charts, but in the four places above it were, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” at No.4, “She Loves You” at No.3, “Twist and Shout” at No.2 and “Can’t Buy Me Love” at No.1.