The Beatles discuss meeting Elvis
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This year, The Beatles’ first major commercial hit turns 60-years-old. At the time of its release, in 1963, the Fab Four were still an emerging band who – despite having found a lot of success already – struggled to get their songs atop the singles charts. Eventually, Please Please Me changed everything for them. But John Lennon later revealed how he wrote the song alone before producer George Martin perfected it.
Please Please Me was The Beatles’ first-ever number-one single. After being released on January 11 it reached the top of both the New Musical Express and Melody Maker charts. However, it only hit number two on the Record Retailer chart, which eventually evolved to become the Official UK Singles Charts, so the certification of the track’s number-one status has since been called into question.
Regardless, it was extremely successful, selling more than 1 million units in the USA, and hitting platinum status in the process.
Lennon looked back on the song’s success, pointing out: “Please Please Me is my song completely.” He told journalist David Sheff in 1980: “It was my attempt at writing a Roy Orbison song, would you believe it? I wrote it in the bedroom in my house at Menlove Avenue, which was my auntie’s place.”
Historically, Lennon was one half of The Beatles’ songwriting duo, alongside Paul McCartney. Together they created the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership to take ownership of their songs in the years to come.
However, Lennon recalled: “I remember the day and the pink coverlet on the bed, and I heard Roy Orbison doing [his song] Only The Lonely or something. That’s where that came from.” He added: “And also, I was always intrigued by the words of ‘Please, lend me your little ears to my pleas’ – a Bing Crosby song. I was always intrigued by the double use of the word ‘please’. So it was a combination of Bing Crosby and Roy Orbison.”
Despite Lennon’s masterful songwriting, The Beatles’ producer George Martin was not happy with how it sounded. When the band brought it to the studio he started making some drastic changes.
Martin remembered: “At that stage, Please Please Me was a very dreary song. It was like a Roy Orbison number, very slow, bluesy vocals. It was obvious to me that it badly needed pepping up. I told them to bring it in next time and we’d have another go at it.”
McCartney later recalled the same event. He said: “We sang it and George Martin said: ‘Can we change the tempo?'” The Beatles all replied: “What’s that?”
Flabbergasted, Martin said: “Make it a bit faster. Let me try it.”
McCartney said: “And he did. We thought: ‘Oh, that’s all right, yes.’ Actually, we were a bit embarrassed that he had found a better tempo than we had.”
Lennon also admitted that the band were becoming so frustrated with the track that they almost dropped it entirely.
He said: “We almost abandoned it as the b-side of Love Me Do. We changed our minds only because we were so tired the night we did Love Me Do. We’d been going over it a few times, and when we came to the question of the flipside, we intended using Please Please Me.”
He added: “Our recording manager, George Martin, thought our arrangement was fussy, so we tried to make it simpler. We were getting very tired, though, and we just couldn’t seem to get it right. We are conscientious about our work and we don’t like to rush things.”
Just a few months later, on April 11, 1963, The Beatles released From Me To You, a song that would become their first official – uncontested – number one single.
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