Tuesday, January 29, 2008

158. The Beatles: Please Please Me (1963)

One of the joys of being a music obsessive is discovering new bands, and recently, I've come across a doozy! They're called The Beatles, and they're not new, only new to me.

In my countless trips through the used CD and LP bins, I would occasionally come across one of their albums, but I always passed them by. I wasn't into obscure music, especially obscure music from the '60s. But one day, out of boredom, I picked up an album called Revolver. And like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, it grew from there.

Now, having investigated their entire body of work, I undertake the mammoth task of reviewing every single one of their albums. My hope is to bring them a little bit more exposure than they received in their brief, prolific career.

The Beatles introduced themselves in 1963 with Please Please Me, a lively affair dominated by harmony and energy. The band display a surprising depth of talent, with all four taking turns on vocals and two of the band members showing promising compositional skills.

At a time when rock 'n' roll bands were certainly not expected to write their own songs, The Beatles must have made a bit of a fuss, considering 8 of the 14 songs on the album are the work of bassist Paul McCartney and guitarist John Lennon. These include the opener I Saw Her Standing There, which is built on surf guitar and innuendo. Did anyone blink in '63 when these young men sang about a girl, "She was just 17 / You know what I mean"? Is it bad that I don't know what they mean? In a similar vein is the title track, depending on your definition of the word "please." "Like I please you," indeed.

Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You are strong, if minor, ditties. And Do You Want To Know A Secret finds young lead guitarist George Harrison on charming nasal vocals.

As for the covers, the boys showed themselves to have excellent taste, and a deft ability to choose material that suited them. Drummer Ringo Starr takes the stage for a raucous interpretation of The Shirelles' hit Boys. Lennon attacks Arthur Alexander's Anna (Go To Him) with a passionate lead vocal. There are also versions of songs by some of the eras most talented songwriting duos, Goffin & King's Chains and Bachrach & David's Baby It's You.

The only misstep is an overly mannered A Taste Of Honey, which Paul McCartney approaches as though he were singing it in a film. However, that is quickly remedied by the album's closing number, a take on the Isley Brothers-popularized Twist And Shout. Lennon sounds like his vocal cords will tear apart at any second as the band stomps up a storm. The girls must have loved that one.

All in all, this was a promising debut, smartly produced by George Martin. Many bands show all of their cards on the first hand, but not The Beatles. One gets the idea they were just getting started, and they knew it themselves.

Grade: B+
Fave Song: Please Please Me

Stay tuned for more reviews of albums by this great lost band.


Allen L. said...

i, too, only know of the band through a couple albums and their greatest hits work. This should be fun.
Will you do a "12" for them as well?

Paul Allen said...

I don't know if they have enough good songs to fill the "12 by" quota, but I'll consider it!