60 years ago: why the first Beatles album almost didn't materialize

The cultural significance of “Please Please Me” can hardly be overestimated. It came out at a time when British society was in transition.

When the Beatles entered Abbey Road Studios, then known as EMI Recording Studios, on February 10, 1963, there were no screaming fans waiting outside. There were no photographers lurking either. The quartet had already made a name for themselves as a rousing live band in the club scene and had their first number one hit with the single “Please Please Me”. But the musicians from Liverpool were not yet superstars. That should change soon. Her first album was groundbreaking for this.

It had to be quick

It had to be done quickly because the record company EMI/Parlophone wanted to take advantage of the great success of the single “Please Please Me”. At 10am, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr entered the north London recording studios with producer George Martin. Twelve hours later – at 10 p.m. there was a curfew in the studios – the debut with 14 songs and a running time of almost 32 minutes was already in the can. Reportedly, Martin only made minor touch-ups before the tapes were completed a good week later.

“Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” had previously been recorded and released as singles, along with respective B-sides “PS I Love You” and “Ask Me Why”. (However, a different version of “Love Me Do” ended up on the album than on the single.) The other ten songs, a mixture of originals and covers, were recorded live by John, Paul, George and Ringo in the same room. Tonmeister Martin wanted to capture the raw energy and spontaneity of their live performances and give the album an unpolished sound.

The Fab Four’s performance is all the more impressive when you know that the Beatles were on a grueling 14-date tour of England at the time. British singer Helen Shapiro, then only 16, headlined the concerts, which featured 11 artists. The Beatles, who were only fourth in the line-up at the time, played two four-song concerts night after night.

“It almost killed me”

When the band arrived at Abbey Road, it is said that they were so exhausted that George Martin even had doubts about their ability to keep up the recording sessions. Later, John Lennon, who suffered from ill health during the recording and was on throat lozenges, reported that he reached his limits on the final song, “Twist And Shout.” “That almost killed me,” he said.

The photo for the album cover, on which the Beatles look over a railing, was taken by star photographer Angus McBean at what was then EMI headquarters. When the record company moved within London in the 1990s, the famous railing was taken with it. Martin originally wanted to have the band photographed at London Zoo, but zoo officials flatly refused a photo session of a young, wild band.

On March 22, 1963, “Please Please Me” hit British record stores for the first time. In the USA, a version of the LP that was shortened by two tracks was not released until January 1964 under the title “Introducing… The Beatles”. “It was a piece of plastic. And that piece of plastic was like gold,” drummer Ringo Starr is quoted as saying on the Beatles website. “You would have sold your soul to be on this little record.”

30 weeks at the top

The album was a huge success, topping the UK charts seven weeks after its release in May. “Please Please Me” stayed there for a total of 30 weeks before being supplanted by the second album “With The Beatles”. It stayed in the top ten for more than a year – a very rare success for a band’s debut, which apart from the Beatles on the island only Oasis achieved with “Definitely Maybe” in 1994. The Beatles still hold the record for a debut album at 73 weeks versus the Gallagher brothers at 51.

The Beatles embodied the youthful spirit of the “Swinging Sixties” with their wild hairstyles for the time, their rebellious manner and rousing music. The success of their debut helped usher in a new era in youth culture, the influence of which continues to this day.

“Please Please Me” marked a turning point for the music industry in more ways than one. The fact that it contained several songs that band members – here the duo McCartney/Lennon – had written themselves was unusual at the time. So you can see it as the birth of independent rock bands that are not dependent on external songwriters. In addition, the Beatles revolutionized the concept of the music album, which was no longer seen as just a collection of singles, but as a coherent artistic work.

It was certainly not foreseeable that 60 years later the Beatles would be considered the most influential pop and rock group in music history. But at the New Musical Express (NME) they already suspected that Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would be successful. “Things are beginning to move for the Beatles,” wrote the influential British music paper in March, shortly before the album’s release. “The future looks bright for the Beatles, but as you know them, it’s not going to go to their heads.”


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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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