Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Art of the Album: The Beatles - Please Please Me

On Tuesday, after weeks and weeks of waiting, I finally received my remastered Beatles box set from Amazon. Finally. I had pre-ordered it a few weeks before release, thinking that I’d write about them for the site and get Mad Hits from people scouring the Internet for Beatles-related news.

And now it’s November, and my thunder has been stolen not only by my fellow writers but also by the entirety of the Internet.

My conundrum: How to write about these albums, thus getting my money’s worth, without writing about something that happened two months ago and being a lame jerk? The solution was simple! Spin it off into another new music-based post series where I wax poetic about albums I like! The first batch of these pieces will just happen to be the collected discography of The Beatles.

Think we write about this band too much? Well, you picked the wrong blog to read today, buddy.

PleasePleaseMe What You Need to Know: The bulk of the Beatles’ first album was recorded in early 1963 – ten songs from a day-long marathon session plus the A- and B-sides from the already-released “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” singles. Most of their early albums were a mix of original material and covers, which was odd for its day – bands did not typically produce their own material in this era, and The Beatles were so prolific in their early days that they inspired many a singer/songwriter to pen his or her own material.

Plenty has been said of The Beatles’ experimental and breakup phases over the last forty years, but Please Please Me and With The Beatles are (relatively speaking, of course) sometimes overlooked by more casual fans. It’s true that these early albums are not the pop music landmarks that dominate the second half of their career, but the early stuff is nevertheless fun, catchy, excellent music.

The Songs You’ve Heard: Most everyone has heard “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” at one point or another – the latter, at least, deserves its reputation. Thanks to one Ferris Bueller (if no one else), you’re probably aware of “Twist and Shout” – this song is one of the covers, though it has so far overshadowed the original that you’ve probably never heard it.

The Songs You Haven’t: Let’s not kid ourselves, most of these tracks are as obscure as Lennon/McCartney songs can be. “I Saw Her Standing There” is one I almost considered listing as a Song You’ve Heard, but while it’s just as good as their early singles (and better than “Love Me Do”), it doesn’t get a ton of exposure outside of this album. “Misery,” “There’s a Place,” and “P.S. I Love You” round out the best of the original numbers, while of the covers “Chains” is sort of a funny, twangy number, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ringo-sung “Boys” (though my girlfriend will forever disagree with me about that one).

Why I Like It: Please Please Me has an infectious energy to it – the deftness of their performances (they were a relentless live band, and this was back before the screams drowned out the sound and made musicianship impossible) combined with their obvious enthusiasm (they had two hit singles under their belts going into the studio) mix to make something that’s just fun to listen to, even if it’s not their best or most technically proficient album.

It also helps that, of the fourteen on the album, none of the songs here are truly bad. Some whinge over Paul’s syrupy “A Taste of Honey,” and even that one really comes down to musical taste (pun maybe intended).

The recent remastering of this album does bring a new, sorely needed cleanliness to the sound – you can hear individual instruments and voices much better than before, and the sound of John Lennon forgetting the words of “Please Please Me” has never been so clearly audible. That being said, this album was recorded on a two-track tape recorder that was a little primitive even for the time – the sound quality can only get so good, and casual listeners (or people who only listen to things with their iPod earbuds) probably won’t hear much of a difference.

Desert Island Tracks: “Please Please Me,” “I Saw Her Standing There