There have been very few years in rock music history so pivotal as 1963. The year marked the crucial break out for The Beatles as they laid down their first two albums and yielded three UK number-one singles: ‘She Loves You’, ‘From Me To You’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’.
Some fans like to consider ‘Please Please Me’, the titular single from The Beatles’ debut album, as the group’s first number-one because it topped the New Musical Express and Melody Maker charts. Alas, if we play by the book, ‘Please Please Me’ didn’t quite qualify as a UK number one as it only reached number two on the Record Retailer chart, which would later become the official UK Singles Chart.
Pedantry aside, ‘Please Please Me’ has stood the test of time as one of The Beatles’ most iconic formative hits. The song lay heavily on John Lennon’s end of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership and was initially intended as a slower, more mournful ballad.
“‘Please Please Me’ is my song completely,” John affirmed in an interview with Playboy 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”.
“I remember the day I wrote it; I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only the Lonely’ or something. And I was also always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, ‘Please lend a little ear to my pleas’. The double use of the word ‘please’. So it was a combination of Bing Crosby and Roy Orbison.”
While Lennon intended the song to be slow and sung in a yearning, Roy Orbison style, producer George Martin had different ideas. “The songs the Beatles first gave me were crap. This was 1962, and they played a dreadful version of ‘Please Please Me’ as a Roy Orbison-style ballad,” Martin told The Observer Music Monthly in 2006.
“But I signed them because they made me feel good to be with them,” he added. “And if they could convey that on a stage, then everyone in the audience would feel good, too. So I took ‘Love Me Do’ and added some harmonica, but it wasn’t financially rewarding even though Brian Epstein bought about 2,000 copies. Then we worked for ages on their new version of ‘Please Please Me,’ and I said: ‘Gentlemen, you’re going to have your first number one.’”
Martin was right in speeding up ‘Please Please Me’, even if it wasn’t strictly a number one in some people’s books. The high-paced single helped turn the money wheel and raised The Beatles’ status at a vital time in their development. That said, I can’t help wondering how Lennon’s intended Orbison-style version might have sounded.