Sixty years ago (February 11, 1963) the young Beatles stepped into Abbey Road Studios in London (then called EMI Studios) just before 10 am. By the time of their departure around 10:45 pm that evening, the world would be gifted the very first of many pioneering albums, this one being Please Please Me. The event serves as their metaphoric launch pad to the rest of the Beatle’s unique recording history. Yes, Please Please Me’s music would be landmark-worthy, but everything surrounding this album’s story can be summed up as groundbreaking.
It starts with the very notion of producer George Martin committing to record a “long player” (or LP) with a band with such a shallow track record of sales success (at that point, they had released just one single, “Love Me Do”). Martin, who had been lukewarm on the band only 5-6 months prior, took a leap of faith once “Love Me Do” reached #17. He had already heard and liked an early version of their next single (a slow version of “Please Please Me”) and was now a convert. His great talent for smelling an artist’s potential kicked in, lighting the fuse of his maverick instincts. His first action was to buck the mainstream thinking of the era’s recording industry; he thought, why not make an album at this point?
To say this was a groundbreaking idea is not an overstatement. Indeed, many other established artists of the day with far more success than the Beatles were still waiting for their chance to be offered an LP deal. Further, the demographics of the market were against bands who played rock and roll records intended for teenagers. The buying population for the LP format, up to that point, had been middle-aged people. This was an audience of higher-income adults who were far more interested in Perry Como than long-haired beat bands. The album idea was outside-the-box thinking, but it was a masterstroke by George Martin, who was quickly becoming the recording industry’s most creative record producer.
This began when Martin gathered the Beatles to meet at EMI-Parlophone’s headquarters along with their manager Brian Epstein. On November 16, 1962, Martin floored them all by proclaiming his commitment to the band and the prospect of an album. Going even further, he pledged to record John and Paul’s written material for the LP as well as assuring that Ringo would do all the drumming (just 4 months prior, Martin had brought in a session drummer to lay down the original tracks for “Love Me Do,” much to Ringo’s chagrin).
Martin envisioned that this would be a live album. Not having seen Liverpool’s Cavern Club just yet, he appealed to the boys by suggesting recording it there. Once he had subsequently visited “the Cave” in Liverpool, the producer thought better of trying to record music in the former brick-lined damp underground warehouse. Now the plan would be to make it a proper studio album.
That would happen on a single day, February 11, 1962, with a strategy to take their two existing Lennon-McCartney singles (“Love Me Do/PS I Love You” and “Please Please Me/Ask Me Why”) and add 10 more tunes to complete an LP. This would include a block of fresh Lennon-McCartney songs: “There’s A Place,” “Seventeen,” (the working title for “I Saw Her Standing There”), “Do You Want to Know A Secret?” (soon to be given to George to sing), “Misery,” and “Hold Me Tight” (destined for incompletion but eventually to be included in their second album).
As the original idea was to have this be a live album, Martin and the band decided to simply record some of their favorite stage songs, written by others, to round out the album. In order of recording sequence, they were:
“Taste of Honey” (written by Bobby Scot and Ric Marlow)
“Anna” (Arthur Alexander)
“Boys” ( Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell) for Ringo’s vocal
“Chains” (Gerry Goffin & Carol King)
“Baby It’s You” (Mack David, Barney Williams, and a budding Burt Bacharach).
The last tune to be recorded that day would also be groundbreaking.
John Lennon had been battling a heavy cold all day, no doubt a byproduct of one of Britain’s coldest winters in history. The engineer for that day, Norman Smith, reflected years later, “They had a big glass jar of Zubes throat sweets on top of the piano, rather like the ones you see in a sweet shop. Paradoxically, by the side of that, was a big carton of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes which they smoked incessantly.”
With everyone exhausted by 10 pm, the Abbey Road building was vacant except for the Beatles, Martin, Smith, and second engineers Richard Langham and Cris Neal. Soon they all had to face the dim truth; they were one tune short of the needed 14 to complete the album. Smith remembers, “Someone suggested they do ‘Twist And Shout,’ the old Isley Brothers’ number, with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were tired and sore, as it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right (the) first time. John sucked a couple more Zubes, had a bit of a gargle with milk, and away we went.”
What we have enjoyed hearing for nearly 60 years is the very first take of the now-familiar recording of “Twist And Shout” (they did attempt a second take, but John’s voice failed, and the recording was scrapped). The response from the control room was an instant and exuberant embrace. “I was ready to jump up and down when I heard them singing that!” remembered Langham, “It was an amazing demonstration.” Cris Neil recalls, “John was stripped to the waist to do his amazingly raucous vocal.” George Martin reflected, “I don’t know how they did it. We’ve been recording all day but the longer we go on, the better they get.”
585 minutes long, to be exact. – One groundbreaking day.
Photo: Getty Images
It’s always struck me as tragically ironic that on that day, as one creative phenomenon was entering the world of music, just a few miles away a brilliant candle was being extinguished as the poet Sylvia Plath took her own life.
Thanks for the insightful comment…didn’t know that! -SV
The article states that of the Lennon McCartney songs to be recorded one was “Sixteen “ the working title fo I Saw Her Standing There. In fact the working title was Seventeen.
woops, my typo! -SV
I’ve read this magical historical account many times, but each time I do, the hairs on the back of my neck feel as the first time.
If only I could transport myself in time, be there to witness the greatest musical event, I’d do it in a heartbeat! I love The Beatles with every fiber in my soul.
Thank you for posting this gem .
What a great article! I remember watching the Beatles for the very first time on that Sunday night, Feb. 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan show. I was turning 7 and thought, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” Here I am 59 years later, a retired music teacher and playing musician. Thank you, Beatles for my life’s inspiration! You guys became the measure of all to follow.
The Beatles paved the way for the British Invasion.
There will never be another band that will come close to their talent.
You and me both!…I’m just glad I was old enough to see them on Ed Sullivan, 59 years ago today.- SV
The article states: “…That would happen on a single day, February 11, 1962…”, but that must actually be 1963, since they were informed of the upcoming session in November 1962.
Unofficial Editor’s Note: Today in 1964, the Beatles made their first appearance at the Stage Delicatessen in New York where they were promptly kicked out of their coveted table at the front of the house and made to sit in the back of the restaurant by my grandfather, who thought they looked too disheveled to sit near the regular customers. But more importantly, let’s raise a glass to all the plate-spinners, acrobatic poodles, chair-balancers, and of course, Senor Wences and Topo Gigio. May they rest in reruns.
Davy Jones appeared on the Feb 9 Sullivan Show. “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage.I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, ‘This is it, I want a piece of that.’”
Two years later, he was a Monkee.
Mach show indeed….These guys went to The Toppermost in No Time…of course America got the Beatles Right when we needed them….they have been my cheer up …my depression med …and good day full of sunshine my whole life….esp this part of my life… God Save the King…and thank God for The Beatles…JOHN&GEORGE RIP Long Live Paul&Ringo….
P.S. My mother had a heck of a time fing E7flat drove me nuts til she did(I Want To Tell You) glad John Liked it too
I think one of the best live performance of Twist and Shout was when they performed in front of the Royals….Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were two that I recall. At the start of Twist and Shout, John got a little cheeky with the audience, saying” For the next song the people in the cheap seats, please clap your hands and stamp your feet. The rest of you can just rattle your jewelry.” So funny and typical of John who wasn’t put off by wealth.