Album: Please Please Me
Release: 1963. (1st album released)
Summary: As the first album released by the Beatles, “Please Please Me” is widely considered to be one of the most influential albums in music history. Here you had members of a band that actually wrote most of the songs, and played all of the instruments as well. This was notable at the time because almost all albums in the pop/rock genre were crafted with the use of hired songwriters and studio musicians. It’s here where they introduce themselves as serious songwriters and extremely worthy performers.

Note: After each song description, there is a link to the song on youtube. All songs are actual album versions except “Please Please Me,” and “Baby, It’s You” which are not available on Youtube because of copywrite infringement laws. Live versions of these two songs have been used instead.

Song rankings:
1. I Saw Her Standing There (McCartney) – This is the kind of high energy rock that would be one of the elements that defined the Beatles. This first track off of their first album gives the world a taste of what will be considered one of the greatest voices in rock history. McCartney took the standard “I-IV-V” blues-based chord change, changed them up and turbo charged them with energetic dominant 7 harmonic voicings and hand claps. This is my pick for best song on the album.

2. Twist And Shout (cover) – Though some might find it blasphemous to rank a cover song as the second best song on the album, Lennon’s vocals cannot be ignored as one of the most notable performances in rock history. Beatle’s producer George Martin made sure that this was recorded last as he correctly thought that it would shred Lennon’s vocal cords. They ended up capturing the performance on the first take, as a second take was attempted but John’s voice had nothing left. As a result of this raunchy vocal style, The Beatles always made sure that this was the last song Lennon sang when the Beatles performed live. Regardless, Lennon had created one of rocks most memorable moments in a single take.

3. Please Please Me (Lennon) – The title track of the album, Lennon says this was a result of him trying to write an “Roy Orbison” song. It opens with the memorable harmonica line which serves a precursor to the songs melody in the verse. A top notch Lennon composition comparable to the pre-mentioned “ISHST” in quality, but with a little more emphasis on “pop” rather than a “rock” sound. Though Lennon was the songs composer, it was definitely a “team effort” to make this one sound the way it did: Ringo fills the track with some of the most active and energetic drumming he’s ever played. Paul’s ability to sing higher harmonizing lines which adds life to the song cannot be discounted. And simple guitar riffs can add a lot to a song, as proven here when George adds those five catchy notes that are fit in right before the chorus when Lennon sings “C-mon”. This was also a great pick for the albums second single, which effectively contrasts the innocence and simplicity of their first single “Love Me Do,” leaving the listener intrigued.

4. Anna (Go To Him) (cover) – I cannot say enough about the strength and authenticity of his voice in these early years. We hear Lennon’s vocals intensify and cool off at just the right moments to create the powerful varying dynamics. And again, the lyrical content is one beautifully ridden in sadness and self-pity. But what really separates this song from the others is the George Harrison guitar riff played repeatedly throughout the verse. The excellent original written and recorded by Arthur Alexander actually has the is part played on piano. But George translates the part seamlessly onto guitar, making it the driving force of the verse. This is the first song on a Beatles album that has a specific guitar riff as a center point, rather than guitar chords. This type of riff-based songwriting can be seen soon after in the Beatles own compositions such as “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer”.

5. Baby It’s You (cover) – “Baby..” is the third cover song sang by Lennon that makes this albums top 5. This is a quintessential Lennon performance that maybe best represents who he was, and where he wanted to go as a songwriter. Though this is a cover of a Bacharach/David/Williams composition, it represents a more interpersonal lyrical style that is stemmed from places of insecurity and heartbreak. These themes can be heard time and time again in most of Lennon’s future compositions, making this his signature style. Lennon certainly related to songs such as these, as his early life had plenty of unfortunate turns involving abandonment which surely implanted some deep seeded feelings of insecurity. Thus, the song itself is authentic, probably because it’s being sung by someone who understands exactly what he’s singing about. Listen to how the song slowly builds up intensity until it’s at its pinnacle in the chorus when he sings “Can’t Help Myself” or “Don’t Want Nobody..Nobody”. Another incredible Lennon vocal performance backed up nicely by the others.

6. Do You Want To Know A Secret (McCartney) – What’s rare about this one is it is a McCartney composition that is sung by George. “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” is the only other Lennon/McCartney composition that George would sing lead on. From this point on, Harrison would only sing covers or his own compositions. But this is a melodic McCartney gem that is saturated with lyrics of child-like innocence that might come from an elementary school student’s first expression of love. Even the “do,da,do” background vocals emphasize the songs catchy simplicity.

7. P.S. I Love You (McCartney) – A well done ballad with romanticized lyrics McCartney would become well known for. I love the background vocals emphasis on each first word on, or slightly before the “one” beat of each measure in the chorus. At the 1:22 mark, the ballad subtly climaxes where those same background vocals now sing every word, and McCartney gets a little soulful with the lead vocals.

8. Misery (Lennon/McCartney) – The first Beatles song to ever be covered by another artist (Kenny Lynch), this is one of those few songs that were actually a collaborative effort by Lennon and McCartney. In fact the verse is sung mostly in unison with a lead vocalist not easily discernible, which supports the general Lennon/McCartney “whoever sung the lead vocals wrote it” rule-of-thumb. Another extremely simply melodic line which emphasizes what I’ve come to believe personally – a simple melody is the key to catchiness and memorability.

9. Ask Me Why (Lennon) – Another strong Lennon song with a solid vocal performance, this begins with George setting the table with an extremely simple four note guitar motif that is repeated several times. John’s one and only attempt at a pop ballad on this album shows that McCartney isn’t the only one who could write in this style.

10. Love Me Do (McCartney) – Maybe the most recognizable harmonica part in the history of pop music, this also was the first single released from the album. Everything about this track is bare-bones simple in nature, from the three chord changes, to the basic drumming and lyrics. This was basically the starting point from which McCartney would launch his legacy as one of the greatest songwriters of all-time.

11. A Taste Of Honey (cover) – A smooth and laid back waltz cover sung by McCartney, this one is the least demanding on his vocal chords. A great element of the song is the middle eight, when “I will return” triggers a double time feel with a change to a 4/4 time signature. A nice “trickling” arpeggio sequence played by George during the verse.

12. There’s A Place (Lennon) – One of the least spectacular of all Beatles compositions, this is the closest thing to album “filler” as we had heard from them in their early years. Despite the slightly loose feeling to the meshing of the instruments, the vocal lines are fairly solid with an interesting bridge.

13. Boys (cover) – This is the first cover ever sang by Ringo, and maybe his best vocal performance as a Beatle. At about the 1:45 mark, listen to his full-voice vocals begin and continue throughout the rest of the song. Ringo and Paul have both remarked that at the time the Beatles were performing and recording this, they didn’t even take into account that the song was originally written for a girl-group to sing (The Shirelles) and was really about “boys” as the title would indicate. Paul’s quote: “Ringo would do ‘Boys’, which was a fan favorite with the crowd. And it was great — though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song.”

14. Chains (cover) – George sings the lead vocals with help from the others on this Buddy Holly cover – one of their greatest influences. Early on you can hear that George’s vocals were not quite as refined as those of Lennon and McCartney, but later it’s a more experienced George Harrison vocal that would go on to sing some of the most memorable Beatle’s numbers.

Notable Moments:
John Lennon’s vocals on covers – John’s best vocal performances may have been in the early years, beginning with this album. “Twist And Shout,” “Anna,” and “Baby It’s You”.

Ringo’s drumming on “Please Please Me” – Possibly his most energetic drumming ever…

Paul’s vocals on “I Saw Her Standing There” – Though John’s voice was especially showcased on the album, McCartney’s vocal range was made known with this song, demonstrating incredible dynamics mixing in full voice with high range falsetto-like moments that drew Little Richard comparisons.

George’s transcription of “Anna” – A perfect representative of the piano riff is played here by George who uses some hybrid picking to pull it off.

Beatle with the greatest contribution: John Lennon. Although the albums number one song is all McCartney, and I’d give him the edge in songwriting on this album, I just can’t ignore the dynamics of Lennon’s vocals on the covers. These rank as some of my favorite vocal performances ever.

“Please Please Me” album ranking: 6th best (out of 13 albums)

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