They Asked Us, Please, Please Me
& We Were All So Pleased to Oblige
It was half a century ago – Sgt. Pepper still a cultural revolution away – when The Beatles released their first album. Despite how fast it was recorded, and the band almost total anonymity outside the U.K., it became a landmark of pop and rock music like no other.
Please Please Me, an almost live recording of their Cavern Club act in Liverpool, had already the combination of originals, classic American rock, and songs by composers outside their immediate realm of influence, that marked their early output. And, of course, those vocals.
By then, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison had already honed their performing skills, and the late addition of Ringo Starr seemed to have only helped usher their meteoric rise. The album shot up to #1 in both sides of the Atlantic, and within three years, they were indeed more popular than you-know-who.
At this stage, they were still better as a cover band than at writing their own material, as most of the songwriters they’ve used, including Carole King and Burt Bacharach, were already established household names in the U.S. That was not to last, as we all know how it turned out.
However, Lennon and McCartney’s I Saw Her Standing There, the title song (released earlier as a single), and Love Me Do owed nothing to the rest, with their beat, pensive lyrics, and impeccably simple but effective arrangement. It’s also amazing to realize that Harrison still had a ways to go before blossoming as a composer.
TO THE TOP OF THE TOPMOST
If their fame seemed to be rising fast, their evolution as musicians and songwriters was taking place at an even faster pace. After all, a fact that’s often pointed as a reason and example for the endurance of the Beatles’ music, Sgt. Pepper was released only five years later.
In Beatle lore, many point to their appearance at the Ed Sullivan show, the next year, as the real turning point in one of the most impressive showbiz careers ever. Others tend to skip their first three to four albums, when analyzing their music, focusing instead in the period started with Rubber Soul and Revolver.
Fair enough. But the first step, at least to legions of musicians who formed the so-called British Invasion, came by listening to these eight Beatle-penned tracks, plus the six covers, and the way they are all distributed, and vocal-assigned throughout the album. It’d be their winning formula, but it never sounded like one.
Culturally, even after five decades, the impact of this release is still to be properly placed in the context of our age. But for those who grew up with their music, the world indeed became a way more bearable place to exist. For some of that youth energy and boundless optimism still comes across intact, every time one plays the album.
A LULLABY TO YESTERYEAR
So here’s a bit of a homage to a possibly minor lifestyle milestone, the release of Please, Please Me, to ease you towards the weekend. It’s the soundtrack of a simpler time, but it still speaks of love as a redemptive power and music as the tool to change the world. It didn’t take long for most of us to move on and forget about such reductive concepts.
Then again, in an era of complicated apparatus regulating and monitoring our lives, and our constant anxiety to be plugged in at all hours, even if utterly dissociated from anything in particular, other simplistic, but way less benign, ways of seeing the world (10 years of the Iraq invasion, anyone?) are considered the norm.
In other words, at such dark and twisted times, to mark the 50th anniversary of a musical three-chord spark doesn’t seem too silly a way to spend a few minutes (audition time: 32’30”) of your precious time, between a few Tweets, your job tasks at hand, and a quick, and depressing, reading of today’s headlines (what? no assault weapons on the new gun legislation?).
We don’t know about you, but we’re indeed very pleased to have come a long way without losing our ability to still enjoy it anytime we have a chance. Would you?