Sunday, 8 February 2015

Please Please Me - The Beatles - album review

Perhaps "Please Please Me", released by The Beatles in 1963, is not the greatest debut album in rock history, but it is an endearing work which merits close inspection, even if it is difficult to be totally dispassionate when assessing it, because of the "Beatles" factor.
One of the most well-known things about the record is that most of the tracks were recorded in one day. A mixture of Lennon-McCartney originals and cover versions, it has a touching and infectious naivete. Even so, it is daunting to think that less than five years later these same musicians were writing and recording "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane" and "A Day In The Life".
The running order is adroitly arranged to spread out the stronger performances, and it expertly conceals the weaker material. "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist And Shout" serve as formidable bookends, and help to make the record seem better than it actually is. I sometimes think to myself that the Beatles must have been playing better songs in the clubs than a few of those which ended up appearing on the album. Was the inclusion of some "safer" fare a sign of the band's eagerness, and that of their manager, to reach as wide and mainstream an audience as possible? 

The material may be less interesting than that found, for instance, on the group's sophomore effort, but there is a real unity and cohesion here, doubtless stemming from the compressed nature of the recording session(s), and therefore having more to do with overall energy and atmosphere than musical styles as such.  In some ways the strength of the individual numbers is less important than the overall effect. It is even arguable that when this LP was put together, Lennon and McCartney had not yet got fully into their stride as songwriters, separately or in terms of collaborative efforts. They only became truly prolific, in terms of quantity as well as quality, a little while later.

The opening track, "I Saw Her Standing There", still retains all of its freshness, joyousness and exuberance over fifty years after its appearance. It encapsulates that almost intangible magic which lifted The Beatles well above the nondescript, and fulfils this role much more potently than most of their later, supposedly more "mature" output. The main ingredients are the raw but likeable vocals of McCartney and Lennon, the semi-suggestive lyrics, and Ringo Starr's idiosyncratic drum fills. As a whole the song feels like a statement of intent, although probably not intended as such at the time.

In amongst the relative filler, there are some gems. The title track possesses many of the qualities of "I Saw Her Standing There", with the once again the contrasting voices of Lennon and McCartney blending to considerable effect.

Of course, "Twist and Shout" forms a rousing climax to the set, with John Lennon's searing vocal a consequence of the rigours of the legendary one-day recording session. The other members of the band perform admirably, in the knowledge that Lennon's voice might not have been able to withstand the strain of another take had any mistakes been committed.

"There's A Place" is often cited as a prototype of the more "grown up", confessional song writing which would become much in vogue in later years, but I think that its importance in this regard has been inflated, probably because this is The Beatles we are dealing with, and not some other group which disappeared into obscurity. Other artists were also beginning to dabble with the introspective around that time, anyway.

This record feels like a group effort, although George Harrison's contribution is perhaps more subdued, and less prominent, than the others. The competitive spirit, which might always have been there, did not emerge until the band had really broken big. Did the need to make that initial breakthrough breed solidarity and humility in the ranks, or at least ensure that those things were suppressed?

So in all honesty not one of the truly great debut albums, but immensely enjoyable on its own terms and as a period piece.

No comments:

Post a Comment