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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Beatles -- Please Please Me


Well, here we go. The Beatles. The most popular band in the history of the world. So much has been written about them in the last 50 years, the only reason I am even going through the trouble of reviewing their albums is the sheer ridiculousness of it. I come into this with as much bias as anyone. If I think back to my earliest memories of the Beatles, it's sitting in my grandmother's ancient home more than a decade after the band broke up, hearing guitar-jangle and reverbed-vocals, looking at black and white photos. Then all of a sudden there are all these bright colors and druggy things and hippies and all kinds of history happening and that Woodstock documentary where I saw boobs for the first time. Anyway, whatever The Beatles were to me as a child, they were always somebody else's music. My parents had most of The Beatles' albums on vinyl, but they also had every Yes album on vinyl, so any Beatle's nostalgia I get from them is mixed together with a full decade of progressive rock, and Zeppelin, and rolling papers that somehow never got thrown away.
Since then, or I should say, in the ensuing thirty years, I have made numerous attempts to make The Beatles mine, and I have failed miserably every time. The closest I've come is achieving the feeling of thumbing through a history book. Nothing ever connected to me like Kurt Cobain's eyeballs between "shiver the whole...night through" at the end of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"--then again, I was actually alive and watching that happen.
So here I go again. New rules this time--the same rules I have implemented for every one of these "Every Album I Own" reviews: at least two listens, no song skipping, at least one listen exclusively with headphones. If this doesn't do it...
Jangle, Jangle, Jangle. That's what I heard the last time I tried to listen to Please Please Me, The Beatles' debut album. Forcing myself to focus, there is a lot more to this than jangle, jangle, but musically and lyrically, this is about as deep as a bathtub. Every song is centered on boy/girl relations, with the standard sensitive numbers, and the standard horny-boy numbers. What saves this music is the band's energy and charisma. If they only started this band to pick up girls and make money, they were definitely already throwing themselves into the proposition by this point.
Various sources say Please Please Me was recorded in only one day. It cewrtainly flows like one live band set--the only thing missing is fans' screaming voices. Today we would consider this guitar-pop music, certainly not rock music, except for the closing track, a cover of "Twist and Shout" where John Lennon was apparently losing his voice.

According to various sources, this was the last song The Beatles recorded during the whirlwind,ten-hour Please Please Me session, and to top it off, Lennon had a cold. Not knowing that, I would simply guess this was a really passionate performance of the song, and without a doubt, the album highlight. Even if this information about the performance is true, the realness of it overcomes the pop-packaged tendencies of the rest of the album. While the music and arrangements are well done overall, and some of George Harrison's jangly solos are a blast (the shoutout Paul McCartney gives him before the solo on "Boys" is particularly illuminating), this isn't anything groundbreaking as far as sound goes. I know that The Beatles pioneered the concept of a band writing and performing their own music, and that's awesome, but Please Please Me is trivial fun, and nothing more. It's at least fun, though.
I guess worse things have led to world domination...

1963 Apple Corps
1. I Saw Her Standing There 2:53
2. Misery 1:48
3. Anna (Go to Him) 2:57
4. Chains 2:25
5. Boys 2:26
6. Ask Me Why 2:26
7. Please Please Me 2:00
8. Love Me Do 2:21
9. P.S. I Love You 2:04
10. Baby It's You 2:40
11. Do You Want to Know a Secret 1:57
12. A Taste of Honey 2:03
13. There's a Place 1:50
14. Twist and Shout 2:37

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