50 Years Ago: The Beatles Record (Most of) the ‘Please Please Me’ Album in 13 Hours
The notion of artists taking their time in the studio has become so ingrained in the recording process that it’s hard to believe that musicians used to bang out killer albums in a hurry. There is perhaps no more famous example of that than the Beatles debut album, ‘Please Please Me,’ the bulk of which was recorded in less than 13 hours on Feb. 11, 1963.
But let’s start by clearing up one misconception: Only 10 of the album’s 14 songs were cut that day. The other four – ‘Love Me Do,’ ‘P.S. I Love You,’ ‘Ask Me Why’ and the title track – had been recorded and released as singles and B-sides the previous year. Their success convinced their label, Parlophone, that there was significant demand for an album from the newcomers.
To get the album out as soon as possible, the group and producer George Martin decided to record their live act. The Beatles reserved Studio Two at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, where Martin was based, for all three sessions, 10:00AM – 1:00PM, 2:30PM – 5:30PM and 7:30PM – 10:30PM.
According to Mark Lewisohn’s ‘The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962 – 1970,’ The morning session was not very productive. Only two songs, ‘There’s a Place’ and ‘Seventeen’ (the original title of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’) were completed. While Martin and his staff went to lunch, the band decided to stay in the studio and rehearse a little bit more.
They were more productive in the afternoon. They were able to get definitive takes of ‘A Taste of Honey,’ and ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ fairly quickly. Then came a few minor overdubs – Paul McCartney double-tracked his vocal on ‘Honey,’ John Lennon put a harmonica on ‘There’s a Place’ and handclaps were added to ‘Seventeen.’ They completed the session with ‘Misery.’
The evening session began with ‘Hold Me Tight,’ which did not go well and was shelved until their second album. Up until then, all of the songs except ‘Honey’ recorded were Lennon-McCartney originals. The rest of the night was reserved for the album’s other covers. Arthur Alexander’s ‘Anna (Go to Him),’ the Cookies’ ‘Chains’ and two songs by the Shirelles, ‘Boys’ and ‘Baby It’s You’ were recorded, with no song needing more than four takes.
During a 10:00 coffee break, someone suggested recording the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist and Shout’ as the final song of the night. Even though it required Lennon to shout and their voices were shot from singing all day, they decided to give it a try. According to engineer Norman Smith, Lennon took a few throat lozenges, gargled some milk and removed his shirt. In one take, the band recorded one of the definitive rock n’ roll classics.
Contrary to popular belief, a second take of ‘Twist and Shout’ was attempted and completed, but Lennon had given everything he had on the first take and had nothing left. At 10:45PM, 765 minutes after they had started recording, the Beatles’ first album was in the can.
On Feb. 20, Martin overdubbed piano on ‘Misery’ and celeste on ‘Baby It’s You.’ Five days later – fittingly, in two sessions – the album’s ten songs were mixed for both mono and stereo. On March 22, less than three weeks after the Beatles had already recorded their next single, ‘Please Please Me’ was released in the U.K.
Watch the Beatles Sing ‘Twist and Shout’