Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Beatles - Please Please Me

The Beatles catalog has been remastered and reissued and I figured this would be a good time to give their albums an actual run through. Especially since everyone seems to rank them up towards the top on the best rock bands of all-time. Now, I've heard most of their hits, so I'm not a complete novice, but this genre is also not my favorite so I may have a more distorted view than your average reviewer. I think I can get a pass on not having heard all of these yet as the group dis-banded before I was even born, so for the most part, I didn't really know what all of the fuss was about.

Might as well go in order of release date, so up first is their first U.S. release Please Please Me released in 1963. I decided to go with the mono release for this album (vs. the stereo release) - stereo was just emerging back then, so all of the audiophiles are adamant that the mono version is the way the guys intended the album to be heard. But you can check out wikipedia for more info since if you are still reading this I'm sure you're eager to rave or argue about my listening experience.

So apparently this album was recorded in one day at three straight jam sessions, which could be impressive or could be concerning, I guess, depending on your point of view. Also, apparently it seemed to be a big deal that the band actually wrote their own songs when this was released instead of just covering hits, which I guess anyone can do so at least some success. I mean have you ever been to karaoke? Anyhoo, I guess I should get back to some sort of review.

The first thing I noticed about this album is how short it is. Only one song checks in at more than 3 minutes, and just barely at 3:01. So the verses are quite short if they even exist (yes I'm talking about you Please Please Me and Do You Want To Know A Secret). The next thing I notice is how formulaic it seems. Granted at the time the Beatles were nobodies and trying to get paid a lil' somethin' (all 7.5 pounds - no idea how much that is in real money) so I guess the record label was dictating a just add water approach. (Having heard some of the other songs in their catalog, when they have more artistic freedom it gets more interesting). Of the songs that they wrote, they appear more passionate (Please Please Me, Love Me Do, I Saw Her Standing There) vs. the cover songs (tracks 3-5, 10, 12, 14).
  1. I Saw Her Standing There - First song of the jam session and they seem to have plenty of energy. Nice upbeat way to begin an album. Paul even has some fun screaming in the middle, maybe a throwback to their pub playing nights, which apparently (yes another apparently) they were originally supposed to record this album live in a pub during one of their performances, so there.

  2. Misery - From upbeat to misery, thanks for sucking the fun out, guys. Actually, they seem a bit to happy to be losing their girlfriends. Maybe they are being sarcastic...I can relate to that.

  3. Anna (Go To Him) - Now Anna, John seems upset about. Here's where the album begins to lose a little momentum, in my opinion.

  4. Chains - Sounds like they gave this cover song to George to shut him up, but he doesn't seem too happy about it.

  5. Boys - I guess Ringo was complaining that everyone else got to sing on the album he needed to get his shine too. Unfortunately, Ringo singing about "talking about boys" doesn't do much to help him out.

  6. Ask Me Why - John takes the reigns back here. Maybe he just needed a break. Word on the interwebs is that he had a throat thing going on during the recording session, partly as a result the Twist and Shout cover is at the end for fear of screwing up his voice for the day. This song didn't do too much for me, don't ask me why.

  7. Please Please Me - Things pick up here with a little call and response. Maybe this was recorded after lunch. A little fish and chips will go along way. It keeps me pumped for a whole 2 minutes and 6 seconds.

  8. Love Me Do - A nice smooth transition into Paul who has been silent since about track 2. I like this song, but I think it could use an actual verse instead of running through the chorus a few times. Nice beat though.

  9. P.S. I Love You - Another Paul song and I think it works well with some nice vocal inflections. Paul even gets a little improv on so I guess they have preformed this one a few times.

  10. Baby It's You - Sloooowwing down, sha-la-la-la, la-la. A little uninspired at the beginning, like they lost a cricket match with the label and were forced to add this to the album.

  11. Do You Want To Know A Secret - Oh, another love song. This time George seems a bit happier, though I don't know how you keep a secret when you record it for the world to hear. I imagine this being thrown George's way due to John's throat issue, Ringo's horrible performance, and Paul's insistence on only singing his own songs.

  12. A Taste Of Honey - No, wait, Paul picks up a cover. And quite nicely I might add. A nice change in the beat keeps your attention. The beat is more interesting than the rest of the album, maybe because it was originally written as an instrumental before adding lyrics later so it needed to be more entertaining to begin with.

  13. There's A Place - Apparently this song just played.

  14. Twist And Shout - Everybody's heard this one - A nice way to end a debut album.
Overall, the remastered version is nice, but having not listened and memorized every last note and lyric for the last few decades, I can't appreciate all of the improvements that this has to offer, but as a first listen it is quite enjoyable. I will say that the remastered stereo version of Revolution is better than the 1993 cd version - The lyrics are clear and only the guitar is distorted (the mono version has the lyrics distorted as well).

A side note - The mono remastered versions are only available (currently) in a sold out box set, so you might be stuck with the stereo versions, but as long as you don't listen to this album (and the first few) on headphones, it shouldn't matter. The only issue is that on the original 2-track stereo they routed vocals to the right and music to the left so it gets a bit weird with headphones.

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