Love Them Do: The Beatles’ Please Please Me Turns 60

How the Fabs’ debut album would reveal early signs of the group’s genius

The Beatles in session 1963 (Image: The Beatles)


It’s one of the most exhilarating beginnings of any rock album. And it was a moment that The Beatles had long been waiting for. As the band burst into life behind Paul McCartney’s lead vocal on “I Saw Her Standing There,” a song so full of vitality and joyous good spirits that it’s still a part of his setlists, a new era in rock history had arrived: the Beatles era. Rock music (and the rock industry) would never be the same.

It was a five and a half years since that fabled day when “John met Paul”; when John Lennon was finally introduced to McCartney at a church fete (fair) in Liverpool on July 6, 1957. In 1962, Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr signed a record contract with EMI, releasing their first single, “Love Me Do,” in October of that year. It peaked at #17 in the UK, a respectable placing for a group little known outside of Liverpool. Then, in early 1963, their second single, “Please Please Me,” blew the lid off. Bright and upbeat, with a crisp musical backing, tight harmonies, and slightly risqué lyrics, it became their first Number One (at least in some charts; in the Record Retailer chart now used as the standard for chart placings, it reached #2).

As “Please Please Me” was rising in the charts, it was decided that it was time for The Beatles to make an album. And the resulting work, Please Please Me, would reveal early signs of the group’s genius. For the typical pop album of the time was built around an act’s hit singles, surrounded by filler. The Beatles upended that template and showed that with a bit of effort, you could create an album that was good throughout, from start to finish; an album that wasn’t just a collection of songs, but a statement in its own right.

The Beatles “Please Please Me” single (Image: Discogs)

The album had to be recorded on the run, fit in between live dates in an increasingly busy schedule. The four songs from the group’s two singles would be included, and on February 11, 1963, they knocked out the album’s ten other songs in a day-long session. Producer George Martin wanted to emulate the band’s live show, which mixed originals with a variety of covers. As such, Please Please Me illustrates the Beatles’ influences, as much as it does their own innovative original work.

The harmonies, and Lennon’s expressive vocal (listen to how long he draws out the word “heart” in the first line) on the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” show you exactly where Lennon and McCartney’s “Ask Me Why” came from. The plaintive romantic unhappiness in Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go With Him)” and the Cookies’ “Chains” is echoed in the Beatles’ own “Misery,” which musically leans towards the poppier style of the latter song. The boisterous fun of the Shirelles’ “Boys” can be found in “I Saw Her Standing There.”

“Boys” also gave Starr his moment in the lead vocal spotlight, an indication of the group’s egalitarianism that would see everyone getting at least one lead vocal on an album, though Lennon and McCartney still dominate. “Boys” was well-suited to Starr’s limited range, and further benefits from the enthusiastic backing by the rest of the band. Similarly, the prominent backing vocals on “Chains” help cover up the weakness of Harrison’s lead vocal, which become all too apparent in his lead on Lennon and McCartney’s “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” which was nonetheless endearing enough to make the teenyboppers swoon.

The rest of the leads are split between Lennon, McCartney, or the two harmonizing together. The two singles form the centerpiece of the album. The primitive beat of “Love Me Do” is enlivened by Lennon’s harmonica, which resurfaces on “Please Please Me” (but would soon be dropped when they feared it was becoming a gimmick). Once the Beatles incorporated Martin’s suggestion to boost the tempo, “Please Please Me” took on a casual confidence that stood in stark contrast to the restraint of “Love Me Do” (there’s a similar timidity on the “Love Me Do” B-side, “P.S. I Love You”). Indeed, once the work on “Please Please Me” had been completed, Martin announced to the group “Gentlemen, you have just made your first Number One.” Their brio was infectious.

There are also hints of what was to come. McCartney, always the most enamored of standards, selected “A Taste of Honey” to record (originally an instrumental for the 1960 Broadway play of the same name; a vocal version would follow in 1961), his double-tracked vocal giving the song an eerie, even somewhat ominous, feeling. It’s a little taste of showbiz flair from the man who’d compose such odes to nostalgia as “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Honey Pie.” And “There’s a Place,” with its winding harmonies and Lennon solo, reveals the introspective nature of its primary composer (Lennon), who sings of how he can retreat to the safety of his mind when he feels low (a similar theme later explored in Brian Wilson’s “In My Room”). Not the typical fare crafted for a teenage audience.

The Beatles Please Please Me, Parlophone Records 1963

And McCartney’s exuberant lead on “I Saw Her Standing There” is matched by Lennon’s bravura performance on the closing track, “Twist and Shout.” Lennon doesn’t let the fact that he was dealing with a cold hamper him in any way, going for broke as he shreds his voice delivering the song in two takes. As the conclusion to an album that was set up to mirror The Beatles’ live show, it provides the perfect climax.

And that’s the essence of Please Please Me; put it on, and it’s like having The Beatles giving a performance in your own living room. No British rock act had yet produced an album by a group whose primary songwriters could easily stand alongside the likes of Gerry Goffin and Carole King or Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and whose music, while drawn on their love of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, soul, and pop (and standards), had a distinctive style of its own, one that would soon be dubbed “Beatlesque.”

The Beatles’ first album threw down a gauntlet, and soon other bands would rise to its challenge. The revolution had begun.



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Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel.

2 thoughts on “Love Them Do: The Beatles’ Please Please Me Turns 60

  • March 22, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Great article! I didn’t remember this album and learned that it was only released in the UK in 1963 before the Beatles exploded in the US. The first album I remember is Introducing The Beatles in early 1964 which had many of these early hits.

  • March 22, 2023 at 8:16 pm

    Quality music is something else. It’s balm for the ears


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