Saturday, August 22, 2015
Please Please Me/Introducing the Beatles/The Early Beatles - The Beatles
Parlophone PCS 3042
Vee-Jay Records SR 1062
Apple Records ST 2309
I recently watched the documentary "Good Ol' Freda" which is about Freda Kelly, Brian Epstein's secretary who ran the Beatles' official fan club. I loved the film, she seems like a really good person and her stories were fantastic, especially the ones about the early days when the group was just becoming famous. I've always wished that I could have witnessed Beatlemania first hand and Kelly's perspective on it fascinated me. Thus I pulled out the Fabs' first album to experience a little bit of those heady days myself. "Please Please Me" is far from my favorite Beatles' album, but I dig its youthful exuberance and innocence. It is best experienced in the Parlophone version which has the most songs and a classic cover picture. Mine is a reissue from the early 1980s I believe, I no longer remember when I bought it. The Vee-Jay version was the first Beatles album released in America. Vee-Jay got it when the idiots at Capitol Records passed on it. I have a counterfeit version. Originals are not hard to find but I don't think they are worth their exorbitant cost. I bought mine in a chain record store around 1974. It was among the first Beatles albums that I bought, I chose it because it was cheaper than the Capitol/Apple albums. The cover says stereo but the record sounds mono to me, which I prefer. It follows the running order of the Parlophone album but drops "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why." Capitol belatedly issued "The Early Beatles" to replace the Vee-Jay album when Vee-Jay's license to the material expired. Capitol crudely jumbled up the running order and released only 11 of the original 14 tracks on the Parlophone version. This version restores "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why" but drops "I Saw Her Standing There," "Misery" and "There's A Place." I have an Apple reissue that I bought in the mid-1970s because I couldn't find a copy of the Parlophone album living out in the suburbs and shopping at crummy chain record stores. The Parlophone album is the one I play when I want to hear this music. I keep the other two only as a dumb collector thing. The album opens with the Lennon/McCartney composition "I Saw Her Standing There" which is one of the Beatles' most successful rock and roll songs. I've always loved it and I think it ranks with the best work of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly as one of the definitive statements of the genre. McCartney's urgent vocal and that irresistible, shuffling riff still thrill me 40 years after I first heard them. The Vee-Jay album omits McCartney's count-in to the song which invariably irks me on the rare occasions that I give it a spin. Lennon and McCartney's "Misery" is a bit maudlin but the expressive joint McCartney and Lennon vocal makes it palatable for me. Arthur Alexander's "Anna" is one of the strongest tracks on the record thanks to a mesmerizing and sensitive vocal from Lennon. The group's cover of the Cookies' Goffin/King hit "Chains" suffers from a weak George Harrison vocal although the harmony vocals (always a Beatles strength) are very pleasing. Ringo does better with a rocking cover of the Shirelles' "Boys" that benefits from his enthusiasm as well as a superbly messy guitar solo from Harrison. "Ask Me Why" is a Lennon/McCartney original that features another strong Lennon vocal that makes it sound deeper than it really is. Side one concludes with "Please Please Me" the group's classic breakthrough single. More than 50 years after its original release, the song still sparkles with inventiveness and brilliance. As a kid I failed to recognize the sexual undertone to the song, which makes it seem even bolder given the repressed era in which it first appeared. Side two opens with the group's debut single "Love Me Do." Even as a child I thought the song was inane but I'm won over by the joint vocal and Lennon's harmonica playing as well. "P. S. I Love You" shows off McCartney's romantic side to great effect. From the very beginning the man has had a gift for silly love songs. The band turns to the Shirelles again for a cover of "Baby It's You" that is given a tremendous dramatic interpretation by Lennon that shreds the original. The Lennon/McCartney original "Do You Want to Know a Secret" proves to be a good vehicle for Harrison suiting the limitations of his range and his natural understated and laconic style. McCartney pulls out all the stops for a romantic interpretation of "A Taste of Honey" worthy of a pop crooner. The final Lennon/McCartney original is "There's a Place" which is notable for its introspective lyrics and its churning, distinctively British Invasion sound. The side ends with the band's explosive interpretation of "Twist and Shout" which thanks to Lennon's throat shredding performance is an eternal rock classic, rivaling the best work of James Brown and Little Richard in its intensity and passion. If the Beatles had never recorded another album, they'd still have a place in rock history for this wonderful record, one of the very best of its era. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been when people heard it for the first time, how I envy them that thrill. Recommended to people who wish they could have seen the Beatles at the Cavern Club.