The Beatles first album is an average affair given the heights they would later reach; a mix of covers and catchy pop tunes it was stronger than most records of the day. However now it sounds in parts dated and naïve but is full of the moments which would soon become hallmarks of the most successful band ever. The most important things to note are the energy with which the songs are played and the fact that the music is so good that it covers the simplistic boy loves girl lyrics. The covers on this and a few albums which follow are a weak point and for now the original song writing is fresh but lacks the quality of later Lennon and McCartney classics.
`I Saw Her Standing There’ is as strong an opener as any band could hope for. It is energetic, catchy, and quick and shows off McCartney’s screech which he would become renowned for. A simple, lustful, fun song it grabs the listener and pulls them back into (if listening now) or opens their eyes to (if listening then) the mood of the early 60s.
`Misery’ is another Lennon/McCartney offering the dark opposite to the first song about losing love and the depression which follows. Although this is staple pop theme stuff it still sounds upbeat due to the tempo and is lifted by the little piano inserts throughout. It also marks the first appearance of the scouse harmonies.
`Anna’ is one of the better covers marked by Harrison’s guitar playing and Lennon’s doleful, yearning vocals. Another song to display the darker side of the group which would crop up in later Lennon penned hits.
`Chains’ is one of the lesser songs on the album, lacking the spark of others. The melody is more irritating than catchy but it improves on the original which was never an interesting song.
`Boys’ is a cover of a Shirelles song but I can’t help thinking an upbeat version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow would have been more suited. It shows early signs of the band’s humour though as it is essentially a song for girl bands. Although the band do what they can with it the final result is still forgettable and made worse by Ringo performing it. Personal preference though as I know it was a firm fan favourite.
`Ask Me Why’ is another upbeat sounding number with some cynical lyrics thrown in. Typically catchy with a memorable refrain it nonetheless includes the annoying too high pitched `anything I can do’ moment.
`Please Please Me’ is the title track and highlight of the album. Everything about the song is perfect, from the harmonica intro, the lustful lyrics, the harmonies, the threefold melodies of verse, bridge, and chorus. It is the obvious partner to Love Me Do with the harmonica use and lyrical intent, and it is these two songs which raise the album into greater status.
`Love Me Do’ is perhaps the most famous song on the album and showcases the growing writing talents of Lennon/McCartney even though Paul wrote the majority as a schoolboy. It is a simpler structured song than Please Please Me but perhaps has the more memorable tune.
`PS I Love You’ is another pleasant McCartney number, slower, softer, and more to do with love than sex when compared to other tracks on the album. It is marked by some unusual strumming which just about covers the simplistic and what would be considered today unfortunately as cheesy lyrics. The lyrics are helped by the fact that they seem incredibly personal yet universal as it is the sort of thing all young lovers would write in a letter to their loved one. It is also notable for the lower repetition of certain words in the `treasure’ these three `words’ when we’re `together’ sequence and others.
`Baby It’s You’ is the strongest cover on the album with Lennon’s vocal adding a certain desperation to the feel, and the backing vocals fit in perfectly with the way they were writing their own songs at the time.
`Do You Wanna Know A Secret?’ is another strong song standing out due to its unusual intro before breaking into the main melody. It is well suited to Harrison’s voice and sounds more scouse than any other song. The `oohs’ of the chorus are particularly great and the bridge helps anything from becoming repetitive.
`A Taste of Honey’ is another poor cover and is mainly album filler. It doesn’t feel much like the rest of the album and could easily be chopped or skipped when playing.
`There’s A Place’ begins with the now familiar harmonica of John before kicking into the child like yearning lyrics which sound as beautiful and innocent now as they did then. The dual vocals stretch and sear and make the song an early classic.
`Twist and Shout’ closes the album and luckily it is one of the better covers. The original song is already strong so it was unlikely the Beatles would either ruin or improve upon it. It fits well with the rest of the album as it is upbeat and catchy and shows of the vocal and musical talents of each member. Probably the definitive version of the track
On the whole this is a good album let down by a few dodgy covers. There were other songs that the band had written at this time which never made it on to any studio albums which would have been more suited. A better album than the follow up and a sign of things to come.
Updated with Carlosnightman Scoring System©:
Sales: 5 (Like most Beatles albums, this sold roughly a bazillion copies, though this was not an instant smash hit)
Chart: 5 (Like most Beatles albums, this went to Number 1 in roughly a bazillion countries)
Critical: 5 (Although later releases garnered much greater critical success, this was lauded at the time, and is still praised now, 50 years later, so it can’t really be any less than a 5)
Originality: 3 (The band, even on their debut, were experimenting with what is meant to record, release, and BE and album, but still the old tropes of including covers to bump up the number of tracks were used. The idea of a band writing all their own tracks and playing own instruments was not quite there yet, but we can see the beginnings here. As for the songs, there isn’t a huge much of originality)
Influence: 4 (The first Beatles albums were released in such quick succession, so it’s difficult to determine which album truly was the most influential. Nevertheless, the whole idea of the band, the recording, the playing style etc etc is on display here and primarily went on to influence a whole host of local and international imitators)
Musical Ability: 4 (While there isn’t anything terribly difficult or complex here, the playing is almost brutal in its energy, showing an extreme ease and comfort to the playing – signs that they could do a lot more if called for, even if it was not called for here)
Lyrics: 3 (The original songs are mostly a collection of love songs, either highlighting the joys, pitfalls, or depressions of the feeling. The lyrical genius was still brewing, but there are moments which show what was around the corner)
Melody: 4 (With neat twists on the covers, and a solid run of infectious originals, the melodies are strong, but not yet reaching the peaks which would come later)
Emotion: 3 (There isn’t a great amount of emotional content here, most of the focus being on raw energy and the sheer joy of playing, but again there are moments of cynicism and tenderness)
Lastibility: 5 (Fifty years on we are still listening to it, and although it doesn’t hold up as well as some other Beatles albums, how many fifty year old albums do so many people still listen to?)
Vocals: 4 (There are a few tame, lame moments here, but on the whole this is powerful stuff, from McCartneys stonking opener, to Lennon’s growling closer. The melodies work well, still a work in progress, but all the hallmarks of their best moments are on display)
Coherence: 4 (Whilst not yet an album as an art form, this is definitley more than just a collection of hits and covers, largely held together by the group’s enery and synergy – having played and toured together for some time, these songs roll out of the studio easily and almost feel like a set list. While some of the covers can sound out of place, it is the original hits which pull the album together, highlighting a growing writing partnership.
Mood: 3 (I don’t think the band set out to create one mood or style with their debut, again that would come later, but most of the tracks succeed in what they want to achieve – the rockers make us want to rock, the pop ones make us sing along, while the more downbeat tracks are the weaker link, leaving us uncertain.
Production: 4 (Again this feels loose, almost like a live record, and the little touches and ‘mistakes’ left in lend a charming quality. The frenetic pace of the album soaks through, partly down to the lightning fast recording of the album. Nothing is drowned out, and this feels like one of the first true, raw, rock albums, leaving behind the crooners of the past.
Effort: 4 (Most of the effort which went into the making of this album came in the preceeding months and years of touring and perfecting their craft, meaning that the recording, while fast and frantic, was largely problem free. Then again, the schedule was frantic, and the band were able to decide upon the likes of Twist And Shout as new entries for the album)
Relationship: 4 (This is the atypical early Beatles album, and the surrounding releases are in the same vein. Being born two decades after it was released means it’s not the easiest thing to relate to, but for those around at the time, this was symbolic of the spirit of swinging 60s Liverpool and of the many bands who were plying their trade in the clubs and pubs around the Mersey.
Genre Relation: 4 (As mentioned above many merseybeat bands were trying to make it big around the time this was released, and while many had regular gigs, fans, and the ocassional hit single, Please Please Me took the genre to the next level. It is a merge of pop, rock, and blues, combining a variety of styles to create what would become one of the first true rock albums. The Beatles would continue to improve upon this with each release, and many people took this as their inspiration to start a ‘rock band’)
Authenticity: 5 (Possibly the most authentic album in the Beatles catalogue, this is the true sound of a band eager to make an impact, to make it big, and to play for the love of playing. They take no prisoners with their style, the ‘mistakes’ mentioned earlier are left in to give a more true account of what it is to be an artist)
Personal: 4 (This is unlikely to be picked by many as best Beatles album, but as a debut there are few better, or with such an impact. If only some of the lesser covers had been replaced by some of the stronger original material which was left off, this would have been a 5 in my eyes)
Misc: 4 (Memorable album cover, interesting liner notes, a lot of history and background, make me give a 4 in the vague, miscellaneous category)