1963 could be argued as one of the most important years in the history of rock music. It was the year that The Beatles rose to prominence as the hottest new act in the UK, marking the beginning of the British invasion. They started 1963 as four mates who could walk down most UK streets and turn few heads but ended the year with plans to visit the US in early 1964 for their first appearance on American television.
The emphatic year was blessed with two albums from the ostensibly busy group of Liverpool lads. The group had achieved their first charting single in 1962 with ‘Love Me Do’ and with success quickening their stride, they looked to add more singles to their armoury and aligned their debut album in the crosshairs. The group’s second single, ‘Please, Please Me’, released on January 11th 1963, became their first to be released in the States. On February 11th, in the midst of a heavy touring schedule alongside Helen Shapiro, The Beatles piled into Abbey Road Studios in North London to record their debut album.
The group worked ten intense hours over three sessions and managed to finish recording the album in just one day. As producer George Martin remembered, The Beatles had been exhausted from having played two shows each night on their tour with Helen Shapiro. He originally booked two sessions for the day and was doubtful that they would have the energy to see them through. But in the end, they defied expectations and opted for an extra session to finish the album off. As Ringo Starr later said of the turbulent period, “For me, it was all a bit of a blur. The sessions and those times until we did the album — and that too — is a bit of a blur.”
Two days later, Martin had completed the overdubs and within a week, the mono and stereo masters of the album were complete. Please, Please Me was released just over a month later on March 22nd, 1963. The game-changing album hit the top of the UK charts in May and remained there for 30 weeks before being replaced by The Beatles’ second album With The Beatles.
The iconic photograph used for the artwork on Please, Please Me was taken at EMI’s headquarters in London, but this wasn’t the Beatles’ first choice of location. George Martin had originally wanted to have the photoshoot held at London Zoo as he had been made an honorary fellow of the Zoological Society of London. Unfortunately, upon his request, the society declined for The Beatles to be photographed on the grounds of the zoo.
Following this, Martin approached the esteemed photographer Angus McBean and asked him to shoot The Beatles at the EMI headquarters in Manchester Square, London. The iconic photograph used from the shoot was taken from the ground floor looking up through the centre of the stairwell as the Beatles peered down from a higher floor. As Martin later wrote of the occasion: “We rang up the legendary theatre photographer Angus McBean, and bingo, he came round and did it there and then. It was done in an almighty rush, like the music. Thereafter, though, the Beatles’ own creativity came bursting to the fore.”
Over the next six years, the Beatles set about changing the world, and in doing so, changed themselves more than they ever would have imagined. The cheeky mop-top sporting youngsters had become idolised globally and stood at the helm of a cultural revolution. In 1969, they commissioned McBean once more to recreate the iconic shot in the EMI stairwell for the cover of Get Back, their planned twelfth studio album.
When the Beatles’ twelfth album was finally released, renamed Let It Be, the group decided not to use the photograph for the album artwork. Instead, the restaged photograph was used for the 1973 compilation album, 1967–1970, better known as The Blue Album. The 1969 photograph shows the Beatles looking older and wiser with a great deal more hair. For the sister compilation album, 1962-1966 (aka “The Red Album”), one of the photos from the original 1963 photoshoot was used for the artwork as a means of comparison to show just how far the group had come in 8 short years.