The rivalry between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles is perhaps the greatest in rock history. Both bands grew up in the same era, but to the press of the 1960s, the two groups were polar opposites and were quickly set up as counterpoints to one another. Whereas The Beatles were regarded as soft, friendly, and warm, The Rolling Stones were edgy, gritty, and the archetype of hot-blooded rock n roll. Of course, this is pretty ironic considering The Beatles grew up in the far grittier environment of the north of England, whilst The Rolling stones benefited from a comparatively soft upbringing in the London suburbs.
Despite what the newspapers may have said, it’s since been established that The Stones and The Beatles were neither rivals nor competitors. They each followed distinct trajectories and respected each other’s work greatly. For Kieth Richards, the legendary guitarist of The Rolling Stones, there were a great number of Beatles songs he treasured. But one stood out more than all the rest.
Responding to queries about his favourite Beatles song, Richards said: “I’ve always told McCartney, ‘Please Please Me.’ I just love the chimes, and I was there at the time and it was beautiful. Mind you, there’s plenty of others, but if I’ve got to pick one, ‘Please Please Me’…oh, yeah!”
‘Please Please Me’ was The Beatles second single in the UK and their very first in the US. Following the modest success of ‘Love Me Do’, the band needed a song that would gain them recognition beyond Liverpool and Hamberg. Please Please Me’, was not the original choice, however.
Initially, George Martin wanted the boys to release their cover of ‘How Do You do it?’ by Mitch Murray. But, at that point, The Beatles were clear on the fact that they only wanted to release their own material. Ringo Starr later commented: “I remember us all being ready to stand up for the principle of, ‘We have written these songs and we want to do them'”. Thankfully, Martin was sympathetic and released ‘Please Please Me’ instead.
Lennon wrote an early version of the track after hearing Roy Orbison on the radio, doing ‘Only The Lonely’. It started out as a slow blues-infused riff, but with the help of George Martin, who described that early draft as “rather dreary”. The track was transformed into an upbeat pop hit, rich with layers of harmony. Of the original version, Martin said: “It was obvious to me that it badly needed pepping up. I told them to bring it in next time and we’d have another go at it.” Martin suggested increasing the tempo as well as the inclusion of a harmonica line to bring out the energy.
The song was released in January 1962, at a time when Britain was experiencing one of the worst winters in British History. Luckily for The Beatles, most of the population was snowed-in, leading millions of people to tune in to The Beatles’ performance of the song on national television. Today ‘Please Please Me’ is regarded as a classic of The Beatles’ early recording.