It’s almost comical how close The Beatles were to a potentially career-defining course change in late 1962. Having achieved modest success with their first single ‘Love Me Do’, the band were at a crossroads during only their second recording session with producer George Martin.
‘Love Me Do’ was a promising start, but Martin had what he believed to be a surefire number one hit: ‘How Do You Do It’, from professional songwriter Mitch Murray. Martin insisted that it would perfectly fit the sound of the band, and The Beatles obliged by recording a few takes of the song. But when Martin eyed it for a single, the band objected, wishing to push their self-written songs over covers.
Martin was trepidatious, considering the relatively basic chord structure and melody of ‘Love Me Do’. The producer asked the band for something more substantial, and John Lennon decided to bring in his Roy Orbison-inspired song that he had been working on. A slow ballad, Martin convinced the band to speed up the tempo and alter the arrangement to feature more prominent vocal harmonies from Paul McCartney.
The pressure was on. Having recorded the basic track for ‘Love Me Do’ a week earlier, Martin first convinced the band to recut the song, now with studio drummer Alan White on the kit instead of Ringo Starr. This would be the version of the song that would appear on the band’s debut album, and after the successful take, White would be waiting on the sidelines to step in on ‘Please Please Me’ if Starr was not up to the task.
Instead, the band pulled together and recorded ‘Please Please Me’ as a statement of intent. The singles were going to be written by the band members, and they were going to play their own instruments. The session also solidified the relationship between the band and Martin, who found the musicians open to his suggestions and far more exciting when tempos and vocals were kicked up a notch. Maybe this Liverpudlian four-piece had a future after all.
Even though Martin was eventually right in his prediction for ‘How Do You Do It’, with Gerry and the Pacemakers taking it to number one in the UK as their debut single, ‘Please Please Me’ had a strong showing all its own. Peaking at number two in the UK Singles Chart, having been held off the top spot by Frank Ifeild’s ‘Wayward Wind’, ‘Please Please Me’ proved that The Beatles could have major chart success with their own self-written material.
Check out the isolated vocals for ‘Please Please Me’ down below.