Isolating any instrument from The Beatles’ recording career is notoriously difficult. Up until The White Album, the band were working on a four-track recorder at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road). That meant that everything the band played, from guitar overdubs to carnival sound effects to literal full orchestras, had to fit on just four channels. The group, together with producer George Martin and a series of engineers including Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, and Ken Scott, became experts in “bouncing” tracks to make room for more overdubs and sounds, but their initial set-up was restrictive and bare bones.
This is especially the case for Please Please Me. Everything about the session was designed for efficiency, from the twelve-hour single day booking to the strict commitment to the band’s live set. The standard for EMI at the time was to record on a two-track tape machine, and as a result, the microphones amplifying the band’s vocals were put onto one channel while the band’s instruments were placed on another. This would seem ideal for later isolation, but reverse-engineering the mixes without the master tapes is a major task.
Kudos, then, to the YouTube channel “learnvocalharmony”, where Italian luthier and musician Galeazzo Frudua breaks down almost every single aspect of the Beatles recording career. He’s an expert at teaching Beatles harmonies and does a stellar job isolating guitar solos, pianos parts, and especially vocal tracks. He’s managed to take the murky and muddy two-track mix of ‘Twist and Shout’ and create a solid reproduction of just the hair raising vocals.
Most of those come from John Lennon. Lennon famously had a cold during the day that Please Please Me was recorded, and his coughing can be heard in the background on a number of songs. ‘Twist and Shout’ was saved as the last song to be recorded that night due to the adverse effects it would have on Lennon’s voice. The larynx-shredding lead vocal is one of the most iconic of all time, and here it can be enjoyed in all of its glory.
But perhaps even more impressive are the backing harmonies from Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Obviously, the band was well rehearsed from playing constant gigs at The Cavern Club, but because of Lennon’s cold and the effect singing the song would have on his voice, the band only got one shot at recording ‘Twist and Shout’. McCartney and Harrison stay perfectly in tune and add their howling falsettos, and Lennon is giving his all. The result is simply one of the most exciting recordings of all time.