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(Credit: Eric Koch / Anefo)


Why The Beatles' 'Please Please Me' is a disputed number one hit


No one knows the exact number of number one hits that The Beatles have had. That’s not for lack of information – other than perhaps the Grateful Dead, no band has been as thoroughly documented or judiciously archived as The Beatles have. The real sticking point is that the total number of number one songs changes depending on which chart you’re looking at.

Today, in both America and the UK, the pop charts have been standardized, with Billboard compiling the American pop singles and the Official UK Charts Company doing the work for the British music industry. But back in the early 1960s, charts were compiled by numberous different publications, all of whom had slightyl different criteria which led to slightly different chart tallies.

The Beatles’ producer, Geroge Martin, famously told the band after finishing the final take of ‘Please Please Me’ that they had just recorded their first number one single. Martin was right, but only if you looked at certain charts. Melody MakerNew Musical Express, and Disc all had ‘Please Please Me’ at number one, but the Record Retailer chart, which later became the chart that the Official Charts Company retroactively used as its standardised collection, had the song peaking at number two.

To this day, if you look up ‘Please Please Me’ on the Official Singles Chart, it lists the song as peaking at number two behind Frank Ifield’s ‘Wayward Wind’ and Cliff Richards’ ‘Summer Holiday’. It wouldn’t be until The Beatles’ third single, ‘From Me to You’, that the band would finally land their first number one. All told, The Beatles notched 17 number one songs on the Official UK Charts.

The positioning of ‘Please Please Me’ was less contentious on the American charts, considering how Billboard has been considered the standard reference since 1956. ‘Please Please Me’ didn’t chart in the US on its first release in 1963, which wasn’t terribly surprising, considering that the band had no material released in the US yet. ‘Please Please Me’ struggled to even find a label to be released on in the first place.

That’s because EMI’s US affiliate, Capitol Records, declined to release the single, as did Atlantic Records. It was only after Beatlemania was in full swing that ‘Please Please Me’ peaked at number three, stuck behind two more Beatles songs, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’. On April 4th, 1964, The Beatles held all top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100, with ‘Please Please Me’ sitting at number five.