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Excerpt: The Beatles' second single put the band on the map

Memories of his mom singing the 1932 hit “Please" inspired John Lennon to write "Please Please Me." Trace the song's journey up the charts in this book excerpt.
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan 1965

The Beatles rehearse for their fourth “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance in 1965. Courtesy Universal Music/Copyright CBS Photography 1965.

Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from the book “Beatles For Sale On Parlophone Records: A Narrative and Pictorial Discography Of The Beatles’ U.K. Singles, Albums and EPs Issued from 1962-1970” (498 Productions LLC.) Acclaimed Beatles expert Bruce Spizer collaborated with Frank Daniels for this latest must-have Beatles reference book. Each record is given a separate chapter, which tells the stories about how the songs appearing on the disc were written and recorded. The chapters also detail how the records were marketed and contain sales and chart information. This beautiful, 444-page hardcover book has chapters on the history of EMI and Parlophone Records, how records are mastered and manufactured, how EMI contracted with other record companies to press Beatles singles and albums to help meet demand, British radio and record charts in the 1960s and other record-related topics. Orders for the book are now being accepted at Spizer’s website at and at


The Beatles’ second single, “Please Please Me” b/w “Ask Me Why,” was released by Parlophone on Jan. 11, 1963.

It entered the Record Retailer chart on Jan. 17 and remained on the charts for 18 weeks, peaking at No. 2 on March 2, unable to get past Frank Ifield’s third consecutive chart topper, “Wayward Wind.”

Although “Please Please Me” stalled at No. 2 in Record Retailer, the song reached the coveted No. 1 spot in the BBC chart, Melody Maker, Disc and NME (which reported the single at No. 1 on Feb. 22 and the following week).

(Discover the 10 Beatles songs that changed author Bruce Spizer's life.)

On April 13, “Please Please Me” was awarded a silver disc by Disc magazine signifying sales of 250,000 units. By the end of 1963, the single had sold 310,000 copies. In America, it was initially a different story. After EMI’s U.S. subsidiary, Capitol Records, declined to issue the first two Beatles singles, Vee-Jay Records, an independent R&B and gospel label based in Chicago, released The Beatles’ second single as VJ 498 on Feb. 7, 1963. Although “Please Please Me” received minimal attention and failed to make the national charts, the song reached No. 35 on the March 15, 1963, Silver Dollar Survey published by Chicago radio station WLS. The disc sold approximately 5,650 copies during the first half of 1963.

After Capitol Records signed the group and began its Beatles campaign in late 1963, Vee-Jay prepared a new single (VJ 581) pairing “Please Please Me” with “From Me To You.” With Beatlemania in full swing, “Please Please Me” hit the No. 3 spot in Billboard, Cash Box and Record World in March 1964, blocked from the top by two other Beatles songs: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” The Jan. 3, 1963, Mersey Beat featured an article by Alan Smith regarding the recording session for “Please Please Me.” Smith wrote that the song “has everything, from the hypnotic harmonica sound that came over so well in ‘Love Me Do’ to the kind of tune you can remember after one hearing. This time the harmonica sounds much bolder, too. It almost jumps out at you. And in the background there’s the solid, insistent beat, defying you not to get up and dance.” He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the single jumped right into the Top 10.

The Beatles Please Please Me labels

Other publications predicted success for the disc. Record Retailer reviewed the single in its Jan. 10, 1963, issue, stating that the group was “destined to be regular chart entries” and that their second record “has chart written all over it and seems sure to do well.” The Jan. 12 New Record Mirror described “Please Please Me” as a “high-pitched number with plenty of guts, and good tune, vocalizing and some off-beat sounds.” The magazine also praised the flip side and called the single a “good all-around disc — one worth buying” with sounds “that other British groups can’t reproduce.”

In NME, Keith Fordyce wrote, “This vocal and instrumental quartet has turned out a really enjoyable platter, full of beat, vigour and vitality–and what’s more, it’s different. I can’t think of any other group currently recording in this style.” In the Jan. 26 Melody Maker, Janice Nicholls stated that the new single was better than the last record, having “more quality.” She thought it would do a lot better than “Love Me Do.”

The growing popularity of the Beatles and the favorable response to their second disc prompted Mersey Beat to publish comments and reviews of “Please Please Me” in its Jan. 31, 1963, issue. BBC disc jockey Brian Matthew stated that, “Visually and musically The Beatles are the most exciting and accomplished group to emerge since The Shadows. In the next few months they will become one of the hottest properties in the music industry.” World’s Fair magazine wrote, “This young group may soon be challenging The Shadows for top chart honours. Go out and buy ‘Please Please Me’ now ... This group has every chance of being the big star attraction of 1963.”

John was inspired to write “Please Please Me” by his memories of his mother, Julia, singing the Bing Crosby hit “Please,” which topped the U.S. charts for six weeks in 1932 when issued on Brunswick 6394. John was impressed with the wordplay in the song’s lyrics, particularly the line, “Please lend your ears to my pleas.” He took it one step further with the line “please please me,” which first uses the word “please” as a request and then as a verb meaning “to pleasure.” John envisioned the song as a slow ballad in the style of Roy Orbison.

The Beatles rehearsed and auditioned “Please Please Me” for George Martin at Abbey Road on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 1962, prior to the group’s first proper recording session. The song sounded drastically different from what would become their first big hit. According to Martin, “Please Please Me” was “a dreary song” which “was like a Roy Orbison number, very slow, bluesy vocals.” He suggested that the group rearrange the song by speeding up the tempo and working out tight vocal harmonies.

The Beatles Please Please Me Ask Me Why

The group returned to Abbey Road on Sept. 11. After recording “P.S. I Love You” and a remake of “Love Me Do” with Andy White on drums, there was time available to begin work on a third song. Following Martin’s advice from the week before, the band, with Andy White still on drums, performed “Please Please Me” at a quicker pace, but failed to nail it down. This early version of the song, which made its debut on “Anthology 1,” is interesting, but suffers in comparison to the remake the group would later record. Conspicuously absent from this version is John’s harmonica. In addition, John and Paul’s harmonies are not as effective. Paul described the initial recording of the song in the Feb. 23, 1963, Melody Maker. “After we had recorded ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You,’ we played ‘Please Please Me’ over to recording manager George Martin. It was a bit fussy, and he told us to smooth it out a bit. Simplify it. We did — and the results speak for itself.”

John told a similar story in the March 8, 1963, NME: “Our recording manager, George Martin, thought our arrangement was fussy, so we tried to make it simpler. We were getting very tired, though, and we just couldn’t seem to get it right. We’re conscientious about our work, and we don’t like to rush things. In the following weeks we went over it again and again. We changed the tempo a little. We altered the words slightly. And we went over the idea of featuring the harmonica, just as we’d done on ‘Love Me Do.’ By the time the session came around, we were so happy with the result, we couldn’t get it recorded fast enough.”

The relative success of “Love Me Do” earned the group a session to record a second single, which took place at Abbey Road on Nov. 26, 1962. Unlike the prior September sessions, the group was recorded on twin-track tape instead of mono (one-track tape).

Rather than first obtaining an acceptable instrumental backing for overdubbing of vocals, the group did the songs live, simultaneously playing their instruments and singing as the tape rolled. All of the instruments were recorded on one track and the vocals on the other. This enabled George Martin and the engineers to achieve a proper balance of the vocals and instrumental backing. This technique would be used up until the recording of the group’s fifth single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” in October 1963.

After an hour-long rehearsal, the Beatles began work on a remake of “Please Please Me.” This time the group perfected the song. It was completed in 18 takes, including harmonica overdubs by John.

Four days later, George Martin edited the finished master from an unknown number of takes, correcting a vocal flub in the third verse. The song was then mixed for mono. “Please Please Me” is an exciting rocker propelled by superb drumming from Ringo. John and Paul share lead vocals backed by George on the chorus and bridge. Unlike the first single, this time both John and George play electric guitars, with John on his Rickenbacker Capri and George on his Gretsch Duo-Jet. Paul plays his Hofner bass.

After this recording, Martin knew there would be no need for a session drummer for the band. Speaking from the control room of Studio Two, Martin confidently told the group, “Boys, I’ve just heard your first No. 1 record. Come up and have a listen.”

After hearing the playback and breaking for tea, the band returned to Studio Two to record “Ask Me Why.” The Beatles had recorded the song at their first visit to Abbey Road on June 6, 1962, although tape of that performance no longer exists. “Ask Me Why” was part of the group’s stage show at that time, evidenced by their recording of the song before a live audience at the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester on June 11, 1962. This performance was broadcast four days later on the BBC program “Here We Go” and appears on the bootleg collection “The Complete BBC Sessions.” The arrangement is very similar to that of the later recorded single, but features Pete Best on drums since it was performed prior to his being replaced by Ringo. The group also ran through the song during their Sept. 4, 1962, pre-recording rehearsal at Abbey Road.

The group’s familiarity with “Ask Me Why” facilitated its quick recording, with the sixth and final take being the master. John sings the lead vocal, backed by Paul and George. The song features John on Rickenbacker Capri, George on Gretsch Duo-Jet, Paul on Hofner bass and Ringo on drums, providing a Latin beat. The song was mixed for mono on Nov. 30.

Having studio time remaining after recording the two songs required for the next single, the group went to work on a tune written by Paul, “Tip Of My Tongue.” Although George Martin told Mersey Beat it was a great number, he added, “We’ll have to spend a bit of time giving it a new arrangement. I’m not too happy with it the way it is.”

The Beatles Please Please Me b/w Ask Me Why on Parlophone

Realizing that the song did not measure up to standards, it was later given to Tommy Quickly, who was also managed by Brian Epstein. When released as a single on Piccadilly 35137 in the summer of 1963, Quickly’s version of the song received little airplay and was quickly forgotten.

As 1962 drew to a close, it was painfully obvious to Brian Epstein that “Love Me Do” would not be the big hit he was expecting and counting on. He believed that the single’s failure to reach the upper echelon of the charts was the fault of the song’s publisher, Ardmore & Beechwood Ltd. At the time, music publishers played an important role in the promotion of a song. The publisher’s duties went beyond registering the song and producing sheet music. They were expected to plug songs to radio stations and line up television appearances. Brian expressed his disappointment in the promotional efforts of Ardmore & Beechwood to George Martin, who assisted Brian in finding a new publisher for The Beatles’ next release.

While Brian fancied John and Paul’s songs being published by Hill & Range, the American company that controlled the Elvis Presley catalog, Martin suggested that he would be better served by a hungry, honest local publisher who would work hard to promote the songs. One of the names Martin gave Brian was Dick James, a former singer whom Martin had produced in the mid-’50s. Their biggest success came in 1956, when James’ recording of the TV show theme “Robin Hood” (Parlophone R 4117) reached No. 14 on the charts. Although James was struggling as a music publisher, his former career had left him with great contacts in the entertainment industry.

Brian brought an acetate of “Please Please Me” to his initial meeting with James, who responded favorably to the song. James impressed Brian with his enthusiasm and sewed up the publishing for the single by quickly lining up a television appearance for the Beatles with one phone call to his friend Philip Jones, the producer of “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” The program was popular with Britain’s teenagers and was carried by many stations throughout the U.K.

The Beatles’ mimed performance of “Please Please Me” was broadcast on Saturday, Jan. 19, 1963, a week after the single’s release. The national exposure generated by the show, along with James’ constant plugging of the single, helped push the record up the charts.

George Martin prepared the label copy for the second Beatles’ single, naming “Dick James Music Co. Ltd.” as the publisher for both songs. He also listed the songwriters’ credit as “McCartney-Lennon.” Apparently Martin was unaware of John and Paul’s agreement that all songs written by the duo would be listed as “Lennon-McCartney.”

The “McCartney-Lennon” credit would also appear on the group’s next single and first album before John intervened. All future releases would have the familiar “Lennon-McCartney” credit.

Parlophone prepared a demonstration record, PAR 4983.DR1, with a large red A on the “Please Please Me” side. The initial pressings of the commercial single have red Parlophone labels with silver print. There are two variations with red labels. PAR 4983.01A does not have “MADE IN GT. BRITAIN” on the label, while PAR 4983.01B has “MADE IN GT. BRITAIN” below the Parlophone logo at 3 o’clock. As Parlophone was using labels that erroneously omitted “MADE IN GT. BRITAIN” at the time the single was issued in January 1963, the records missing the “MADE IN GT. BRITAIN” designation were pressed prior to the discs with the designation.

“Please Please Me” remained a popular title for Parlophone during 1963 and 1964, leading to its being pressed with different label styles. PAR 4983.02A has black labels with Parlophone perimeter print in upper and lower case letters and the large Parlophone logo.

It first appeared in either February or March 1963 and does not have the “Sold in U.K.” text. It also retains the “45-R” prefix in the record number. There are two variations regarding the placement of “Recording first published 1963.” 02A(i) has the “R” in “Recording first published” between the “7” and the “X” in the prefix of the matrix number 7XCE on the A-side and under the “7” on the B-side. 02A(ii) has “Recording first published” shifted slightly to the right so that the “R” is under the “C” on the A-side and between the “7” and the “X” on the B-side. Although this variation is less common than the first issue red label discs, it was pressed in much greater numbers than the later black label variations. By March of 1963 Parlophone dropped the “45” designation from its record numbers as the production of 78 RPM discs had been discontinued a few years before. PAR 4983.03A is similar to PAR 4983.02A, but the record number is “R 4983” rather than “45-R 4983.” There are two variations. 03A(i) has the “R” in “Recording first published” under the “C” in 7XCE on the A-side and between the “7” and “X” on the B-side. 03A(ii) has the “R” under the “X” on both sides.

Records pressed beginning in the spring of 1964 have the “Sold in U.K.” text. PAR 4983.04A has black labels with Parlophone perimeter print in upper and lower case letters with the large Parlophone logo and “Sold in U.K.” PAR 4983.05A has black labels with Parlophone perimeter print in upper case letters with the small Parlophone logo and “Sold in U.K.” It most likely first appeared during the second half of 1964.

“Please Please Me” was deleted from EMI’s singles catalog in the mid-’60s. The 1976 reissue has black labels with an EMI box logo at the bottom. The later red-label reissues of this single are easily distinguishable from the original 1963 pressings. Any red label disc with either “MONO” or a George Martin production credit is a reissue.