Sunday, December 12, 2010

1963, February 11: Recording: Details

GLOSSARY & ABBREVIATIONS

2T = twin-track = two-track Stereo recording

BD = breakdown = unsuccessful take ended prematurely

ET = edit take = take to fix a faulty or missing section of a song

FS = false start = unsuccessful take ended more prematurely than breakdown

M = Mono

RT = rhythm take = complete take of song, before SI

SI = superimposition = take to lay new material over existing take (a.k.a. overdub)

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GENERAL INFORMATION

Ten Songs in Ten Hours. Except for the previously-completed “Love Me Do”/ “P.S. I Love You” (1962, September 11) and “Please Please Me”/ “Ask Me Why” (1962, November 26), the Beatles’ recording sessions for the Please Please Me album were essentially completed in one day. This was necessary due to the lads’ increasingly heavy schedule.

Sore Throats. One of the great stories surrounding this legendary date in Beatles history is that John and Paul were both suffering from severe colds, and had to rely upon tea, milk, “a big glass jar of Zubes throat sweets on top of the piano, rather like the ones you see in a sweet shop. Paradoxically, by the side of that, was a big carton of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes which they smoked incessantly.”

Rumor. Some sources believe that “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” was attempted after “Twist and Shout” but the recording sheets do not mention it.

EMI Reels. I will be segregating the events of this day in terms of EMI Reels, that is, tape designation numbers given to the recordings. For John Barrett’s EMI reel notes and John Winn’s details on these notes, go: here.

Audio sources for this material: here.

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EMI Reel E48875

(Morning)

Listen to the contents of, and see recording sheet for, this EMI reel: here.

“THERE’S A PLACE

2T, Takes 1-10 RT, Takes 3/5/7 FS or BD, Take 10 “best”

“I SAW HER STANDING THERE”

(initially called “Seventeen” or “17”)

2T, Takes 1/2/6/7/8/9 RT, Takes 3/4/5 ET, Takes 6/7/8 FS or BD, Take 9 “best”

QUOTES FOR “I Saw Her Standing There”

“It's hard not to be impressed by the sheer energy of the bass playing on ‘I Saw Her Standing There’”1.

“Innocence... Celebration... A ritualization of youth... As openly expectant as any seventeen-year-old might look on a dance floor. Paul’s voice is assured, and the steady beat and pulsing handclaps strut out an impetuous cockiness known only to the young... The exclamatory ‘oh!’ which attempts to verbalize the unsung anticipation, is reinforced by a musical exclamation, a flatted-six chord... It’s the whole idea of young love that’s contained... For the singer, the world turns on asking this seventeen-year-old to dance and holding her hand... The exhilaration of the sound betrays their passion for the music and the thrill they feel playing it together... The song, the performance, and the recording all put across the simple but penetrating rush of adolescent desire. And even the rush is expectant, anticipatory – it’s the first track of their first album, side one, song one of their album career... The first and last songs on the album, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ are its bookends: both revolve around the idea of falling in love on the dance floor”2.

“It was probably the most blazingly original song they had yet written at the time of its recording. Appropriately and auspiciously, they chose to crown it with the lead-off spot on their first album... The words, music, and arrangement of this song are replete with the touches and techniques that in retrospect define the early ‘sound’ of the group... Many other songs exist that describe this discovering of one's special love across a crowded room or at a dance, but ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ is a very far cry indeed from the likes of Rodgers & Hammerstein's ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ or Bernstein's ‘Maria’ (as absurd as this association of titles sounds at first, you cannot deny the uncanny parallels among their respective scenarios). We also have early examples here of a type of wordplay that would be looked back upon as a Beatles trademark, i.e., the successive use of ‘How,’ She,’ and ‘I’ at the beginning of the third line of each verse, and the alternation between ‘when’ and ‘since’ at the beginning of the final line of each verse. This device was sufficiently clever to trip up the composers themselves, primarily John... There are those who will argue that George's performance here sounds a tad too stiff and pre-arranged to have been made up in real time; but the point is, it's intended to sound as though improvised”3.

“(George’s) first solo on a Beatles record, it might have been reeled off with more authority under less finger-trembling conditions. That apart, this is an electrifying performance and proof that the ‘charismatic powerhouse’ which shook the Liverpool clubs during 1961-2 was no myth. Built on blues changes and the group's trademark abrasive vocal harmonies in open fourths and fifths, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ sent a shock of earthy rawness through a British pop scene, whose harmonic ethos had been shaped largely by the sophistication of Broadway. Lyrically, too, it called the bluff of the chintz-merchants of Denmark Street with their moody, misunderstood ‘Johnnies’ and adoring ‘angels’ of sweet sixteen (the legal age of consent). By contrast, The Beatles' heroine was seventeen, a deliberate upping of the ante which, aided by Lennon's innuendo in the second line, suggested something rather more exciting than merely holding hands. But the clincher for the teenage audience was the song's straight-from-the-shoulder vernacular. Its hero's heart didn't ‘sing’ or ‘take wing’ when he beheld his lady love; this guy's heart ‘went boom’ when he ‘crossed that 'room’ - a directness of metaphor and movement which socked avid young radio-listeners deliciously in the solar plexus. With the authentic voice of youth back on the airwaves, the rock-and-roll rebellion, quiescent since 1960, had resumed”4.

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EMI Reel E48876

(Afternoon)

This tape may or may not exist. See recording sheet for this EMI reel: here.

“A TASTE OF HONEY”

2T, Takes 1-5 RT, Takes 2/3 FS or BD, Take 5 “best”

“DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET”

2T, Takes 1-6 RT, Take 6 “best”

At 1:09 into the song, George sings “I've known a secret for the week or two” as opposed to the more sensible “I’ve known the secret for a week or two.”

QUOTES FOR “Do You Want to Know A Secret”

“Clearly wasn’t treated very seriously... Harrison’s weak singing goes uncorrected, and the engineers ignominiously fail to clean up his vocal track properly”4.

“The lyrics here, which are identical through all three verses, may nose out even ‘Love Me Do’ for skimpiness... Ironically, it's the more subtle aesthetic of repetition here, which you would be tempted to denigrate offhand as a matter of lazy craft, which provides one of the major sources of emotional realism and ‘sincerity’ to the song... in which all they wanted, even needed, to do was repeat the same words of love like a mantra, endlessly without stopping”3.

“Coquettish... Among the better-crafted early songs”2.

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EMI Reel E48877

(Afternoon)

Listen to the contents of, and see recording sheet for, this EMI reel: here.

“DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET”

M, Takes 7/8 SI (backing vocals, percussion) onto Take 6, Take 8 “best”

“A TASTE OF HONEY”

M, Takes 6/7 SI (backing vocals), Take 7 “best”

Sulpy says Take 7 is an SI onto Take 6, Winn says Take 7 is a second attempt SI onto Take 5.

“THERE’S A PLACE

M, Takes 11/12/13 SI (harmonica) onto Take 10, Take 12 FS or BD, Take 13 “best”

“I SAW HER STANDING THERE”

(still called “Seventeen” or “17”)

M, Take 10 Edit (clip Take 9)

On the recording sheet, the stated purpose for Take 10 was to perform SI onto Take 9. However, on the available bootleg, Take 10 is merely Take 9 with the count-in snipped off, and no SI. What happened? It would seem to be that the original intent had a change of plans; instead of using Take 9 for the foundation, that honor would go to Take 1, but with the count-in for Take 9 replacing that on Take 1. This change of plans appears to have been last-moment. Note that on the recording sheet there are a few clues: (1) Take 11 under "False Starts" was lightly scratched out, (2) some words next to "ON T9" are heavily scratched out, and (3) the word "ON" from "ON T9" seems to have had some afterthought. I think these all signify an abrupt change of strategy. Take 10 therefore was only a copy of Take 9 from which to scavenge. The planned SI would resume with Take 11, but onto Take 1 rather than Take 9.

M, Take 11/12 SI (handclaps) onto Take 1, Take 11 FS or BD, Take 12 “best”

Take 12 is the final master before mixing, except that the count-in from Take 9 had not yet replaced the count-in from Take 1.

“MISERY”

2T, Takes 1-9 RT, Takes 2/3/4/5/8/9 FS or BD

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EMI Reel E48878

(Afternoon & Night)

This tape may or may not exist. See some of the recording sheet for this EMI reel: here.

“MISERY”

(afternoon)

2T, Takes 10/11 RT, Take 10 FS or BD, Take 11 “best”

The recording sheet mentions that Takes 10 and 11 were recorded at 30 inches per second (ips), rather than the studio’s normal tape speed of 15 ips. This was to “facilitate easy superimposition of piano at a later date.”

“HOLD ME TIGHT”

(night)

2T, Takes 1-9 RT, Takes 1/2/3/4/5/7/8 FS or BD, Takes 10-13 ET, Take 11 FS or BD, no “best”

They planned an edit of Takes 9+13, but these recordings were ultimately abandoned.

“ANNA (Go to Him)”

2T, Takes 1-3 RT, Takes 1/2 FS or BD, Take 3 “best”

George said, “Arthur Alexander used a peculiar drum pattern, which we tried to copy; but we couldn't quite do it, so in the end we'd invented something quite bizarre but equally original. A lot of the time we tried to copy things but wouldn't be able to, and so we'd end up with our own versions”5.

John changed the lyrics from Arthur Alexander‘s original “go to him” to “go with him.”

QUOTES FOR “Anna”

“John Lennon was famously battling a cold during the recording session for Please Please Me. While the illness wasn’t major, even a pedestrian cough might have derailed his vocal efforts. Not so in this case. Instead, John’s at-times hoarse and untamed delivery proved a fitting complement to the energy of the Beatles’ musical backdrops. On the emotive mid-paced ballad ‘Anna (Go to Him),’ which was recorded before the effects of his cold were so strikingly evident, the dash of roughness in John’s voice seems to add enlivening texture. In the original version, Alexander sings in a clipped fashion, which lends his rendering an almost matter-of-fact quality. John, conversely, stretches out and emphasizes more notes to arouse greater conviction from them. Especially on the segment between the standard verses, his less-than-silky delivery injects the song with an aching passion that might not have come through so stirringly if not for the illness. Pain seems to dwell in the husky edges of John’s voice”6.

“Lennon belts out the bridge to Arthur Alexander’s ‘Anna’ with a desperate loneliness. Ringo’s lanky, off-balance drum pattern frames the song with a lazy, sluggish motion, giving it that resigned tone of a lover who has given up trying, and the flat singing in the background vocals has a roughness that is this record’s signature: we meet the Beatles just as they begin to have a sense of professionalism and they drop their guard without knowing it”2.

“Though he and Alexander were the same age (22), the effect is of a youth grappling with a man's song”4.

“BOYS”

2T, Take 1 RT, “best”

QUOTES FOR “Boys”

“Ringo’s vocal debut in ‘Boys’ may be lacking quality but it’s loaded with personality. The Shirelles original version is slinky and seductive, but Ringo‘s disbelief at how he makes his girl feel makes ‘Boys’ sound as if it were written with him in mind. The ‘bop-bop-shoo-ops’ in the background and the whoops for joy all seem to stem from his goofy grin. At one point, Ringo shouts ‘All right, George!,’ cajoling him into his guitar solo, passing him the spotlight as casually as if it were a football”2.

“If George was restricted to cameos, Ringo Starr's vocal contributions to The Beatles' recording career were purely tokens, to keep his fans from causing a fuss. He bawled his way through The Shirelles' 1960 US hit with enthusiasm if not subtlety, nailing the song in just one take”8.

“Intentional or not, this song started what would develop into a long-lived tradition for Ringo, to be relegated to covers and/or novelty numbers for his carefully rationed solo vocal assignments”3.

“CHAINS”

2T, Takes 1-4 RT, Takes 2/3 FS or BD, Take 1 “best”

The “fuzz guitar” sound heard at approximately 1:00 into the song is probably the rhythm guitar's amp “breaking up”7.

As with “Anna,” the key of the original is changed: “The decision to raise the key to accommodate Harrison’s limited range forfeits the original’s swagger and is, in any case, defeated by pushing him in the mix so as to hide the harmony and reveal the thinness of his voice”5. “George’s awkward intonation is expressive, but he doesn’t measure up to Lennon’s and McCartney’s performances just before – a shadow that will plague him for the rest of his life”2.

A change is also made to the arrangement, John's Hohner harmonica taking the place of the saxophone on the original: “Low on spontaneity, freshened only by Lennon’s ‘northern’ harmonica”4.

“BABY IT’S YOU”

2T, Takes 1-3 RT, Take 2 FS or BD, Take 3 “best”

QUOTES FOR “Baby It’s You”

“Unlike the raunchy ‘Boys,’ this mid-tempo ballad is ethereal kitsch brought down to earth only by its quietly vicious lyric (‘Cheat! Cheat!’)”4.

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EMI Reel E48879

(Night)

This tape may or may not exist.

“TWIST AND SHOUT”

2T, Takes 1-2 RT, Take 1 “best”

Popular opinion tends to believe only 1 take was attempted, but this is incorrect.

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1 Bass Player magazine, August 1995

2 Riley, Tell Me Why

3 Alan W. Pollack, noted musicologist

4 MacDonald, Revolution in the Head

5 The Beatles Anthology, p.93

6 “Pop Matters” website: here

7 “What Goes On” website: here

8 Miles & Badman, The Beatles Diary: The Beatles Years


GENERAL REF: Lewisohn, Recording Sessions

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Tom Wise
gengar843@msn.com


Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise.

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