Sunday, January 9, 2011

1962, November 26: Back-Story

(above) Tommy Quickly


Contrary to many sources, The Beatles were not downcast at this juncture. They were quite confident that things were going their way. As John said, “We’d had a Top Thirty entry with ‘Love Me Do’ and we really thought we were on top of the world”1. After a successful two-week run in Hamburg (November 1-14), sharing the bill with Little Richard, and various other engagements and auditions, The Beatles were rarin’ to go, having been “invited”2 (even Ringo!) back to Abbey Road Studios to record their second single. Having dispensed with “How Do You Do It” (1962, September 4), the boys were bright and eager to get on with “Please Please Me,” hung over from their last session (1962, September 11), and “Ask Me Why” (1962, June 6), a florid ballad that reflected their soul side.

1 The Beatles Anthology, p.90, quoting John from “63”

2 Lewisohn, Chronicles

"Tip of My Tongue"

First, however, they rehearsed from 6-7 pm, attempting to refine a new composition, “Tip of My Tongue.” John Barrett, in cataloging The Beatles’ EMI tape library, did not list this song as among those recorded, so it is assumed that it was only presented, not recorded. George Martin was quoted at the time as saying that “Tip of My Tongue” was “a great number, but we’ll have to spend a bit of time giving it a new arrangement”1, but they never did come back to it. Subsequently, it became another that “Lennon and McCartney gave away,” Tommy Quickly (in the Brian Epstein stable of artists) being the “lucky” recipient (his July 1963 release of this song did not chart). Paul later said, “This is pretty much mine, I’m ashamed to say”2.

1 Miles and Badman, The Beatles Diary: The Beatle Years, p.75

2 Miles, Many Years From Now, p.182

"Please Please Me"

“Please Please Me” was recorded first as the session proper got underway. In an energetic vein, John, the author of this song, said that they “aimed this one straight at the hit parade”1.

However, "Please Please Me" had in fact been composed some time before. John said that he based part of the melody for this song on Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely" (1960) or "something"2, perhaps “Crying” (July 1961)[Orbison had singles in 1962 also, though not as well-known]. Of course, this doesn't exclude that John heard "Only the Lonely" closer to 1962. Another clue to the date of composition is that John said he heard the Orbison song over the radio at Menlove Avenue (“my auntie’s place”) while sitting in one of the bedrooms2. John and Cynthia lived with Mimi until August 23, 1962, the day they were married. On that date, Brian Epstein gave to them his secret apartment as a wedding present. Here they stayed until November 1, 1962, at which time John went to Hamburg and Cynthia moved back with Mimi3. Therefore, by these facts, “Please Please Me” was almost certainly written before August 23, 1962, most sources leaning towards July or August.

When George Martin heard them play “Please Please Me” on September 11, 1962, he knew right away from its slow pace and high vocals that it was patterned after Orbison (“rather dreary, to be honest”4) and he suggested that it be performed at a faster tempo. Martin played them a sample, which the lads liked and which they subsequently worked up for this November session.

There is typical Lennon wordplay in the lyrics to “Please Please Me.” John confessed that a major influence was Bing Crosby’s “Please” from 1932, which included the punny line “please lend a little ear to my pleas”2. “Please” may have been a song John’s mother, Julia, sang to him5, or played on the gramophone6, when he was a child; or, John might have heard it on a late-1950’s TV special, one in which Crosby’s sons tried to teach their dad to sing “Please” in rock-n-roll style7. Bing Crosby, it should be mentioned, also played a larger role in Beatles development. Towards this, (1) Paul said that one of John’s favorite songs from way back was Crosby’s “Girl of My Dreams,” which Julia taught him on banjo8, (2) Paul’s own “stage-y” tunes (such as “When I’m Sixty-Four”) appear to emulate Crosby’s style, (3) George said, “We’d listen to anything that was played on the radio... Bing Crosby, people like that”9, (4) Crosby’s “Dinah” was possibly one of the first George learned on guitar10, and (5) Crosby’s 1935 hit “Red Sails in the Sunset” was one they all admired, and incorporated into their stage show as early as 1960.

Rock critic Robert Christgau had the idea that “Please Please Me” was one of the first songs about oral sex11, and at least one writer called it an early and classic example of Beatles “under-coding,” that is, allowing innuendo rather than explicit detail to explain a song, offering the audience a chance to wander with their imaginations12.

1 New Musical Express interview, February 1, 1963

2 Sheff, All We Are Saying

3 Cynthia Lennon, John, pp.93-103

4 The Beatles Anthology, p.90

5 Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarrymen Through Rubber Soul, p.151

6 Norman, John Lennon: The Life, p.56

7 Prigozy & Raubichek, Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture, pp.71-72

8 Miles, Many Years From Now, p.30

9 The Beatles Anthology, p.26

10 Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarrymen Through Rubber Soul, p.36

11 Christgau, Grown Up All Wrong, p.109 (accepted: Tell Me Why, Riley, p.47)

12 Mason, Magic Circles, p.80

“Ask Me Why”

Recorded second, "Ask Me Why" was, according to Paul, “John's original idea, and we both sat down and wrote it together... It was mostly John's.” This song likely derives from The Miracles’ 1961 “What’s So Good About Goodbye,” and even includes Smokey Robinson’s patented falsetto at the end of the verses, and characteristic vocal triplets (such as “I... I-I-I”). In fact, it was “the first of many Lennon and McCartney compositions to show the influence of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles1”. Whether or not the subject of the song is Cynthia Lennon remains unknown.

Traditionally, "Ask Me Why" is said to have been composed in the spring (perhaps February or March) of 19621, but the Hodgson tape (1960, April), which is thought to include a primitive version, seems to prove otherwise.

Paul thought “Ask Me Why” wasn’t such a big deal, and said that they "just did a job on it"1, but this is foolish. Even if the A-side was paramount, “Ask Me Why” was certainly competing with other songs (perhaps even “How Do You Do It”) for the B-side.

1 Miles, Many Years From Now, p.92


RELATIVES: An article on the personality and fate of Tommy Quickly is: here, and an overview article is: here.


Tom Wise

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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