Home Music Music Features

The Beatles’ Marathon ‘Please Please Me’ Session, Hour by Hour

We break down the epic studio day that yielded the bulk of the band’s debut LP, from “I Saw Her Standing There” to a cathartic “Twist and Shout”

The Beatles and George Martin with the silver disc which they have been awarded after selling 1/4 million copies of their hit single Please Please Me.

The Beatles recorded the bulk of their debut album, 'Please Please Me,' in a single daylong studio session. Read our hour-by-hour account.

© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

The last notes of “Please Please Me” still hung in the stale air of EMI’s Studio Two on November 26th, 1962, when George Martin’s disembodied voice crackled over the talkback from the control room above. “Gentlemen,” he addressed his young moptopped charges, “I think you’ve made your first Number One.” The veteran producer had a finely tuned ear for hits, but it would be several months before the Beatles rode their second single to the top of the charts. Released on January 11th, the song received an unexpected boost from Mother Nature the following week. The winter of 1963 was one of the most brutal in England’s history, and the record-breaking cold forced many to spend their Saturday nights at home in front of the television, just in time to catch the band making one of its earliest national broadcast appearances on ITV’s pop-music program Thank Your Lucky Stars. As the band lip-synced to its latest record, viewers were transfixed by the instantly hummable melody, cascading harmonies, relentless beat and – for early-Sixties Britain – ridiculously long hair. Almost overnight, the single launched skyward.

With a smash on his hands, Martin knew that the next logical step was getting a full-length LP into shops as rapidly as possible. He initially considered a live recording at the band’s Liverpool home base. “I had been up to the Cavern and I’d seen what they could do – I knew their repertoire, knew what they were able to perform,” he recalled for the Beatles’ 1995 Anthology documentary. Cheap and practically instantaneous to produce, the format had much to recommend itself. He’d achieved great success two years earlier capturing the wildly popular Beyond the Fringe satire revue (featuring a young Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) with a tape recorder directly under the stage of London’s Fortune Theater. But the subterranean Cavern, with its concrete walls acting as a natural echo chamber, was ill suited for such a venture. Instead, Martin would re-create the electricity of the Beatles’ live shows inside the recording studio: “I said, ‘Let’s record every song you’ve got. Come down and we’ll whistle through them in a day.'”

Recording a full album in such a short span didn’t seem like an unreasonable request in 1963. Songs were recorded live to a two-track BTR machine, leaving few opportunities for overdubs or elaborate edits. Besides, “Please Please Me” and its B side, “Ask Me Why,” were already in the can, as well as the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” backed by “P.S. I Love You.” That left 10 more songs to fill out the customary 14 tracks of a British LP. “It was a straightforward performance of their stage repertoire – a broadcast, more or less,” Martin said, not unlike their regular sessions on the BBC radio. Their manager, Brian Epstein, got them excused from their touring commitments the day before, so that they would arrive fresh at EMI Studios at 10:00 on the morning of February 11th, 1963.

That was the idea, at least. Instead they showed up late, with John Lennon nursing a bad cold. “[His] voice was pretty shot,” session engineer Norman Smith recalled in Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Tins of Zubes throat lozenges lay strewn across the lid of the baby grand piano in a corner. Nearby, the bandmates huddled on stools while they worked out the day’s set list with Martin. “We were permanently on the edge,” said George Harrison in the Anthology. “We ran through all the songs before we recorded anything. We’d play a bit and George Martin would say, ‘Well, what else have you got?'” Paul McCartney wanted to record the old Marlene Dietrich ballad “Falling in Love Again,” but the number was vetoed by Martin, who deemed it “corny.” The same went for “Besame Mucho,” made famous by the Coasters, which had been a perennial Beatles favorite since 1960. Instead, Martin insisted on “A Taste of Honey,” a relatively new addition to the set, which he believed would sound better on record.

They settled on four originals, rounded out by a selection of six covers that they could tear through in short order. “We knew the songs because that was the act we did all over the country,” Ringo Starr said in the Anthology. “That was why we could easily go into the studio and record them. The mic situation wasn’t complicated either: one in front of each amp, two overheads for the drums, one for the singer and one for the bass drum.” Young tape operator Richard Langham was one of the battalion of technicians who helped set up the equipment. While mic’ing up their amps, the very same they used on the road, he found the speaker cabinets stuffed with bits of paper. “They were notes from the girls from the dance floor who threw them up on the stage,” Langham said. “They said, ‘Please play this, please play that, this is my phone number.’ I guess they just read them and then threw them in the back of the amplifier.”

Soon they were ready, armed with their weapons of choice: McCartney with his distinctive violin-shaped 1961 500/1 Hofner bass, Starr his Premier kit, Harrison his cherished 1957 Gretsch Duo-Jet and 1962 J-160E Gibson “Jumbo” acoustic-electric, Lennon with his matching Jumbo and 1958 Rickenbacker 325. “[It] was, ‘Let’s get this up and let’s get on the road,’ because by this time it was half past 10 [or] 11,” Langham said in a 2013 BBC documentary. EMI in the early Sixties was more an institutional research facility than a creative space, and as such operated under rigid recording schedules. Sessions ran “strictly to time,” beginning in the morning between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (with a 90-minute break for lunch), then an afternoon slot from 2:30 to 6 p.m. (with a 90-minute break for dinner), and finally an evening period from 7:30 until the studio closed at 10. With the clock already running, the Beatles got to work. “They just put their heads down and played,” Epstein later said to a friend.

Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles rest between takes in Studio 2 at Abbey Road in London during the recording session for the single 'She Loves You', 1st July 1963.

Years of grueling late-night jam sessions and punishing tour itineraries prepared them well for this music marathon. Now they relied on muscle memory, transforming the fluorescent-lit Studio 2 into another seedy club or tweedy dance hall. As Lennon recalled a decade later with no small degree of pride, the band’s debut album “was the nearest thing to what we might have sounded like to the audiences in Hamburg and Liverpool. Still, you don’t get that live atmosphere of the crowd stomping on the beat with you, but it’s the nearest you can get to knowing what we sounded like before we became the ‘clever’ Beatles.” As Martin once noted, the “live” nature of the recording was born more out of necessity – and the band’s naiveté – rather than from a conscious minimalist choice. “The Beatles didn’t really have much say in recording operations,” he said later. “It was only after the first year that they started getting really interested in studio techniques. But they always wanted to get the thing right, so it wasn’t a one-take operation. They would listen to it, and then do two or three takes until they got it.”

The sessions wrapped just after 10:45 p.m., and the following night the Beatles were back out on the road. The venture had cost the record label just £400 (about $11,000 in 2018). “There wasn’t a lot of money at Parlophone,” Martin admitted. “I was working to an annual budget of £55,000.” It took the band just under 10 hours of studio time to record the bulk of the first album, released on March 22nd, 1963, as Please Please Me. As Harrison wryly observed decades later, “The second one took even longer.”

What follows is an hour-by-hour record of what happened during this extraordinary day in the life of the Fab Four.

10:45–11:30 a.m.: “There’s a Place”

The Beatles clearly had high hopes for this relatively new composition, giving it pride of place as the first song tackled that day. It had been written several months earlier in the living room of the McCartney family home, where a copy of the West Side Story soundtrack played a direct role in the song’s creation. “There’s a Place” borrowed its title from the opening line of “Somewhere,” and expanded on the theatrical standout’s youthful yearning for a peaceful space away from the prying eyes of adults. “In our case, the place was in the mind, rather than round the back of the stairs for a kiss and a cuddle,” McCartney recalled in his authorized biography, Many Years From Now. “This was the difference with what we were writing. We were getting a bit more cerebral.” Given that it was the first song intentionally recorded for the Beatles’ debut, its maturity was a portent of good things to come.

Conceived, in Lennon’s words, as “a sort of Motown black thing,” the song showed strong promise as a potential highlight, or possibly even a single. The initial take was a complete run-through, nearly identical to the final version except for the absence of Lennon’s harmonica on the intro. Instead, Harrison takes up the phrase on guitar, but the octave figure proves tricky to master, and he fumbles it on most of the first few versions. He can be heard practicing between takes, loosening up his fingers by playing the similar introduction to “Please Please Me.” The vocals also prove to be a sticking point, with Lennon’s voice already showing the effects of his sore throat even this early in the day. Just before the fifth take, he can be heard giving McCartney some advice on the elongated “There-e-e-e-ere” a cappella line: “It works better if you do it on the beat somehow – you know, think the beat in your head.” McCartney, meanwhile, halted the song after just a few bars. “It was bad, that beginning,” he proclaimed bluntly. They nearly had it by Take 9, but McCartney’s voice began to waver on the high harmonies. Clearly frustrated, the bassist was heard to sarcastically mutter “Take 15 …” before the actual take, number 10.

This attempt provided the basis for the version heard on the record. Lennon’s harmonica would be added later in the day, but with noon fast approaching, the group decided to move on to another promising original.

11:30 ­a.m.–1:00 p.m.: “I Saw Her Standing There”

Even before recording engineer Norman Smith announced the song as “Seventeen” – as it was known during its time as an early Cavern-era staple – a disapproving Martin can be heard grumbling from the control room: “I think it ought to have a different title.” It would be known forevermore as “I Saw Her Standing There,” a masterful blend of formative band favorites, melded into something completely fresh.

Lyrically the song pays homage to the Coasters’ “Young Blood” (“I saw her standing on the corner …”), Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” (“She’s too cute to be a minute over 17“) and even the golden oldie “When the Saints Go Marching In” (“I want to be in that number/When the saints go marching in” having the same meter as “How could I dance with another/Since I saw her standing there“), which the Beatles often performed as a rocked-up piss-take. In later years, McCartney revealed that he “nicked” the bass line from another Berry tune, 1961’s “I’m Talking About You,” which was part of the set list around the same period. “I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly,” he said in Many Years From Now.

The Beatles essentially captured the final version on the first take, playing and singing live, and preserving on record the first of their famous falsetto “oooohs,” which would become an early trademark when coupled with a moptopped head shake. Martin, however, pushed for another go around just to be safe. Take 2 would prove less successful, as McCartney and Lennon have difficulty remembering the order of “how could I dance,” “she wouldn’t dance,” and “I’ll never dance” in the chorus. Though the take had plenty of vigor, McCartney ended it with a despondent descending bass slide and a dispirited Lennon muttered, “Dreadful.” Martin tried to salvage the situation by having the band record edit pieces for the botched lines (Take 3), and more run-throughs of Harrison’s solo on Takes 4 and 5. The tension began to show as Take 6 broke down midway through. “Too fast,” copped McCartney. “No, you had a wrong word, didn’t you?” a voice from the control room pointed out. “Yeah, but, I mean, it’s too fast anyway,” McCartney countered.

McCartney himself stopped Take 7 with a frantic cry of “Too fast!” before apologetically showing his perfectionist streak. “And again, I’m sorry, you know, but . . .,” he said while demonstrating the song’s appropriate tempo. The drummer had been going strong all morning, but it was Starr’s turn for a mistake on Take 8. A missed high-hat hit caused the song to sputter to a stop, with McCartney moaning, “What happened?!” With his patience growing thin, he threw extra oomph into the count-in for Take 9, spitting out a raucous “one-two-three-FAW.”

The effect was so invigorating that Martin later edited it onto the front of Take 1, creating one of rock’s greatest intros since Elvis Presley crooned, “Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show . . .,” on his debut seven years earlier.

1:00–2:30 p.m.: Lunchtime
Typically, after morning sessions at the studio concluded, the next 90 minutes were reserved for artists and staff to take their lunch. But, distraught by their slow progress, the Beatles had other plans. “We told them we were having a break, but they said they would like to stay on and rehearse,” Langham said in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. “So while George [Martin], Norman and I went round the corner to the Heroes of Alma for a pie and pint, they stayed, drinking milk. When we came back they’d been playing right through. We couldn’t believe it. We had never seen a group work right through their lunch break before.” 

2:30–3:15 p.m.: “A Taste of Honey”
Eager to make headway, the bandmates decided to focus on a more familiar number from the stage set. For their first cover of the day, they went with “A Taste of Honey,” a pop standard that had been given an R&B remake by Lenny Welch the year before. Both Epstein and Martin saw the value of including a sophisticated adult-contemporary ballad alongside rock stompers to showcase the band’s versatility. So did McCartney, who was vocal about his love for pre-war melodies. “I thought those were good tunes,” he reflected. “The fact that we weren’t ashamed of those leanings meant that the band could be a bit more varied.”

Five takes of the song were recorded, two of them incomplete breakdowns, with the band playing and singing live. The fifth was temporarily labeled as the final.

3:15–3:45 p.m.: “Do You Want to Know a Secret”

“‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ was ‘my song’ on the album,” Harrison complained in the Anthology. “I didn’t like my vocal on it. I didn’t know how to sing. Nobody told me how to.” Lennon wrote the bulk of the song, drawing on a childhood memory of his late mother. “She was a comedienne and a singer,” he remembered in Playboy shortly before his death in 1980. “Not professional, but she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. . . . She used to do this little tune when I was just one or two years old. . . . The tune was from the Disney movie – ‘Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well. . . .'” (The song, called “I’m Wishing,” was featured in Walt Disney’s debut feature film, 1937’s Snow White.) Lennon included a slow, minor-key introduction on his composition, perhaps as a nod to its vintage inspiration – or maybe he took his cue from tunesmiths like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had recently employed a similar technique on several of their hits.

Discounting two false starts, the Beatles performed four complete takes of the song, with Take 6 marked as the best. At Martin’s insistence, the Beatles took two attempts at overdubbing Lennon and McCartney’s “doo-dah-doo” backing harmonies on the verses, and Starr’s stick taps during the bridge. Take 8 was the finished version.

3:45–4:15 p.m.: “A Taste of Honey” vocal overdubs
The overdubs on “Do You Want to Know a Secret” apparently triggered something with Martin and the boys, because the next hour and a quarter was spent polishing off songs that were already in the can. McCartney’s bandmates had a break while he was tasked with “double-tracking” his vocals at two points in “A Taste of Honey,” resulting in a richer, fuller sound during the dramatic “I will return” verses. The Beatles would utilize this recording technique again and again throughout their career.

4:15–4:30 p.m.: “There’s a Place” harmonica overdubs
Fearing that Harrison’s guitar lacked impact, Martin suggested that Lennon perform the introductory riff of “There’s a Place” on harmonica. The trick had been used to great effect on the band’s first two singles, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me,” and Lennon duly obliged. He required three passes over the previously recorded Take 10, effectively burying Harrison’s guitar work on the final version, Take 13.

4:45–5:00 p.m.: “I Saw Her Standing There” hand-clap overdubs
In an effort to echo the excitement of a crowd stomping and banging along in unison, Martin requested that the Beatles add hand claps to what would become the album’s opener. The band gathered around a microphone while tape ops cued up Take 1, the strongest version from earlier in the day, but the first attempt at a clapping overdub was marred by volume problems. This sends the boys into joyful hysterics, faux applause and other goofy humor (McCartney can be heard urging the others to “keep Britain tidy,” a non sequitur joke that would crop up in A Hard Day’s Night). They got the job done the next time around, completing the song with Take 12.

5:00–6:00 p.m.: “Misery”

Seeking to cement their reputation as songwriters for hire, Lennon and McCartney penned “Misery” with the aim of presenting it to the headliner of their package tour, a young singer named Helen Shapiro. Unfortunately, her manager, British record impresario Norrie Paramor, felt the rather dour subject matter was ill suited for a teenage chanteuse. “She turned it down,” recalled McCartney. “It may not have been that successful for her because it’s a rather downbeat song. It was quite pessimistic.” Eventually the track went to another of their tourmates, Kenny Lynch, making him the first artist to cover a Lennon-McCartney number on record.

The Beatles’ version came first, requiring 11 takes in all to complete. The first was in many ways the best, with a few extra drum flourishes from Starr (which were eventually dropped) and some extra spirited “ooohs” and “la-la-las” on the outro. Unfortunately, Harrison’s guitar run was slightly out of time on the bridge, requiring another go. Take 2 was nearly as good, but Martin stopped the song after noticing that Harrison’s guitar was coming through distorted. “Clean it up a bit, and a little less volume, George,” he instructed. A handful of false starts followed, with Lennon having trouble keeping the words and the chords straight. “I won’t see her no more,” McCartney guided. Take 6 was perhaps the most interesting of all, with bold drum fills and some guitar embroidery from Harrison that didn’t make the final cut. But it was a little too busy for Martin, who requested a more streamlined approach on Take 7.

The descending guitar line was proving too difficult to perfect, so the producer asked Harrison to lay out (he would overdub the phrase himself on piano nine days later, on February 20th, without the involvement of the band). Take 8 crashed to a stop soon after the count-in with McCartney merrily pointing the finger at Lennon: “Stop it, he said the wrong words!” Take 9 would be the final attempt that day before the clock read 6:00 and it was time for dinner. Martin would splice together the beginning of Take 7 and the end of Take 9 to create the version on record. (The edit can be heard on the first word of the third verse, when Lennon sang what sounds like “shend.”)

6:00–7:30 p.m.: Dinner break
Having wrapped the afternoon session, the presumably famished Beatles likely took a quick meal in the decidedly unglamorous EMI canteen. If they were anxious, they had good reason. The bandmates were two-thirds through their allotted recording time, and they had produced only half of the required songs. They would need to bang out a further five tunes in two and a half hours in order to complete the album on time. Luckily the remaining songs, mostly covers, were mainstays in their repertoire. They could play these numbers backward, forward and sometimes – as could be the case during their long Hamburg club nights – in their sleep. With their eyes on the prize (as well as the clock), they trooped back into Studio 2 determined to let it rip.

7:30–8:15 p.m.: “Hold Me Tight”
Unfortunately, the beginning of their evening session proved to be a colossal waste of time, as the Beatles ran through 13 takes of an original tune that would not make the album at all. “Hold Me Tight” was an uptempo rocker written mostly by McCartney several years earlier. It had been integrated into their stage show, but they never counted it among their best work. Even its composer dismissed it in retrospect as “a failed attempt at a single which then became an acceptable album filler.” Lennon was equally blunt in his assessment of the number toward the end of his life. “That was Paul’s,” he said in 1980. “It was a pretty poor song, and I was never really interested in it.”

Perhaps it’s for this reason that “Hold Me Tight” never got off the ground during the Please Please Me session. Tapes of the song from that day have since been destroyed, but the session notes paint a maddening portrait of false starts, breakdowns and edit pieces to patch up errors. Although the band eventually got a serviceable version (Take 9 spliced with an edit piece, Take 13), the song was abandoned for the day. A rerecorded incarnation would surface on the band’s next album, With the Beatles, later that year.

8:15 p.m.–8:45 p.m.: “Anna (Go to Him)”

The frustrating experience of “Hold Me Tight” was now behind them, leaving them free to plow through their beloved covers. “A Taste of Honey” aside, which was more of a request from Martin and Epstein, these were the songs that truly inspired them. It’s telling that all the non-original songs on Please Please Me had been performed (or at least popularized) by black soul artists, bearing out McCartney’s assertion that the Beatles saw themselves as “a little R&B combo.”

The first Lennon-led cover of the night, “Anna (Go to Him),” paid tribute to one of his great heroes, Alabama country-soul pioneer Arthur Alexander. The arrangement had been honed through constant performance, so recording was a relatively simple matter of getting a good live take. Floyd Cramer’s introductory piano figure was played on guitar by Harrison, who was also an enormous fan of Alexander. “I remember having several records by him, and John sang three or four of his songs,” he said in the Anthology. “Arthur Alexander used a peculiar drum pattern, which we tried to copy, but we couldn’t quite do it, so in the end we invented something quite bizarre but equally original.” By Take 3, the song was complete.

8:45–9:00 p.m.: “Boys”
The prevailing industry ethos of the time dictated that every pop group had to have a frontman, but Martin, to the foursome’s everlasting gratitude, refused to make it First Name and the Beatles. In doing so, he cemented the idea of the band as a unified collective, and not merely hired backing. The group took this democratic notion even further by giving each member his own lead vocal spot on the album. For Starr’s turn, they chose “Boys,” a Shirelles B side he’d been performing since his pre-Beatles days in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. According to McCartney, the number “was a fan favorite with the crowd. And it was great – though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song.”

As he did onstage, Starr sang and played at the same time, which any drummer can attest isn’t the easiest thing to do. But instinct took hold and he got it on the first try, making it the only song of the day to be wrapped in a single take. “We didn’t rehearse for our first album,” the drummer recalled. “In my head, it was done ‘live.’ We did the songs through first, so they could get some sort of sound on each one. Then we had to just run, run, run them down.”

9:00– 9:30 p.m.: “Chains”
Originally recorded by the Cookies, an R&B girl group out of New York City, “Chains” showcased the Beatles’ formidable ability to unearth deep-cut American pop gems, then a rarity in their British homeland. “With our manager, Brian Epstein, having a record shop, NEMS, we did have the opportunity to look around a bit more than the casual buyer,” McCartney explained in the liner notes to On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. Harrison was particularly taken with “Chains,” purchasing the record in December 1962 and claiming the lead vocal as his own. The band recorded two complete versions of the song, with the first deemed the best.

A look at the label on the Cookies’ single, which the Beatles no doubt inspected closely, would have revealed that “Chains” was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the husband-and-wife duo who were a huge inspiration to the Beatles’ own songwriting partnership. Lennon famously expressed his desire to be “the Goffin-King of England” with McCartney – as long as his name came first. When the initial pressing of Please Please Me credited the originals to “McCartney-Lennon,” the rhythm guitarist quickly pulled some strings. The move rankled his collaborator and became something of a sore spot in years to come. “I wanted it to be McCartney-Lennon, but John had the stronger personality and I think he fixed things with Brian before I got there,” McCartney related in Many Years From Now. “That was John’s way. He was one and a half years older than me, and at that age it meant a little more worldliness. I remember going to a meeting and being told, ‘We think you should credit the songs to Lennon-McCartney.’ I said, ‘No, it can’t be Lennon first, how about McCartney-Lennon?’ They all said, ‘Lennon-McCartney sounds better, it has a better ring. . . .’ I had to say, ‘All right, sod it.'”

9:30–10:00 p.m.: “Baby It’s You”
The next number the band attempted was penned by Burt Bacharach and Mack David – elder brother of the composer’s better-known lyricist, Hal. The second Shirelles song the Beatles’ recorded that day, “Baby It’s You” also featured contributions from Luther Dixon (credited as Barney Williams), the co-writer of “Boys.” Three takes were recorded, one of which was a false start, with the final one labeled as the best. The track would be completed nine days later, on February 20th, when Martin tracked himself playing celeste over Harrison’s guitar solo.

Lennon’s voice, which had been deteriorating all day, was beginning to show major cracks, notably on the “Don’t want nobody, nobody” section. Fortunately he had only one song left to do, but it would take everything he had.

10:15–10:30 p.m.: “Twist and Shout”

It was now 10:00, the time when the studio officially closed for the night. For all of their superhuman stamina that day, the Beatles (discounting the aborted “Hold Me Tight”) were still one song short. The following morning, they were due to make the long trek to the north of England for a booking in Oldham, Lancashire. They had to get it now. Martin, as he often would for the Beatles, decided to bend the rules slightly and sneak in one more session after hours. But what would they play?

“At about 10 p.m., we all retired to the studio canteen for coffee and biscuits, where we and George Martin began an earnest discussion about a suitable number for the last track,” McCartney remembered. Also present was journalist Alan Smith, who was reporting on the sessions for NME. “We all crowded in there, and I think it was George who said, ‘What are we gonna do for the last number?'” Smith said in a BBC documentary. “I said, ‘I think I heard you do “La Bamba” on the radio a few weeks ago.’ McCartney looked a bit blank, and then he said, ‘You mean “Twist and Shout”!’ I said, ‘Yeah, “Twist and Shout.”‘” The idea was instantly accepted.

On visits to the Cavern, Martin had witnessed firsthand the song’s power to bring down the house. “John absolutely screamed it,” he recalled. “God alone knows what he did to his larynx each time he performed it, because he made a sound rather like tearing flesh. That had to be right on the first take, because I knew perfectly well that if we had to do it a second time it would never be as good.” Yet as they tuned up one final time that night in Studio 2, there was a very real question of whether he could manage it at all. “By this time all their throats were tired and sore,” Norman Smith told Mark Lewisohn. “It was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s in particular was almost completely gone, so we really had to get it right first time. John sucked a couple more Zubes, had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went.” Stripping off his shirt, he stepped up to the microphone.

The 22-year-old threw back his head and emitted a wail that, half a century later, still evokes winces of pain along with the involuntary head bob. “I couldn’t sing the damn thing – I was just screaming,” he admitted to Rolling Stone in 1970. “The last song nearly killed me,” he said later. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after. Every time I swallowed, it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that. But now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.” The utter passion and total commitment made up for the wavering pitch and occasional cracks, which add flawed beauty to the song. In solidarity, the other Beatles played with an intensity that was all the more impressive given the grueling day behind them. Starr attacked the drums with a primal fury, while McCartney and Harrison bolstered their flagging singer with airtight harmonies and encouraging war whoops. “He knew his voice had been going all day, and he could only give it one or two goes and it would just rip it – which it did,” said McCartney. “You can hear it on the record. But it was a pretty cool performance.” The final seconds of the song, which eventually closed the Beatles’ debut, capture a joyous “Hey!” – McCartney’s spontaneous salute to his mate.

A second take was briefly attempted, but there wasn’t much point. Lennon gave it all the first time around. “It was good enough for the record, and it needed that linen-ripping sound,” said Martin. The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” was released with no edits, no overdubs and no second chances.

10:30–10:45 p.m.: Playback
“At the end of the recording, George Martin looked down from the control room and said in amazement, ‘I don’t know how you do it. We’ve been here recording all day and the longer you go on, the better you get!'” McCartney recalled. With 14 songs in the can, there was nothing left to do but step back and admire their work. At half past 10, the Beatles climbed the stairs from the studio floor to the control room for the chance to listen to their debut album for the first time. “Waiting to hear that LP played back was one of our most worrying experiences,” Lennon said in 1963. “We’re perfectionists: If it had come out any old way, we’d have wanted to do it all over again. As it happens, we were very happy with the result.”

McCartney concurred. “This album was one of the main ambitions in our lives,” he said. “We felt that it would be a showcase for the group, and it was tremendously important for us that it sounded bang on the button. As it happened, we were pleased. If not, sore throats or not, we’d have done it all over again. That was the mood we were in. It was break or bust for us.”  

In This Article: The Beatles

Show Comments

Newswire

Powered by
Close comments

Add a comment