George Martin discusses the making of the Beatles “Please Please Me”, the debut album by the Beatles was released on 22 March 1963.
Of the album’s fourteen songs, eight were written by Lennon–McCartney (originally credited “McCartney–Lennon”), early evidence of what Rolling Stone later called “[their invention of] the idea of the self-contained rock band, writing their own hits and playing their own instruments”. In 2012, “Please Please Me” was voted 39th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
In order for the album to contain fourteen songs (the norm for British 12″ vinyl pop albums at that time was to have seven songs on each side, while American albums usually had only five or six songs per side) ten more tracks were needed to add to the four sides of their first two singles recorded and released previously. Therefore, at 10:00 am on Monday, 11 February 1963, the Beatles and George Martin started recording what was essentially their live act in 1963, and finished 585 minutes later (9 hours and 45 minutes). In three sessions that day (each lasting approximately three hours) they produced an authentic representation of the band’s Cavern Club-era sound, as there were very few overdubs and edits. Optimistically, only two sessions were originally booked by Martin—the evening session was added later.
Martin had initially contemplated recording the album live at the Cavern in front of the group’s home audience and visited the Liverpool club on 9 December 1962 to consider the technicalities. But when time constraints intervened, he decided to book them at EMI Studios in Abbey Road instead and record them virtually live. Martin said, “It was a straightforward performance of their stage repertoire — a broadcast, more or less.”
The day ended with a cover of “Twist and Shout”, which had to be recorded last because John Lennon had a particularly bad cold and Martin feared the throat-shredding vocal would ruin Lennon’s voice for the day. This performance, captured on the first take, prompted Martin to say: “I don’t know how they do it. We’ve been recording all day but the longer we go on the better they get.”
The whole day’s session cost around £400 (£10,000 as of 2013). George Martin said: “There wasn’t a lot of money at Parlophone. I was working to an annual budget of £55,000.” This budget had to cover all of the artists on Martin’s roster. Individually, under a contract with the Musicians’ Union, each Beatle collected a seven pounds and ten shillings (£7.50) session fee for each three-hour session.
Martin considered calling the album “Off the Beatle Track” before “Please Please Me” was released on Parlophone PCS 3042. The album was recorded on a two-track BTR tape recording machine, with most of the instrumentation on one track and the vocals on the other, allowing for a better balance between the two on the final quarter-inch tape mix-down in mono. A stereo mix was made at the same time as the mono mix, with one track on the left channel and the other on the right, as well as an added layer of reverb to better blend the two tracks together. This was common practice for playback on stereo consoles.