The release of Please Please Me in 1963 heralded the arrival of a cultural revolution as well as a musical one. The Beatles, a force that seemingly came out of nowhere, injected a much-needed dose of edgier rock, combined with intelligent lyrics. Indeed, the story of John Lennon shredding his vocal chords while belting out “Twist and Shout” has become the stuff of legend. Yet few books have focused exclusively on the making of the seminal record and its subsequent impact.
Musician, blogger, and Blogcritics scribe Joe Rodgers (writing under the handle Johnny Rhythm) researched virtually every aspect of Please Please Me, from the recording process to its lasting influence, to produce Please Please Me – The Beatles: The Definitive Guide. This iPad app guides the reader on a virtual tour through easy-to-follow graphics and a clean layout.
Rodgers takes a magnifying glass to each of the album’s songs by describing them in individual chapters. Each chapter contains icons which serve as navigational aids. A guitar signifies instrumentation and production credits; a music note links to background information on the song; a microphone denotes specific recording details; eyeglasses symbolize the author’s own analysis of the track; a silhouette of an audience stands for the lasting impact of the song; and a disc indicates discographic information (e.g. any subsequent appearances on compilations or American vs. British releases). A sliding bar at the bottom of the screen allows for quick and convenient navigation among various chapters.
How much new information you may learn from the app depends on your level of of familiarity with the subject. Yet even seasoned fans will appreciate having so much detail in one handy package. Some particularly interesting tidbits include how Lennon disliked R&B singer Kenny Lynch’s cover of “Misery,” and how The Beatles borrowed elements from artists such as Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley when composing music. Descriptions of how Lennon’s voice gradually deteriorated during the marathon recording sessions, slight vocal variations and mistakes on specific tracks (such as George Harrison sounding a little flat singing the word “blue” or how Lennon’s voice cracks on the word “cry” during “Ask Me Why”), and how conflicting rhythms and lyrics somehow gel on tracks such as “Misery” and “P.S. I Love You.” For a fully interactive experience, listen to the album while navigating through the guide.
Readers may take issue with some of Rodgers’ points; he could have prefaced some of his assertions with “in my opinion” rather than stating them as fact. Can “Ask Me Why” be considered “obscure”? Can parallels really be drawn between Please Please Me’s release and the Cuban Missile Crisis, or even Britain suffering from a bitter winter that year? He also analyzes The Beatles’ performance on “A Taste of Honey” as suffering from “the slightly stiff backing vocals from Lennon and Harrison who betray a dull disinterest in their delivery, as if they are merely going through the motions.” Did Lennon or Harrison ever label their performance as perfunctory, or is this the author’s own view?
Some chapters and songs suffer from lack of new detail, such as those dedicated to “Anna (Go to Him)” and “Chains.” Photographs from the sessions would have created more of a “fly on the wall” experience, although there are a few photos included in the app. An extensive bibliography would have also proved useful. Finally, no concluding chapter exists–a general wrap-up giving the reader a sense of the album’s lasting impact would have provided a sense of closure.
Other than these issues, Please Please Me – The Beatles: The Definitive Guide serves as a handy reference tool which should satisfy casual and hardcore enthusiasts. Subsequent editions will correct any errors present in the first version. Although this review concerns the iPad app version, the guide is also available for the Kindle. To download the app via iTunes, search under the term “Dinosaur Album Guides.”