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Every Scratch, Every Click, Every Heartbeat: The Beatles – “Please Please Me”

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"Every Scratch, Every Click, Every Heartbeat": The reference is to Elvis Costello's song "45" which, to oversimplify matters, conflates music and life. All the same, "bass and treble heal every hurt" and though this series doesn't feature the dreaded soundtrack to my life, it might be said that each entry spotlights "a song to sing to do the measuring."

This time around, I stamp my Beatle Boots to the giddy pop thrill of "Please Please Me."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, right. My shock-of-the-new awareness of the Beatles, coinciding with worldwide mass consciousness, came at age nine in 1964 when my mother tossed our subscription copy of Life magazine to me, the one with a feature story of some British band — with “moptops”! — the Beatles, who were cockily emblazoned on the cover, arrogance personified. (In my ignorance then, and to current shame, I took colored markers to the cover and “embellished” the features of the foursome, unflatteringly.)

This was before I realized that their tonsorial cavalierism, cockiness, and arrogance was actually earned, by the sheer fab gearness of the music — soon to evolve into more ineffable innovativeness. (These days it’s not unusual for a band to take seven years between albums — the length of time the Beatles recorded on a consistent basis while going through staggering, pop-shattering changes.) The full acceptance of the Beatles was a gradual process for me, though. The first and biggest U.S. hits being played on the radio, radio over and over didn’t fully grab me. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was hand-clapping catchy but somehow lacking, and “She Loves You,” with its harmonies and full-steam contagiousness, was more impressive but oddly off-kilter in a way that I still can’t explain.

Then it happened. I didn’t see it coming… nobody sees it coming. Yes… I SUCCUMBED TO PEER GROUP PRESSURE!

Well, not exactly. Sure, more boys at school had apparently let the British Invasion take their barbers hostage and a few even wore Beatle Boots, and giggly girls were sneaking in fab four-full copies of Tiger Beat and such. And it was like taking sides when my friends were picking their favorite Beatles, while my best friend who could afford all the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean albums went through an Atlantic sea change in buying habits.

(Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones: My brother, who shared a room and a record player with me, was a Rolling Stones fan and hated the Beatles. Arrg! Deflating peer group pressure: Two silly, squealing teenage girls next door every single day climbed in a T-Bird convertible in the driveway screaming and squealing and blasting the radio, waiting for intermittent, AM-induced mini-Beatlemania to strike.)

No, what really changed my tune from by my less-than-full bore response to the aforementioned hanger-on hits was my instantaneously rapturous reaction to the eventual classic “Please Please Me” the first time I heard it. A big hit in the U.K. in 1963, and actually — though sales were dismal — the missed-opportunity of a first single issued in the U.S. on February 7, 1963 on the Vee-Jay label, “Please Please Me” was reissued in January 1964, eventually peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending March 14, 1964. It trailed only "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" — the latter two still seeming to dominate the airwaves. Which only made me listen to the radio more; the infrequent playing of “Please Please Me” wasn't pleasing me.

For in that immensely infectious song — with a grabber intro from harmonica to harmonies replete with melodic growl of a call and response reprised throughout the whole single — I yearned to hear the exuberant harmonies, and hook after hook of giddy pop thrill. Two minutes of elation and zeal get the full treatment from a variety of jubilant twists and turns — John’s vigorous lead vocals, Paul and George’s backing vocals, masterful bridge, George’s effective guitar licks and riffs, and an ending with an almost searing series of pop-power chords. It’s no wonder that Rolling Stone ranked it #184 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And that author Roy Carr in The Beatles: An Illustrated Record went out on a little limb to contend that the pop gem "was the prototype for the next five years of British music."

Not too little, if somewhat late, for a single that took a year of fits and starts to find its way to the U.S. charts. And quite an evolution from its original conception as a Roy Orbison-style weeper — until producer George Martin wisely saw other possibilities and nudged songwriter Lennon into a more energetic direction. In lyrics, John characteristically stuck with his wordplay (a tendency I had developed by then, which I think also accounted for my enthrallment with the song) and, inspired by a Bing Crosby tune with the line "Please lend a little ear to my pleas," he was resolved to get the double use and meaning of the word “please” on vinyl.

I don't want to sound complaining
But you know there's always rain in my heart
I do all the pleasin' with you
It's so hard to reason with you
Oh yeah why do you make me blue

Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try girl
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Come on, come on, come on. come on
Please please me, oh yeah like I please you
Oh yeah like I please you
Oh yeah like I please you…

So I was pleased, and “Please Please Me” clinched the deal. Though I didn’t get the Beatle Boots, I grew my hair a little longer. It was getting better all the time. (Though I suppose it couldn’t get much worse than when my mother, thinking she had bought for me my first Beatles album — from the supermarket for 88 cents yet — presented me with a copy of “THE BEETLES BEAT” [big letters] by “the Buggs” [small print], a knock-off of Meet the Beatles replete with copycat cover photo.) But, as was the case during much of the Beatles’ career, just when you think they couldn’t top themselves, they exceed expectations — chart-topper after chart-topper, Ed Sullivan appearances, their own cartoon show! — but really my next awe-inspiring event concerning the group occurred in that Summer of ’64 after I plopped down my 35 cents at the Corbin Theater with my friends and a movie house amassed with fab four fans, and the ginormouscope screen and overwhelming guitar chime of the title song signaled the start of A Hard Day’s Night…

I can still feel the chills, enjoying every moment of cinematic antics packing a wallop for wall to wall devotees. And of course I bought the soundtrack album and played it over and over, loud, incurring at times the irritation of my mother. Displease me, oh yeah…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • brad laidman

    Best song pleading for a blow job ever written

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Ah yes, the “first real oral sex pop song” as mentioned in Tim Riley’s “Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After.” He cites Robert Christgau for an earlier observation.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Nicely done as always

  • http://themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Nicely done, indeed. Love, love this series Gordon.

  • http://blogcritics.org Clarence Yu

    This is really great stuff! Nice and truly eye-opening.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks, all. It turned out twice as long as intended – more memories than I thought started flooding out.

    By the way, I think any “oral sex” meanings in the song are unintentional. Lennon had no problems talking about what “Come Together” was about or admitting what the backing vocals in “Girl” were saying. As far as I know, the always honest Lennon never alluded to any other denotations or connotations in “Please Please Me.”

  • brad laidman

    Last night I said these words to my girl
    You know you never even try girl
    Come on! Come on!

    I do all the pleasing with you – it’s so hard to reason with you – why do you make me BLUE (balled)

    lol

    and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was a coincedence too :)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Ok Ok, I’m not saying you’re wrong, Brad, but take into account that these were the very early days when “the Beatles just wanted to hold your hand” (while the Stones declared “Let’s Spend the Night Together”).

    “Lucy” was a few years later, and I don’t buy the Julian picture book story. At least John was upfront about “Norwegian Wood” a year earlier.”