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Would the Real Drummer on “Please Please Me” Please Please Stand Up?

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Most Fab Four fans are aware that “Please Please Me” was the Beatles’ second 7” single release in the UK, and arguably their first number one record. The track, along with its flip side “Ask Me Why,” was recorded on November 26, 1962, exactly 49 years ago this week. We all know that the single featured the now familiar line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr on drums, and followed the shaky start of their debut UK single “Love Me Do.”  That track required a total of three drummers and three recording sessions to get it right.

However, the release of Anthology 1 in 1995, and particularly its inclusion of an earlier recording of “Please Please Me,” introduced some confusion into the song’s history. The existence of that version also provokes some interesting questions which have, as yet, remained unanswered. From which recording session did this version originate, and depending on the answer to that question, who sat on the drum stool as it was taped? In the red corner we have Liverpool’s own Ringo Starr; in the blue, Glaswegian session drummer Andy White. In the interest of historical accuracy (and Beatles geekery) we put this session under the microscope.

The stuttering start to the Beatles’ EMI recording career between June and September 1962 witnessed the dismissal of one drummer (Pete Best), and the temporary suspension of another (Starr) in favour of installing a seasoned professional (Andy White) for the “Love Me Do” session of September 11, 1962. The fading memories of all involved have, too often, conflicted in comparative recollections regarding these early sessions.

Furthermore, the fact that EMI willingly destroyed the tapes and all session sheets after the recordings means that there is no existing evidence to study, other than the finished product itself of course. This is why the sudden appearance of an earlier recording of “Please Please Me” in 1994 is so interesting; here at last was an existing piece of evidence which could be compared with the final released version recorded on November 26, 1962. But at which early Beatles session was this earlier version captured – September 4 and 11, or November 26?

The official sleeve notes on Anthology tell us that the acetate (flexible plastic disc cut at the end of a session) dates from September 11, and various internet sources suggest this disc contains a catalogue number of E47852. This is of course the infamous session for which George Martin had hired professional drummer White, and during which the Beatles, with White on drums, cut the versions of “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” which were featured on the Please Please Me LP.

The sleeve notes also suggest that the song was recorded with White on drums and not Starr. These details match (or perhaps are based upon) session producer Ron Richard’s recollections that Starr did not play drums at all that day. However, the appearance of the acetate in 1994 seems to fly in the face of these “facts,” particularly as it conflicted with the well-known remarks of Beatles producer Martin.

Martin has always claimed that the group brought him “Please Please Me” on September 11, and that he had deemed it unfit for release at that time. He claims it was “very slow” and “very dreary.”   He advised them to speed it up and add some tight harmonies. The problem is that these remarks just don’t fit the rediscovered acetate. Anyone with a half-decent pair of ears can tell that this version is incredibly close in arrangement and performance to the released version. It’s practically identical in tempo, and is certainly not “very slow” in comparison.

All the elements (harmonica excluded) in the final released version are present in this earlier version. The song’s signature hooks are clearly in place as are the stops and starts, as are Harrison’s scaled guitar intro on each verse, his verse-chorus splitting riff, the call and response “c’mon, c’mon” of the chorus, and the busy drum fills which permeate the track. Most convincingly, the tight harmonies (which Martin claims to have requested) are present and accounted for in this earlier version.

So, is Martin simply confused, a victim of mixed memories in a head rammed to the bursting point with dates and sessions, songs and faces? Perhaps he was referring to the yet earlier session of September 4, during which “Please Please Me” was first presented to EMI in a rehearsal, but not recorded?

Surely we can turn to the established Beatles scholars for answers. Famed Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, author of the seminal and wonderful The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, attributes the drum credits on September 11 (including this attempt at recording “Please Please Me”) to White, with no mention of Starr, aside from his tambourine and maraca cameos. Lewisohn was, after all, writing six years before the discovery of the earlier acetate version. His work was so definitive that its details have never been questioned or revisited, and pretty much every author who picks up the story thereafter falls in with Lewisohn’s production credits. John C. Winn in Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles Recorded Legacy also echoes Lewisohn’s credits.

Curiously however, critic Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records And The Sixties, claims that the newly discovered version was actually an earlier take from the November 26 session which harvested the released version. McDonald seems to offer this alternate idea as an afterthought; it’s even presented in parenthesis. The problem is that he fails to reference it at all. A common problem throughout his book is the author’s replacement of fact with his own opinion, and this remark seems to be no different. Besides, why would EMI staff cut an acetate of an inferior and seemingly random take of a song, from an evening that produced the final released master version? It makes no sense.

It seems we are left to conclude that the rediscovered acetate was a cut from the session of September 11 after all, and the overwhelming written evidence seems to point towards White on drums.

But wait – the defence has just produced a star witness, and as his memories were recorded in 2005, none of the classic Beatles scholars have had a chance (or bothered) to depose him. Geoff Emerick, the young engineer behind the sounds captured on Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and so much more in the Beatles’ later canon, was in 1962 a young EMI apprentice tape-op (button pusher to you and me). Emerick was present at the September 11 session (aged 16), and in his book Here There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles, he recalls that after White had recorded drums on “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You,” he packed up and left. Emerick witnessed Beatles roadie Mal Evans setting up Starr’s kit, and later the group’s recording of “Please Please Me” with Starr on drums. Thank goodness for that, because to be honest, the drumming style and feel on both versions seems just too close to be the work of two separate drummers, captured almost three months apart. Of course Emerick too could be wrong.

Occam’s Razor specifies that all things being equal, the simpler explanation is the most likely one. With that in mind, are we to believe that White, during a short three-hour session which involved recording three songs, had time to work out and rehearse a drum pattern to a song which he had never heard before, and which contained a complex arrangement of stops and starts? If so, that means Starr must have copied White’s contributions verbatim, and reproduced them for the November session. Or, is it more likely that White packed up for the night with his job done, allowing Starr the opportunity to step in on an unscheduled attempt at taping a new song, one which he and the band had previously worked on during rehearsals?

Why should we really care who played on that particular track? I mean does it really matter in the grand scheme of things who sat on a drum stool in a room 49 years ago? Of course not.

On the other hand, as interest in the Beatles shows no signs of waning, and the growing number of new and old Beatles books stress-test the industrial shelving in Amazon’s aircraft-hanger sized warehouses, I think it’s important to focus on facts over opinion. Many of these Beatles books still retain glaring inaccuracies, questionable myths, and more annoyingly, journalistic opinion. It’s important that we continue to ask questions and seek the objective truth behind the band’s history, in the same way we would treat any other historical topic. 

We may never know for sure who sat on the “beat-seat” for this early recording, but based on the available evidence, my money’s on Ringo Starr.

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About Johnny Rhythm

  • Phil

    What does Ringo remember?

  • Logan

    Excellent article. It’s a topic I’ve wondered about as well. Thanks!

  • Ronald K Munson

    Hmm…My thought about this is, the Please Please Me version of Sept 11 had to be the slow one. If it was the fast one, then George Martin would have picked that to be the first single. He always said that at the time, Love Me Do was the only good song that could be a single, and when he heard the fast version of PPM, he knew it would be a #1 hit.

  • Frank Mercier

    I agree with Ronald K. George Martin definately would have put out Please Please Me first if it was the fast version.

  • PhoffiFozz

    My personal opinion is that the Anthology take is from September 11th. It is Ringo on drums after Andy White left and the session was essentially over. – This new arrangement was a demo made for Martin to examine. – It was not ready to release as the first single, plus they had already spent the time and money on “P.S. I Love You” & “Love Me Do”. – The September 11th session was probably only necessary when Martin decided to let the Beatles issue their own songs in place of “How Do You Do It?”, which means they needed another side since that song was not being released.

  • Marco Antonio

    Ringo’s words:¹ “On my first visit in September we just ran through some tracks for George Martin. We even did ‘Please Please Me’. I remember that, because while we were recording it I was playing the bass drum with a maraca in one hand and a tamborine in the other. I think it’s because of that that George Martin used Andy White, the ‘professional’, when we went down a week later to record ‘Love Me Do’. …

    ¹Anthology Book page 76.

  • Marco Antonio

    I think the Ringo’s words explain everything and take away all doubts. On September 4, there was the recording of ‘Please Please Me’ and it, certainly, must be such the slow version.

  • Johnny Rhythm

    Wow, some great comments here. I think it’s great to encourage some healthy debate about these topics. It’s important to remember that there is no ‘slow’ version of ‘Please Please Me’ that exists. The one from Anthology (which Apple Corps claims is from Sept 11th) is identical in speed (give or take a few BPM) to the finished version. So where does the myth about the slow version come from? My own guess is the following;

  • Johnny Rhythm

    1. The Beatles rehearsed (not recorded) ‘Please Please Me’ on September 4th. This is confirmed by Lewisohn (The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
    2. Ron Richards (producer) claims this version had some annoying arrangements (Lewisohn: The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
    3. Starr’s own comments (courtesy of Marco Antonio) state that he was only playing bass drum and maraca/tambourine. Hence it was a loose and working arrangement
    4. Ron Richards informed George Martin about this new song, but told him it was dreary, slow and needed work.
    5. The following week on September 11th, Andy White packed up after recording ‘Love Me Do/PS I Love You’ and Ringo Starr stepped in on drums to record Please Please Me. The version you hear on Anthology.
    6. George Martin realised this take, did not cut the mustard. In (Lewisohn: The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions p.20) Martin told
    Richards that ‘Please Please Me’ didnt sound quite right yet, and they would leave it for another time. That time being November 26th.
    7. In later years (remember Martin did not hear this earlier take of the song from 1962 until 1994) he confused the sessions, and thought he had heard the slow version on September 11th.
    Thanks for all the comments, if you like this article, pls follow look out for further posts on twitter @dinoalbumguides, or FB

  • Ric Stream

    The slow version was not neccessarly recorded…it may have just been played to George Martin, perhaps even acoustically.

  • MGMG

    It’s obviously Andy White, it sounds nothing like Ringo’s style whatsoever, and it also is not the “slow version” which everyone seems to be talking about here. The arrangement that we know is pretty much intact on the Anthology version. The fill in the middle eight is completely not characteristic of Ringo’s style whatsoever. The drumming style of this recording is lighter, and Ringo did not have a light touch at all.

    Geoff Emerick in his book does say he thinks it’s Ringo but as good as his book is, his memory definitely is fuzzy on some things that he writes, especially about these particular early sessions, emhatically (for instance), saying that George Martin was hearing “Love Me Do” for the first time on the September 4 session, so I definitely think he’s wrong here. It’s almost definitely Andy White. As far as the slow, “Roy Orbison”-like version, it probably wasn’t recorded. (McCartney does a demonstration of the Orbison-like arrangement in the Anthology documentary).

  • Johnny Rhythm

    Good to hear your input MGMG. I do agree that the slow version was never recorded, indeed that’s a fact that Lewisohn detailed almost 24 yrs ago. I’d agree with Ric Stream that they demo’d it, perhaps acoustically, and Martin may have heard it, but most likely was told about it on Sept 4th.
    I don’t agree though that it is ‘nothing like Ringo’s style whatsoever’. I think it is very close to his signature playing. Specifically, the rhythm pattern has a very subtle tendency to ‘bleed’ from 4/4 into 3/4 shuffle during the verses, this was very much a Ringo style of playing, one that was most obvious on ‘Long Tall Sally’. I also feel the drumming is a little ragged in places, with some unsure snare sticking on certain fills. White would have been more assured in his application. The ‘c’mon’ calls have some fairly heavy beats, particularly on kick drum. As for Ringo never possessing a light touch…I disagree. Take a listen to ‘Here There And Everywhere’, ‘Something’, even ‘A Day In The Life’ the list is endless. I think one of Ringo’s greatest strengths was his ability to switch his mood and expression on his kit. Regarding the middle eight, yes, it sounds slightly out of character for Ringo, but, I’ve heard many outtakes of songs with Ringo playing fills that didn’t make the cut, many of them sounding odd and sometimes out of character. I did contact Andy White directly before writing this article, and asked him the burning question. But alas, no response, and even if he said ‘yea’ or ‘nay’, who’s to say his memory would hold up? Of course, Emerick could be wrong, I did mention that. But, with my gut feeling on the style and feeling of the performance, and Emerick’s notes, I still lean towards Starr. But of course, we will never know. Great debate though. Cheers

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 jcmosquito

    So…. why do Beatles’ articles on BC have so many comments left by people named something simple like “John” or “Peter Smith”? You don’t see as many comments by people with screen names like “ringtone75″ or “killaharmadillah.” Do Beatles articles just not attract people with inventive screen names?

    In any case, The Beatles are probably THE most documented band in the world. If today, Ringo asked, “So, what was I doing the evening of Tuesday June 14, 1966?” With a slight bit of research you could answer, “Recording ‘Here, There, and Everyhere’ for the Revolver album.”

    For Ringo and Paul – no matter how much a private life they now have, their very public and very legendary past will always overshadow their present reality.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Possibly cos they made simpler music for simpler times?

    The Beatles may be the most documented band in the world but are certainly also a tad rather over-rated. For every good song they did there is a matching piece of dreck…

  • andrewsfusco

    Andy White essentially “admits” that it’s him in the special bonus interview on the “Best of the Beatles” DVD, and then he chuckles at himself for having let the secret out of the bag. The drum track on the White Anthology version and the Parlophone single are identical, which means the George Martin probably began the single recording session with the old White/McCartney drum/bass rhythm and build the “new” version on top of it.

    For the best evidence that its not Ringo, compare it Ringo’s live version also on Anthology I—its not even close. I have five or six live versions in my collections and Ringo never was able to replicate the single.

    The likely reason for keeping White’s identity a secret was because of the stink caused by his presence on the British version of Love Me Do. Two consecutive hits without Ringo could have sunk the ship from a commerical standpoint.

  • EdSullivan

    You must be confusing them with another band, Christopher. Exactly which one of their 226 songs do you think is a “dreck”?

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Far too many to name, Ed; are you such a fanboy that you think they did no wrong ever?

    And the proper usage is dreck, not a dreck.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Some (perhaps all) of The White Album is of dubious merit. Considering the great time they were by all accounts having when they recorded it, it’s not surprising. Think of the karaoke singer who’s had 8 pints and thinks he’s Andy Williams…

    And “The Long and Winding Road” makes me want to swallow bleach.

  • Hugo Minaym

    I have just compared the UK (mono and stereo), US (mono and stereo – apparently both based on the UK stereo), with the Anthology version. One of the notable limitations/features of Ringo’s style is his inability to perform an accurate drum roll. His drum rolls always have a sort of ‘stumbling’ sound (think the opening of She Loves You). With this in mind, the Anthology version sounds much more like the Andy White style (from what little evidence I’ve ever heard of it for comparison purposes).

    On the other hand, as to Ringo’s not being able to perform the intricacies of the song, and the argument that all the released versions are Andy White, I wholeheartedly disagree. Listen to the Ed Sullivan performance: Except for the stumbling drum roll, he executes the intricate elements of the arrangement flawlessly. In addition, on Anthology 1, Ringo comments of Andy White that whatever he was doing it was not so complicated the he (Ringo) could not copy it. This is, perhaps relevant to the answer. The Beatles may have come up with the fast version, played it, Andy White made up a drum arrangement, which was recorded with the guitarists, acetates were cut, Ringo worked up his own copy-cat version, and this was the source of the Ringo-played masters for the Single and the LP. (That’s my spin, anyroad.)

    • Steve

      Ringo’s weird tumbling rolls is because he was left handed yet played right handed so led with his left.

  • http://www.fellcast.com David Fell

    An acetate is not “a flexible plastic disc.” They did not bend, had metal cores, and a coat of acetate as lacquer. These were the same type of discs recorded on any cutting lathe; an acetate would be the first step in making metal stampers to press out vinyl records.

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