1963

 


PLEASE PLEASE ME (LP)

This is the amazing album that took 585 minutes out of one day (11 February, 1963) to record. Started at 10AM with "There's A Place" and finished the second take of "Twist and Shout" at 10:45PM. As a note, take one is the one you hear on the record. John Lennon had sung himself horse by the first take and had nothing for the second one. But that first take! Has there been more inspired singing than that? Interviews made by Mark Lewisohn with those present for that recording shows them all to have been extremely excited when the Beatles recorded that song and you can easily see why.

If that seems like a long day in the studio, it pales to the hours they were putting in while recording the White Album. Still, two of them had colds, they never ate lunch, and they produced this album. Personally, it has some of my favorite Beatles songs, many of them forgotten (as "forgotten" as a Beatles song could be, that is). I love the song Anna, and John's singing on that. There aren't many songs more fun to listen to than Boys or, for that matter, the incredible Please Please Me. I just think, can you imagine being a record producer of a lowly company (Parliaphone was known mostly for comedy recordings) and hearing sounds like Please Please Me coming from a band you're producing? How exciting!

PLEASE PLEASE ME (single)  

Please Please Me is pure excitement. The overall sound is like a big band even if the parts played aren't done in that style. As with so many of their songs, there wasn't one particular Beatle responsible for the excitement. A listen to what each of the four did reveals an exciting well-played part and they all come together to make a sound that you'll never forget. 

The role of the bass playing on this song is conceptual.   Listen to what McCartney does during the opening of this song.   After that incredibly catchy two-note guitar intro, the harmonica comes to the forefront.  But the bass "hammers" (constant steady beat) eight notes up high.  Listen to the intro without listening to the bass part and figure what you think would have been the perfect bass part for the part.  The odds are you wouldn't come up with the idea that the Beatles did.  But, I would have a very hard time accepting an argument that it is anything but perfect, just as the parts all the Beatles are playing is perfect. Everyone on that intro is hammering on your front door and it would be a sad person indeed who wouldn't throw open the door and let those brash boys in.

After the knock-down intro, the bass recedes (appropriately) to the back of the song. It's time for John and Paul to bring the voices to the fore. By the time the Beatles get to the call/response "Come on..Come on!", there can be no denying that these young men have already learned what it takes to make a record that will jump out of the flimsiest of radios or jump off the flimsiest of record players and become a hit. The interesting thing is that this was the second go at this song. John and Paul have separately talked about how they had brought the song in as a Roy Orbison style ballad, stretching out the "come on". George Martin told them to go home and think this one over. I'd like to say thanks to Mr. Martin for this because look what they brought back.

While I have this song in the 1963 section, the day it was recorded was actually November 26, 1962. While I've never heard anybody else say this, it was a huge day for the Beatles. History shows that they had, beginning with this song, a huge unbroken string of number 1 hits (in England, all the way up to Penny Lane). But what if they had not come back with a great song they themselves had written? Their first record, PS I Love You/Love Me Do had lackluster sales. George Martin was all for following the trend that was always followed in the industry. He wanted them to record songs that professional songwriters had composed. Why not record "How Do You Do It?", by Mitch Murray? It's sure to be a hit. The Beatles were up against it and, as they would do throughout their career when the chips were down, they came through in a big way; this time with Please Please Me. But what if they had not come through? Would the Beatles have been allowed to keep trying and wasting studio time with their own material? Maybe not. It's a huge credit to George Martin that he saw their potential as songwriters. Aside from some of the great rock n rollers of the 1950s (Berry, Little Richard, Lewis), it just wasn't done before the Beatles.

 

I SAW HER STANDING THERE

This song is conspicuous. It really stands out from the others in its own way. Well, George Martin had a strict philosophy about how to lay LPs out. You have to have four powerful songs to fulfill it (start side one with the catchiest song, end side one with a song that will make sure the listener turns the album over to play the other side, start side two with another catchy song and end the album with the most powerful of them all).

The Please Please Me album starts off with I Saw Her Standing There. It certainly is catchy and may well be the catchiest song on the whole album. It's a great album starter, made even better by the cool McCartney count-in. I've heard the bass line somewhere before, maybe in a Chuck Berry song, but that matters not at all because it's a killer line. More than any other instrument it drives the song, playing nicely off of Ringo's four on the floor high hat work. There's also my perennial favorite, a tremolo guitar. Ahh, yes, put a tremolo guitar in a song and I'll love it. For those of you who don't know what that means, it's an effect that is added (in those days) at the amplifier that causes the sound of the guitar to fade in and out quickly. A classic example of tremelo guitar was played by Chet Atkins on (All I Have To Do Is) Dream by the Everly Brothers. Anyway, John Lennon plays one on this song.

 

Here's a note about I Saw Her Standing There that was sent to me in June, 2010 and used with permission by Christopher P. (Duffy) Hughes

I Saw Her Standing There...I feel this is "THE" song which moved the bass player to the front of the band, not only driving the song in its entirety...play the bass line alone, and everyone knows what song it is...but also demonstrating that one could sing lead while playign a driving bass line. '

Yeah, Duffy, I like your style of writing. I tried to capture that with the "rock bass playing crawled from the ocean" comment on It Won't Be Long.

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You could tell by this album that this up and coming group had a seriously good bass player. Maybe it's time to offend some people here. What do you think? I don't think George or John were very good on guitar when they made this album. They certainly were adequate, but neither of them were really taking charge of the sound as they would in later years. This left big openings for Paul to shine through with his tasteful and driving bass playing. When the song called for simplicity (Anna, Chains, Love Me Do, Baby Its You, etc), his playing was spot on. When it called for a hooky driving line, I Saw Her Standing There, Please Please Me, Twist and Shout and Boys showcased Paul McCartney on the bass. Put that CD on and listen to the way Boys starts. It's all bass, dude, and the bass is nailing that song home. Whatever that means.


WITH THE BEATLES (LP)   

Notes on With The Beatles: Up until the album With The Beatles (1963), most contemporary bass playing was jazz (played on an upright bass) or rock and roll (played either on an upright or Fender electric). But it was a very primitive technique used by rock and roll bass players that generally mimicked the style of horn lines.

With The Beatles, as far as I can tell, was the first album where ROCK bass playing first crawled from the ocean and breathed air. But even with the advent of the CD and remastered tracks, the bass is still low in the mix and inaudible frequently. That's because in those days the concern was that if the bass was mixed too loud onto a record, the cheap turntables of the day wouldn't be able to handle it. It wasn't until 1965 really that the Beatles bass could really be heard.

On most of the album, George Martin and engineer Norman Smith decided to let the bass come up front and for good reason. The playing is solid and wild, especially for the times and especially on John's songs. Ringo and Paul have developed, by this album, an awesome matching of power that few other bands could boast. It must be claimed that they both avoided showing off too much, but more importantly they sought and always seemed to find just the right way to present a song. Pressing along with John Lennon's guitar on Hold Me Tight, the rhythm rolls like a Sherman Tank smashing its way through a forest. Hanging back on All I've Got To Do (discussed further), they "don't" play perfectly -- meaning that it is just important what they would leave out as what they would put in.

Every Beatles album had a particular flavor and it's easy to contrast With The Beatles with the white album on that regard. Each instrument was well defined both in sound and in style.

The Beatles, most will agree, were TALENTED. John Lennon was right when he said that they would have made it famous one way or another, because they were talented people. As a band, they could play about any kind of style, and they could do it both ways. They could create a tight, cohesive sound that would knock your doors off and draw you into their tremendous spirit -or - they could play as four musicians working expertly with each other as on both the White Album and here on With The Beatles.

On the first three songs from the album:

IT WON'T BE LONG

For those who were excitedly awaiting this, the Beatles next album, I doubt if any were disappointed for long once they put it on their little turntables. What an album opener! It Won't Be Long! And, they appear to be saying, it won't be long until you are under our power. The album starts right off with The Tried and True Knockout Call (John "It won't be long") and Response (Paul and George "yeah"). Wow. These guys are undeniable.

At 0:10, a series of events follow in quick succession to bring us to the verse. John sings "till I belong to you", Paul and George sing "ahhh" below this. Beneath that, John does a few power strums on his guitar, down in the mix. At 0:12, George plays that hook guitar line that can only be in E and it sounds great, doesn't it.

Then he plays it a second time, but this time there are hi jinx going on. The verse is coming and it's time to shift gears down a little bit. Downshift? Well, they do that by having Paul double the guitar line and Ringo add a nifty little fill of his own. To bring things down a bit, they yank it up a few notches! Please, put that CD on and listen to this little moment. These guys are enthusiastic.

The Beatles dynamics on this song are interesting. When they get to the verse, the energy drops a notch but from whom is the energy dropping? Not the drums, because Ringo goes from a semi-closed hi hat to a ride cymbal. It may be only the fact that the call and response has stopped temporarily. At the end of the verse we have the guitar line again and repeated.

(0:27). This time Paul's bass begins to follow the guitar line down but makes a quick turn at the end of the line to bring us back to the powerful chorus. This time Ringo follows the guitar line with his toms and John plays a cool roll on his guitar. On the song goes.

Paul had a slightly distorted sound on the song, especially on the hook lines. Martin/Smith (producer and first engineer) are to be given a lot of credit for not only leaving that in but also for bringing it to the fore. I'm sure I'm not the first to think about this, but it must have been exciting to be them, to be there when the Beatles were recording songs like this. To know that you had something this potentially huge being recorded in your studio.

It is dynamics that make so many of the Beatles songs what they were. They were, even at this early stage of their career, masters of when to go all out and when to lay back. Because you've gone through a mini roller-coaster ride of dynamics when listening to much of their music, you tend to reach each conclusion feeling some exhilaration. It Won't Be Long is no exception to this rule. It might be that the vocals and guitars provide the roller car you're riding in, but Ringo and Paul provide that car's wheels.

The album starts off with this song and doesn't trail off there.

ALL I'VE GOT TO DO

All I've Got To Do follows, and to the best of my knowledge it's the first time in R&R or rock where the bass player plays chords as a vital part of the song. Just as it happens when Paul starts playing chords in I Want To Hold Your Hand, the rest of the band steps back and let his sound come through. Dynamics to the fore, the bass playing really works for this song. As mentioned above, what Paul doesn't play on this song is as important as what he does play. Up and coming bass players, please take heed. The minor tension he creates with his chords is of major importance to this track, during the verses. He is riding the drum's syncopated rhythm in a herky-jerky way that is meant for dance.

Some technical notes about the drumming: Again, dynamics are well to the fore this time with Ringo at the lead. As the song heads towards the choruses (...."is call you on the phone"), he starts opening his hi hat a bit and by the time chorus is reached ("and the same goes for me. . .") the song reaches up to new heights. Beneath this line, Ringo is pounding his bass drum on the quarter notes in way that makes you smile to listen to. The chorus is full of life and strong with the vocals leading the way. But the rhythm section is playing in a very mature way for such young men. You would think there would be a tendency to rush the tempo a bit. It's an easy thing to do when things get exciting, but Ringo and Paul keep things steady. And then, even more suddenly than it started, the chorus ends. Ringo kicks a perfectly timed hi-hat stroke (telling the other musicians where the beat is) and we're back down to a low-key verse. The second time the song heads towards the chorus, Ringo is bringing the song to a higher level so that when the chorus is reached, the musicians are already pouring it out. Dynamic, exciting stuff. On this song, none of the playing, bass chords aside, is new or extraordinary, just very well done.

ALL MY LOVING

Underneath John's awesome triplet mashing, for the first half of each verse, Paul's bass walks from chord to chord in good ol' jazz style. The typical R&R bass lines would work with this song, especially considering what's happening on rhythm guitar, but the walk works even better.

The typical bass player of the day would have settled for playing a simple 1 & 5 on each chord and it would have worked, but not nearly as well as this line does. The style is ever present and dynamic.

Note: By "1 & 5" I mean the root and the fifth of each chord.   For example, if the band is playing in the key of C, many times the bass player will alternate the C and G (the fifth note of the C major scale) notes.

But then on the chorus, where you generally expect the band to really pick it up, the Beatles fall WAY back. The triplet guitar stops, the bass stops walking, and the background vocals are used almost as an organ effect. The bass, here, stands to the side as well until the guitar solo starts. It becomes a whole new song. When you consider that they were somewhere in their very early 20s when they recorded this, an age where one might not expect a lot of dynamics, all of this becomes even more impressive.

 

DON'T BOTHER ME

Dang, folks. There is some interesting bass playing going on in this song that I never really listened to until just now (here 2008, 45 years after it was recorded). I offer only the excuse that the bass is not prominent in the mix, and is a part of a hodgepodge of great groove playing by the Beatles. Okay, I admit it, I just missed out on this one all these years.

There are some songs (and the Beatles recorded many) that have such a great mix of all four musicians that no part really stands out. For this song, it was always Lennon's great tremolo guitar that caught my ear and held it throughout the song but in reality it is a top notch ensemble recording. When the Beatles were recording Let It Be, George was whining about how he never had a chance to get his songs in and when he did there was not much time put into them. John replied that they had always grooved for him right back to Don't Bother Me. I should have put this song on and listened closer then because he was right. They supply a groove for what could well have been a lackluster song at best.

The bass part during most of the verses is kind of indescribable so I recommend putting the CD on and listening to it. The bass on the verses are funk. Funky (I hate that word though), very well done in conjunction with the drum groove. And then, under "So go away" for example, here comes the patented bass chords or double stops. My favorite part of the song, and one that, yes, I've heard for years, is the little "f*** you" that Paul puts into the song at 1:58. The band stops while Paul holds his note and then lets it drop. Take that. All in all, not a bad little backup band for George's first written song, I'd say.

Little Child is pure rock n roll; Till There Was You has some accomplished playing and good understanding of chord structure; the whole album follows both concepts.


I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND (single)   

In Britain, I Want To Hold Your Hand (recorded on a four track recorder!) was released a week after Meet The Beatles was released in America. When the British public first heard this, and were by now quite used to great Beatle hits, we Yanks and Herns were just hearing them for the first time.

I Want To Hold Your Hand (spelled I Wanna Hold Your Hand on Meet The Beatles) is full of dynamics, stumbles and hooks. One instrument after another takes its turn coming to the forefront. At first it's the rhythm guitar playing the famous opening chords, staying somehow in 4/4 (though you wouldn't know it as it seems like it takes one beat too long for the vocals to come in). Then, there's the final little crescendo before the first vocals, anchored by Paul's repeater bass line.

On the bridge (and when I touch you I feel happy), just as in All My Loving, the guitars and drums fall way back, and Paul's bass leaps to the fore, playing chords. The whole song has changed feel for a short time, but not for long. The dynamics that result when the guitars re-enter at "I can't hide" are, at the very least, catchy.

Here, at a stage where the Beatles were conquering the world, John and George both stood back and let the dynamics flow. The boys had learned, quite early in their professional recording careers, to bring the hooks to the fore. They'd also learned not to let their musicianship get in the way of making good records.

I Want To Hold Your Hand is one of pop music's all-time masterpieces. Short and concise, it takes you through changes both subtle and obvious. So much can be learned from this song by aspiring songwriters/ arrangers/producers.

1963, Beatles style, was nothing short of great fun for everyone. They were having fun recording and we were having fun listening and watching. How could it get better than "With the Beatles"? Aside from their ability to get a better sound using a four track recorder, it probably couldn't.

 

Technical notes for 1963

Beginning with their debut recordings at EMI through April of 1963, Paul played his Hofner 500/1 bass through a Quad II/22 amp and a speaker cabinet with a 15" speaker nicknamed the Coffin. In April, he used a Vox T-60 (60 watt) solid state amp going into a cabinet with 12" and 15" speakers. The amp gave him fits, breaking down frequently so before the recording of With the Beatles, he replaced it with a Vox AC-50 amp.

In late September, McCartney picked up another Hofner 500/1 bass with a difference to his old one.. The pickups are further apart than his old one which would allow him a wider array of tones from high to low.

Paul - early
                          hofner
Later hofner
Paul modeling his earlier Hofner...

...and here with the one he picked up in Sept. 63.

 

Notice the difference in pickup location. The one on the left will not pass as much diversity of tone as the other.

 

Finally (for 1963), he got new Vox amplificatiohn: an AC-100 (100 watt amp) and a speaker cabinet with 2 15" speakers. Seems like he really improved his amplification but the amazing thing is that he was ever heard with 100 watts in the huge places they were getting ready to play in.

(Note: this and all subsequent information on his basses and amp/speaker combinations is thanks to the excellent book "Paul McCartney - playing the great beatles basslines" by Tony Bacon and Gareth Morgan. Bacon and Morgan provide some very good insights into Paul's bassplaying.)

I Want to Hold Your Hand was recorded on October 17, 1963 and it was a milestone for the Beatles in that it was the first day they had use of a four track recorder in the studio. While having only four tracks seems silly now, it was a huge jump for the engineers at Abbey Road studios. It allowed them much more flexibility with recording and the general consensus is that the EMI engineers were amongst the best at using the four tracks to the fullest. With the old two-track machine, the Beatles had to play their instruments (and usually sing) live. All the instruments were recorded on to one track as a rule and all vocals onto the other. This meant there was no ability to mix the level of the various instruments up or down. If the Beatles did their take and left and it was learned later that the guitar was too loud, then that was what they had to live with. With four tracks now, they could record the instruments separately onto more tracks.

Can you imagine how good With The Beatles could have sounded if it were recorded on four tracks?! It wasn't too long after this that Les Paul developed an eight track recording machine but the Beatles wouldn't have use of one until the white album in 1968.

 

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