Chart stars past and present are attempting to recapture 10 hours which shook the world as they emulate the recording of the Beatles Please Please Me to mark its 50th anniversary.
In one mammoth recording session – the productivity of which would put some sluggish or perfectionist bands to shame – the Fab Four recorded almost their entire debut album.
In the space of just 585 minutes, which some bands may take to perfect the sound of a snare drum, the group recorded 10 tracks for the LP, as well as a leftover which was revamped for their next album.
BBC Radio 2 is celebrating the historic breakneck work rate which took place on February 11, 1963, by inviting a group of stars to work on one track each during a live broadcast throughout the day from Abbey Road’s Studio 2. Figures such as Mick Hucknall, Stereophonics, Gabrielle Aplin and I Am Kloot will be putting their own spin on the songs the Beatles recorded.
The original recording saw the band playing live renditions – save for a few false starts and mistakes – of the songs which formed the core of their shows, with little in the way of overdubs in the way bands record layers of instruments today.
The final track of the day Twist And Shout – held back to the end because of fears that John Lennon’s already ailing voice could be wrecked if it was played any earlier – was captured in one take. When Lennon, singing topless at the climax of the session, had tried again he could barely sing so they stuck with what they had.
“Trying for a second take, Lennon found he had nothing left and the session stopped there and then – but the atmosphere was still crackling,” wrote Ian MacDonald, the late chronicler of Beatles recordings. “Nothing of that intensity had ever been recorded in a British pop studio.”
The album could have been so different, with the band finding a degree of recognition on the back of their first single Love Me Do, producer and label boss George Martin had toyed with trying to capture their stage show by making a live album at the Cavern Club, but the plan was dropped.
Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr already had four useable tracks – singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me, plus the B-sides – and needed 10 more to make up an album so a lot was earmarked for the session at Abbey Road.
Their hectic schedule – 30 performances in February (which has only 28 days), including a tour with Helen Shapiro, plus a radio and TV show – meant time was tight. With Lennon nursing a cold with tea, milk, cigarettes and Zubes lozenges, the group set to work at 10am, nailing the first song There’s A Place in 13 takes. Although just two three-hour periods were booked for the recording, the band added a third which ended at 10.45pm, as Twist And Shout came to its conclusion.
Labours of love
February 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the famous session in which The Beatles recorded almost their entire debut album in the space of less than ten hours. But the recording process is not always quite so straightforward. Here are some bands who have laboured a little longer over their albums:
:: Guns N’Roses – By the time Chinese Democracy was released in late 2008, the band – with only frontman Axl Rose remaining from the group’s original line-up – had put 11 years of work into it, with one version of it scrapped in 2000. Fans had waited 15 years since the previous album The Spaghetti Incident? and recording costs are estimated to have spiralled to more than £8 million – a far cry from the £400 cost of The Beatles’ Please Please Me session.
:: My Bloody Valentine – The quartet’s latest album MBV, released a little over a week ago, has been 20 years in the making. The ear-pummelling cult group began working on a follow-up to 1991’s Loveless shortly after it came out, but years of work on and off yielded next to nothing and an entire album was apparently canned at one stage. The group drifted apart to work with other people but came together for live shows in 2008 and surprised fans in November last year with an online announcement that an album was imminent.
:: Metallica – Not quite decades in the making, but the gestation of eighth album St Anger appeared interminable due to the long difficult recording process being captured in a documentary Some Kind Of Monster. Setbacks included the bass player leaving at the start of the process and then work halted indefinitely as singer/guitarist James Hetfield went into rehab. When recording proper began he was allowed to be in the studio just four hours a day, and bizarrely the heavy metal act hired a “performance enhancement coach” who accompanied them in the studio. The actual recording took a full year.
:: The Stone Roses – After the release of the band’s debut in 1989, they had the world at their feet. Massive shows like Spike Island showed they had a colossal devoted fanbase eager to hear what they did next, but legal wrangles and inertia meant recording did not begin until 1993 and after an apparent 347 days of recording, their funky grooves and quirky psychedelia had given way to noodling rock riffs when The Second coming emerged in December 1994. It gave them their biggest chart hit Love Spreads but it was not a patch on its predecessor.
:: Kate Bush – When her album Aerial emerged in 2005, it had been a 12-year gap since previous release The Red Shoes. Bush had been working away in the intervening years on perfecting her songs as well as bringing up her son Bertie. The five-and-half-year gap to her next album The Director’s Cut in mid-2011, seemed quite short in comparison and fans must have been pinching themselves when a whole album of new material 50 Words For Snow was released only six months after that.