It was 55 years ago tonight (February 11th, 1964) that the Beatles played their first American concert, in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Coliseum, in front of 8,092 screaming fans. The group performed in the round, and after every three songs the group and their roadies would switch their equipment to face another side of the audience. Portions of the concert are available on the DVD The Beatles' First U.S. Visit.
The group's set list that night was: “Roll Over Beethoven,” “From Me To You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “This Boy,” “All My Loving,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Please Please Me,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Twist And Shout,” and “Long Tall Sally.”
The late-filmmaker Albert Maysles, who shot the documentary with his brother David, told us that the DVD really captures what was going on at the time: “The film holds up as being totally truthful and authentic. We didn't slight them in any fashion, nor did we create a puff piece. I'm sure that those who were alive, and those who knew the film and saw it — I mean, the Beatles, all of them — felt that, 'Yeah, this is what it was.'”
Jonathan Gould, the author of the groundbreaking Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, And America, feels that the Beatles landing in America less than three months after President John F. Kennedy's assassination only helped to endear them more to a mourning nation: “I think there's an extent to which nobody in America understood how affected everybody was by the Kennedy assassination. For many people who lived through that time, they can say, 'Well that's when everything seemed to change,' or 'That's when the '60s as a kind of dynamic force seemed to begin for some people in their lives.' And then a few months later, suddenly this other thing comes along. That sense of revelation that people had when they first saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was really the first time they saw the Beatles animated.”
ONE YEAR EARLIER — ON FEBRUARY 11th, 1963. . .
It was 56 years ago today (February 11th, 1963), that the Beatles recorded their first album, Please Please Me, in just under 10 hours. The album also featured both sides of their first two singles — “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You,” and “Please Please Me”/”Ask Me Why,” which had been recorded the previous autumn. The session for the album began at 10 a.m. at London's Abbey Road's Studio Two — the main studio the group would use for the next eight years — with 10 takes of the John Lennon-Paul McCartney original, “There's A Place.”
Over the course of the day the group basically performed their stage show as the tapes rolled, recording future Beatles classics like “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” and “Twist And Shout.” The group's recording engineer Richard Langham recalled the session in Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles' Recording Sessions book. He remembered that when producer George Martin and the other engineers announced that they were taking a lunch break, the Beatles chose to stay and rehearse, revealing that, “When we came back they'd been playing right through. We couldn't believe it. We had never seen a group work through their lunch break before.”
The tracklisting to Please Please Me is: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Misery,” “Anna (Go To Him),” “Chains,” “Boys,” “Ask Me Why,” “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Baby It's You,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “A Taste Of Honey,” “There's A Place,” and “Twist and Shout.”
The late, great Geoff Emerick, who worked with the Beatles throughout their career and became their primary engineer with 1966's Revolver album first met the “Fab Four” in 1962 during his second day on the job, while the group was recording their debut single, “Love Me Do.” He told us that he was immediately struck by how unique their humor and personalities were: “They were down in the studio. 'Cause it was the second day that I had been there. And I just liked the vibe, y'know the happy vibe. It was completely different, because it's like their attitude was against the establishment — although (producer) George Martin had some decorum within the control room, an air of decorum. And it's like these kids down in the studio clowning around, y'know?”
The sessions only produced one outtake — 13 takes of an early attempt at Lennon-McCartney's “Hold Me Tight” which was re-recorded later that year for their second album, With The Beatles.
George Martin originally wanted to name the album Off The Beatle Track, but it was decided that it would help sales by naming the album after their current hit single. Martin went on to use the name for his 1964 instrumental album of Beatles hits.
Please Please Me was released on March 22nd, 1963, and entered the British charts at Number Nine. After seven weeks it hit the Number One spot, where it stayed for 29 weeks.
The American version of the album, called Introducing The Beatles, was originally released in the U.S. on July 22nd 1963 — and went nowhere. It was re-issued on January 27th 1964 and peaked at Number Two for nine weeks behind the group's breakthrough Capitol album Meet The Beatles.
Although original drummer Pete Best was on hand for the Beatles' June 6th, 1962 audition for EMI, he was replaced by Ringo Starr 17 days before their first official session for the label. Best, who says that he has had no substantial contact with any of the Beatles since the night before he was fired, feels that Starr walked into a much cushier job than he did upon joining the Beatles: “Y'know, when you think about it, the first trip out to Hamburg, (Germany), we were playing six, seven hours a night. And I think actually, when (laughs) Ringo joined they were playing 20 minutes, half-an-hour sessions, or something like that. So, I did a lot of the spade work, put the long hours in and he was the one who picked up the glory.”
During his final in-depth TV interview in 1975 on NBC's Tomorrow Show, John Lennon explained that a major part of his and the Beatles' allure was the fact that they were never ashamed of their Liverpool roots: “We were the first working class singers that stayed working class, and pronounced it. 'Didn't try to change our accents, which in England were looked down upon — probably still are — like a Bronx accent, it's the equivalent to that.”