Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Off the Beatle Track" The Debut

February 11 1963 was the day in the life of the Beatles' debut LP career. Little did anyone know that this would be the beginning of a recording career that would change many lives, provide the soundtrack for millions of music fans and basically change the music world and the current prelevant attitude of a generation.
It all started with the idea of the record label EMI "cashing in" on the a previous top ten single entitled "Please Please Me" written by a couple of guys in a band from Liverpool who just happened to have sped up a slower "Roy Orbison" type ditty into a nation wide hit single. Mainly written by Lennon, the original idea was taken from the Bing Crosby influenced "Please listen to my Pleas" and twirled around to ambiguously distorting the meaning of the word "Please" similar to the latter. It was typical Lennon word play and it worked in their favour. The naughty innuendo not withstanding, it was very creative and showed an originality that would place this band from Liverpool deep into the 60s creative juices from an early standpoint.
The debut LP contained not only the top ten single, but also contained the debut single entitled "Love Me Do" written mainly by Paul McCartney and featured a heavy blues motif which made the top twenty upon release (number 17 to be exact). Not bad for a first try with an original composition written by the members of the artists.
Once it had been established that both singles were successful, it was decided that a hastily made LP be recorded and released before the public decided that they were nothing but a flash in the pan and resorted to searching for greener pastures musically.
So....all this to say that the very first Beatles LP/CD was recorded in 585 minutes or closer to approximately 10 hours. Think about it: 10 hours to record 10 songs (there were 14 on the album: 10 songs and the two singles along with their respective B sides).
The line up of instruments and the players remained the same throughout. John Lennon on guitar, George Harrison on guitar, Paul McCartney on bass and Ringo Starr on drums. No real changes on this LP. All songs were recorded live off the floor with no major overdubs - the exception being vocals now and then and harmonica and piano. Apart from that; it was a live performance all the way. Incredible. Oh, by the way, John Lennon was suffering from a major cold affecting his voice.
There was talk of recording the Beatles live at the Cavern Club in Liverpool at one point but logistics stood in the way. I think the studio work was a much better option as the sound is cleaner and much more professional than if the work would have been live in concert. The technology and the equipment available at EMI was pretty well state of the art in England in those days and I think the sound and instrumental clarity benefits from being in a professional recording studio.
The LP is done using two track technology. This, of course, limited the band's ability to expand into experimentation but it's a moot point at this stage in their career. I'm assuming that the whole point of the LP was to prove to the record buying public that this band could do more than just write a couple of catchy tunes and be successful at it. The Beatles (at this point) were basically playing live and working eight days a week and had amassed an amazingly huge repertoire of not only original, but cover, tunes that were played in the dance halls and jive palais of the era. Just witness their earlier BBC work and thier endless German Hamburg engagements.
It's February 11/ 63: Ringo Starr had only been the official drummer for the Beatles less than seven months. It had only been eight months since the very first EMI audition with Peter Best. "Love Me Do" had been released in October the previous year: four months before the debut LP recording sessions.
The recording was produced by George Martin and engineered by Norman Smith (Richard Langham was the tape operator).
The iconic front cover photo was by Angus McBean: In 2006, as I was touring London, the staircase at EMI house (where the photo was taken) had been torn down but they had saved the platform of the staircase where the original photo had been taken. My tour guide (Richard Porter) had mentioned that the Sex Pistols had shown interest in having their portraits taken on the same platform. I haven't seen it but it's known to exist. George Martin had suggested the title "Off the Beatle Track" for the LP but it was rejected.
The back cover identifies the members of the band along with what instruments they play and also contains the liner notes by Tony Barrow.
The LP was released March 22 1963 on the black/gold Parlophone label in the UK. Most of the original reels still exist at Abbey Road and they are available on the "Unsurpassed Masters", "Ultra Rare Trax", "Alternate Please Please Me", etc.....bootleg recordings.

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