After the success of second single Please Please Me, “the Beatles rushed to deliver a debut album, bashing out [the album of the same title] in a day” (Erlewine) – “12 tracks…on February 11, 1963” (CdUniverse.com) at “Abbey Road Studios, London, England” (CdUniverse.com). The music is “raw and rough” (Nickson) “yet dazzling” (CdUniverse.com) “and still very rock & roll” (Nickson). “Here were four lads, highly experienced on stage, but with little or no idea of what a recording studio was like. They were subtly marshalled by the much-respected George Martin to deliver an entire album that was exactly what the fans wanted, but was still a surprise” (CdUniverse.com). Even “decades after its release, the album still sounds fresh, precisely because of its intense origins” (Erlewine).
“There is an innocence to Please Please Me” (Erlewine) as the Beatles display an “unfettered joy at making music” (Pond). “The Beatles may have played notoriously rough dives in Hamburg, but the only way you could tell that on their first album was how the constant gigging turned the group into a tight, professional band that could run through their set list at the drop of a hat with boundless energy” (Erlewine). “The band worked hard…as hard as anybody in rock & roll, but the playing sounds natural, easy, enormously potent but completely unforced” (Pond).
“Their debut doesn't deviate in terms of structure from the norm of the day…so you get a couple of hits, a few covers and some filler” (Denning). Unlike many bands of the day, though, The Beatles dug into some “eclectic influences” (Erlewine), “all of which are unconventional and illustrate the group's superior taste. There's a love of girl groups, vocal harmonies, sophisticated popcraft, schmaltz, R&B, and hard-driving rock & roll” (Erlewine).
Most notable of the covers was Twist and Shout, a #2 hit in the U.S. in early ’64 and again 22 years later on the strength of appearances in the movies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to School. As “the last song to be recorded” (CdUniverse.com) for the album, it is “the most famous single-take in rock history” (Erlewine). “Lennon had shouted himself hoarse by the end of the session, barely getting through” (Erlewine).
A Taste of Honey also proved itself a worthy cover. “Paul McCartney delivered a heartfelt rendition of the vocal lines while the whole band created a truly wonderful vibe behind it…It…seems like a slow shuffle rather than a rock song, and as such would never be touched by any self-respecting classic rock radio station. Too bad - it's one of the best tracks on the disc” (Thelen).
Anna fit “into 'filler' territory” (Denning). It is, however, “easy to see the appeal [it] must have had at the time; more mentions of girls and, therefore, romantic mystique is created” (Denning).
“Starr's ace vocal on Boys” (CdUniverse.com) fails to lift it above “standard Rock N Roll stuff, but Ringo does sing this with verve and style” (Denning).
More filler comes in the form of covers of Baby It's You, originally by “Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and Chains, by Carole King & Gerry Goffin. While penned by classic songwriting teams, ‘Baby It’s You’ is merely a ”ballad with good vocals but not the stuff of legends” (Denning) while ‘Chains’ is “hardly the greatest song ever written or known to man” (Denning).
The original material on the album follows a similar path; some of it is classic stuff while other songs are mere filler. Even from the start, ”Lennon and McCartney begin to flex their writing muscles” (Nickson). Their very first British hit was Love Me Do, the first taste the world got of the songwriting duo. The song originally peaked at #17 in 1962, but climbed all the way to #4 upon a 20th anniversary re-release.
The next single was the title song, which is “a wonderful song, plain and simple, with the guitar following the vocal line acting as a kind of fanfare, and then we have the chorus of course - 'Come on, COME ON!'” (Denning). That song would soar all the way to #2 in the UK charts – it would be followed by an astonishing 17 #1 songs.
One of Lennon/McCartney’s best efforts is the strong album opener I Saw Her Standing There, “with thanks to Little Richard” (Nickson). Lyrically, the song “is very much boy/girl, teenage romance kind of stuff - well worn themes” (Denning). However, it features “McCartney's graceful ease in singing” (CdUniverse.com) and “is one of their best rockers, yet it has surprising harmonies and melodic progressions” (Erlewine).
“The pleasantly light P.S. I Love You” (Erlewine) “is a sweet ballad and a decent song that Paul sings well” (Denning). It “switches the shuffle out for an almost Latin backbeat which is nailed perfectly…it deserves more than to be relegated to the back of the vast Beatles discography” (Thelen). That song and “Do You Want to Know a Secret…have dated slightly, but endearingly so, since they're infused with cheerful innocence and enthusiasm” (Erlewine).
Lesser tracks “Misery and There's a Place grow out of the girl group tradition without being tied to it” (Erlewine) while “Ask Me Why is a sweet Fifties style love song with some nice harmonies” (Denning).
While the ‘filler’ songs “don't have the kind of snap that the casual fan has all but come to expect from…the Beatles brand name” (Thelen), ”there's plenty on this disc to celebrate” (Thelen). “One can't forget this was a first effort and to…compare this…with their later masterpieces is like comparing a Picasso to something he drew when he was a toddler” (Thelen). The ”time-honored favorites…may seem [overplayed, but] have held up extraordinarily well over time, and still are enjoyable to listen to, especially with the harmony vocals that The Beatles knew how to execute to perfection” (Thelen). “Things were never as simple as this again” (CdUniverse.com) for The Beatles. This was “a small step for four men, a giant leap for music” (Nickson).