Friday, May 14, 2010

Sonic Signatures: Please Please Me

After 20-plus years of listening to The Beatles, I've realized that nearly every song of theirs has at least one "signature spot" that was burned itself into my memory. It might be a spontaneous vocal ad-lib, a quick guitar line, a particular drum fill, or an anomaly of some sort, but there's always something. There's always that one part in the song that I look forward to hearing, whatever song it might be (yes, even including "Revolution 9").

And so, from me to you, I want to share those particular little moments, one album at a time. Each sound clip will only be a few seconds long, but I've strung them all together into one mp3 file for ease of use.

Here, then, are my special "signature spots" on the Please Please Me album (the sound file has been "doctored" in some places to bring out the parts I'm referring to, which may have been buried in the final mix).

I Saw Her Standing There - This whole song is just one big explosion of hyperactivity, and I love all of it, but the part I always listen for is the spot during George's guitar solo when he interrupts the one-note pattern just long enough to throw in a two-note "clang". I don't know why, I just really like those few seconds.

Misery - On the last time through the last verse, John and Paul sing, "send her back to me," but Paul (at least, I think it's Paul and not John) slurs it up a bit and sings what sounds more like "shend" than "send."

Anna - On the repeat of the last verse, John sings, "give back your ring to me," and I just really like the vocal resonance he gets on the word "me." It's piercing.

Chains - When George sings the word "darling," there's a bit of a hard, Scoused-up "g" on the end. I like that; a little bit of Liverpool to remind me where the lads come from.

Boys - While Ringo is hammering away at the vocal, Paul keeps throwing in these wild and crazy off-mic screams, such as the one in this clip. He almost steals the show from Ringo, I think.

Ask Me Why - When John sings the words, "makes me cry," his voice just splatters all over the place on the word "cry." This always makes me laugh; it's very endearing to me, because I know John was fighting through a cold when he recorded this, and there was no time to fix it, but you know what? It's unique, and there's no way it could ever be reproduced in exactly the same way, ever again. I also love his sudden leap to falsetto on the line, "feel bluuuuue-woo!" I never saw it coming the first time I heard this song, and every time I've heard it since, it's always had that little sparkle of surprise for me.

Please Please Me - On the final verse, John and Paul are supposed to be jointly singing the words, "I know you never even try, girl." Paul gets it right; John, however, starts singing something that sounds like, "Why no I never ..." That's fun all by itself, but what takes the cake is when John sings the subsequent, "Come on!", and you can hear him half-chuckle/half-sing the word "come." Always puts a smile on my face.

Love Me Do - I'll admit it, I don't really like this song, mostly because it's so simplistic, and I know J&P were capable of better writing than this. However, there is a moment at the end, when Paul cuts loose on the vocal ad-lib, and in that moment, the bland and generic "skiffle" facade of this song gives way to just a wee bit of what I call "Beatle-Light."

PS I Love You - Much like the previous song, I most enjoy the part in this vocal when Paul does his ad-lib through the verse; for me, this is the essence of The Beatles in the studio, this kind of off-the-cuff, live musical spontaneity.

Baby It's You - I can't explain this, but I've just always liked John's cheeky little "cheat, cheat" line, followed by the breathless "never-never-never-ever been true" - I always hold my own breath just a little bit on that last line, because I'm never quite sure if he's going to recover and catch up with the rest of the band in time.

Do You Want to Know a Secret - Every time George comes to the line (and it happens three times), "say the words you long to hear, I'm in love with you," he always adds a bit of rasp and growl to the word "I'm." I like the second pass-through the most of the three. It sounds more like a vocal bark, and there's a mild suggestion that he might actually go off the rails of the melody and land out-of-tune.

A Taste of Honey - It's rare to catch Paul making a tonal goof in his vocal work; I think he's got nearly perfect pitch. However, when he scoops down low in this song, on the line, "your's was the kiss," that first note is down in the basement, and he misses the target just enough to raise a smile.

There's a Place - I love, love, love the second part of each verse, when John and Paul's voices come super-close together on the musical scale; both voices are pushing the limit, and their melodic proximity, combined with the strained vocal tone, produces this amazing harmonic tightness - it feels like it might actually break through the speakers and spill out onto the floor.

Twist and Shout - Honestly, this whole song gives me goosebumps. It was the last song they recorded that day, it came after 10 or 11 hours of hard work, it was after-hours in the studio, John's cold-infected voice was completely shot, and they knew they only had one shot - one take - to get this right. So John chugged a carton of milk (which is actually terrible for the singing voice because of all the phlegm it produces), and then he stepped up to the plate and absolutely knocked this song out of the ballpark on the first pitch. There are three spots in the song I like: 1) John's vocal choke-and-spit on "come on and twist a little closer," because he's barely getting those words out; 2) the falsetto "wooo" at the end of the verse, because it's so raw and rasping, he can be forgiven for hitting the note a bit flat; and 3) the final, wheezing shred-out on the last "shake it, shake it, shake it, baby," because it's the last line of the song and John gives it everything he's got, and I can actually hear him gasping for control.

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please please me signatures.mp3 (2049 KB)

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