The Fab Five Hundred and Eighty-Five

At 10 o’clock in the morning on Monday 11 February 1963, four young men began recording their first complete album in the EMI studios at Abbey Road, London. They had begun the Sixties playing in assorted strip clubs in Hamburg, but their guitarist had been deported for lying to the German authorities about his age, and the band’s two lead songwriters were forcibly sent home a short while later for setting fire to a condom in a venue corridor. For the next two years, the band would return periodically to Germany, where they specialised in Predulin-fuelled all-night performances.

In 1962, the band’s bassist dropped out and then died of a brain haemhorrage, and the four remaining artists were signed by Polydor to provide backing for a rock-and-roll guitarist called Tommy Sheridan. They were credited as the ‘Beat Brothers’. In search of a UK recording contract, the Beat Brothers were rejected by Decca, who infamously prophesied that guitar groups were “on their way out”, before their producer signed them to EMI’s Parlophone label. The same producer, one George Martin, complained that the band’s drummer was poor, and so he was replaced by a member of Rory Storm’s ‘Hurricanes’ by the name of Richard Starkey. Starkey went by the name Ringo Starr, and with his arrival in mid-August of 1962, the Beatles in their best-known form were born.

The remainder of 1962 was to prove prolific. The Beatles recorded their first singles in September, with Ringo relegated to a tambourine part for Love Me Do as Martin installed a session drummer instead. In October, Love Me Do peaked at 17 on the Record Retailer chart and the Beatles made their first television appearance on a regional news programme, an audio recording of which has survived.

Please Please Me, the band’s second single, was recorded in December and released in January. Martin predicted it would be the band’s first number 1 single, and he was largely correct. Please Please Me eclipsed all previous success the Beatles had experienced, reaching the number 1 slot on every London chart apart from Record Retailer, which would go on to provide the official figures for the Official Top 40 Chart.

Parlophone were eager to capitalise on what was potentially a brief but profitable flash in the pan. The Beatles had four released recordings – the two singles and their B-sides, P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why. The standard pop LP at the time consisted of seven songs per side, leaving George Martin with ten extra tracks he needed to milk from the band as soon as possible. The easiest option would have been to record the Beatles’ stage act in Liverpool’s Cavern Club, but recording a live album there proved too technical and too expensive. And so the Beatles found themselves in the recording studios at Abbey Road on a Monday morning in February of 1963.

The recording was finished by 10:45pm that evening, less than 13 hours after the Beatles had begun. Martin rather optimistically booked only a morning and an afternoon of studio time, but an evening session was later tacked on. The marathon performance was made more impressive by the fact that John Lennon had a bad cold, recording Twist and Shout last (and in a single take) for fear that the song’s near-screamed vocals would destroy his voice.

Mark Lewisohn would later describe the events of February 11 as among the most productive 585 minutes in the history of recorded music. Lennon and McCartney took a more cynical review, with Lennon crediting their sensational output at the time to a lack of any considered composition. The emphasis was on the creation of a sound; “the words,” added Lennon, “were almost irrelevant”.

The ‘Fab Four’ during a five-day tour of Sweden in October 1963.

The sound proved incredibly popular. The February recordings were released in March 1963 as an LP titled Please Please Me. Most of the songs were released Stateside on various compilation albums, but Please Please Me itself did not see an actual US release until the Beatle’s recordings were reissued on CD many years later.

The Beatles toured the UK three times during the first half of 1963, and released several singles from the album throughout the year. All but one of their subsequent 18 singles, released over the next six years, would reach the top slot in the charts. The increased exposure the Beatles received was both welcomed and deflected with an irreverent humour that was entirely unique amongst pop acts at the time, something in turn birthed an unprecedented phenomenon. The fanbase not only grew, it became frenzied. The band was greeted with mass hysteria – even their audiences on television performances engaged in a shrill kind of demented worship. The delirium was something of an unknown in Great Britain at this point, and has provided a benchmark for celebrity status in the country ever since. Beatlemania had begun, and 1963 would be just the beginning.


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