"Please Please Me" is the second single released by the The Beatles in the UK, and the first to be issued in the US. It was also the title track of their first LP, which was recorded to capitalise on the success of the single. It was originally a John Lennon composition, although its ultimate form was significantly influenced by George Martin.
It has long been a point of contention as to whether the song should be regarded as the Beatles' first #1. At the time there were several record charts published in the UK, and the song reached #1 on all of them except Record Retailer - whose charts are those now used historically by The Official UK Charts Company.
The single, as initially released with "Ask Me Why" on the B-side, failed to make much impact in the U.S., but when re-released there on 3 January 1964 (this time with "From Me to You" on the B-side) it reached #3 in the US Hot 100.
John Lennon first conceived "Please Please Me" as a bluesy, slow tempo song. Lennon recalled: "I remember the day I wrote it, I heard Roy Orbison doing "Only The Lonely," or something. And I was also always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, "Please lend a little ear to my pleas". The double use of the word "please". So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby". Originally, it was vocally sparse, it did not contain any harmonies or responses, and nor did it have the scaled harmonica intro. George Martin first heard it at the "Love Me Do" re-make session on 11 September and, in his opinion, it "badly needed pepping up" and asked the Beatles to consider making major changes to it, including increasing its tempo. By the time it was brought back into the studio on 26 November 1962, its arrangement had been radically altered, and it took 18 takes to record what George Martin immediately predicted would be their first major hit.
Lennon's harmonica playing features prominently and, similar to other early Beatles compositions such as "Love Me Do" and "From Me to You", opens the song. Paul McCartney and John Lennon initially share the vocals with McCartney holding a high note while Lennon drops down through the scale, a ploy they learnt from the Everly Brothers UK hit song "Cathy's Clown" (April 1960). McCartney said: "I did the trick of remaining on the high note while the melody cascaded down from it". Ringo Starr asserts himself, exorcising any lingering doubts from the "Love Me Do" sessions regarding his ability. Where "Love Me Do" had been arguably parochial, relying to a large extent on their existing home fans for support "Please Please Me" would be groundbreaking, especially as the Beatles were now back in the UK and able to appear on influential national television shows such as Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Dick Biondi, a disc jockey on WLS in Chicago and a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, played the song on the radio, perhaps as early as 8 February, 1963, thus becoming the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the United States. Art Roberts, legendary DJ and Music Director at the time tells how the record came to be played first at the station: "Let me tell you the story of "Please Please Me". The record was released on the Vee-Jay label. It was a local Chicago recording company. The owner, Ewart Abner, brought a copy of the record to W. L. S. I was the music director at the time and listened to his story about a group, and looked at pictures in teen magazines he brought back from England. I figured, what if this group would get as popular in the United States as they were in England and Europe. So I added the record to the list." "Please Please Me" peaked at #35 on 15 March after four weeks on its "Silver Dollar Survey" chart. But the song did not chart on any of the major national American surveys.
The first pressings of the Vee-Jay single, which was assigned the catalog number 498, featured a typographical error: The band's name was spelled "The Beattles" with two T's.. Later copies of the single corrected the typo. Also, unlike on the UK Parlophone edition, the composers on the Vee-Jay edition were credited as "J. Lennon-P. McCartney" on both sides. Except in Chicago, the record was a flop, as it sold approximately 7,310 copies. Today, copies of Vee-Jay 498, whether with the incorrect or correct spelling of the Beatles on the label, are valuable collector's items.
This time, "Please Please Me" was a massive hit, eventually peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending 14 March, 1964, trailing only "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You". It was one of the songs that comprised the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 of 4 April, when the Beatles held the top five spots.
Because Vee-Jay wanted to get as many copies of the record pressed as quickly as possible, it did not insist on uniformity from one pressing plant to another. As a result, a dizzying number of label variations exist. Some of these added a comma to the song title, rendering it as "Please, Please Me". Additionally, some copies of the record were issued with a picture sleeve. Early promotional copies had a special sleeve proclaiming "Please Please Me" as "The Record That Started Beatlemania". The text on the sleeve noted that the Beatles had just appeared on Paar's program and were scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in February. This sleeve is considered to be extremely rare.
At least 1.1 million copies of "Please Please Me" were sold the second time. If Vee-Jay had been a member of the RIAA, the single would have been eligible to be certified gold.
"Please Please Me" is cited as the "first real oral sex pop song" in Tim Riley's 1999 book about the Beatles' discography. He credits two Beatles-era writers for the first such observation, Robert Christgau, and John Piccarella. Riley also notes the lyric's (call and responses) "c'mon, c'mon," and points out the song "closes the side [of the album] ignoring the conventional practice of putting the hit up front, and fleshing out the album with weaker material."