For someone of my vintage this is probably a fairly obvious choice for one of my #SaturdaySongs memories. But I’m not apologising for that: this was the first UK top ten hit by the Beatles, and the way it stormed into the British consciousness – and then the world – was unheard of before then. I would argue that despite there having been many artists who have since sold records by the truckload, the way for them to do this was paved by the Beatles. They weren’t the first major pop music act, but the floodgates opened on the back of their popularity.
Let me take you back to when the song was released. This was on 11 January 1963 and, a week later, I along with probably most of the UK population saw them perform it on the TV programme Thank Your Lucky Stars. At the time, the UK was two weeks into the worst winter we have had in my lifetime: it started to snow on Boxing Day, 26 December 1962, and we didn’t see the ground again until three months later, in March. Transport networks were less plentiful than today in any case, but those that we had were paralysed by the severe weather, so we had little else to do other than stay indoors and entertain ourselves as best we could. I do remember that the school bus managed to run most days though – there’s no justice in life, is there!
I was 9 at this time, and had been interested in pop music for a year or two, but the Beatles were an eye-opener. In those days our exposure to pop was on a much smaller scale than today. In the UK we only had 2 TV channels, which had very little in the way of pop music programmes, and the BBC’s national radio networks weren’t really geared up to younger audiences. The only commercial radio station available to us was Radio Luxembourg, which was so difficult to pick up that you had to be really dedicated to persevere with it – and when you finally did manage to tune in, it was like listening to music being broadcast from another galaxy, transmitted through a high-powered wind tunnel. But it was all we had, and we listened in our droves. The national UK broadcasters gave us the occasional pop artist as a guest on the variety shows which were popular at the time with our parents and other assorted oldies: you know the sort of thing, an awful comedian, a magic act usually involving a few doves, ‘comedy’ acrobats and jugglers, songs from the musicals performed by people we’d never heard of, the hideously racist and patronising Black And White Minstrel Show. And now and then, we’d get a pop artist.
Prior to the Beatles this would be the likes of Cliff Richard or John Leyton. It’s a surprise that I ever got interested in music, really, after an introduction like that! The radio stations were no better: the BBC had three networks, only one of which – the Light Programme – played popular music, and even then it was usually cover versions by the in-house orchestra rather than proper records. The long-running Top Of The Pops TV show was nearly a year away (it started on 1 January 1964) and the BBC didn’t reorganise its radio networks until 1967, after the runaway popularity of pirate stations, which began broadcasting from rusting old boats in the seas off the UK shore, around 1963-4 I think.
Here’s today’s song:
The sound and video quality has degraded a little over the 50+ years since then, but I wanted to share a live version to give you an idea of the kind of hysteria that the Beatles generated, if you weren’t around in those days. Please Please Me was the Beatles’ second single in the UK, after Love Me Do reached no.17 in autumn 1962. It reached no.2, and led the way for a string of UK and worldwide number ones, starting with From Me To You, its follow up. Whenever I hear this I’m transported back to those magical days of my childhood, to the times when my little sister and I used to play and sing along, using our toy tennis rackets as guitars, and were convinced that we sounded far better than the BBC’s anonymous concert orchestra singers. With hindsight I doubt that we did, but we were living a dream, and that is one of the wonderful things about music, and why I have chosen this song this week. I hope it brings back memories for you, too.