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A guitarist's look at the Please Please Me Album


The Beatles' first LP is one of my favorites from their early period. Producer George Martin was hoping to capture a "live set" from The Beatles in order to convey to the listener the incredible energy in the band's raw performances, and the original plan was to actual record a live show at The Cavern. Issues with the acoustics at The Cavern prevented this, so Please Please Me was Martin's plan B.

I think the results speak for themselves. The album definitely has a "live in concert" vibe, and the guitar work done by George Harrison and John Lennon is quite sharp.

Here are a few highlights of the album from the viewpoint of a guitarist.

I Saw Her Standing There

This is a straight-forward rocker in E major, with the typical I-IV-V chord moves, as well as an interesting bVI thrown in for good measure. It's really Paul McCartney's moving bass line that makes the song cook, though, so when performing this as a solo piece, I prefer to voice the main chord in this way:



This voicing frees up the index finger to move around the low string and provide a bit of that arpeggiated bass line:



Misery

Another fairly simple song in C major using the I-IV-V progression with the minor vi mixed in, the one area of the song that interests me as a guitarist is mimicking the high piano stabs that occur after the lines "the only one [stab], lonely one [stab]" -- pop some harmonics on the D, G, and B strings at the 12th fret, either by fingering the notes with the left hand, or (as I prefer) slapping the harmonics with the right ring finger.

Ask Me Why

There's one moment in this song that I particularly like playing. It's the transition into the bridge -- "I can't believe it's happened to me" -- where the chord moves from the root E major to an augmented chord:



That extra little bit of color makes all the difference.

The other highlight is the way the song ends on the minor iii7, with a little bit of pinky work to get the lead notes in:



Please Please Me

In the recorded version, John and Paul keep the background rhythm and chords flowing, freeing up George (and John on harmonica, of course) to play the lead descending lick. In solo performance, however, you have to find a way to both at once. I find that using the open bottom E and top two B and E strings as an anchor works well for playing the lead as an octave riff, albeit lower than what George played it:



For the chorus of "come on, come on, come on," using the IV-ii-vi-IV progression, George slips in a chromatic riff on the A string, sliding from the b6 to the natural 6. This can be a trick for the solo performer, sliding those individual notes into chord shapes, so it may be beneficial to bump those notes up an octave to keep the same basic effect:





P.S. I Love You

The most interesting chord progression in the song happens right at the outset, during the introductory chorus. It only happens three times, and then never occurs again the song, which is a shame. The Complete Scores songbook incorrectly identifies the progression as IV-VII°-I, which causes a conflict between the instrumentation and the vocal melody and also leaves out the crucial b3 note in the chord. The Complete Chord Songbook gets it right as a IV-VII7-I progression:



A Taste of Honey

The verses of this cover song use a chromatically descending line that The Beatles would work into their own compositions multiple times, going from the minor to the minor/major-seven and then to the minor-seven chord:



A variation on this movement appears on the very next album in "All My Loving", and John uses it during the bridge of "I'll Be Back."

Twist and Shout

The most basic I-IV-V rock-and-roll progression in D major is suddenly made all the more interesting at the end of the song, when the band closes out the song (and the album) with a chromatic riff that crashes into a D9 chord:




Those are the key moments on the album that stand out to me as a guitarist. What are some of yours? Feel free to mention them in the comments below!

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