11 February 1963 - a truly historic day

Quoted from Recording Sessions: p.24-26

Monday 11 February. Studio Two: 10.00am-1.00pm. Recording: 'There's A Place' (takes 1-10); 'Seventeen' (working title of 'I Saw Her Standing There') (takes 1-9). Studio Two: 2 .30-6.00pm. Recording: 'A Taste Of Honey' (takes 1-5); 'Do You Want To Know A Secret' (takes 1-8); 'A Taste Of Honey' (takes 6-7); 'There's A Place' (takes 11-13); 'Seventeen' (working title of 'I Saw Her Standing There') (takes 10-12); 'Misery' (takes 1-11). Studio Two: 7.30-10.45pm. Recording: 'Hold Me Tight' (takes 1-13); 'Anna (Go to Him)' (takes 1-3); 'Boys' (take 1); 'Chains' (takes 1-4); 'Baby It's You' (takes 1-3); 'Twist and Shout' (takes 1-2). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Richard Langham.

There can scarcely have been 585 more productive minutes in the history of recorded music. For in that small space of time, the Beatles recorded all ten new songs for their first long-player. Together with the four sides of their first two singles, a 14-song album was born.

"It was obvious, commercially, that once 'Please Please Me' - the single - had been a success, we should release an LP as soon as possible," says George Martin. "I asked them what they had which we could record quickly, and the answer was their stage act."

The Beatles' stage act was certainly refined by February 1963. As remarkable as it may seem today, the group had been performing live virtually every night, day in, week out, month in, year out, since mid-1960. Nonetheless, only two recording sessions, 10.00am-1.00pm and 2.30-5.30pm, were originally booked for the day, and the third, 7.30-10.45pm, was only added later. Provided their voices could hold out, George Martin calculated, the group should just about be able to record ten tracks in less than ten hours.

It was a close run thing. The group was not exactly at the peak of physical condition before the day even started, having worked up and down the country through one of the coldest British winters on record. John Lennon had a particularly heavy cold, clearly indicated by his between-takes chatter on the preserved session tapes. So how did they keep going? Norman Smith remembers. "They had a big glass jar of Zubes throat sweets on top of the piano, rather like the ones you see in a sweet shop. Paradoxically, by the side of that, was a big carton of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes which they smoked incessantly."

Only two songs - both McCartney/Lennon compositions - were attempted in the morning session, 'There's A Place' (John lead vocal) and 'Seventeen' (Paul lead vocal), the latter being the working title of 'I Saw Her Standing There', the pulsating song later selected as the LP opener.

The clock had soon moved around to lunchtime, but the Beatles had other thoughts. "We told them we were having a break," recalls second engineer Richard Langham, "but they said they would like to stay on and rehearse. So while George, Norman and I went round the corner to the Heroes of Alma pub for a pie and pint they stayed, drinking milk. When we came back they'd been playing right through. We couldn't believe it. We had never seen a group work right through their lunch break before."

The afternoon began with Paul singing 'A Taste Of Honey' , a song from the 1960 play of the same name. This required him to double-track his vocal (superimpose one recording onto another, slightly out of synchronisation, to produce a fuller sound), take seven onto take five, the only time this was done on the LP. This completed, George took lead vocal on the McCartney/Lennon number 'Do You Want To Know A Secret', the best version - take eight - being a superimposition take of the harmony vocal and two drum sticks being tapped together, onto take six. (The song was later 'given' by the songwriters to another Brian Epstein act, Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas, who recorded it at Abbey Road during their debut session on 14 March 1963 and took it to number one in the charts.) After more work on 'There's A Place' (overdubbing harmonica onto take ten) and 'Seventeen' (overdubbing handclapping onto take one) the Beatles taped 'Misery', a song John and Paul had written for Helen Shapiro to record (which she never did), the two songwriters sharing lead vocal. This was recorded at 30 ips (the studio's normal tape speed was 15 ips) to facilitate easier superimposition of piano at a later date.

Things progressed even more quickly in the evening. Paul sang lead vocal on his composition 'Hold Me Tight' , recorded in 13 takes, though only two were complete versions. There were five false starts and one breakdown (an aborted take, owing to an error) and four attempts at recording an edit piece (a short burst to be edited in at a later time). In the end, it was decided that a master version could be edited together from takes 9 and 13, but documentation shows that this was never done. When the LP running order was worked out 'Hold Me Tight' was surplus to requirements and the song was left unreleased. It will always remain that way too, for the tape no longer exists. However, the Beatles later taped a re-make of the song which does appear on their second LP.

After this the Beatles ripped through five cover versions of other artists' material. John sang lead vocal on Arthur Alexander's 'Anna (Go To Him)', recorded in three takes. Ringo took lead vocal for the first time in the recording studio on the Shirelles' 'Boys' , recorded in just one take, although, because the song required a faded ending, this was done at the remix stage, on 25 February. Then John, Paul and George shared the vocals on 'Chains', a minor, contemporary hit for the Cookies, penned by the Brill Building team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, very inspirational to John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their formative songwriting years. This was captured in four takes although the best was take one and again it was left to be given a faded ending at the remix stage. Following this, in three takes, John sang the Shirelles' 'Baby It's You'.

It was now something like 10.00pm and the studios were due to close down for the evening. But there was one more song to be recorded. Everybody went down to the Abbey Road canteen for coffee, biscuits and a 'discussion on what the final song might be. Several were considered, and a few friendly arguments broke out. Norman Smith remembers what happened next. "Someone suggested they do 'Twist And Shout', the old Isley Brothers' number, with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were tired and sore - it was 12 hours since we had started working. John's, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right first time, the Beatles on the studio floor and us in the control room. John sucked a couple more Zubes, had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went."

What John sang on that first take is what you hear today on record, arguably the most stunning rock and roll vocal and instrumental performance of all time; two-and-a-half minutes of Lennon shredding his vocal cords to bits, audibly ending with a hefty sigh cum groan of relief. It was gone 10.30pm, and the Beatles had completed their first album. The recording of 'Twist And Shout' had a marked effect on those in the control room, which in studio two is set up high and reached by climbing 20 wooden stairs. Richard Langham recalls "I was ready to jump up and down when I heard them singing that. It was an amazing demonstration." And Cris Neal, who had unofficially popped into the control room to watch the proceedings, has a very definite recollection. "John was stripped to the waist to do this most amazingly raucous vocal. The next morning Norman Smith and I took a tape around all the studio copying rooms saying to everybody 'What the hell do you think of this!' " And George Martin was heard to say "I don't know how they do it. We've been recording all day but the longer we go on the better they get. "

Popular myth has the Beatles performing only one take of the song, but infallible studio documentation ¬written simultaneously to the event - proves that this is not so. They did two, and the second one was complete, not a false start or a breakdown. George Martin concurs. "I did try a second take of 'Twist And Shout' but John's voice had gone." Afterwards, everyone trooped upstairs to hear a playback. "Sessions never normally over-ran past 10.00pm," recalls Richard Langham. "At 10.05 you'd meet half the musicians on the platform of St. John's Wood station, going home. But on this occasion after the first playback they decided they wanted to hear certain songs again. I glanced at Norman and at the clock and said 'Look, I have to be in at nine tomorrow morning, how will I get home?' Brian Epstein said that he would run me home if I played the tape again. So I played the tape and he drove me back to Camden Town in his little Ford Anglia."

Many folk believe that the Beatles also recorded a version of Little Eva's 'Keep Your Hands Off My Baby' during the LP sessions, as reported in the New Musical Express edition of 22 February 1963. But the complete set of the day's recording sheets still exist and the song is not mentioned.

Posted: 11 mar 2012