Books: Please, Please Me, by Alex Hendler (2012)

Something different was happening. Paul — (John’s) partner, friend, and, yes, sometime rival — whom John felt he knew as well as anybody, yet sometimes feel he didn’t know at all, was with him, on this magic carpet ride, soaring into the rafters of the cavernous Studio Two, trying to blow the roof off this sterile loony bin of a recording studio.

Simply put, Alex Hendler’s evocative and celebratory fact-based fiction e-book Please Please Me salutes and brings into focus a day in the life of the Beatles that was anything but simple. But that particular Monday, February 11, 1963, turned out to be much more than that. Though the fab foursome were in the midst of their first nation-wide package tour — as low men on the promo posters — British success and surging sales of the pure pop confection “Please Please Me” called for a need to strike while the vinyl’s hot.

So, with the group’s embryonic legends looking to loom large, producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein struck — hoping to hit pay dirt; the race to the toppermost by the poppermost (to paraphrase and mangle John’s clarion call to action)! The group was ushered into the studio to record their debut album, also titled Please Please Me, in a marathon frenzy that Hendler deftly and vividly conveys in a well-structured narrative.

The Beatles had a hard day’s night ahead of them to turn out ten songs, an amount roughly equivalent to the number of years between albums from some of today’s artists. For the most part, however, this was road-tested material that included covers of songs written by, for example, Brill Building alumni Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Burt Bacharach with Hal David. But more than that, the album — refreshingly raucous and raw — would showcase such Lennon-McCartney originals as the title song, “Love Me Do,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]

As the Seattle-based Hendler chronicles the episodes and incidents — some familiar to any fan, some that might catch you unawares and wary — he subtly embellishes them with conceivable and feasible renderings. Offering a seamless re-imagining of the proceedings, personalities, and interactions of the principals at hand (including Epstein and Martin), the author may confirm what we pretty much already know, but we never seem to get tired of hearing or reading about the smart Beatle (“Sorry Girls, He’s Married!”), the cute one, the quiet Beatle, and the funny one. Hendler’s insights are embedded in the book’s observations and actions:

“Thank God for Ringo. As a rhythm guitarist, John appreciated the steady beat Ringo laid down. It had made him a better guitar player because Ringo punctuated the little phrases John conjured up, giving his guitar work a little more personality.”

“For ballads, getting it right was particularly important. [Paul’s] posture was good, like a proper English schoolboy, not aggressive but not a pushover either; his look was a dreamy look, radiating a soft, puppy dog. He had learned it from watching Bing Crosby at the cinema.”

“Ah, well. [George would] have a run of it with the Beatles, and when it finally ran its course, maybe then he’d go back to apprentice as an electrician and work for the Liverpool Corporation, just like his dad, doing the same thing day in and day out. At least he’d still have his guitar with him to chase away the blues.”

Unless Hendler has absorbed facts and figures via some kind of pop-culture osmosis, it is clear that he has done his homework, or more likely, that he has retained much of the Beatle-brimmed pleasure reading, listening, and viewing over the years. Which makes sense for this one-time moppet-top member of the so-named Beatles Kids, inspired when he, at age six, saw the Beatles live at the Hollywood Bowl!

Writing Please Please Me, then, must have been a labor of real love. Whatever it lacks in the letter of the law, so to speak, it more than makes up for in a spirit consistent with the temperaments and quirks of the “main characters.” The you-are-there immediacy also helps bring to light, in the crescendoing closing pages, an integrity-testing dilemma and development that would challenge — and defeat — lesser artists of little fortitude and no foresight.

Of course, it doesn’t come to that in early 1963 with the Beatles. Apparently, they passed the audition.

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Please Please Me [Kindle Edition]
Alex Hendler
Kindle Price: $0.99 includes free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
Length: 39 pages (estimated)

Gordon Hauptfleisch

Gordon Hauptfleisch

The late Gordon Hauptfleisch served as an editor, freelance writer and book reviewer for San Diego Union Tribune Books and Blogcritics, worked in and managed bookstores and record stores, and was a purchasing manager for San Diego Technical Books. He held bachelor's degrees in English and history from Cal State Fullerton. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Gordon Hauptfleisch