Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander is a name you hear often from early Beatles’ lore. His song, “Anna (Go to Him),” was covered on the Please Please Me LP, and they covered a few more of his songs, including “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” and “Soldier of Love,” as part of their live act.

Arthur Alexander. Such a regal name. And yet, as was the fate of many early Rhythm & Blues musicians, he never really cashed in on his talent. In spite of being the only songwriter to have his songs covered by the Sixties’ Holy Trinity – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan – he spent much of his life working as a bus driver and died of a fatal heart attack at the age of 53 shortly after he began performing and recording again, according to Wikipedia.

The Beatles recorded “Anna” during the evening portion of the Please Please Me recording session, when they were playing catch-up in their desperate effort to record all the songs they needed for the album before the studio closed for the night. They nailed it in three takes. John’s vocals were like velvet, George had faithfully replicated Floyd Cramer’s piano lick on his black Gretsch Duo Jet, and as for Ringo’s drumming, I think George describes it best:

I remember having several records by (Alexander), and John sang three or four of his songs. Arthur Alexander used a peculiar drum pattern, which we tried to copy, but we couldn’t quite do it, so in the end we’d invented something quite bizarre but equally original. A lot of the time we tried to copy things but wouldn’t be able to, and so we’d end up with our own versions.

– George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

The Beatles did a number of gorgeous cover songs; this is one of my favorites. Here’s Alexander’s equally gorgeous original version. Have a listen.

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Please Please Me Research Sources

Tape box with Beatle cuts for Please Please Me LPThere’s a lot of valuable historical material out there that made the telling of this story a little easier, including:

Way Beyond Compare – The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy by John C. Winn

The Beatles Recording Sessions – The Official Abbey Studio Session Notes by Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles’ Anthology – by The Beatles

But perhaps the most valuable resource was being able to hear takes from the actual session itself, which can be done here and here. Some of the chitter-chatter between takes in the Please Please Me e-book was ripped directly from the tapes.

We’re lucky the tapes managed to survive, because the usual policy back then was to get rid of the stuff that wasn’t used. Thus, the famous “Roy Orbison” demo version of “Please Please Me” appears to be gone forever, but fortunately many more treasures still exist allowing us to listen in as the Beatles work.

“[‘Please Please Me’] was my attempt at writing a Roy Orbison song, would you believe it? I wrote it in the bedroom in my house at Menlove Avenue, which was my auntie’s place. I remember the day and the pink eyelet on the bed and I heard Roy Orbison doing ‘Only the Lonely‘ or something. That’s where that came from. And also I was also always intrigued by the words of [sings] ‘Please lend a little ear to my pleas’ – a Bing Crosby song. I was always intrigued by the double use of the word ‘please.’ So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby.”
– John Lennon
Quoted in The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono 
Interviews by David Sheff