How Should We Listen to The Beatles?

The song “Twist and Shout” on the 1963 album Please Please Me by the Beatles was one of the most popular songs of the ‘60s and in part led to the Beatlemania craze that swept America throughout that decade. Its upbeat tempo, high energy vocals, and infectious tune makes it a great dance song even fifty-plus years later.

However, contemporary listeners and modern ones likely listened to different versions of this famous Beatles song. The band, and their producer George Martin, chose to record and produce their albums in monophonic sound, although the more ‘sophisticated’ stereophonic recording technology existed (Abbany). This mono recording led to a distinctive sound, with Harrison and McCartney’s harmony cutting over Lennon’s clearly strained voice, creating a timbre to the song which is lost in modern presses of the album, done in stereo. What is lost in that initial sound, though, is gained by an intentionally imbalanced music of the stereo recordings loved by modern fans (Komara 318).

But, in 1963, the decision to record in mono was made, and influenced by several factors.  Not only did the global cultural trends of that time create an audience that listened to and preferred the timbre and familiarity of mono recordings, The Beatles had a producer who had an ear for the special sound and texture a monophonically recorded song could have. This website investigates the musical, technological, and consumer landscape Please Please Me was released into, and how decisions about its composition, sound, and production led this album to the immense success it had.

“Please Please Me” (1963) Album Cover