Please, Please, Please

James Brown

Song Review by Richie Unterberger

"Please Please Please" was James Brown's debut single and his first hit, going to the R&B Top Ten in 1956. Launching Brown's career is reason alone to make it a significant recording, even if it would be two years or so and a string of more than half a dozen follow-up flop singles before he got another hit. More importantly, though, "Please Please Please" was an R&B classic, one that spilled over to doo wop and rock'n'roll, and also foreshadowed the soul music with which Brown would peak in the 1960s. Of course most soul music has deep gospel roots, and those are especially deep in "Please Please Please," with its repeated frenzied chanting, responsive backup vocals, and frayed screaming/pleading. The song itself had some roots in the blues standard "Baby Please Don't Go," which the doo wop group the Orioles had recorded in 1952. Brown starts the song off with brief a cappella pleading of the title phrase. The track then introduces a standard ballad doo wop R&B arrangement with evenly pounded piano. One could say the song itself is basic in extreme, consisting of a message/plea for Brown's woman not to leave. Brown, though, milks the emotion to the extreme so that it transcends the limited source material, repeatedly chanting words -- particularly "please," of course -- in different ranges to project his determination and desperation. The gospel-like backup singing grounds the song in a more sedate and conventional framework, though. King Records chief Syd Nathan hated the record and initially not only refused to release it, but wanted to fire the producer who brought Brown to King, Ralph Bass. Nathan changed his mind on both counts, fortunately not just for Brown but for Nathan, as by the 1960s Brown was by far the biggest star on King. Brown kept it in his stage act for a long time, and in fact it was built up into a hammy but immensely entertaining piece in which he verged on collapse and was led from the stage, only to rise up as if from the dead and scuttle back to the mike for another reprise. You can see him do that routine on the celebrated early rock concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, filmed in 1964. Several R&B and soul artists have covered "Please Please Please," including Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, Little Milton, and Mitch Ryder. By far the best-known interpretation, however -- and the most liberal one -- is the version the Who placed on their 1965 debut album, My Generation. Though some soul-R&B purists can't abide its irreverence, it's actually quite exciting, with some gravelly hyper-excitable blue-eyed soul vocals from Roger Daltrey, characteristically all-over-the-place splashing drums from Keith Moon, and even a bit of rudimentary guitar feedback from Pete Townshend in the instrumental break.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Star Time 1991 Polydor 2:43
40th Anniversary Collection 1996 Polydor 2:44
The Singles, Vol. 1: The Federal Years: 1956-1960 2006 Hip-O Select / Fontana 2:46
Gold 2007 Polydor 2:46
The Singles, Vol. 3: 1964-1965 2007 Hip-O Select / Polydor 2:46
Best of James Brown [Universal 2018] 2010 Universal 2:43
The Federal & King Singles As & Bs 1956-1961 2018 Acrobat Music 2:45
Please Please Please/Think Intermusic / State of Art Records 2:46
Soul Music [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 2:42
The Best of James Brown: Green Series Strategic Marketing 2:46