Please Mr. Postman - The Beatles

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"Please Mr. Postman" - The Beatles (1963)

Before it was recorded by The Beatles, “Please Mr. Postman" was the debut single by The Marvelettes and the first Motown song to reach the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.

John Lennon sings lead and double-tracked his performance for added weight. Paul and George coo the backing vocals as Lennon sings the lyrics with a gushing abandon that makes The Marvelettes’ original version sound timid and restrained in comparison.

While Ian MacDonald criticized the Beatles’ version for having a "wall of sound" and for a "general airlessness,”   Dr. Charles Gower Price writes in his essay American Styles in the Music of the Beatles:

“Rather than imitating American  models, the Beatles adapted the songs to their own sound by replacing the light and danceable textures of the original studio creations- such as in "Please Mr. Postman” with their own driving instrumental accompaniment. Beatle cover songs were never just a copy of the original. They always included an arrangement honed from many months of live performances which became a very effective vehicle for them when they recorded them.”

Russian music critic George Starostin adds:

“The Beatles choice of covers wasn't random or filler-dictated. 'Please Mister Postman' was a decent enough Marvelettes number - excellent, unassuming Motown fare. In the hands of John Lennon, it is a mad, frantic plea of a guy who's truly foaming at the mouth, totally devastated by the lack of letters from his girlfriend; when he bellows, 'deliver the letter, the sooner the better', I can't help but being a little concerned for the fate of the postman in question.“

Dalhousie University professor Jacqueline Warwick points out that where The Beatles were unique was when they seemed sometimes to speak from girls’ points of view. In this track, John pines for his errant girlfriend, so busy off having adventures that she can’t even find time to write to him. Through their backing vocals, Paul and George show that they too know the anguish of waiting at home by the letterbox; everybody knows that this is a girl’s ordeal.

Warwick points out that the backup vocals do more than mirror the lead singer’s melody with the same words. When John sings “You’ll be the lonely one” Paul and George add “You not the only one” and in the middle eight, they comment approvingly on John’s plan to take the girl away and then sing independently of the main voice part through the guitar solo.

Warwick concludes:

"In the Beatles version, Paul and George mirror John’s line, so the texture is homophonic instead of the call and response of the original. Did the Beatles make this change because they hadn’t listened closely enough to the record? The way John Lennon perfects the nuances of the lead line, and the careful imitation of the opening gesture, suggest they listened very closely. Making small changes like this was the way The Beatles made the song their own.”


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