Please, Please, Please
|"Please, Please, Please"|
|Single by James Brown and The Famous Flames|
|from the album Please Please Please|
|B-side||"Why Do You Do Me"|
|Format||Seven-inch 45 rpm record|
|Recorded||King Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio, February 4, 1956|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues|
|Label||Federal (no. 12258)|
"Please, Please, Please" is a rhythm and blues song performed by James Brown and the Famous Flames. Written by Brown and Johnny Terry and released as a single on Federal Records in 1956, it reached number six on the R&B charts. The group's debut recording and first chart hit, it has come to be recognized as their signature song.
In 1952, James Brown was released from a youth detention center in Toccoa, Georgia, after Bobby Byrd and his family sponsored him. Brown's warden agreed to the release on the condition that Brown not return to Augusta. After his release, Brown briefly pursued a career in sports before starting his musical career as a gospel vocalist with the group the Ever-Ready Gospel Singers. When a member of Bobby Byrd's vocal group, the Avons, died in 1954, Byrd asked Brown to join his group. A year later, after performing as the Five Royals, they became the Flames, playing all over Georgia and South Carolina.
That same year, the group began touring the chitlin' circuit, attracting a following, with Brown on lead vocals. Brown won his position of lead singer after an onstage "fight" with Byrd over vocal power. Upon relocating to Macon, Georgia, Brown befriended rising rock'n'roll musician Little Richard. The group began gaining attention from record executives associated with King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio.
According to Etta James, Brown and his group came up with the idea for their first song, because Brown "used to carry around an old tattered napkin with him, because Little Richard had written the words, 'please, please, please' on it and James was determined to make a song out of it".
According to Bobby Bennett, Johnny Terry composed the recording by himself. The band recorded a demo of the song at a radio station in Macon. While that station's DJ didn't care for the recording, radio listeners requested copies of the song, proving its popularity.
In early 1956, they were the subject of a bidding war between two subsidiaries of King Records, one based in Miami and one in Atlanta. The Atlanta executive was Ralph Bass, who won them over and signed them to Federal Records. Around this time, Little Richard moved to Los Angeles and his Georgia agent, Clint Brantley decided to take the Flames under his wing, changing their name slightly to "The Famous Flames". In February 1956, the band recorded "Please, Please, Please" at King Records Studios in Cincinnati. Initially some members of the band doubted the session would generate a hit, and when King president Syd Nathan heard the demo, he threatened to fire Bass, dismissing the song as rubbish. When Bass insisted the song was a hit, an angry Nathan told Bass he was going to release the song "across the board" to "prove it's not a hit".
"Please, Please, Please" was released on March 4, 1956. Though it sold slowly at first, the record reached the top ten of the R&B charts by late summer, eventually peaking at number six, selling between one and three million copies.
The release of the recording led to a dispute among the performers. Federal Records billed the recording as "James Brown and the Famous Flames", causing original member Sylvester Keels to leave the Flames after a disagreement with Brown over royalties. The other members, including Bobby Byrd and Nafloyd Scott, had left the group by 1957 also due to royalty disputes over the song. Brown briefly replaced them with "interim Flames", but both men returned to the group in early 1959 after the release of "Try Me".
In 2004, "Please, Please, Please" was ranked number 142 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
The initial performances of the song were subpar though the group itself was received well. It took a number of years until the Flames developed a routine for the performance. Starting in 1959, Brown would perform the song to the point of feigned exhaustion, when he would drop to his knees and collapse on the stage. Meanwhile, a fellow Flame (sometimes Bobby Byrd and at other times Bobby Bennett) would drop either a blanket or big towel around Brown's back and help him offstage. Before completely exiting, Brown would rip the towel off and return to his microphone, adding to the excitement of his audience.
Influenced by Little Richard and professional wrestler Gorgeous George, who both wore capes, Brown began wearing capes in his act. His first set of capes were plain, but they progressively became more flamboyant as time went on. In the remaining forty years of his life, his emcee, Danny Ray, would drape the cape on him and assist him offstage, until he returned to the stage again to continue the show. The false endings to the performance created much excitement with the group and would remain Brown's trademark until his death in December 2006.
- James Brown – lead vocal
with the Flames:
- Bobby Byrd – background vocals
- Johnny Terry – background vocals
- Sylvester Keels – background vocals
- Nash Knox – background vocals
- Nafloyd Scott – guitar
- Wilbert "Lee Diamond" Smith – tenor saxophone
- Ray Felder – tenor saxophone
- Lucas "Fats" Gonder – piano
- Clarence Mack – bass
- Edison Gore – drums
- Brown and The Famous Flames performed Please, Please, Please as part of their set in The T.A.M.I. Show.
- In the movie Blues Brothers 2000 Brown performs the song after the closing credits.
- In Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights, an actor in the role of Brown performs the song in a theater along Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue.
- a live version of the song appears in the film The Commitments
Other versions and recordings
In 1964, during a contract dispute between Brown and King Records head Syd Nathan, the label reissued the original 1956 performance of "Please, Please, Please" with overdubbed crowd noise in an attempt to pass it off as a live recording. The reissue reached number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Brown also re-recorded the song several times later in his career. On his 1972 album Get on the Good Foot, he did an upbeat long version, which lasted over twelve minutes. 1974's Hell included a salsa version of the song that featured Brown speaking in Spanish. For Brown's 1976 album Hot, he recorded a more solemn, ballad rendition, which featured male background vocalists in the quiet storm style of Barry White's music.
- "The Famous Flames Biography". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- "The Famous Flames". Cleveland.com. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Merlis, Bob; Seay, Davin; James, Etta (1997), p. foreword. Heart and Soul – A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930–1975.
- White, Cliff (1991). Discography. In Star Time (p. 55) [CD liner notes]. London: Polydor Records.
- Britannica Educational Publishing (2009-10-01). The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time, p. 251. The Rosen Publishing Group. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
- White 2003, pp. 68–70.
- Leeds, Alan, and Harry Weinger (1991). "Star Time: Song by Song". In Star Time (pp. 46–53) [CD booklet]. New York: PolyGram Records.
- White, Cliff (1991). "Discography". In Star Time (pp. 54–59) [CD booklet]. New York: PolyGram Records.