Yes friends, I have scoured the web and read at least a dozen tributes and reckon this is the one. Takes about an hour to read, but it’s the one you need, because it is rendered with emotion and chockful of demons and family and history, all matters of interest around these blogparts. Little teaser here from the New Yorker, puts the master’s voice right up and inside yo’ head:
When the tape started rolling, he cried out the word “Please” with an immensity of feeling that might, more conventionally, have been reserved for a song’s climax. Then he cried out again, “Please,” and again and again, “Please, please,” at heartbeat intervals. With each repetition, he invested the monosyllable with a different emotional accent and stress—prayer and pride, impatience and invitation—and although there was ache in his voice, he did not sound like a man pleading so much as commanding what was rightfully his. After his fourth “Please,” the rest of the group filled in softly behind him, crooning, “Please, please don’t go,” until the lead singer’s colossal voice surged back over theirs: “Please, please, please.” That was the name of the song, the same word thrice, and, like all truly original things, this song had a past to which it simultaneously paid tribute and bid adieu. Its genesis lay in a rearrangement of the standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” so that the rhythmic backup line became the lead, and the melodic lead was relegated to the chorus. A simple gimmick; but, as “Please, Please, Please” progressed, the lead singer’s initial passion only intensified, and it became clear that the reversal of foreground and background voices reflected a deliberate emotional attitude that brought a bold new energy and freedom to the spirit of black popular music. Instead of describing feelings in the smooth lyrical surface of a tune you could whistle or at least hum, the singer created the impression of sounds rising untamed from the rawness and obscurity of a soul that refused all masks.
The song was over in less than three minutes, but that time had the sense of compressed eternity which one experiences in the memory of dreams. Transcribed as text, the words suggest a man gnawing at the last frayed ends of his tether, yet the febrile repetitions, elongations, and elisions of the singer’s phrasing make of these words not a lament but a rhapsody, even an ecstasy:
Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Honey, please! Don’t. Yeah! Oh, yea-ah. Oh. I love you so. Baby! You did me wrong. Whoa! Whoa-oh. You done me wrong. You know you done! Done me wrong. Whoa. Oh yeah! You took my love. And now you’re gone. Please! Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Honey, please. Don’t! Whoah. Oh, yeah. Lord. I love you so. I just want to hear you say, I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I! Honey, please. Don’t. Oh! Oh, yeah. Oh. I love you so. Baby! Take my hand. I want to be your lover man. Oh, yes. Good God almighty. Honey, please! Don’t. Ohhh. Oh. Yeahh. Lord. I love you so! Pleeeeeeeease. Don’t go. Pleeee-ee-ee-ease. Don’t go. Honey, please don’t go. Oh. I love you so. Please. Please.
The song doesn’t tell a story so much as express a condition. The singer might be speaking from the cradle of his lover’s arms, or chasing her down a street, or watching the lights of her train diminish in the night; he might be crouched alone in an alleyway, or wandering an empty house, or smiling for all the world to see while his words rattle, unspoken, inside his skull. He could be anyone anywhere. His lover might be dying. He might be dying. He might not even be addressing an actual lover. He could be speaking of someone or something he’s never had. He could be talking to God, or to the Devil. It doesn’t matter. Despite the implication of a story, a specific predicament, the song is abstract. The words jockey for release and describe the impossibility of release, yet the singing is pure release, defiant, exultant. Speech is inadequate, so the singer makes music, and music is inadequate, so he makes his music speak. Feeling is stripped to its essence, and the feeling is the whole story. And, if that feeling seems inelegant, the singer’s immaculately disciplined performance makes his representation of turmoil unmistakably styled and stylish—the brink of frenzy as a style unto itself.
It’s all like that, to when you think you’re about to fall down from perfection, that you can’t bear how great this is, it gets even better, I swear to git. Reading it made me ashamed to admit I ever thought I too have a calling to type out what I now recognize as some version of fascinating cheap heartfelt bittersweets, and you know that’s got to hurt, but not in a bad way. OK, ready, set, go on the road with His Bad Self.