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.
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".
"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.
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.