Reader’s Choice…Song #13/250: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles

The album that started it all for The Beatles.

“I Saw Her Standing There” was the very first song on the very first album The Beatles ever made. It was written mostly by Paul McCartney as a teenager but was helped along by John Lennon tweaking one line. That one line changed everything and caused the music world to sit up and take notice. Lennon’s edit happened on Line #2 of the song. McCartney had the opening line right from the get-go…..She was just seventeen…but his original line that followed had to do with the girl in question not being a beauty queen. Lennon scoffed at that line and offered, instead, the line that ended up making this song something special. He suggested taking out the “beauty queen” line and replacing it with….you know what I mean. So now, the opening of this love story in a song began:

She was just seventeen

You know what I mean…

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Paul’s living room. On the floor is a notebook with the lyrics to “I Saw Her Standing There”. This photo comes from a book released last year by Paul McCartney that shows scores of handwritten lyrics and tells the story of how each song came to be.

There are several reasons why this small change had such a big impact. For starters, “I Saw Her Standing There” is a song all about courtship rituals and about falling in love with your heart’s desire. But, in real life, there is a difference between the fairy tale version of living happily ever after and the real world raunchy, sexually-charged version of how couples in love consummate their relationship. Lennon’s simple line added an element of ambiguity to the story in such a way that it fuelled the imaginations of all manner of listeners…those who had romantic impressions of the song and those who had a more hot and bothered take. For context, it helps to know that the legal “age of consent” in the UK is/was sixteen years of age. Thus, it is entirely possible that The Beatles were writing a song about an attraction that had a sexual element to it. The boys in the band have never said, one way or the other.

“I Saw Her Standing There” plays as a simple Pop song but, in reality, it is a fully-realized story that plays out in under three minutes of time. It was written by Paul McCartney in various homes including his own, his friend singer Rory Storm’s home, as well as at the home of his seventeen year old girlfriend at the time. But it was at his own home that John Lennon came to call and heard McCartney play the song for him for the first time. It was there that Lennon suggested his edit. Finally, it was in McCartney’s living room that Paul McCartney and John Lennon (as teenagers) developed a writing partnership that would serve them well almost all the way through their career as Beatles. But, just to show you how early in their relationship they were, the song credits for “I Saw Her Standing There” read as “McCartney/Lennon”. It is one of the only times that Paul McCartney’s name came first in the listings.

The Fab Four in Hamburg, Germany.

Like other bands, The Beatles workshopped this new song live many times before ever recording it for their debut album. As you may know, The Beatles played many gigs in Germany prior to exploding in the UK. It was in Germany that “I Saw Her Standing There” had its debut, along with other songs that would come to become hits for this new band. Songs such as “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me” all had their start in Germany as well. When producer George Martin was first approached to record The Beatles debut album, he wanted to see them perform live…which he did in Germany and then, at The Cavern Club in England. He found their stage presence added much to the enjoyment level of the songs being played. So, when it came time to record their debut album, Please, Please Me, he asked the members of the band to record as many songs as possible in one day. The thinking was that by having The Beatles record one song after another, it might replicate what the energy of a live performance was like. For this reason, when you listen to the opening moments of the very first song on the very first album, you can hear Paul McCartney counting the band in…..1, 2, 3, 4! And then they start “I Saw Her Standing There” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chuck Berry’s bass line from his song, “Talking’ About You” was borrowed in its entirety by Paul McCartney when he and John Lennon wrote, “I Saw Her Standing There”.

“I Saw Her Standing There” was never released as a single. It was the B-side to “Love Me Do”. But, when “Love Me Do” roared up the charts and sales of the single reached record numbers, “I Saw Her Standing There” got lots of attention, too, by association. One of the reasons that “I Saw Her Standing There” was so well received was because it was built on a foundation of the Blues. The bassline of any song often acts as the pulse of the song. It helps drive the energy level of the music that surrounds it and complements it. In the case of this song, Paul McCartney freely admits that he “borrowed” the complete bassline of a Chuck Berry song called “Talkin’ About You”. At the time, black performers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and others had defined what a rock n’ roll riff should sound like. Those performers inspired the likes of Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Ray Davies and The Beatles to incorporate “black music” into their version of “white” rock n’ roll. In this way, the more passionate, hot and sweaty underbelly of The Blues sound transitioned over into the new music being performed in the UK and the US. It was a revolutionary change made popular by a couple of teenage boys from Liverpool, England.

The very first song from the very first album The Beatles ever made was “I Saw Her Standing There”. If it is to be proposed that The Beatles transformed rock n’ roll music and are to be considered the very best band of all time then, their very first song takes on added cultural and artistic significance. If you believe in fairy tale endings and think that Paul and John were sweet young lads for having written this song then, “I Saw Her Standing There” is for you. If you, like me, think that there is more to the song than that and that, by extension, there was more substance to Lennon and McCartney than people may have first thought then, “I Saw Her Standing There” is for you, as well. It may sound like a simple Pop song but, at its heart is a lusty storyline that is totally in keeping with the Blues from which this song was born. And, as we know from how the career of The Beatles unfolded, it is representative of a view of music held by the boys that was to continue to expand and become more creative and interesting as time went by. It amazes me to think that all that The Beatles became started with four little numbers….1,2, 3, 4! And then everything changed, forever.

This is Renwick Brook in my hometown of Glace Bay, N.S. after Hurricane Fiona came to town. There used to be a tree-lined walking path around this brook. My family and I spent many hours walking its path. Now it is all gone. Look at the trees! Oh my! Imagine all of the trees that once stood in residential neighbourhoods! They are gone, too. Toppled over, taking power lines with them. What a mess! *Photo credit to my pal, Allister Matheson, 2022.

Thanks for the song suggestion, Allister Matheson! You have exemplary taste in tunes, my friend. For those who are unaware, Allister is a pal of mine from back home on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Recently, the Maritime provinces of Canada were visited by an unwelcome guest in the form of Hurricane Fiona. Many people were without power for days on end. There was lots of property damage due to fallen trees and storm surges from the sea. My buddy Allister had trees down in his own yard. I am happy that Allister and my many other friends and family back home have made it through this ordeal safely and seemingly intact. The federal government had pledged financial support to aid in the recovery efforts, as has the province of Nova Scotia. I will post a link to a fund that was started by the Red Cross organization. If you feel so inclined, donate if you are able. Allister took many photos of the devastation. For people like myself who live away, having access to images like his helped us to know what was going on. His efforts are greatly appreciated. The photo to the right is one of Allister’s photos taken after Fiona came to call. Take care everyone. Life is precious.

The link to the video for the song, “I Saw Her Standing There” can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles can be found here.

The link to the fundraising page for the Canadian Red Cross relief efforts in Atlantic Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

One thought on “Reader’s Choice…Song #13/250: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: