Monday, June 15, 2009

I Saw Her Standing There

Welcome, folks, to a new feature here at A Year in the Life: The Week of Paul! Paul McCartney will turn 67 this Thursday, June 18. And I am a believer in the birthday celebration. Here, we'll celebrate with an awesome Paul song every day this week. Listening to songs by Paul all week will also, God willing, karmically set me up for some good news I'm fervently hoping for: there's a rumor that Paul will play Fenway Park, the venue so beloved to me and my city, in August. It's completely unconfirmed, and it's going to cost me a zillion dollars if it happens, but by God, if it happens I will be there. Because for a guy who's about to turn 67, he rocks-- more this year than ever, frankly, between the very good Fireman album and Coachella and all that.

Now, since I came up with this Week-of-Paul idea last night at about 10:30, I'm a little unprepared. For a true celebration of Paul McCartney we'd have to hit all the really sweet spots, and we've already covered a bunch of the sweetest. So if you'd like, you should have your own Paul festivities by going back and revisiting "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude" and whatever your favorites are-- I'll come up with my own list of faves for later in the week. For the rest of the week, though, we'll hit some key songs we haven't listened to yet this year, starting with the potboiler that was surely his first-ever rock masterpiece, "I Saw Her Standing There."

I wanted to include a slideshow of the studio version for this song, because it's significantly different from many of the taped live performances. "I Saw Her Standing There" was justifiably an important part of their live sets-- they would sometimes jam out to it for 10 minutes at Liverpool clubs, which just makes me weep all the more that I wasn't there-- but when performing it at the height of their fame they frequently cut the repeat of the middle eight, which is like the best part of the song. I'm not sure why-- it's not like the song is too long or anything, at least not to my ear. I also really like the handclaps on the studio version, which I feel lend some urgency, and of course you can't get that on the live versions. More to listen for in the studio version: Paul's bassline (much clearer than on live recordings), which is this complete freaking masterpiece . Does it ruin it if I tell you he stole the line from the Chuck Berry song "I'm Talking About You"? It shouldn't-- Paul's admitted it, Chuck's fine with it, and anyway Paul is playing it with a rollicking enthusiasm that I hear as uniquely Paul anyway. Speaking of enthusiasm, Ringo is also in rare form, isn't he? To say nothing to Paul's swaggering vocal and the way he and John hang out up there in their falsetto ranges... sigh.

When they finally convinced Capitol to release "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the states and kick off their American career, "I Saw Her Standing There" was the super-strong B-side. And that's how most Americans heard it first. The British got to hear it a full year earlier, as the bombastic opening track of Please Please Me, which is really how it works better. The one-two-three-FOUR count-in Paul provides kicks off the entire album and their entire career in this totally magical way. Just another way in which American fans were screwed.

But then again, Americans (or at least a few lucky ones) got to hear them in a really kickass concert at the Washington Coliseum. I love the footage from this show, especially of "I Saw Her Standing There"-- you can see as well as hear all the fun they had playing it. George's guitar solo, which works fine for me in the studio version, sidles up to you more here; it more blatantly wants to get in this chick's pants.

And here's another one I really like, live on Swedish TV in 1963. On this performance, Paul's vocal is off the freaking charts, and so is his adorability. Look at how cute and sweet he looks as he sings raucously about wanting to get into some chick's pants! (He was 21 here, by the way. How old do I have to be before it's gross that I find Paul circa 1963 hot? Hopefully pretty old, because my feelings on this aren't changing any time soon.)

And here's just one more, going further back to the Live! At the Star-Club album, which is really sort of a curiosity (and a brazen cash-in) in the history of Beatles recordings. This, like the other tracks on that disc, is basically a home tape recorder version of "I Saw Her Standing There" as performed on New Year's Eve of 1962, during their last stint in Hamburg. I'm including it because, despite the poor sound quality, the guitar is mixed really prominently, and you can hear some cool stuff George was doing. Which is weird, since this version is also notable for the fact that there's no solo.

But perhaps you don't want to listen to a zillion freaking versions of "I Saw Her Standing There." Perhaps you just want to know how it came to exist already. As to that, all I really know is that Paul wrote "I Saw Her Standing There" with some help from John at his dad's house in Liverpool in 1962. Though the song is almost entirely Paul's, John did give him a bit of crucial assistance. Paul's original lyric was "she was just seventeen, never been a beauty queen," a line whose corniness made John basically laugh out loud. The far superior "you know what I mean," with its gloriously adolescent innuendo, comes to us thanks to John, and thank God for it. It's a key early example of John and Paul keeping each other's bad habits in check-- because you know you wouldn't like this song so much if it wasn't so sexy sexy.

Anyway, "I Saw Her Standing There" is a total classic, obviously, and Paul still performs it pretty much all the time. He's put it out on live albums and stuff, too. So if you're in the mood to listen to lots more versions of this song, they are certainly out there for you to find. For what it's worth, John-- who throughout the '70s tended to badmouth Paul and his songs more often than not-- thought highly enough of "I Saw Her Standing There" to perform it live with Elton John in 1974, when he crashed Elton's concert to play "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with him (which itself happened because he lost a bet, but that's another story). And it's not a bad version. But ultimately, and obviously, Paul owns this one-- and the world is certainly better for it.

"I Saw Her Standing There," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S. as the B-side to "I Want to Hold Your Hand," December 26, 1963.


  1. Way to kick things off. You definitely did this tune justice.

    It's a bit of a mystery to me why they mixed Paul's bass so high on the studio version. Not because they shouldn't have, but because I would have thought they'd want the album to sound more consistent sonically. This really stands out. I also want to speak up for Paul and professional musicians everywhere here when I say that I could master that bassline, and I can sing that melody, but I could practice forever without being able to do both competently at the same time.

    Also enjoy Ringo's fills, which on more than one occasion go on for like a full two bars, no?

    I assume they cut the middle eight or solo to fit in as many hits in the 20-minute sets as they could.

    Wishing you luck for Fenway. Cheap seats in New York were $50, so hopefully it won't break you either.

  2. Thanks! And, hmm, a good point about the studio version's bass line. Now I sort of want to go listen to the whole album again to compare. For all we know, this is an irregularity slipped into newer stereo versions or something. But then again, maybe George Martin just thought the bass ruled.

  3. By the way, Troy, good job getting tickets to see Paul. Someone was on the Beatles Facebook discussion group today complaining that they'd sold out by about 2:00 or something. And that was 2 or 3 shows, wasn't it? Sheesh.

  4. Yeah, I think they added a third show today, and you could still get two tickets to it at noon, but the other two were sold out by then.

    I'll admit to being a little amped. I've started listening to the solo stuff he played in his two gigs this year and trying to figure out what I should buy. The little guy was fascinated by the video for Dance Tonight, with the ghosts or whatever. And there's always The Long and Winding Road to go get refreshments ...