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The Beatles on stage, April 5th, 1963
“THERE’S A PLACE”
(Paul McCartney – John Lennon)
There are an untold number of stories about popular recording artists releasing songs that they felt very strongly would be big hits, only to wind up instead as much lesser known achievements. Almost none of us could probably name the B-sides of such huge hits as “I Got You Babe,” “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” or The Rolling Stones hit “Angie.” Amazingly, all of these number one hits were intended to be the throwaway flip sides while the other side of these records were thought to be the ones that would make the big impact. In the recording industry, one can never know.
This was the case with the newly written “There’s A Place.” As the Beatles excitedly entered the EMI studios on February 11th, 1963 to record their very first album, it was their priority to record this song first. They had high expectations that this serious, well-constructed song would have an impact on their career.
But, this was not to be. It actually ended up in a very unflattering position on the album; next to last on side two. It did end up being released as a single in America, but only as the flip side to the amazingly successful “Twist And Shout.” And at a time when US disc jockeys were playing even the flip sides of singles in order to find more Beatles product to play on the air, this song was hardly noticed. In addition, after October of 1964, the song was not on any US album until 1980, which gave the song the reputation of being one of a few ‘lost Beatles tracks.’
It seems that the excitement about this song waned shortly after it was recorded, although, upon further listening and the passing of time, it can be assessed that the song was truly a unique, well-crafted slice of Beatles music which shouldn’t be forgotten. “There’s A Place” has truly found a place in the hearts of Beatles fans throughout the years.
‘”There’s A Place’ was my attempt at a sort of Motown black thing,” John Lennon remembered in 1980, “but it says the usual Lennon things: ‘In my mind there’s no sorrow.’ It’s all in your mind.”
From this quote you would assume that John wrote the entire song himself, his reference to Motown inferring the melody and his lyrical quote inferring the words as well. Most authors have felt this for years but, while Lennon probably was the major catalyst for the song, McCartney apparently played a vital role as well. Paul owned a copy of the soundtrack album to Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 musical “West Side Story,” which contained the song “Somewhere.” The lyrics begin with “There’s a place for us,” which became the original inspiration for the song. Not only is "There's A Place" described by author Barry Miles, in his book “Many Years From Now,” as “co-written,” he even suggests that there’s “a bias towards being Paul’s original idea since he was the owner of the soundtrack album…’West Side Story.’” While this may be a stretch, Paul’s quote from the above book does appear to confirm his involvement in the songs’ writing:
“But in our case the place was in the mind, rather than round the back of the stairs for a kiss and a cuddle. This was the difference with what we were writing, we were getting a bit more cerebral.”
At any rate, the song is included among the many that were written in the front room of McCartney’s Forthlin Road home. Since the song was so fresh in their minds and they were so eager to spring this song out for their first album, it is estimated that it was written in early February 1963 just before their recording session on the 11th of that month.
The Beatles, February 10th, 1963
Upon entering Studio Two of EMI studios on February 11th, 1963 to record their first album, the Beatles chose to record this newly written song first. Although nearly half of the songs on this first British album were cover songs, emphasis was first given to original material through the encouragement of their manager Brian Epstein. With the exception of “A Taste Of Honey,” all of the cover songs recorded for the album were done at the very end in order to fill the allotted 14 tracks on the album before the day was over.
Starting at 10:00 that morning, the first take was complete and with all the exact nuances already in place, except for the harmonica riff which appears to have been an afterthought. George Harrison played what we know as the harmonica riff as his lead guitar part. This take was flawless except for two things: George flubbed his introductory guitar riff and Paul’s vocals were recorded louder than John’s. Being that all the vocals were recorded onto the same track, this deemed the take unusable.
Concerning the vocal parts, Paul relates: "We both sang it. I took the high harmony, John took the lower harmony or melody. This was a nice thing because we didn't have to actually decide where the melody was till later when they boringly had to write it down for sheet music."
Take two corrected these two elements and was a complete run-through of the song. Upon listening, the only explanation as to why this wasn’t the finished version was that producer George Martin thought it could be improved upon somehow.
Take three was stopped immediately after the introductory guitar riff no doubt because George Harrison’s timing was a little late. Take four was complete but, even though it’s early in the session, you can hear John’s voice sounding a little strained already as he had a sore throat that day. They also experimented with some staccato rhythm guitar playing in the final verse, which may also have influenced George Martin to have them take another stab at the song.
Before take five began, the session tape caught George Harrison practicing his introductory guitar riff, which was played in octaves just like he had done for “Please Please Me.” In fact, he actually plays the “Please Please Me” riff here just to get himself acclimated to playing in this style. We also hear John instructing Paul on how to keep good timing during their a cappella line “the-e-e-e-ere.” John explains to Paul, “you gotta think the beat.” However, Paul himself stops the take after a few seconds because George was late on his guitar riff again.
Take six was also complete with near flawlessness. Take seven started off well also, but George Martin called it to a halt after George Harrison was late again with his riff at the end of the first verse. Take eight was also complete but, with Ringo’s fire-cracker-like drum fill before the bridge and George’s staccato rhythm guitar work in the final verse, this wasn’t good enough either.
Take nine was also complete but this time you could hear Paul’s higher harmonies getting a little shaky. This and a very noticeable guitar flub in the final verse had them try it all one more time. Take ten, as it turned out, was nearly perfect and, with it being 11:30 already and a lot on the agenda that day, they deemed this as “best.”
However, at about 4:15 pm in the afternoon, a decision was made to return to the song to improve upon it. It was decided that John should overdub three harmonica riffs for the song. These were played using the exact notes that George Harrison originally played for his lead guitar riffs in the song. Therefore, one can barely hear these lead guitar parts in the finished song. The first attempt at this overdub, take 11, saw John’s harmonica work a little shaky, and take 12 didn’t get passed the first few seconds because they accidentally didn’t have the harmonica volume up loud enough. However, take 13 was the keeper and therefore comprised the final completed version of the song. The harmonica riffs that John added were heard during the introduction of the song, at the end of the first verse, and then throughout the last 10 seconds of the song. By 4:30 pm, the song was complete.
The mono and stereo mixes of the song were done by George Martin, assisted by Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln, on February 25th, 1963. This mixing session was used to create both the mono and stereo masters for their first album, as well as editing the songs “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Please Please Me.” The fade out at the end of the song was also accomplished at this mixing session.
The Beatles Live at Astoria Ballroom, Lancashire, February 12th, 1963
Song Structure and Style
As with the majority of the songs on their first album, “There’s A Place” is written in the aaba format, which consists of verse/verse/bridge/verse. But there is more to the songs’ structure than meets the eye. Much more.
To start out, a five bar introduction begins the proceedings, which consist of the songs’ melodic riff repeated twice by Lennon’s harmonica and, if you listen carefully, Harrison’s lead guitar. At the beginning of the fourth bar, the Beatles trademark ‘break’ occurs and lasts for one and a half bars while the reverb of the last chord rings out. In the ensuing silence, John and Paul perform a harmonized five note descending and then ascending performance of the word “there,” which act as a clever anticipatory introduction to the first verse.
The 15 bar first verse is sung in harmony throughout, John taking the lower melody while Paul takes the usual higher harmony. The eighth bar includes a triplet performed in unison by the whole group which acts as a transition into the second half of the verse. The 13th bar repeats the melodic harmonica/guitar riff once, which again leads us into a one and a half bar break, where John and Paul repeat their harmonized five-note run, but this time on the word “I.”
The second verse is different from the first in a few different respects. For one thing, it’s only twelve bars long and does not include the ‘group triplet,’ the break or the harmonized five-note run. In order to create a proper transition from the verse to the bridge, an alteration of the verse structure was deemed necessary by the songs’ writers. Therefore, after the first seven bars of the second verse, which are identical in structure to the first verse, a complete change in the song occurs during the words “like I love only you.” The new chord pattern presented here allows for a more natural progression into the bridge. (An altered second verse occurs periodically in Lennon/McCartney compositions, such as in “I Should Have Known Better.”)
The ten bar bridge creates a reflective mood which temporarily relieves the tension created in the song. This is achieved by Lennon singing two of the four lines solo for the first time in the song, alternating them with octave harmonies (Paul taking the higher harmony as usual) which also occur only during the bridge. With Lennon’s solo lines “In my mind there’s no sorrow” and “there’ll be no sad tomorrows,” we’re allowed to see the intended gist of the lyrics, as if the fog has lifted and we now know the moral of the story.
And then, once again, the final two bars of the bridge repeat the ‘break’ and the harmonized five-note run on the word “there” identical to what was heard in the introduction of the song. This naturally takes us to the final verse, which is nearly identical to the first verse, lyrics and all. Identical, that is, except that it is only 14 bars instead of 15. The difference being that there is no harmonized five-note run. (Three times in a two minute song is clearly enough; a fourth would have been a little much, as the writers or George Martin must have realized.) Therefore, the ‘break’ is only half a bar long, which then propels us into a conclusion, which was needed in order to create a note of finality to the song. The conclusion consists of a continually harmonized repetition of the title of the song alternating with the harmonica/guitar riff as the song fades out.
A side note may be necessary here to explain why there was a need for a conclusion to be tacked on to the end of this song. Usually, Lennon/McCartney songs that have an aaba structure have verses that end with the title of the song, such as “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Love Me Do” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Verses such as in these three examples were written with a note of finality ‘built in,’ so to speak, which didn’t need a conclusion tacked on at the end to make it sound complete. To understand this, imagine if “There’s A Place” ended directly after the final verse with the words “when I’m alone.” Since the end of the verse was not on the signature chord of the song, in this case “F,” standard practice at the time usually required the signature chord to be returned to in order to create a ‘resolve.’ Therefore, a separate conclusion needed to be added at the end of “There’s A Place.”
As for the musicianship of the song, both Lennon and Harrison basically play rhythm guitar throughout, with the exception of George’s hardly noticeable lead work on the signature riff of the song. Since there was no solo section written into this song, its’ musical highlight is Lennons’ harmonica riff which occurs periodically throughout the song. The only other contribution from Harrison is backing vocals, which occur only during the vocal line “love only you” in the second verse.
McCartney’s bass work is proficient at best, but while this was performed simultaneously with his spot-on high harmonies throughout the song, “proficient” is definitely worth recognition. Ringo performs his trademark “beat” style drumming, which appears as an identical but slower version of both “Boys” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” He gets to add his flams, his accents and his ‘awkward-but-lovable’ left handed drum fills, which results in his putting in a noteworthy performance.
Lennon’s vocal delivery is timidly but effectively performed, including his warbly-but-classy accents in the verses, such as on the words “place,” “go” and “low” in the first verse. Motown artists, such as the influential Smokey Robinson, were no doubt the catalyst to this vocal gimmick which Lennon performed flawlessly throughout this song.
It has been noted that the Beatles only wrote songs about love (and/or relationships) throughout their early career, and that the first appearance of a song outside of this topic didn’t occur until 1966. Although this is debatable (or, should I say, incorrect, because “Nowhere Man” originally appeared in December of 1965…but if you say that it appeared first in the US in 1966, then I stand corrected), there are a few Beatles songs written before 1966 that only hint at a relationship. “One After 909” comes to mind. “There’s A Place” is another one of them.
Although it has been said that Lennon didn’t write about himself in his early work with The Beatles before “Help!,” we see here an example that blows that theory out of the water. This appears to be his first piece of self-analysis, which pre-dates the similar topic of the Beach Boys’ hit, “In My Room,” by a few months. Unfortunately, Lennon’s self-analysis turned into self-indulgence in his later solo years, which turned his songwriting sour in many people’s eyes.
After the first verse informs us that the place that the singer can go to cheer himself up is his mind, it’s the second verse that tells of a relationship. In his mind he thinks of the things that his ‘significant other’ does, such us her saying that she loves only him. But the general theme of the song is stated in the bridge. When he is alone, he thinks about when there is “no sorrow” and about a happy future. This topic is returned to and refined much later in his solo work “Imagine.”
Vee Jay's "Introducing The Beatles" album
The first release of “There’s A Place” on US shores was on the legendary Vee-Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles,” released on January 6th, 1964. The second US release was as a single, which wasn’t released in Britain, as the flip side to “Twist And Shout.” This single was released on the newly formed Vee-Jay subsidiary Tollie Records in late February of 1964 as a way to capitalize on their performing “Twist And Shout” on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 23rd, 1964. Although its’ A-side reached number two on the Billboard charts, “There’s A Place” charted at number 74 for the week of April 11th, 1964.
The third US release of the song occurred in August of 1964 with the re-release of the Tollie single on the Vee Jay “Oldies 45” label. The fourth release was on the Vee Jay double-album “The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons”, released on October 1st, 1964, which coupled the “Introducing…The Beatles” album with “The Golden Hits of the Four Seasons”. The fifth appearance came less than two weeks later with another repackage of the Vee Jay album under the name “Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles”, released on October 12th, 1964.
Unfortunately, Capitol Records decided to omit the song from its’ “Early Beatles” album that was released in March of 1965. This omission meant that the song was not available in album form for the next 16 years. This also meant that the excellent stereo mix of the song was not available either during this long duration. The only available version of the song during the remaining 60’s and the entire 70’s was on its’ sixth release, which was as a Capitol single. Released on October 11th, 1965, Capitol’s budget Starline label made the original mono “Twist And Shout” single, with “There’s A Place” as its’ B-side, available for a while.
On March 24th, 1980, Capitol released the American version of the album “Rarities,” which contained the original stereo version of “There’s A Place.” A stereo version of the song hadn't been available since the Vee Jay albums of 1964 went out of print, so the "Rarities" album was quite the revelation for its' time.
The original British "Please Please Me" album was finally released in the US on February 26th, 1987 on compact disc, although it was only in mono at the time. The re-mastered stereo version of the CD was finally released on September 9th, 2009.
On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released the box set “Compact Disc EP Collection,” which contained “There’s A Place” due to its inclusion on the original British “Twist And Shout” EP of 1963.
The box set “The Beatles In Mono,” which came out on September 9th, 2009, also contains the song in its pristine re-mastered mono condition.
The Beatles at The Royal Hall, Yorkshire, March 8th, 1963
Although they felt strongly about the song at the time of its' recording. They apparently lost interest in the song quickly thereafter. They did not perform the song during any of their national tours of 1963, nor is there any documentation of them performing the song at any other live performance of 1963. Since it has been stated that the song was part of their live act in 1963, one would have to assume that the performance life of the song was limited at best. They preferred to continue to perform the cover songs recorded for the first album, such as "Baby It's You," "Chains" and "A Taste Of Honey," probably because of how uncomplicated these songs were in comparison to "There's A Place."
However, they did perform the song three times for BBC radio. On July 2nd, 1963, the Beatles performed the song for the first time on the BBC for the show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which aired on July 16th. On July 17th, they performed the song for the show “Easy Beat,” which aired on July 21st, 1963. The final BBC performance of the song was on August 1st, again for the BBC show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which aired on September 3rd, 1963. This was the last known performance of the song.
Lennon had stated many times that he never paid that much attention to lyrics and that, in the early years with the Beatles, lyrics were not much of a consideration for him. It was only when Bob Dylan suggested to him that he should use his songs to express his views and feelings that he adjusted his viewpoint. Listening to the Beatles catalog through to mid 1965, you can see that this must have been Lennon’s viewpoint, since the main focus of all of these lyrics tends to be love or relationships. He even succumbed to re-using topics of songs, such as with “All I’ve Got To Do” and “Any Time At All.”
This fact makes it all the more interesting that, this early in the songwriting history of Lennon/McCartney, we find an introspective lyric that suggests exploring the mind, although in a more innocent way then “Tomorrow Never Knows” would suggest three years later. This solidifies the notion that the Beatles were truly ahead of their time…even of their own time!
"There’s A Place”
Written by: Paul McCartney / John Lennon
- Song Written: February, 1963
- Song Recorded: February 11, 1963
- First US Release Date: January 6, 1964
- First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 “Introducing…The Beatles”
- US Single Release: Tollie #9001 (B-side to “Twist And Shout”)
- Highest Chart Position: #74
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 “Please Please Me”
- Length: 1:49
- Key: F major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
- John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325), Harmonica (Hohner Chromatic)
- Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Harmony Vocals
- George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1957 Gretsch Duo Jet), Background Vocals
- Ringo Starr – Drums (1960 Premier 58/54 Mahogany)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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