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Paul McCartney and Jane Asher

“TILL THERE WAS YOU”

(Meredith Wilson)

The significance of “Till There Was You” in The Beatles recorded canon appears to be infinitesimally small to most Beatles fans, many not having knowledge of them even recording the song.  In fact, some sheet music books which claim to include all of the released Beatles material omit the song, not because of it being a cover song, but simply because they forgot to include it.

The truth of the matter is that the song was a major determining factor in The Beatles being signed to EMI’s Parlophone Records in Britain, thereby catapulting them to fame throughout the world.  If it wasn’t for The Beatles adding “Till There Was You” to their repertoire, they no doubt would have had the same fate of most of the ‘beat groups’ of the Liverpool music scene, such as Cass and The Casanovas, Derry and The Seniors and Rory Storm and The Hurricanes.

January 1st, 1962, was a monumental day in The Beatles career.  Brian Epstein had arranged an audition for the band at Decca Records and had hand-picked fifteen songs for them to perform in their studio.  Brian’s intent was to show off every facet of their talent, so he chose to include a couple soft ballads with the attempt of appealing to a more adult audience.  The entire audition was recorded on that day to enable the A & R staff to review the recordings in making their decision about signing the group to their record label.

In early February of that year, the news reached the ears of Brian Epstein that Decca had decided not to sign The Beatles to their label.  When The Beatles heard this news, John Lennon blamed Brian for them failing the audition, saying that his choice of songs was not a good representation of The Beatles’ live rock and roll performances.  Nonetheless, one good outcome of the Decca auditions was Brian Epstein acquiring two reel-to reel tapes of the audition, which were professional recordings of the fifteen songs The Beatles played on that day.  Brian decided to transfer these tapes to records which would enable him to easily play these songs to other record companies in hopes of securing a recording deal with them.

On February 13th, Brian met with George Martin, who was the head of A & R at EMI’s Parlophone Records.  Martin, who was looking for the next pop idol to be secured to his small label, eagerly listened to the discs of the Decca audition.  Although not overly-impressed, “Till There Was You” stuck out like a sore thumb.  He was impressed by George Harrisons’ guitar work as well as McCartney’s vocals, which earmarked Paul as a possible lead singer of the group in George Martin’s mind.  He concluded that it might be worth his while giving The Beatles a proper audition for EMI, which was eventually slated for June 6th.

As it turned out, John Lennon was wrong in this case.  It was the inclusion of the soft ballad “Till There Was You” that got them the audition with EMI, which lead to them being signed up to the Parlophone label.  This event, in turn, gave them the chance to show what they could do as performers and songwriters which, shortly thereafter, made The Beatles a household name around the world.  The power that this song, and The Beatles’ performance of it, wielded was remembered by Brian Epstein, as it was wheeled out on different strategic occasions when they were in a position to impress, such as at the Royal Command Performance on November 4th, 1963, and their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance on February 9th, 1964.

Another occasion which warranted the song being showcased was the recording of their second British album “With The Beatles.”  With their huge backlog of cover songs contained in their set lists for the past few years, it was a given that they would eventually include the impressive song which basically got them their recording contract in the first place.

Songwriting History

“Till There Was You” was written by composer, songwriter, conductor and playwright Meredith Wilson specifically for his Tony Award and Grammy Award winning musical “The Music Man.”  Meredith, born Robert Meredith Reiniger, attended Julliard in New York City (back when it was called the Institute of Musical Art) and became accomplished as a flautist and piccolo player.  He was privileged to be a member of John Philip Sousa’s band between 1921 and 1923, and then in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra between 1924 and 1929.

Meredith started working for movies shortly thereafter, garnishing Academy Award nominations for his work on Charlie Chaplin‘s “The Great Dictator” in 1940 as well as “The Little Foxes” in 1941.  During World War II, he worked with Armed Forces Radio Service, which teamed him up with George Burns, Gracie Allen and Bill Goodwin.  He earned a regular spot on the Burns and Allen radio show, as well as worked as their bandleader.  After the war, he became the musical director for a comedy/variety show entitled “The Big Show” which featured Tallulah Bankhead as its’ host.  “May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You” was the title of the famous song that Meredith wrote as featured on this program.

Meredith wrote a total of four musicals in his lifetime, the first and most successful was “The Music Man,” which premiered on Broadway in 1957.  This play took him eight years and thirty revisions to complete, as well as writing over 40 songs for the musical, including “Till There Was You.”  So much was thought of the song that it was actually released as a single before the musical hit Broadway.  Promotional copies of the single were released on November 26th, 1957, which was produced by Nelson Riddle and sung by 17 year old Sue Raney.  The cast recording album for the musical, released in January of 1958, won the first Grammy Award for the category Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) ever issued.  The album contains “Till There Was You” sung by actress Barbara Cook.  The musical was adapted to the big screen in 1962, which featured Shirley Jones singing the song.

After three more musicals (“The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Here’s Love” and “1491”), he continued his career in music, releasing an album entitled “…and Then I Wrote The Music Man” (credited to Rini and Meredith Wilson) on Capitol Records, as well as writing the University of Iowa’s fight song “For I For S Forever.”  He also wrote two biographies; “And There I Stood With My Piccolo” in 1948, and “But He Doesn’t Know The Territory” in 1959.  Having died on June 15, 1984, he was most known as a songwriter of well-crafted, subtle yet complex melodies that appealed to mass audiences of his day.  His overall claim to fame is his writing the book, music and lyrics for the Broadway hit musical “The Music Man,” which featured the beautiful “Till There Was You.”

The song, written especially for the musical, is a vehicle for the female lead character Marian to sing to the male lead character Harold as they met at the agreed spot at the footbridge.  Marian proceeds to tell Harold the difference he’s made in her life through the lyrics of this song.

The song has been recorded by many artists, including the hit version by Anita Bryant which peaked at #30 on the US Billboard charts in 1959.  The version of the song that caught the attention of Paul McCartney was the rendition by Peggy Lee as recorded on the album “Latin ala Lee!” which was released in January of 1960.  Paul was reportedly introduced to this version of the song through his older cousin Elizabeth Danher (now Robbins).  “I didn’t know that was from the musical “The Music Man” until many years later,” McCartney claimed, although he must have found that out by the time of the “Royal Variety Performance” on November 4th, 1963, since he announced to the audience that it was from that musical.

Peggy Lee’s version, with its’ jazz-styled lead guitar, became the basis to The Beatles rendition of the song.  Paul skillfully rearranged the song to suit their four-piece guitar/bass/drums set up and respectfully perfected the song with its’ Broadway-esque sentimentality in a convincing and confident way.  The enormously successful singer Peggy Lee continued to have an admirer in Paul McCartney who wrote and produced the title track of her 1974 album “Let’s Love.” 

The Beatles with Pete Best, 1962

Recording History

January 1st, 1962, was the first day The Beatles entered into a recording studio to record “Till There Was You.”  It was actually the first time The Beatles entered any proper recording studio at all.  This was their audition for Decca Records at Decca Studios in London, which was less than two miles from EMI studios where they were to acquire their official contract later in the year.  Manager Brian Epstein undoubtedly hand-picked "Till There Was You" for this audition to depict the versitility of the group.

Since the hour long session began at 11:00 am, and they recorded a total of fifteen songs in an hour, this third song was recorded at approximately 11:10 am.  It seems quite likely that only one take of each song was performed on this day, so their being so well acquainted with the song came in handy.  The subdued drumming of current drummer Pete Best was unsteady and rudimentary which didn’t suit the arrangement, although McCartney’s vocals were respectful and convincing, right down to the raised final note.  Harrison’s guitar solo, which was repeated twice at this stage, was polished and highly impressive.

Having failed the Decca audition, the second studio appearance of the song was on July 18th, 1963 at EMI studio two in their first recording session for their second British album “With The Beatles.”  At approximately 10:00 pm, the Beatles ran through three takes of the song, two of them complete, before deciding to return to the song on another day.  The instrumentation was the same as the Decca session a year and a half earlier, this time with Ringo playing his part on his full drum kit.

July 30th, 1963, was the keeper date.  Studio two at EMI was the location for this full day of recording for their second album.  The evening session ran from 5:00 to 11:00 pm which, after George Martin overdubbed piano edit pieces for “Money (That’s What I Want),” The Beatles started their remake of “Till There Was You.”  It was decided, probably by George Martin, that drums were too obtrusive for this ballad, so Ringo was moved to a pair of bongos courtesy of the EMI collection.

The remake of the song ran from approximately 5:30 to 6:00 pm taking five takes to perfect, which were numbered takes four through eight to take into consideration the three takes of the previous session.  The arrangement was modified from their Decca audition to have only one guitar solo which also eliminated the need for a further repeat of the bridge and final verse.  Take eight was deemed the best, which was a full band performance with no overdubs or fading needed.

August 21st saw the mono mix of the song, which was attended only by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick in studio two of EMI.  This is the mono mix that is heard on the mono version of “Meet The Beatles!” in the US.  October 29th saw the stereo mix of the song performed in studio three with the same EMI staff present, with the addition of the mysterious B.T. as second engineer.  This is the stereo mix that is heard on the stereo version of “Meet The Beatles!

The Beatles did touch on the song one more time on January 10th, 1969, during the recording / filming sessions for the "Get Back/Let It Be" project.  This took place at Twickenham Film Studios but did not appear in the movie or soundtrack album. 

Song Structure and Style

The song structure of “Till There Was You” could very well have been the model used by Lennon and McCartney for their early songwriting years, this being the perfect song structure example for that time period.  We see here that classic case of 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' (or aaba) with the title of the song at the end of each verse used as a hook-line identifying without any doubt what the title of the song is, as well as the obvious intent of the lyric story.  This exact model was used to good effect in Lennon/McCartney originals up to this time, such as in “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Misery” and “From Me To You,” and would continue to beused throughout their career, as well as be creatively expanded upon.  In this case, though, a solo section is included, which is played over the verse chords as is standard, repeated by another bridge and then a repetition of the final verse.

The song begins with a four bar instrumental introduction with raising guitar chords and a simple but effective precursor to the guitar solo we will hear from George Harrison later in the song.  The first verse commences with McCartney’s convincing vocal work.  This first verse differs from the rest in structure only by its’ raised ending phrase, which creates anticipation for the second verse.  The eight bar bridge creates a perfect contrast with its’ octave jump in the melody line, which tests Paul’s vocal abilities.  The transition back to the third verse creates a satisfying feeling to the song, as the structures’ ending makes you feel that everything has been said.  Harrison’s beautiful guitar solo is then heard against the chord structure of a verse, which is then followed by a repeat of the bridge and third verse.  A six bar conclusion to the song follows the final verse, emphasizing once again the songs’ title with the final note dramatically held through two chord changes before the final acoustic guitar strum ends the song with a delicate touch of finality.  This, therefore, is a masterful example of songwriting created by a classic songwriter with much experience under his belt.

For aspiring songwriters, such as The Beatles, much could be absorbed from this model, as has been the case.  “The Lennon/McCartney songwriting collaboration was forming during that period,” explains McCartney.  Showing the influence this song had on their songwriting, he adds “We went on from ‘Love Me Do’ to writing deeper, much more intense things.  So it was just as well someone didn’t come up and tell us how uncool ‘Till There Was You’ was.”

The lyrics, although perfectly suited for “The Music Man” as well as for the time period, come across as particularly schmaltzy amongst The Beatles catalog.  The sentimentality conveyed, with lines such as “wonderful roses” and “fragrant meadows of dawn and dew,” sound extremely dated compared to the youth-oriented “yeah, yeah, yeah”s most Beatle fans were used to hearing at this time.  Keeping in mind the purpose of the inclusion of this song in their repertoire, The Beatles overlooked the old fashioned lyrics in order to show their versatility as well as impress an older generation.

Not to say that The Beatles couldn’t poke a little fun at the extreme schmaltz of the lyrics, evident in the over-pronunciation of the “c” of the word ‘music’ on their Decca version of the song, as well as the American-ized pronunciation of the word “saw” as “sar” in the released version.  Paul continued this ruse during 1963, as evidenced on the “Royal Variety Performance” in November, but relented to the seriousness of their American premier on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 to sing it straight.

The lyrics express the simple sentiment of not being able to enjoy the beauty of life, such as bells ringing and birds “winging,” until the singer met his/her true love.  As the bridge testifies, “music” was then realized for the first time, as well as finally noticing “love all around” the singer that was never noticed “till there was you.”  Hardly the example of storytelling that appeared in popular songwriting of the mid sixties, but a prime model of what a perfectly suited set of lyrics can convey with the suitable melody to accompany it.  It definitely tugs at the heart-strings in its’ context of “The Music Man.”

As stated earlier, McCartney’s vocals are ‘spot on’ as to pitch, as well as sung in a respectable and convincing manner.  His bass work, which shows up higher in the mix because of the subdued acoustic arrangement, is well performed throughout while not too much straying from the key notes occur, except where the guitar solo is played.  This allowed him to concentrate on adding a little more intricacies, since the song was recorded straight without any overdubs and he wasn’t singing during the solo.

Harrison is next to be admired because of his tastefully conceived and executed acoustic guitar solo.  Second only to his being able to imitate his guitar hero Carl Perkins, he shines the greatest on this track out of all of the early Beatles catalog.  He also adds little nuances throughout the song which add a great degree of credibility to his musicianship and to The Beatles as a whole.

After ditching the idea of using the full drum kit arrangement as used by Pete Best in the Decca audition, Ringo pulls off a capable and suitable percussion part on the bongos.  It is interesting to note that Ringo played a full drum kit in a subdued fashion when they performed the song live, which was done proficiently without the awkwardness apparent in the Pete Best version on the Decca audition.  Lennon, playing strident rhythm guitar chords, shows himself adept at applying himself to what may otherwise be not his ‘cup of tea.’  “The fact that we weren’t ashamed of those leanings meant that the band could be a bit more varied,” McCartney explained.   

Capitol's "Meet The Beatles" album

American Releases

January 20th, 1964, was the first release of the song on the Capitol album “Meet The Beatles!  This album was finally released on an individual compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD.  Although Capitol decided to omit cover songs on their first American album, thinking that US audiences would not be interested in hearing a British group redo American hits, they did let this song through, probably based on their knowledge that The Beatles were due to perform the song on the upcoming Ed Sullivan Show.  Showing the versatility of the group may also have been a determining factor in including the song on the album.

Unfortunately, this superb performance was not considered by anyone at EMI to be of enough lasting value to be included on any compilation “greatest hits” album to date.  In retrospect, it probably was just as well because of the old-fashioned nature of the song in contrast to the swinging ‘beat’ style the early Beatles catalog is known for.

There were, however, other releases that contained the song.  The controversial album “Live! At the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany 1962,” released on Lingasong Records on May 2nd, 1977, included The Beatles performing “Till There Was You.”  The groups’ last reluctant performance in Hamburg on December 31st, 1962, was crudely recorded on a Grundig home tape recorder and, after changing many hands, was commercially released in 1977 on this album, after a failed attempt from Apple Records to prevent the release.  The same recording was released once again in 1979 on a Pickwick Records release “1st Live Recordings, Volume One.”  Pickwick then combined both Volume One and Volume Two to create a double-album (featuring "Till There Was You") entitled "The Historic First Live Recordings," which was released in 1980.  Then the label Hall Of Music also released these Hamburg tapes as "Live 1962, Hamburg Germany" in 1981.  

1982 also saw another release of the Hamburg recording of "Till There Was You," this time as a single.  Collectables Records paired the song with their Hamburg rendition of "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" as the B-side.

Unofficial releases of the Decca audition, which include the Pete Best rendition, have surfaced over the years.  The US label Backstage Records released the recordings in 1982 with the backing of Pete Best himself, as did Audio-Fidelity Records shortly thereafter.  Lawsuits were filed and, since the true ownership of these tapes aren’t apparently known, the full 15 songs have not been officially available in full as of this date.  Apple Records received permission to release a handful of these tracks on their “Anthology 1” album, but “Till There Was You” was not included.

Evatone Records sponsored a limited edition release of the Decca recording of "Till There Was You" in 1983.  This flexi-disc, which also included their Decca version of "Three Cool Cats" on the same side of the disc, was given away to customers who purchased a recent US Record Price Guide.

February 26th, 1987 saw the song on the original British LP "With The Beatles" released on compact disc for the first time.  While this CD was mono only, the re-mastered version released on September 9th, 2009 was in stereo.  

December 6th, 1994, did see another release of the song on the album “Live At The BBC.”  Recorded February 28th, 1964 for the BBC broadcast “From Us To You,” it originally aired on March 30th, 1964 and is included as the final track of the first disc of this two CD set.  A re-mastered and re-packaged version of this album was released on November 11th, 2013.

The next US release of the song was on November 21st, 1995 on the album “Anthology 1.”  This was of the historic November 4th, 1963 version of the song at the “Royal Command Performance.”  This included Paul’s introductory speech before the song, including his acknowledgement of its’ appearance in “The Music Man” and his quick joke about the song also being recorded by “our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker,” which was a sly reference to her being overweight.

November 15th, 2004 saw the release of the box set The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 which contains the song in both stereo and mono as first heard on the original "Meet The Beatles!" album.

On September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which featured the newly re-mastered mono mix of “Till There Was You.” 

Yet another version of the song was featured on the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2," which was released on November 11th, 2013.  This version was recorded on July 10th, 1963 (nearly 3 weeks before their album version was recorded) for the radio program "Pop Go The Beatles."  Notice the amazingly fluent guitar solo from George as well as the final vocal flourish from Paul that was unlike their original version.  Also released around this date was a fourteen-track sampler of the above album for promotional purposes, "Till There Was You" being included therein.


Live Performances

Evidence suggests that The Beatles added “Till There Was You” to their repertoire sometime in early 1961 during their extensive recidency at the Cavern Club.  Paul would humorously introduce the song as by "Peggy Leg" while John poked fun at him on stage for singing such an unconventional song, something Paul took in stride knowing it was all part of the act.  “We were now playing better places,” McCartney explained, saying that they could now “pull out ‘Till There Was You’ or A Taste Of Honey – the more cabaret things” at these slightly higher paying gigs.  Songs like these “showed that we weren’t just another rock’n’roll group,” says McCartney.

The Beatles continued to perform the song at their Cavern Club dates as well as their other daily bookings throughout 1962 and 1963.  The Beatles Christmas Show,” the British stage production conceived by Epstein, included the song in each of its’ 16 nights which ran from December 24th, 1963 through January 11th, 1964.

The song continued through a lot of 1964 as well, including their first US concerts at the Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall in February.  Their world tour, which started on June 4th, started out with “Till There Was You” in their set list.  It was during this tour that they retired the song for good, June 17th in Melbourne, Australia being the last reported time the song was played by The Beatles.

The first BBC radio performance of the song was recorded on June 1st, 1963 for the show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which aired on June 11th.  The song was then recorded on June 24th for the show “Saturday Club,” which was broadcast on June 29th, 1963.  July 10th was the next recording for the BBC for another “Pop Go The Beatles” show which aired on July 30th, 1963.  A further “Pop Go The Beatles” show on September 10th featured the song, which was recorded on September 3rd.  It is noteworthy that all of the above broadcasts were before The Beatles released the song on the “With The Beatles” album on November 22, 1963.

The next appearance of the song for the BBC was recorded on December 17th for the show “Saturday Club,” which was broadcast on December 21st, 1963.  The first “From Us To You” radio show featured the song, which was recorded on December 18th and aired on December 26th while The Beatles were performing live in “The Beatles Christmas Show” at the Astoria Cinema in London.  The February 28th performance of the song for “From Us To You,” which was featured on the “Live At The BBC” album, was the final BBC broadcast of the song, which aired on March 30th, 1964.

There were five television appearances of the song as well, the first being the "Royal Command Performance" which took place on November 4th, 1963 and aired in Britain on November 10th of that year.  Then came a live concert on December 7th, 1963 at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, which became the British TV show "It's The Beatles!" which was broadcast later that same evening.  Then came the famous live American "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance on February 9th, 1964, followed by the British show "Big Night Out," this being a mimed performance of the song filmed on February 23rd, 1964 and aired on February 29th of that year  Finally, there was an Australian concert on June 17th, 1964 that featured the song, this show being broadcast on television in that country on July 1st of that year with the title "The Beatles Sing For Shell."

Paul McCartney did finally resurrect the song during his 2005 US tour.  A wonderful version of Paul and his band performing “Till There Was You” can be seen on the DVD “The Space Within US.” 

Conclusion

 Perhaps “Till There Was You” was best described by William Mann in his essay as printed in The London Times on December 23rd, 1963.  “How fresh and euphonious the ordinary guitars sound in the Beatles' version of 'Till There Was You.'”  Mann describes their performance of this song as “a cool, easy, tasteful version of this ballad, quite without artificial sentimentality.”

That such an amazing rendition of such a classic piece of songwriting should go mostly unnoticed, even by the biggest recording group of all time, is a true shame.  While it may be true that fans of the later Beatles would rather not admit to the existence of the song, those who are avid acknowledgers of the finer things in music should definitely take notice.  The songwriting is perfect and the performance is flawless.  Enough said.

Song Summary

Till There Was You”

Written by:  Meredith Wilson

  • Song Written: 1956 (estimated)
  • Song Recorded: July 30, 1963
  • First US Release Date: January 20, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2047 Meet The Beatles!
  • US Single Release: Collectables #1506
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3045 “With The Beatles”
  • Length: 2:16
  • Key: F major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1)
  • George Harrison – Lead and Rhythm Guitar (1950 Jose Ramirez de Estudio)
  • John Lennon  Rhythm Guitar (1962 Gibson J150E)
  • Ringo Starr – Bongos

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski 

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