Many fascinating stories have emerged from the landmark 1963 recording of the Please Please Me album. The all-day marathon session signaled the beginning of The Beatles’ rock and pop reign and produced an impressive array of singles: “Love Me Do,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist and Shout,” and the title track, just to name a few. Yet other album tracks and B-sides remain overlooked, perhaps due to the fact that Please Please Me contains an embarrassment of riches. One such track that deserves a second listen is “There’s A Place,” an upbeat song that not only features impressive harmonies by John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney; its sophistication differentiated the group from other pop bands of the time.
Primarily written by Lennon, “There’s A Place” represents his attempt to write a Motown song. “There’s A Place was my attempt at a sort of Motown, black thing,” he explained in 1980. “It says the usual Lennon things: ‘In my mind there’s no sorrow…’ It’s all in your mind.” In Many Years from Now, McCartney recalled working with Lennon on the track, with the two meeting at McCartney’s home on Forthlin Road in Liverpool. He told author Barry Miles that they loosely based the song on the lyrics from West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” but changed the theme to intellectual rather than purely romantic. In this 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,” he explained.
Lennon and McCartney brought their composition to the now-legendary February 11, 1963 session at Abbey Road Studios. They recorded “There’s A Place” along with “I Saw Her Standing There,” both taking place during just a few hours. In ten takes, George Martin and The Beatles completed the backing track and vocals; McCartney remembered singing the high harmony, Lennon the lower harmony and melody. “This was a nice thing because we didn’t actually have to decide where the melody was till later when they boringly had to write it down for sheet music,” he told Miles. After a break, Lennon commenced overdubbing the harmonica part onto take 10. After three attempts, the last take—take 13—became the final version. Interestingly, Harrison originally played the lead line on guitar; Martin and the group then replaced it with the harmonica solo.
Despite its strengths — complex harmonies, catchy melody, and uptempo sound — “There’s A Place” ended up relegated to the B-side of the 1964 US “Twist and Shout” single. The rest is history, of course; “Twist and Shout” became a huge hit, while “There’s A Place” faded into relative obscurity. To this day, casual fans may not be aware of the track, and radio stations rarely play it, making it one of the “lost” Beatles songs from their vast catalog.
“There’s A Place” stands out for many reasons, the first being the lyrics. Unlike typical love songs of the period, the tune concerns introspection and reflection. “There is a place, where I can go when I feel low, when I feel blue,” Lennon and McCartney sing. On first listen, one expects this “place” to be with a lover, to bask in the romantic glow. But the song confounds the listener’s expectations: “And it’s my mind, and there’s no time when I’m alone.” Here being alone is not a negative situation, but rather an opportunity to think and re-energize. The narrator reflects on his beloved, but on her words and actions rather than beauty: “I think of you, and things you do go ’round my head; the things you said, like ‘I love only you.’” Meditating alone is nothing to pity, as it is not about loneliness. In case anyone has missed that point, the bridge emphasizes the narrator’s happiness: “In my mind there’s no sorrow, don’t you know that it’s so; there’ll be no sad tomorrow, don’t you know that it’s so.” In other words, do not feel sorry for this character — just leave him alone with his thoughts, and he will never feel lonely. Lennon would return to this general theme repeatedly, celebrating the value of contemplation and seemingly doing nothing in later tracks like “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “Watching the Wheels,” among many others.
Another fascinating aspect of “There’s A Place” lies in its gorgeous harmonies. Listen carefully for how Lennon and McCartney let their voices flutter on ending words like “place” and “go,” and the intricate harmonies during the bridge. Their close singing on “don’t you know that it’s so” remain some of the underrated pleasures of this song and the Beatles’ music in general. Both the lyrics and these vocals stood out from typical pop of the time, adding a level of sophistication heretofore unheard of in rock and roll. As a sidenote, “There’s A Place” slightly predates the similarly themed “In My Room” by the Beach Boys.
The Beatles rarely performed the song live except for a BBC appearance in 1963. New technology has presented expanded opportunities to appreciate Beatles music, from remastered CDs to MP3s via iTunes. Hopefully these releases (along with the recent vinyl remasters of the catalog) will breathe new life into this unfairly overlooked track. If nothing else, “There’s A Place” further signals the change The Beatles brought to popular music, fusing rock and pop with complicated harmonies and deeper lyrics. Grab a pair of headphones and fully indulge in all the subtleties of this still poignant song.
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