The final entry in our four-week exploration of Live! At the Star Club involves a favorite song in very different clothing. On the surface, “I Saw Her Standing There” epitomizes the energy, excitement, and relative innocence of the Beatlemania era. After all, the Beatles were simply singing about holding hands and falling in love — certainly nothing scandalous.
Yet underneath these romantic words was something more sexual, symbolized by the opening lines: “Well she was just seventeen — you know what I mean.” The playful handclap-driven beat may have somewhat tempered these lyrics in the Please Please Me studio version, but their 1962 Star Club rendition more accurately captures the intended raunchiness of the original.
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in September 1962, “I Saw Her Standing There” first took shape in McCartney’s Liverpool home. McCartney composed the first line alone; he and Lennon wrote the rest of the lyrics in a Liverpool Institute exercise book. Sitting with their guitars, the duo painstakingly worked on every line. Most famously, Lennon disliked McCartney’s original opening words: “Well she was just seventeen; she’d never been a beauty queen.” In Anthology, McCartney dubbed this a “cringe line” and explained that he and Lennon devised the deliberately ambiguous phrase “you know what I mean.”
Interestingly, McCartney later admitted that he lifted the bass line from Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” for the song. The similarities are obvious, when hearing Berry’s original cut …
The Beatles’ affection for the track is obvious, since they frequently covered it in their live sets — including their Star Club appearances — and BBC radio shows …
The group continued tinkering with the track, changing the tempo and revising the lyrics. In late 1962, the Beatles rehearsed “I Saw Her Standing There” at the Cavern Club, and the differences are remarkable: Lennon contributed harmonica while George Harrison played guitar; Ringo Starr’s tempo is slightly slower; and the lines “Well, my heart went boom, when I crossed that room — and I held her hand in mine” were still a work in progress.
In this subsequently bootlegged version, Lennon and McCartney instead sang “Well, we danced all night — and I held her tight, and I held her hand in mine.” The duo breaks into laughter upon crooning this line; perhaps expressing their discomfort with the revision.
By the time they performed this song during their December 1962 Star Club set, they had greatly progressed on the composition. The arrangement closely mirrors the final Please Please Me album version, but contains some slight differences. A particularly welcome addition, curiously absent from the studio rendition, is the “Peter Gunn” guitar riff after the first verse.
The original “well, we danced all night” lyric has vanished; clearly Lennon and McCartney had recently added the “well, my heart went boom” lines. McCartney’s screaming vocals are almost identical to the final version, with slight modulation on the line “and I could see.” Starr furiously bashes on the drums, driving the Beatles much harder than in the Decca recordings featuring Pete Best.
Finally, Harrison’s thrashing guitar solo — augmented by Lennon’s pounding rhythm guitar — lends a much harder edge to “I Saw Her Standing There.” The tempo seems faster, although it actually differs little from the Please Please Me version. Wisely, the group had eliminated the harmonica section.
The rest is history: On February 11, 1963, the Beatles entered Abbey Road for their legendary all-day recording session. That morning, producer George Martin recorded nine takes of the track (three of which were complete). After deeming take one to be best, the Beatles overdubbed handclaps that afternoon. In a fateful move, Martin later added McCartney’s “One, two, three, FOUR!” count-in from take nine.
Listening to the various takes, it is evident that the group valiantly battled with increasingly flagging energy; McCartney’s count-in rallied the Beatles.
“I Saw Her Standing There” went on to become not only a huge hit, but a landmark cut in the history of rock. McCartney continues performing the song in concerts, to ecstatic audience reaction.
While the Please Please Me version remains a favorite, the Star Club rendition possesses a rawness not present on the more familiar album cut. Since no recordings from their earlier Hamburg days apparently exist, the Star Club performances help fans visualize what the pre-Beatlemania group sounded like.
The album remains controversial for its poor sound quality, but the spirited, arguably just-as-good-as-the-original rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There” is worth the price of admission alone.
Is the Beatles’ punk-tinged take of “I Saw Her Standing There” equal to or better than the Please Please Me version? Add your thoughts in the comment section.