16. 'I Saw Her Standing There'
Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: February 11, 1963
Released: December 26, 1963
11 weeks; no. 14 (B side)
When McCartney began hashing out the song that became "I Saw Her Standing There" on a drive to his Liverpool home one night in 1962, the first couplet he came up with was "She was just 17/She'd never been a beauty queen." But when he played the song for Lennon the next day, "We stopped there and both of us cringed at that and said, 'No, no, no, "beauty queen" is out,'" McCartney recalled. "We went through the alphabet: between, clean, lean, mean. . . ." Eventually, they settled on "you know what I mean," which was good, he said, "because you don't know what I mean."
Though Lennon's exact contribution is unclear ("I helped with a couple of the lyrics," he said), "I Saw Her Standing There" is one of the songs that further cemented the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. A September 1962 photo by McCartney's brother Mike shows the pair in the front room of Paul's house, working face to face with acoustic guitars, Lennon wearing the glasses he hated, scratching out lyrics in a Liverpool Institute notebook. McCartney wrote the song on his Zenith acoustic guitar, the first guitar he ever owned.
The original inspiration for the song was a girlfriend of McCartney's at the time, dancer Iris Caldwell, who was in fact 17 when he first saw her doing the Twist — in fishnet stockings — at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton in December 1961. "Paul and I dated for a couple of years," said Caldwell. "It was never that serious. We never pretended to be true to each other. I went out with lots of people. I was working away in different theaters at the time, but if I was back home we would go out. There were never any promises made or love declared." Caldwell's brother was Liverpool rocker Rory Storm, leader of the Hurricanes — whose drummer, Ringo Starr, would leave them to join the Beatles in August 1962. Caldwell said that McCartney intended to give "I Saw Her Standing There" to Storm, but Brian Epstein talked him out of it.
Under the title "Seventeen," the song became part of the Beatles' live act in 1962. Onstage, the tune would sometimes run for 10 minutes, with multiple guitar solos. McCartney borrowed the hard-charging bass line from Chuck Berry's 1961 single "I'm Talking About You," a staple of the band's concerts. "I played the exact same notes as he did, and it fitted our number perfectly," McCartney said.
When it came time for the Beatles to record their first album, Please Please Me, George Martin considered taping them live, possibly in front of the group's home audience at the Cavern Club. Though he decided instead to set them up at EMI's studios on Abbey Road, they chose a song list representative of the band's live show. To set the mood, the album begins with McCartney's blazing "one-two-three-faw!" count-off on "I Saw Her Standing There." The Beatles outfitted the song, a veritable celebration of youth itself, with hand claps and the buoyant ooohs that would later show up on singles like "She Loves You." The song, which also features Harrison's first guitar solo on a Beatles record, was chosen as the B side for the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" single that topped the charts in America. It would also be one of the five songs that the Beatles performed on February 9th, 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show before a television audience of 73 million people.
Lennon described "I Saw Her Standing There" as "Paul doing his usual good job of producing what George Martin would call a 'potboiler,'" but the song would assume a greater meaning in his later life. In 1974, Lennon and Elton John made a bet that if Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," which featured John on harmony vocals and piano, made it to Number One, Lennon would join him onstage. When the song became Lennon's first solo song to top the charts, he made good and appeared with John at his November 28th show at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Before the final song, Lennon said, "We thought we'd do a number of an old estranged fiance of mine called Paul," and they closed the night with a rollicking version of "I Saw Her Standing There." "I just wanted to have some fun and play some rock & roll," Lennon said afterward. It would be the last song John Lennon ever performed in concert.
Appears On: Please Please Me