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Notes on "I Saw Her Standing There"


Notes on ... Series #26.0 (ISHST.0)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: E Major
     Meter: 4/4
        CD: "Please Please Me", Track 1 (Parlophone CDP7 46435-2)
  Recorded: 11th February 1963, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd March 1963 (LP "Please Please Me")
US-release: 22nd July 1963 (LP "Introducing The Beatles")
  Next note In contrast with the post-skiffle beat of songs like "Love Me Do" and "Misery" or even "From Me To You" and "Thank You Girl", "I Saw Her Standing There" is one of the Boys' first hard, fast rockers; it was probably the most blazingly original song they had yet written at the time of its recording, and appropriately and auspiciously, they chose to crown it with the lead-off spot on their first album. More importantly for our purposes here, the words, music, and arrangement of this song are replete with the touches and techniques that in retrospect define the early "sound" of the group, making it a prime choice for our detailed study.


  Next note The lyrics of the first three verses and bridge section contain a deceptively simple boy-meets-girl narrative to which the pulsating music lends a definitely hot connotation, in spite of the lack of any explicit passion in the words. There are many other songs in the world which describe this discovering of one's special love across a crowded room or at a dance, but "I Saw Her Standing There" is a very far cry indeed from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" or Bernstein's "Maria"; as absurd as this association of titles sounds at first, you cannot deny the uncanny parallels among their respective scenarios.
  Next note We also have early examples here of a type of wordplay that would be looked back upon as a Beatles' trademark; i.e. the successive use of "How", "She", and "I" at the beginning of the third line of each verse, and the alternation between "when" and "since" at the beginning of the final line of each verse. This device was sufficiently clever to trip up the composers themselves, primarily John. Not only are several of the outtakes riddled by word collisions, but a couple of such mishaps actually managed to creep into the official version; listen to "when" / "since" at the end of the third verse, or John's hesitation with "since" in the last verse.

Harmony and Form

  Next note The song is, and always has been played in the key of E Major; Paul still did it this way on his '89 tour. It must have been a particularly playable key for them in terms of vocal range and chord choices, because they used it so frequently in their early string of original compositions. A non-exhaustive list of examples includes "Please Please Me", "There's A Place", "It Won't Be Long", and "All My Loving". Talk about being "tuned to a natural E!"
  Next note Though not strictly a blues song, there is nonetheless, a strong bluesy flavor here created by the almost exclusive reliance on the I, IV, and V chords, the slow harmonic rhythm with its infrequent chord changes, and the many blue notes in the vocal line which pit melodic notes from the minor mode against the Major chords in the accompaniment; i.e. the tune has a relatively large number of G- and D-naturals in it for a song in the key of four sharps. Only one truly unusual chord is used in the song, C Major, and it appears with strategic effectiveness right at the climax of each verse where the voices go into their falsetto "wooh".
  Next note The form is quite fully cranked out with two bridges, a guitar solo, intro, and full outro, thus making the it run a comparatively long 2:52 as a result:
   Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse | Verse (solo) |
         | Bridge | Verse | Outro (with complete ending)
  Next note The song evokes such a pleasurably exuberant mood that I don't believe anyone these days ever finds it to drag or to be too long in its full form; if anything, the outstretched symmetry is one of its best features. Interestingly though, if you bother to study the long line of live versions of the song performed for broadcast or in concert, you'll discover that at some point, they felt compelled to shorten it up by dropping the second bridge.


  Next note Throughout, there's a delightful tension embedded in the song from the way that the slowness of the chord changes contrasts with the hard driving activity of the rhythm track and the frequent long jumps in the voice parts. There are several more specific trademark sources of excitement in the arrangement to which the entire group contributes:
  • Paul's boogie-woogie bassline outlines the chords in a perpetual motion of eighth notes.
  • Ringo's elaborately syncopated drum fills typically appear in the space between phrases or sections.
  • The backing work on rhythm and lead guitars works in fine synergy with the bass and drum parts. George's little obbligato riffs which fill the space between phrases sound a little more tentative than necessary, but you'd miss them if they weren't there. When you work your way through the many later concert and broadcast versions of this song, you find that over time, George does in fact come out of his shell a bit, and plays these fills with greater confidence and elaboration.
  • The appearance of a full-length improvisatory guitar solo is notable to the extent that instrumental solos of any kind are relatively uncommon on the early singles and albums; the few that do appear tend more toward light- handed embellishment of the main tune (viz. "Love Me Do" or "From Me To You"). Granted, there are those who will argue that George's performance here sounds a tad too stiff and pre-arranged to have been made up in real time, but the point is, it's intended to sound as though improvised.
  • The tight vocal harmonies of Paul and John, which we will look at below in detail, feature a type of counterpoint which is conspicuously unlike the simpler parallel thirds or sixths of acts like the Everly Brothers. Even the falsetto used here seems so bracingly different from what was to be heard from other contemporaneous groups who made a habit of it, such as The Beach Boys or The Four Seasons. If you can sight-read John's parts from my notation below, I recommend you try singing them along with the record for a good time.
  • The handclaps and the screaming used for background punctuation are unessential yet nevertheless characteristic.
  Next note As always, however, it is only in a thorough walk-through of the entire song that all the details can be fully appreciated.


  Next note The intro is a simple four measures of vamping on the tonic chord of E, but the count-in, the eighth note pickup in the bass, and the generally rhythmic texture of the accompaniment all help to set, from the very outset, the energetic tone of what is to follow.

Verses - "She was just seventeen ..." / "She looked at me ..." / "We danced all night ..."

  Next note The verse is in a standard structure of sixteen measures with four phrases of equal length:
     |E       |-       |A       |E       |
   E: I                 IV       I

     |-       |-       |B       |-       |

     |E       |-       |A       |C       |
      I        **       IV       flat-VI

     |E       |B       |E       |-       |
      I        V        I

   [Figure 26.1]
  [** Bass players will want to note that Paul often but not always makes sure that E chord in measure 10 is supported by G# in the bass which allows the bassline to melodically move stepwise to the A of the following measure.]
  Next note As often happens, the harmony plays an important role in the articulation of the dramatic shape of such a verse: the first phrase expositorily establishes the key, the second phrase reinforces this sense of key with its open ending on V, the third builds towards a climax with its ending on the C chord, and the fourth phrase finally resolves all accumulated tension with its straightforward re-establishment of the home key.
  Next note That C-Major chord is actually not native to E Major, and in analytical terms is said to have been "borrowed" from the parallel key of e minor. When it moves either from or to the E chord, two of its three voices move in chromatic half-steps (C to B and G to G#) creating a momentary spike of intensity. This is a delightfully ambiguous touch because it leaves it up to us listeners to decide whether the protagonist's tension is one of approach-avoidance or more simply the joy of confident anticipation.
  Next note The vocal parts also help to bring the dramatic structure of the music into relief. Paul sings the first eight measures solo and is joined by John for the remainder of the verse in a bit of two part harmony that is most unusual and tangy. In the counterpoint transcribed below, note the number of open fourths and fifths, some of which follow in parallel (measure 11), and the large number of G-naturals in either voice which make for "class 1" cross-relations with the G-sharps in the E Major harmony below:
 Paul:   |B       C#  D#  |E       F#  G   |    F#  E       |
 John:   |G#      G#  A   |B       B   C#  |    B   A       |
       So how   could I    dance  with anoth-   er, 

 Paul:   |    E   E   E   |E       D       |B           G   |    E
 John:   |    C   C   C   |B       G**     |F#          G   |    E
           whoo,   when I  saw     her      stand-      ing      there

   [Figure 26.2]
  [** After many listenings, I'm still not 100% certain whether John intends to be singing G or G# in measure 13; it sounds different from one repetition of the phrase to the next. Sometimes, I even suspect he's intentionally shooting for the blue note that lies in between the two, but other times, I worry he was just waffling a bit.]
  Next note Paul's octave jump upward in measure 12 is an extraordinary effect, and note how it's motivation is anticipated by the earlier leap downward of almost the same magnitude at the beginning of the second phrase (measure 5, on the words "the way she looked").
  Next note The song contains five iterations of this verse section and other than the words, there is very little variation among them. The most significant difference is in the guitar solo section where interestingly, the chord progression is altered in two places; i.e. measure 3 sustains the E chord instead of moving to A, and in measure 12, the A chord from the previous measure is sustained instead of moving to the unusual C chord. I don't think this is random at all; if you try to imagine the solo played over the chord progression from the other verses, you'll find that the two places which were changed here sound somehow stilted or over-emphasized without the underscoring rhythmic emphasis of the words and vocal parts.
  Next note A smaller variation worth noting is the way that at the end of the two verses which each precede a bridge section, the bassline in the final measure contains downward scale which nicely leads us straight into the next section.

Bridges - "Well my heart went boom ..."

  Next note In spite of their drama, the verse sections have an harmonic shape which is closed overall and bound to the home key. The manner in which this bridge section seems to be centered around the IV chord provides both a refreshing change of outlook as well as a platform from which to set up the return to the home key when the next verse comes around.
  Next note As with two of its close cousins, "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me", we have another bridge here with phrases of unequal length here. The section is ten measures long, and my ears scan it into three phrases; i.e. 2 + 2 + 6:
   ... heart went   boom   As  I
      |A           |-           ||

       crossed that room   And I
      |A           |-           ||

       held   her   hand   in    mine      --
      |A           |-           |B           |
       IV                        V

       --        -- --        -- --
      |-           |A           |-           ||

   [Figure 26.3]
  Next note The totally static harmony of the first six measures, and the triple repetition of the same melodic phrase builds a suspenseful sense of expectation which is fulfilled by the elongated continuation of the third phrase.
  Next note You're so used to hearing it as written that it's hard to imagine it being any other way, but if you can snap out of that mind-set for just a moment, you'll notice that it would have been more obvious (read: less original and effective) to restrain the bridge to the more standard length of eight measures and simply end on the V chord. What we have instead, creates an almost paradoxical effect — the decision to resolve the V chord deceptively to IV for two full measures on the way to its "real" destination of I is a delaying tactic which, on the one hand, reduces some of the tension built up to that point of the bridge. However, four other factors create an even stronger cross-current of increasing tension at the same time — the lengthening of the phrase by two measures, the jump to the falsetto high notes with its concomitant crescendo, the gutsy support work from the rhythm section, and Paul's dramatic, syncopated lead-in to the following verse with "Well, we ..."
  Next note The key contribution of the vocal parts to the strong impact of this bridge is not to be underestimated. In contrast with the verse, we have John and Paul singing together throughout this bridge, with John employing a favorite device of theirs; sustaining during measures 1 - 6, the single note of A against Paul singing the actual melody part above him. However, the real master stroke of this section is in the use of falsetto within the final four measures. The following is what the composite vocal parts of measure 5 - 10 look like:
   E|G     F#    |E        E  |
   A|A     A     |A        A  |
   I held  her    hand     in

   m.7  B -------------------- C#---------------
    |F# ---------|------------|E ----------|------A--G--|---E--
    |B           |            |            |            |
     mine ------------------------------------- Well we     danced

   [Figure 26.4]
  Next note If you listen very carefully though, you'll discover that the top line is not sung by one person alone, but is the byproduct of John's jumping over Paul by an octave in measure 7. The following blow-by-blow narrative of is perhaps less clear than it would appear to you if I had music paper on which to transcribe it, but this is the best I can do with words alone: Paul actually sustains the F# at the beginning of measure 7 all the way through measure 8, and then moves down to E-natural for measures 9 and the beginning of 10, before picking up the melody again for the beginning of the following verse. John, who has been singing just A-natural beneath him the whole time moves up in parallel fifths with Paul to B at the beginning of measure 7 and in the second beat of the measure jumps a dizzying octave to the high B, and it is he who sustains that impossible high note all the way through to the C# in measure 9. The ultimate clue for this is that on some of the outtakes, the high C# is sustained long enough that it overlaps with Paul's starting the next verse. Check it out!
  Next note Stepping back from the details, it's worth noting how, on a structural level, the use here of both falsetto and an octave jump add unity to the overall composition by their subconscious association with the earlier appearances of both techniques.

Outro - "... since I saw her standing there."

  Next note The triple repetition of the final phrase of the last verse is relatively conventional for the genre we're dealing with. The first two repetitions are identical both melodically and harmonically, and are built on a simple I -» V -» I chord progression.
  Next note The final repetition, while melodically the same as the previous two, provides a small harmonic modification; i.e. a IV chord gets interpolated between the V and the final I chord. This is the same trick we saw at the end of the bridge, and its reappearance here helps put the brakes on for the conclusion of the piece, as well as providing yet another subtle touch of unification.
  Next note For you harmony freaks who like to keep track of every little Beatles' trademark, we also have a classically free-dissonant chord at the very end; E-Major with at least F# and possible C# as well tacked on for spice.

What's It All About?

  Next note I've made a habit in these notes of spending a moment or two at the end in consideration of what hidden meanings might be embedded in the lyrics. But I'll tell you, if you need me to sort this one out for you, then you're really in trouble :-)
  Next note For a rare change, we have no romantic or emotional complications; no angst, no pangs, not even the slightest amount of self doubt; this time, (to paraphrase Richard Price's "The Wanderers") it's more like some "hip ditty bop noise" reminding us in perpetuity of the "nowness and coolness" of being seventeen and falling in, what you think is, true love, most likely for the first time.
  Next note Granted, there is more often than not, an eventually bitter side to this experience, but I believe that the song isn't so much whitewashing over this truth, as much as emphasizing that the sweeter part of it is worth taking with you for the rest of your life.
  Surely, you do know what I mean?
  Alan (051091#26.0)
Copyright © 1991 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.