The Beatles remind us: there’s a place…

“There’s a Place” anticipates the musical breakthrough that would come for the band with 1965’s Rubber Soul.

“There…is a place/Where I can go/When I feel low/When I feel blue…” – John Lennon, Paul McCartney

The Beatles in all the Edenic glory (image courtesy

The Beatles in all the Edenic glory (image courtesy

The English composer and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers, in his now classic scholarly study of the Beatles, Twilight of the Gods,  calls the early Beatles period, the period of screaming girls and “yeah, yeah, yeah,” their “Edenic” period. In his study, Mellers give particular attention to “There’s a Place,” the American “B-side” (there’s a quaint old term for you) to their iconic cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout.”

Given that the song wallows in obscurity in the Fabs’ canon, you must be wondering why Professor Mellers chose to give it serious scholarly attention and why I would choose it as the subject of of an essay. Other sources report that while John, Paul, George, and Ringo originally had high hopes for the song, that they themselves lost interest caused possibly by its having been a bit of a struggle for them to record. From being a song they expected to be their next #1, “There’s a Place” ended up as album filler and a B-side to a popular cover song.

As both Professor Mellers and I will argue, that’s a bad underestimation of what really is one of their finest early tunes.

Wilfrid Mellers’ discussion of the song is pretty erudite and likely to go over the heads of most readers. He describes “There’s a Place” as “resolutely diatonic despite its melismata and parallel triads,” and while he’s right, and brilliantly insightful, about how the harmonic structure of the song attains its haunting qualities, he’s likely to make eyes glaze over. That seems a shame to me, but there it is.

A simpler explanation for the power of “There’s a Place” lies in an addition that John Lennon made to the song after primary recording was finished. Those who know the song might find it nearly impossible to imagine it without Lennon’s soaring harmonica. Originally, however, the song relied on a short guitar figure that George played. Here is an early take that relies on George:

And here it is in a later take with John’s harmonica added:

The difference is striking for even a casual listener: John’s harmonica (which, alas, disappeared as the band’s sound evolved) takes the song from the album filler/B-side status to which it got (unfairly, I think) relegated to a haunting meditation on getting away, on finding a place where one can think. The plaintive wail of Lennon’s harmonica underscores the lyric, one of his first forays into introspection:

“There’s A Place”
There is a place
Where I can go
When I feel low
When I feel blue
And it’s my mind
And there’s no time when I’m aloneI think of you
And things you do
Go ’round my head
The things you said
Like “I love only you”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 soThere is a place
Where I can go
When I feel low
When I feel blue
And it’s my mind
And there’s no time when I’m alone

There’s a place…

Wilfrid Mellers agrees that “There’s a Place” represents an early lyrical breakthrough:

“There’s A Place” was the first Beatle song concerned with self-reliance. It is curiously austere… virtually without modulation. The “place” where he thinks of her is his own mind; which his ultimately inviolable, even by her. It is probably the first song wherein we realize that John might be an “oral” poet, and that in terms of poetica-musical experience he had a long way to travel.

With its haunting musical setting and lyrics exploring the inner life, “There’s a Place” anticipates the musical breakthrough that would come for the band with 1965’s Rubber Soul. It also reminds us that with the Beatles, even B-sides can be memorable.

Listen to the remastered version of “There’s a Place.”

4 replies »

  1. I just don’t get the Beatles. Or rather I don’t get all the attention paid to the Beatles. I get that they were a special band at a special time, and I remember well being at a party in 1974 with people from 20 countries, all of whom sorta knew the words to the Beatles songs we were dancing to. Probably me. I’m not that much of a music guy.

  2. One of my many favorites by them. I was thirteen when they hit the states in early 1964 and well recall the excitement and feelings their music and this one in particular produced inside me. They changed American music. Their music did not remain static. They explored and experimented. 1974 was about two musical generations removed from 1964. I cannot imagine what kind of music, even what kind of society, we would have had by then if not for them. And I take it as true that “There’s a place” was the first piece that reveals they could and would move from flash-in-the pan boy band to something of more profound significance.

  3. If there was ever any doubt about John Lennon’s ability as a composer, this should dispell it. THERE’S A PLACE is an ingenious composition with a great melody and Freudian lyrics. Lennon’s harmonica introduction only enhances it. John Lennon was in his teens when he wrote this, one of the Beatles’ best songs. Endless sets performed in a Hamburg nightclub turned amateurs into true professionals.