“I Saw Her Standing There” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles credited to Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but written primarily by McCartney. It is the opening track on the band’s 1963 debut album Please Please Me.
In December 1963, Capitol Records released the song in the United States as the B-side on the label’s first single by the Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. While the A-side topped the US Billboard chart for seven weeks starting 1 February 1964, “I Saw Her Standing There” entered the Billboard Hot 100 on 8 February 1964, remaining there for 11 weeks, peaking at No. 14. The song placed on the Cashbox chart for only one week at No. 100 on the same week of its Billboard debut. In 2004, “I Saw Her Standing There” was ranked No. 139 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song was mainly written by Paul McCartney. Originally titled “Seventeen”, the song was apparently conceived by McCartney while driving home from a Beatles’ concert in Southport, Lancashire as a modern take on the traditional song “As I Roved Out”, a version of “Seventeen Come Sunday” that he had heard in Liverpool in 1960. According to Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn, McCartney worked out chords and changes for the song on an acoustic guitar, at the family home of his Liverpool friend and fellow musician Rory Storm, on the same night, 22 October 1962. Two days later, McCartney was writing lines for the song during a visit to London with his then-girlfriend Celia Mortimer, who was seventeen at the time herself. The song was completed about a month later at McCartney’s Forthlin Road home with Lennon. It was on their setlist in December 1962 in the Star Club in Hamburg.
McCartney later described in Beat Instrumental how he went about the song’s composition: “Here’s one example of a bit I pinched from someone: I used the bass riff from ‘Talkin’ About You’ by Chuck Berry in ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find few of them believe me; therefore, I maintain that a bass riff hasn’t got to be original”.
The lyrics were written on a Liverpool Institute exercise book. Remember, a book by McCartney’s brother Mike McCartney, includes a photograph of Lennon and McCartney writing the song while strumming guitars and reading the exercise book. It was typical of how Lennon and McCartney would work in partnership, as McCartney later commented: “I had ‘She was just seventeen,’ and then ‘never been a beauty queen’. When I showed it to John, he screamed with laughter, and said ‘You’re joking about that line, aren’t you?'” “We came up with, ‘You know what I mean.’ Which was good, because you don’t know what I mean.” “It was one of the first times he ever went ‘What? Must change that …'” Lennon said: “That’s Paul doing his usual good job of producing what George Martin used to call a ‘potboiler’. I helped with a couple of the lyrics.” The songwriting credit on the Please Please Me liner notes is “McCartney–Lennon” which differs from the more familiar “Lennon–McCartney” that appears on subsequent releases.
McCartney included “I Saw Her Standing There” on his live albums Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990), Back in the US (2002) and Back in the World (2003). In 1987, he recorded a new version for his album CHOBA B CCCP, but left it to outtakes. The song has become a mainstay of McCartney’s live sets, and a special version was played when McCartney and his band returned to Liverpool in June 2008. It featured special guest drummer Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters and ex-drummer of Nirvana.
McCartney performed “I Saw Her Standing There” at the 1986 Prince’s Trust Rock Gala, as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of HRH Prince Charles’ charity. He was supported by an all-star band featuring Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, and Ray King. Interviewed at the time, McCartney said: “It is a good thrill playing with musicians of this calibre … since it was a birthday thing, they wanted to do something silly at the end, and that’s me”. Paul McCartney also performed a duet of this song with Billy Joel during the inaugural concert at Citi Field in Flushing, New York.