Working on this this AM. It will be added to Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan.
You don’t get a lot smarter or artier than the Beatles were with that Paul McCartney-composed “potboiler,” a term favored by producer George Martin, and an apt descriptor for almost every opening song on every Beatles album, with the number formerly known as “Seventeen” representing the touchstone example that also proved a unique work.
Broadway songs told stories in service to the narrative arc to which they belonged. They had a sort of narrative leg-up, for storytelling was a part of their birthright—why they were there in the first place. Rock and roll songs hardly ever told stories at this juncture, though Chuck Berry was as much of a writer in a words-based sense as a Walt Whitman (a poet-storyteller) or a Mark Twain (a storyteller-poet)—or at least you could make the argument—with his songs having the quality of diary entries from a jam-packed, roving, mercurial life.
Hearing a Berry song was akin to partaking of an audiobook—one that happened to feature some of the most exciting, jumping rhythm and blues in the background—with words that the author had originally written to himself, or at least not to anyone else directly. There isn’t as much of a jump from the Berry cuts on The Great Twenty-Eight and many entries in Thoreau’s journals as one might expect, save that the former details the urban milieu and the latter the rural.
You, a reader, could happen along and experience those journal entries and veritable journal entries, but it’s not as if their authors were taking you aside and saying, “Can we talk? I have to tell you something.“ We experience a form of intimacy with both Berry and Thoreau, but it’s also the intimacy of happenstance, of the found-text, the same way that reading the messages on a person’s phone may be.
It is the intention of complicity that is the radical departure that the Beatles were focused on from the first few bars of their first record. You and they were in something together. A fusing was occurring. A relationship—between intimates—was being built. One wasn’t just listening to the Beatles as makers of music; a friendship had started, with an immediate factor of trust. The Beatles were in the room, you were in the room, and so was the binding agent of trust.
Trust involves both risk and vulnerability, from each party. The people we are closest to are often those that we trust the most. The story of “I Saw Her Standing There”—and the language in which it is told—is a form of fast friend-making.
Sometimes we have a friend before we know it. That tends to be how friendship works. Two kids enter the cafeteria at lunch during the school day as near-strangers, and emerge a half hour later as through-thick-and-thin buddies, believing they shall never be parted, though life, being life, always retains an attitude of, “Well, we’ll see about that.”
How did this transformation into friendship happen? One kid likely shared something with the other, and there was resonance, as well as gratitude for the sharing, which facilitates reciprocal sharing—or the feeling that one is welcome and safe to share if they wish—and the burgeoning bond.
So it goes with “I Saw Her Standing There.” The song begins, the sharing commences, and by song’s end, it feels as if a trusted friend is now in place in one’s life. It’s a legitimate challenge not to be loyal to the Beatles upon hearing the start of their debut LP. Or, one might say, upon hearing its story.