Monday, July 6, 2009

"There's a Place"

On an album of tuneful but emotionally lightweight songs, "There's a Place" stands out as a moment of candor and introspection. It's about the way that John preferred to cope with hardship, namely by withdrawing into his own thoughts and reflections ("There's a place/Where I can go/When I feel low/When I feel blue/And it's my mind...."). It was a theme he would often revisit as a Beatle.

Part of what makes the song so compelling is that, whether by design or not, it functions on one level as an admission of weakness. Throughout his life, John was mostly and sometimes fiercely disinclined to confront emotional troubles head-on. He usually didn't care to talk them through with others or pursue meaningful resolutions. (God knows he did endure much upheaval in his youth and young adulthood.) Rather he often chose to withdraw into himself where he could brood or let loose his robust imagination as a means to finding solace. Either way, his approach couldn't lastingly address the underlying issues. The lyric to "There's a Place" implies as much.

But this doesn't account in full for the song's emotive draw. The simple fact that John used "There's a Place" to convey such deeply personal sentiments distinguishes it from the rest of Please Please Me. The Beatles' first album contains a fair amount of smirking self-pity ("Chains," the title track, etc.) and overstated despair ("Misery," "Baby It's You"). What it lacks, and not surprisingly so for a young band, is much convincingly serious treatment of these matters of the heart. "There's a Place" is the bold exception. By revealing an intimate part of himself, John traded in humor and playfulness for honest maturity. He made himself vulnerable on a public stage. What's more, the lyric also finds John sweetly paying tribute to his lover and the way in which the mere thought of her could revitalize him ("I think of you/And things you do/Go 'round my head/The things you said/Like 'I love only you.'"). It's an early instance of The Beatles crafting a song both weighty and touching.

It's all the more effective because of The Beatles' masterful execution. There's the vibrant harmonica intro (a feature they memorably honed on their debut), the challenging vocal harmony that Paul and John carry through most of the song (the light quaver in John's voice as he does sections of the lower part is quite endearing) and the punchy rhythm that anchors the tempo. As you might expect from a Motown-inspired song, "There's a Place" flows beautifully and efficiently. Not a wasted moment in its 1:49 running time.

Finally, to avoid shortchanging Paul, I should note that he helped write this overlooked classic. He apparently drew inspiration for the title from a West Side Story number called "Somewhere." As a whole, though, "There's a Place" belongs unmistakably to John and his complicated personality.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

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