The Beatles were Motown fanatics, there are no two ways around it. From the covers of songs like ‘Please Mister Postman’ and ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’ to Paul McCartney’s appreciation of bassist James Jamerson, the early Beatles sound was at least partially, if not significantly, indebted to the sound coming out of Detroit in the early 1960s.
But whereas the band were more than comfortable taking on a few of their favourite songs as covers, the members wanted to write their own version of a Motown hit. McCartney and John Lennon congregated at McCartney’s childhood home in Liverpool to construct a new song, ‘There’s a Place’.
“‘There’s A Place’ was my attempt at a sort of Motown, black thing,” Lennon explains in the book All We Are Saying. “It says the usual Lennon things: ‘In my mind there’s no sorrow…’ It’s all in your mind.”
The first song that the band recorded at the day-long Please Please Me recording sessions has a fair bit of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in it, as well as non-Motown influences like The Drifters’ similarly escape-minded song ‘Up On The Roof’. According to McCartney, the “place” in the song references not a physical space, but a mental one.
“In our case the place was in the mind, rather than round the back of the stairs for a kiss and a cuddle,” McCartney says in the book Many Years From Now. “This was the difference with what we were writing: we were getting a bit more cerebral. We both sang it. I took the high harmony, John took the lower harmony or melody. This was a nice thing because we didn’t actually have to decide where the melody was till later when they boringly had to write it down for sheet music.”
It wouldn’t be the band’s only attempt at approximating Motown. ‘This Boy’, written and recorded shortly after ‘There’s A Place’, was intended to be a take on Smokey Robinson, as the band had only just recorded ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’. “Just my attempt at writing one of those three-part harmony Smokey Robinson songs,” Lennon claims. “Nothing in the lyrics; just a sound and harmony.”
Stream the song, below.