I’ll Be Back

A Hard Day's Night album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 1 June 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 10 July 1964 (UK), 15 December 1964 (US)

John Lennon: lead vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead acoustic guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
A Hard Day's Night
Anthology 1

The final song on A Hard Day's Night, I'll Be Back was written mostly by John Lennon, and was a reworking of the chords to Del Shannon's 1961 hit Runaway.

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I'll Be Back is me completely. My variation of the chords in a Del Shannon song.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

On Please Please Me and With The Beatles, the final songs were spectacular Lennon-led rockers - Twist And Shout and Money (That's What I Want) respectively. A Hard Day's Night signalled The Beatles' growing maturity as writers and performers by closing on a melancholy note.

I'll Be Back was co-written but it was largely John's idea. When we knew we were writing for something like an album he would write a few in his spare moments, like this batch here. He'd bring them in, we'd check 'em. I'd write a couple and we'd throw 'em at each other, and then there would be a couple that were more co-written. But you just had a certain amount of time. You knew when the recording date was and so a week or two before then we'd get into it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

I'll Be Back is a curious composition, containing no chorus but two bridges. Furthermore, its switches between A major and A minor in the introduction and ending leaving a sense of unfinished business.

A nice tune, though the middle is a bit tatty.
John Lennon
Hit Parader, April 1972

Lyrically, the song is one of Lennon's most vulnerable. After the bravado of You Can't Do That and When I Get Home, it was one of the first true instances of the raw confessional style which he would explore more fully on Help!

In the studio

Recorded on 1 June 1964, I'll Be Back took The Beatles 16 takes to get right. The first nine were the rhythm track, and the final seven were the double tracked and harmony vocals, plus an acoustic guitar overdub.

The Beatles tried different arrangements in the studio before settling on the final version. Takes two and three were issued on the Anthology 1 album. The first of these shows how Lennon originally conceived I'll Be Back as a waltz, though the recording breaks down with him claiming it too hard to sing.

Take three, meanwhile, saw the first instance of the song in its more familiar 4/4 rhythm, though performed with electric rather than acoustic guitars.

It is believed that The Beatles may have intended to record a 14th song for A Hard Day's Night on 3 June 1964. However, Ringo Starr was taken ill with tonsillitis and pharyngitis during a photo session that morning, leading to a swift change of plans.

In his place, the group drafted in replacement drummer Jimmie Nicol for a rehearsal at Abbey Road ahead of their imminent world tour. The rehearsal took place between 2.30 and 5.30pm, replacing a pre-booked recording session.

After Nicol had left the studio that evening, The Beatles recorded demos of You Know What To Do, No Reply, and It's For You, the latter given to Cilla Black.

It is not known whether any of these songs were intended to feature on A Hard Day's Night. However, The Beatles' failure to record a final song for the album meant that it was released, unusually, with 13 tracks.

Whether I'll Be Back was always intended to be the album's last song is not known, but it intriguing to imagine how the album might have sounded if accompanied by a full version of one of the three demo songs.

18 responses on “I’ll Be Back

  1. SD

    Lennon sings lead (double-tracked) with McCartney and Harrison providing harmony vocals.
    Paul doesn’t play guitar in this one. Of course, there are three guitars in the final mix, but two of them are recorded during the backing track (George’s lead Ramírez nylon-string and John’s Jumbo acoustic) and the third was an overdub by George with his Jumbo.

  2. BeatleMark

    If any of you ever get the chance, check the the American album “Beatles ’65″ in stereo. The sound of “I’ll Be Back” is more warm and haunting. Supposedly Capitol Records added more echo to this track. I actually prefer this version over the UK “A Hard Day’s Night” original.

  3. G. McGregor

    Thanks for the info Mark. This is my fave singing of theirs. Again, not saying it is the best – just my fave singing. For me, just amazing – the vocal sound. It really does cast a spell. You don’t necessarily need brilliant lyrics to be mesmeric. The sound of it itself…

  4. Michael

    I don’t hear the Del Shannon “Runaway” influence here, instead I hear some of Johns brilliance in his writing as well as singing, as he did so much in the early days. In fact, Johns songs dominate the Hard Day’s Night album and though there may be one or to “filler” songs included, he wrote some real gems for this album.

    1. Travis

      Agreed. John was at one of his creative/musical peaks on this record. I love pretty much everything he was doing in this period, singing w supreme confidence w his vocals at their strongest, sounding fantastic, writing very melodic, complex pop songs seemingly w ease. He really dominated the early albums, this one, With The Beatles, For Sale, Help…i think it was understood back then(though maybe not admitted outloud) the Beatles were still very much “John’s band”. I think this started to change w “yesterday” and culminated w John’s ego destruction through the use of LSD, Paul’s continual growth as a writer (he was younger so natural he reached his artistic peak a bit later) and Epstein’s death, all occurring in a 1-2 year period.

  5. DB

    SD has it pegged as usual (although I don’t hear any Harrison vocal). If you listen to the false start/blooper outttakes near the master (when they are playing acoustic), you can tell that George overdubbed some guitar to give the rhythm some more oomph. This is a fine song…highly underrated, with some beautiful, subtle lead guitar work by George on his Ramirez and some of John and Paul’s best harmonies.

  6. robert

    whenever my friends and I break out the acoustic guitars this is easily one of the first songs we play and sing. It is an amazing and yes, hidden, gem of a song. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other song by any artist, quite like this one.

  7. Jay

    In the 2nd line of 3rd verse (after the 2 refrains or codas) at the 1:37 mark, notice Paul’s bass hit the C# instead of a C.
    Verse’s chords are Am-G-FMaj7/C.
    Paul fretted a C# on FMaj7 instead of a C.
    Was this deliberately done or just an accident/error by Paul?

  8. JG

    George does NOT sing in this one, fellows. Paul does two different backing vocals, one very clear,against John’s overdubbed vocals, and another high-pitched one quite in the background.

    Put some headphones on and you’ll hea it more clearly.

  9. Wayne

    I once read somewhere that this song was written because of a “suggestion” by Paul that both he and John each try to write a song in A minor. What Paul failed to say is that he had already written one…Things We Said Today, which was and is one of the best Beatles songs of that time period. John came up with I’ll Be Back. I very definitely read this story once, but I can’t remember where. I’ve never heard anyhting about the story again, but ever since then I can’t hear I’ll Be Back without also thinking about TWST, or vice versa. TWST always reminds me of I’ll Be Back.

  10. Bill

    This is a nice melancholy one. Another possible reason it resonates so is that it was one of the first songs featured in the 1981 medley by Dutch novelty group “Stars on 45,” a song which hit #1 in the U.S. It was immediately preceded in the medley by “No reply”, another Lennon gem from this period. Lennon may have been the voice of The Beatles in the Netherlands.

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