I Will

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 16, 17 September 1968
Producer: Chris Thomas
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, acoustic guitar
John Lennon: percussion
Ringo Starr: cymbals, bongos, maracas

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

A love song written by Paul McCartney, I Will was one of the songs worked on by The Beatles and their associates while in Rishikesh, India.

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Although the music came together fairly easily, the words were worked on in India, and remained unfinished even as recording began back in London.

I was doing a song, I Will, that I had as a melody for quite a long time but I didn't have any lyrics to it. I remember sitting around with Donovan, and maybe a couple of other people. We were just sitting around one evening after our day of meditation and I played him this one and he liked it and we were trying to write some words. We kicked around a few lyrics, something about the moon, but they weren't very satisfactory and I thought the melody was better than the words so I didn't use them. I kept searching for better words and I wrote my own set in the end; very simple words, straight love-song words really. I think they're quite effective. It's still one of my favourite melodies that I've written. You just occasionally get lucky with a melody and it becomes rather complete and I think this is one of them; quite a complete tune.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

If the writing of I Will took some time, recording it was possibly even tortuous. Although completed in just two days, it took The Beatles 67 takes to get right.

George Harrison did not take part in the recording. Beginning at 7pm on 16 September and finishing at 3am the following morning, McCartney, Lennon and Starr recorded the song, with a number of ad-libs as the session progressed.

These included take 19, which was an improvised song based around the line "Can you take me back where I came from?" Lasting 2'21", the take was eventually trimmed to just 28 seconds and used on the White Album between Cry Baby Cry and Revolution 9.

The Beatles also strayed from the job in hand on take 35, which was an impromptu version of Cilla Black's 1968 hit single Step Inside Love, written for her by Paul McCartney. He then led the group into an off-the-cuff song, Los Paranoias, inspired by a comment made by Lennon. Both these songs can be heard on Anthology 3.

According to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, the trio also recorded a song called The Way You Look Tonight, "a short number, the lyric of which was derived almost entirely from I Will".

If the songs recorded were unusual, the instrumentation was no less so. McCartney was on familiar ground, playing acoustic guitar and singing. Lennon, meanwhile, kept time by beating some metal with a piece of wood. Starr played percussion instruments: bongos, maracas and cymbals.

Take 65 of I Will was the best version, and the next day McCartney overdubbed onto this backing vocals, bass and another acoustic guitar track. He also sang a bass part.

32 responses on “I Will

  1. john

    i love the feeeeling that i get when i listen and think of this song!!!! . . . . what guitar was used for this song, i will, and how was it miked-and what mics were used on the guitar?-thank you-john

  2. brian

    The way this song immediately follows “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” on “The Beatles” LP shows Paul’s huge range in performance style ability … from down and dirty to romantic and tender.

  3. Jean Erica Moniker

    The heavily limited and/or compressed 12-string acoustic ‘lead’ guitar is extraordinary. If that’s the guitar Paul overdubbed, it’s amazing because it sounds so much like George’s playing.
    That’s why I always preferred the McCartney solo or Wings albums when he would play most or all of the instruments himself (i.e. McCartney, Ram, parts of Wild Life, Band On The Run, parts of London Town and Tug Of War, McCartney II and the early solo singles) rather than use the faceless players he used in Wings. John’s work after ‘Imagine’ fell into the same trap and the result was rather bland unimaginative arrangements (exceptions being #9 Dream, Meat City and a handful of others). George’s albums often fell into the same studio musician trap. IMO of course.

  4. Jake

    Garrison Keillor sang a lovely low-key version of this song on his radio show in about 2007 or so. He just suddenly started singing it, and there it was, “I Will,” a song I hadn’t really thought about in years – it was absolutely, flat-out beautiful.

  5. jj

    Paul didn’t write I will for Linda. The song was written in India in Feb.68. Plus Paul broke up with Francie Swarts just 2 weeks before I will was recorded and went on trip with another woman in Sep,68. Paul got serious with Linda only after this song was recorded.

  6. Shelly

    I always thought like “I’m Lonely” is a parody of the suicide blues genre, “I Will,” although it is a pretty song, is a parody of love songs. Listen to the lyrics, “If I ever saw you I didn’t catch your name but it doesn’t really matter, I would always feel the same…” For God’s sakes, he hasn’t even met her yet. Does anyone else get this?

    1. David

      I agree. I always thought this a strange love song in the normal sense in that the object of the lyrics is not someone that the singer knows yet. It is as though the song is in search of love, but confident that when love is found it will be deep and everlasting. So, if looked on in that way, it is kind of nice.

    1. Bill

      I always liked the vocal-bass part. There is more than one vocie doing it, though. Sure John isn’t singing along with Paul?
      BTW–been reading this site for a while now. Impressed. Thought I knew it all. I was wrong. 🙂

  7. Jonathan

    At Shelly: I think it’s about how you could be walking down the street, and pass the person you are meant to be with and never know it. Only to possibly meet them later. Like soul mates, someone you know you love, even if you dont even know them yet. In Paul’s case it was Linda, which appeared in many different places where the Beatles were to take photographs of them, and then they finally met at a bar by coincidence I believe.

    1. Edward

      Jonathan: You are definitely right! A HUGE COINCIDENCE just confirmed it to me just right now, but besides that you must not be wrong, let`s not forget where he first wrote the song! India influences!! Past lives!! Soul mates! Predestined love!!
      “A lonely life time” doesn`t matter if I know I have several lifetimes! GREAT FELLING THE SONG TRANSMITS ANY WAY, SO DOESNT MATTER THE REASONS. Pure Love.

  8. Bob

    Growing up, I never had very good stereo gear. So, imagine my delight, recently listening to “I Will” on my iPod with upgraded ear-buds. I can finally REALLY hear McCartney SINGING the bass line! That is such an innovative, off-the-wall touch, that it lifts a very short, pretty tune to the level of “brilliant.”

    1. Linda

      Went back and listened with my best earbuds and there it was the base track I never heard! Thanks really made it special to hear his addition of base. Made me feel his love for this simple but oh so lovely song.

  9. Dave

    I have always thought that if this song has been written and recorded during the Beatlemania period, it would have been one of the Beatles’ biggest hits. Every girl who had even shared a glance with Paul would have thought the song was written about her. Many broken hearts, many girls shouting out thier undying love, “saying it loud”, so that Paul could hear them.

  10. Jessica

    I started singing this song “to” my daughter when I was pregnant with her. Now at three she continues to ask me to sing it to her at bedtime. It is a favorite lullaby and it’s perfect because of the meaning the lyrics have for me. We weren’t planning to have children, necessarily, and when I became a mom it was so life changing. It was like I had known her and loved her all my life but just didn’t know it. Now no matter where she is, even if we aren’t together, she knows I love her.

  11. Greg

    He’s imagining a woman he will meet, hopes that she will somehow identify herself so that he knows she’s the one. it’s intensely an unreservedly romantic in the tradition of a love that is idealized, unrealized and prospective. So, no. It’s not a parody. But I think what you’re getting from it is that the romance and (prospective) love certainly isn’t a realistic, domestic love but something really over the top. But the song’s musical setting, simple words and performance by McCartney are so utterly open and hopeful that it comes off really well. It’s one of those amazing gems. A lot of bands might have had this as the centrepiece of an album, but the Beatles by that time are at their artistic/musical peak, even if the band itself was tearing itself apart, so this is just one of many amazing songs on that album.

  12. Silly Girl

    This song is somewhat reminiscent of both “And I Love Her” (acoustic guitar, quiet percussion, simple flowing melody) and “Here There and Everywhere” (dreamy vocal, major key, simple flowing melody), both of which are Paul songs, and two of my tops. Did I mention I’m a sucker for ballads?

    Me dad used to sing this to me as a lullaby (as well as “Till There Was You”) when I was younger, so much younger than today. I always loved it, but I didn’t realise it was a Beatles’ song till I played– or, rather, discovered– the White Album for the first time (this was some years ago, of course). I was very surprised. It’s also one of the few Beatles’ songs my poor mother, who doesn’t care for the Beatles, actually likes. (When a few is all ya got, That Means A Lot.)

    Paul’s vocal on this is wonderful– both the beautiful lead AND the bass, which I only discovered to the other day (after I read of it here)!!! I was out of my head when I realised anew just HOW versatile Paul is. One man=ballad crooning, rock screaming, AND bass!!!! :O

    (Yes, brian, exactly what you said. My thoughts precisely. “WHA DON’ WE DOIT IN DA ROAD–Who knows how long I’ve loved you…”)

  13. Sir Huddleston Fuddleston

    Seconding the comment about this following “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” — it still shocks me when I hear the start of “I Will”, even now, after 30 years and thousands of listens. Each time I just shake my head at the range of that guy. He took a few notes, a handful of one syllable words, a guitar, and his own voice, and created this imperishable gem. Paul McCartney, how do you come to be?

  14. Tom

    As a guitarist, I’ve spent a lonely lifetime trying to play this song the way Paul does. The recorded key is F, but I have a suspicion that he’s got his acoustic tuned down a whole step (as he does with Yesterday) so that this can be played with G major as the root chord, i.e. G, Em7, Am7, D. Thoughts?

    1. JPG&R

      I think you are perfectly right. Moreover it was to high to sing in such key after all these years and you can notice Paul plays it in E in “the space within”.

  15. Julie

    I’m just paying closer attention to this song’s lyrics for the first time. I don’t hear a romantic song from a guy to a girl. And now you tell me it was written in India, which backs up my theory. This love is spiritual and eternal. That’s why your name doesn’t matter, the love has always been there for longer than anyone can remember, and the love will always be there just the same.

  16. A

    Among the many reasons to love this song there’s the beautiful use of rhyme — “love you forever and forever, love you with all my heart…. Love you whenever we’re together, love you when we’re apart.” Forever, whenever, together; heart, apart. Amazing rhymes and still the words seem so natural and convey such a beautiful sentiment. Similar is the beautiful use of alliteration — “will I wait” (two w’s) “a lonely lifetime” (two l’s) followed by “want” and “will” (more w’s). Plus the beautiful music, plus what I think is a beautiful sentiment — a man singing to his soulmate, who he has yet to meet, but who he knows he is meant to love. What a song.

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