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’.

‘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.

‘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 Anthology 1. 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 last of which was 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.

Previous song: ‘You Can’t Do That’
Next album: Beatles For Sale
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