The Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back”: mood is everything

Sometimes a song simply resonates with some inner mood that is part of our existential selves. “I’ll Be Back” is that kind of song for me.

“A nice tune, though the middle is a bit tatty.” John Lennon

John Lennon (image courtesy Beatles Bible)

“I’ll Be Back” would be right at home on Rubber Soul. This early masterpiece of moody vulnerability is one of my top three favorite Beatle songs, and I doubt that John would be as dismissive of the song if he had the gift of retrospect.

The unusual structure of the song (no chorus but two bridges) is part of its fascination. Its intro also shifts from major to minor chords, a striking chord shift that at least one later rock icon noticed (that same chord shift is a feature in more than one Kurt Cobain song).

Like other songs Lennon wrote during what he called his “Dylan period” (the spring/summer of 1964 through Rubber Soul in late 1965 – other examples are “I’m a Loser” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), “I’ll Be Back” is introspective bordering on confessional. Unlike those other songs I mentioned, however, “I’ll Be Back” is less critical, more wistful and wishful than pained.

I’ll Be Back

You know if you break my heart I’ll go
But I’ll be back again
Cos I told you once before goodbye
But I came back againI love you so
I’m the one who wants you
Yes, I’m the one
Who wants you, oh ho, oh ho, ohYou could find better things to do
Than to break my heart again
This time I will try to show that I’m
Not trying to pretendI thought that you would realize
That if I ran away from you
That you would want me too
But I got a big surprise
Oh ho, oh ho, ohYou could find better things to do
Than to break my heart again
This time I will try to show that I’m
Not trying to pretendI wanna go but I hate to leave you,
You know I hate to leave you , oh ho, oh ho, oh
You, if you break my heart I’ll go
But I’ll be back again

All of this explains the song technically, but it doesn’t get to why I love this particular song as I do.

* * *

As Beatles aficionados know, “I’ll Be Back” appeared as the last song on the UK album A Hard Day’s Night. It’s an incongruous song in that context, coming after all the joyful yelping of “I Should Have Known Better,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” As an American fan, I heard the song on the American album Beatles ’65where it fits much better, companioned with “I’m a Loser” and Paul’s Donovan-like “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

Still, there was something that set “I’ll Be Back” apart from those those other folk influenced efforts by John and Paul. “I’m a Loser” has veiled anger in John’s strident self-critique; “I’ll Follow the Sun” has the gossamer lightness of a tune like Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” Maybe it’s the plaintive surrender of the lyric’s speaker to the love he feels. More likely it’s that great combination of John’s Gibson J160 and George’s nylon stringed classical guitar (the one he used on “And I Love Her” in A Hard Day’s Night).

Sometimes a song simply resonates with some inner mood that is part of our existential selves. “I’ll Be Back” is that kind of song for me.

Here’s a great remastered version from Spotify:

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