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(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
Paul the balladeer, as a good percentage of Beatles fans thought of him, had seemed to all but fade into the background by the time of 1968's "White Album." Earlier on, he could always be counted on, expected in fact, to delivery an iconic love song for every Beatles album. Even when the group dramatically ventured away from the topic of romance by the time of 1966's "Revolver," Paul still injected "Here, There And Everywhere" in-between acid-inspired rockers, tales of dying spinsters and images of submarines.
The topics of songs that graced the “White Album” were even more varied, even bordering on the controversial at times. But still, our boy Paul thought to put in his prerequisite 'love song' to satisfy what he felt was expected of him. With a composition that perhaps would have fit in well on 1965's “Rubber Soul,” he proved that chivalry was indeed still alive and well with “I Will.” Even in the no-holds-barred attitude of 1968, there was still room for the formula love song. And it still worked well.
“I wrote quite a few songs in Rishikesh," explained Paul in his book "Many Years From Now," describing The Beatles' visit to India in the spring of 1968. "George actually once got quite annoyed and told me off because I was trying to think of the next album. He said, 'We're not f*cking here to do the next album, we're here to meditate!" It was like, 'Ohh, excuse me for breathing!,' you know. George was quite strict about that...and it's like, 'Oh come on, George, you don't have a monopoly on thought in this area. I'm allowed to have my own views on the matter.'"
"I was doing a song, 'I Will,' that I had as a melody for quite a long time but I didn't have 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 favorite 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.”
One can only imagine what Paul meant by "quite a long time" when referring to when the melody to "I Will" was written. However, since a straight-forward 'love ballad' did not appear on either the "Sgt. Pepper" or "Magical Mystery Tour" projects of 1967, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that the melody to "I Will" could have been written as early as 1966.
Donovan concurs that his lyrical contribution to the song was dropped, but infers some input otherwise: “I don't think I helped with the lyrics. He is very productive and will always take over the writing in a jam. From listening to the lyrics now, I can hear that Paul no doubt threw together the words for this tune when he got to the studio after India. I may have helped with the shape of the chords and encouraged the imagery from tunes I wrote then in India. The descending movements of my songs may have encouraged Paul to write differently.”
On January 13th, 1969, when Paul was being interviewed at Twickenham Studios during the recording of the “Let It Be” film, the subject was broached about his and John's recent strained collaboration partnership as a result of Yoko's presence in his life. “It's like, we did “I Will,'” Paul relates, “We're trying to get the last verse to 'I Will' and eventually I just ended up doing it, 'cause we couldn't actually do it.” From this comment we can deduce that Paul requested John's input in writing the lyrics for the final verse of “I Will” but, because of him not being cooperative, Paul just finished the lyrics himself.
Upon listening to 'take one' of the song as recorded in EMI Studios on September 16th, 1968 (as included on the compilation album “Anthology 3”) we can hear that Paul was still playing around with some of the lyrics, not exactly having them nailed down as of yet. With his recent love interest and soon-to-be-wife Linda Eastman due to arrive in London to stay with Paul the following week, some assume that these lyrics were formulated in the studio on this day as an expression of his anticipated feelings for her. When listening to the lyrics with this in mind, this actually seems likely.
In late 1968, right around the time of release of the “White Album,” Paul shed a little light on the reason songs like “I Will” were written. “We're not just completely rock'n'roll. We're not just completely one kind of group. 'Cause like, when we played in Hamburg, we didn't just do rock all evening 'cause we had to have these sort of fat old businessmen coming in and saying, or thin old businessmen as well, were coming in and saying 'Play a mambo. Can you do a rhumba?' And we couldn't just keep saying no, you know, so we had to get into mambos and rhumbas a bit. So this kind of thing is like a pretty sort of smoochy ballad – 'I Will.'”
Paul continues: “I don't know if it's getting off the subject, but that's why there's great variety in this LP – 'Cause in everything we do, you know, we just haven't got one bag, you know. And 'cause on one hand you'll get something like 'I Will' and then you'll get 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?,' you know. Just completely different things – completely different feelings...But it's me singing both of them. It's the same fella. Uhh, and I wrote both of them, you know. So you can't explain it. I don't know why I do 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' shouting it like that, and then do this sort of smoochy laughing American 'Girl From Ipanema.'”
On September 16th, 1968, with just over three-and-a-half months already spend on recording the "White Album," Paul brought "I Will" into EMI Studio Two for the first time. Paul, John and Ringo arrived sometime after the usual designated time of 7 pm to begin the recording process, George not taking part in the recording or possibly not present at all on this day.
The lyrics may not have been finalized, but Paul nonetheless proceeded to run through a grand total of 67 takes of a live performance of the song. Ian MacDonald's book “Revolution In The Head” makes a keen observation regarding this days' session: “Needing precisely the right performance from an acoustic set-up which exposed the slightest error, it required a grueling sixty-seven takes. The apparent casualness of the result is a tribute to The Beatles' concentration.” Surprisingly, these takes were recorded on a four-track tape machine although an eight-track machine had already been in use in this studio for the past two weeks.
This “acoustic set-up” consisted of Paul on vocals and acoustic guitar and both Ringo and John on percussive instruments. Upon listening, it appears that Ringo was tapping out a beat on bongos using sticks while he was sitting at his drum kit (since he is heard tapping on cymbals and momentarily moves to his tom tom at the end of the final verse). As for John, he is playing a faster paced percussive instrument that is best described by Mark Lewisohn in his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” as “tapping out a beat with wood on metal.”
“Take one,” which is heard on “Anthology 3,” sounds as though John had a maraca at the beginning of the song but then put it down to play his “wood on metal” from the second verse on. Ringo even slightly crashed a cymbal at the end of the extended final verse. Lyrical differences include Paul singing “love you with all my heart” instead of “love you when we're apart” at the end of the bridge, and “endear me to you” instead of “endear you to me” in the last verse.
“Revolution In The Head” also states: “Few could have managed this feat without light relief and the session was regularly interrupted by ad-libs.” These ad-libs included what appeared in 'take 19,' an off-the-cuff creation by Paul, uncopyrighted, which lasted two minutes and 21 seconds that included the repeated lyrics “Can you take me back where I came from?” Paul was enamored with this performance enough to have it preserved for one of their two 'odds and ends' tapes they were having compiled for posterity. He liked this recording so much, in fact, that the final segment of this 'song,' twenty-eight seconds in length, was inserted at the end of the song “Cry Baby Cry” on the finished “White Album,” this acting as a link piece to John's “Revolution 9.” John, incidentally, is playing maracas on this recording.
Another “light relief” ad-lib occurred at 'take 32,' this being an adaptation of the lyrics of “I Will” along with the melody line of the classic Fred Astaire song “The Way You Look Tonight,” this take lasting just over a minute with John simultaneously playing maracas and “wood on metal.”
Then, 'take 35' broke into a short impromptu version of “Step Inside Love,” which was a song Paul wrote especially for Cilla Black to use as the theme song for her first British TV series. (Her studio recording of the song was released as a single earlier that year and peaked at #9 in the UK chart on April 10th, 1968). As this wound down, Paul acted as radio disc jockey by announcing that song as performed by “Joe Pararis & The Parari Wallflowers,” which prompted John to announce the next song as being performed by “Los Paranoias,” a group name they had jokingly considered using in 1960 just before settling on the name "Beatles." Paul then laughed and broke into yet another spontaneous ad-lib, including lyrics such as “Los Paranoias, come on, enjoy us...” while John repeatedly exclaims “I can't make it” while playing maracas and “wood on metal” simultaneously until abandoning the maracas a little later to concentrate on more rapid percussive “wood on metal” playing. Ringo appears to have sat out this humorous interplay.
Finally, after 67 takes for “I Will” were performed (not all of them complete), they spooled back to 'take 65' and decided that this was the best of the night. This performance showed John playing his “wood on metal” percussion alone, the maracas to be added as an overdub later. A tape copy was then made of this 'take' in order to transfer the recording over to their eight-track machine for future overdubs, which would be performed at another time. With the time now being approximately 2 am the following morning, a quick couple of overdubs were added to John's song “Glass Onion” and, by 3 am, the session was finally complete.
The next day, September 17th, 1968, brought the group back into EMI Studio Two sometime after the documented 7 pm to finalize “I Will.” After a mono mix of “Helter Skelter” was performed, Paul added various overdubs onto “I Will,” these being a harmony vocal during the bridge and conclusion of the song, a second acoustic guitar which added some impressive riffs to the arrangement and, as the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” called it, “a clever baritone 'dum-dum-dum' impersonation of a bass guitar” by Paul. Maracas were apparently added on this day as well, most probably by Ringo. After a tape copy of John's “Cry Baby Cry” was made, this session was shown to end at 5 am the following morning. Since not all that much was done on this day, it's safe to assume that the group didn't actually show up in the studio until much later than 7 pm as documented, which was their habit at the time.
The mono mix was created on September 26th, 1968, in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the engineering team of Chris Thomas, Ken Scott and Mike Sheady. Two attempts were made, undoubtedly the second one being the keeper. ADT (“Artificial Double Tracking”) was applied to Paul's vocals to thicken up the sound on the finished master. Paul's “bass vocal” begins in the second verse on this mono mix.
The stereo mix was created on October 14th, 1968, also in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the engineering team of George Martin, Ken Scott and John Smith, only one attempt being needed. ADT was once again applied to Paul's vocal while his “bass vocal” is heard right from the beginning of the song this time around.
Sometime in 1996, producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick returned to 'take one' of the master tape of “I Will” to create a mix for inclusion on the compilation album “Anthology 3.” As mentioned above, they also created a mix of 'take 35' including bits of their ad-libs “Step Inside Love” and “Los Paranoias” for inclusion on the same album.
Although not strictly a part of the song “I Will,” the “Can you take me back?” ad-lib recording from 'take 19' was included in a mash-up of the track “Come Together/Dear Prudence” as included on the compilation album “Love.” This mix was created by George Martin and his son Giles Martin sometime between 2004 and 2006.
Song Structure and Style
Resorting back to the tried-and-true format of the early Beatle years, Paul structures "I Will" as 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' (or aaba), identical to John's "Please Please Me" of six years prior.
One would almost want to flesh out the song with a solo and a repeat of the bridge and final verse as was the habit of the 1963 Beatles in order to stretch the length out beyond the two minute mark. Undoubtedly, if George Martin were present for the recording, he would have suggested it. But since Chris Thomas was the producer on this day, this wasn't suggested; not that it would have been suggested anyway since the days were gone when the group listened to what their producer had to say. In any event, a simple half reprisal of the bridge was tacked on at the end of the song which acted as a conclusion.
The first verse is nine measures in length and begins with Paul's voice as a lead-in with his lyric “Who knows.” On the down beat, Paul's acoustic guitar and Ringo's bongos and cymbal tapping are heard as accompaniment to the lead vocals, along with Paul's vocalized bass (stereo version only). These elements are added to in the seventh and eighth measures by Paul's overdubbed acoustic guitar fills. The second verse is identical to the first regarding elements heard, the only differences being a new set of lyrics and a stripping away of the final measure, a truncated guitar fill passage leading into the bridge that follows.
The bridge is also eight measures long and features some more added elements. John's “wood on metal” playing appears here for the first time along with Ringo's maracas. Paul's harmony vocals also kick in throughout this bridge as well as his acoustic guitar overdub playing strategically placed guitar lines all the way through.
The third verse then appears which is extended to fifteen measures this time around to build the composition to a climactic finish. The intensity of the first five measures is scaled down a bit, however, Paul's acoustic guitar overdub disappearing temporarily. The rhythm track of acoustic guitar, bongos, tapping cymbals and vocals are still present, as are John's percussion and Ringo's maracas. Paul's vocals are now double-tracked, however, for the entire verse.
Starting at measure five, Paul repeats the lyrical melody line three times, the first two times followed by three descending notes that are accented by the other elements in the recording, including the reemergence of the acoustic guitar overdub. The third melody line is extended (“endear you to me”) which this time is accentuated by four chordal accents as a backdrop which skillfully wind up like the other verses, ending with the phrase “I will.” However, at this point, a surprising chord is heard which signals all the elements to up their intensity once again, John's percussion galloping like a wild stallion, Ringo's maracas kicking into high gear, and Paul's acoustic guitar overdub plodding away similar to what is heard at the close of the previous verses. This continues for the fourteenth and fifteenth measures as Paul repeats “I will” once again in a higher register as the expected chord is now heard. Ringo ends the verse with his only drum fill of the song.
A four measure conclusion is then heard which is strikingly similar to the first four measures of the bridge. All of the elements are still present while Paul hums in harmony with himself the first two measures and sings “da, da, da, da, da, da, da” in an ascending melody line in the final two measures to end the song. John then adds three additional percussive beats after everyone has stopped playing, Lennon always has to make his presence felt, getting in the last word!
The lyric appears to be describing the act of visualization, Paul imagining his 'true love' for as far back as he can remember. He may have met his true love at some time in his life but he “didn't catch” her name. But it “doesn't really matter” anyway because destiny would eventually bring his soul-mate to him. And then, when he “at last” recognizes her, her “song will fill the air” and they will be together “forever and forever.” How romantic!
"The Beatles," the official title of what became known as the "White Album," was released in the U.S. on November 25th, 1968. Paul's tender ballad "I Will" was purposely placed on side two of this double album immediately after his raucous "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" to show his virsatility. The album was first released on compact disc on August 24th, 1987, then as a 30th Anniversary limited edition on November 23rd, 1998, then as a re-mastered CD on September 9th, 2009. The first American mono vinyl copies weren't printed until September 9th, 2014.
A short lived format called “Playtapes” were produced in the later 60's, these being small tapes manufactured to be played in specially made portable tape players as well as standard equipment in certain models of Volkswagens at that time. Capitol released tapes in this format to represent each of The Beatles albums currently in print, five different volumes containing songs from the “White Album” being released sometime in 1969. The Playtape entitled “The Beatles Vol. II” featured “I Will” among the five songs included therein.
On October 21st, 1977, the double-compilation album “Love Songs” was released by Capitol which contained “I Will” on side four. This album was concocted as a follow up to the previous years highly successful compilation package “Rock 'n' Roll Music,” this new album gaining only moderate success, peaking at #24 on the U.S. Billboard album chart.
As mentioned above, the special compilation album “Anthology 3” included the original 'take one” from the master tape recorded on September 16th, 1968. This album was released on October 28th, 1996.
The box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released on September 9th, 2009, this package including the entire mono mixes released worldwide by The Beatles. “I Will” was included among the entire “White Album” in this set.
The only Beatles performance of "I Will" occured on June 23rd, 1994 with Paul and George on Ukuleles with Ringo looking on. This performance was in George's garden at his Friar Park Home in Henley on Thames, England, this filmed performance being included in the 2003 Anthology DVD set. This brief run-though of the song was done during their recollections of songs they had written in India.
Paul did periodically include the song in his live set lists, such as on his “The US Tour,” which ran from September 16th (Miami, Florida) to November 30th (Los Angeles, California), 2005. He then included the song in some of the dates on his “On The Run” tour, which ran from July 15th, 2011 (New York City) to November 29th, 2012 (Edmonton, Canada).
While a good number of the thirty songs contained on the “White Album” remained as album tracks of little notoriety, “I Will,” being of rather modest production as well as in length, stood out as an irresistible melody the hearkened back to earlier Beatle times. Although never released in Britain or America as a single (although it was the b-side to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in the Philippines), the song stands the test of time and fits in nicely among the sizable list of love ballads of The Beatles career. It's inclusion on The Beatles compilation album “Love Songs” proves this to be true. So does the fact that it is a common request for wedding ceremonies.
As Paul stated above, “It's still one of my favorite melodies that I've written. You just occasionally get lucky with a melody.”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: 1966? - September 16, 1968
- Song Recorded: September 16 & 17, 1968
- First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
- First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles”
- Length: 1:46
- Key: F major
- Producer: Chris Thomas
- Engineers: Ken Scott, Mike Sheady
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Paul McCartney - Lead and Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar (1967 Martin D-28)
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), bongos, maracas
- John Lennon - Percussion (“Wood on metal”)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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