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“IT WON’T BE LONG”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
The pressure of songwriting can be tremendous when your aim is to extend a successful career. The list of ‘one hit wonders’ of the fifties and sixties is extensive, and this trend has grown to monumental proportions as time has passed. Having a big hit on the charts is a thrill, and is for most a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trick is to perpetuate a reputation as musicians or songwriters so that your latest release will be accepted with open arms even before it is heard. To reach that state, though, you need to prove yourself.
Within a year's time, The Beatles had already proven themselves. They achieved their first British number one (on most of the British charts) with their second single “Please Please Me” in February of 1963. They followed this up with “From Me To You,” which shot to number one in Britain for an amazing seven weeks throughout May and June of 1963. Then came the infectious pop anthem “She Loves You,” which also reached number one, and broke all sales records in Britain by selling 1.3 million copies.
It was becoming quite apparent to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team that having to continually ‘top’ their last success was a daunting task. The pressure was indeed on.
British "She Loves You" single
In July of 1963, shortly after the song “She Loves You” was recorded, John Lennon’s wheels were turning as to what would be the follow up single. He came up with the chorus of a new song that utilized the repeating of the word “yeah” as “She Loves You” had done, figuring that their fans would latch on to that gimmick once that fourth British single was released. His ‘sixth sense’ was correct, as the phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah” became the catchword phrase in the autumn of 1963.
Contained in the chorus of this new song was a ‘play on words’ that both Lennon and McCartney liked to throw in to their lyrics to make things interesting. The song “Please Please Me” contained the double use of the word “please,” using it as a request and then an action. In this case, Lennon used the phrase “be long” specifying an amount of time, with “belong” as to ownership. McCartney explained this interest in word play, “I was doing literature at school, so I was interested in plays on words and onomatopoeia. John didn’t do literature but he was quite well read, so he was interested in that kind of thing.” Concerning this song, Paul relates “we both liked to try and get a bit of double meaning in, so that was the high spot of writing that particular song.”
The occurrence of double meanings can be spotted throughout the Lennon/McCartney catalog. In the song “You Won’t See Me,” that phrase meant that his girlfriend was too busy to give him any attention, but in the second verse it meant that if he would “turn away” she literally wouldn’t be able to see him. In “Good Morning Good Morning,” a more subtle play on words can be spotted in the similar sounding words of the verse “somebody needs to know the time; glad that I’m here.” These little tricks became a habit and created a fun exercise for Beatles fans to discover.
At a writing session with McCartney in July of 1963, John introduced the newly written chorus of “It Won’t Be Long” to Paul with the intention of collaborating. McCartney recalls, “it was his original idea but we both sat down and wrote it together.” With the intention of writing a follow up single to the yet unreleased “She Loves You,” they put together an impressive package of verses and bridges in an unusual configuration with the already written chorus.
Another gimmick that was introduced at this time was the call-and-response presentation of the chorus which started out the song. This juxtaposition of John and Paul’s “yeah”s became the attractive trademark of the chorus and, in turn, the entire song. The twice repeated bridge, beginning with the words “since you left me,” is particular evidence of John and Paul’s collaboration, with the descending chord pattern typical of McCartney contrasted with the predominant single note melody line consistently found in Lennon’s works.
As history has revealed, “It Won’t Be Long” did not become The Beatles next single release, nor was it released as a single at all. “It never really made it,” stated Lennon concerning the song not being their next British single. Emphasis was being made on writing a song for their next single that would appeal particularly to American audiences. When Lennon and McCartney tried again, they came up with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” which, as history shows, made the grade.
This is not to say that “It Won’t Be Long” was considered a disappointment, because George Martin was always looking for a “pot-boiler” to start off a new Beatles album, and this excellent song fit the bill. It may have been relegated to the fourth song on the “Meet The Beatles!” album in America, but the technical superiority of this fast-paced rocker made it a definite standout on the album.
The Beatles in EMI studio two, 1963
“It Won’t Be Long” was the first original song recorded for their second British album “With The Beatles.” Five cover songs were partially recorded or completed for the album before work started on what was then thought to be their next single.
The second day of recording sessions for the “With The Beatles” album occurred on July 30th in studio two of EMI studios. The first of two recording sessions that day ran from 10 am to 1:30 pm, which commenced with the start and completion of a cover version of The Marvelettes’ hit “Please Mister Postman.” Next on the agenda, at approximately 11:30 am, The Beatles started on “It Won’t Be Long.” Ten takes were made in this early session, which included two overdubs of the ending. Unfortunately, all of this was scrapped with the intention of starting again in the second recording session of that day.
After the band left for a rehearsal and recording session at the Playhouse Theatre for the BBC radio show “Saturday Club,” they returned to EMI for their second session in studio two from 5 till 11 pm. After adding tracks to the previously recorded “Money (That’s What I Want),” completely remaking the previously recorded “Till There Was You” and fully recording and completing another cover tune, Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” The Beatles finally returned to “It Won’t Be Long” approximately between 8 and 9:30 pm.
They started from scratch, recording takes 11 through 17, the last of which included Lennon’s overdubbed lead vocals. Edit pieces of George Harrison’s ending guitar flourishes were then recorded, which were designated takes 18 through 23. It was then decided that complete take 17 and edit piece 21 were the best, so these would be edited together at a later date.
Being that this day also produced the finished version of the excellent “All My Loving,” July 30th, 1963 proved itself to be a very productive day for The Beatles. Five of the fourteen tracks of their second album “With The Beatles” were completed on this day, as well as most of a sixth song. Ten of the songs on their first album may have been finished in one day, but not with the technical advances and studio tricks, such as vocal overdubbing, that were beginning to be utilized on their second British album.
The master tape of the song was then edited together from takes 17 and 21 on August 21st. The edited tape was then mixed for mono on this day in preparation for, as it turned out, their second British album. Only producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick were present for this session.
The song then received its stereo mix on October 29th, using the same edited master tape made on August 21st. This prepared the song for its stereo albums in Britain and (hopefully at that point) America. Since “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was recorded and mixed for mono by this time, it obviously was known that “It Won’t Be Long” was not going to be the next single release. The same engineers were present in the studio with George Martin on this day, joined by a mysterious engineer known only by the initials “B.T.”
Song Structure and Style
As stated earlier, the structure of “It Won’t Be Long” is quite unusual. The use of a chorus in Lennon/McCartney compositions came to the fore a little later and became a common feature of their songwriting formula as time progressed. Here, though, we have the first time an actual “chorus” appears in a Lennon/McCartney song. The structure consists of a chorus, three verses and a bridge that is repeated twice. The finished song structure is a confusing 'chorus/ verse/ chorus/ bridge/ verse/ chorus/ bridge/ verse/ chorus' (which would result in an abacbacba structure).
The song starts out with the chorus which begins with a minor chord, although the song is in a major key. But the first thing we hear is Lennon’s overdubbed vocals because the lyric line actually begins three beats before the first measure. Each chorus consists of the common eight measures.
We then go into the first verse which, like all the other verses of the song, consists of an odd seven measures. Lennon, who habitually liked to omit or add measures (as well as beats per measure) to a song, begins that habit with this song. (Points of reference to this fact are “Revolution,” “Across The Universe,” and early versions of “Cry Baby Cry” and “Dig A Pony.”) These verses could be evened out to eight measures in the obvious place by adding another measure between the first and second lyric line, but it would have elongated the verses with an awkward pause. Wisely, and no doubt with George Martin’s influence, this idea was dismissed.
After the obligatory Beatles ‘break’ in the last bar of the verse (although with Harrison’s guitar line still in place and Lennon’s vocals introducing the chorus), another identical chorus takes place. This time the chorus segues into an eight bar bridge, with subdued drumming and intricate background vocals, to create a textured backdrop to the reflective and then optimistic lyrics. This bridge, with its Miracles’ style of sophistication, serves to relieve the non-stop tension heard thus far in the song.
The bridge acts as a natural segue into another verse identical in structure, with just Lennon’s double-tracked vocals to the fore. This ends with another break leading into another identical chorus. We then repeat the bridge/verse/chorus pattern one more time, the only differences being a new set of lyrics in the verse and an unexpected break in the sixth bar of the chorus. The song then resolves in a surprising fashion with its descending guitar chords as a backdrop to the held out final note of Lennon on the word “you.” This climaxes with a three part ‘barber shop’ style major seventh chord utilizing the voices of McCartney, Harrison and (slipping into falsetto) John. This melodramatic ending appears to be most appropriate considering their intention of this being a follow up to the similarly concluded “She Loves You.”
All in all, it can be said that the arrangement grabs the attention and packs the song with non-stop guts and drive. The philosophy of early Beatles recordings was to pack in as many changes and surprises as possible, especially when a song was slated to be the next single. This ‘never a dull moment’ atmosphere permeates “It Won’t Be Long,” leaving no doubt as to the intent of the song.
John Lennon is definitely in the forefront with his razor-sharp rhythm guitar and commanding lead vocals. This was the first song that Lennon sang which featured double-tracked lead vocals. It was the perfect vehicle for this, since his vocals were not sung in unison with Paul as were many of the previous songs. This added a deserved fullness to his vocal track which resulted in a very confident and convincing vocal performance. “That’s when we discovered double-tracking,” Lennon later stated. “When I discovered it, I double-tracked everything. I wouldn’t let him have anything single-tracked from then on.” Although this was an exaggeration, listeners can’t help but notice how prominent double-tracking of vocals and guitar leads were to become throughout the next couple of years.
McCartney’s bass work is slightly pedestrian in comparison with many of his other contributions to the early Beatles catalog, but with everything else going on, intricate bass lines would surely distract from the elaborate arrangement of the song. Other than mimicking George’s guitar phrase at the end of each verse, Paul pretty much plays the signature chords of the song throughout. His energetic “yeah” answer harmonies with George in syncopation with John on the choruses, as well as his harmony phrases during the bridges, are Paul’s true highlights in the song.
George cooperatively adds his repetitive guitar phrases every time a lull in the proceedings occurs, which ends up being twice at the end of almost every chorus and three times in every verse. This calls to mind the original arrangement of “Please Please Me,” where George kept hitting the same guitar passage repetitively, which caused producer Ron Richards to exclaim, “For Christ’s sake, George, just play it in the gaps!” He apparently learned a valuable trick that day and incorporated it into his performance on “It Won’t Be Long.” Harrison’s harmony work with McCartney in the choruses and bridges of the song stand out for George as a highlight, as well as the classy guitar flourishes that give him the true spotlight at the songs finale.
Ringo recaptures the ‘swing-beat’ style of their trademark sound, such as on “I Saw Her Standing There,” although at a slightly slower pace. This allows for the intricate ‘gimmick word-play’ of the chorus to not be at a frantic and unintelligible speed. He is afforded the opportunity to put in a few simple drum fills, such as at the end of most choruses and bridges, while a tight staccato drum fill acts as a ‘band fill’ with Lennon’s 16th note guitar chops at the end of each verse before the break. Ringo makes sure to close his usually open hi-hat during each bridge to ease the tension of the song, which creates a subtle “Miracles” style smoothness. With Starr’s backbeat holding the song together, “It Won’t Be Long” becomes a tightly wound arrangement with hardly a flaw.
On the surface, the lyrics tell a fairly standard tale of anticipation for the return of the singer’s girlfriend. Although McCartney did indeed help somewhat with the words, it can easily be determined that Lennon’s pen was doing most of the lyric writing in this case. The predominance of sorrow is depicted in the usual Lennon style with lines such as “tears come down from my eyes,” “sitting all on my own” and “I’ve done nothing but cry.” In addition, he imagines that “everybody has fun” while he sits alone in anguish.
Most writers conclude that this anguish is the result of his tragic upbringing, losing both his father (by abandonment) and his mother (by death) early in life. He actually felt this loss three times because of his mother giving him over to be raised by his Aunt Mimi at a young age and then by her actual death many years later. “I lost my mother twice,” Lennon had said, “Once as a child of five and then again at 17.”
Thelma Pickles (later McGough) who dated John shortly after his mother’s death, has stated that “rejection and betrayal were his experience of life” adding that “John’s life was very isolated. He lived with Mimi who looked after him extremely well but there was no closeness.” Although the rough and sarcastic exterior were what was seen by most people who knew him, the inner turmoil that was his life came through in his lyric writing throughout his entire career. That being the case, even in this optimistic song about a returning love, the predominant focus of the lyrics is on the sadness he was experiencing while she was gone.
A subtle fault can be found in the aforementioned lines being heard in the verse, while the same melody line and chord structure of the final verse depicts happiness, with lines like “we’ll be happy I know.” A more common and acceptable practice would have a chord pattern and melody line with a reflective, moody minor key for portraying sad lyrics and an excited major key for the optimistic positive lyrics. While this conveys a slightly unconvincing message as is, it doesn’t spoil the overall effect of the song. This is especially so with the dynamically jubilant last phrase “till I belong to you” which is sung with great emphasis and glee, making the listener want to high-five Lennon in congratulations.
An interesting side note is the influence of Arthur Alexander that can easily be detected in John’s singing style for this song. The line “you won’t leave me no mo,” which is also heard in The Beatles rendition of Alexander’s “Anna” on the first album, is a direct result of a flattering imitation of one of Lennon’s favorite singers of that time. Evidence that the line was written into the song with that pronunciation in mind can be seen in that the line rhymes with “we’ll be happy I know.” Lennon purposely wanted to imitate Alexander in this song!
Capitol's "Meet The Beatles" album
The first and only official release of “It Won’t Be Long” in the US was on January 20th, 1964 on the historic album “Meet The Beatles!” This album was finally released on an individual compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD. Since it was never released as a single in either Britain or America and it received minimal exposure by The Beatles themselves, it forever remained an essential but often forgotten album track. Therefore it never appeared on any compilation or ‘greatest hits’ package throughout the years. Nonetheless, the song did wind up in the homes of millions of Americans as the band had hoped, although it was as a cut on their first Capitol album.
There were actually three other releases of the song in the early months of 1964, although these releases are quite the collectors' items today. The first was released in January of 1964 as part of a Compact 33 EP Disc (#SXA 2047) intended for jukebox play. This EP, entitled “Meet The Beatles,” came with the standard album cover but in the size of a 7” record. This cover was intended to be displayed in the jukebox window. The disc contained non-single tracks since the jukebox already contained the latest Beatles singles anyway. “It Won’t Be Long” was put in the flattering position of first song on side one.
Then, in February of 1964, Capitol issued and sent out to American disc jockeys the first of two interview discs as part of their Beatles promotion campaign. Side one of this disc, which was entitled “The Beatles Open-End Interview” (#PRO 2549), contained recorded statements by The Beatles with gaps of silence in which the disc jockey could read the questions that were printed on the back of the record sleeve. When done correctly, the illusion of a personal interview with the group was created. After the ‘interview’ was completed, the disc would go into their latest single “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In order to promote more tracks from the album, side two contained two songs Capitol felt would work well on the radio. The second of these was “It Won’t Be Long.”
Also, in February of 1964, Capitol released a promotional album entitled “Great New Releases From The Sound Capitol Of The World.” This disc, which comprised assorted Capitol artists, was sent to radio stations in an effort to get them to play a complete side of the album on the air. “It Won’t Be Long” was included on side two of the album, which also featured Wayne Newton, country artist Wanda Jackson and comedians Len Weinrib and Joyce Jameson. Although it is quite unlikely that radio stations would have programmed this entire side on the air at one time, this album nonetheless constitutes the fourth release of the song on disc.
Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes." These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "Meet The Beatles" were released in this portable format, "It Won't Be Long" being on one of these releases. These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.
On February 26th, 1987, the first four British Beatles albums were first released in the US in the compact disc format. "It Won't Be Long" is therefore in its originally released position as the lead-off track of the “With The Beatles” album. The CD was available only in mono until September 9th, 2009 when the remastered stereo version was released.
The CD box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1,” which features the original "Meet The Beatles!" album in stereo and mono, was released on November 26th, 2004.
September 9th, 2009 was the release date for the box set “The Beatles In Mono,” which featured a remastered mono mix of “It Won’t Be Long” on its “With The Beatles” CD.
The Beatles on the British TV show "Ready Steady Go", March 20th, 1964
Since the song did not get a single release, The Beatles apparently viewed it as somewhat of a failure at the time and focused on their recent hits and favorite album tracks for their live performances. Therefore, “It Won’t Be Long” was never in their live set list. Nor was it ever performed for any BBC radio performances.
The intricate arrangement used on the song may have been a deterrent to them performing the song live, as can be seen by their lip-synced performance of the song on the March 20th, 1964 episode of the British TV show “Ready Steady Go.” The group flubs their way through the song as if they hadn’t rehearsed it since they recorded it back in July of that year. Especially embarrassing (and entertaining) is Lennon’s inability to remember the lyrics, as well as his not being able to get the ‘call and response’ vocals right at the beginning of the song. With all this and his goofy dance steps at the end of the song, it leaves the cameramen scrambling to focus on the other Beatles as well as the dancers surrounding the stage.
It was becoming apparent with the first two US album releases that John Lennon was asserting himself as the more predominant lead singer of the group. This trend would only increase as the following four album releases of 1964 would show. Whether as a lead singer or as a songwriter, Lennon was determined to make his mark as the undisputed and natural leader of the group. Even the other members of The Beatles would testify at this time that John was their leader.
“It Won’t Be Long” was one of many evidences of this fact, being that Lennon was the predominant writer and singer of the majority of the songs on the “Meet The Beatles!” album. McCartney’s secondary role appeared to continue until the latter half of 1965 when the confidence builder “Yesterday” became an entry on his resume. Lennon would thereafter gradually lose interest in the ego-driven dominance he once sought, handing over the reins to Paul as the chief songwriter and even as the unstated ‘leader’ of the group.
Both John and Paul have been known to refer to their early songs with negative phrases such as a “knock off” or a “work job” in comparison to their later efforts. And as Lennon lost a degree of interest in asserting himself in the later Beatle years, one can conclude that his most prolific years were with the “work job” songs of the 1963-65 period.
That being said, time has told us that The Beatles music of those early years have been the most enduring and heart-warming memories of The Beatles generation. “It Won’t Be Long,” for example, never fails to light up the faces of audiences at Beatles tribute band performances. All of these “work songs” were written with audiences in mind, which became less and less of a priority as their career progressed.
In conclusion, it can be stated as fact that the Lennon / McCartney team, predominantly Lennon, made the Beatlemania of 1964 what it is today. Lennon’s assertiveness set the benchmark and then he passed it on to McCartney in later years to solidify their genius. The overwhelming charm found in “It Won’t Be Long” is but a small piece of the big picture that began the chain of events that moved the world to fall in love with the music of The Beatles.
"It Won’t Be Long”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: July 1963
- Song Recorded: July 30, 1963
- First US Release Date: January 20, 1964
- First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2047 “Meet The Beatles!”
- US Single Release: Capitol #SXA 2047 (Meet The Beatles Jukebox EP)
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3045 “With The Beatles”
- Length: 2:13
- Key: E major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
Instrumentation (most likely):
- John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325)
- Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Harmony Vocals
- George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman), Harmony Vocals
- Ringo Starr – Drums (1963 Ludwig Downbeat Black Oyster Pearl)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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