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Music

The classic Beatles song written by a teenage Paul McCartney

@TylerGolsen

Before the songwriting partnership between John Lennon and Paul McCartney truly took off at the end of their teenage years, the two future Beatles were experimenting with writing songs on their own. One of McCartney’s first, ‘I Lost My Little Girl’, came after the death of his mother, which subsequently opened the floodgates of creativity for a young McCartney. Not long after, he came up with a soft ballad that would later be taken on by his most famous band, ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’.

“I wrote that in my front parlour in Forthlin Road,” McCartney told Mark Lewishon. “I was about 16. ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ was one of those very early ones. I seem to remember writing it just after I’d had the flu and I had that cigarette – I smoked when I was 16 – the cigarette that’s the ‘cotton wool’ one. You don’t smoke while you’re ill but after you get better you have a cigarette and it’s terrible, it tastes like cotton wool, horrible. I remember standing in the parlour, with my guitar, looking out through the lace curtains of the window, and writing that one.”

Lennon, meanwhile, was relatively indifferent towards the song in later years. “That’s Paul again. Can’t you tell? I mean, ‘Tomorrow may rain so I’ll follow the sun.’ That’s another early McCartney,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “You know, written almost before The Beatles, I think. He had a lot of stuff.” In fact, McCartney had the song in his repertoire when an early version of The Beatles embarked on their first shows in Hamburg, although he was too shy to bring the soft song into the band’s setlists.

“It wouldn’t have been considered good enough [to be performed by the group]. I wouldn’t have put it up,” McCartney told Lewishon. “As I said before, we had this R&B image in Liverpool, a rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, hardish image with the leather. So I think that songs like ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’, ballads like that, got pushed back to later.”

​​When The Beatles finally did take on the song, it was for 1964’s Beatles for Sale. The band were exhausted from nonstop touring, recording, and filmmaking, so McCartney searched his songbook for suitable material, even giving Lennon a bit of credit for the composition when interviewed by Disc magazine just after the album was released. “John and I wrote this one some while ago, but we changed the middle eight bars before we actually recorded it. John and I sing it, and Ringo played the top of a packing case instead of his drums this time. Just for a change, you know?”

McCartney would later recall that Starr simply slapped his knees a-lá Jerry Allison on Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’, but the roots in keeping the band’s sound fresh were still there. “On the record we got Ringo to tap his knees,” McCartney told Barry Miles for the book Many Years From Now. “We were thinking in terms of singles and the next one had to always be different. We didn’t want to fall into the Supremes trap where they all sounded rather similar, so to that end, we were always keen on having varied instrumentation. Ringo couldn’t keep changing his drum kit, but he could change his snare, tap a cardboard box or slap his knees.”

Check out ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ down below.