Before John Lennon met Bob Dylan he kept his life off the page. Though he was a prolific songwriter with Paul McCartney, he rarely put his soul into the lyrics. The songs were usually based on the classic rock ‘n’ roll tropes—girls, love, lust, cars and dancing. However, sometimes, even before the meeting with Dylan, Lennon would subconsciously allow his own life to bleed into the tunes.
One such song, a track Lennon referred to as a “silly love song”, has gone down as part of The Beatles rich canon and is widely regarded as one of their finest from their early period. It’s a close-harmony ballad that proves though John may have been a rocker at heart, he had some serious soul inside him too. We’re taking a little look at the track ‘If I Fell’.
Taken from 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, the song has become a swoony ballad and one of The Beatles greatest love songs, despite Lennon’s protestations. He once spoke of the track with relative fondness, noting it as the first time he had attempted to write a song as a ballad: “That was my first attempt at a ballad proper,” he recalled, also suggesting, “that was the precursor to ‘In My Life.’ It has the same chord sequences as ‘In My Life’—D and B minor and E minor, those kinds of things.”
The song was also a close harmony between Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison, showing off their vocal talents and beguiling swathes of the country as they did—but that wasn’t really revolutionary. The real revolutionary moment came with Lennon putting himself into the lyrics, consciously or otherwise. “It’s semi-autobiographical, but not consciously,” revealed the singer. “It shows that I wrote sentimental love ballads—silly love songs—way back when.”
The track was sung during the film A Hard Day’s Night and became a hit among those who had bought the album too. In fact, the ballad was one of the few that the Fab Four would perform on stage. Sadly, due to the increased volume of the audience, often the song would go awry as the harmonies would falter, it led to the band often calling the track ‘If I Fell Over’ when introducing the number.
The song’s real power comes from its writer though, perhaps because we don’t associate Lennon with such a soft side. “People tend to forget that John wrote some pretty nice ballads,” recalls Macca in Barry Miles Many Years From Now. “People tend to think of him as an acerbic wit and aggressive and abrasive, but he did have a very warm side to him really which he didn’t like to show too much in case he got rejected.”
As well as being infatuated with the idea of love as a healing and universal property in his later life, it’s clear that Lennon was a bit of a schmoozer in the early days too. He even wrote out the lyrics to the song on a back of a Valentine’s Day card which was sold at auction for thousands of pounds.
Of course, McCartney did contribute a lot to the song too, largely the introduction: “I was a big fan of the preamble in my early days, which you find in lots of ’50s songs. A first verse that goes: ‘I was living in Kentucky when I did, did, did and I dud-dud-dud, and then I said…’ [breathes in deeply]… then you break into the bit of the song you want everyone to know. One song I wrote a little after ‘Please Please Me’ was my best attempt at a preamble: ‘If I Fell’. [Sings] ‘If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be truuue…’ Then after the line, ‘just holding hands’, the song properly gets going.”
The real bones of the song, and why it’s so important in the band’s iconography, is that ‘If I Fell’ became a “real” moment for Lennon. Having previously only saved space on the lyric sheet for the words he knew would get the right reaction, he had now let his mind and his life infiltrate the page. It may have been unconscious but the move to incorporate his life into his art would be one that would accelerate The Beatles’ rise to legend status.
It’s a perfect cross-section of the band they were (an English harmony group with rock ‘n’ roll leanings) and the band they were about to become (pure artists and British icons). So, without a moment’s hesitation, let’s go back to 1964 and listen to The Beatles’ ‘If I Fell’.