By the time The Beatles permanently left the limelight, the division between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a chasm of creative differences. Lennon had turned his attention to his iconic status and the chance to enact real change, while Paul McCartney was still very much interested in playing the pop game, crafting songs and tunes that would prop up his solo career. However, there was certainly a time when these two behemoths of songwriting would share the stage, studio and even produce some pretty similar songs.
Back in 1964, Beatlemania had begun to take over the globe. The four lads from Liverpool had garnered a huge audience, all hanging on every word and release the band uttered, and all waiting to be sated at every turn. That meant that The Beatles, who had previously shared hotel rooms and cramped touring vans, were now given the time and space to stretch out. This affected their songwriting duo of Lennon-McCartney. Previously, the two men had shared so much time that writing songs became like exchanging breaths, but that time had begun to fade away. However, it didn’t mean that they couldn’t learn a thing or two from one another.
John Lennon has always been a rocker. Even when he first formed The Quarrymen, which would become The Beatles, the singer had the danger of rock ‘n’ roll in his veins. Paul McCartney also enjoyed a knee-shaking good time every so often, but his real skill came in crafting ballads and pop songs that made lovers woozy. On only a few occasions have the duo changed styles, McCartney’s ‘Helter Skelter’ being a prime example. But one such moment happened when Lennon wrote ‘If I Fell’ for The Beatles album A Hard Day’s Night.
It’s one of The Beatles classic numbers. Seen as one of the crowning moments of their harmony-driven vocal group style, it still feels a little strange that the song was of John Lennon’s creation. “That’s my first attempt to write a ballad proper,” the singer told David Sheff in 1980. “That was the precursor to ‘In My Life’. It has the same chord sequence as ‘In My Life’: D and B minor and E minor, those kinds of things. And it’s semi-autobiographical, but not consciously.”
“It shows that I wrote sentimental love ballads, silly love songs, way back when.”
Paul McCartney also noted the somewhat saccharine sentiment behind Lennon’s work on this rare occasion: “People tend to forget that John wrote some pretty nice ballads. 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. We wrote ‘If I Fell’ together but with the emphasis on John because he sang it. It was a nice harmony number, very much a ballad.”
The track was feature don the soundtrack for the A Hard Day’s Night film and even featured as part of an ‘in-studio’ performance from the film. In a typical display of humour, Lennon lovingly sings the song to Ringo Starr. The track became a hit with their fans and found its way on to its live setlist. Sadly, because of the deafening screams Beatlemania induced, the song was drowned out by hysteria more often than not.
It’s a shame because there are very few moments, especially in The Beatles’ early canon, which sees Lennon open himself up so drastically. Most of the band’s early career, Lennon hid behind the persona he had created, and Brian Epstein had sold to their audience. It wasn’t until meeting Bob Dylan and opening up the opportunity of songs as a personal expression that the John Lennon we know today truly emerged.
As such, ‘If I Fell’ for all the sweeter-than-sweet harmonies and delicate positioning, is one of the most authentic songs John Lennon ever wrote. Maybe he was a balladeer after all.