If you had the chance to dissect The Beatles and see what each band member brought to the table, it would be relatively easy to see how the songwriting duo contributed to the band’s success. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are two of the greatest pens in pop music history but dig a little deeper, and it is easy to see where each half of the powerhouse team excelled. Lennon is well-known to have a kaleidoscopic and encyclopaedic command of lyrics, creating poetry in music that had previously only existed in the annals of your nearest library. For Paul McCartney, it was all about the melody.
Trained by his jazz musician father for years before he plucked up the courage to perform Eddie Cochran for Lennon and secure himself a spot in the Quarrymen. But when he finally joined the band and, later, when he grabbed The Beatles by the scruff of the neck and dragged them into the pop charts, he did it with a tuneful whistle that would make a starling blush. For Macca, the melody was everything, making the Fab Four song ‘I Will’ particularly special for any fan.
Featuring on the band’s notorious return to rock and roll, The White Album, ‘I Will’ is perhaps McCartney’s favourite melody out of all The Beatles material. No mean feat when one considers the plethora of songs on show. “We’re not just completely rock and roll,” proclaimed McCartney in 1968 as he defended the insinuation of Lennon’s that the LP was destined to be a rocking return to form. “We’re not just completely one kind of group. ‘Cos like, when we played in Hamburg, we didn’t just do rock all evening ‘cos we had to have these sort of fat old businessmen coming in and saying… (jokingly) 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.”
It meant the album was always primed for a ballad or two. As well as the simply gorgeous ‘Blackbird’, ‘I Will’ ranks as one of the group’s sweetest refrains. “So this kind of thing is like a pretty sort of smoochy ballad—’I Will.’ I don’t know if it’s getting off the subject, but that’s why there’s great variety in this LP— ‘cos in everything we do, you know, we just haven’t got one bag, you know […] Just completely different things— completely different feelings.”
Later, in 1994, McCartney confessed that the song first existed simply as a tune: “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 (in India) 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.”
With so many iconic songwriters in one spot, one would think that the lyrics would come easy. However, it was the melody that reigned supreme. “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,” confirmed the songwriter. Though there’s a good chance that McCartney’s tastes have changed, he called ‘I Will’ one of his favourite ever tunes, “It’s still one of my favourite 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.”
Below check out one of the pinnacle moments of Paul McCartney’s pop music career. The song which contains one of his favourite melodies he ever put down on paper, the gorgeous ‘I Will’.