Any song that passed The Beatles’ high standards for recorded output has something notable about it. Whether it was an atypical chord progression that the band hadn’t stumbled on before, a new step forwards in terms of lyrical evolution, or the incorporation of new technology, The Beatles didn’t really deal in “filler”.
That being said, thanks to their ludicrous recording contract with EMI and the pressure that manager Brian Epstein kept on the band to stay relevant, The Beatles had to put out a lot of songs. Their early requirements included two studio albums, multiple singles, and fan club recordings every single year. During the heights of Beatlemania, the band themselves rarely got the chance to take it all in: they were either in the studio or on the road nearly the entire time. Or, as Paul McCartney’s very clean grandfather might put it, they were in “a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room”.
Naturally, there had to be some lesser material. A Hard Day’s Night was the moment The Beatles went supernova: a completely self-written album paired with a wildly successful feature film. All of a sudden, The Beatles were at the centre of the entire entertainment industry, and the demand for them only continued to rise. A Hard Day’s Night is one of the band’s most iconic albums, but it also has some of the lesser tracks that became necessary during their nonstop run.
‘I’ll Be Back’, the final song on the album’s tracklisting, is a surprisingly melancholy and downtempo way to end their most triumphant album to date. According to John Lennon, the song was directly inspired by one of their idols. “‘I’ll Be Back’ is me completely,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “My variation of the chords in a Del Shannon song,” Lennon conceded in a 1972 Hit Parader interview that the song was, “A nice tune, though the middle is a bit tatty.”
According to Paul McCartney, the song was a result of the band’s hectic schedule. “‘I’ll Be Back’ was co-written but it was largely John’s idea,” McCartney explained in the book Many Years From Now. “When we knew we were writing for something like an album he would write a few in his spare moments, like this batch here. He’d bring them in, we’d check ’em. I’d write a couple and we’d throw ’em at each other, and then there would be a couple that were more co-written. But you just had a certain amount of time. You knew when the recording date was and so a week or two before then we’d get into it.”
As The Beatles began to burn out in the mid-1960s, the group started to take more control of themselves, both in terms of the creative process and their unsustainable commitments. Lesser tracks were no longer acceptable as the band took on the album as their preferred medium. As The Beatles began to shed their mop-top image, songs like ‘I’ll Be Back’ became fewer and farther between, indicative of the band’s past rather than their future.