Even from their earliest days as a group, The Beatles were eager to soak up as many influences as they could. That was mainly in their favoured genre of rock and roll, but The Beatles weren’t exclusive either. George Harrison loved the country twang of Carl Perkins, while Paul McCartney was eager to incorporate music hall and even broadway musical numbers like ‘Till There Was You’. At the same time that Beatlemania was starting to spread across the world, another major takeover began: the folk boom.
Originating in the coffeehouses and open mics of New York City’s Greenwich Village, the early 1960s folk boom took the traditional music of America’s past, from mountain songs to bluegrass to Delta blues, and began canonising some of the most important works. Key figures like Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk began taking songs from all different sources, with everything from the songs of Woodie Guthrie and traditional slave spirituals finding a place within the scene.
One of the biggest artists in the burgeoning folk scene was Joan Baez, who found fame reinterpreting the classic ballads of a long-gone strand of Americana. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a crystalline voice, Baez brought gravity and refinement to the folk scene, which was overpopulated mostly with men who dang in scraggly voices. One of those men, Bob Dylan, became an important collaborator who helped Baez reach a national audience.
By 1963, Baez had recorded five albums and, with partial inspiration from Dylan, began to turn her focus to more socially conscious and politically aware music. But it was a song from her self-titled solo debut in 1960 that wound up affecting McCartney in a special way: ‘All My Trials’. Like a lot of material from the folk boom, the exact origins of ‘All My Trials’ is difficult to ascertain. It had likely been written decades prior to its notable inclusion on singer Bob Gibson’s 1956 album, Offbeat Folksongs, but the liner notes of Baez’s 1964 LP The Joan Baez Songbook suggest that the song originated during the American civil way and eventually made its way over to the Bahamas before being reclaimed by Americans in the folk boom.
‘All My Trials’ eventually found its way over to England as well, thanks to Baez’s version, which served as inspiration for the song ‘I’ll Get You’. “It’s got an interesting chord in it: ‘It’s not easy to pre-tend…’” Paul McCartney recalled in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “That was nicked from a song called ‘All My Trials’ which is on an album I had by Joan Baez: ‘There’s only one thing that money can’t buy.’ It’s like D, which goes to an A minor, which is unusual, you’d normally go from a D to an A major. It’s a change that had always fascinated me, so I put it in. I liked that slightly faggy way we sang. ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah,’ which was very distinctive, very Beatley.”
John Lennon was less generous towards ‘I’ll Get You’, which he described to David Sheff in 1980 as “Paul and me trying to write a song and it didn’t work out”. The song was deemed adequate enough to be the B-side to ‘She Loves You’, subsequently making it one of the most-purchased and most popular singles in The Beatles’ catalogue (assuming anyone managed to flip the record over). McCartney later covered ‘All My Trials’ as a live UK-only single, which wound up reaching number 35 on the UK Singles Chart in 1990.