“I’ll Be Back” is primarily a John Lennon composition credited to Lennon–McCartney, and recorded by the Beatles for the soundtrack LP to their film A Hard Day’s Night but not used in the film. This song was not released in North America until Beatles ’65 some five months later.
According to musicologist Ian MacDonald Lennon created the song based on the chords of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” which had been a UK hit in April 1961. Author Bill Harry also wrote: “He just reworked the chords of the Shannon number and came up with a completely different song”.
With its poignant lyric and flamenco style acoustic guitars “I’ll Be Back” possesses a tragic air and is somewhat eccentric in structure. Unusually for a pop song it oscillates between major and minor keys; appears to have two different bridges and lacks a chorus. The fade-out ending also arrives unexpectedly, being a half stanza premature.
Producer George Martin preferred to open and close Beatles albums using dominant material stating: “Another principle of mine when assembling an album was always to go out on a side strongly, placing the weaker material towards the end but then going out with a bang”. Ian MacDonald points out however: “Fading away in tonal ambiguity at the end of A Hard Day’s Night, it was a surprisingly downbeat farewell and a token of coming maturity”. Music journalist Robert Sandall wrote in Mojo Magazine: “‘I’ll Be Back’ was the early Beatles at their most prophetic. This grasp of how to colour arrangements in darker or more muted tones foreshadowed an inner journey they eventually undertook in three albums’ time, on Rubber Soul”.
The Beatles recorded “I’ll Be Back” in 16 takes on 1 June 1964. The first nine were of the rhythm track, and the last seven were overdubs of the lead and harmony vocals, and an acoustic guitar overdub.
The Anthology 1 CD includes take two of “I’ll Be Back”, performed in 6/8 time. The recording broke down when Lennon fumbled over the words in the bridge, complaining on the take that “it’s too hard to sing.” The subsequent take, also included on Anthology, was performed in the 4/4 time used in the final take.