John Lennon captures heartbreak on record of "If I Fell"

John Lennon captures heartbreak on record of “If I Fell”

Early 1964 was a period of consolidation for The Beatles, as well as for the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Over the previous 12 months, the group had released two albums and four 45 RPM singles in the United Kingdom (U.K.), made a brief tour to Sweden, and had attempted to have their music released in the United States.

The Beatles were scheduled to start work on their first film on March 2, 1964. The film had a script by the Welsh screenwriter Alun Owen, but no definite title. For the first time in their short careers, Lennon and McCartney were obliged to write songs on demand for an unfinished project.

Lennon’s “If Fell” Composing Demo

Lennon wrote “If I Fell” in a single day on January 13, 1964. Although Lennon had composed love songs before, he later maintained that “If I Fell” was his first true ballad.

A 4:06 composing sequence has survived on a bootleg recording, Another Tracks Of A Hard Day’s Night. The Sweet Zapple (2000) demo tape contains five different takes of the song, although only Take 2 is complete. Take 1 breaks down a few lines into the first verse, while Takes 3-5 jump back and forth to verses that improved with each revision.

The existing complete take is interesting for three reasons. First, beginning with the second verse, the melody is sung in a higher key, even though the range poses problems for Lennon’s voice.

Second, Lennon chooses to end each demo verse with a descending minor phrase; in the finished recording, uplifting ascending phrases are used. Dramatic pauses and vocal scatting also is found throughout the demo, but disappear by the time he entered the recording studio. The overall effect is one of wistfulness and longing that somehow is lost on record.

Third, although most of the lyrics were complete, a few subtle changes are evident in the demo. For example, part of the demo refrain begins: “And I hope she stands the pain / ‘Cause she would be sad / If our new love was in vain.” On the finished record, the song’s narrator is the one who absorbs the pain — not the former lost love.

On the demo, Lennon’s voice aches with tenderness, as well as an understanding that love involves more commitment than ‘just holding hands.’ This maturity is surprising as he was only 23 years old at the time. Lennon later admitted to being in the “love ’em and leave ’em stage” at that period of his life, so the fact that he captured true heartbreak on record is astonishing.