Friday, 25 April 2014

10:29 I Will (pt.1 - Demo and Lyrics)

For me I Will is a timeless Beatles song that could have snuck onto any album from '64 onwards. But for the fact it's almost a solo McCartney track (Ringo & John percussed) I could imagine the band 'soundchecking' it for Victor Spinetti in A Hard Days Night. It's a sweetly unassuming, brilliantly composed track. It shows why Paul is both a master wordsmith and bad lyricist. And, thanks to the Esher demos on Anthology 3, it gives us an insight into the different working processes of Lennon, McCartney & Harrison.

We've looked at Piggies and Happiness Is A Warm Gun already. Compositionally Piggies is pretty much finished by the time it's demoed, but undergoes a folk to classical makeover in the studio, dumping Blackbird and shacking up with Eleanor Rigby. Warm Gun on the other hand is totally hot-rodded - one section removed, others added in - the band are 'all hands on deck' to pimp Lennon's ride.

In contrast, I Will is almost identical to the finished product, bar one thing - the lyrics. Even the clave-like 3 over 4 hemiola (Ticket 29) at the end, which sounds off the cuff on the album (1:42 WA*), is there on the demo (this time played on guitar - 1:46 A3**). The melody, the arrangement, the chords, down to the odd dissonant passing chords in the final verse (1:11 WA/1:13 A3), are all there. But the lyrics are still incomplete. Though some lines are clearly bloopers (he reverses “endear you to me” on the demo) the fact that he has every other detail nailed down, implies that lyrics are the last thing on his mind (quite literally).

Next time we'll look at the music, but for now let's examine the words – good and bad, and what they tell us about Paul the lyricist.

Good Words

First we have the ever present rhyming of ideas, or parallel lyrics as I've come to call them (ticket 24)

who knows how long I've loved you/you know I love you still

love you forever/love you whenever

Paul plays off the title brilliantly

will I wait a lonely lifetime? / If you want me to I will

and later

I will always feel the same

On top of this standard poetic devices abound like alliteration

how long I've loved you

will I wait (2 w's) a lonely lifetime (3 l's)

if you want (me to I) will

and internal rhyme

if you (want) me to

After the triple rhyme of

hear you/near you/endear you

the run on line has a brilliant internal rhyme again

the things you do – endear you to me

immediately followed by

oh/you know

calling this worthy of Gershwin might be a slight stretch to but those old school writers certainly wouldn't have been ashamed to pen a verse like that.

There also a satisfying bookending implied in the lyrics – the song starts with a question

who knows...?

sung on the 7th rising to the root note (E to F). The penultimate line ends with a statement

(You know) I will

the melody reprising the 7th to root note movement before the final soaring octave leap (I Will!).

Overall this is pop lyricism at it's most transcendent – the words have rhythm and melody in themselves – they 'sing' without the need for music. So why do I say they represent McCartney's bad writing too?

Bad Words

In the bridge McCartney uses cliches like he gets them wholesale. Ask anyone you know (a child!) to fill in the blanks

Love you forever and ________
Love you with all my ____
Love whenever we're _________
Love when we're ______

They might say 'ever' in place of 'forever' but I bet they score highly - like bridge of Oh Darling! this is an utterly predictable clich├ęclasm.

Secondly – what is the story? A hymn to an unknown, or possibly unrequited, love? At first listen, maybe. But in verse 2 we learn it's a love he's never seen (or can't remember seeing)

For if I ever saw you, I didn't catch your name

Perhaps the woman of his dreams? But by the bridge he Loves her whenever they're together. So he does know her!

But by verse 3 we're back to the unknown woman again.

And when at last I find you

And we won't even get into who is, or should be, singing 'her song'.

In some ways this is McCartney's companion to While My Guitar Gently Weeps – a great song with great lyrics...and bad lyrics. I think for Paul as a lyricist, both the genius and the failings have the same root. Words are things to be manipulated, just like notes. The notes and chords have to be aesthetically pleasing, but they don't need to 'mean' anything. McCartney's work seems to display the same attitude to words.

Good Or Bad?

One final thing, which I noted as a fault but I'm beginning to suspect is a mark of genius.

The rhyme scheme in the verses (or A sections) is ABCB

A - you
B - still
C - lifetime
B2 - will

A - you
B - name
C - matters
B2 - same

but in verse 3 the scheme is not only extended, but ultimately abandoned as McCartney bails out on the last line - ABCCCD

A - you
B - air
C - hear you
C2 - near you
C3 - endear you
D - will

That last line should stick out like a sore thumb but it doesn't (be honest – had you even noticed it?). Perhaps the reason we don't is that the last word in verse 3 is the same as in verse 1 (it's also the title). Am I saying you can bail out of a rhyme scheme by substituting the same word you used in a different verse? It would appear so. Paul did EXACTLY the same thing in The Long And Winding Road

Like I said. Genius.

*WA = White Album aka The Beatles
**A3 = Anthology 3


  1. Good take on the lyrics. I love this song--it's one of the most satisfying songs to sing in the Beatles canon, I think. But what is it about? I've never made any sense of it. Does he know her? Does he hope to know her? Will he wait for her? Is he even interested in her? Who knows? It's hard to sing a song with conviction if you can't understand what it's supposed to mean.

    By the way, in the last section you have the second stanza marked as ABAB2, but I think you mean ABCB2, no?

  2. Well spotted! - fixed. thank you.

  3. I am not keen on the pop cliche' lyrics either, I would suggest a strength supported by the melody is also evoking the feeling, whoever "you" is in the song. Interesting musically to me is that the chords (based on the Hal Leonard Beatles Chord Songbook) are true to the traditional key of F chords until the middle of the 3rd verse coincident with a change in rhyme scheme. There, a minor 4th Bbm, Fdim and Db7 are introduced and resolve back to the root F on the last "I will". To my ear, in the third verse "air" is an alliteration to the "r" sound in "hear".

  4. Good article, Matt. It reinforces what I've thought about McCartney's lyric writing for decades -- he only occasionally attaches any importance to words. It's hard for me to believe that the same man who wrote the words to "Eleanor Rigby" also wrote the words "Whoa whoa whoa whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa, my love does it good." As a songwriter yourself, I'm sure you're aware of the use of "dummy" lyrics -- words you make up while writing a melody, just as an aid to remember the music. (McCartney is also responsible for possibly the most famous example of that with "Scrambled Eggs" and "Yesterday"). But often it seems that he just kept the dummy lyrics. As we all know, the sense of competition between McCartney and Lennon kept them both on their best game, so it's no surprise that when Paul collaborated with Elvis Costello, the lyrics suddenly improved. (I think "My Brave Face" is one of the best things either of them ever did.) I love "I Will" -- as you say, Matt, it has a sort of timeless feel to it, which I think is great -- but I don't think it's his greatest love song; that would by "Here, There and Everywhere," the lyrics of which, while basic in content, show some real thought in their construction and effectiveness.

  5. I have expressed my despite for Eleanor Rigby on the Facebook page. Here, There and Everywhere is a contender lyrically, but the music is so sappy that it kind of poisons the song for me.

  6. Well, to my ear, "Here, There and Everywhere" is the most beautiful melody McCartney has ever written. And I think "Eleanor Rigby" is brilliant from start to finish. So, different strokes....

  7. Definitely with Rich on Eleanor Rigby. Will be interested to get to HT&E - from memory I think it's a great song with some of the lyrical flaws that I Will has - & I seem to remember he paints himself into an illogical corner with the V1=Here V2=there V3=Everywhere conceit.

    McCartney is sometimes guilty of keeping dummy lyrics (Hey Jude & Carry That Weight spring to mind) but also I think he just doesn't care as much about making sense.

    Discussions and comments around this recently have really opened my eyes to how much strong Lennon was as a lyricist.

  8. This McCartney lyric thing... Did it happen more from the later period of The Beatles when they stopped helping each other out as much?

    I do think that McCartney is more prevalent of the "it'll do" mentality from a lyrical point, but they have all been guilty of it!

    The strange thing is though that with songs such as this and, dare I say, the classic post-Beatles songs My Love and Maybe I'm Amazed (there are some ridiculous bits in both of these songs), he gets away with it because they still come out as great songs.

    How does he do it? Matt, tell us, how???

  9. The rest of the song is so good it carries you along.

    I think it's like fridge logic in movies Martin, where you only notice plot holes when you stop and think about it afterwards. Stevie Wonder has a similar thing with placing syllables on the wrong stresses.

  10. The whoa whoa part is effective as any lyric. I dig it.
    heck, this is McCartney we're talking about here.
    even lennon wouldn't touch McCartneys lyric sometimes (read: shoulder-heyjude)