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Beatles Rarity Of The Week – “If I Fell” (composing tape, Jan. 1964)

Posted by on August 30, 2010 at 7:00 am.

Welcome to the Beatles Rarity of the Week. John Lennon got a head start on writing new material for the yet untitled first Beatles movie, in early January 1964, when he wrote and recorded the initial home demos for “If I Fell” in his London flat. Legend has it that the recordings were taped over an audio message sent to John by a fan who had seen The Beatles November 17, 1963 show in Coventry. Her message had been recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1963. “If I Fell” would go on to be one of the 7 new songs completed specifically for A Hard Day’s Night (film and album) as well as the b-side of a July 1964 single paired with “And I Love Her” as the A-side. The other new songs for the film would be written during the upcoming tour of France and America.

This historical recording is divided into five separate demo/fragments:

1) The tape starts with a take already in progress, but this is cut off for a complete attempt (0:00-0:13).
2) John plays through the complete song with the structure and lyrics nearly finalized. The melody line he sings would eventually be given to Paul McCartney, with John taking a lower harmony. Here John is obviously straining to reach the notes. Note that the ending riff would be removed from use on this song and used instead on “I Should Have Known Better” (another song for the film yet to be written) (0:14-2:40).
3) John sings the final verse an octave lower which is much more suited for his vocal range (2:41-3:08).
4) John tries singing falsetto again, but only the first verse (3:09-3:45).
5) John tries just a couple lines of the first verse, singing falsetto again and snaps off the tape (3:46-4:00).

The Beatles - If I Fell
John Lennon, 1964

John Lennon, 1964

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Want to make a suggestion for a future Beatles Rarity of the Week? If so, I will do my best to deliver, so let me hear from you. To browse for ideas, check out this search-able listing of 9,969 Beatle-related recordings to choose from. Then let me hear from you here.

13 Comments

  • Elliott Marx says:

    Wow, this may be the most illuminating post I’ve ever seen on BROW. Aside from Bad To Me, I have never encountered a solo acoustic John performance of this vintage. John was always so vulnerable seeming with his vocals (especially in the early days before he double tracked all of his insecurities to oblivion.) But I have never heard him as fragile and earnest I as he sounds in this demo. Thank you so much for posting this.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Thanks Elliott. I never think of anything from AHDN pre-dating the first trip to the U.S. but this did. John apparently had this all worked out before ever setting foot on Ed Sullivan’s stage. The harmony with Paul that was to come is what later put the song high on the pedestal. It seems hard to play on guitar and sing John’s part without veering over into Paul’s key instead. Kinda like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time.

  • Chip says:

    I have to agree with Elliott. This really was a Wow! BROW. You really feel like you are hearing something for the first time; something in the works. The words are there and the chords are there, but how exactly is it going to be finished? Without pulling out any of my reference books, I wonder where this recording is in relation to its birth? Was it a song that just flowed out of him or did it involve different lyrics along the way? It truly is one of the best BROWs I’ve ever heard because of both its significance and simplicity.

    Good Job, Nat.

  • Stacia says:

    I’ve never heard this before – thank you! It’s spooky how much it sounds like a Dakota demo. Those high “oh ohs” are great!

  • lennonista says:

    Yes, I agree… great BROW! I *have* heard this before, but it’s always touching to listen to. And it also goes to show that even without the beautiful harmony and even in this early stage, If I Fell is one of John’s loveliest compositions.

  • eegsmith says:

    ohhhhhhhhh, I have tears in my eyes, John’s vulnerable, raw sound is so touching….. and is so clear in my mind where Paul’s harmonies will (later)run along with it, inseparable in my consciousness, yet, HERE so bare and personal with the solo …. transparent, I think is the word I want.
    (Dizzy Miss) Lizzy

  • Tweeze says:

    Fantastic! Very Buddy Holly. For any writing credit disputes with Macca this clearly conveys that most of the song was already there. It is funny though. Most ‘trained’ musicians would write into their key – their comfort zone. Obviously this one isn’t comfortable for John.

  • Garry Marsh says:

    Hi there, I discovered this recording on February 9th 1989, whilst going through all the reel to reel tapes that Alf (Bicknell) had given to me to check out.

    It was scary to be the first person to hear it since early 64, some 25 years later.

    All the Best,
    Garry Marsh

    • Happy Nat says:

      Fascinating Garry! I have some of the recordings from the Bicknell tape on a bootleg somewhere so I’m familiar with what you are referring to. Thanks for sharing!

  • selwyn katz says:

    Its magic and wonderment listening to John sing this song in his falsetto at its inspirational moment of conception-what a priviledge– thanks for posting.

  • Paul Goricki says:

    I’ll join those who are hearing the earliest recording of a Lennon song. What a lovely young voice he has, not much older than a teenager… Thank you, Happy Nat!

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