When was it recorded? Jun. 1, 1964
When was it first released, and on which album? Jun. 10, 1964 on “A Hard Day’s Night”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
John admittedly based “I’ll Be Back” on “Runaway.” American musician Del Shannon (nee Charles Weedon Westover) wrote “Runaway” with Max Crook and recorded the song Jan. 24, 1961. It was released as a single a month later in America and in April across the pond. “Runaway” was a #1 hit in both the UK and the US, was ranked #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for the year of 1961, and was ranked #472 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
According to the Beatles Bible, “Lyrically, [‘I’ll Be Back’] is one of Lennon’s most vulnerable. After the bravado of ‘You Can’t Do That’ and ‘When I Get Home,’ it was one of the first true instances of the raw confessional style which he would explore more fully on ‘Help!’”
Quoth Wikipedia, “With its poignant lyric and flamenco style acoustic guitars, ‘I’ll Be Back’ possesses a tragic air. Unusually for a pop song it oscillates between major and minor keys, appears to have two different bridges and completely lacks a chorus. The fade-out ending is unexpectedly sudden, seeming to arrive half a verse prematurely.” Alan Pollack admires the early fade-out, writing The Beatles “avoid[ed] foolish consistence” and that “when you consider the cumulative duration of the song caused by the preceding three verses plus three bridges, it’s probably a good thing the Boys decided to not keep us.”
The Beatles recorded “I’ll Be Back” in 16 takes on Jun. 1, 1964. Takes 2 and 3 appear on “Anthology 1.” Take 2 is, interestingly, in a waltz-like 6/8 time, which John claimed (mid-take) was too hard to sing.
The next take shifts “I’ll Be Back” into its familiar 4/4 time signature. According to Pollack, “This is a relatively complete take though there is still no outro, and in place of what eventually be the final verse, they loop the ending of the third bridge into a fade-out.”
“I’ll Be Back” may not have been intended as the album closer for “A Hard Day’s Night.” UK releases at the time usually featured 14 songs, and the Beatles (minus Ringo, who was in the hospital) recorded demos for three more songs on Jun. 3. None of those demos were completed though, and George Martin deemed “I’ll Be Back” a strong enough track to end on. Beatles reviewer Ian MacDonald wrote the song “was a surprisingly downbeat farewell and a token of coming maturity.”
Now that’s an incredible song. I love this one, maybe because of how well it both contrasts and connects with the rest of the material on “A Hard Day’s Night.”