Friday, March 13, 2009

If I Fell

Since I listened to one of my personal favorites yesterday, I figured, why not indulge myself today with another of my personal favorites, albeit one that's completely different stylistically, and send the week off on an indulgent note? Well, sure. So how about "If I Fell"? It's been a while since I listened to anything from the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack, and this one is fairly superb. So kiddies, let's slow it down-- grab a partner and have a dance to a ballad that only a damaged genius could write.

Here's another by John-- many of my favorite Beatles songs are by John, which is just one of those things that's a matter of personal taste-- and like others of his early songs, a lot of the action lies in the vocal harmonies. John LOVES the vocal harmonies (it's just one of the things he and I have in common-- we're so compatible!). The skills honed in those old Everlys songs serve John and Paul well here, though "If I Fell" sounds nothing like an Everlys song and entirely like a Beatles song, due to its sheer sophistication. In fact, this isn't so much in the style of "Yes It Is," where the melody IS a sequence of blocked chords, as it is true counterpoint. Both Paul and John sing specific and quite different melodies-- not the way the Everlys did, using the harmonic power of major thirds to blur the question of which line is the real melody-- but in a way that's more similar to what composers did a lot back in the 16th century, actually writing melodies that sound independent of each other, until they're put together and magically become far more than the sum of their parts. In John's counterpoint, Paul's and John's different melodies go off on their own merry ways (making for a fair few open fourths and fifths as they go, mind you) and then come together in that ringing unison that recurs throughout-- on the first verse it's on "I must be sure." It's a really cool imposition of structure there. And all of this is really not like anything else John had ever written, by the way.

So with the vocals driving the song, the other instruments basically keep out the way, which is fine, though George's guitar bits punctuate things nicely, and Ringo is as steady as ever on the drums. That leaves me to talk about the lyrics, which are some kind of masterpiece of neurotic bravado. See, John totally wants to fall in love with you, but before he can do so he's going to need you to promise to love him first, and most importantly, to love in a totally devoted, monogamous way that's going to preserve his fragile male ego and avoid hurting his feelings, ever. If you can do this, he will achieve his goal: revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Oh, and also a committed, loving relationship. But that's more like icing on the cake.

Seriously, the lyrics to "If I Fell" are wicked twisted. It's like love re-imagined as negotiation with a dictator. But it also reveals heaps about John's genuinely fragile emotional state. He HAS been hurt before (see all the various Lennon biographies to count the ways) and, knowing what we know about John, we can hardly blame him for trying to assert some control over the situation. Of course, at the time the song came out, the world knew a lot less about John, and I think this whole little drama was heard as no more than teeny-bopper histrionics, but even heard that way, the lyrics remain weird, I think.

Still, the singing makes the whole sentiment seem much more beautiful than it actually is, which is a neat trick. (Paul does this kind of thing too in songs like "I'll Follow the Sun," but you can't imagine Paul writing a song with lyrics quite this weird, could you?) And "If I Fell" still moves me-- it's actually even more moving when you consider it in the context of the wounded-John persona that would move to the forefront in later years. So, enjoy.

"If I Fell," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 2 of United Artists' A Hard Day's Night, July 13, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous


  1. (Hey, I can comment now!)

    I never gave the lyrics too much thought, though I know them by heart. But, yeah, if you were at, say, a restaurant and you overheard a conversation between a couple patterned after these lyrics, you'd rightly assume that the speaker was a little deranged and wonder if the listener was going to make a break for it from the restroom window.

    (I can't hear or think about this song without thinking about Ringo glaring at John, who is seranding him with this tune in A Hard Day's Night.)

  2. Hey Megan. Wonderful choice of a song to follow up Hey Bulldog from yesterday's post. The lyrics to this song flow so smoothly, and the rhymes so natural, that the song is one of those you can not hear for a long time, and yet pull up the lyrics in your head. At least, that's my take on it. Question: did you study music theory in school? And when you are writing your blurbs are you looking at a music sheet or can you discern all that you do simply by listening. You do a great job; I don't always know what you're talking about, but i do get a feel for it if i listen to the song while reading your notes. If that makes any sense. BTW, isn't Paul's hair just absolutely perfect looking in the video? Through all the hair styles those guys went thru over the years, Paul's always seemed to be the coolest. Loved the look on Rubber Soul. We used to try to get ours cut like his, but it never quite fell the same. There, my confession.

  3. Thanks, Frank! I think Paul just had the perfect hair to rock the Beatles cut. John's was a bit too thin, George's too thick, and Paul's somehow just right. Not that I've given the matter a lot of thought or anything.

    I have an undergraduate degree in music, yeah, but I'm hardly any kind of expert, trust me! And yeah, I can hear what I'm talking about, but some stuff I know that I originally heard because I read it somewhere first, you know? But I do hear new stuff all the time too. I'm glad you like it, but I'm sorry for losing you sometimes! Do you know what I mean about counterpoint, thought? Sing each line to yourself and they could be wholly unrelated. It's neat.

  4. To be honest, I had to listen several times, but i think i hear it now. Paul and John are singing the same words, but with slightly different melodies and inflections, even while in time with each other. The length of their individual melodies sync up time wise, but internally, they are separate. At casual listen you think they are harmonizing, and they are, but with words, not melody. Is that it? If you like, write me off post at:

  5. I really must get to bed. Love this site and I really must stop. But ... this is the song that convinced me I must either be a lead singer or no singer at all, because (to my ear) there IS no harmony and there is no counterpoint, it is simply the collage of genius. And I really don't see John sitting there and telling Paul what melody to sing as the harmony. They didn't write stuff down: they just sat around and composed. I would bet John's original melody was very little like the final, simply because HE started harmonizing with Paul, who was harmonizing with him. (Indeed, it is interesting how the intro melody is so flat and linear.) If you asked me to sing this song solo, I don't know what I would come up with, because, as I said, in my mind there is no harmony vocal: there are two voices, doing different things, creating one melody. I don't know any other song that is quite like it.