I mean, you know, when I was younger I perhaps tried to be a badass and make fun of "I Will" and Soppy Paul and so on, but the melody just wins me over every time, because at heart I am a big Soppy Meg. So now I file this one alongside "Here, There, and Everywhere" as a high-quality, sophisticated song that also happens to be soppy.
And it really is pretty sophisticated-- or at least pretty interesting. You know it took something like 65 takes to get this thing right? (Give or take.) Part what made it take so long is that they were messing around a lot-- weirdly, this is the session they farted around with "Step Inside Love" on, for instance. And apparently Paul was still finalizing the lyrics in the studio as well. It might sound like Paul is handling this one by himself, as he did other White Album tracks, but Ringo and John are actually here, although I'm pretty sure John is just banging pieces of wood together for percussion or something. All the other percussion stuff is Ringo, who's on bongos and maracas and a touch of cymbal. (George isn't playing on this one.) Meanwhile, Paul handles both sets of vocals, a fairly sweet and simple acoustic guitar part, and most interestingly, the vocal bass. Those sounds reminiscent of someone blowing into a milk jug are actually Paul blowing on pitch, very very close to a mic. I don't know how he settled on this approach, but it's a great sound-- it just sounds really airy and light to me, or perhaps folksy, or something.
Also, note that the harmonic motion here is fairly fast and deft-- this might sound pedantic or something, but "I Will" is working with a greater number of discrete chords than a lot of Beatles songs do. You can hear that Paul is really exploiting the harmonic possibilities of his little melody. No one chord sounds too out of the ordinary, though, until that deceptive cadence on the last "I will" line-- you know the one, the one where it sounds like the sun just peeked out through the clouds. I don't know what that chord is and don't have a keyboard in front of me to check-- argh, this is so rushed-- but it seems safe to say that we haven't heard it before now. (For what it's worth, it sounds to my ear like a chord that was previously minor has been made major.) What a fantastic moment that chord is, right? Squee!
When Paul is doing his best work, he combines these lovely melodies, which he's able to compose through sheer intuition and genius, with arrangements that perfectly frame them and lend them greater depth, or a unique color, or some dramatic element that turns his raw material into something really special. Thus we get "Yesterday" and "Hey Jude" and "Penny Lane," and we also get the admittedly slighter "I Will." This one is slight, but its aspirations are modest, and it more than meets them. To me, it works as this little crystalline thing of beauty. It's so lovely.
Notably, Paul set this one high in his vocal range, all the better to sound delicate and so forth, I imagine. Unfortunately, that means he no longer performs the song in its original key, which is rare for him. Still and all, when he played it on his 2005 tour, I swooned a little. Just a little. Sigh. If you want to swoon along to a video whose embedding has been disabled, just click here.
"I Will," released in the U.K. side B track 8 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 2, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.