“That was Paul and me trying to write a song … and it didn’t work out,” John Lennon said in a 1980 interview. Despite Lennon’s opinion, 1963’s “I’ll Get You” exemplifies the Beatles’ growing ability to absorb pop and rhythm and blues, then transform them into their unique sound. Featuring close harmonies, a strong Ringo Starr backbeat and intriguing lyrics, “I’ll Get You” should be known as more than just the B-side to the “She Loves You” single.
Originally written as the followup to the hit “From Me to You,” the song has a confusing history. Experts such as Bill Harry claim that Lennon was the primary songwriter, although Paul McCartney recalled it being a true collaboration in Many Years from Now. In 1994, McCartney admitted he borrowed the unusual chord change during the line “it’s not easy, to pretend” from a Joan Baez song entitled “All My Trials.”
Later, he told biographer Barry Miles that Lewis Carroll also greatly influenced Lennon’s lyrics. “Words like ‘imagine’ and ‘picture’ were from Lewis Carroll. This idea of asking your listener to imagine, ‘Come with me if you will …,’ ‘Enter please into my …,’ ‘Picture yourself in a boat …,’ It drew you in. It was a good little trick, that. Both of us loved Lewis Carroll and the Alice books and were fascinated by his surreal world, so this was a nice song to write.”
Believing that the beat echoed “From Me to You,” the group figured “Get You in the End” (the working title) would be a worthy followup. But that changed in late June 1963, when Lennon and McCartney penned “She Loves You” while on tour. After the band decided that would be the stronger single, “I’ll Get You” was soon relegated to the B-side. Thus on July 1, the Beatles spent the first half of the day recording “She Loves You” at Abbey Road, leaving “Get You in the End” for the evening session. Little information exists on how many takes it took to perfect the track, although they were certainly under pressure to finish it quickly due to their strict touring schedule as well as the exigency of issuing a new single. Presumably Lennon’s harmonica and the hand claps must have been overdubbed later in the session.
Mixing commenced on July 3; since the track was only issued as a single, Martin and Emerick made a single mono mix, although later “fake stereo” mixes were created. Of course, a stereo version finally appeared in 2009 as part of the remastered Beatles catalog. The final mono mix, now retitled “I’ll Get You,” was released as the B-side to the “She Loves You” 45 in Britain on August 23, 1963, and the A-side naturally received more attention and became a massive hit.
Despite being the B-side to such a classic song, “I’ll Get You” receives little airplay today. Why this is remains a mystery, as the track represents how the Beatles could listen to other genres, then incorporate select elements into truly original works. The group made no secret of admiring Motown, and Starr’s strong backbeat suggests that he spent time listening to the Funk Brothers’ envied sound. Lennon’s harmonica, first on prominent display in “Love Me Do,” makes a welcome return.
Many Merseybeat groups listened to American blues, and the Beatles were no exception. Lennon’s harmonica lends a slightly harder edge to an otherwise upbeat, pop-oriented song. Then there are those close Lennon/McCartney harmonies, which echo the Everly Brothers’ patented vocals here. Add in McCartney’s admission of borrowing a chord from folk singer Baez, and what results is a conglomeration of styles that creates a new, fresh sound in rock and pop music.
The lyrics demand the listener’s attention by consistently using the second person: “Imagine I’m in love with you,” Lennon and McCartney sing, using the same key. While this instantly paints a romantic picture, the chorus sounds somewhat odd: “So I’m telling you, my friend, that I’ll get you, I’ll get you in the end,” the words suggesting a little aggression. Calling his beloved “my friend” is unusual as well, even though the two harmonize on otherwise romantic lines: “I think about you night and day; I need you and it’s true.”
The bridge showcases Lennon and McCartney’s ability to work in perfect synchronization, harmonizing as closely as Don and Phil Everly: “Well, there’s gonna be a time, when I’m gonna change your mind,” they sing. Then comes another curious line: “So you might as well resign yourself to me.” “Resign” implies giving in, not altogether willingly; does this reinforce the aggressive tone of the “I’ll get you” chorus? Underneath the rapid rhythm, the catchy “oh yeahs,” and and the hand-clapping beginning and ending lie some atypical lyrics, particularly for a love song. This exemplifies the Beatles’ ability to turn song conventions upside down and add some sophistication to the pop charts.
“I’ll Get You” appears on the Past Masters CD, but it received even more attention in 1995 during the Anthology mania. The first in the CD trilogy, Anthology 1, contains a rare live version of the track which equals — and perhaps improves upon — the original. Recorded at the London Palladium on October 13, 1963, the song gains from the crowd’s energy (particularly during the hand-clapping parts) and the superior vocals. Luckily the audience’s screams do not overwhelm the Beatles, giving listeners a sense of how few artists could touch them as a live band at the time.
While not as well known as other tracks, “I’ll Get You” stands as a superior example of the Beatles’ early material, and contrary to Lennon’s opinion, really did “work out.”