Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"If I Fell" / "And I Love Her"
The Beatles


I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that I haven't written about either of these songs before. They were on Hard Day's Night, for chrissake, the first LP I ever owned, an album I played endlessly throughout the first wave of my Beatlemania. These were the songs that really proved to me that the Beatles could do ballads (an absolute fangirl requirement). And as always, the Beatles raised the bar -- these ballads of theirs were not just slow love songs, but complex expressions of emotions that also told a story.

We'll begin with John's offering, "If I Fell." Typically for John, its melody is mostly chromatic -- listen to how the notes circle around in a narrow range, like a panther pacing in its cage, before that anguished octave leap on "help me." Moody? It begins in minor chords, shifts only tentatively into closely allied majors, and ends the verse with 7th chords. Not that I knew all that at first, but those dark chords had their effect -- I knew there was danger in this song. Its singer is straining to be happy, but he's damaged and distrustful, and if I had any sense I'd run away. Yet John is hypnotizing me with that guttural, nasal, intimate voice, and bringing in his mates to up the ante with soulful close harmonies (when I sing this, I automatically chime in on the higher notes -- is that Paul?). As John's new girlfriend -- because believe me, I always identified with the "you" in Beatles songs -- I can't help it, I'm already intertwined with him on the settee in the front room.

The more I listen to the words, the more I'm sucked into its vortex of hurt and mistrust. On the threshold of this new relationship, he's not all starry-eyed and adoring -- no way. He's dictating the rules for their affair, and referring way too often to his old girlfriend. "I must be sure from the very start / That you / Would love me more than her" -- listen to the bitter, wounded way John sings that "her." Okay, so he's a sensitive guy who's been hurt before; I can rise to the challenge. So I barely even notice in the third verse when he just mentions "that she will cry / When she learns we are two." Missing that is fatal, though -- because he's not over her yet, not at all, and the only reason he's chatting me up at all is to make her jealous. Remember, John is the man who later would write "Run For Your Life" and "Another Girl" -- he was not a nice boyfriend. But oh, it's such a magnificent song, I fall for it every time.

You want a nice boyfriend? Flip over the single. "And I Love Her" is total romantic McCartney, full of poetic cliches ("Bright are the stars that shine / Dark is the sky / I know this love of mine / Will never die"), sexy Latin beat, and a winsomely plucked acoustic guitar. (Ringo on the maracas!) If Lennon's melodies were typically chromatic, McCartney's leap and skip buoyantly all over the scale. And do I love that Spanish guitar serenade in the middle eight or what? There's a reason you hear this song so often in cocktail lounges and elevator muzak -- it's simply one of the most beautiful romantic tunes ever written. But on this original recording, presented as a relatively simple samba, sincerity hasn't yet given way to schmaltz; it's absolutely devastating.

Mind you, there's a subtext here too. As Paul gazes adoringly at me (because here I'm the "she"), charming me silly with his big brown eyes and rosebud mouth, he's also slipping a few terms onto the table. "I give her all my love / That's all I do," he begins -- in other words, he's fulfilling his end of the bargain. And in return, "She gives me everything / And tenderly / The kiss my lover brings / She brings to me." Put out or shut up, in other words, and you'd better never look at another guy. "A love like ours could never die / As long as I / Have you near me" -- you think he's gonna let this girl have an independent life? I think back to years of photos of Paul with Jane Asher, with Linda Eastman, with Heather Mills -- her arm always tightly in the crook of his arm, trailing behind him. Is that what I wanted out of life?

Well, in fact it was. Because listen to Paul's voice drop into his husky range at the end of every verse, declaring "And I love her." And that joyous little upward jump on "her" -- I'd have given anything to be that "her." Even when I can spot the romantic cliches, I buy them from Paul McCartney, because he believes them more than anybody. Thank god he had John Lennon's spiky emotions to temper his compulsive charm; thank god Lennon had McCartney's buoyance to sweeten his depressive snarl. The complete package, that's what the Beatles were. God bless 'em.


Mister Pleasant said...

Excellent analysis Holly. Too bad for the Brits that they did not have pleasure of having these two perfect songs paired on a 45.

Both songs have always had a big impact for me. As a ten year old I taught myself to sing harmony via John Lennon's lovely lower part in If I Fell. And I think And I Love Her may be Paul's first non-rocker masterpiece.

Holly A Hughes said...

You took the lower part on "If I Fell"? We should harmonize sometime. I especially love how Paul's voice breaks slightly at the top on one verse (forget which). Today it'd be Autotuned...

wendy said...

And not to put too fine a point on it, Holly, John was the one who wrote Jealous Guy! He never tried to hide who he was.

Oddly, although I was a true-blue Paul girl in my teenybopper years, it really was John who mirrored my sensibilities, and If I Fell always trumped And I Love Her in my book. John's hard-bitten outlook in his Beatles fare never failed to resonate with me then, nor does it fail to now.

Anonymous said...

A minor point...Paul's high vocal is the original melody line that John created. There exists an early demo of John straining to sing what would later become Paul's assignment, the lead vocal. But the wonderful thing about it is that John's low harmony all by itself would also make a lovely melody.
Clyde Crashcup

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm referring to "If I Fell."
Clyde Crashcup

Mark said...

Great post, Holly! Though I do have one quibble, it's your man Paul who wrote "Another Girl." (Paul sings it on the beach in "Help!")

Holly A Hughes said...

Good catch, Mark -- now that you mention it, I can visualize Paul on the beach singing this. And of course now that I think through the lyrics, they're not mean-spirited at all. I wonder what other John song I was thinking of . . . "Girl," maybe?

CC, that's a great detail about the early "If I Fell" demo. Paul has enough trouble hitting "in vain," I can just imagine John straining for the note. But once the harmony line was established, it did give this song such a lovely second melody -- like two for the price of one!

wwolfe said...

I'm nearly finished with Geoff Emerick's book about his years working as the engineer on the Beatles' and Paul McCartney's recordings. One of the many surprises for this lifelong Beatle obsessive was the fact that George Martin would often sit at a piano and work out some of the more complex harmonies - particularly the low harmony parts sung by John. In my mind, this doesn't lessen the band's accomplishments - recording music, like much art, is a collaborative process, where much of the magic lies in the collaboration, in my opinion - and I enjoy the picture of Martin being such an active participant in the creative process. Plus, of course, it was John who nailed those very difficult harmony lines, after all. "And I Love Her" was one of the few Beatles' songs I wasn't wild about as a teenager, but now at 50, as my tastes have slowly moved from John to Paul, I'm a fan.