“I’ll Be Back”: The Beatles, not Arhhnold, Special Edition: Cliff Richard/Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends/The Buckinghams: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 6, 2022


I present three extraordinary and unheralded covers of the Beatles’ classic ballad “I’ll Be Back” — by Cliff Richard, Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends, and The Buckinghams. They each bring out the horns, and each bring out something unique and special in the song, which is what a great song allows interpreters to do.

Of “I’ll Be Back”, Britt Daniels of Spoon says that it’s “a great pop song, but it’s kinda eerie, especially for a closing track.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150702044912/http://www.mojo4music.com/19982/beatles-101-greatest-songs/) The BeatlesBible says:

The final song on A Hard Day’s Night, “I’ll Be Back” was written mostly by John Lennon, and was a reworking of the chords to Del Shannon’s 1961 hit “Runaway”.

“‘I’ll Be Back’ is me completely. My variation of the chords in a Del Shannon song.” John Lennon, 1980, All We Are Saying, David Sheff

“‘I’ll Be Back’ was co-written but it was largely John’s idea. When we knew we were writing for something like an album he would write a few in his spare moments, like this batch here. He’d bring them in, we’d check ’em. I’d write a couple and we’d throw ’em at each other, and then there would be a couple that were more co-written. But you just had a certain amount of time. You knew when the recording date was and so a week or two before then we’d get into it.” Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

“I’ll Be Back” is a curious composition, containing no chorus but two bridges. Furthermore, its switches between A major and A minor in the introduction and ending leaving a sense of unfinished business. Lyrically, the song is one of Lennon’s most vulnerable. . . . [I]t was one of the first true instances of the raw confessional style which he would explore more fully on Help! Recorded on 1 June, 1964, “I’ll Be Back” took The Beatles 16 takes to get right. The first nine were the rhythm track, and the final seven were the double tracked and harmony vocals, plus an acoustic guitar overdub. . . . The Beatles tried different arrangements in the studio before settling on the final version. Takes two and three were issued on Anthology 1. The first of these shows how Lennon originally conceived “I’ll Be Back” as a waltz, though the recording breaks down with him claiming it too hard to sing. Take three, meanwhile, saw the first instance of the song in its more familiar 4/4 rhythm, though performed with electric rather than acoustic guitars.


630) Cliff Richard — “I’ll Be Back”

Bruce Eder writes that:

In the midst of the psychedelic era, Cliff Richard made this deep and serious thrust at reestablishing his mainstream pop/rock credentials [’67’s Don’t Stop Me Now! album]. . . . Richard’s rock crooning on “I’ll Be Back” opens up a depth of disillusionment that the Beatles’ own rendition only approaches on the choruses — and the reed and brass-dominated arrangement coupled with Richard’s smooth vocal delivery does give the song some refreshing wrinkles.

As to Cliff Richard, who is not nearly as well-known in the U.S. as he should be, Stephen Thomas Erlewine says:

In the years after Elvis Presley but before the Beatles, Cliff Richard was the biggest thing in British rock & roll — and in the years after the Beatles, he was never far from the top of the U.K. charts. Arriving in 1958, just a couple of years after skiffle swept Britain, Richard was the first English singer to approximate the hip-shaking rebellion of American rock & roll with his 1958 debut single “Move It.” A smash hit right out of the gate, “Move It” kicked off an astonishing five decades’ worth of hits . . . . The earliest recordings, most made with his backing band the Shadows, were his hardest-rocking and undoubtedly his most influential, making an impression on almost the entire first generation of British rock & rollers. . . . [I]n 1995, he was made a Knight Bachelor in the British kingdom, proof of his iconic status.


In an interview with Gary James, Cliff talks some Beatles:

Q – John Lennon was a fan of yours. Did you get to meet him or any of The Beatles?

A – I did, only once or twice. Once, very, very early on. My guitarist Bruce Welch had a party at his house one night and when we got there, we were all on the same label, E.M.I. He said “The new band is here.” So, I met them all and talked for a while. John was always very interesting ’cause he was sort of off the wall. I found him difficult at first and then I realized he said things that probably he didn’t mean. They were just meant to shock a little. Anyway, we talked for a while and then we were in the kitchen and they were saying OK, we’ve had a couple of hits. They’d had “Love Me Do”, which was a start but nothing much. Then they had “Please Please Me” and they weren’t sure whether the next record was gonna be a hit. We sat there and they grabbed one of our guitars and played “From Me To You”. . . . It was obvious to us that this was gonna be a hit. But, that was almost the last time I met any of them other than I met Paul when they had a shindig at the old Abby Road studios, fifteen years after we’d been recording there. It’s strange because Paul said to me “We always felt that E.M.I. favored you and The Shadows.” I said “No. Wait a minute. Every time we rang up for the studio, studio two was our favorite, they always said The Beatles have got it.” He said “No. Whenever we rang up, they said you had it.” So this strange thing was going on. (laughs). We both thought that the other group was being favored by the record company, when in fact it wasn’t true at all.

Q – When Beatlemania was in full swing, how did you manage to keep your career going? Was it the fact that you made movies?

A – Yes. It’s difficult really to be analytical. I know I started five years before The Beatles. So, before Beatlemania we had Cliff and The Shadows mania. I’ve got these wonderful old clips of us arriving in places, airports being closed. I’ve got films where the west end got blocked. My second film, Summer Holiday, which was in ’62, I never made it to the premier. The police wouldn’t let me out of the car. There were too many people. . . . I guess I survived that Beatle period by continuing to do what I believed I should do. I made the records I wanted to make. My band and I had strength in our position because they also had a career as instrumentalists and had number one hit records alongside myself. So when we went on tour during that whole Beatlemania period, we never, ever played to less than a full house. And our records still reached number one. The Beatles weren’t a threat. They were merely competition, and competition does you no harm.


631) Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends — “I’ll Be Back”


“I’ll Be Back” sounds positively glowing after it gets the ultimate L.A. sunshine pop treatment by the master, Roger Nichols. Matthew Greenwald tells us that:

[Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends is a] true sleeper in the context of California pop. As a songwriter, Roger Nichols wrote with such luminaries as Paul Williams and Tony Asher (fresh from his collaboration with Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds . . .). The album is a lot of things at once. Soft pop, a smattering of rock, and a heavy dose of easy listening. The group itself has a great vocal blend. Nichols is joined by Murray MacLeod and his sister, Melinda. The three voices combined create a wonderful, soft sheen, equally effective on the ballads . . . and uptempo numbers . . . . The credits on the album are a virtual who’s who of California pop at the time. Among those who helped out on the project on one way or another are Lenny Waronker, Van Dyke Parks, Bruce Botnick, and Randy Newman. Superbly produced by Tommy LaPuma, the album unfortunately didn’t do very well at the time of its release, which is an incredible injustice. The music, though, holds up extremely well today, and is an authentic slice of California pop. Delicious.


632) The Buckinghams — “I’ll Be Back”

Chicago’s Buckinghams (see #409, 413) were the biggest selling band in America in ’67. They give us what Phil Bausch calls “a very original arrangement” of “I’ll Be Back” and that “[Dennis] Tufano’s singing really makes it work[, i]t’s worth checking out.” (https://ontherecords.net/2020/04/the-buckinghams-theyre-playing-our-songs/)

It comes off their second album, Time & Charges. Richie Unterberger writes that:

Producer James William Guercio took on such a major role in the Buckinghams’ second album that he amounted to a more influential force, perhaps, than anyone in the band. He arranged, conducted, and wrote or co-wrote six of the ten selections. Most noticeably, there were orchestral arrangements, complete with tympanis and blaring horns, that wouldn’t have been out of place in film scores [or] large jazz bands . . . . Obviously he and/or the band were trying to be more experimental than they could on their hit singles . . . . Not nearly as rock-oriented as their debut album, it was a quirky failure . . . .


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3 thoughts on ““I’ll Be Back”: The Beatles, not Arhhnold, Special Edition: Cliff Richard/Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends/The Buckinghams: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 6, 2022

  1. There is at least one other notable remake of “I’ll Be Back”, by Gene Clark:

    I have to say it remains my favorite.

    I confess that until I heard Clark’s version, I never realized the potential contained in “I’ll Be Back”.

    Liked by 1 person

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