McCartney wrote “I’ll Follow The Sun” when he was just sixteen even before he joined The Beatles.
The track is representative of The Beatles’ shift towards a more mature musical style. By the time they recorded this track in October 1964 they had become near experts in creating outstanding songs in a very short period of time complete with bridges, guitar solos, and a clear chorus.
McCartney comments in his autobiography that the song was an attempt to sound different:
“We didn’t want to fall into The Supremes trap where they all sounded similar. This required using different instuments.”
“I’ll Follow The Sun” is a perfect example of the harmonically enlivened popular folk-rock style developed by the Beatles in the mid-late 1964 period and which becomes the overall, general backdrop of the Help! and Rubber Soul albums. The acoustic accompaniment to the singer is subdued but complemented by George’s mellow electric lead guitar. It would be a formula the band would use many times again in the coming 18 months of their recording careers.
The song's storyline is focused on a man who feels he is unappreciated by a woman so he gives her an ultimatum, and if she doesn’t abide with what he wants, "One day, you'll look to see I've gone."
It’s hard for the listener to feel sympathetic to the singer or believe he is being unfair because he appears to be quite sad that the relationship must end and doesn’t really want to finalize the break-up- but is being forced to. Harsh ultimatums to her aside, he comes off sounding sensitive and tender.
Says music journalist Steve Turner:
“The contrast between John and Paul’s outlook on life and love could hardly have been greater. Whereas John usually saw himself as a victim, Paul felt himself to be in charge of life. In ‘If I Fell’, John demanded a promise that love would last. In ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’, Paul accepts that no such gurantees is possible. This is selfish song in a way because it doesn’t’ consider how the abandoned girl might find her own sunshine, it was nonetheless an accurate reflection of Paul’s romantic life.”
According to musicolgoist Tim Riley one of the more interestings aspects of the track is its deceptive harmonies draw the listener into the gentle mood unaware that it marks a conceited cheat beneath the surface. While we are led to believe the singer feels the pain of loss, in fact, the loss is also gain- a move upwards:
“The singer is more interested in escaping than in saying goodbye. It’s not a mutual separation: ‘One day you’ll know/I was the one’ presumes much more than it sympathizes. This is why the harmonic cleverness is so apt: it tricks our ears the way Paul’s singing betrays the lyrics’ intentions.”
Of the deeper meaning of the composition, Professor Ken Womack remarks that the speaker is content simply to leave his beloved in the dead of night—and thus damning her to a lifetime of ambiguity about why her lover departed in such a sudden and unexpected manner. It seems that his fondest hope is for his girlfriend to realize the extent of her loss after years of thinking about his absence in her life:
“Paul’s speaker in ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ is the second incarnation of the tortured soul in Yeats’s “When You Are Old” who“loved the pilgrim soul” in his beloved only to flee and hide “his face among a crowd of stars.” This song offers an intentionally revealing portrait of the byzantine ways in which we divulge ourselves, often unsuspectingly, to our societies.”