I was approached by my blogger buddy, Max, from the PowerPop Blog recently and asked to contribute something for his “Beatles Week” feature. In truth, it will probably go longer than a week as there are many talented writers participating with me. I think his original thought was to have each of us write about a favorite Beatles song, but then he allowed us to pursue something “Beatle themed.”
I think I have mentioned in the past that it would be extremely difficult for me to pick one favorite Beatles song. There are just too many great ones to choose from. I could spend hours talking about the fantastic harmonies of the group or the amazing songwriting contributions of Lennon and McCartney. I could also examine the way George Harrison’s guitar playing matured as the group got older. Instead, I chose to focus on the Beatle that I connected with as a young fan discovering the band – Ringo Starr.
As a kid, I discovered the Beatles through their cartoon series (as well as albums that my dad had). While the boys didn’t voice the characters themselves, it featured many of their songs and put them in silly situations. Ringo always seemed to be the goofball and I guess I found him to be the funniest.
As I began to buy Beatles albums on my own, I often found that the “Ringo” cut of each album tended to really stand out as a favorite. Let me be clear, it is not that I disliked the other guys, the opposite was true. I loved them! However, the “Ringo” cut just really had a different sound to it.
As many know, Ringo was not the original drummer for the band. Pete Best was the guy. The rumors were that he was pretty good looking and a fan favorite, so they got rid of him. How true that is, I don’t know. The boys recruited Ringo from another band (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes). Once the group got their recording contract and started sessions with George Martin, Ringo was dissed a bit. Martin felt that he was not a good enough drummer to do studio work. Eventually, Martin came around and not only was he in the recording sessions, he occasionally got to sing on a song or two.
In total, Ringo Starr sang lead vocals on 11 Beatles songs. The first was “Boys,” which was a cover of a Shirelles song. The song was one that the Beatles had been playing in their live shows for some time. Pete Best used to sing it in shows. Ringo knew the song and had performed it many times with his previous group. When the band was in the studio cutting the 1963 album “Please Please Me” he sang it in one take.
The group had been playing “Boys” for years before it was ever recorded. It was the only song that Ringo sang lead on and his loyal fans wanted to hear more. John, Paul, and George were getting tired of the song and when it was time to record their second album, Lennon and McCartney worked together to write a song for Ringo that would replace “Boys.” The song would be “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Before they went into the studio, another British group approached Lennon and McCartney and asked if they had a song that they might record. They decided to give them “I Wanna Be Your Man.” That song became the first “hit” for Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones!
Carl Perkins was responsible for Ringo’s next two vocal songs. First, was “Matchbox” which Perkins had a hit with in 1957. This song (and his next vocal) was responsible for the association of Ringo with rockabilly/country music. Word is that Perkins was in the studio while the Beatles recorded his songs.
For the 1964 album “Beatles For Sale,” Ringo contributed the lead vocal to Perkins’ “Honey Don’t.” Carl Perkins influenced a lot of Liverpool bands and Ringo was playing this one in his prior group before joining the Beatles. It was another song that Pete Best sang lead on in early live performances. John Lennon began singing it after Best left, but the band agreed that it was a perfect Ringo song for the album.
Ringo had decided that he wanted to have a bit more input in the songs that he was to sing. During the recording sessions for “Help” in 1965, he came upon the Buck Owens song “Act Naturally.” He brought it to the band and said he felt it would be a great song for him. They all agreed and cut it. This would mark the first Beatles cover song that they had not already been playing at live shows.
Ringo, while not best known for his song writing, did write a few for the band. By this time, John, Paul and George were all churning out songs. The three seemed to be doing everything and Ringo felt like he was being left out and maybe even someone who could easily be replaced. He went to the group and voiced his concerns. This led to his first song writing credit on a Beatles song. The song was What Goes On. The song was not all Ringo, as it was actually a song that John had originally written and Ringo tweaked and contributed to.
Yellow Submarine appeared on the 1966 Revolver album. It was a big song for Ringo as it went to #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. In Alan Clayson’s book, “Ringo Starr: Straight Man or Joker,” he says that the song was “conceived as a song that would appeal primarily to children, while recalling the band’s roots in Liverpool.” The song was written mostly by Paul McCartney and it is said that Donovan also helped (while being uncredited).
If you had to pick a “signature” song for Ringo, it would be “With a Little Help from My Friends.” The song is the second track on the Sgt. Pepper Album. The album itself was sort of a concept album where the band is playing … well, another band. In the album’s opening track, the character of Billy Shears is introduced. Even Ringo has stated that for the cut he is “taking on” the character of Shears to sing the song. The song was one that was written specifically for Ringo by John and Paul.
Ringo’s next vocal feature was one that he wrote. “Don’t Pass Me By” was one that came to him while sitting at the piano. He claims to only know a few chords on the piano and guitar. He says that while he plays around, if a melody comes to him or some words, he just keeps playing around. This is supposedly how “Don’t Pass Me By” came to be. There is some confusion as to when exactly the song was written, and while it may have been written as early as 1964, it was never recorded and released until 1968 on the White Album.
Alan Clayson says in his book that Ringo had unknowingly plagiarized music from a Jerry Lee Lewis song. It was only when George Martin was experimenting with different effects and orchestration that the song was able to be released (now sounding very musically different from it’s original version).
The song “Good Night” from the White Album was written by John Lennon. He wrote it for his five year old son, Julian. Lennon was very insistent that the song be sung by Ringo. What is interesting is that Ringo is the only Beatle who performs on the song. The music is provided by classical session musicians under the direction of producer George Martin.
Ringo’s last songwriting credit for the band appears on the 1969 album, Abbey Road. Many compare “Octopus’s Garden” to “Yellow Submarine.” Other’s compare it to an amazing and peaceful under-the sea world. This song, however, was written by Ringo at a time when things were less than peaceful with the group.
The story goes that Ringo was so angry that he walked out of a recording session because he was angry at Paul McCartney. Paul had reportedly been making comments about Ringo’s drumming, and so he left. He spent time relaxing on the Italian island of Sardinia. While there, he became fascinated by the ocean and sea life. This led to him writing the song.
When Ringo returned to the Abbey Road studios, he found that the rest of the band had decorated his drum set with flowers and found a gift from John, Paul and George as an apology. He showed the song to them and George Harrison worked with him to get the song ready to record.
After the Beatles broke up, each went on to have solo hits. Ringo enjoyed success with “Back off Boogaloo,” “Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen,” “The No No Song,” and “It Don’t Come Easy.” He continues to tour with his All-Starr Band and sells out venues.
“Peace and Love” – Ringo Starr
Perhaps if world leaders, politicians, and people in general listened to Ringo, the world would be a better place.