“With A Little Help From My Friends” is a Beatles’ song and Ringo Starr is the lead singer. Indeed, we find this song on their “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. The song begins just after the applause of the first track which is also the album’s title.
Recorded: 29th – 30th March, 1967
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Pop rock, psychedelic pop
Track Duration: 2:46
Record Label: Parlophone (UK) Capitol (US)
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
Ringo Starr: lead vocal, also the drums
John Lennon: backing vocal, also the cowbell
Paul McCartney: backing vocal, piano, as well as the bass guitar
George Harrison: rhythm and lead guitars
George Martin: Hammond organ
With A Little Help From My Friends
This song, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, features vocals by drummer Ringo Starr who was singing as the character “Billy Shears”. Towards the end of the Sgt. Pepper sessions, in the EMI Studios, London, the band put together a track which would directly follow the albums opening track, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“.
“This was written out at John’s house in Weybridge for Ringo; we always liked to do one for him and it had to be not too much like our style. I think that was probably the best of the songs we wrote for Ringo actually.”
“It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job. I always saw those as the equivalent of writing a James Bond film theme. It was a challenge, it was something out of the ordinary for us because we actually had to write in a key for Ringo and you had to be a little tongue in cheek. Ringo liked kids a lot, he was very good with kids so we knew Yellow Submarine would be a good thing for Ringo to sing.”
“In this case, it was a slightly more mature song, which I always liked very much. I remember giggling with John as we wrote the lines ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.’ It could have been him playing with his willie under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level; this was what it meant but it was a nice way to say it, a very non-specific way to say it. I always liked that.”
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Limited Vocal Range
Lennon and McCartney wrote this song specifically for Ringo Starr. In other words, they had to limit the vocal range. This was because Ringo Starr could barely reach a high note. However, the last note was a little on the high side, so Paul McCartney had to work closely with Ringo until they found a happy medium.
The original song started with the words, “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you throw ripe tomatoes at me?” Since Ringo Starr would be singing the song, he insisted in a change to the last line. This was so that the fans would not throw rotten tomatoes at him.
In the early days of Beatlemania, George Harrison made an off-the-cuff comment that he liked Jelly Babies. In the UK, these are jelly type sweets. However, the fans would throw Jelly Babies at the band for a while after this. Ringo Starr obviously didn’t want rotten tomatoes thrown at the band because of the words to “With A Little Help From My Friends”. So, they changed the line to “Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
The band started recording the song on the 29th March, 1967 at the EMI Studios, London. The next day would see the group pose for the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album cover so they were well into the swing of things by now. However, their recording session took them up to 5:45am the next morning, during which there were 10 takes.
While Ringo was about to head home, the rest of the band gently encouraged him to perform the lead vocal there and then which he did. After posing for pictures, the band continued with the overdubbing with various instruments and backing vocals to perfect the track.
Because the song was on the hugely successful Sgt. Pepper album, there was no need to release it as a single at the time. However, they did release it as a single in 1978 with the B-side being, “A Day in the Life“. This single got to number 63 in the UK and number 71 in the America.
Of course, Joe Cocker reached number one in the charts with this song in 1968. However, his was a slower version. Two other acts reached number one with their version, Wet Wet Wet in 1988, and by Sam & Mark in 2004.
Up to 2017, there are over 50 cover versions of “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Indeed, with a pedigree like this, the song ticks all the boxes leading to success.
So, what are your thoughts on this song.