Paul McCartney Said It Was Always a ‘Challenge’ to Write Songs for Ringo Starr


Paul McCartney wrote many of The Beatles’ songs, including ones Ringo Starr sang. The Beatles didn’t have a designated lead singer, and they had each of the four members sing at least one song on most of their albums. Because Starr didn’t write many of the band’s songs, his bandmates often penned the ones he sang. McCartney explained why writing songs for Starr was challenging.

Paul McCartney said writing songs for Ringo Starr posed a unique challenge

Starr sang the song “With a Little Help From My Friends” on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John Lennon and McCartney wrote the song together. McCartney said he liked writing songs for Starr because it was more of a challenge than writing for himself.

“It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job,” McCartney said in the book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles. “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.”

McCartney said that they often wrote songs for Starr that would appeal to children. “With a Little Help From My Friends” had this quality, but they wrote it to sound a bit more mature.

“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,” McCartney said. “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.”

Paul McCartney had to work to convince Ringo Starr to sing the songs he wrote

While McCartney and Lennon tried to tailor the song to Starr, the drummer wasn’t sure he wanted to sing it. He wasn’t confident in his vocals and felt that the high note at the end was a big challenge to him.

“It took a lot of coaxing from Paul to get me to sing that last note,” Starr said on The South Bank Show (via Rolling Stone). “I just felt it was very high. I always worry about the vocals. I’m insecure when I do the vocals.”

Despite his trepidation, Starr’s bandmates supported him through it. He wanted to speed up the track to make it sound like he’d hit the note, but the rest of the band convinced it he could do it himself.

“‘No, Ring, you’ve got to do it properly,’ Paul finally concluded,” engineer Geoff Emerick wrote in the book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. “‘It’s okay; just put your mind to it. You can do it,’ George Harrison said encouragingly. Even John added some helpful – if decidedly nontechnical – advice: ‘Just throw yer head back and let’er rip!’”

They were right. Starr eventually hit the note.

“Amid the cheers of his bandmates and a Scotch-and-Coke toast, the session finally ended,” Emerick wrote.

What Beatles songs did Ringo Starr write?

McCartney and Lennon wrote most of The Beatles’ songs. Toward the end of the band’s time together, George Harrison began writing more songs. Starr, though, did not write many. He received his first co-writing credit on the 1965 song “What Goes On.”

In 1968, Starr received his first-ever solo writing credit with “Don’t Pass Me By.” Starr also released co-writing credits on “Flying,” “Octopus’ Garden,” and “Free as a Bird.”

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