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With A Little Help From My Friends

The history of this classic Beatles song

By

A 1979 US Capitol 45 single of

A 1979 US Capitol 45 single of "Sgt. Pepper" and "With A Little Help From My Friends"

rarebeatles.com

With A Little Help From My Friends

Working title: Bad Finger Boogie
Written by: John Lennon (50%), Paul McCartney (50%) Recorded: March 29 and 30, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: March 31 and April 7, 1967
Length: 2:46
Takes: 10
Musicians:
John Lennon: harmony and backing vocals, cowbell
Paul McCartney: harmony and backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 400IS), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")
George Harrison: lead and rhythm guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine
George Martin: organ (Hammond B-3)
Available on: (CDs in bold)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (UK: Parlophone PMC 7027, PCS 7027; Capitol (S)MAS 2653; Parlophone CDP 7 46442 2)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718; US: Apple SKBO 3404; Apple CDP 7 97039 2)
Yellow Submarine (songtrack) (Capitol/Apple CDP 7243 5 21481 2 7)

History:

  • One of the last Beatles songs composed by John and Paul together at the same time (though, apparently, based on an idea by Paul), this song was written at Paul's London home, probably between March 23 and 29, 1967. Despite its final connection to the opening cut, recorded nearly two months earlier (!), "With A Little Help From My Friends" was actually the last song composed for the album, and nearly the last recorded in the studio (only the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise was begun later). Designed as the album's obligatory Ringo spotlight, the song was deliberately kept simple, easy to sing, and appealing, and designed with Ringo's loveable persona in mind. Paul had the idea to cast Ringo as "Billy Shears" in the faux band that was the album's conceit, and the song is both a tribute to Ringo's affable style and a sly admission that the drummer was often in need of his "friends" in the band. It was decided early on to merge this track to the opening fanfare, the first time two songs had ever been linked on a Beatles album.
  • The unnamed track was called "Bad Finger Boogie" while it was being written, because John had been forced to play the rather rhythmic piano tune while relying on his middle, or "bad," finger instead of his index due to a small accident.
  • Recording for this song was a relatively simple affair, beginning on March 29th's all-night session. After work was completed on "Good Morning Good Morning" and the organ effects were added to the middle of "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!" piano, guitars, drums, and cowbell were laid down, with George Martin playing the organ under the "Billy Spears" intro and Ringo singing lead. The next day, after the famous photo cover shoot for the album, the Beatles added bass, tambourine, lead guitar flourishes on the intro, and backing vocal tracks.
  • The last note of the song, which rests on the last "friends," was the highest Ringo ever recorded, and he made several attempts, all starting (by necessity) at the first of three closing "with a little help from my" phrases. Coached by Paul, Ringo eventually nailed it.
  • The screaming crowd at the opening of the song was taken directly from the Beatles' Hollywood Bowl appearance on August 30, 1965 (then unreleased).

Trivia:

  • The original second line of the song was originally "Would you throw tomatoes at me?" but Ringo refused to sing it, fearing he'd be pelted with tomatoes if he ever had to perform the song live. (The Beatles had been pelted by jelly beans from adoring fans during their touring years, after it was reported the band liked to eat them.) John and Paul have both admitted that "What do you see when you turn out the light? / I can't tell you, but I know it's mine," a couplet suggested by John, was a masturbation joke.
  • Though the Beatles have always remained noncommittal on the song's phrase "get high," they were certainly aware of the term's double meaning. US Vice-President Spiro Agnew, a notorious rock-hater, contended that the band meant "high" in the illegal sense, and further maintained that the "friends" in the song were not flesh-and-blood humans, but rather various drugs.
  • The band The Iveys, a Beatles discovery who had already released a single for Apple Records, changed their name to Badfinger after hearing of this song's original title.
  • Some "Paul Is Dead" enthusiasts insist that "Billy Shears" is actually pronounced "Billy's here," a reference to the "fake Paul," William Campbell, taking over for the "dead Paul." This is unlikely, since Ringo is Billy. And for many, many other reasons.
Covered by: Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton w/the Bee Gees, Cheap Trick, The Young Idea, Steve Lawrence, Joe Brown, Larry Carlton, David Peel, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Joe Anderson, Santana, Richie Havens, Earl Scruggs, Skid Row, Toto, Ike and Tina Turner, John Bayless, Steve Cropper, Barbara Dickson, The Bar-Kays, Kenny Rankin, Thunder, O.A.R., The Undisputed Truth, Wet Wet Wet, The Persuasions, Razorlight, Jean-Luc Ponty, Arthur Lyman, Nashville Superpickers, Barbra Streisand, Chris Clark, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Beach Boys, The Count Basie Orchestra, Sham 69, The Tonyans, Bon Jovi, Patti Miller, Easy Star All-Stars, Roger Nichols, Les Fradkin, Rita Lee, Enoch Light, Sam and Mark, Jeff Lynne, Kick Axe, The Muppets
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