With A Little Help From My Friends

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 29, 30 March 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 1 June 1967 (UK), 2 June 1967 (US)

Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, tambourine
John Lennon: backing vocals, cowbell
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, piano, bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
George Martin: Hammond organ

Available on:
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Yellow Submarine Songtrack

Written collaboratively by Lennon and McCartney during the final stages of the Sgt Pepper project, With A Little Help From My Friends was sung by Ringo Starr.

Download on iTunes

Hunter Davies' authorised biography of The Beatles contains a passage recounting the genesis of the song. He observed Lennon and McCartney beginning with a chorus line and segment of melody.

That's Paul with a little help from me. 'What do you see when you turn out the light/I can't tell you but I know it's mine' is mine.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

From there they played around with words, performed rock 'n' roll songs whenever they got stuck, and spent much time laughing, idly leafing through magazines or chatting about anything that took their fancy.

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.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song was initially recorded with the working title Bad Finger Boogie, after Lennon tried to play the melody on a piano having hurt his forefinger. Starr had misgivings about singing the final sustained high note in the song, and refused to sing a certain line.

The song With A Little Help From My Friends was written specifically for me, but they had one line that I wouldn't sing. It was 'What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?' I said, 'There's not a chance in hell am I going to sing this line,' because we still had lots of really deep memories of the kids throwing jelly beans and toys on stage; and I thought that if we ever did get out there again, I was not going to be bombarded with tomatoes.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

In the studio

From the start The Beatles knew that the song would be adjoined to Sgt Pepper's title track. From take one it included the "Billy Shears" introduction.

He was to be a character in this operetta, this whole thing that we were doing, so this gave him a good intro, wherever he came in the album; in fact it was the second track. It was a nice place for him, but wherever it came, it gave us an intro. Again, because it was the pot era, we had to slip in a little reference: 'I get high!'
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The Beatles recorded 10 takes of the song on 29 March 1967, with Paul on piano, John beating a cowbell, George playing lead guitar and Ringo on drums. Following the final take Ringo overdubbed his lead vocals.

The following day - on the morning of which they posed for the Sgt Pepper cover shoot - they added guitar, tambourine, bass and harmony vocals.

29 responses on “With A Little Help From My Friends

  1. AlbertCunning

    Playboy: “With a Little Help From My Friends”?

    John: That’s Paul with a little help from me. “What do you see when you turn out the light?/I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine” is mine.

    1. EltonJohnLennon

      Look at this:

      “Paul had the line about ‘a little help from my friends.’ He had some kind of structure for it, and we wrote it pretty well fifty-fifty from his original idea.”

      –John Lennon, 1970

      You see, ten years are a long time.

      1. AlbertCunning

        Indeed. When John forgot to credit Paul for ‘Norwegian Wood’ in 1980, unlike in 1970, we could also blame the passing of time, couldn’t we?

        I would assume that the passing of time’s influence on John’s memory isn’t only a valid objection in the cases where he ends up downplaying his own role in the proceedings.
        (Not to suggest that there are too many of these internal disagreements.)

    1. TheOneBeatle (From Youtube)

      Nop. Only John & Paul as backing low and high vocals.
      Ringo as lead vocal.
      George…only in the guitar.

      Unfortunately, this also is not a song singed by the 4.

    1. LetsPlayCool

      Fantastic Bass indeed. What a genius Paul is on the bass!!!

      Anyway, this might be the best “friendship” songs ever written… I think it’s a LOVE (L.O.V.E. like Michael Jackson said before dying) song written by John and Paul to Ringo. It almost makes me weep. Very profound. I can’t think of any better song written about friendship. Astonishing lyrics!

      1. JP

        Certainly one of the aspects I liked most about the Beatles was their friendship and solidarity (in the earlier years). John and Paul could have decided early on that they alone would write and sing every Beatle song. Instead, they decided from the outset that George and Ringo would get their “moment in the spotlight” on each album with at least one lead vocal. Lennon and McCartney might have thought the songs they wrote for George and Ringo were just fillers or work-songs, but they turned out even better as fans of George and Ringo looked to these songs on each LP. Do You Want To Know A Secret for George and With A Little Help From My Friends for Ringo (as well as Good Night for Ringo) are perhaps the best examples. Ringo’s vocal on WALHFMF is probably his best with the Beatles, or perhaps his entire singing career.

  2. Ludwig Beathoven

    Am I the only person to hear a strong resemblance between the main melody line of “With a Little Help” and the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? I wonder if the Beatles consciously “borrowed” the melody or if it was just a coincidence. Either way, it’s a wonderful song!

    (Btw, the drum kit the Beatles used in their concerts has Beethoven’s first name on it!)

    1. Deadman

      It is a coincidence, but the rise and fall of the notes (but not the rhythm) will fit, slightly, if you replace “Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium” with “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me-ee-ee?”.

    2. mr. Sun king coming together

      It’s mere coincidence. The Beatles were never big classical fans (to my knowledge), and they’d never knowingly borrow from a piece around 160 years old. I could be wrong; never sure.

    1. JP

      No, John gave his ballad “Good Night” to Ringo in ’68. That lovely little tune closed out the double White Album. Ringo began to offer his own compositions in ’68, but I wish John and Paul (or even George, as he did for Ringo’s solo work)had continued to use Ringo lead vocal for some of their self-composed tracks. Some of my fondest Beatles’ songs are those written by Lennon-McCartney, but sang by Ringo.

  3. vonbontee

    Listening last night & I just realized something: In the final refrain, Ringo switches the order of the “I get high…” and “Gonna try…” lines. Wonder if it was written that way or was it a legitimate Desmond/Molly-style switcheroo-mistake?

  4. dcapit8

    Oh I love ‘em I just love ‘em. They were not the only ones to have that snarky witty funny cool easy attitude of the ’60s and early ’70s, joke at serious stuff, nothin’ to get ‘ung about – but they showed it at every opportunity publicly while laying down such awesomely professional music and lyrics.
    To John, from what I’ve read, he sold out – his real personality was gritty and hard, a scrapper, no real friends, never happy – he sold out to be one of The Beatles, but Paul really did get high from friends. Is that what you imagine too?

  5. Art

    Hunter Davies (p. 263) was present when the song was written – present that is at Paul’s house in St. John’s Wood. It’s interesting that Miles quotes Paul as saying it was written at John’s house in Weybridge. Davies does say that Paul and John had worked on the tune the day before the session he witnessed and perhaps that is what Paul is referring to. But Davies does describe a pretty lengthy songwriting session at which Cynthia Lennon and Terry Dolan also appeared. It’s odd that Paul would have overlooked that.

  6. Brook

    On ‘The Making of Sgt Peppers…’ video on utube George Martin states that Paul wrote ‘I Get by With a Little Help From My Friends’ but as usual all the band members added some of their own creative touches to the song.

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