‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was a standalone single released by Ringo Starr in 1971.
The single was a critical and commercial success, and topped the Canadian singles chart.
Although Starr received the sole songwriting credit, in 1998 he said, during an appearance on VH1 Storytellers: “I wrote this song with the one and only George Harrison.”
Klaus is teaching me guitar. It’s interesting, because I played in E for the past 10 years, and now I can play all the other chords, and with not knowing I just jump into strange chords that no one seems to get into. Most of the stuff I write is 12 bar, anyway. Then I take it to George who puts in five more chords and you all say, ‘God, look at that, see the way he wrote that song with all those chords?’ Ha, ha, ha. But I usually write it in three.
Melody Maker, 31 July 1971
Starr began recording ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ during the sessions for his debut album Sentimental Journey.
The first session was on the night of 18 February 1970 at Abbey Road. It was recorded under the working title ‘You Gotta Pay Your Dues’, and featured Starr on vocals and drums, Harrison on acoustic guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass guitar, and Stephen Stills on piano. They recorded 20 takes of the backing track.
Starr added more vocals on 19 February, but decided to re-record the song. Ten more takes were taped, with take 30 considered the best.
‘It Don’t Come Easy’ lived up to its name, however, and a third version was recorded on 8 March 1970 at London’s Trident Studios. The line-up was broadly the same as the first session, but also featured Mal Evans on tambourine, and Ron Cattermole on saxophone and trumpet.
More overdubs were added to the third version on 11 March, again at Trident. The song was then left until October 1970, when Starr recorded his lead vocals, and Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans added backing vocals. A new piano part by Gary Wright was also added, as was a horn section.
An early mix of the sessions, featuring Harrison on lead vocals, has appeared on bootlegs.
Starr performed ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ at the Concert For Bangladesh, at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1971. The band included Harrison, Voormann, Keltner, and Badfinger.
‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was referenced in two later Starr songs. 1992’s ‘Don’t Go Where The Road Don’t Go’ featured the lines: “Well I said it don’t come easy/Well I sure know how it feels”. 2003’s ‘Eye To Eye’ began with the couplet: “Remember when I said it don’t come easy/That seems so long ago”.
‘It Don’t Come Easy’ was issued as a single on 9 April 1971, with ‘Early 1970’ on the b-side. It was Starr’s first single outside North America since the break-up of The Beatles.
The single was a commercial success, topping the Canadian chart and the US Cash Box Top 100 Singles, and making the top ten in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and West Germany. It peaked at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100.
‘It Don’t Come Easy’ briefly established Starr as the most successful former Beatle, since it outsold John Lennon’s ‘Power To The People’, Paul McCartney’s ‘Another Day’, and George Harrison’s ‘Bangla Desh’.
A live version by Starr opened side three of the 1971 album The Concert For Bangladesh.
The studio recording was first released on an album in 1975, when it appeared on the compilation Blast From Your Past.
Both sides of the single were bonus tracks on the compact disc edition of Starr’s 1973 album Ringo.