Ringo Starr’s first recorded composition, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, was written several years before its 1968 release on the White Album.

‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was mentioned by the group way back on 14 July 1964, during an introduction to ‘And I Love Her’ for the first edition of the BBC radio music series Top Gear. Starr was asked if he had plans to write songs, and replied that he had written one. Paul McCartney then interjected by singing “Don’t pass me by, don’t make me cry, don’t make me blue”.

In June 1964, during a radio interview in New Zealand, Starr playfully urged the rest of the group to “sing the song I’ve written, just for a plug”. Other press reports from as early as 1963 mention the song.

I wrote ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ when I was sitting round at home. I only play three chords on the guitar and three on the piano. I was fiddling with the piano – I just bang away – and then if a melody comes and some words, I just have to keep going. That’s how it happened: I was just sitting at home alone and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ arrived. We played it with a country attitude. It was great to get my first song down, one that I had written. It was a very exciting time for me and everyone was really helpful, and recording that crazy violinist was a thrilling moment.
Ringo Starr

The fact that ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was ignored until 1968 says much about The Beatles’ willingness to record any available material after their trip to India. George Martin has since revealed that he urged the group to trim the double album down to a single, high quality collection, but was vetoed by the others – possibly as Lennon and McCartney wished to fulfil their contractual requirements as songwriters as soon as possible.

Strangely, despite the song’s lengthy gestation, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was recorded with the working titles ‘Ringo’s Tune (Untitled)’ and ‘This Is Some Friendly’. It also briefly featured an orchestral introduction, written by George Martin and recorded at the 22 July 1968 session for ‘Good Night’.

It was for John that I did an off-the-wall introduction, because we hadn’t a clue what to do with Ringo’s song. In the event, the intro was too bizarre for us to use, and the score was scrapped.
George Martin

The introduction was eventually released as ‘A Beginning’ on the 1996 collection Anthology 3, after McCartney, Harrison, and Starr chose not to complete the Lennon demo ‘Now And Then’, which remained unreleased until 2023.

In the studio

The recording of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was begun on 5 June 1968, as ‘Ringo’s Tune (Untitled)’. Three takes of the rhythm track were taped, with Ringo Starr on piano and Paul McCartney on drums.

Take three was selected as the best. An unnumbered and unused reduction mix combined the piano and drums on track one, and Starr recorded his first lead vocals onto track four.

A number of further reduction mixes were then made, the last of which – known as take seven – had drums and percussion on track one, bass guitar and piano on three, and Starr’s vocals on four.

On 6 June recording continued, under the new working title ‘This Is Some Friendly’. Starr replaced the previous day’s bass with two lead vocals, and McCartney taped a new bass part. Backing vocals included a chant of “This is some friendly”., over which Starr whispered “I’ve seen a few friendlies and this is one”.

A new mix of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was included on Anthology 3, made from the basic rhythm track and Starr’s vocals from 6 June.

Between 3pm and 6.40pm on 12 July, session musician Jack Fallon taped his violin part, after which more bass was recorded by McCartney and Starr added another piano track.

George Martin had jotted down a 12-bar blues for me. A lot of country fiddle playing is double-stop [two notes played simultaneously] but Paul and George Martin – they were doing the arranging – suggested I play it single note. So it wasn’t really the country sound they originally wanted. But they seemed pleased. Ringo was around too, keeping an eye on his song.
Jack Fallon
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

When the White Album was released in 1968, there were a number of variations between the mono and stereo versions. The mono mix of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was significantly faster than the stereo version, and contained more improvised fiddle playing at the end.

I thought that they had had enough so I just busked around a bit. When I heard it played back at the end of the session I was hoping they’d scrub that bit out, but they didn’t, so there I am on record, scraping away! I was very surprised they kept it in, it was pretty dreadful.
Jack Fallon
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

On 22 July 1968 the orchestral introduction, later issued as ‘A Beginning’, was recorded. However, another overdub from the session did make its way into the final mix: a tinkling piano introduction which was later edited from 45 seconds down to just eight.

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