Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Act Naturally

There's at least one reason to really like "Act Naturally," and that is that it's extremely fun to sing loudly and badly. My husband asked me what Beatles song I'd be listening to today, and I told him, and he was like "I'm not sure I really know 'Act Naturally'" (his fandom isn't as great as mine), so I instantly launched into "THEEEEEEEEY'RE GONNA PUT ME IN A MOOOVIE" and he practically ran out of the room. Try it at home! Seriously, this must be a fun-ass karaoke song.

So, on every album, the band allocated a song to Ringo to sing to placate his many, many fans. (Ringo has ALWAYS attracted a lot of fans. In his original band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the same arrangement existed, wherein Rory, the usual singer, would introduce "Ringo Star Time!" and have Ringo sing a few songs. It was hugely popular.) Anyway, for the B side of the Help! soundtrack Ringo's song was meant to be "If You've Got Trouble," a Lennon-McCartney song you can hear the band slogging through unenthusiastically on Anthology I. After rightly trashing that song, they turned to this cover, originally released by Buck Owens in 1963. I've read a lot about how PERFECT this song is for Ringo, because, you know, Ringo is ALSO this aw-shucks guy who somehow managed to get famous despite lack of talent, and isn't that cute that he's singing a song about himself? I hate that kind thing. It's totally condescending-- Ringo is a damned good drummer who came of age in the middle of a musical explosion centered in his hometown, and he would have done fine no matter what happened to him. As it happened, his steady, nimble, subtly sexy drumming is just what the band needed to smoothe out the edges in their early style. He was born to be a Beatle just as much as John and Paul and George, so everyone can shut up about Ringo being the luckiest man in the universe or whatever, because it's lame, and you're probably just jealous.

Ahem. That said, Ringo IS the perfect Beatle to sing "Act Naturally" for actual musical reasons-- for instance, his affection for country music (if the Beatles thing hadn't worked out, he had dreams of being a cowboy), and the fact that his limited range does just fine for this uncomplicated melody. And, OK, his natural modest qualities fit the mood very well too (if Paul sang it it'd be all wink-wink and irritating). The song itself is totally charming and aw-shucks, with some nice playing by George and Ringo particularly throughout. Though Ringo loved it the most, all the Beatles liked country music, and it shows here.

The song was added to their tours in 1965, and in the U.S., where Ringo was particularly popular, Capitol threw it onto the B side of the "Yesterday" single (which doesn't exist in the U.K.). Good thing they did, too, or else Americans wouldn't have heard this one on record until Yesterday and Today came out in the summer of 1966. Tsk, Capitol. TSK.

Since Buck Owens's version wasn't released until 1963, this song wouldn't have been a part of their early stage act in Hamburg and Liverpool, which means they would have specifically learned a cover song after they had become famous. This was pretty unusual. I don't remember ever reading how this came to be, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ringo himself just liked the song so much he took it the band-- which would also have been unusual. At any rate, it marked the end of the Beatles' era of covers-- along with "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," also on Help!, it's the last cover they ever released.

"Act Naturally," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S., B side of "Yesterday," September 13, 1965, and side A track 6 of Yesterday and Today, June 20, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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