Thursday, June 11, 2009


Hearing the Beatles play live is something that I'm never going to be able to do. I'm basically resigned to this, but it's still depressing if I allow myself to linger on it, because it's clear that at their prime they were truly an amazing, amazing live act. So, you know, one gets by somehow-- I listen to Live at the BBC a lot, as well as the live tracks from the Anthologies and a few random bootlegs I've got (I don't have heaps), and I watch a lot of Beatles videos online. And one thing that strikes me is that the best live performer of them all might have been Ringo.

Take the video below. I don't know exactly when and where this aired-- there are a few copies on YouTube, but none cite it, so if you're familiar with the source, please share it! But, I mean, how much does Ringo rock on "Boys"? HEAPS. Is the answer.

No, it's no wonder at all they gave this song to Ringo when he joined the band, right as they were signing on with EMI. "Boys" had always been their song-for-the-drummer-to-sing-- Pete Best had owned it prior to being canned. And Ringo had sung it for his previous band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, so he already knew it quite well. It was a huge crowd pleaser, and when they recorded "Boys" for Please Please Me, their first album, it came together in a single take. Because the Beatles were a freaking tight, professional-as-hell live band.

The song itself was originally released as the B-side to the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," their first real breakout hit (and, fun fact, the first rock single by an all-female group to hit #1 in the U.S.). The Beatles were gigantic Shirelles fans, so much so that "Boys" is one of two Shirelles covers to make it to their first album. (The other is "Baby It's You.") And isn't it an awesome song? Paul later explained that none of the Beatles ever worried, or even thought much, about the song being weird for a heterosexual band of lads to sing, just because the music itself was so damned good they had to rock out on it anyway. And clearly, since at least the Hurricanes were performing it as well, they weren't the only band in Liverpool to not care.

So anyway, "Boys" was Ringo's first appearance as a Beatle to be recorded, and it might be one of my favorites of his performances ever. For one thing, it's a great song for a drummer. His drumming is all over the place here-- no chance to be awesome is missed. Listen to the way he plays these crazy triplet-like figures as he eases into the "hey hey" refrain, and then the way he slickly rolls out of the refrain back to the verse. During George's guitar solo (which is also stellar) Ringo's doing stuff at least as awesome on the drums-- mostly he hits the backbeats in classic rocking fashion, but he alternates it with some funky subtly syncopated passages that I blushingly admit to noticing now for probably the first time. (Oh, Ringo, how I have underappreciated you!) It's all completely kickass. But maybe even more surprising is how good Ringo's vocal is-- Ringo isn't exactly given glowing reviews on vocals most of the time, as his range is notoriously small. The refrain of "Boys" sounds like it might almost be the upper limit for him, but maybe that's why it sounds so raspy and hot and awesome. His hollering sort of delivery here is as sexed up as any of John's more passionate vocals, but what Ringo adds is that sense that Ringo gives to so much of what he sings-- that sense that he is having the time of his life playing and singing with this band. It's pretty damned infectious.

Gads, this song rules. I could listen to it for hours.

"Boys," released in the U.K. side A track 5 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 5 of Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.


  1. Without a doubt, this is my favorite early Ringo song. It flat out rocks, and judging by the film performance, they loved playing it live.

    Off subject a bit now. In your post you mentioned Baby It's You as another great Beatles cover of a song the Shirelles did. Are you familiar with the cover by a band called Smith? The Beatles and Shirelles may have each had hits with it, but Smith owned it. My golly, they up the tempo on it and Gayle McCormick's vocal grabs you and won't let go!

    Check it out here:

  2. I agree that this is a highlight for Ringo vocally. But you gotta love the backing vocals in the chorus, especially Paul's.

    Frank: I first heard the Smith version in Quentin Tarantino's last film. I wish to God I could find it for sale digitally, but they only sell the whole soundtrack, as far as I can tell. Almost certainly the coolest cover of a song the Beatles performed I've ever heard.

  3. Troy: I owned the Eight Track (yes, I'm that old) back in 1969 when the song/album was released. I've since tried to find a CD copy of the '94 re-release of the material, but few copies surface and they are pricey. I've never checked iTunes for the songs but i guess i should.

  4. Ooo, yeah, the Smith version of "Baby It's You" rules. Thanks for the video, Frank. Gayle McCormick reminds me a little of Debbie Harry, except she's a better singer. Did they have any other hits? This is the only song of theirs I think I know of.

  5. Megan, they were a two album band. I believe they had one or two other songs to garner radio play, but i don't remember the names. The first album, A Group Called Smith, was loaded with covers. My memory is the album rocked. Gayle also put out three solo albums in the '70s. If I am ever successful in buying a CD of the first Smith album, we'll find a way for you to give a listen.

  6. Alright, Megan, I need some advice. Paul is playing the Mets' new field, and there's a ticket presale starting tomorrow morning. Having seen him, do you think someone who likes only a few of his hits from his solo career would find the show worth the price? Which, in fairness, starts at only $49 a ticket (plus fees, so $4,900).

  7. I think it would be. I refer you to the setlist from his recent Coachella performance, courtesy of Steve the Beatles Examiner:

    Out of a total of 35 songs, 20 of them were Beatles songs by my count. And I would say that seems to be representative these days. Now, they might not be the exact ones you like. And he insists on still pulling out some of his VERY worst Wings songs (why why why why why must he continue to perform "My Love"?). But he does a REALLY fun show-- I've always felt that although it costs a fortune to see him, he at least makes you feel like you're getting something for your money... whereas I've paid heaps to see, say, Bob Dylan and left feeling like I've been ripped off.

    So that's my two cents. If you, I will probably rot of envy. (Out of fairness, pray with me that the rumors are true about him playing Fenway in August...)

  8. The update: We're in. We'll be watching him on the Jumbotron, we're so far away, but we're going. The little guy and I are going to see the Rain tribute tomorrow; if he makes it through the whole thing, he gets to see Paul. If not, I'll phone a friend.