Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't Pass Me By

The first song that Ringo ever wrote appeared on 1968's White Album, as everyone knows. You might also know that Ringo seems to have been working on "Don't Pass Me By" on and off for something like four years. A 1964 BBC interview features Ringo explaining that he's working on a song with this same title, and Paul singing a little bit of it: "Don't pass me by, don't make me cry, don't make me blue." So, that's interesting. There's no question that Ringo had picked up some songwriting fever from his bandmates, and also no question that he seems to have lacked the natural knack that his mates had for composition. But he gave it a good shot. I always think that "Don't Pass Me By" gets maligned a little unfairly-- the song itself might be a little slight, but it's his first song, for God's sake, and with the power of the Beatles' production machine helping the song out it can't help but be almost better than it deserves to be.

YouTube vids for this are mostly of the older stereo versions, but now that I've got my Mono box set (which I promise to one day stop talking about) I'm reminded that the mono version of "Don't Pass Me By" is, for some reason, significantly different than what was on the original CD issues-- it's been sped up so that the whole thing is pitched about a whole tone higher, I think, as well as being simply faster. I believe the stereo recordings are actually of the song's original speed, and that the decision to speed the whole thing up artificially was done after the thing was pretty much in the can. But it was a good decision. "Don't Pass Me By" only has the pop music trinity of I, IV, and V chords, and not too much variation between them. There's also not much to vary the thick keyboard- and percussion-heavy texture, and you have to admit there's a bit of a plod to the melody. Point is, it absolutely does not hurt to pick the pace up a bit just to make it more exciting. Even if it does make Ringo's vocal sound a little funny. (The other different in the mono version that's immediately obvious is that the improvised little fiddle doodle at the end of the song is totally a different line, which is weird.)

The best part of the song is totally that country fiddle line, of course, which is exactly what the song needed. "Don't Pass Me By" benefits from this nod to complete country-fried-ness, don't you think? It's country-ish anyway, but to just freaking push it all the way there makes it all the more special in this case, and on an album as stylistically all over the place as the White Album it doesn't even really surprise you that much to find such a genre exercise as this. (It's unsurprising that Ringo's first song is a country number, I think, given his proclivities in the rockabilly and Carl Perkins sort of direction-- to say nothing of his interest in cowboys.)

Unfortunately, waiting till the White Album sessions to record this meant that "Don't Pass Me By" fell victim to the band's indifference, such that only Ringo and Paul play on this one-- John  and George, presumably, having better things to do. It makes me wonder what would have become of the song had Ringo finished it a couple years prior. It probably wouldn't have been so heavily country-fried, and the guitar work of George and John might have made it into much more of a laid-back rocker kind of thing. Or maybe it wouldn't have been deemed strong enough to make an album at all. (Heck, maybe he HAD finished it years prior, and it was only when they were making a double album loaded with each individual's quirky numbers already that they let him record it at all.) Eh, it's all just speculation.

I hope I'm not damning "Don't Pass Me By" with faint praise, because you can't help (or, I can't help) but find the whole thing pleasant and very singable, and I have to admit that I prefer it to some other of the more self-indulgent White Album tracks. Good on Ringo for getting 'er done, right? Yee haw. And so forth.

"Don't Pass Me By," released in the U.K. side B track 6 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.


  1. Agree to disagree. I don't even like the fiddle, which sounds a little flat. I was just listening to this today, and I thought the stereo version made Ringo sound sped up, so I can't wait until the mono set comes.

  2. You gave it a good try, Meg, but for me this song just doesn't float the boat. About all i can say is I'll tap my foot to it for a minute or so, but then I'm jumping to the next track. My bet is, if GM had gotten his way to make the White album one record instead of two, that this song would have been the first to get the axe. Wack!

    Was wondering since Amazon is delaying my Mono Box shipment for two to three more weeks, if you or Troy has a suggestion for another seller who will deliver sooner? I hate missing out on all the early excitement!

  3. Sorry, Frank. Even the Beatles' site says they're anticipating shipping around Oct. 4. If you want in, I'd recommend getting one of the later albums in stereo, just for a low-price taste.

  4. I think Abbey Road should be showing up in the mailbox any day.
    Guess I'll just have to tough it out for a few weeks!

  5. I preordered mine from Best Buy pretty much as soon as I noticed that Amazon seemed to be OOS in preorders... but I don't know if they've got any left. Sorry, Frank!

    And, you know, yeah, everyone knows this song isn't awesome... but I was feeling like defending it today.

  6. My Mono Box -
    ordered from Amazon on 9/9/09
    arrived at noon today

    . . my Stereo box however . . . ?

  7. I've gotta say it: I usually pass this one by.

    I still love you Ringo, but not for this song.