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The Beatles lyric that Ringo Starr refused to sing

From the moment they met at St Peter’s Church Hall fete in Liverpool in 1957, John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed a bond in music that would revolutionise popular culture over the 1960s as The Beatles took hold of the world. The pair had an almost telepathic understanding of each other, allowing them to bounce ideas back and forth in harmony and create some of the most robust and timeless songs of all time. 

In Peter Jackson’s intimate 2021 documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, the unique songwriting partnership could be seen in action like never before. Viewers could witness the dynamic between the band members change as tensions rose towards the end of their run while they gathered material for their final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be

In the documentary, we saw Lennon and McCartney at the frayed end of their time together. Still, it was easy to imagine the pair working in a similarly fluid fashion just ten years prior from the quiet comfort of Lennon’s bedroom at his Aunt Mimi’s house. 

“It’s a lovely thought to think of a friend’s bedroom then,” McCartney said in Barry Miles’ 1997 biography Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. “A young boy’s bedroom is such a comfortable place, like my son’s bedroom is now; he’s got all his stuff that he needs: a candle, guitar, a book.”

He added that playing in Lennon’s small bedroom had its limitations, though. “Physically, it was always a bad idea for us to sit side by side on the bed in his bedroom,” he recalled. “The necks of our guitars were always banging.”

For Lennon and McCartney, songwriting was always a labour of love and laughter. In their early original material for The Beatles, they wrote mainly of love, as any young lads soaked in 1950s R&B might. Approaching the mid-60s, however, The Beatles began to broaden their thematic scope as psychedelia became all the rage. 

As they grew their hair out and binned the suits, Lennon and McCartney began to transfer some of their natural wit and charm into the lyrics. By 1967, the Beatles were singing about meter maids, Lucy in the sky with diamonds, yellow submarines and a strange woman who wears a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Amongst the loopy characters and evocative imagery, Lennon and McCartney flexed their creative muscles and wove some raw, often risible personality into proceedings. 

For example, when writing ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, the pair brought in some cheeky couplets left open to interpretation. “I remember giggling with John as we wrote the lines ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine,’” Paul said in Many Years From Now.

The Sgt Pepper track was written with Ringo Starr in mind to take on the lead vocals, but after scanning the initial draft, he demanded Lennon and McCartney change one of the lines. 

“The song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was written specifically for me, but they had one line that I wouldn’t sing,” Starr said in Anthology. “It was ‘What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?’ I said, ‘There’s not a chance in hell am I going to sing this line,’ because we still had lots of really deep memories of the kids throwing jelly beans and toys on stage, and I thought that if we ever did get out there again, I was not going to be bombarded with tomatoes.” 

As we now know, The Beatles would never tour again anyway, but Starr’s fear of airborne fruit certainly made for better lyrics. Starr instead asked if his listener would “stand up and walk out on” him. Listen to the 1967 classic below.

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