When was it recorded? Jun. 17, 1965
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 6, 1965 on “Help!”
Who wrote it? Johnny Russell
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
“Act Naturally” is a cover of a song originally recorded by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. As the name might indicate, this was a country-western group. Owens was an American musician, singer, and songwriter who pioneered the Bakerfield sound and had 21 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country music charts. He was also the host of that pinnacle of American television known as “Hee Haw.”
The songwriter, Johnny Russell, was inspired to write the song after he had to break a date with his girlfriend for a recording session.
“When she asked me why I was going to L.A., I answered, ‘They are going to put me in the movies and make a big star out of me.’ We both laughed.” – Johnny Russell
Russell couldn’t find any artists interested in his song until 1963. Said artist was not Buck Owens, who initially didn’t like “Act Naturally.” Fortunately for Russell, Owens’ friend and bandmate Don Rich liked Russell’s demo and eventually convinced Owens to record a version of it.
The original Buckaroos version of “Act Naturally” was released Mar. 11, 1963 and spent a total of 28 weeks on the Billboard country charts, four of which were at #1.
The Beatles’ version was released two years later on “Help!” and as the B-side to the single “Yesterday.”
From what I can gather, the Beatles’ basically forgot about Ringo (as most people do – even now my spellcheck is trying to ‘correct’ his name to plain old “Ring”) while recording “Help!” then realized he didn’t have a lead vocal track on the album. Lennon and McCartney wrote “If You’ve Got Trouble” for him to sing, but when that song was rejected (Wiki says the band was “dissatisfied with the results”), Ringo sang on “Act Naturally” to replace it.
(Incidentally my best friend sent me an animated video of Ringo singing the new “Powerpuff Girls” song last night, which was… interesting. I’ll spare you that and give you “Act Naturally” instead.)
I would describe this song as innocuous. It was good but I kind of forgot about it twenty minutes after listening to it. Like, if you had asked me to sing part of it for you then, I would not have been able to. I also preferred the Buckaroos’ version to the Beatles’ version. Something about the original seemed more sincere, which I liked.
You might be wondering why I wrote so much about Buck Owens up there. I think it’s important to note who he was so you have some background on…
The Buck Owens & Ringo Starr duet version of “Act Naturally!”
In 1989 — 26 years after Owens’ original and 24 years after the Beatles’ cover – Owen and Starr collaborated on a new version of their old tune. They also made a cowboy-themed music video for it, which I have to share with you because if there’s anything more entertaining than music videos, it’s music videos made in the 1980s.
Owens and Starr’s version was nominated for the 1989 Country Music Association Vocal Event of the Year and a 1990 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration, but lost both awards.
Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions. (1988) New York: Harmony Books