When was it recorded? Mar. 29-30, 1967
When was it first released, and on which album? Jun. 1, 1967 on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Who wrote it? Lennon/McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
Quoth Wikipedia, “Lennon and McCartney finished writing this song in mid-March 1967, written specifically as Starr’s track for the [“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club”] album.” How does Wikipedia know this? The Good Wiki notes, “The song’s composition is unusually well documented as Hunter Davies was present and described the writing process in the Beatles’ official biography.”
“This was written out at John’s house in Weybridge for Ringo; we always liked to do one for him and it had to be not too much like our style. I think that was probably the best of the songs we wrote for Ringo actually… It was pretty much co-written, John and I doing a work song for Ringo, a little craft job. …It was a challenge, it was something out of the ordinary for us because we actually had to write in a key for Ringo and you had to be a little tongue in cheek. Ringo liked kids a lot, he was very good with kids so we knew ‘Yellow Submarine’ would be a good thing for Ringo to sing. In this case, it was a slightly more mature song, which I always liked very much. 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.’ It could have been him playing with his willie under the covers, or it could have been taken on a deeper level; this was what it meant but it was a nice way to say it, a very non-specific way to say it. I always liked that.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Yes, very mature, Paul. Apart from those lines, Rolling Stone noted, “The lyrics about loneliness and vulnerability were in some ways more revealing than Lennon and McCartney might have written for themselves.”
“With a Little Help From My Friends” was originally titled “Bad Finger Boogie” due to John attempting the melody on the piano with a busted up forefinger. (Incidentally, this mock title inspired the name of the band Badfinger, who I talked about way back on Day 38: “Come and Get It.”)
As Alan Pollack noted, “The verse and refrain melody stays within a very small range of five notes.” John and Paul worked with Ringo to help him reach the final note of the song, which he was reluctant to try. Ringo also requested a small lyrical change.
“The song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was written specifically for me, but they had one line that I wouldn’t sing. 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 [touring] again, I was not going to be bombarded with tomatoes.” — Ringo Starr (Anthology)
The Beatles recorded 10 takes of the “With a Little Help From My Friends” rhythm track on Mar. 29, 1967. This session ended at 5:45 in the morning; according to Rolling Stone, “At dawn, Starr trudged up the stairs to head home — but the other Beatles cajoled him into doing his lead vocal then and there, standing around the microphone for moral support. Though nervous and exhausted, Starr delivered a magnificently soulful vocal, right up to that final high note.” The next day the Beatles shot the cover photo for the album in the morning and completed “With a Little Help From My Friends” in the evening, overdubbing guitar, tambourine, bass, and harmony vocals.
In 1978, “With a Little Help From My Friends” was released as one song on a single with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “A Day in the Life.” As such, it peaked at #63 on the UK charts and #71 on the US charts.
Similarly, part of “With a Little Help From My Friends” appears in the film “Yellow Submarine” after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Rolling Stone ranked “With a Little Help from My Friends” as #311 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. For me, it’s definitely one of those feel-good tracks, a tune that always puts a weird smile on my face when I hear it.