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“BOYS”

(Luther Dixon - Wes Farrell)

When The Beatles were holding their first audition/recording session with George Martin at EMI Studios on June 6th, 1962, a determination was being made as to which member of the group would be focused on as the “leader.”  The established British rule of the day, professional or non-professional, was to have one member of each pop group stand out as lead singer, as in Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Johnny Kid and The Pirates, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Derry and The Seniors, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, etc. 

George Martin remembers originally favoring McCartney as the leader, being that he had the most melodious singing voice, but also contemplating Lennon as well.  But knowing that The Beatles had become a well established act with a great local following as a four piece unit, and that each of them sang lead throughout their “stage act” having a personal following, he decided that the band should not be “tinkered with.”  

So, the name of the group did not become “Paul and The Beatles,” and therefore did not have only one lead singer.  This may have been unconventional, but The Beatles were anything but conventional anyway.  Therefore, right from the first album, each member of the band sang lead on at least one song.  As Ringo Starr had acquired the lead singing duties for the song “Boys” from former drummer Pete Best, this therefore became his lead vocalist debut on the first Beatles album.

The Shirelles

Songwriting History

Both of this song’s authors had a well established career in music and songwriting.  Luther Dixon was a producer and songwriter in the R&B field with a successful career that spanned from the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s.  He had co-written many early hits, most notably “Sixteen Candles” by The Crests in 1958, which led to his eventually being hired as manager of artist development at the small New Jersey label Scepter Records.  The owner of the label, Florence Greenburg, focused on promotion for the label, while Dixon focused on developing a young singing group who went to high school with Greenburg’s daughter.  That group became known as The Shirelles.   

Their first number one hit on the Billboard pop charts was Dixon’s arrangement of the Gerry Goffin & Carole King classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”  For the flip side, Dixon had the girls sing his arrangement of his own self-penned song, “Boys” which was co-written by his new songwriting partner Wes Farrell.  The Shirelles’ next number one single, “Soldier Boy,” was co-written by Dixon and Scepter’s founder Florence Greenburg.

Dixon continued to co-write and produce many hits for the Scepter label and others, including “Big Boss Man,” “Mama Said (There’d Be Days Like This),” “Soul Serenade,” “I Don’t Want To Cry” and “I Love You 1000 Times.”  He also can be credited with discovering many acts for the Scepter label, including Tammi Terrell.  He even accepted an offer by Capitol records to form his own record label Ludix Records.

Wes Farrell has an even more impressive musical legacy.  He started his songwriting career at the age of 19, writing hits for many early 60’s artists, such as Dion, Freddie Cannon, Chubby Checker and Timi Yuro. His biggest songwriting success was the Billboard number one hit “Hang On Sloopy” performed by The McCoys.  He co-wrote many other hits throughout the 60’s, most notably “Come A Little Bit Closer” (co-written with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart of The Monkees fame), “Come On Down To My Boat,” “Let’s Lock The Door (And Throw Away The Key)” and of course “Boys.”  He formed his own publishing company in 1966 called “The Wes Farrell Organization,” which was responsible for the sale of 10 million single records and five million albums.

His career blossomed further in the 70’s with his ownership of Bell Records.  Naming Tony Orlando’s new singing trio after his daughter, Dawn spawned many early 70’s hits under his direction.  He also became the guiding force behind The Partridge Family music, co-writing “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted”, “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and the television show’s theme “C’mon Get Happy.”  After Bell Records was bought out by Arista Records, Wes founded a new label, Chelsea Records, which signed artists such as Austin Roberts, Wayne Newton and Rick Springfield. 

Add to all of this his movie scores (most notably the Academy Award winning “Midnight Cowboy”) and the formation of Coral Rock Commercials (responsible for the creation of TV commercial jingles), Wes Farrell has had one amazing and successful career in the music field.  His companies have been responsible for worldwide sales figures of over 300 million records, over 100 gold records to his name, Emmy and Grammy nominations, and many other national and international awards.  His death from cancer in 1996 ended the phenomenal legacy left by an outstanding musical entrepreneur that has yet to be equaled.  

The Shirelles, a group of high school friends formed in Passaic, New Jersey in 1958, became the first girl group of the 60’s to have a number one hit on the Billboard pop chart.  While in high school, they entered a talent show singing “I Met Him On A Sunday.”  A school friend had them audition for her mother, who was Florence Greenburg, future owner of Scepter Records.  Through her connections, that song got released on Decca Records and reached number 49 on the Billboard pop charts.  Shortly afterward, Florence signed the group to Scepter Records and got them working with producer Luther Dixon.

Under his direction, their career gained momentum until their third single, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” reached number one on Billboard, which then became a blueprint for girl groups for the remainder of the decade.  The flip side of this enormous hit was Luther Dixons’ self-penned “Boys.”

Their recording career continued to flourish while Dixon was behind the recording console, but after his departure from Scepter Records, their hits slowly diminished, also coinciding with the beginnings of the British Invasion.  The group racked up twelve top 40 pop hits ranging from October 1960 through July 1963, hitting number one twice (“Soldier Boy” being the second). 

Their influence has touched a vast array of recording artists with their singing style, as well as a good degree of hit cover versions of their songs.  Besides The Beatles, notables include Manfred Mann’s hit version of “Sha La La”, The Mamas And The Papas rendition of “Dedicated To The One I Love”, Smith’s top 10 version of “Baby It’s You”, and Carole King’s own version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”  The group also helped launch the career of fellow Scepter Records recording artist Dionne Warwick by having her fill in for two different members of The Shirelles (at different times) while on tour so that each could take their maternity leave.

As for The Beatles, they had been known to perform on stage whatever it took to make them stand out.  If all of the other bands were doing the hit songs, they would perform the flip sides instead.  So the flip side of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was the natural choice for The Beatles to add to their “stage act.”  While John sang lead on "Boys" at first, Pete Best was eventually given the privilege of singing lead on this song throughout most of 1962 while, coincidentally, Ringo had been given the same privilege while he was with his early Liverpool group “Rory Storm And The Hurricanes.”  This made the transition an easy one for Ringo which became his spotlight song in The Beatles long after its’ being recorded.

The Beatles at EMI studios, February 11th, 1963

Recording History

This song was also one of the ten songs recorded on that historic day of February 11th, 1963, the day chosen to produce the first Beatles album, “Please Please Me.”  The third of three sessions that day (the evening session) was held between 7:30 and 10:45 p.m. at EMI Studio Two.  Of the six songs hurriedly recorded during this evening session, “Boys” was the third.

Of all the songs recorded on this day, this is the only one that was recorded in one take.  Since the original record was released on November 7th, 1960, The Beatles learned it quickly thereafter and had been performing it regularly ever since, being a showcase for Pete Best’s vocals and then for Ringo when he replaced him in the band.   They obviously knew the song like the back of their hand, as McCartney has quoted that the song was a “fan favorite” in their early live performances.  So at approximately 8:45 p.m., the recording of one take was all that was needed.  This was a complete performance with no need of overdubs or edits.  The fade out ending was added to both the mono and stereo mixes, which were created on February 25th, 1963, in the control room of EMI Studio One by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and A.B. Lincoln.

"Boys" was also recorded at their performance at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, on August 23, 1964.  The producers on this session were Capitol's vice president Voyle Gilmore and George Martin with Hugh Davies engineering.  This recording ended up being included on the 1977 release "The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl."

Song Structure and Style

The song “Boys” is structurally unique to this album in two ways.  First, it is the only song on the album written in the “12-bar blues” style, meaning that each section of the song (except the small introduction) consists of twelve bars.  Also, each section of the song has the same chord pattern, which is E7 (4 bars), A7 (2 bars), back to E7 (2 bars), then B7 (1 bar), A7 (1 bar), E7 (1 bar) and finally B7 (1 bar) which is used as a transition to begin the sequence again for the next section of the song.  This total of 12 bars makes up the standard “12 bar blues” pattern used by many of the recording artists that The Beatles admired, such as Chuck Berry (“Too Much Monkey Business”, “Johnny B. Goode”) and Gene Vincent (“Be-Bop-A-Lula”).   

The second unique facet of this song on the album is the occurrence of an actual chorus.  This song was written in the 'verse/ verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus' style (or aabab).  After the first chorus, George Harrison performs a guitar solo which replaces the sax solo on the original recording.  This is the second of four guitar solos on the album.

After a rousing 4 bar introduction, Ringo starts out the first verse, as all the verses are, singing practically occapella to only four bass notes, one per bar.  Paul, George and John then begin the background harmony phrases “bop-shoo-op” which consistently occur during each verse of the song.  As the second verse continues in the same structural pattern, we begin to hear McCartney’s excited whoops and hollers which continue to escalate in frequency as well as intensity throughout the rest of the song.  

The chorus then occurs which finally introduces to the listeners the title of the song (actually drilling it into our heads, being repeated 11 times per chorus).  McCartney’s incredible musicianship is then brought to the fore as he displays a careful staccato in his intricate bass line WHILE singing (with George and John) the background vocal phrase “Yeah, Yeah, Boys” which is out-of-sync with his quarter note bass playing.  Couple this with Ringo’s exuberant vocal work (simple though it may be) which outshines the original in excitement, and you have a thrilling climax to the verse/verse/chorus pattern that is only outshined by it’s repeated refrain and the song’s fade out.

After Ringo’s encouraging exclamation “All Right George,” as he was prone to do (as in “Honey Don’t), we are treated to Harrison’s simple but effective guitar solo, not overdubbed as most future recordings were, but all in one performance with the band.  It’s quite apparent that the group was very much enjoying the performance like if there was an audience present as there usually was when they performed the song.  Judging by McCartney’s screams, he seems to have been enjoying it a little too much.  But, on the whole, they all must have known that they were nailing the song on the first try, which they indeed did.  

Ringo’s drum work is also of note, displaying for the second time on the album the band’s trademark “beat” style that they had perfected throughout the past few years.  Although his squeaky drum pedal is apparent throughout the song, the energetic performance with striking drum fills shows that he clearly had the song down pat.

It may seem odd to many that The Beatles would even perform a song that contained lyrics which lauded the joys of “boys.”  As they had a penchant for learning girl group songs, most of these lyrics can be comfortably converted to being sung by either sex.  This song, though, was not the case, as Ringo exclaims at the end of each chorus that boys are a “bundle of joy.”  We, of course, are looking on many decades later living in drastically different times.  Apparently back in the early sixties, hardly anyone noticed.  Not even The Beatles.  McCartney has been quoted more recently as saying that they “never even listened” to the lyrics and that it was just an example of the “innocence” of those times.  They just enjoyed playing the song.

Vee Jay's "Introducing The Beatles" album

American Releases

The first appearance of the song was on the Vee Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles” when it was officially released on January 10th, 1964.  Next came the Vee Jay double-compilation album “The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons”, released on October 1st, 1964, which coupled the Beatles album with “The Golden Hits of the Four Seasons”.  Then, less than two weeks later, another repackage of the Vee Jay album came out under the name “Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles”, released on October 12th, 1964.

An interesting footnote needs to be mentioned next regarding its’ slight appearance on the Capitol documentary album “The Beatles’ Story”, which was released on November 23rd, 1964.  A small section of the song appears on this double album, marking the first appearance of the song on a Capitol Records release.  Since Vee Jay Records had the rights to the song until October 15th, 1964, Capitol was now free to release the song as they saw fit.  They didn’t fully release the song until almost four months later since their current focus was on the soon to be released “Beatles ’65” album on December 15th, 1964, not wanting to hurt its’ sales.  Surprisingly, "The Beatles' Story" was also released on compact disc on January 21st., 2014, but only as contained in the 13 album box set "The U.S. Albums." 

Capitol then released their version of The Beatles’ first album which they titled “The Early Beatles.” The mono copies of this album, which was released on March 22nd, 1965, contained a “type B” mix created by Capitol that combines both channels of the stereo mix.  Therefore, the superior mono mix was not included on this album as it had been on the Vee Jay album the previous year.  "The Early Beatles" appeared on an individual CD on January 21st, 2014, this CD containing both the mono and stereo mixes on one disc. 

The next appearance of the song was its’ single release on the Capitol Starline budget label on October 11th, 1965.  The single, with the flip side “Kansas City”, did briefly chart on Billboard peaking at #102, not being able to outshine the current Beatles hit “Yesterday,” which was at its’ selling peak.

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "The Early Beatles" were released in this portable format, "Boys" being on one of these.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

The 70’s brought a resurgence in Beatlemania, and with it, new album releases.  “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” which included a new mix of the song created by George Martin, was a Capitol double album released on June 6th, 1976.  The album consisted of previously released Beatles songs that were not included on either the “Red” or “Blue” compilation albums released by Capitol in 1973.  Then came the long awaited “The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl” album, released on Capitol on May 4th 1977.  “Boys” appears as the lead off track of side two which is their performance of the song at the August 23rd, 1964 Hollywood Bowl concert.  This album was eventually remastered by Giles Martin and re-released under the new title "Live At The Hollywood Bowl" on September 9th, 2016.

Then, in October of 1980, Capitol re-released the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” album in two separate single albums.  “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Volume 1” contains the song “Boys”.

The next American release was on The Beatles' first official compact disc, which was the original British "Please Please Me" album.  This long awaited CD came out on February 26th, 1987 in mono only, therefore the original superior mono mix was available in the US again.  The re-mastered stereo version was released on September 9th, 2009.

The next US release was on March 23rd, 1995 with the release of a four song EP entitled “Baby It’s You.”  This EP was released as a single to the album “Live At The BBC” which did not contain the song “Boys.”  Instead, the song was featured as a bonus track on the accompanying EP, which featured their June 17th, 1963 performance of the song on the BBC show “Pop Go The Beatles.”

The next US release of the song was on the album “Anthology 1”, which came out on November 21st, 1995.  This highly anticipated double CD, which accompanied their ABC television specials, contained unreleased recordings from 1958 through 1964 covering their formative years through the initial surge of Beatlemania.  The version of “Boys” released on this album comes from a studio recording done at IBC Studios in London done for them to lip sync to on a BBC television special “Around The Beatles,” although this song never made it on that British program.

The box set "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2," which contains both the stereo and mono versions of the original "Early Beatles" album, was released on April 11th, 2006.  Just prior to its release, however, a promotional CD sampler was issued that contained both the stereo and mono mixes of "Boys."

The superior mono mix of “Boys” was also made available on “The Beatles In Mono,” which is a box set of the entire Beatles catalog that was originally mixed in mono.  This set was released on September 9th, 2009.

On November 11th, 2013, the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2" was released, which features the same version of "Boys" as included on the "Baby It's You" EP mentioned above.  Also released around this time were two limited edition samplers used for promotion of this album, one being a five-song sampler and the other a fourteen-song sampler.  This BBC recorded version of "Boys" appeared on both of these rare releases.

"Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band" has released many live albums, four of which included his live version of the songs "Boys" played with various guest artists.  These albums are "Volume 2: Live From Montreux" (released on September 13th, 1993), "Ringo Starr and his Third All-Star Band-Volume 1" (released on August 12th, 1997), "Tour 2003" (released on March 23rd, 2004) and finally “Live At The Greek Theatre” (released on July 27th, 2010).

 

Ringo's first appearance with the Beatles, August 18th, 1962

Live Performances

The song had become a staple of their live performances from early 1961 in Hamburg and Liverpool right through to 1964 in their international tours.  The early performances of the song in Hamburg and Liverpool, as noted previously, were sung temporarily by John but then quickly changed to their current drummer Pete Best.  Then, after Pete’s dismissal from the band on August 16th, 1962, Ringo took over lead vocal duties on the song.  (Ringo’s first performance with the band was on August 18th.)   Their summer 1964 World Tour, as well as the North American Tour that followed, still featured the song as Ringo’s vocal showcase, preferred over his more recent vocal contributions “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Matchbox.”

The first BBC radio performance of the song was on April 1st, 1963 for the show “Side By Side,” which aired on May 13th, 1963.  On April 4th, 1963, they recorded the song again for “Side By Side,” which aired on June 24th, 1963.  A May 21st session for “Saturday Club” was next, which aired on May 25th, 1963.  June 17th saw the recording of the song for the BBC show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which aired on June 25th, 1963.  Then to September 3rd for the “Pop Go The Beatles” show that aired on September 17th, 1963.  Even after their second album was released, they still chose to perform “Boys” on the BBC show “From Us To You,” recorded December 18th and aired December 26th, 1963.  And finally on July 17th, 1964, they recorded their final BBC performance of the song for “From Us To You,” which aired on August 3rd, 1964.

They performed the song twice for television, the first being a broadcast of a concert at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool on December 7th, 1963, which was aired later that same day, the show entitled "It's The Beatles!"  Then came the American show "Shindig," their segment being filmed on October 3rd, 1964 and broadcast in the U.S. on July 1st of that year.  This appears to be the very last Beatles performance of the song "Boys."  As 1965 began, Ringo’s vocal performance on their tours or television performances was now “I Wanna Be Your Man” and occasionally “Act Naturally.” 

"Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band" has been touring regularly with a revolving door or guest artists since 1989 and has included the song "Boys" in their set list periodically starting from their first tour.

On January 27th, 2014, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Ringo performed "Boys" during the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, this televised show being broadcast on CBS on February 9th of that year.


Conclusion

Although the appearance of Ringo Starr as vocalist on Beatles albums were offered as mere tokens to his legion of fans, he always shone through gracefully and in high spirits.  This is surely evident in his first vocal appearance on “Boys.”  His self-admitted limited vocal range notwithstanding, his charm is what makes this vocal contribution of Ringo work to a tee, as the song is best suited for his abilities.  And the performance of the band, especially McCartney, shows that this was not simply a throwaway tune to satisfy Ringo fans.  It was truly a well accomplished performance which proudly became a mainstay of their act for the next 1½ years.

It is unfortunate that subsequent songs chosen by or written for Ringo to sing were not of this same caliber nor performed with the same exuberance.  “Token” became a more appropriate word for songs such as “What Goes On?,” “Don’t Pass Me By” or the understandably unreleased “If You’ve Got Trouble.”  We can all be glad that this wasn’t the general rule.  There were many high spots in Ringo’s vocal songs throughout their career which accentuated his vocal abilities and engendered the enthusiastic cooperation from the band as well as their producer George Martin.

Song Summary

Boys

Written by:  Luther Dixon & Wes Farrell

  • Song Written: October 1960 (approx.)
  • Song Recorded: February 11, 1963
  • First US Release Date: January 6, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 Introducing…The Beatles
  • US Single Release: Capitol Star Line # 6066
  • Highest Chart Position: #102
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 Please Please Me
  • Length: 2:24
  • Key: E7
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation (most likely): 

  • Ringo Starr –  Lead Vocals, Drums (1960 Premier 58/54 Mahogany)
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Background Vocals
  • George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1957 Gretsch Duo Jet), Background Vocals
  • John Lennon  Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325), Background Vocals 

Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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