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“I WANNA BE YOUR MAN”

(John Lennon / Paul McCartney)

By late 1963, the role of Ringo Starr within The Beatles was becoming increasingly important.  In the early Cavern/Hamburg days of 1962 and earlier, a solo vocal spot was secured for Ringo (as with Pete Best before him) to provide a performance spotlight on each member of the band.  As fame increased in early 1963, The Beatles’ national tours required a much more abbreviated set list, so Ringo’s vocal spotlight “Boys” was usually omitted.

As their fans grew larger and larger throughout the year, however, lots continued to be cast among Britain’s youth as to who was each one’s “favorite Beatle.”  Ringo’s popularity continued to increase to the point where chants of “Ring-o! Ring-o!” were being heard at their performances.  In order to satisfy public demand, it was decided to once again include a vocal spotlight for Ringo in their performances.

It also became obvious that another song needed to be added to Ringo’s repertoire.  It was decided by John and Paul that they would write a song particularly for their drummer to sing.  After presenting the newly written composition “Little Child” for Ringo’s approval, and him thereby rejecting it, they set out to write something more suited to what he would be capable of performing live. 

Songwriting History

The origins of the song began when, as witnessed by Ron King who was the driver for The Beatles during their British touring schedule, John Lennon jotted down the phrase “I Wanna Be Your Man” as a song title idea as read in a newspaper.  Lennon was prone to keep a list of ideas such as this for possible inclusion as lines or titles of future songs.  At some point, McCartney must have been clued in to this idea because he was the one to begin writing a song around this phrase with the intention of giving it to Ringo to sing.  This must have taken place in September 1963 since “Little Child,” also written early this month, had already been rejected by Ringo.

Although there are a few variations to the story from this point, our best bet is to defer to McCartney’s first-hand recollection of the story.  Regarding his intent for the song, Paul states, “’I Wanna Be Your Man’ was to try and give Ringo something like ‘Boys’; an uptempo song he could sing from the drums.  So again it had to be very simple.”  Using “Boys” as a pattern, Paul came up with verses but abandoned it after having difficulty coming up with a bridge or chorus to go with it.  Nonetheless, it had already been decided that this was the song Ringo was to sing.

Here is where a chance meeting resulted in the song being completed just in time for them to record it.  McCartney relates the events that occurred on September 10th, “John and I were walking along Charing Cross Road when passing in a taxi were Mick and Keith (from The Rolling Stones)…So they shouted from the taxi and we yelled, ‘Hey, hey, give us a lift, give us a lift,’ and we bummed a lift off them.  So there were the four of us sitting in a taxi and I think Mick said, ‘Hey we’re recording.  Got any songs?’ And we said, ‘Aaaah, yes, sure, we got one.  How about Ringo’s song?  You could do it as a single.’”

Lennon and McCartney were then invited to come with them to a club called Studio 51 in Great Newport Street where the Rolling Stones were rehearsing.  Some sources say that their manager Andrew Oldham invited John and Paul to the rehearsal, but either way it was clear that Oldham was anxious to find material for his clients to record and there was pressure from their record label to release a second single.  Upon arrival at Studio 51, John and Paul introduced the song to them.  They agreed that what was written sounded close enough to their style, but they needed a finished song.  Lennon then stated, “Listen, if you guys really like the main part of the song, we’ll finish it for you right now.”  John and Paul then went out of earshot and, within moments, finished the song on the spot, John adding the chorus with only the title of the song being repeated four times as the lyrics.  This corresponds with what Lennon later said regarding the song, “Both of us wrote it but mainly Paul…I helped him finish it.”

"John and Paul came down to rehearsal and laid the song on us," clarifies Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones.  "We just heard John and Paul on a piano banging it out.  We picked it up and it was just one of those jams.  They got enthusiastic, we got enthusiastic and said, 'Right.  We'll cut it tomorrow,' and that was it."  

As history testifies, The Rolling Stones did record the song and it became their first big British hit, peaking at number 12 in that country.  History also shows that the next day, September 11th, 1963, The Beatles entered the studio with the completed song and began recording it for their second British album “With The Beatles.”

As to the inspiration for the song, other than trying to mimic The Shirelles song “Boys,” McCartney describes the song as “a Bo Diddley kind of thing,” but also credits the song “Fortune Teller” by Benny Spellman for the last phrase in the chorus “I wanna be your ma-an” with the downturned final note.  The style of the song can also be credited to a favorite of The Beatles, “Some Other Guy,” originally recorded by Richie Barrett and included in The Beatles set list well into 1963 during their national tours.  This song included the downturned final note as well.

Indicating what he thought about the song, Lennon has stated that the song “was a kind of lick Paul had…it was a throwaway.  The only two versions of the song were Ringo and The Rolling Stones.  That shows how much importance we put on it.  We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?” 

Recording History

For such a simple song, The Beatles had quite a difficult time recording it, probably due to the song being just recently written and they’re not being exactly sure what kind of arrangement would suit it.  September 11th, 1963, the day after they finished it in front of The Rolling Stones, they attempted to record it in Studio Two at EMI at 2:30 pm.  After one take, it was decided to leave it for another day.

The next day, September 12th, they returned to the song during the evening session on that day, which ran from 7:00 to 11:30 pm.  After working extensively on both “Don’t Bother Me” and “Little Child,” The Beatles returned to “I Wanna Be Your Man” at approximately 10:45 pm for six more takes, numbered two through seven.  Take seven was considered the best at this point, which was a composite of two takes edited together just before the final verse, and they called it a night, although much more work would be needed on this track.

Two and a half weeks later, on September 30th, another recording session took place which included this song, although The Beatles were not involved.  While they were out of the country, George Martin took it upon himself to try his hand at overdubbing a Hammond organ onto the song.  He attempted six tries at this overdub, starting at approximately 11:30 am, which was onto the completed take seven from September 12th, and the last attempt was deemed best, which took the song to take 13.  (Interestingly, the liner notes from the British "With The Beatles" album state that John Lennon played the Hammond Organ, but official documentation confirm otherwise.)

Three days later, on October 3rd, the group (minus George Harrison) reassembled in Studio Two of EMI for more work on the song.  This three hour session took place from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and started with Ringo double-tracking his vocal and adding maraca to the song.  These two overdubs now took the song to take 15.

With the deadline for their second British album perilously close, The Beatles convened once again in Studio Two of EMI on October 23rd, 1963 for their final contribution to the album, which was a final overdub for “I Wanna Be Your Man.”  Although documents don’t reveal what this overdub included, it was done at the beginning of this session, which ran from 10 am to 1 pm.  After this final overdub was completed, The Beatles observed George Martin and Norman Smith prepare a mono mix with fade for the song as well as “Little Child” and “Hold Me Tight.”  These were the final mono mixes for the album, which are the ones that are heard on the US album “Meet The Beatles!”  The stereo mix with fade for “I Wanna Be Your Man,” as well as for the rest of the album, was performed on October 29th by Martin, Smith, Geoff Emerick and B.T.

The Beatles actually had one other recording session for “I Wanna Be Your Man.”  This was on April 19th, 1964 to provide a pre-recorded soundtrack for the British television special “Around The Beatles,” which was broadcast on the BBC on May 6th and June 8th, 1964.  The group lip-synced to this song in front of a studio audience for the broadcast.  This recording session, which was recorded on three-track tape, took place at IBC Studios in London, with Jack Good producing, Terry Johnson engineering and Glyn Johns as second engineer and tape operator.  Johns was to become the engineer/producer for the “Let It Be” album, released in 1970. 

Song Structure and Style

We here see another example of Lennon and McCartney utilizing a chorus in a song, which wasn’t used to a great degree this early in their career.  The song consists of a 'verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus' format (or abab).  After the second chorus, a guitar solo section is added before another verse and chorus is heard.

The introduction can hardly be viewed as a separate section of the song as it consists of a simple, but arousing, lead guitar flourish from George Harrison.  We then jump headlong into the first verse, which is played in a bluesy style and sung solo by Ringo.  The verse encompasses an odd 17 bars, but is actually symmetrical in that the verse consists of two identical eight bar sections with another bar thrown in to give Ringo time to take a breath before the chorus begins.  The entire verse is played on the E major chord without any changes whatsoever, with the exception of the hint of a B chord in the seventh and fifteenth bar.  The odd seventeenth bar actually consists of the customary Beatles ‘break’ with the beginning of the chorus being sung occapella.

The eight bar chorus, which lyrically only consists of the title of the song sung four times, brings in some pedestrian but effective chord changes which contrasts nicely from the single chord verse.  The chorus shows John and Paul harmonizing with Ringo, which would more appropriately be termed ‘overpowering’ since we can almost not hear Ringo at all in the choruses.  The seventh bar of the chorus shows off the “Fortune Teller” downturned final note.

After the second verse and an identical repeat of the chorus, we enter into a guitar solo section featuring Harrison’s simple but energetic guitar riffs.  This solo work is all but overshadowed by Paul and John’s shouting and carrying-on.  The solo section is 12 bars long and centers only on the E major chord, making it unlike either the verse or chorus of the song.  This part of the song appears to be aimless vamping which ends somewhat embarrassingly with muffled talking as it segues to an edit into another performance of the first verse.

After another chorus is heard, the group rides out the rest of the song on E major similar to the solo section of the song, but this time with the title of the song being repeated in a similar melody line as the chorus.  As the song fades, we hear exuberant shouting and barking (?!?) from Paul and John.  All in all, rock ‘n’ roll ‘energy’ is the name of the game here, and it’s done very well.

Lyrically, though, there isn’t much to tell.  In a nutshell, it appears that the singer wants to be someone’s “man.”  His qualifications for this proposed job is that he can love the girl in question “like no other baby.”  Unfortunately, the song goes unresolved because we never find out if he did indeed achieve his goal.  One can only hope for Ringo to release a follow-up, hopefully titled “I Got To Be Her Man!”

All kidding aside, the obvious thrust to this song is not in its’ lyrics, as McCartney relates, “we were in love with the sound, the music.  We often used to say to the people, the words don’t really matter, people don’t listen to words, it’s the sound they listen to.  So ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ was to try and give Ringo something like ‘Boys.’”  The high energy, free-spirited, bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll feel to the song fit perfectly with the image The Beatles wanted to portray to American audiences, and therefore fit perfectly on their first Capitol album.

Performance wise, Ringo fit the bill perfectly for vocalist on this song.  Although the song was written with a specific limited range for the vocalist to sing, and Ringo did stray from key at times, this was a great vehicle for him to perform live, which was the intent of the song.  Subsequently, his vocal work appeared to improve slightly during it’s performance life as he was getting accustomed to it.  He even added different embellishments, as noted on the “Live At The BBC” and “Anthology 1” CDs.  Ringo’s drum work is an excellent example of the ‘beat’ style they spearheaded during their Cavern/Hamburg days, complete with the idiosyncrasies in his drum fills at the end of each verse.

George Harrison can next be mentioned for his stunning guitar licks heard throughout the song, as well as the subtle phrases played during the solo.  The chromatic scale guitar riffs heard in the chorus adds a distinctive contrast to the bluesy tone heard in the verses.  Lennon accentuates the Bo Diddley concept by adding tremolo to his rhythm guitar throughout.  It appears that John is actually singing the lead vocals during the chorus, which fits the criteria of their usual habit of singing lead on whatever they predominantly wrote.

McCartney’s bass work is pedestrian compared to what we’ve seen otherwise up to this point, but fits well with the feel of the song.  Since the song was recorded very shortly after it was written, Paul simply could have felt this was good enough for a “throwaway” song.  Paul’s harmonies are of his usual high quality, while his excited wails and barks come across as a little much (or as comic relief).  George Martin’s Hammond organ work, while a semi-essential ingredient to the mix, is more felt than heard with the exception of his flourishes at the end of each chorus.   

Capitol's "Meet The Beatles" album

American Releases

January 20th, 1964, was the first American release of “I Wanna Be Your Man” on the Capitol “Meet The Beatles!” album.  This album was finally released on an individual compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD.  The second release was also in January of 1964 on the Capitol Compact 33 Disc for “Meet The Beatles!” intended primarily for jukebox play.  The song was the third, or last, on side two of this disc, which was not intended for sale.

Although the song made an appearance in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night,” it did not appear on the soundtrack album due to its’ already being released on another album.

The song was noteworthy enough to warrant its’ inclusion on the compilation album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” which was a double album that was released on June 7th, 1976, during a revival of Beatles popularity.  George Martin created a new mix of the song for this release.  This double album was divided by Capitol into two budget single albums and re-released on October 27th, 1980, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Vol. 1” containing “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

February 26th, 1987 saw the CD release of the original British "With The Beatles" album in the US, which included "I Wanna Be Your Man."  While this was only released in mono at first, the September 9th, 2009 re-mastered version was released in stereo.

The sixth release of the song didn’t occur until December 6th, 1994 with the “Live At The BBC” album.  The version on this release was recorded for the BBC on February 28th and aired on the radio on March 30th on the “From Us To You” show.  The version differs quite dramatically from the recorded version on “Meet The Beatles!” due to them getting more comfortable with the song.  They take a few liberties with the arrangement, such as adding a full four bar introduction, changing both the solo and closing sections of the song to a standard 12 bar blues chord pattern, and Ringo accentuating his vocals differently.  Also gone are the Bo Diddley-esque vibrato on John’s rhythm guitar as well as the Hammond organ part originally played by George Martin.  On November 11th, 2013, this album was re-mastered, re-packaged and re-released.

Almost a year later, the seventh release of the song occurred on November 21st, 1995 on the album “Anthology 1.”  This version was the one recorded on April 19th, 1964 at IBC Studios, London, for the BBC television special “Around The Beatles.”  A striking difference in this version is the total elimination of the final verse, which they may have decided to cut in order to shorten the length of the song for the television special.

Just prior to the above release, a sampler disc was distributed to US radio stations that included the same version of "I Wanna Be Your Man."  Since not many copies of this disc were made, this CD is quite rare.  

November 15th, 2004 saw the release of the box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1” which featured the song in stereo and mono as heard on the original "Meet The Beatles!" album.  This would be the eighth release of "I Wanna Be Your Man."  A promotional CD sampler of this set was also put out just prior to this release which included both the stereo and mono versions of  "I Wanna Be Your Man."

On September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released which features a newly re-mastered mono version of “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

Paul McCartney released a version of the song on November 15th, 1993 on his live album "Paul Is Live", which was improvised at a soundcheck sometime during his "New World Tour" of 1993. 

Ringo has taken advantage of this song in his concert career with his All-Starr Band throughout most of their career.  With this, six of their live albums included the song:  "Ringo Starr and his third All-Starr Band, Volume 1" (released August 12th, 1997), "King Bisciut Flower Hour Presents Ringo and his New All-Starr Band" (released August 6th, 2002), "Tour 2003" (March 23rd, 2004), "Ringo Starr and Friends" (released August 15th, 2006), "Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band Live 2006" (released July 7th, 2008) and "Live At The Greek Theatre 2008" (released July 27th, 2010).

The Beatles Christmas Show, 1963

Live Performances

Having finally given an alternate song for Ringo to sing other than “Boys,” The Beatles were quick to opt for this change.  The British album “With The Beatles,” which contains the song “I Wanna Be Your Man,” was released on November 22nd, 1963, and the group starting performing the song on December 24th during their London stage production “The Beatles’ Christmas Show,” which ran non-stop until January 11th, 1964.

Ringo then began to alternate his vocal spot during 1964, performing “Boys” while in Paris during January and early February, but returning to “I Wanna Be Your Man” during their brief American concert tour in February.  After switching back to “Boys” during the entire world tour of 1964, and briefly adding new Ringo songs “Honey Don’t” and “Act Naturally” to their set list, he returned to “I Wanna Be Your Man” periodically during the 1965 world tour, such as at the Hollywood Bowl on August 30th.  The Beatles then finished off their performance history in 1966 by including the three-year-old-song in their final set lists, including their final paid concert performance at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, on August 29th, 1966.

It has become apparent that The Beatles had a very relaxed attitude toward the song in their live shows.  Not only was the song extremely easy to play, it was a “no brainer” for Ringo to remember the songs’ simple lyrics.  With their ‘who cares’ philosophy during their last year of touring, Ringo tended to repeat the first verse throughout the whole song, forgetting that there actually was a different second verse.  Nobody thought to correct the matter.

Their first of two BBC radio performances of the song was on January 7th, 1964, for the popular show “Saturday Club,” which aired on February 15th.  The second was on February 28th for the second edition of “From Us To You,” which aired on March 30th, 1964.  This is the version that was officially released on the “Live At The BBC” album. There were three TV performances of the song as well, the first being on February 23rd, 1963 on the British show "Big Night Out," which was a mimed performance that was broadcast on February 29th of that year, then the British TV special "Around The Beatles," which first aired on May 6th of that year, and finally a live performance in Paris on June 20th, 1964 was broadcast on a French TV show entitled "Les Beatles" on October 31st of that year.

Interestingly, Paul McCartney and his band from the early 1990’s worked up a bluesy/jazzy version of the song which they included in their February 1993 set list for what they called “The New World Tour.”  Unfortunately, this excellent version of the song was a short-lived happening, the song being dropped for the rest of the tour and hasn’t resurfaced in any of his tours since.

Ringo Starr & His All Star Band, however, has taken advantage of performing the song throughout all of his bands’ personnel changes since 1995.  Ringo has wisely chosen to sing the song in a lower key which suits his voice much more comfortably than throughout his Beatles career. 

Conclusion

So started the pattern of allowing Ringo to have one song on each Beatles album.  Although this intention did not end up being followed throughout The Beatles career, it did leave behind a small legacy of songs for Ringo to claim as his own.  Although The Rolling Stones were the ones to achieve British chart success with the song, because of the nearly three years of performance history, “I Wanna Be Your Man” will always be affectionately known as a Beatles song, and more appropriately, as a Ringo song. 

Song Summary

“I Wanna Be Your Man”

Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: September 1963
  • Song Recorded: September 12& 30, October 3& 23, 1963
  • First US Release Date: January 20, 1964
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2047 Meet The Beatles!
  • US Single Release: Capitol #SXA 2047 (Meet The Beatles Jukebox EP)
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3045 “With The Beatles”
  • Length: 1:58
  • Key: E7
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Ringo Starr – Lead Vocals, Drums (1963 Ludwig Downbeat Black Oyster Pearl), Maracas
  • George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman)
  • John Lennon  Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325) Background Vocals (Lead Vocals in Chorus)
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1), Background Vocals
  • George Martin - Organ (Hammond RT-3) 

Written and compiled by David Rybaczewski

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