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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Act Naturally

In June of 1965, the Beatles were putting the finishing touches on the non-soundtrack side of the album Help! and Ringo still did not have a vocal spotlight.  Months earlier, John and Paul had written a song for their drummer that might have actually been slated for the film.  The problem was that it was downright dreadful.  If You've Got Trouble was only given one take plus overdubs before it was scrapped.  The lyrics were lame and the performance by the band was uncharacteristically clunky considering the fact that the boys usually churned out a few masters every day at this point in their career.

On June 17th, the final day of recording for the album, Ringo chose to do a country and western tune called Act Naturally.  His previous two featured numbers had been covers of rockabilly songs by Carl Perkins, but this was pure C&W - a song that Buck Owens had taken to the number one spot on the country chart.

Of course, everyone was in on the joke.  Ringo had been singled out by many critics as the best actor in the group after his performance in A Hard Day's Night.  Thus, the new film had deliberately centered around Ringo, though his role was really not any bigger than those of the other three Beatles.  The choice of Act Naturally was a perfect tongue-in-cheek response to all of that attention, not unlike the group's witty retorts at their press conferences.

Yet, while the choice of the song may have been a joke, the recording was not.  Every member of the band, especially Ringo and George, had a great love of rockabilly and country, and it shows in their earnest, straightforward approach to the material.  George's twangy guitar and Paul's high vocal harmonies are delightful, presented without a hint of irony in them.

The song was first issued in August of 1965, placed at the top of side two on the UK version of Help!, thus letting discerning fans in on the joke by making it the first thing they would hear after listening to the soundtrack numbers on side one.  In the US, the song was held in reserve for release as a single in September.  Ringo had been immensely popular with American fans since the dawn of Beatlemania in early '64 and Capitol Records was planning on giving him the A-side of the single, though that honor ultimately went to a little ditty called Yesterday.

The group added the song to their live act (the only song they ever added which they had not performed in their pre-fame days according to Dave Rybaczewski in his excellent in-depth story on for the remainder of 1965.  You can find the very first performance at Blackpool Night Out on YouTube.  Ringo introduces himself in a typically self-deprecating manner.  "Here he is, all off-key and nervous, singing Act Naturally - Ringo!"

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