The Beatles, “Act Naturally” from Help! (1965): Deep Beatles

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Ringo Starr may be best known as a rocker (or a “mocker,” as he joked in A Hard Day’s Night), but he has made no secret of his love for country music.

He cowrote “What Goes On,” a country-tinged track off the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and penned his own full-fledged take on the genre, “Don’t Pass Me By” off the White Album. Early in his solo career, Starr released 1970’s Beaucoups of Blues, which served as his ode to the genre; on his last album, Give More Love, he once again nodded to the genre with “So Wrong for So Long.”

Even before he joined the Beatles, Starr briefly played in a country and western-influenced band. Therefore it comes as little surprise that the drummer would sing lead on “Act Naturally,” a Buck Owens cover that transformed into Starr’s personal theme song. In addition, it foreshadows the Beatles’ continuing explorations into country.

Written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, “Act Naturally” derives from a conversation with Russell’s then-girlfriend. In 1961, Russell received a call asking him to drive to Los Angeles for a recording session. At the time, Russell lived in Fresno, so he was forced to break a date with his girlfriend. When she asked why he had to travel to Hollywood. he responded “They’re gonna put me in the movies and make a big star out of me.”

As Owens recalled in his autobiography Buck ‘Em, Russell subsequently wrote the lyrics, but no one would record the song for two years. In 1963, Morrison brought Owens and his Buckaroos bandleader Don Rich five songs for consideration, all on acetates. When Morrison handed them the last acetate, “Act Naturally,” she told them they would probably reject it. Once they heard Russell’s vocal, Owens remembered, “I said, ‘That’s the one.’”

He and the Buckaroos recorded the song on February 12, 1963, and the single was released on March 11. The humorous lyrics, along with Owens’ deadpan delivery, propelled the track to an impressive four-week run at No. 1 on the country charts.

Two years later, the Beatles found themselves rushing to complete the Help! soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios. During the February 18, 1965 session, the group recorded another John Lennon/Paul McCartney composition, “If You’ve Got Trouble,” with Starr singing lead. None of them were satisfied with the results, perhaps best summarized by Starr’s cry of “rock on, anybody!” in the middle of the track.

Four months later, Starr suggested covering the Owens hit. “I found it on a Buck Owens record and I said, ‘This is the one I am going to be doing,’ and they said, ‘OK.’ We were listening to all kinds of things,” Starr said in Anthology.

In reality, Ringo Starr had flirted with country music long before joining the Beatles. Liverpool was dubbed “Nashville of the North” because of the U.S. albums that sailors would bring back with them. After initially playing in skiffle bands, Starr joined the Raving Texans in 1959. Led by Alan Caldwell, the group shortly thereafter changed their name to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. While the band soon moved away from skiffle, a rock-folk-country hybrid, the band’s roots remained firmly in that genre.

Once the Beatles decided on covering “Act Naturally,” they began work on June 17, 1965. After 12 attempts, they finally settled on the last take, take 13; this also marks the first take where Starr’s lead vocals appear. The arrangement adheres closely to Owens’ original, with McCartney providing harmony vocals and bass. Lennon played acoustic rhythm guitar, George Harrison contributed lead guitar, and Starr, as usual, played drums and sticks. (The intricate pattern of the latter jumps through the speakers on the 2009 remaster.)

While Starr’s affable delivery surely reminded audiences of his critically praised acting turn in A Hard Day’s Night, the lyrics hide the true meaning: a failed romance: “We’ll make the scene about a man that’s sad and lonely / And begging down upon his bended knee / I’ll play the part and I won’t need rehearsing,” he sings.

The lead guitar plays a more prominent role in Beatles’ version, with Harrison’s twangy licks present from the introduction. In addition, the ending reprises the lick, with McCartney’s bass line heard clearly. “Act Naturally” proves the perfect showcase for Starr’s voice; he may not possess same range as his bandmates, but he effectively communicates the wryness of the lyrics.

The influence of “Act Naturally” can be heard in subsequent songs, most notably “What Goes On.” Lennon wrote the track before the Beatles signed with EMI, but he revised it (with help from McCartney and Starr) to better fit the drummer’s voice. Note the similarity of the guitar licks and percussion to “Act Naturally.”

In addition to being released as part of the Help! soundtrack, it appeared as the B-side of the “Yesterday” single in America. The Beatles performed the song live several times, including on the August 1, 1965 episode of Blackpool Night Out. Two weeks later, they traveled to America to play the song on the August 15, 1965 broadcast of the Ed Sullivan Show. They included the song during their second American tour; most notably, Starr sang the track during the legendary Shea Stadium concert.

For the record, Owens expressed delight at the Beatles’ cover of his signature song. “You can’t imagine that feeling. It’s a feeling all unto itself,” Owens wrote in his autobiography. “A whole lot of people heard about Buck Owens for the very first time after the Beatles cut a song that I’d made famous. … Suddenly, I started developing a whole new audience of young people that had never bought my records or been to my concerts before. I guess they figured if the Beatles recorded one of my hits, then I must be all right.”

To further show his appreciation, Owens invited Starr to duet on a charming remake of “Just Naturally” for his 1989 album of the same title. They even filmed a hilarious promotional video, featuring a cameo by none other than the late Vic Tayback (aka “Mel” on the TV sitcom Alice). Even more evidence of the country music/Beatles connection: Owens and Starr recorded the track at Abbey Road Studios.

Today, Ringo Starr continues to perform his trademark song on his All-Starr Band tours, demonstrating that he still retains his onstage charisma by just acting naturally.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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