The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” from The White Album (1968): Deep Beatles

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Since his Liverpool days, Ringo Starr has professed a great love of country music. In 1959 he joined a group called the Raving Texans. According to Andrew Grant Jackson’s Still the Greatest, Starr adopted the stage name Ringo not only in reference to his many rings, but also to pay tribute to real-life cowboy Johnny Ringo. He recorded two previous country-inflected tracks with the Beatles, but his composition debut fully indulged in his passion for the genre. The White Album’s “Don’t Pass Me By” retains its notability not only because it represents Starr’s first solo composition; it further emphasizes the variety of influences that impacted the Beatles’ music.

Starr’s first official brushes with country include the Buck Owens cover “Act Naturally” and the Rubber Soul track “What Goes On.” The former evolved into Starr’s unofficial theme song, while Starr co-wrote the latter. Some reports claim Starr wrote the track during the Beatles’ 1968 India retreat, but the Beatle stated in Anthology that he actually composed the song at home.

“I only play three chords on the guitar and three on the piano. I was fiddling with the piano … and then if a melody comes and some words, I just have to keep going,” he said. “That’s how it happened. I was just sitting at home alone and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ arrived.” In Tune In, Mark Lewisohn writes that Starr presented a version of “Don’t Pass Me By” to the Beatles as early as 1962. During the recording of The White Album, John Lennon described the track as “Ringo’s first song. … He composed it himself in a fit of lethargy.”

Recording began on June 5, 1968 under the working title “Ringo’s Tune (Untitled).” With just Paul McCartney participating at this point, Starr completed three takes of the rhythm track, with McCartney on piano and Starr on drums. Deeming the third take as best, the two then overdubbed an additional piano part and sleigh bell percussion. Next, Starr recorded his lead vocals and McCartney a bass section, but these elements were later erased. Returning to the song the next day (now renamed “Some Kind of Friendly” according to Kenneth Womack’s Beatles Encyclopedia), McCartney rerecorded a bass part while Starr laid down two new lead vocals. The basic track that came out of this session can be heard on Anthology 3: Note the heavier drums and the absence of the violin parts.

Finally, on July 12 session musician Jack Fallon recorded his violin section. As the artist told Mark Lewisohn for the Complete Beatles Recording Sessions .. .

George Martin had jotted down a 12-bar blues for me. A lot of country fiddle playing is double-stop [two notes played simultaneously] but Paul and George Martin — they were doing the arranging — suggested I play it single note. So, it wasn’t really the country sound they originally wanted. But they seemed pleased. Ringo was around too, keeping an eye on his song.

Interestingly, Martin had also composed an orchestral introduction for “Don’t Pass Me By”; this was recorded on July 22. Ultimately the track was rejected, although it resurfaced under the new title “A Beginning” on Anthology 3. In addition, it was later included in the film Yellow Submarine. The song even makes a brief appearance during the Get Back sessions, as heard on the “Fly on the Wall” bonus disc for Let It Be … Naked.

A tinkling piano seemingly heard underwater opens the track; that watery sound continues throughout the song, courtesy of a Leslie rotating speaker. Ringo Starr’s drums gallop in, perhaps imitating the sound of horseshoes clopping on the ground. The drummer’s vocal limitations work in his favor on “Don’t Pass Me By,” as his straightforward delivery emphasizes the narrator’s anguish.

“I wonder where you are tonight / And why I’m by myself / I don’t see you, / Does it mean you don’t love me anymore?” he wails, letting his voice drop on the word “more.” The next verse, however, adds a comic element to the drama. “I’m sorry that I doubted you / I was so unfair / You were in a car crash / And you lost your hair,” Starr drolly continues, eliciting a chuckle from the listener.

The lines represent Ringo Starr’s witty personality, which occasionally surfaces in other songs but rarely in his own words. The fiddle dances across the stage as Starr pleads with his lover to not make him cry or feel blue. While the humorous lyrics, plodding drums, and fiddle suggest that “Don’t Pass Me By” satirizes country music, Starr’s genuine and long-lasting interest in the genre contradicts this argument. Amusingly, drums thunder in over the fading violin notes, eventually segueing to its complete opposite: the unromantic “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”

As with many other Beatles tracks, the mono and stereo mixes differ significantly. The mono version runs faster, features more fiddle, and even includes a different fiddle part at the end. In contrast, the stereo version features the ending fiddle section reprising some of the chorus.

“Don’t Pass Me By” represents Starr’s first solo composition, and previews the wit he would display on Abbey Road’s “Octopus’ Garden.” For the Beatles, however, it stands as another example of how other musical genres impacted their overall sound. McCartney’s White Album ballad “I Will” subtly emits a country vibe with its galloping rhythm, while “Rocky Raccoon” straddles the line between folk and country. While “Don’t Pass Me By” may have gently poked fun at country and western stereotypes of lost love, Starr’s earnest delivery rescues the track from complete parody.

Starr’s love affair with country music continued long after the Beatles. In 1970, he flew to Nashville to record his second album, Beaucoups of Blues, a collaboration with producer and pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake. Almost 20 years later, Starr duetted with Owens on a charming remake of “Act Naturally”; on 2017’s Give More Love, Starr re-recorded “Don’t Pass Me By,” further emphasizing the song’s deep country roots.

Need further proof of his enduring love of the music? Listen to Give More Love’s third single, the vintage-sounding “So Wrong for So Long.” Throughout the years, Starr has continued performing “Don’t Pass Me By” with the All-Starr Band and on other tours, delighting audiences by even playing the piano introduction. This track’s off-kilter charm illustrates Ringo Starr’s personality and served as the first major step on his path toward a career away from the Beatles.



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 reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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