I'm the Greatest

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"I'm the Greatest"
Song by Ringo Starr from the album Ringo
Published Lennon Music/ATV Music Publishing
Released 2 November 1973 (US)
23 November 1973 (UK)
Genre Rock
Length 3:21
Label Apple
Writer John Lennon
Producer Richard Perry
Ringo track listing

"I'm the Greatest" is a song written by English musician John Lennon, released in 1973 on the album Ringo by Ringo Starr, his former bandmate in the Beatles. With Starr, Lennon and George Harrison appearing on the track, the song marks the only time that more than two ex-Beatles recorded together between the band's break-up in 1970 and Lennon's death in 1980. Lennon wrote "I'm the Greatest" in December 1970 as a wry comment on his past as a Beatle, and later tailored the composition for Starr to sing.

Recording for the song took place in Los Angeles in March 1973 during a time when tensions among all the former members of the Beatles had eased, after Starr, Lennon and Harrison had severed ties with their manager, Allen Klein. News of the Richard Perry-produced session led to speculation that the Beatles might re-form. The presence on the recording of bassist Klaus Voormann and keyboard player Billy Preston, as supposed stand-ins for Paul McCartney, created a line-up that the press had dubbed the Ladders since 1971.

"I'm the Greatest" appeared as the opening track on the well-received Ringo album and was later included on Starr's compilations Blast from Your Past (1975) and Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr (2007). Starr has performed the song in concert with his All-Starr Band, whose second album, Live from Montreux (1993), opens with the track. A version with Lennon on lead vocals appeared on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology.

Background and composition[edit]

John Lennon began writing "I'm the Greatest" after watching the first TV airing of the Beatles' 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, on BBC1 on 28 December 1970.[1] Working at his home studio at Tittenhurst Park, Lennon then made demos of the new composition and "Make Love Not War", the latter of which he would re-record as "Mind Games" in 1973.[1] Towards the end of recording sessions for his Imagine album in July 1971, Lennon recorded another demo of "I'm the Greatest".[2]

Lennon's lyrics to the song are autobiographical, referring to his past as a member of the Beatles:[3]

"I was in the greatest show on Earth,
For what it was worth.
Now I'm only thirty-two;
And all I wanna do, is boogaloo
Yes, my name is Billy Shears,
You know it has been for so many years.
Now I'm only thirty-two;
And all I wanna do, is boogaloo for ever"

Recording[edit]

Lennon had completely forgotten about the song until Starr requested a song from Lennon to record for Starr's Ringo (1973) album.[4] Starr sings lead vocals and plays drums, Lennon plays piano and sings harmony vocals and George Harrison plays electric guitar; Billy Preston on organ and Klaus Voormann on bass. It is one of only a few non-Beatles songs to feature three members of the band. Richard Perry produced the recording.[5]

At this point after the end of The Beatles as a band, three of them—Starr, Lennon and Harrison—in addition to Voormann and Preston (who was often referred to as one of the multiple "Fifth Beatles"),[6] appear on this record. When word of the session hit the media, Beatles reunion rumours began spreading.[7][8]

"I'm the Greatest" is the only record that features the line up of a post-Beatles group the Ladders, which Harrison intended to install with his two former bandmates and other fellow musicians like Voormann and Preston.

Near the end of the song, it musically quotes Harrison's "I Dig Love", which Starr had played on three years earlier.

A version with John Lennon lead vocals appears on 1998's John Lennon Anthology.[9] Many Lennon bootlegs include a version of this song with only piano, bass, drums and Lennon on lead vocals. In the 2005 publication NME Originals: Beatles – The Solo Years 1970–1980, Paul Moody included "I'm the Greatest" among "ten solo gems" from Starr's career, and described it as a "Lennon-penned tribute to self-love ... while George weighs in with an electrifying lead guitar break".[10]

Personnel[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Badman, p. 19.
  2. ^ Badman, pp. 37–38.
  3. ^ Urish & Bielen, p. 46.
  4. ^ Harry, p. 222.
  5. ^ Clayson, pp. 241, 242.
  6. ^ Harrington, Richard (8 June 2006). "'Fifth Beatle' Billy Preston Made the Greats Even Greater". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Schaffner, p. 160.
  8. ^ Rodriguez, pp. 74, 140.
  9. ^ Urish & Bielen, p. 47.
  10. ^ Chris Hunt (ed.), NME Originals: Beatles – The Solo Years 1970–1980, IPC Ignite! (London, 2005), p. 25.

Sources[edit]

  • Badman, Keith (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After the Break-Up 1970–2001. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-7119-8307-6. 
  • Carr, Roy; Tyler, Tony (1978). The Beatles: An Illustrated Record. London: Trewin Copplestone Publishing. ISBN 0-450-04170-0. 
  • Castleman, Harry; Podrazik, Walter J. (1976). All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography 1961–1975. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25680-8. 
  • Clayson, Alan (2003). Ringo Starr. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1-86074-488-5. 
  • Doggett, Peter (2011). You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup. New York, NY: It Books. ISBN 978-0-06-177418-8. 
  • Harry, Bill (2004). The Ringo Starr Encyclopedia. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0-7535-0843-5. 
  • Ingham, Chris (2006). The Rough Guide to the Beatles (2nd edn). London: Rough Guides/Penguin. ISBN 978-1-84836-525-4. 
  • Madinger, Chip; Easter, Mark (2000). Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium. Chesterfield, MO: 44.1 Productions. ISBN 0-615-11724-4. 
  • Rodriguez, Robert (2010). Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970–1980. Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-4165-9093-4. 
  • Schaffner, Nicholas (1978). The Beatles Forever. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-055087-5. 
  • Spizer, Bruce (2005). The Beatles Solo on Apple Records. New Orleans, LA: 498 Productions. ISBN 0-9662649-5-9. 
  • Urish, Ben; Bielen, Kenneth G. (2007). The Words and Music of John Lennon. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-99180-7. 
  • Woffinden, Bob (1981). The Beatles Apart. London: Proteus. ISBN 0-906071-89-5. 

External links[edit]