It Don't Come Easy
|"It Don't Come Easy"|
UK picture sleeve
|Single by Ringo Starr|
9 April 1971 (UK)|
16 April 1971 (US)
8 and 11 March, October 1970, |
Trident Studios, London
|Ringo Starr singles chronology|
"It Don't Come Easy" is a song by English musician Ringo Starr that was released as a non-album single in April 1971. Apart from in North America, where "Beaucoups of Blues" had been a single in October 1970, it was Starr's first single release since the break-up of the Beatles. The song was a commercial success, peaking at number 1 in Canada and number 4 in both the US and UK singles charts. The recording was produced by Starr's former bandmate George Harrison, who also made an uncredited contribution as a composer. Starr performed the song with Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971 and it has remained one of his most popular hits as a solo artist.
Although Ringo Starr received sole writing credit for "It Don't Come Easy", author Bruce Spizer writes that he had "substantial, but uncredited, assistance from Harrison". Starr subsequently acknowledged that Harrison had helped write it. In an episode of VH1 Storytellers (Season 3, Episode 4) in 1998, right before performing the song, Starr said: "I wrote this song with the one and only George Harrison." He went on to say that Harrison suggested the last verse be about God. When Starr protested, Harrison suggested Hare Krishna. Starr protested again, and Harrison suggested "peace" as a topic, and they settled on that.
Recording of the new composition was begun at a late-night session on 18 February 1970 at Abbey Road's Studio 2, during the Sentimental Journey album sessions. At this stage, the song was known as "You Gotta Pay Your Dues". On this first session, George Martin was producing, with Harrison playing acoustic guitar and directing the other musicians – namely, Starr (on drums), Klaus Voormann (bass) and Stephen Stills (piano). Twenty basic track takes were made, with take 20 being labelled "best". Starr then added a lead vocal and Harrison added two electric guitar parts, finishing at 4 am, with the song being mixed into stereo.
On 19 February, after overdubs onto "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing", recording resumed on "You Gotta Pay Your Dues", with Starr overdubbing another lead vocal. Harrison was not present at the session that evening, although Eric Clapton may have been involved. During the session, Starr decided to remake the song; a new basic track was then taped between 7 and 11 pm. Take 30 was labelled "best" and onto this take, two bass parts were added. This version was also discarded, however, since Starr again decided to remake the song.
Recording for the third version of "It Don't Come Easy" began at Trident Studios on 8 March 1970. Harrison produced the sessions and played guitar. Voormann and Stills contributed as before, while the other participants included Mal Evans (on tambourine) and Ron Cattermole (saxophone, trumpet). Overdubs were added to the new basic track on 11 March, again at Trident. The song was then left until October 1970, at which point further overdubs were made, including a new piano part, performed by Gary Wright. According to his recollection in a 2002 interview, Jim Keltner added maracas to the finished recording, at Trident, having arrived in London in February 1971 to escape the Los Angeles earthquake.
When news of the sessions reached the press in March 1970, Apple had told the music press there were "absolutely no plans for the record to be released as a single at the present time", and the song remained unissued until early 1971. An early mix from the sessions has appeared on bootlegs, featuring Harrison on lead vocal. While the instrumentation is almost identical to the released version (the horns had not been added yet), during the guitar break, the backing vocalists, Pete Ham and Tom Evans from Badfinger, add the line "Hare Krishna." This can be heard on the final Starr release, although buried in the mix. Following the guitar solo, rather than there being another verse, there is a repeat of the song's opening guitar phrase from Harrison, again with the backing vocalists singing 'it don't come, oh no, you know it don't come easy" twice, with Harrison adding a few shouted lines behind them before returning to the verse. Subsequently, there are some additional backing vocal lines.
Release and reception
"It Don't Come Easy", backed with "Early 1970", was released on 9 April 1971 in the UK,[nb 1] and a week later, on 16 April in the US.[nb 2] In a contemporaneous review, in the NME, Alan Smith described the song as "undoubtedly one of the best, thumpin'est things the Starr man has ever done" and added: "That's a very strong hook he's got there, and George Harrison has given the record a fat, pumping backing full of guts and stuff." Smith criticised Starr's vocal on the track, however, before concluding: "But on the credit side we have an inventive mind and a dry wit coming more and more into play with better songs. One day he may even write a masterpiece." Billboard's reviewer admired the single as Starr's "most commercial solo effort" yet and predicted: "Potent Top 40 rock material and vocal workout has it to take him all the way." The single peaked at number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also reached the fourth spot on the UK singles chart. The single beat the sales of Starr's fellow former-Beatles' singles at the time: John Lennon's "Power to the People", Paul McCartney's "Another Day" and Harrison's "Bangla Desh".
The 22 April 1971 edition of the BBC TV show Top of the Pops showed the promotional video for the song. On 27 April, Starr was in Norway to shoot another music video for "It Don't Come Easy", that was broadcast on another edition of Top of the Pops, on 29 April.[nb 3] Starr was filmed performing the song live at Scandinavia, on 24 June 1971, backed by an orchestra, for the BBC TV show Cilla, which aired on 27 November 1971.
Backed by Harrison, Voormann and Keltner, among others, Starr performed "It Don't Come Easy" at the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971, forgetting some of the words. While this live recording was included on the Concert for Bangladesh triple album, the studio version remained unavailable on an LP until the release of Starr's 1975 Apple greatest hits compilation, Blast from Your Past. The song was also heard in the 1978 NBC-TV special Ringo. Although Starr recorded new versions of several songs for the special, the released recording of "It Don't Come Easy" was used.
Starr's re-recording of his 1972 hit "Back Off Boogaloo" for the Stop and Smell the Roses 1981 album alludes to several Beatles songs, among them "It Don't Come Easy". On 12 March 1984, EMI released a single of "It Don't Come Easy" / "Back Off Boogaloo" in the UK as part of their Golden 45s series.
Starr has frequently performed "It Don't Come Easy" in concert with his All-Starr Band. Starr included the song on the set list for his July–September 1989 American tour, and a performance of this song opened the 1990 album Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. It was also included on a bonus 5" CD single released with the US limited edition deluxe CD version of Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. In 1991, "It Don't Come Easy" was added as a bonus track to the CD version of Ringo, along with "Down and Out" and "Early 1970". Starr's song "Don't Go Where the Road Don't Go" from his 1992 album Time Takes Time features a homage to the song during the bridge with the line "Well I said it don't come easy, well I sure know how it feels". Starr's song "Eye to Eye" from his 2003 album Ringo Rama starts with the lines "Remember when I said it don't come easy, that seems so long ago".
Covers and appearances
In 1987, a cover version of "It Don't Come Easy" was used in a commercial for 7-Eleven using the slogan "Where the good things come easy".
In 1991, along with a guest appearance by Starr, the song was featured in The Simpsons episode "Brush with Greatness". The song is used as inspirational background music for a montage of Marge Simpson painting a portrait of Mr. Burns.
On her 2010 release "Interpretations:The British Rock Songbook", Bettye LaVette included a slowed down bluesy version of the song.
The following musicians played on the released version of "It Don't Come Easy":
- Ringo Starr – vocals, drums
- George Harrison – guitars
- Gary Wright – piano
- Klaus Voormann – bass
- Uncredited musicians – horns
- Unknown – organ, tambourine
- Pete Ham, Tom Evans – backing vocals
- Ken Scott – recording engineer
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