‘With A Little Help From My Friends’: The end of a Beatles era

When Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon delivered the line “I get by with a little help from my friends” in perfect harmony, it was somewhat of an understatement. The friendship and working relationship between The Beatles hadn’t just allowed them to get by, and it went far beyond getting high. Instead, it secured them a place as the biggest band in music history.

The origins of the Fab Four were rooted in teenage friendship. They stumbled upon one another between church fêtes and bus rides in Liverpool, bonding over their love of music as The Quarrymen and, later, as The Beatles. The relationship between Lennon and McCartney became a particularly potent one, as their close songwriting partnership drove the band in their early years.

From ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, the partnership spawned some of the band’s greatest early hits. Lennon and McCartney inspired each other to be better, but that element of competition would eventually turn sour. Towards the latter half of the decade, the pair seemed to prefer writing separately to one another, while internal relations in the wider group began to fracture.

Whether it was down to Lennon’s artistic collaborations with Yoko Ono, McCartney’s attempts to take creative control, or the fallout from the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967, The Beatles were hurtling towards a break-up as the decade drew to a close. Most of the songs to feature on their final few albums would be written by one band member alone, such as McCartney’s ‘Let It Be’ and Harrison’s ‘Something’, as factions began to form.

Songwriting collaborations between Lennon and McCartney, and between the band as a whole, were few and far between as the years passed. One of the final songs the duo sat down to write together, ironically, was 1967’s ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, which would feature on their iconic concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The song was one of the last moments of pure collaboration between almost all members of the band, as McCartney and Lennon worked together to write the song for Starr to sing. McCartney’s recollection of the songwriting process, as quoted by Barry Miles in Many Years From Now, almost seemed like a return to simpler times.

The songwriter remembered “giggling” with Lennon over the double entendre of certain lines, always keeping Starr’s singing style in mind while they were writing. But it wasn’t just the process of making the song that seemed to mark the end of an era for The Beatles; it was the lyrics they produced, too.

The playful song seems to rise above the tensions that were bubbling beneath the surface, putting them to the side in a brief ode to friendship. Though their internal relationships may have been muddied throughout the years by business and by fame, by creative disputes and external relationships, their appreciation for how they had helped one another still shone through in their lyrics.

Still, their friendship couldn’t save them from an eventual Beatles break-up. McCartney and Lennon would pen their final song with a joint credit, ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’, in the same year, before largely resigning themselves to solo songwriting sessions. The band would finally break up in 1970, though the legacy of their friendship would last forever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *