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Film

How Disney gave Ringo Starr his final number one song

Ringo Starr has received critical and commercial success with many popular hits but his final number one song has actually confused many modern audiences. Titled You’re Sixteen, the song was actually penned by Disney songwriters – the Sherman brothers – and it seemed to be from the perspective of a man fantasising about an underage teenager.

Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman had actually written a vast variety of material, ranging from Disney songs to pop singles. You’re Sixteen was first performed by the Rock and Roll Trio’s Johnny Burnette whose rendition also climbed high on the charts. However, Ringo Starr’s cover surpassed the success of Burnette’s version and became a number one hit.

“We wanted to give the listeners something they hadn’t heard,” Richard Sherman recalled. “They heard so many hard rock beats. But nobody had heard shuffle rhythms. So basically we said, ‘Let’s do a shuffle rhythm for the verse, and then when you get to the chorus, you hit them with a hard rock beat’… So basically, it was all thought out before we wrote anything.”

“The powers that be, out of Chicago, heard it and they and said they had Johnny Burnette,” Sherman added while talking about the origin of the first version. “And Johnny was such a talented kid, and he heard the demo his brother did — not knowing it was his brother — and said ‘Hey, I can do that. It sounds just like me!”

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According to Sherman, Burnette recorded it the way that they had envisioned it and it ended up becoming a success. Starr’s cover gave him the opportunity to reunite with Paul McCartney who sang a ‘kazoo-sound’ solo while Harry Nilsson was on the backing vocals. This version also received critical acclaim and was described as the perfect song for the ’70s.

While the context of the song has become obscured by the time gap, it was initially written for a 15-year-old artist named Annette Funicello who was going to turn 16 but the song ended up being recorded by Burnette. Ringo Starr decided to cover it later because he was familiar with the hit and it also suited his vocal range.

When Burnette performed it, he was also reportedly thinking of his teenage audience but there were definitely a lot of love songs from that period which focused on inappropriate teenage love. Unfortunately, most of the context and the nuance surrounding this particular song is stripped away in public discourse.

To make matters worse, Breitbart editor Joel Pollak even defended Alabama chief justice Roy Moore – who was accused of having sexual relations with minors – by claiming that holding Moore accountable for his actions was the same as taking away Ringo Starr’s achievements. While it probably doesn’t hold up in today’s sociopolitical climate, ‘You’re Sixteen’ remains an important milestone in Ringo Starr’s career.

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