During most of The Beatles’ career, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had an important task to cover for each album: write a song for Ringo Starr to sing. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule – sometimes Starr would do covers like ‘Act Naturally’ or ‘Boys’, and other times wouldn’t do a song at all, like on A Hard Day’s Night and Let It Be.
It wasn’t until later in the band’s career that Starr began bringing in his own material, starting with ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and concluding with ‘Octopus’s Garden’. Before then, Starr was given Lennon-McCartney songs to sing, including ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Similarly, a deep cut from 1963’s With The Beatles was originally written with the intention of Starr taking the lead vocal.
“‘Little Child’ was a work job,” McCartney recalled in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “Certain songs were inspirational and you just followed that. Certain other songs were, ‘Right, come on, two hours, song for Ringo for the album.’”
Lennon concurred, telling reporter David Sheff in 1980, “‘Little Child’ was another effort of Paul and I to write a song for somebody. It was probably Ringo.” While they were quickly progressing as musicians and artists, The Beatles were still working against the clock at nearly every turn, meaning that they couldn’t get too complicated when it came time to craft a Ringo song.
“They had to be fairly simple. [Ringo] didn’t have a large vocal range but he could handle things with good con brio and spirito if they were nice and simple,” McCartney continued. “It had to be something he could get behind. If he couldn’t picture it, you were in trouble.”
According to McCartney, ‘Little Child’ borrowed some of its thematic direction from the song ‘Whistle My Love’, which was featured in the 1952 live-action Disney film The Story of Robin Hood. “’I’m so sad and lonely’, that little bit came from a line: ‘Whistle, my love, and I will come to thee, I’ll always find you,'” McCartney explained. “It’s actually not the same tune, but in my mind it was a quote from Elton Hayes.”
It’s unclear why Starr didn’t end up singing ‘Little Child’ on With The Beatles. Instead, the drummer sang ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ while Lennon took on the lead vocals for ‘Little Child’. The track also became one of Lennon’s most prominent uses of harmonica, which he would continue to play until the band hit their psychedelic period in the mid-1960s.
Check out ‘Little Child’ down below.