Very few days in Beatles lore are as infamous as August 22nd, 1968. The band were holed up at EMI Studios attempting to record ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ when a disagreement between Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney occurred. Tensions had been rising throughout the recording of The Beatles, but this was a breaking point.
“While we were recording the ‘White’ album we ended up being more of a band again, and that’s what I always love. I love being in a band,” Starr explained in Anthology. “Of course, I must have moments of turmoil, because I left the group for a while that summer.”
Sometime during the August 22nd sessions, Starr left the band and fully intended his leave to be permanent. When he informed his bandmates, however, his view of how the sessions were actually unfolding became more clear.
“I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider,” Starr said. “I went to see John, who had been living in my apartment in Montagu Square with Yoko since he moved out of Kenwood. I said, ‘I’m leaving the group because I’m not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.’ And John said, ‘I thought it was you three!’”
“So then I went over to Paul’s and knocked on his door. I said the same thing: ‘I’m leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I’m out of it.’ And Paul said, ‘I thought it was you three!’,” Starr added. “I didn’t even bother going to George then. I said, ‘I’m going on holiday.’ I took the kids and we went to Sardinia.”
“I think they were all feeling a little paranoid,” George Martin conceded in Anthology. “When you have a rift between people – if you go to a party and the husband and wife have been having a row – there’s a tension, an atmosphere. And you wonder whether you are making things worse by being there. I think that was the kind of situation we found with Ringo. He was probably feeling a little bit odd because of the mental strangeness with John and Yoko and Paul, and none of them having quite the buddiness they used to have. He might have said to himself, ‘Am I the cause?’”
Just as George Harrison would do just five months later during the Get Back sessions, Starr left the band to clear his head and even found some inspiration to write. While on a boat with his co-star in The Magic Christian, Peter Sellers, Starr was given a plate of calamari instead of his preferred fish and chips. The event served as the impetus for his final songwriting contribution to The Beatles: ‘Octopus’s Garden’.
“I had a rest and the holiday was great. I knew we were all in a messed-up stage. It wasn’t just me; the whole thing was going down,” Starr eventually realised. “I had definitely left, I couldn’t take it anymore. There was no magic and the relationships were terrible. I’d come to a bad spot in life. It could have been paranoia, but I just didn’t feel good – I felt like an outsider. But then I realised that we were all feeling like outsiders, and it just needed me to go around knocking to bring it to a head.”
He added: “I got a telegram saying, ‘You’re the best rock’n’roll drummer in the world. Come on home, we love you.’ And so I came back. We all needed that little shake-up. When I got back to the studio I found George had had it decked out with flowers – there were flowers everywhere. I felt good about myself again, we’d got through that little crisis and it was great.”