What would you think if I sang out of tune? I, your guest blogger, Gary Marcus, author of Guitar Zero: The New Musician and The Science of Learning, and musical novice, have wondered this many times over the last three years.
Like Ringo, I am not known for my singing abilities. Unlike Ringo, I am not a professional musician, or even close; for most of my life, in fact, I thought that the act of creating music was entirely out of my grasp. I had no sense of rhythm, and little sense of pitch. In 4th grade; I got kicked out of recorder class because I couldn’t play "Mary Had a Little Lamb". It was only my very late 30′s that I got up the nerve to try again.
For Ringo, "With a Little Help from My Friends", was a song written for him, not by him, by two of his friends, the little-known John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
In exchange for his tireless stream of tasteful yet rarely showy drumming, the boys agreed to let him have an occasional, once-an-album, go at singing.
For John and Paul, Friends was little more than work for hire; I"m not sure they expected it to become the enduring classic that it has become (#304 on The Rolling Stone all-time list). More likely, they saw it as just a little side project between more serious compositions, written and recorded in a day or two, in March 1967, just before they posed for the album cover of Sergeant Pepper.
Ringo, though, was worried, from the very start. Especially because in the original version, the lyric that followed "What would you think if I sang of tune?" was not "Would you walk out on me?", but something more Vaudevillian, sure to bring a laugh, but at Ringo’s expense: "Would you throw tomatoes at me?"
Fearing that Beatles fans might do just that, every time he sang the song, Ringo wisely insisted on a line change. Even so, he barely got through the song; the song’s last note was a bit too high for him, higher than he had ever recorded before. Ringo needed considerable coaching, and help from his friends, to make it through.
Luckily for Ringo, The Beatles never actually played this song live.
Unluckily for the world, I did. Tone deaf and clueless, and accompanied by 5 of my best musical friends, Jessie Murphy, Amy Schildige, Marcia Webb, Kat Bryant, and Roger Greenawalt "With A Little Help From My Friends" became my first — and thus far only — singing performance before a live, paying audience.
That live performance appears, sadly, to have been lost in the mists of time, but Kat and another terrific set of friends and colleagues, listed above, joined me in the studio.
To say I couldn’t have done it without them is a giant understatement.
Joe Cocker I ain’t, but this cover comes from the heart, and I hope you enjoy it.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Gary Marcus is an award-winning professor of psychology and director of the NYU Center for Language And Music (CLAM), where he studies evolution, language, and cognitive development. He has written four books about the origins and development of mind and brain, is the editor of the The Norton Psychology Reader and is the author of numerous science publications in leading journals, such as Science, and Nature. Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of The Human Mind was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. His new book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and The Science of Learning, one of 20 non-fiction books to watch for in 2012, will be published by The Penguin Press on January 23.
Gary Marcus, vocals, and guitar
Kathena Bryant, counterpoint vocals
Mary Farbood: harpsichord and backing vocals
Tobias Hurwitz: bass and backing vocals
David Poeppel, additional guitar
Terry Gourley, additional vocals
Doug Bemis – Backing vocals
Andrew Poeppel – Backing vocals
Luke Poeppel – Backing vocals
Athena Vouloumanos – Backing vocals
Dave Barratt: Ukulele and everything else
Produced by David Barratt at The Abattoir Of Good Taste