What Goes On - The Beatles

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"What Goes On" - The Beatles (1965)

“What Goes On” was Ringo’s song for the Rubber Soul album as one spot on each Beatle album was reserved for his vocal contribution.

Lennon said of the composition:

“A very early song of mine. Ringo and Paul wrote a new middle-eight together when we recorded it.”

Actually, Ringo helped Lennon and McCartney write it. While the songwriting credit on most Beatles songs is Lennon/McCartney, in fact, the actual songwriting credit on “What Goes On” is to Lennon/McCartney/Starkey. As George’s songs are only credited to him- and there is no song where the three of them co-wrote- this track stands as the only Lennon-McCartney song that included a third party who was a Beatle. (Billy Preston received a songwriting credit for “Get Back”)

With its out-of-tune delivery by Ringo, “What Goes On” emphasizes character over message. This was Beatles doing country and western and paying their respects to their rockabilly idols such as Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Yet this was not a cover song- but an original tune.

It’s been suggested that contemporary country has incorporated elements of the Beatles sound--not the other way around. The country & western elements in this song certainly didn’t sound like the standard honky tonk and ballad-style country music popular in the fifties and sixties in America.
Ringo shows his mastery at keeping a solid groove throughout the entire track. The speaker employs an interrogative method, asking for clarification and placing blame for the relationship’s demise squarely on the lover’s shoulders:

“What goes on in your mind/What goes on in your heart/You are tearing me a part.”

The suggestion that the girl tells a “lie” is unsupported by the narrative, which itself offers a viable alternative that the other boy and the lover were, indeed, merely walking as no more than friends. However the narrator’s paranoia claims no other possibility than cheating and his narration of the speaker offers little evidence apart from “I saw him with you.”

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