“Boys” is a song by Luther Dixon and Wes Farrell, originally performed by The Shirelles and released as the B-side of their “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” single in November 1960. It was covered by The Beatles and included on their first album released in the United Kingdom, Please Please Me (1963).
The Beatles’ version was recorded at Abbey Road Studios on February 11, 1963, in a single take. It is Ringo Starr’s first recorded lead vocal with the Beatles and, as the fifth track on the Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, represents the first time many fans heard Starr singing a lead vocal. This version bears many similarities between Ray Charles’s hit “What’d I Say”, particularly during the chorus verses. February 11 was a marathon day for the Beatles, as they recorded 10 of the 14 tracks they needed for Please Please Me. The band covered an additional song by the Shirelles on their first album, “Baby It’s You”.
The Beatles did not concern themselves about possible homosexual undertones that go with singing a song about boys, although they altered the gender pronouns employed on the Shirelles’ version (e.g. “My girl says when I kiss her lips…”). In an October 2005 Rolling Stone interview, Paul McCartney stated: “Any one of us could hold the audience. Ringo would do ‘Boys’, which was a fan favourite with the crowd. And it was great — though if you think about it, here’s us doing a song and it was really a girls’ song. ‘I talk about boys now!’ Or it was a gay song. But we never even listened. It’s just a great song. I think that’s one of the things about youth — you just don’t give a shit. I love the innocence of those days.” (The lyrics talk specifically about a boy kissing a girl, not another boy.)
McCartney also said: “Ringo always used to do a song in the show. Back then he had ‘Boys’. It was a little embarrassing because it went, ‘I’m talking about boys – yeah, yeah – boys’. It was a Shirelles hit and they were girls singing it, but we never thought we should call it Girls, just because Ringo was a boy. We just sang it the way they’d sung it and never considered any implications.” (Paul McCartney. From Anthology.)
“Boys” had always been the Beatles’ ‘drummer’ song during their Cavern days − Pete Best sang it then – and was their main ‘drummer’ song until 1964. Coincidentally, Starr also sang the song for his solo spot with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and Cilla Black would sometimes join him on stage, sharing the microphone. Best would release his own version of the song in 1965.
A live version of the song was included on the Beatles live album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, first released in 1977 and re-released in 2016 as “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”. Recorded on 23 August 1964 ‘Boys’ was the first track to be released on digital download and streaming platforms one week prior to the full remastered album release on 9 September 2016.
Their cover of the song is playable on The Beatles: Rock Band video game.
On February 9, 2014, Ringo sang and played drums on “Boys” as part of the finale on the CBS 50th-anniversary special of the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan appearance (February 9, 1964) and later covered it again, with the help of Green Day for his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Ringo Starr – vocals, drums
John Lennon – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Paul McCartney – bass, backing vocals
George Harrison – lead guitar, backing vocals
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