Why Ringo Walked Out on The Beatles During the ‘White Album’ Sessions

If you’re looking for drama in the late years of The Beatles, there are plenty of stories of John Lennon going to war with Paul McCartney. By the late ’60s, John was openly referring to tunes like Paul’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as “granny music.”

That couldn’t have helped morale in the studio. During the 1968 sessions for The White Album, John felt so sick of hearing about how “life goes on” he stormed out of the studio in disgust. Geoff Emerick, the album’s recording engineer, said he and Paul nearly fought when John returned that evening.

Yet despite the animosity, John did complete the takes (and supplied the piano opening). That was more than the band could say for Ringo, who actually left town the following month while the group was further along in the White Album sessions.

In fact, Ringo told John and Paul he was leaving the band. He took his family and flew to Sardinia.

Ringo quit because ‘the relationships were terrible.’

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison attend a press screening for the film ‘Yellow Submarine’ on 8 July 1968. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

On several occasions, Paul has described the White Album as “the tension album,” and that’s exactly what Ringo felt when he left London in August ’68. In Anthology, he said that he felt “like an outsider” in the band and he sensed that the end was near for the group.

“I had definitely left, I couldn’t take it any more,” he explained. “There was no magic and the relationships were terrible. I knew we were all in a messed-up stage. It wasn’t just me; the whole thing was going down.”

Before he left, Ringo said he stopped by John’s apartment to tell him he was quitting. “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,” he said. John replied that he felt basically the same way — that he felt “out of it.”

Ringo then repeated the same lines to Paul at his place, and Paul repeated what John said. At that point, he didn’t see the need to tell George Harrison. He rounded up his family and headed off to Italy.

The other Beatles took turns playing drums before asking Ringo to come back.

Crossing a bridge are Ringo Starr and his wife, Maureen, followed by fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney and his girlfriend, Jane Asher. | Getty Images

After landing on Sardinia, Ringo borrowed the yacht of Peter Sellers and took his family out in the Mediterranean. He couldn’t have been more checked out.

After hearing a story about local sea life from the ship’s captain, he grabbed a guitar and wrote “Octopus’s Garden.” As he told it in Anthology, Ringo quite literally wanted “to be under the sea” like the cool octopuses he learned about.

Back on Abbey Road, the remaining Beatles tried to hammer their way through “Back in the U.S.S.R.” All three might have tried out drum parts at some point. They managed to get some takes but weren’t convinced about trying it again. Soon, they decided to send a telegram to Ringo.

“You’re the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the world. Come on home, we love you,” it read. That convinced Ringo he ought to head back to the band. He returned to the studio to find flowers on his drum kit and he finished the album.

The following year, George would stage his own walkout and John would announce he was leaving for good. Ringo was right — the whole thing was going down.

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