Behind the Song Lyrics: “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr (and George Harrison)

John Lennon had already left the band following the release of Abbey Road in 1969, and though it wasn’t officially revealed that The Beatles were no more until April 1970, Ringo Starr already started working on his solo material, and the makings of his debut album Sentimental Journey.

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Returning to Abbey Road with a new slate of songs by Feb. 1970, Starr worked around the 12 tracks of the album but ended up pulling one track “You Don’t Come Easy,” a song he had started writing in 1968 and was ultimately co-written with George Harrison (uncredited at the time with Harrison’s blessing). Throughout the years, Starr still gave credit to Harrison as the co-writer of the track and began revisiting it.

In its earlier iteration, Harrison wanted the last verse of the song to be about God, which Starr protested. Starr was also against the suggestion of Hare Krishna before the two agreed on the theme of “peace” in the lyrics.

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you’re big enough to take it. I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust,
And you know it don’t come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it don’t come easy.

Starr continued to revisit the song, a reflective look at love and working through the harder moments of life.

Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won’t last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.

I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust,
And you know it don’t come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it just ain’t easy.

Throughout the years, the song would take on different titles—initially called “You Gotta Pay Your Dues,” in the initial sessions with The Beatles longtime collaborator George Martin—before Starr eventually landed on “It Don’t Come Easy.” Reworking “It Don’t Come Easy,” Starr eventually landed on the third version of the song, which was recorded at Trident Studios, and produced by Harrison, in 1970 and eventually made its way onto his third, self-titled album in 1973. 

Produced by Richard Perry, and recorded at several studios in Los Angeles, as well as Abbey Road, Ringo was backed by Starr’s all-star band, featuring Harrison on backing vocals and guitar—Lennon and Paul McCartney also contributed to the album—along with Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Stephen Stills on piano, Klaus Voorman, who designed several Beatles record sleeves as well as some for Lennon, Starr, and Harrison’s solo efforts, on bass. Also joining the sessions were T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, Billy Preston, Harry Nilsson, several members of The Band, and more. 

Released as a single in 1971, the song hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S. and remained in the Top 5 in the UK, Australia—even reaching No. 1 in Canada—and sold more singles than his Beatle bandmates’ releases at the time, including McCartney’s “Another Day,” Harrison’s “Bangla Dash,” and Lennon’s “Power to the People.”

Starr became the first Beatle to visit Norway, where he filmed a promo video for the song, featuring him on a piano in the middle of a snow-covered landscape in the small ski resort town of Geilo.

Photo: Courtesy of MasterClass

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