Written by: John Lennon, Paul McCartney & Richard Starkey
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: Ringo
Unfortunately on George's birthday, I get to talk about one of the most unremarkable Beatles songs.
"What Goes On" was apparently written by John prior to the Beatles getting a recording contract. He believed that the track could be a good follow-up to "Please Please Me", but this never materialized. Plans were made to record the song the same day as the "One After 909" takes that appear on Anthology 1 were recorded, but this also never happened. Over the years, Paul worked on it, extending the verses and fixing the chorus (John is quoted as saying that Paul wrote the 'middle eight', but the song has no real middle eight). Ringo has always joked about what he actually did. He said at a press conference that he wrote "About five words, and I haven't done a thing since!" It's entirely possible that Paul had included him in his re-writing of the song since they were planning on giving it to him.
In the end, the version we know of today is a fun country song that was somehow chosen to open side two of Rubber Soul. It's a perfect fit for Ringo, but it really isn't one of the Beatles' most noteworthy songs. George pulls off another Carl Perkins-esque solo, almost as if somebody forget to tell him that it wasn't a Perkins number!
Typically, if a Ringo song isn't "Yellow Submarine", it doesn't get included on a compilation. This is true for "What Goes On". It never appeared anywhere else. In the US, however, the song was released on Yesterday And Today because it was one of the songs taken off of Rubber Soul. It was first released as the B-Side of "Nowhere Man" for the same reason that "Act Naturally" was the B-Side to "Yesterday". Ringo was still incredibly popular in the States.
This used to be one of those rare Beatles songs that Ringo never performed, but during the last two All-Starr tours, he has dusted the song off.
"What Goes On" proves that even the Lennon & McCartney team was not invincible and every now and then, a dud could be produced by the two.