“What Goes On” is a song by the Beatles, featured as the eighth track on their sixth British album Rubber Soul. The song was later released as the B-side of the US single “Nowhere Man”, and then as the tenth track on the North America-only album Yesterday and Today. It is the only song by the band credited to Lennon–McCartney-Starkey.
The original version of the song was written by John Lennon in the Quarrymen days and considered as a follow-up to “Please Please Me” in early 1963. The song was not used until 1965 as Ringo Starr’s vocal piece for Rubber Soul. According to Lennon, “it was resurrected with a middle eight thrown in, probably with Paul’s help” for Rubber Soul. Barry Miles also claimed that McCartney and Starr combined for the middle eight. There is no formal middle eight in the song, though one chorus and one verse are extended; Ian MacDonald believes those longer sections were written by McCartney. Starr contributed to the lyrics, his first-ever composing credit on a Beatles song. However, when asked what his contribution was to the song, Starr jokingly stated, “About five words, and I haven’t done a thing since.” To his chagrin, the first pressing of the single accidentally omitted “Starkey” in the song-writing credit.
An early version was considered as a follow-up to “Please Please Me”, and the Beatles hoped to record it on 5 March 1963, but there was only time for the other songs recorded that night: “From Me to You”, “Thank You Girl”, and an early version of “One After 909”.
The Rubber Soul version was recorded in one take, with overdubs, on 4 November 1965. In the verse before the lead break after Starr sings “tell me why,” Lennon can be heard saying “We already told you why!” in reference to the Beatles’ “Tell Me Why” from the previous year. During this session the Beatles recorded a long (6:36) instrumental tune called “12-Bar Original” for lack of a better name. “12-Bar Original” was not included on Rubber Soul, and was not commercially available until 1996 when an edited version of take 2 of this song was included on the Anthology 2 album.