I love Ringo. Unashamedly. While the other solo Beatles get all the accolades and major hits, I’ve always been partial to the laid back, laconic goofiness and self-deprecating pop of Mr. Starr. From “Photograph”, “It Don’t Come Easy”, “No No Song”, all the way through his ’90s work with Jellyfish, each Ringo album has at least two or three guaranteed pop classics.
I am dead serious here, people, stop that snickering.
While Ringo’s solo career got off to a great start in the first half of the ’70s (at one point he was the most successful solo Beatle in terms of charting), by the end of the decade a string of flop albums and singles weighed him down to the point of shopping around for a new label. As Starr entered the ’80s, he signed to Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records (them again!) and began recording an album tentatively titled You Can’t Fight Lightning. Helping out were Paul, George and John (separately, of course). Paul contributed a couple songs, while George offered Ringo a tune he wrote about his frustration with his record label who had rejected his last album. “Wrack My Brain” is one of those deceptively simple pop songs that seems quite slight until you realize it’s earwormed its way into your consciousness, possibly forever. The genius lyrics can not only be interpreted as a frustrated plea to a lover, but also towards an indifferent record company. After finishing the album in 1981, complete with a title change to Stop And Smell The Roses, “Wrack My Brain” was wisely chosen as the lead-off single, giving Starr his first Top 40 hit in five years. In keeping with the new trend of the time, a video was shot for the single – squint hard and you can spot Ringo’s girlfriend Barbara Bach in a straightjacket.
George also wrote another song for the album that Ringo rejected because he wasn’t feeling the lyrics and the range was too high for his voice. Harrison took it back and “All Those Years Ago” became the hit his record label was searching for, peaking at #2. And what of the songs John Lennon wrote for the album? Lennon offered Ringo two new songs for the project, but before Starr had a chance to record them, Lennon was gunned down. Too distraught to record the tunes in the aftermath, the songs never saw the light of day until one of them, “Nobody Told Me” was released in demo form as a single for the “final” Lennon LP, Milk & Honey, becoming Lennon’s final Top 40 hit, peaking at #5. Now that you know that, doesn’t those just sound like Ringo songs? And isn’t it just Ringo’s luck to decline two of his biggest could-have-been hits?
“Wrack My Brain” peaked at #38 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1981.
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