Fab 4 contributions for Ringo in 1980
Back in 1980, all four ex-Beatles were busy. Paul was busy smuggling pot into Japan and going to jail, after which he released his second only solo album, “McCartney II”. Ringo and his new love Barbara were involved in a car crash and survived, after which he proposed to her. George was releasing his song and biography book, “I Me Mine”. John was busy learning to sail and going to the Bahamas to write some new songs and announced plans to sell his part of Apple – they all owned 25% of the stocks. And they all were going to contribute to Ringo’s new album, tentatively called “Can’t Fight Lightning”.
The album sessions started in Superbear studio in France, July 11. The ten-day session produces the following tracks: “Private Property” and “Attention” (both written by Paul), plus “Drumming Is My Madness”, “Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses”, “Sure To Fall”, “Back Off Boogaloo” (new version), “Nice Way’, and the title track, “You Can’t Fight Lightning”. Paul and Linda, with their guitarist in Wings, Laurence Juber were all at the sessions, with Paul producing the songs that he had brought to the table.
Currently, the auction house Gotta Have Rock and Roll have listed in their current “Rock & Roll Pop Culture Auction Summer 2022” a cassette featuring demos of some of Paul’s songs: his own composition “Attention”, the Carl Perkins song “Sure to fall”, both songs eventually released by Ringo, and the rhythm and blues standard “Route 66”.
From the description of the cassette:This version here is four minutes and two seconds and is simply Paul McCartney recording with piano and vocal percussion accompaniment – both by McCartney. The audio quality is excellent and it is an incredible listen from start to finish. Provenance: the tape was given to Howie Casey, who played saxophone on the Ringo Starr album as a reference for the track in preparation for recording sessions. Howie’s wife Sheila Casey would perform backing vocals on the track along with Linda McCartney.
In August in North Hollywood, at the Devonshire Sound studios, Ringo and his band (featuring Stephen Stills and others) starts rehearsing songs for “Can’t Fight Lightening” again. Meanwhile in England, George resumes recording sessions for his upcoming “Somewhere in England” album after a long break. In September, Ringo’s sessions move to Cherokee Studios, also in Los Angeles. Ron Wood joins in, on an early version of the song “Dead Giveaway”, as well as the song “Brandy”. In New York City, John is also recording, he has secretly returned to his music career after five years as a “house-husband”. George goes to LA to meet up with Derek Taylor and since Ringo is in town, I am sure they meet up. In November, during the sessions still taking place at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, Ringo, still accompanied by Ronnie Wood, records a demo of the track “I Don’t Believe You”. At its conclusion, Ringo and Barbara get ready to return home and a further “Can’t Fight Lightning” session is booked for Wednesday January 14, 1981.
Ringo, back at his Tittenhurst Park mansion (which he had bought from John), contacted George to ask if he would like to appear on his next album. George agrees. A date is set for Wednesday November 19. In George’s FPSHOT studio, the two of them commence recordings for “Can’t Fight Lightning”, they record the basic guitar and drum tracks on a song that will later form the basis of George’s track “All Those Years Ago”. At this stage, there are different words to the song, and it is supposed to be a track for Ringo’s upcoming album. The song went through various stages of completion in terms of backing tracks and Ringo made several passes at recording a vocal. However, the vocal line was in too high a register for his range so Ringo told George he’d rather not use the track (Ray Cooper has since claimed that it was never even intended for Ringo).
George Harrison and Ray Cooper recorded what would be the last batch of principal tracks for Ringo’s project between November 19 – 25 at Friar Park studios. “Wrack My Brain” was written by Harrison out of frustration at trying to please record company executives and the fickle record buying public. A completed version with Harrison singing lead exists, but he ended up giving the song to Ringo. The second song recorded at these sessions was a charming remake of the oft-recorded chestnut “You Belong To Me.” Harrison’s arrangement gave the tune a happy, perky feel. In fact, George specifically chose this song for Ringo, believing an upbeat rendition with Starr’s vocal might possess hit potential, like “You’re Sixteen” did back in 1973.
November 26, Ringo and Barbara fly into New York’s Kennedy Airport, then head for the Plaza Hotel (where The Beatles stayed on their first visit to America in February 1964), where they have arranged to meet John and Yoko. Although a one hour meeting was scheduled, the evening goes so well that they end up staying together almost five hours. At the conclusion of the evening, John agrees to appear on Ringo’s “Can’t Fight Lightning” album, and a date is arranged for Wednesday January 14, 1981.
Two days later, Ringo and Barbara fly out from New York and head for the Compass Point Studios in Los Angeles to resume work on Ringo’s album. Together with Harry Nilsson and engineer Paul Jarvis, Ringo spends time at the studios listening to the previous “Can’t Fight Lightning” session tapes, the ones that were recorded at the Super Bear studios in France between July 11 and July 21. December 5, Ringo flies out to the Bahamas to join Barbara on holiday.
We all know what happened next.
A few weeks after the Lennon tragedy, Ringo put the finishing touches “Can’t Fight Lightning”. The song lineup was chosen from the various sessions that had taken place. Tom Wilkes was picked to design the cover. A photographer was hired to take pictures of Ringo and Barbara at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on February 11, 1981. The main theme was “lightening” so Ringo stood in front of an electrical device, which made it appear that lightning bolts were coming out of his head, thereby giving him a “Frankensteinian” look. This photo would lead to a conflict with Portrait Records. After seeing the picture, Ringo wanted to change the album title to “Ringostein”. Ringo’s truly inspired new album title was nixed. A cropped version of the photo without Barbara, was eventually put to use on Ringo’s compilation album on Rhino Records, “Starr Struck”.
The people at the Portrait label which Ringo was on at the time, didn’t like the album. “Can’t Fight Lightning” was withdrawn from the release schedule on March 26, and Ringo was dropped from Portrait’s roster of artists in April. Meanwhile, Neil Bogart was looking for artists for his new label, Boardwalk, which he had started in September 1980. A fan of The Beatles, Bogart signed Ringo to his new label. Ringo signed to Boardwalk on August 19, 1981, and signed foreign rights to release his albums on RCA (and Bellaphon in Germany).
The album was revised and eventually evolved into “Stop And Smell The Roses”, after a song Bogart loved. Bogart asked Ringo to remove “Wake Up”, “Brandy”, and “You Can’t Fight Lightning” from the lineup and replace them with “Sure To Fall”, “Drumming Is My Madness” and the new “Back Off Boogaloo”. If Ringo knew about the songs John Lennon had had in mind for him to record, we don’t know, but he recorded none of them.
On the finished album, George produced and mixed “You Belong To Me”, as well as his own song, “Wrack My Brain“. Paul wrote “Private Property” and “Attention” and produced them, as well as “Sure To Fall”.
Stop And Smell The Roses” was released on October 27, 1981, to mostly negative reviews, despite its rose scented inner cover. When “Stop And Smell The Roses” were released on CD in 1994, the missing “Can’t Fight Lightning” tracks reappeared as bonus material, including the Paul-produced “You Can’t Fight Lightning”.
After the success in the Cannes Film Festival of Linda McCartney’s cartoon “Seaside Woman” in 1980, Paul McCartney decided to make a short film of his three tracks from “Stop and Smell The Roses” with Ringo, Barbara, Linda and himself. The resulting film “The Cooler” was produced by Paul McCartney’s company, MPL Communications and directed by ex-10CC Lol Creme and Kevin Godley.
Many years later, Ringo met the producer of John Lennon’s last album, Jack Douglas. Douglas said to Ringo, “Did you ever hear the John cassette?” And it turned out that on one of John Lennon’s cassette demos of his composition “Grow Old With Me”, John introduces the song by saying, “This will be great for you, Ringo”. After Ringo had heard this cassette, he wanted to record the song, and got Paul McCartney to play bass. The rendition was produced by Douglas and even featured an iconic string section from “Here Comes The Sun”, written by George Harrison. “So in a way, it’s the four of us,” said Ringo. “He’d have loved it!”. The song was released in 2019 on “What’s My Name”, Ringo’s 20th studio album.
Keith Badman: “The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After The Break-up 1970-2001”