Whether it be through the capriciousness of the recording artist
involved or through record company decree, fully completed yet unissued albums are not a
new phenomenon in the annals of music history, nor are they restricted to the rock'n'roll
genre. In fact, Frank Sinatra's notorious suppressed 1959 "concept" album You
Touch-a My Broad, I Break-a You Face is set to finally be issued by Capitol Records,
just as soon as Ol' Blue Eyes kicks the bucket (which could be any minute now). Several
other unreleased works have achieved legendary status. The Beach Boys' Landlocked,
Prince's Crucial and the (subsequently issued) Black Album spring
immediately to mind.
Often, moderately or extensively reworked versions of such albums will see the light of
day. But it's usually of great interest to fans and musicologists to be granted the
opportunity to hear the original intended forms these works were to have taken. This
booklet accompanies one such item, Ringo Starr's Can't Fight Lightning, the album
that would eventually mutate into Stop And Smell The Roses.
The former Fabs have a veritable backlog of officially unreleased albums. There's George's
Shanghai Surprise soundtrack (variously reported as either an intended LP or EP)
and of course the original version of Somewhere In England. Paul completed
numerous unreleased projects, the most famous being his Cold Cuts compilation and
the original double-album version of McCartney II. Furthermore, Can't
Fight Lightning isn't Mr. Starkey's only unissued opus. He also recorded a Moog
synthesizer album with Bee Gee Barry Gibb (shades of Harrison's Electronic Sound!),
plus the so-called Memphis Album with producer Chips Moman at the helm of a
thoroughly inebriated crew of musicians, and an alternate version of the released Stop
And Smell The Roses LP was even prepared (more about that later). Before getting down
to the meat of the matter, namely the music on this CD, some background information might
be helpful (especially for me, because I'm being paid by the word for writing these
Ringo's solo recording career certainly has had its ups and downs. His first two LPs, both
released in 1970, were essentially vanity projects. Nevertheless, the first of these, Sentimental
Journey, a collection of old standards "recorded for me mum" as Ringo put
it, made a more than respectable showing in the U.S. by placing as high as #22 on the Billboard
chart. On his second solo outing, Ringo indulged his Country & Western fetish by
traveling to Nashville to record a batch of new numbers written expressly for that project
by others. Beaucoups Of Blues (the album) attained a modest #65 in Billboard
(the same-titled single did even more poorly). Perhaps a collection of familiar C&W
standards would have fared better.
Ringo's solo recording career proper began in 1971 with the single "It Don't Come
Easy", followed in 1972 by "Back Off Boogaloo", both produced by
ex-bandmate George Harrison and both becoming Top Ten hits. Beatlemania was still
going strong in 1973, an element, no doubt, contributing to the spectacular success of the
Ringo album (#2) which yielded two #1 singles (a third 45 reached #5). Having
George, Paul and John on the record certainly didn't hurt, but Richard Perry's peerless
production job should not be overlooked.
Teaming again with producer Perry in 1974, Starr recorded the follow-up to Ringo.
Guest star John Lennon, M.B.E., penned and performed on the title track, Goodnight
Vienna. Though not quite the success of its predecessor, it was nonetheless a
hit album (#8) and yielded two Top Ten singles (a third single, "It's All Down To
Goodnight Vienna" only reached #31). Fed up with Capitol & EMI, Ringo
jumped ship and later signed with Atlantic Records. EMI/Capitol commemorated the occasion
by issuing Blast From Your Past, a greatest hits compilation, in 1975 (it reached
October '76 saw the release of Starr's first post EMI material on the album Ringo's
Rotogravure, produced by Arif Mardin. Although on a new label and using a new
producer, an old formula was tried: namely the enlistment of the other three ex-Mop Tops
as contributors and the inclusion of a cover version of an early '60s hit single. This
strategy must've looked good on paper, especially to the Atlantic Records brass, but on
wax the results were relatively pedestrian and lackluster, especially compared to Ringo,
the record Rotogravure was trying to emulate. It would appear that by this point
in time neither J, P nor G were about to squander any of their top-line material, even on
their "brother", and consequently each of the tunes they donated was
undistinguished (John's "Cookin' In The Kitchen Of Love" being the best of the
three, perhaps even the best song on the album, for whatever that's worth). Although
certainly not a MAJOR embarrassment to his oeuvre, and a fairly pleasant listening
experience, Rotogravure would have definitely benefited from "a dose of
rock'n'roll." Ironically that's the title of one of the LP's two singles, neither of
which exactly managed to burn up the charts. "...Dose.." peaked at #26, and
"Hey Baby", a #1 smash in 1962 for Bruce Channel, barely PEEKED into the Hot 100
(#74). The LP sold 300,000 copies and got to #28. Although that's a decent sales figure,
it was a big comedown from the successes of Ringo's
"73 &'74 albums. Anyone who suspected that the bloom might be coming off the rose
as far as Ringo's hit-making ability was concerned, was about to have that supposition
confirmed in depressingly clear terms via his next several releases.
Way back in June 1965 Capitol Records released The Beatles' eighth American album. It was
called Beatles VI. This unique system of numbering/titling was resurrected in
1977 by Ringo Starr upon the release of this seventh solo album, Ringo The 4th.
Unfortunately, the title was not the only anomalous feature of this particular vinyl
offering from the famous drummer boy. Released at the height of disco-mania, Starr and
producer Mardin went that dubious route with much of the material. The non-beat-driven
tracks were probably even worse, sounding like music one might expect to hear in a Monte
Carlo gambling casino lounge. The music on this record was anathema to most fans who would
be inclined to buy a Ringo Starr album at the time, and to hear a former Beatle singing
this type of drivel was downright disheartening. A reviewer wisecracked that the cover
photo depicts Ringo, with sword in had, about to commit hara-kiri after hearing a test
pressing of the record. This masterpiece got all the way to #162 in Billboard.
"Drowning In The Sea Of Love" and the tantalizingly titled "Wings",
the two singles from the album, both failed to chart. (Trivia: each shared the same non-LP
B-side, the disco tune "Just A Dream". Its title just about summed up Ringo's
likelihood of having a hit at that juncture of his career.)
Ringo had several pokers in the fire during April 1978. Having been dropped by Atlantic,
he signed to a CBS Records affiliate, Portrait, and released his next LP, Bad Boy.
A few days later he starred in the imaginatively titled TV special, Ringo. In this
take-off of The Prince And The Pauper, Ringo played both himself and Ognir Rrats (which is
Yassir Arafat spelled inside-out). George Harrison, Vincent Price, Art Carney, Angie
Dickenson, John Ritter, Carrie Fisher, Mike Douglas, Lecky Minnin, Stuthie Bepp and Folt
Melcher were also featured in the cast. The Special also served as a promotional
device for the new album. Both projects were panned by critics and fans alike. Bad
Boy was an improvement over Ringo The 4th both in terms of sales and
quality, but it should have been much better. Again, rock'n'roll was conspicuous by
its absence on the album. The two singles culled from it failed to chart.
Career setbacks weren't the only thing Ringo had to be depressed about at around the time
the Seventies became the Eighties. His old friend Keith Moon died. Ringo's L.A.
residence caught fire and much cherished memorabilia went up in flames. Health
problems originating in his childhood continued to plague him, resulting in the necessity
of a serious operation involving laser surgery which was performed in Monte Carlo where he
resided at the time. And emotional fallout from the dissolution of his first marriage was
still a lingering distress.
But all was not doom and gloom. While filming Caveman in Mexico he fell in love
with actress Barbara Bach. The two became inseparable and would eventually marry. The
couple escaped serious injury in a car crash in London, although their vehicle was
demolished. Ringo took it as a good omen that they survived the accident relatively
unscathed. Yet despite a renewed zest for life, brought on by falling in love, he still
had no desire to record again. He even told old friends he would never play another note
of music! But, obviously, he changed his mind.
"I hadn't planned to make another album now", Starr told the L.A. Times.
"I'd play on other people's sessions, but I didn't want to do my own. Barbara was the
one who talked me into it."
After a brief press blitz to promote McCartney II, Paul visited Ringo at his home
in Monte Carlo. They talked about the good old days and discussed the fun they had before
business got into the way and lead to the breakup of the Beatles. When Ringo talked about
how his career went into the toilet, so to speak, Paul offered encouragement,
"Barbara is right. Make another album!"
Ringo remember, "Well, I told Paul I needed a hit, so he said he'd write something. I
kind of forgot about it after that. Later, Paul called up and said "OK, I've booked
the studio and the players so let's record!"
McCartney arranged two weeks of recording to be done at Super Bear studios located near
Nice, France and Monte Carlo. Paul sent along a demo tape of songs he wanted Ringo to
learn. The recording sessions took place from July 11 - 21, 1980. The band McCartney
assembled included guitarists Laurence Juber and Lloyd Green and saxophonist Howie Casey.
Five songs were recorded during these sessions. The McCartney original
"Attention" was enthusiastically received
by Ringo. Eventually several different edits of this song were made, the shortest being
the one to go on CFL (and, later, S&STR). Another briskly paced
McCartney tune, "Private Property" also exists in several differently edited and
mixed versions. (More Detailed descriptions of specifics concerning the musical selections
appears in the second part of these notes.)
Another track was the old Carl Perkins tune "Sure To Fall". Beatles fans will
recognize this as a song the group performed live on the BBC. It was given a C&W
treatment and stands head and shoulders above the material on Beaucoups Of Blues.
Two more songs were recorded but left in the can. Ringo explained the origin of one of
those tunes this way, "I had been conversing in the studio about Barbara and my love
for her, which I summed up with the phrase, "You can't fight lightning." Well,
next thing you know, I was playing guitar, Paul was on drums. Laurence Juber played
electric guitar and Lloyd Green started playing an acoustic guitar like it was a steel
guitar." The resulting studio jam became "Can't Fight Lightning".
Linda McCartney and Sheila Casey contributed backing vocals and Barbara plays maracas.
Ringo's guitar-playing prowess had previously been featured on "Early 1970", the
flip-side of "It Don't Come Easy". This time, he was strumming so
enthusiastically that his fingers started to bleed. It's been said that during the uncut
10-minute version he yells out "I've got blisters on my fingers" but this was
deleted because someone thought it sounded awfully familiar. Anyway, Ringo took a
real shining to this meandering jam with minimalist lyrics. In fact, he was so enamored
with it that he decided it deserved not only to be included on his new album, but it was
to be the title track! Apparently, everyone present was in accord about this
decision. Which just goes to show what can happen to a musician's faculties of
judgment when nose candy and funny cigarettes are staple items at a recording session.
Later on, some clear-headed fuddy-duddies decided that maybe this track ought not grace
Starr's next release.
The other unreleased recording from these sessions was not intended for Ringo's album. It
was a nearly eight-minute long instrumental entitled "Love's Full Glory." I have
a premonition that this will be included on a soon-to-be-released limited edition CD of
McCartney rarities, so keep on the lookout!
The next series of recordings involved the participation of Stephen Stills. Ringo
had drummed on Stills' 1970 debut solo album, and Stills played on "It Don't Come
Easy". Stills and guitarist Michael Stergis wrote "You've Got A Nice
Way" which was recorded on August 11 and 12, 1980. "Nice Way" is a pleasant
number, but many feel that it's more suited to Still's vocal style than Ringo's. The
slow-tempo "Wake Up" was also started during the Stills sessions, but would not
be finished until much later. It was destined to become an "outtake" when CFL
failed to get released.
The sessions with Rolling Stones' guitarist Ron Wood started September 23 at Cherokee
Studios. Wood and Starr would frequently meet at each other's homes to jam and it was out
of those jams that "Dead Giveaway" materialized. Starr loved the song and
told DJ Dave Hull in a KRLA radio interview that it was one of his all-time favorites. The
version on CFL is 5:20 but was edited somewhat for S&STR.
Several other different edits of this song were created, most notably a
drastically shortened version slated for the ORIGINAL unreleased version of Stop and
Smell The Roses (that specimen appears as a bonus track on this CD). Another track
recorded by the pair was called "Brandy". It was included on CFL but
was axed from the S&STR lineup.
The next set of recordings were done with long-time drinking buddy Harry Nilsson (a.k.a.
Harry The Hustler) at the producer's helm. It was from these chaotic and thoroughly
disorganized sessions that a gimmicky of "Back Off Boogaloo", "Stop And
Take The Time To Smell The Roses", and "Drumming Is My Madness" were
recorded. Rizz off, indeed.
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. Easily the best
track on CFL or S&STR is "Wrack My Brain", 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. It would have been a welcome
addition to George's own Somewhere in England LP, but the revised (and more
familiar) song lineup on that troubled release would contain "Blood From a
Clone", a song written in a similar vein.
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.
One other song was cut, a Harrison-penned track called "All Those Years Ago". It
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 Starr told Harrison he'd rather not use the track. Of course, this
version would have had very different lyrics (at least in part) than George's own later
recording of it.
Later on, some speculation was fueled when percussionist Ray Cooper stated that the song
was never intended for Ringo. (Cooper has also boldly asserted, "Bears do not shit in
the woods!") Furthermore, it's been reported that Harrison himself had never
commented on the matter. However, both the redoubtable Mr. Cooper and that report are
incorrect. Harrison confirmed to Timothy White of Goldmine magazine back in 1992
that the song was indeed originally intended for Ringo. Harry Nilsson concurred with that
in an interview with Beatles Unlimited magazine. And, of course, Ringo himself has
commented on it numerous times. Reports to the contrary are simply wrong.
Starr had decided he'd like to return again to the winning formula used on Ringo,
namely he wanted each ex-Beatle to help out. He wasn't sure John would contribute, but
Lennon, who was about to come out of this self-imposed retirement (you don't really still
believe that "househusband" crap, do you?) eventually consented, to Ringo's
surprise and great pleasure. -- It is at this point in the story that the depressing facts
about what happened to John Lennon come in. None of those details need to be
regurgitated here. Suffice it to say that had he lived, John's contribution to Ringo
would have been "Life Begins At 40" (how ironic!) and/or "Nobody Told
Me" (damn! irony again) and/or one or two other songs.
A few weeks after the Lennon tragedy, Ringo put the finishing touches on what was slated
to be his next LP, Can't Fight Lightning. The song lineup comprising the
first ten tracks on this CD was what 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. Once again, enter some
record company fuddy-duddy with no illegal chemicals surging through his system.
Ringo's truly inspired new album title was nixed.
(SIDEBAR, re: cover photos and unused album titles: As many of you know, a cropped version
of the aforementioned photo was eventually used on Ringo's second greatest hits
compilation, Rhino Records' Starrstruck. What you probably don't know, since it
was off-the-record information at the time, was that at a meeting between Ringo and Rhino
representatives, Ringo, after rejecting Starrdust, the proposed title for that
album, suggested the project instead be called Starrfuck! Everyone had a
good laugh over this, until it turned out that he wasn't joking, Ringo REALLY wanted the
album to be called that! He finally compromised and settled on the similar-sounding
yet considerably less controversial title that was eventually used. It is probably no
coincidence that Ringo went into a rehab program shortly after that meeting took place.)
The rejection of Ringostein as the new title of Starr's album was a portent of
things to come. Ringo delivered the master tapes to Portrait Records in late February but
by April he was off the label. Portrait's Vice President and General Manager Lennie Petze
told Rolling Stone, "We let him go to make him happy. I'm very disappointed because I
think it's a tremendous album. But without a worldwide deal, the export problem would have
been considerable. In other words, people would only have been able to buy the album in
Europe from U.S. dealers who would be exporting it. That would have been disastrous for
Ringo; he would lose a lot of sales over there without a label. We didn't want to cause
him any problems, so we decided to let him go." It should be pointed out that
Lennie Petze also maintains that Pope John Paul II is Jewish.
Key Ringo aide Peter Silbermann disputes Teepze's version of the CFL story, but
when pressed for additional information he declined to speak on the record, calling the
matter "too sticky". Other published reports indicated that Ringo demanded
a heavier promotional effort from Portrait. The real story is this: The honchos at
Portrait hated the album, and felt it had no commercial potential. Ringo
loved the record and demanded the company release it and promote it in conjunction with
the theatrical release of Caveman. Starr believed that a proper publicity blitz
could send him back to the top of the charts. To further complicate matters, Polydor had
dropped him from their overseas contract for lack of sales. Starr now demanded that
Portrait sign him overseas as well.
The brass at Portrait had a meeting to discuss the situation and the reached these
1) Can't Fight Lightning did not meet their artistic standards. 2) They
would refuse Ringo permission to use the company airplane to promote Caveman
since there was no album to promote. 3) Starr's demand for international
distribution caused problems. It was bad enough that Bad Boy made little if any
money but an international deal might make a so-so record deal into a very unprofitable
one. Portrait asked CBS International if they would sign Starr overseas but they
declined. A spokesman from CBS International clarified matters when he told Rolling
Stone "If he was offered here and we didn't sign him, it had to be for the same
reason we wouldn't sign someone else; it was on a cost-versus-expectation-of-sales
Finally, Starr's asking price was just too high and he wouldn't tour to promote his
product. Portrait had no choice. CFL was withdrawn from the release
schedule on March 26, and Ringo was dropped from Portrait's roster of artists in April.
Some folks in the industry thought it was a mistake for a record company to let
Ringo go, their reasoning being that the prestige factor of having a former Beatle on a
label was justification enough to hold on to him. CBS Records' Top Banana Walter Yetnikoff
had that very same conjecture presented to him by a colleague who was surprised that Big
Waldo (as his friends called him) would allow Ringo to be treated that way.
Yetnikoff's characteristically genteel and tempered response to the man was, "Look, I
don't give a flying fuck if he's Jesus Christ. If he's not selling records, I don't want
him on my label!"
Starr's representatives shopped the album around but there were no takers. Meanwhile, Neil
Bogart was looking for artists for his new label, Boardwalk, which he had started in
September 1980. Bogart made a name for himself with the success of Casablanca
Records and decided to start an independently distributed label. Bogart was a big
Beatles fan and cabled to Bruce Grakal (Starr's attorney) that he wanted Ringo on his
roster. Starr signed to Boardwalk on August 19, 1981, and signed foreign rights to
release his albums on RCA, although Boardwalk retained rights in West Germany, distributed
by Bellaphon (the company that issued the Beatles' Hamburg tapes LP in 1977).
Despite the enthusiasm of Boardwalk's kingpin, others at the company had little faith in Can't
Fight Lightning. Bogart, who would soon be pushing up daisies, loved the song
"Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses", thinking it could become a novelty
hit. But pretty soon even he came to realize the album was too weak to release, so he
asked Ringo to remove "Wake Up", "Brandy", and "Can't Fight
Lightning" from the lineup and replace them with "Sure To Fall",
"Drumming Is My Madness" and the new "Back Off Boogaloo". At
this point the album was retitled Stop And Smell The Roses, an abbreviated
variant of the title of the song Neil Bogart liked so much, and the song sequence was
chosen, tapes were prepared and it was ready to be pressed. Well, almost.
The Stop And Smell The Roses that was on the verge of release differs in several
ways from what wound up in the record stores.
The song lineup of the aborted earlier S&STR matches that of the released
version: -- Side One: Private Property / Wrack My Brain / Drumming Is My
Madness / Attention / Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses. -- Side Two: Dead
Giveaway / You Belong To Me / Sure To Fall / Nice Way / Back Off Boogaloo.
At this point, the mix of "Private Property" sans steel guitar had already been
chosen to replace the mix on CFL, so it and track two, "Wrack My Brain"
are the familiar versions. "Drumming Is My Madness" is essentially the same
except for the ending: the song begins to fade at the same place, where the drum mini-solo
starts, but the last several seconds of the song, where the guitars re-enter, had been
lopped off, and the track was butt-edited (no pause) to the beginning of
"Attention" (which is otherwise the regular version). The side closer,
"...Smell The Roses", is an oddity. It is not the familiar version with the
"Ford Cortina" lines edited out of the vocal, nor is it the same as the CFL
version. Rather, a more primitive sounding alternate mix of the CFL version was
used. (It appears on track 17 on this CD.)
Side Two of the original S&STR kicked off with the most drastically altered
track on that album, "Dead Giveaway". Whereas CFL contains the longest
available version of the song, complete with the "Runny noses, Baggy trousers"
lines, and the familiar version was shortened by about a minute and deletes the
"Noses, Trousers" bit, the version slated to appear on the first S&STR
was severely truncated, in non-too-subtle a fashion, to 2:52, although it retains the
"Noses, Trousers" lines. (That version is a bonus cut on this CD, track 16). The
remainder of the album was the same as the released version.
Anyhow, the finalized Stop And Smell The Roses was released on October 27, 1981,
to mostly negative reviews. A Los Angeles Times poll voted it one of the worst
records of the year. The album stalled at #98 on the Billboard LP chart,
#93 in Cash Box and #78 in Record World. It sold about 200,000
copies. The single "Wrack My Brain" peaked at #38 in Billboard, #37 in Cash
Box and #40 in Record World and thus became Starr's last Top Forty hit to
date. A second single, "Private Property: b/w "Stop And Take The Time To Smell
The Roses" simply failed to chart at all. It is the opinion of this reviewer
that, although there was certainly room for criticism of some of the album's tracks
(mainly the ones that Harry The Hustler produced), overall it was unfairly treated by
press and public alike and it was certainly Starr's best long-playing effort since his
glory days at Capitol.
Que sera, sera.
|We think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the near pristine sound quality
of the music contained on this little platter. This disc is the perfect complement to the
1994 CD edition of Stop And Smell The Roses, a very well-mastered and fine
sounding CD itself (despite its having a tad too much digital echo on it). Also, we've
maxed out the running time of this disc by including a generous side order of bonus tracks
from Ringo's 1980-81 sessions: all music, all rarities, no frivolous filler such as bored
(and boring) run-throughs of gun control public service announcements. And if you already
own that old piece-of-crap vinyl bootleg of CFL, it's time to try to fob it off
on some poor sucker at your next garage sale, or better yet, for those gun enthusiasts
amongst you, it would make a great skeet shooting target...On with the show....
CFL's lead-off tracks are the two McCartney originals, "Attention" and
"Private Property." Each displays all the earmarks of much of the composer's
work: light-weight, yet bouncy, infectious, eminently hummable with stick-in-your-brain
melodies. As mentioned earlier, both tracks were subjected to numerous edits, and
"Property" was also given significantly different
mixes. The cut of "Attention" that was settled on for both CFL & S&STR
was the same, the shortest of the four known edits (3:19). The CFL "Private
Property", however, is a 2:48 cut with Lloyd Green's steel guitar very much in
evidence. For S&STR, a mix omitting that instrument was used, a bad decision,
as far as this reviewer is concerned, because the CFL mix sees to have the edge.
"You've Got A Nice Way" sounds perhaps a bit too much like what it is: A Stephen
Stills song with Ringo doing the vocal. The stereotypically mellow California-style
laid-back instrumental and vocal backing seems a bit at odds with the Liverpudlian
singer's persona and vocal delivery. However, it's pleasant and fits well with the album's
"Wake Up" is one of the three numbers that got axed when CFL became S&STR.
This reviewer's rather negative initial opinion of this Starkey original has tapered
somewhat after repeated listening. I used to think its title was apt because it described
what I'd need to do by the time the song was over. But its ennui-invoking attributes have
subsided now that I've gotten used to it. Ringo invests some real emotion in his vocal
performance; he sounds like he means it when he sings the lyrics. Granted, it IS a bit
mopey and its deletion from the revised album's lineup is understandable. But if you don't
like it at first, maybe you should give it a chance. It might grow on you, just like a
fungus, or a cold sore on your lip. By the way, the original 3:32 CFL version is
NOT what appears as a bonus track on the S&STR CD.
CLF's first side would have closed with the title track. This song does sound
like it was a lot of fun to record, and the full-length ten-minute version might be
fascinating to hear. Unfortunately, us poor schmoes in the listening audience were left
out of the "creative process" wherein, through the utilization of agents of
perceptual alteration, the musicians developed this nugget of audio wonderment.
Consequently, as a piece of recorded music detached from the circumstances of its
performance, and experienced during the cold light of day by ears which are perhaps
metaphorically clogged with what George Harrison might refer to as "maya
cerumen" (translation: truth-blocking earwax) it does not seem to be one of the
strongest tracks the der Ringostein has laid down. Then again, I haven't yet
given the song a listen while under the influence of nose candy or funny cigarettes. That
might put it in a whole new perspective, so maybe I'll give it a try. (For scientific
research purposes only. I am not recommending that you try this at home!)
It'd be time to turn the record over now if we were still living in the dark ages of
vinyl. But we're living in the dark ages of digital, so you'll have to use your
imagination and pretend that somebody turned the record over really fast and
plunked the needle down on Side Two, Track One: "Wrack My Brain". A
"pop" song in the best sense of the word, the sprightly, jaunty musical backing
belied the bitterness of the lyrics; words which were no doubt heartfelt by author G.
Harrison who was having his own problems with record company officials at the time. This
should have been a Top Ten hit, but ex-Beatles seemed to be somewhat out of fashion with
the Top 40 crowd at the time of its initial release.
What do you get when you cross a Rolling Stone with a Beatle? In this particular
instance you get "Dead Giveaway", the long version (5:20), a Ronnie Wood /
Ritchie Starkey original. It was chopped down to 4:24 on S&STR. This version
includes a short bass solo, plus runny trousers and baggy noses or whatever. This song
adds a bit of funk to the album. I guess you could call it a funked-up song.
Ritchie and Ronnie were also the main culprits behind the recording of a cover version of
"Brandy". No, it's not the obnoxious 1972 #1 hit by Looking Glass, but rather
the 1978 flop (#79) by the O'Jays. It's hard to say what spurred them to record it, unless
it was from reading the label on a bottle of the identically named potable they may have
been imbibing. This song most decidedly did not add a bit of funk to the album. In point
of fact, this doleful dirge merely added a four-minute dollop of tedium to CFL,
and its omission from S&STR was a wise decision. Of the known songs recorded
during Ringo's '80-'81 sessions, this was unquestionably the worst. I guess you could call
it a fucked-up song.
CFL's penultimate track, the bubbly and chipper Harrison-produced "You
Belong To Me" offers a welcome respite to the downer mood likely to be engendered by
the preceding song. This tune pre-dates the rock era by several years. Three versions made
it into the U.S. Pop Charts in 1952: recordings by Jo Stafford, Patti Page and Dean
Martin, respectively. Its fourth and final appearance on the Hit Parade was in 1962 when
The Duprees put their spin on it. It'd be interesting to know which rendition inspired
George to put his own stamp on the song. This unlikely song choice was a good one, though.
Ringo's recording of it is arguably much better than the hit versions that came before it.
It's certainly more upbeat than its predecessors. Thumbs up.
"Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses", with the notorious "Ford
Cortina" gibe, closed the album. In this version with the original vocals intact,
Starr wisecracks "Stop when you're in your Ford Cortina, you know it's accident
prone." Boardwalk President Neil Bogart got cold feet about leaving that remark in
the song, for fear of a libel suit from the car company so, through a bit of editing
hocus-pocus, the offending dig was neutralized before the song appeared on S&STR.
This was definitely was an 11th hour decision on Bogart's part, because (as detailed in
Part 1 of these notes) a similar version of the S&STR LP was almost issued
and the "Ford Cortina" crack was still in "Stop..." (albeit in an
alternate mix of the song). In addition to being censored, the released version of
"Stop..." was also longer than all original mixes had been, due to a later
fade-out. (The CFL version is 2:47, the S&STR version exceeds three
minutes.) Note also that the "bonus track" version (labeled a "rough
mix") of "Stop..." on the S&STR CD is not the one that was on CFL.
As regards the song itself, this reviewer is not especially fond of it and thought it was
a poor choice for a single (it bombed) and not a track worthy of having a promo film made
for it (which it had). Another liner note writer called the song
"hilarious". He probably thinks a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward is
sidesplitting. "Stop..." is about as funny as a turd in a punchbowl. Since Harry
The Hustler produced and wrote most of this thing, you can bet that beverages derived from
fermented grains had some influence on the sessions from which this song was wrought.
I doubt that many folks (other than Neil Bogart) could actually relate to much of
the lyrics. Ringo was a bit out of touch with his fans on this one. He would have garnered
more "street credibility" had he instead quipped "Flip the bird to that man
in a Rolls, he's rich and you aren't" or something like that.
Anyhow, that wraps up Can't Fight Lightning, the album that wasn't. Now on to
that staple of all good little CDs, The Bonus Tracks:
(Please Note: all references to song timings are based on the actual length of the musical
performance; studio chatter, count-downs and silence between tracks are not included in
the timing totals.)
"Wrack My Brain" Two alternate early mixes (#1& #2) are featured on tracks
#11 & #18.
"Attention" the full-length 4:28 version is track #12. As mentioned earlier,
several different edits of this track were prepared before the shortest one was chosen for
inclusion on CFL & S&STR. Another alternate cut of it (3:45) is
"Back Off Boogaloo" (tracks #13 & #20). Neither are the version that appears
on S&STR (that would be cheating!) These are early mixes and many obvious
differences are discernible. Each version either adds or mixes out vocals from Ringo,
Harry and Rick Riccio (whoever he is) in differing ways. We could point out which parts to
listen for, but that would take some of the fun out of it. Rest assured, these are
significantly altered versions.
We interrupt these booklet notes to present a hypothetical situation. This is kinda like
one of those Scientology Personality Profile tests. We'll ask some Special Questions, and
from your answers we can tell how spiritually evolved you are. Here goes: Do you think
that a record company would do something like, for instance, take a rare Ringo Starr track
(just as an example, let's say the full-length 4:48 version of "Private
Property," which just so happens to be track #14) and deliberately put it out only on
a limited edition so-called "promotional disc" that would be very difficult for
the average Ringo fan to obtain unless he wants to spend big bucks to get it from some
greedy dealer? Would a company really do something as contemptuous as that to their
clientele? And what if it were a poorly kept secret about half of those CDs somehow
came to reside in a big cardboard box in the apartment of one of the people associated
with the project, an individual who would periodically dole some of them out, for a price,
to aforementioned greedy dealers? Could such a scenario actually take place? End of
quiz. If you answered Yes to any of those questions, you flunked and you should be ashamed
of yourself. Nothing like that ever could, or ever should, happen. And if you don't
believe us, then just ask Ray Cooper or Lennie Petze. Those two guys are NEVER wrong. - We
now return to our regular liner notes.
"Wake Up" (Take 5) is track #15. (Take #4 is the one that appears as a bonus cut
on the S&STR CD). Takes #4 & #5 are ten seconds longer than the CFL
version and they feature Keith Richards on guitar (he does not play on the CFL
"Dead Giveaway" (track #16) was discussed in Part 1 of these notes. This is the
short version (2:52) that opened side two of the aborted version of S&STR.
"Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses." The version included here (track
#17) is essentially the one mentioned earlier as being on the unreleased S&STR,
but this comes from the session tapes and includes studio talk at the beginning. The first
difference one notices is the omission of the lead guitar passages during the song's
The final track on the CD is a real curio, the rare mix of "Wrack My Brain" that
was issued only on a Canadian single. Its striking feature is the relatively prominent
tuba. That other CD booklet states that this mix was issued "for reasons
unknown today". Those reasons are no longer unknown because they will be revealed
here forthwith. Even though the U.S. doesn't have provinces like Canada does, we Yankees
can nevertheless be rather provincial, especially when it comes to being aware of the
heritage, customs and peccadilloes of peoples from other lands including those of our
friendly neighbors to the North. Since Canadians tend to look like us, and share the
continent with us, and speak English (except for those nutty Quebecois), stateside folks
tent to think that they're basically very much like Americans. Nothing could be
further from the truth! They are, after all, foreigners, and in their own
mysterious ways they are just as strange and inscrutable as, say,
the Japanese. Which brings us to the subject of their musical preferences. Whereas in most
countries the electric guitar tends to be the favored and defining instrument in
rock'n'roll, this is not the case for Canadians. Instead, they are really big on the tuba.
In fact, they're crazy about it. Astute record producers and artists are aware of
this and it's not unusual for them to make special accommodations to music releases
destined for that country. If anything, it's surprising that the "Canadian
mix" of "Wrack My Brain" didn't put the tuba even more up-front. I
may be getting a bit beyond the scope of these notes, but if you'd like to hear a really
extreme example of a special record mix prepared specifically for the Canucks, try to
track down a Canadian pressing of the Michael Jackson single "Beat It".
Eddie Van Halen's famous guitar part is barely audible; is was replaced by a truly amazing
virtuoso tuba performance by an uncredited musician. (It's on the vinyl 45 only; the LP
and CD issues of that song feature the regular version.)
SHAMELESS PLUG: Believe it or not, there are still MORE unreleased versions of songs from
these sessions, but they simply won't fit on this CD. To remedy that problem, we've given
them a home on another CD. It's called Starrdust. (Ringo might no like that
title, but we do, so we're using it; actually, we liked Starrfuck even better,
but by the time we sobered up we decided it might not be such a good idea to call it
that.) Anyhow, be sure to track down that little plastic wafer and add it to your
collection. Otherwise, you can just rizz off!