After The Beatles split in 1970, Vegas prognosticators would have bet the farm that the group’s drummer, Ringo Starr, was least likely to find success as a solo artist. Boy, were they wrong.
Racking up such hits as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen,” Starr carved out a formidable solo career with such seminal albums as Ringo (featuring guest appearances by Fab Four comrades John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison), and Goodnight Vienna.
Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr is a recently released 20-track compilation showcasing the best of the ex-Beatle’s solo work. We caught up with Starr who gave us the lowdown on his solo days and some insight into his work with The Beatles.
Isn’t “Don’t Pass Me By” the first complete song you ever wrote?
Ringo Starr: Well, “Don’t Pass Me By” was the first song I’d written that we recorded. I’d written other songs, but they were always other people’s song; I just rewrote the words. I used to say that I was rewriting Jerry Lee Lewis B-sides. It was just a thrill. I remember writing it at the piano at this home in England that we were living in at the time. Then for me and ’til this day, it’s still magic when I write a song and get together with other musicians, and we record it, and it turns into the track. It’s still a mindblower for me, that process.
With “Don’t Pass Me By” and much of your work, there’s a distinct country thread. How did you first get into country music, and who are some your favorites?
RS: Oh there’s so many. Hank Snow, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, sort of the old boys in the country school. I come from Liverpool, which is a port, so a lot of neighbors went to sea. In fact, Liverpool is sort of the capital of country music in England. So, I just came by it naturally, sailors who would play the records. You’d go by someone’s house to visit someone, and his brother was in the navy and had these records. And I just instantly liked country music.
“Back Off Boogaloo” was influenced by Marc Bolan?
RS: Yes, it was, because he’d come for dinner. And he spoke like that. Not every line out of his mouth but you would say, “would you like some gravy?” and he’d say, “oooh, back off!” (laughs). Or he’d call you a boogaloo for some reason. Those words just stuck in my head. When I went to bed that night, the melody and the words “back off boogaloo, what do you think you’re gonna do?” came in my head; it was all there. I ran downstairs to tape it so I wouldn’t forget it. Many nights you think you’ve got a song, and I’ll get up in the morning, and I’ll write it down then. But you don’t stand a chance in hell ’cause it’s gone. So, this time I thought, “I’m gonna get up and do it.” None of the tapes were working, but in the end, I got some batteries together and got it down, thank God.
How did you come to write “Octopus’ Garden”?
RS: “Octopus’ Garden” certainly has a story. During the recording of The White Album, I left The Beatles. I went on holiday. We were lent this yacht, and we ordered lunch and the guy presented us with octopus and french fries. And we thought, what the hell is that? And then, the captain proceeded to tell me that afternoon that octopus actually go round the sea bend (singing) “rest