Part 1: Can't Fight Lightning (Saga of an album)
Whether it be though (sic) 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 supressed 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 Beack 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
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 notes).
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, Star 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 #30).
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 embarassment 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 domedown 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 discomania, 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 casine 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 hari-kari 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 go 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, eveyone 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
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
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 styple
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 unrealeased 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 Nilsoon (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 conclusions:
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 reaseon we wouldn't sign someone else; it was on a cost-versus-expectation-of-sales basis."
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 Boardwald 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 pusing 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 certaily 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 Star's best
long-playing effort since his glory days at Capitol.
Que sera, sera.
Part 2: Can't Fight Lightning (The Music)
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 (dispite 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 Propertly", 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 other tunes.
"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 bitternesss 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 prececessors. 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 track #19.
"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 expample, 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 contemptious 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 thant the CFL version and they feature Keith Richards on guitar (he does not play on the CFL version).
"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 opening lyrics.
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 folds 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 virtuso 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, ve'ver 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 safer and add it to your collection. Otherwise, you can just rizz off!
Allen J. Whiner