Ringo Starr – Stop and Smell the Roses (1981)

History: Ringo once again decided to work with his various famous friends to record an album. That initially included all three of his former fellow Beatles, but he and John had been scheduled to go into the studio in January of 1981, so it sadly never came to pass. Beyond Paul and George he also once again worked with Harry Nilsson as well as Ronnie Wood and Stephen Stills. These friends acted as producers on the tracks as well as songwriters. This album faced similar issues to George’s Somewhere in England, as its original version Can’t Fight Lightning was rejected by the record label and songs were replaced to make this version instead.

My own personal history and initial prediction: The only song I recognize is “Back Off Boogaloo” which I had no idea he re-recorded. I found the other one quite fun already, I’m not sure what he thought he could improve on it. Beyond that, the collaborators listed here at least look promising.

What I worked on while listening:

Work in progress

Review: While I wouldn’t call this album 100% solid, it is a great improvement over Bad Boy. Ironically, the Paul and George produced songs are not the ones that really stand out for me. “Private Property” and “Attention” both suffer from repetitive lyrics, though I do like their musical styles. They manage to sound timeless rather than retro or dated. “Sure to Fall” is exactly the kind of country song that just grates on me, the moment that pedal steel started I was cringing. “Wrack My Brain” is also just what I would call okay. George has a nice slide guitar moment in there but I’m honestly surprised that this was the one they chose as the single.

Ronnie Wood’s collaboration had me moving in my seat with its great bass groove. The lyrics are once again nothing special, but “Dead Giveaway” is a solid start to the second side of the LP. But more than anything I really loved the Nilsson tracks on here. They are fun, retro in all the right ways, humorous, and Ringo sounds like he’s having the time of his life recording them, particularly “Stop and Smell the Roses.” I can see why they chose that one to be the album title. I want more and more of Ringo acting like this, please.

The Stephen Stills song, “You’ve Got a Nice Way” is also a solid effort. I’m not a big Stills fan personally but I guess I’ve been exposed to enough of his work over the years that this one was recognizable in style almost immediately. The harmonizing backing vocals don’t quite mesh with Ringo’s lead, but otherwise it’s a good song and I’d like to hear more from the two of them working together.

I will say I am completely puzzled by the new version of “Back Off Boogaloo” though. It starts with a riff from “Don’t Come Easy” and features lines from “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” and more. Apparently this was something Nilsson liked to do, as he did similar things while covering “You Can’t Do That” himself. But I personally just think it sounds like a cluttered mess. Give me the original version any day.

That said, it’s really the only song on the album I would call a miss. “Sure to Fall” is just against my own personal taste. This is a really strong effort by Ringo, worth giving at least one good listen.

Next Time: Paul releases Tug of War.

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