Back Off Boogaloo

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"Back Off Boogaloo"
UK picture sleeve
Single by Ringo Starr
B-side "Blindman"
Released 17 March 1972 (1972-03-17) (UK)
20 March 1972 (US)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded September 1971
Apple Studio, London
Genre Rock, glam rock
Length 3:18
Label Apple
Writer(s) Richard Starkey
Producer(s) George Harrison
Ringo Starr singles chronology
"It Don't Come Easy"
(1971)
"Back Off Boogaloo"
(1972)
"Photograph"
(1973)

"Back Off Boogaloo" is a song by English musician Ringo Starr, released as a non-album single in March 1972. Starr's former Beatles bandmate George Harrison produced the recording, which took place in London shortly after the two had appeared together at Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh shows in August 1971. The single was a follow-up to Starr's 1971 hit song "It Don't Come Easy" and continued his successful run as a solo artist. "Back Off Boogaloo" reached number 2 in Britain – his highest charting single there – and number 9 in the United States.

The title for the song was inspired by English singer-songwriter Marc Bolan. Some commentators have suggested that the lyrics were directed at Paul McCartney, reflecting Starr's disdain for the music McCartney had made as a solo artist over the previous two years. "Back Off Boogaloo" demonstrates the influence of glam rock on Starr, who directed a documentary film, Born to Boogie (1972), about Bolan's band T. Rex around this time. Described by one author as a "high-energy in-your-face rocker",[1] the song features a prominent slide guitar part by Harrison and contributions from musicians Gary Wright and Klaus Voormann.

Starr re-recorded "Back Off Boogaloo" for his 1981 album Stop and Smell the Roses, in a collaboration with American singer Harry Nilsson that incorporates lyrics from Beatles songs such as "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Good Day Sunshine" and "Baby, You're a Rich Man". The original version has appeared on Starr's compilation albums Blast from Your Past and Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, and as a bonus track on his remastered 1974 studio album Goodnight Vienna. Since his return to touring in 1989, Starr has performed "Back Off Boogaloo" regularly in concert with the various incarnations of his All-Starr Band.

Background and composition[edit]

Ringo Starr identified his initial inspiration for "Back Off Boogaloo" as having come from Marc Bolan,[2] the singer and guitarist with English glam rock band T. Rex.[3] In a 2001 interview with Mojo editor Paul Du Noyer, Starr described Bolan as "a dear friend who used to come into the office when I was running Apple Movies, a big office in town, and the hang-out for myself, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon".[4] Over dinner one evening at Starr's home outside London, Bolan had used the word "boogaloo" so often that it stuck in Starr's mind, after which the beat and melody for the song came to him overnight.[5] When discussing the composition on VH1 Storytellers in May 1998, Starr explained: "[Bolan] was an energised guy. He used to speak: 'Back off boogaloo ... ooh you, boogaloo.' 'Do you want some potatoes?' 'Ooh you, boogaloo!'"[6] Starr also recalled having to take the batteries out of his children's toys that night, in order to power a tape recorder and make a recording of the new song.[4]

The lyrics to the middle eight of "Back Off Boogaloo" came to Starr while watching London Weekend Television's football show, The Big Match.[6] The program's host, Jimmy Hill, often referred to a footballer's playing as "tasty",[6] a catchphrase that Starr incorporated into his song lyrics:[7]

Get yourself together now
And give me something tasty
Everything you try to do
You know it sure sounds wasted.

Commentators have interpreted the song, and particularly this statement,[3] as an attack by Starr on his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney.[7][8] Starr has denied any such interpretation, instead "claiming that the song was inspired by Bolan and nothing more", Beatles biographer Robert Rodriguez writes.[9] Starr had publicly criticised McCartney's solo albums McCartney (1970) and Ram (1971) on release,[5] and author Bruce Spizer paraphrases the message of the middle eight as "a plea for Paul to produce better music".[1][nb 1] The mention of "sound[ing] wasted" could also be a reference to McCartney's overindulgence with cannabis, Rodriguez suggests.[5] A further example of Starr's allegedly anti-McCartney message exists in the song's first verse:[1][5]

Wake up, meathead
Don't pretend that you are dead
Get yourself up off the cart.

The same commentators suggest that here Starr could be referring to the 1969 "Paul Is Dead" hoax.[1][5] The latter rumour circulated during September and October of that year while McCartney hid away on his Scottish farm,[12] disconsolate after John Lennon had told him and Starr that he wanted a "divorce" from the Beatles.[13]

In addition to these supposed messages in "Back Off Boogaloo", observers have viewed the song title as Starr's rebuke to McCartney to abandon his legal stand against the Beatles and Apple Corps,[5] which was placed in receivership in March 1971 after a High Court judge found in McCartney's favour.[14] Author Keith Badman writes that "Boogaloo" had "long been cited as Paul's nickname" from his former bandmates Starr, Lennon and George Harrison.[6] While acknowledging that in subsequent years Starr might have chosen to minimise any ill-feeling towards McCartney, Rodriguez notes that the lyrics "just happened to fit perfectly into the 'us vs. Paul' mindset" following the Beatles' break-up, to the extent that "Back Off Boogaloo" was "as damning as 'Early 1970' had been conciliatory".[9] When tailoring his 1970 composition "I'm the Greatest" for Starr to record on the album Ringo (1973),[15] Lennon referenced the song title with the lines "Now I'm only thirty-two / And all I want to do is boogaloo".[16]

Although "T Rex devotees", in the words of Starr biographer Alan Clayson, claimed that Bolan had ghost-written "Back Off Boogaloo",[17] Starr later acknowledged that Harrison co-wrote the song[1][18] by adding some chords and finishing the melody.[5][19] As on Starr's 1971 hit single "It Don't Come Easy", Harrison was not credited for his songwriting contribution.[20] Starr originally offered "Back Off Boogaloo" to fellow Liverpudlian Cilla Black to record, but she declined,[21] hoping instead to record another new Starr–Harrison composition, "Photograph".[22][nb 2]

Recording[edit]

Photos of Apple Studio, taken in 1971

Having earmarked the song as his next single,[5] Starr recorded "Back Off Boogaloo" in September 1971, following his appearance at the Harrison-organised Concert for Bangladesh in New York.[26] The sessions took place at Apple Studio in central London, with Harrison producing, as he had on "It Don't Come Easy".[27] The recording reflects the influence of glam rock on Starr through what authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter term "its big drum sound and repetitious nature",[18] with a line-up comprising Starr (vocals, drums, percussion), Harrison (guitars), Gary Wright (piano) and Klaus Voormann (bass, saxophone).[28][29]

A colour photograph of Starr playing a dark coloured drum kit on a stage. The background is yellow.
Starr performing with his All-Starr Band in 2011

Rodriguez describes Starr's "martial-sounding opening" as a rare "showcase for his own drumming",[5] while Harrison biographer Simon Leng writes of "a roaring series of Harrison slide breaks that brought to mind Duane Allman".[30] Further overdubs included contributions from three backing vocalists,[28] led by American soul singer Madeline Bell.[29]

"Blindman"[edit]

For the single's B-side, Starr had already written and recorded "Blindman", the theme song for the Ferdinando Baldi-directed Spaghetti Western of the same name,[31] filming for which Starr had interrupted in order to perform at the Concert for Bangladesh.[32] Starr produced the track with Voormann.[33] The sessions for "Blindman" took place at Apple on 18–19 August,[31] with Badfinger guitarist Pete Ham assisting Starr and Voormann.[34][35] Like the film Blindman (1971), the song is held in low regard by critics;[31] Spizer describes it as "a muddy-sounding dirge with little to recommend".[35]

Release and reception[edit]

Apple Records issued the single on 17 March 1972 in Britain, as Apple R 5944, with a US release taking place three days later, as Apple 1849.[36] It was Starr's first release since "It Don't Come Easy", a year before.[1] During this period, his priority had been to develop a career as an actor[37][38] in films such as 200 Motels (1971) and Blindman.[39] Further aligning himself with Britain's glam rock movement, Starr made his directorial debut with Born to Boogie (1972),[40] a film starring Bolan that included Starr's footage of a T. Rex concert held at Wembley on 18 March.[6][nb 3] With "Back Off Boogaloo", NME critic Bob Woffinden noted Starr's success in establishing himself in the two years since the Beatles' break-up, and wrote that the single "confirmed that he and Harrison, dark horses both, were the ones who had managed their solo careers more purposefully and intelligently" compared with McCartney and Lennon.[44]

The song was a hit in the US, reaching number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100,[45] and achieved Starr's best position on the UK Singles Chart,[46] where it reached number 2.[47] A promotional video for "Back Off Boogaloo" was shot on 20 March[48] at Lennon's Tittenhurst Park residence while Starr was looking after the property.[18] The video, which shows Starr walking around an outdoor structure and followed by a Frankenstein-like monster, was directed by Tom Taylor and financed by Caravel Films.[6] A similar monster appeared on the single's picture sleeve, holding a cigarette.[18][nb 4]

Alan Clayson writes of reviewers criticising "Back Off Boogaloo" for being repetitious, leading Starr to respond in a 1973 interview: "Play me a pop song that isn't."[7] On release, Chris Welch wrote in Melody Maker: "A Number One hit could easily be in store for the maestro of rock drums. There's a touch of the Marc Bolans in this highly playable rhythmic excursion ... It's hypnotic and effective, ideal for jukeboxes and liable to send us all mad by the end of the week."[50] Woffinden described the single as "every bit as ebullient" as "It Don't Come Easy", although "slightly inferior",[44] while Mike DeGagne of AllMusic views it as a song where "[t]he jovial spirit of Ringo Starr shines through".[51] In a 1974 article for the NME, Charles Shaar Murray highlighted "Back Off Boogaloo" as a "great radio and juke-box tune".[16]

Among Beatle biographers, Simon Leng terms it "a rocking, soccer crowd chant that suited Starr's talents well",[30] and Bruce Spizer praises the track as a "high-energy in-your-face rocker propelled by Ringo's thundering drums and George's stinging slide guitar".[1] In the 2005 publication NME Originals: Beatles – The Solo Years 1970–1980, Paul Moody listed "Back Off Boogaloo" first among Starr's "ten solo gems" and described it as "Good time rock'n'droll to match the Faces".[52]

Re-releases for "Back Off Boogaloo" include Starr's 1975 greatest hits album, Blast from Your Past,[53] and, along with "Blindman", as a bonus track on the 1992 reissue of his Goodnight Vienna album (1974).[54] "Back Off Boogaloo" also appeared on his 2007 compilation Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, the collector's edition of which included his 1972 video for the song.[55]

Stop and Smell the Roses version[edit]

"Back Off Boogalo"
Song by Ringo Starr from the album Stop and Smell the Roses
Published Startling Music
Released 27 October 1981 (US)
20 November 1981 (UK)
Genre Rock, funk
Length 3:16
Label Boardwalk
Writer Richard Starkey
Producer Harry Nilsson

Starr recorded a new version of "Back Off Boogaloo" for his 1981 album on Boardwalk Records, Stop and Smell the Roses.[56] The song was produced by Starr's friend, singer Harry Nilsson, and features a musical arrangement by Van Dyke Parks.[57] Similar to Nilsson's 1968 cover of the Beatles' "You Can't Do That",[58] the remake incorporates lyrics from a number of the band's songs – in this case, "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Help!", "Lady Madonna", "Good Day Sunshine" and "Baby, You're a Rich Man", as well as Starr's "It Don't Come Easy".[57] In a further reference to his past, the 1981 version of "Back Off Boogaloo" opens with the same guitar riff that Harrison had played on "It Don't Come Easy" ten years before.[59]

Starr taped the basic track at Evergreen Recording Studios in Los Angeles on 4 November 1980, with additional recording taking place on 1–5 December at Nassau's Compass Point Studios.[60] Among the large cast of musicians supporting Starr were Nilsson (vocals), Jim Keltner (drums), Jane Getz (piano), Dennis Budimir and Richie Zito (guitars), and a four-piece horn section led by saxophonist Jerry Jumonville.[61]

Starr overdubbed his vocals on 4 December, four days before the murder of John Lennon,[62] who had been due to record his contributions to Stop and Smell the Roses in January 1981.[63] Contrasting with his success as a solo artist in 1971–73, the album continued Starr's run of commercial and critical failures since 1976;[64][65] Rodriguez writes that "[m]ost people either love or hate the revamping" of "Back Off Boogaloo".[59]

Live performance[edit]

Starr has performed "Back Off Boogaloo" in concert with his All-Starr Band,[8][66] beginning with the band's debut tour of North America in July–September 1989.[67] The song was dropped from the concert setlist early in that tour, however, in favour of the 1963 Lennon–McCartney composition "I Wanna Be Your Man".[68] Live versions of "Back Off Boogaloo" have appeared on the multi-disc compilation The Anthology... So Far (2001)[69] and King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Ringo & His New All-Starr Band (2002).[70] The latter version was recorded during a US tour in August 2001, at which point the All-Starr line-up was Starr (vocals), Mark Rivera (saxophone), Ian Hunter (guitar), Roger Hodgson and Howard Jones (keyboards), Greg Lake (bass) and Sheila E. (drums).[71]

Starr also played the song live with Ringo and the Roundheads,[72] a band he formed to promote his 1998 studio album Vertical Man.[73] A version recorded on 13 May that year at Sony Music Studios, New York,[73] appeared on Starr's VH1 Storytellers live album and video, released in October 1998.[74] The personnel on this performance included Starr (vocals), Joe Walsh and Mark Hudson (guitars), Jack Blades (bass) and Simon Kirke (drums).[75] Another live version with the Roundheads, recorded for PBS Television's Soundstage in August 2005, was issued on Ringo Starr: Live at Soundstage (2007).[76]

Personnel[edit]

The following musicians played on the original version of "Back Off Boogaloo":[1][28]

Chart positions[edit]