Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Don’t You Forget About Me: Ringo Starr – “No No Song” (1975)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 10, 2008

The best in all the land

Ringo Starr has had to play the loser for the great majority of his life. The least-talented, worst-looking and by some considerable distance the most lacking in ambition of the four Beatles, Ringo was officially locked into his goofball persona by his roles as the comedic centerpieces in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and was rarely able to transcend that role for the rest of his career, either with the fabs or without them. Not to say I particularly feel sorry for dear old Richard–being the schlubby one in the most popular group in the history of recorded music is still pretty good, and what’s more, Ringo has given us little evidence that he particularly minds the role history and circumstance has relegated him to (otherwise, the post-Beatles film roles he’s chosen could seriously use some explaining).

But the really remarkable thing is that for a good solid three-four year period in the early 70s, Ringo was just as popular as any of his fab friends. From 1971 to 1975, Ringo notched a stunning seven consecutive top ten singles, five of which were top five hits and a pair of which were even chart-toppers. That’s right, in the U.S. Today, it’s practically impossible to believe today, since most would probably find it a struggle to name a single Starkey solo joint, with virtually none of his prime-era hits surviving even on the most lax of classic rock radio station playlists.

And there’s a reason for that–none of the songs were particularly good. While Paul was off creating his overstuffed pocket symphonies, George was mellowing out with his transcendental anthems, and John was doing just about whatever the hell John felt like doing, Ringo was content shooting for par, covering Johnny Burnette songs, creating hits around the phrases “Back Off Boogaloo” and “Snookeroo,” reenacting scenes from The Day The Earth Stood Still and just generally not challenging his audience or himself any more than necessary. Yet America seemingly couldn’t get enough of the Liverpudlian goofball, and in the ensuing half-decade after the Beatles’ dissolution, Ringo was arguably the most popular (and certainly most consistent) of the four.

If you had to pick one song to demonstrate just why America found this guy so appealing back in the 70s–and why no one seems to remember it now–it’d have to be “No No Song,” a #3 hit for Ringo in 1975. An anti-intoxication anthem that is actually more a personal statement of laziness and getting old, “No No” is catchy and sing-songy enough to practically qualify as childrens’ music, if not for the numerous references to alocohol and drugs throughout.

Structurally, it’s about as simple as it gets–Ringo gets offered a different substance (pot, coke, whiskey) in all three verses, but politely refuses, claiming to be “tired of waking up on the floor” and attesting that the substances only “make [him] sneeze” and “make it hard to find the door”. It’s basically the perfect summation of Ringo’s solo career–tired of the tumult and confusion caused by an extremely dramatic decade that inspired some extremely brilliant music, Ringo was through experimenting and branching out, deciding to stay comfortable in his own bed for once.

That sounds like a condemnation, but it really isn’t, or at least it mostly isn’t. I will say that with the exception of a couple of Paul’s more irresistibly goofy numbers (“Jet” went from being one of my least favorite songs of all-time to being JET!!! WOOOOWOOOOOOOOOOOOOWOOOOOOOOOOOOO in something like a matter of months), no song by an ex-Beatle puts a smile on my face quite like this one. Despite how open Ringo leaves himself to accusations of laziness in his choice of song material, it’s still sort of admirable to see an artist completely at peace with his mediocrity–you don’t exactly picture him fretting in his room with a pen and a pad wondering why he can’t come up with an “Instant Karma!” or a “My Sweet Lord” (or hell, even an “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey”). He knew his potential, and he was perfectly willing to grind it out for as long as America would have him.

And I do really sort of like this song. The cooing ah-ah backing vocals in the background, the gently funky bass and drum groove (with electric piano to boot!), Ringo making a “[snort]” sound in the coke verse instead of just saying the word, the not-too-obvious use of maracas, horns and other extraneous instruments for punctuation’s sake…it’s as delightful a little number as you could ask for, and at 2:33, overstays its welcome for not a second. I didn’t even know it was a cover until very recently (original by Hoyt Axton, of “Joy to the World” writing fame), but hearing the original, which takes the song’s novelty aspects a little too far out, just made me appreciate Ringo’s version more.

I can’t say that I wouldn’t have wanted to know what Ringo’s attempt at a three-LP rock opera would’ve sounded like, though. Is there there some hidden, brilliantly over-cooked and historically over-ambitious gem in his back catalogue that I don’t know about? Please say that there is.

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