In picking a Then-Album for Ringo it is natural to lean towards those gems of the early 1970s, to maybe even go to his first solo album, Sentimental Journey, as there is a trend right now for established stars to cover standards. Sentimental coverings of standards was certainly less common back in 1970 than it is now, but the album may not be the most representative of Ringo’s post-Beatles work. We’ve chosen a less familiar release, 1981’s Stop and Smell the Roses—not because it’s his best solo album but because it’s one of the best and is often overlooked.
Stop and Smell the Roses was released in 1981 and is really two albums, one released and the other held back, one optimistic and buoyant and the other darker. There was a lot of cooperation among the Beatles, including the country-inflected Lennon tune “Life Begins at 40” that he and Ringo had agreed to do together. “Life Begins at 40” did come out in Lennon’s posthumous material, though it was never fully realized and was obviously written by Lennon for Ringo. That’s the thing about this album as a whole—it’s not fully realized. The original title song, “You Can’t Fight Lightning” never even made the pressing.
“Brandy,” “Wake Up,” and “Red and Black Blues” didn’t make the cut either and yet any of those tunes would well suit any Ringo album. It was a fractured time and though he has the accompaniment and help of Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Stephen Stills, Al Kooper, Jim Keltner, and Ronnie Wood, there is no Lennon and the death hangs over what must have been conceived as a particularly upbeat album.
The Tunes That Make It
The songs that did make it onto the 1981 release are memorable—if disjointed— and include a remake of Ringo’s “Back off Bugaloo” (this time not produced by Harrison but by Harry Nilsson and arranged by Van Dyke Parks!) and covers of “You Belong to Me” and “Sure to Fall.” The originals are some of Ringo’s best, including his collaboration with George Harrison on the hit “Wrack My Brain.” “Stop and Take the Time to Smell the Roses” remains good advice and never fails to emote the same sort of smirks Monty Python reruns warrant. “Drumming is My Madness” (Nilsson) is of that ilk as well. It’s a time and a place for those of us who knew it upon its release.