Thursday, October 11, 2012

Boogie Transfer: Ringo Starr: "Back Off Boogaloo"

It happened one night:  Ringo Starr had Marc Bolan over for dinner - by this time they were friends (who knows when they had met, but Starr like all the ex-Beatles loved T. Rex's music).  Starr was inspired by Bolan's own burbling language at the table - including the word 'boogaloo' - and while about to go to sleep this song came to him.  He managed to record it on tape and then recorded it with George Harrison both producing and playing lead guitar.  Such an event was rare in Starr's life - he isn't a very prolific songwriter - but Bolan's energy and prescence were enough to get Starr to write a song all by himself, one that is a rough shambling boogie, a kind of proclamation. 

Unlike Lennon or McCartney it's hard to figure out what 'message' might be here - besides a general wake-up call to this mysterious figure who has "wallpaper shoes" and who has been pretending to be dead.  Was it a song aimed at McCartney?  The subconscious sometimes says things that can be interpreted any which way, and McCartney may be the target, but it's far more Bolan-influenced than anything else, and a general call to all musicians to get their act together, and realize something new is happening.   

Indeed at this time T.Rex were the biggest band in the UK and by far the most inspiring; David Bowie and Elton John, also friends of his, were to write songs about him as well (Bowie's was "The Prettiest Star" from Aladdin Sane and Elton's was "I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol" from Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player both from 1973).  Who knows how many future musicians would see T. Rex in person or on Top of the Pops and instantly want to get onstage with a guitar to do some boogalooing of their own?  This song is just part of the "TRextasy" that existed at this time*.  The boys and the girls were united here as they were divided elsewhere; T.Rex's success would help others to get to glam stardom as well, but none of the groups or individuals who came after were quite like T.Rex.  Those who saw him sensed that this was an apotheosis of rock, this is what it must have been like in the 50s to hear something on the radio and know it was yours, it was new, and that it was righteous.  T.Rex somehow had that elegance and balance down, a sexuality that was both airy and groovy at the same time.  Bolan could give Starr the confidence to write a song, and while Bowie and Elton were already fully-formed personalities of their own, I like to think that they also picked up something from him, as well.  This gift was instantaneous; a fresh breeze blowing all the old 60s dust away.  What would happen next in this raw and charged atmosphere?  Suddenly,it seemed anything could happen, and T.Rex and Marc Bolan in particular are the main reason for that. 

Next up:  Greece is the word.     

*Born To Boogie is a movie by Ringo Starr about T.Rex and features them in concert at Wembley, marking the peak of T.Rex's fame.  Elton John also appears in it, and don't worry dear readers, we will be getting to him soon.    

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