Ringo Starr Explains Covering ‘Rock Around the Clock’ on New EP
Ringo Starr said covering Bill Haley & His Comets' classic "Rock Around the Clock" for his new EP, Change the World, was a blast into his past — and more personal than is commonly known.
He told a virtual press conference that he was approaching his 15th birthday in 1955 and confined to a Liverpool sanatorium, suffering from tuberculosis. "I had been there a year or so and was doing pretty good," Starr recalled. "I had my seventh day in the hospital on my 14th birthday, and I didn't want to spend my 15th there. My mother talked to the doctors, so they decided they'd let me out."
Freed, Starr went to a local theater to see Blackboard Jungle, which featured "Rock Around the Clock" prominently in its soundtrack. "I'm sitting there — I'd been in the hospital, don't know much about what's going on lately — and they ripped up the cinema," he recalled. "They just threw the chairs, went crazy. I said, 'Wow, this is great!' I remember that moment like it was yesterday."
Flashing forward to the new release, Starr continued, "So I said, 'Well, I'm gonna do 'Rock Around the Clock,' 'cause it's my EP and I can do whatever I like. It was just one of those moments I was sitting around, and I thought, 'Hey, I'm gonna do 'Rock Around the Clock' for all these good reasons.'"
It took a couple of passes to get the track right, however. "I did sort of a brushes version of it, old-school," Starr said. "Then I thought, 'No, put the sticks on.’ Then it rocked. Then I called Joe Walsh [Starr's brother-in-law], and he rocked, and it's a [different] solo. You listen to covers of 'Rock Around the Clock,' and everybody plays the same solo."
"Rock Around the Clock" is one of four tracks on Change the World, which follows another EP, Zoom In, that Starr released in March. The work, he tells UCR in a separate conversation, "saved my life" during the pandemic. "[Zoom In] was to keep me busy, but this one was sitting around again wondering what to do and, 'Well, let's go in and see what happens,'" he explains.
"It's been a really pleasant way of working, and it's not, like, 10 tracks. You've got four tracks and you're still excited at the end, and then you get on with doing other stuff. I don't know if that's how it's going to proceed in the future, but I'm already, like, 'I think I'll make another one.'"
As on Zoom In and the rest of his solo catalog, Starr gets plenty of help from his friends, old and new, on Change the World. Toto's Steve Lukather — also a long-standing member of the drummer's All-Starr Band — and Joseph Williams cowrote the socially conscious lead track "Change the World." Linda Perry, whom Starr had never met before, came up with "Come Undone" especially for the EP, and her improvised "throat solo" inspired Starr to reach out to Trombone Shorty, who in turn added an entire brass section to the track.
"I love that I get to meet people or work with people I didn't know," Starr said. "I knew of but had never met Linda, and she wrote this great song for me — just like Diane Warren on [Zoom In]. I love when it unfolds like that, where you've got this going and people send me things and I send them back and you never know where the moves are coming from. It's been a good way of hanging out, a good way of doing stuff at home, 'cause they all have these little studios, it seems, and then putting it together."
After two releases this year and five album releases during the '10s, Starr is now itching to get back on the road. All-Starr Band tours were canceled during 2020, and he won't be going out this year. But Starr says he's been approached with dates for 2022, and he's staying cautiously optimistic. "I've got the tour lined up for next year," he notes. "They sent me the itinerary already, but it's impossible to say now if it's on. I'm saying in my heart it's on, but let's see where we are. I want to be on tour.
"Getting through the pandemic has not been easy. But what makes it easier for me is I get the chance to make music here or send files and hang out with other musicians. I'm blessed."