Paul McCartney once recalled a conversation with Keith Richards where the Rolling Stones guitarist exclaimed: “You guys are lucky, you’ve got four singers in your band, we’ve just got one!” While Ringo Starr might not be able to get a gig amongst the backing singers of a rafter rattler like Nina Simone, he has, in fairness to him, proved that he can indeed carry a tune well enough over the years to be rightfully dubbed a singer as Richards once asserted.
During his time with The Beatles, Ringo Starr received the sole songwriting credit for two tracks: ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and ‘Octopus’s Garden’. However, he lent lead vocals to more than a couple of tracks, including a pretty rousing performance for ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, only to be thrown into the shade by Joe Cocker’s incomparable vocals on his blistering cover.
All that being said, the notion of Ringo performing karaoke is still a highly comical one for some inexplicable reason. And when he was asked by NME what his karaoke song was, he made it even more comical by championing the most cliched song in the book by opting for the drunken single auntie at a wedding classic: ‘My Way’ by none other than Frank Sinatra.
The drumming legend kept his reply brief and stated: “It’d have to be ‘I Did It My Way,” before apparently bursting out laughing and proceeding to do so for a minute or so before simply concluding, “I don’t know though. I’ve never actually done karaoke.” Ironically, however, the track has a rich backstory that is steeped in alternative culture.
As the story goes, in 1968, David Bowie was working as a lyricist for a publishing company, writing English words for foreign songs. It was while working there that a grandiose French hit by Claud Francois arrived on his desk. “One of the things they gave me was this French song,” Bowie remarked in an interview in 2002. “They said, ‘Do an English lyric to this,’ so I wrote this godawful lyric called ‘Even A Fool Learns to Love’ and it was dreadful, God it was so awful, really very embarrassingly bad. And I sang the lyric to the actual record that they actually sent me from France.”
This “embarrassingly bad” recording (which you can hear below) was then sent off to the glitzy studios where the Paul Anka’s of this world record and, unsurprisingly, he rejected what was sent. In the end, the track was rewritten by Anka himself, and it became the drunken aunt classic that is ‘My Way’.
Naturally, Frank Sinatra’s ubiquitous hit made its way back to Bowie’s ears via the radio, and when he heard it, he was, in his own words: “Really pissed off.” While for the rest of us, it reassuringly adds some order to the universe that fate intervened to ensure nothing as unfathomable as Bowie receiving a songwriting credit for ‘My Way’ could occur, as far as he was concerned, he heard it and thought, “That should’ve been my song”.
Not to worry though, in retort Bowie penned his own version that would become ‘Life on Mars’ and the rest is history.