by John Soeder
Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic
Without further ado, I nominate Ringo Starr for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in recognition of his solo achievements. And to make the case for bestowing this overdue honor, post-haste, I hereby submit Exhibit A:
Never heard it? Your loss! Drop everything and check out this wonderful blast from the past, a slice of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll bliss. You’ll find it on a new compilation, “Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr,” in the company of such hits as “It Don’t Come Easy” and “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine).”
My connection to “Snookeroo” is deeply personal. It was among the very first 45s in my record collection, along with the Billy Vaughn instrumental “Raunchy” (an excellent hand-me-down from Dad) and the Elvis Presley obscurity “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby.”
I’m not exactly sure how “Snookeroo” came into my possession. Most likely, Mom bought it for me, back when five-and-dime stores (remember five-and-dime stores?) used to sell vinyl singles (remember vinyl singles?) next to the underwear (remember underwear?). Sigh. At least some things never go out of style.
I was 7 years old when “Snookeroo” first saw the light of day in 1974 on Starr’s “Goodnight Vienna” album, arguably his finest post-Beatles hour. (John Lennon appears on the title track, which he wrote.)
“Snookeroo” tells the tale of a lovable slacker, “born on the eve of Halloween.” This was my introduction to a thrilling new world beyond my Walt Disney storybook records, even if the only lyric I fully could relate to at the time was: “Mother used to cut my hair.”
Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote the song, but what really sells it is Starr’s endearing performance. “I hear them gossip on the street / Most of what they say is true,” he sings.
” Snookeroo’ seemed to read like a Ringo song, the Ringo attitude, so we did it,” Starr recalls in the “Photograph” liner notes. “There was no deep madness going on in those days. It was all like, It feels good — let’s go.’ “
The feel-good vibe comes across loud and clear. Starr gets by with a little help from some distinguished friends, including the aforementioned John on piano, Robbie Robertson on guitar and longtime Rolling Stones sideman Bobby Keys in the horn section. Not too shabby, eh?
Listening to “Snookeroo” 30-plus years later, I’m struck by how familiar the sonic landscape is to me. The giddy twists and turns of John’s telltale ivory-tickling; the breathtaking scenery of Robertson’s bluesy licks, snaking in and out of the arrangement like swamp vines; those glorious horns and gospel-style backing vocals, whisking the listener to the mountaintop — I whiled away many a childhood hour there, 3 minutes and 25 seconds at a time.
The song was relegated to the B-side of the Top 5 single “No-No Song,” but on my portable record player, “Snookeroo” was the de facto A-side. It got heavy rotation in our cozy family room, where the gold carpet was littered with Lego blocks and Dad let me stay up late to watch staticky transmissions from NASA’s Apollo moon missions on the black-and-white television. Time marches on, but when I crank up “Snookeroo,” I’m a 7-year-old boy again.
The Rock Hall enshrined the Beatles in 1988. Glaringly, Starr is the only member of the Fab Four who hasn’t been inducted separately for his solo work.
The “Photograph” retrospective makes a case for his worthiness. In addition to 20 tunes spanning his solo career, the CD/DVD collector’s edition comes with “promotional films” (as music videos were known back in the day) for a handful of hits. The “Only You” clip is especially priceless, with Starr (dressed up like Klaatu from “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) and Harry Nilsson (in a bathrobe) hamming it up atop the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood.
It doesn’t get any better than “Snookeroo,” though. Sure, Lennon’s “Imagine,” Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Life (Give Me Peace on Earth)” are wonderful, but “Snookeroo” is the great “lost” gem by an ex-Beatle.
The music speaks for itself. And it says: What is the Rock Hall waiting for?