The 1980s proved to be a tumultuous decade for former Beatle Ringo Starr. He suffered the critical and commercial disappointment of 1983’s Old Wave album and grieved for bandmate John Lennon. He had remarried, this time to actress Barbara Bach, but in 1988 they entered rehab for alcoholism. Despite the turmoil, he did not disappear completely from the public eye. He narrated the UK children’s TV show Thomas the Tank Engine, later portraying the conductor on the US spinoff Shining Time Station. In addition, he appeared in numerous commercials for Pizza Hut and (unfortunately, considering his issues) Sun Country Classic Wine Coolers. But after exiting rehab, Starr decided to rebuild his life and career. After a successful 1989 tour with the first All Starr Band (which included legends Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, Dr. John, and Joe Walsh, among many others), he signed with the Private Music label in 1991 and began sessions for Time Takes Time, which would produce one of his best singles: “Weight of the World.”
Wanting to create a strong comeback album, Starr recruited stellar producers and friends Don Was, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, and Phil Ramone. Was, also known as part of the group Was (Not Was), produced “Weight of the World,” a song containing lyrics accurately reflecting Starr’s transformation from potential rock casualty to sobriety. Despite its deeply personal words, Starr did not pen the tune, relying on songwriters Brian O’Doherty and Fred Velez. With guitars sounding like a fusion of The Byrds, The Traveling Wilburys, and, yes, The Beatles, the song retains a lighthearted feel that cloaks some very serious lyrics. Indeed, Starr sings of letting go of the past, shedding yourself of emotional baggage that weighs you down and prevents you from truly living.
The first verse involves Starr counseling a woman to reconcile with her troubled past. “Maybe your daddy never held you like he should/Maybe your mama just held on the best she could,” he sings. “But yesterday’s gone so tell me why/You carry the weight, the weight of the world.” The refrain further emphasizes the importance of ridding yourself of whatever is holding you back:
It’s breakin’ you down on your back like a boulder.
Before it’s too late, get rid of it, girl,
Get it off of your shoulders.
But you gotta lose the weight of the world.
Interestingly, Starr uses the first person in addressing his own problems, admitting “Maybe I haven’t always been there just for you,” but that he carries “all the crosses I can bear.” Here, the unnamed woman is transferring her pain onto him, also forcing him to carry her burdens as well as his. So what must we choose? “You either kiss the future or the past goodbye,” he warns in the bridge. Letting go of this weight will allow us to “fly so high,” but for now “it’s takin’ us down, and the night’s growin’ colder/Just blame it on fate, that was yesterday, girl/And we’re just growin’ older.” He concludes the song by stressing that we all have burdens and troubled pasts, that “we’ve all been abused,” but we must reconcile our pain in order to have a future.
It may seem surprising that Starr chose “Weight of the World” as Time Takes Time’s first single. Some fans may have been puzzled by its intensely personal lyrics and serious subject matter. But the sunny, upbeat music underlying the words—as well as an overall positive message—remains very consistent with Starr’s other work. To me, it stands with some of his best songs, ranking up there with “Photograph,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Back Off Boogaloo,” “Wrack My Brain,” and another Time Takes Time track, “Don’t Go Where the Road Don’t Go,” among others. Unfortunately the track barely squeaked in at number 74 on the British charts in 1992.
Starr obviously performed the song during his subsequent 1992 All Starr Band tour, but deleted it from the setlists afterward. After making Time Takes Time, he partnered with longtime collaborator Mark Hudson for Vertical Man, Ringo Rama, and Choose Love, all of which critics and most fans hailed as Starr’s true “return to form.” But “Weight of the World” should not be an overlooked entry in the Starr catalog, as it represents a turning point in his life, not only professionally but personally. Deeper meanings aside, it also exemplifies delectable pop and remains a finely crafted, memorable single. Starr and his band are performing in the UK this summer; here’s hoping that he may reintroduce the song and demonstrate what an engaging performer—and thoughtful singer—he can be.
“Weight of the World” is also available on the excellent 2007 collection Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr.
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