The Meaning Behind “No No Song” by Ringo Starr and the Prolific Country Star Who Wrote It

If folks thought the success of the 1973 album Ringo by Ringo Starr was a fluke, the ex-Beatle still had a few tricks up his sleeve to show them. The hits kept coming for Starr when the next year he delivered his follow-up album Goodnight Vienna, which includes “No No Song,” an amusing nod to rock star excess.

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What was the song about? Who wrote it, and what inspired him to do it? And what was it about the song that wasn’t quite accurate to Ringo’s lifestyle, at least not at that time? Let’s find out the origin of, and meaning behind, “No No Song.”

Hello “Goodnight”

As much as possible, Ringo Starr tried to recreate the success of his 1973 smash Ringo on Goodnight Vienna. He used the same producer in Richard Perry, and enlisted many of the same musicians. In addition, he once again received outstanding contributions from top songwriters such as Allen Toussaint, Harry Nilsson, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Unlike the Ringo album, however, Starr couldn’t quite get all three Beatles on board to help him out. But John Lennon did contribute in a major way. He wrote the title track and donated it to Starr. Lennon also suggested Ringo take a crack at The Platters’ classic “Only You (and You Alone),” even going so far as providing the studio demo that Starr would use. Starr chose “Only You (and You Alone)” as the album’s first single, and it gave him his fourth straight Top 10 hit in America.

For the next single, Starr went a bit off the beaten path, in that songwriter Hoyt Axton hailed from Oklahoma, which didn’t exactly share a border with Liverpool. But Axton had contributed hit songs to many other pop/rock artists in the past, including Cher, Steppenwolf, and Three Dog Night. His humorous songwriting sensibilities dovetailed nicely with Starr’s image as someone who didn’t take himself too seriously. Plus, Axton had a song that was tailor-made to send up Starr’s image as someone not afraid of a good time.

Saying Yes to “No No”

In a 1982 interview with The Oklahoman, Axton explained how he created “No No Song” after deciding to get his own drinking in check when a blackout night led to him waking up in an unfamiliar hotel:

“I was afraid if I looked around I’d see the devil sittin’ in the chair across the room, sayin’ ‘I got’cha, boy. You finally overdid it.’ … That was the day before I wrote the ‘No No Song.'”

The ironic thing about Starr releasing “No No Song” is he wasn’t sober at the time. In fact, he only fully cleaned up in the late ’80s after a stint in rehab. Still, you could say that the way he dabbled in some of the song’s vices only made it sound more realistic.

What is the Meaning Behind “No No Song”?

In “No No Song,” the narrator is presented with three temptations: Marijuana from Colombia, cocaine from Spain, and moonshine whiskey from Tennessee. In each case, the person promises it’s the best in all the land.

The narrator politely refuses each offering with a No, no, no, no, I don’t (smoke it, sniff, drink it) no more. He also implies that even a little indulgence will cause him to stick around and go all in: No thank you, please, it only makes me sneeze / And then it makes it hard to find the door.

“No No Song” played off the singer’s innate likability and humor, and it rolled all the way to No. 3 in the U.S. His reign of chart dominance ended with “No No Song,” as he wouldn’t again approach that level of singles success. But it was quite a run, one that proved that Ringo Starr could churn out relatable songs with a little help from songwriting friends like Hoyt Axton.

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Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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