In the interim Starr had toured extensively with his All-Starr Band, and had worked on The Beatles’ Anthology project. For his return to the studio, he enlisted a number of guest musicians including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Tom Petty, Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Alanis Morissette, and Ozzy Osbourne.
The majority of Vertical Man was written by Starr, Steve Dudas, Mark Hudson, and Dean Grakal, and The Roundheads were the core backing band.
In the studio
Following initial demos, the first sessions took place in March 1997 at Whatinthewhatthe? Studios in Los Angeles, where ‘Mr Double-It-Up’ and ‘One’ were recorded. Sessions continued until Starr’s tour began on 28 April, with songs recorded including ‘I’ll Be Fine Anywhere’.
Recording resumed on 20 July, again with The Roundheads. ‘La De Da’, ‘Mindfield’, and ‘What In The… World’, were recorded on 20 July. Starr’s vocals were added to ‘What In The… World’ on 28 July, and to ‘Without Understanding’ on 30 July. The following day Joe Walsh added guitar to all three songs.
On 1 August Starr recorded his ‘Without Understanding’ vocals, and the song ‘Good News’ was recorded on 5 and 7 August.
The recording relocated to England in September 1992. On 29 September Starr and Hudson worked on ‘La De Da’ at Paul McCartney’s Hogg Hill Mill Studio, with the latter playing bass and singing backing vocals. He also added a bass guitar part to ‘What In The… World’. The session was filmed by Dean Grakal, with footage used in the video for the song.
String overdubs were added to ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘King Of Broken Hearts’ at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London on 15 October.
The following month Starr returned to Los Angeles, recording ‘I Was Walkin” on 3 November and ‘Puppet’ the next day. On 6 November he recorded ‘Sometimes’, using a riff from the 1976 song ‘Cryin”.
On 7 November steel guitar was added to ‘One’ and ‘Sometimes’ by Jeff Baxter, and Jim Cox overdubbed keyboards to a number of songs. More keyboards were added to ‘I Was Walkin”, ‘La De Da’, and ‘Sometimes’ on 11 November at Village Recorder Studios, with more on the following day.
On 13 November a collection of 45 friends and family gathered at Village to record backing vocals for ‘La De Da’. On the same day Timothy B Schmit, and Dave Gibbs added backing vocals to ‘Puppet’ and ‘Sometimes’.
During the album sessions Starr chose to re-record The Beatles’ first single, 1962’s ‘Love Me Do’.
To do ‘Love Me Do’ I had to get comfortable. And there’s a track on there called ‘Puppet’, about ‘putting the puppets to bed’, and they’re all those crazy things you have in your mind. And one of mine was, ‘Oh, I can’t do a Beatles track.’ Well shit, why not? People have said that some stuff sounds Beatley. Well, it’s a compliment, really.
Mojo, July 2001
Harmonica on ‘I Was Walkin” and ‘Love Me Do’ was by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, recorded on 17 November. The following day he re-recorded the ‘Love Me Do’ part at Starr’s request, to make it sound closer to The Beatles’ original.
Another guest musician was Alanis Morissette, who added vocals to ‘Drift Away’ at Whatinthewhatthe? Studios on 19 November. The next day the gospel choir Sauce added backing vocals to ‘Without Understanding’ and ‘Drift Away’.
The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Barbara Bach’s cousin, Christian Phillippe Quillici, added backing vocals to ‘Without Understanding’ on 25 November, and Morissette recorded more vocals for ‘Mindfield’ and ‘I Was Walkin”.
On 12 December, the Whatinthewhatthe? Studios landlord’s secretary Nina Pieseckyj was sent to the studio to demand payment for the bookings, which was overdue. Starr asked if she played an instrument, and upon learning that she played the cello, invited her to play on ‘Vertical Man’.
Mixes of ‘King Of Broken Hearts’ and ‘I’ll Be Fine Anywhere’ were sent to George Harrison’s Friar Park home in England. Harrison added guitar and returned the tapes, which arrived in Los Angeles on 22 December. Starr first heard them at Village Recorder Studios, and reportedly commented: “You’re killing me, George. You’ve got me crying, you bugger!”
Following a Christmas break, mixing continued at A&M Studios in January 1998. Ozzy Osbourne added vocals to ‘Vertical Man’ on 16 January, and the next day Joel Peskin overdubbed a saxophone part onto ‘Puppet’.
Mixing continued in January, and Mark Hudson and Geoff Emerick flew to New York on 17 February to oversee the album’s mastering. On 23 April Steven Tyler’s vocals were removed at the request of Mercury, who had agreed to release the album. More mastering took place from 2-6 May at A&M Studios.
The final recording took place on 6 May. Tom Petty recorded vocals for ‘Drift Away’, and the song was remixed and remastered on 12 May.
On 12 December 1997 it was announced that Starr had signed with Guardian Records, a subsidiary of EMI, with the album scheduled for release on 21 April 1988.
Just days later, however, EMI president Ken Barry shut down Guardian and several other labels, leaving Starr once more without a record deal.
Starr instead signed a worldwide deal with Mercury. The album was originally to have been titled Thanks For Comin’, but was changed after Starr found the phrase “vertical man” in a book belonging to his wife Barbara Bach’s daughter Francesca.
I found it flicking through a book of quotes. It said, ‘Let’s hear it for the vertical man, so much praise is given to the horizontal one.’ And you think, ‘Sure, let’s hear it for what’s happening now, I don’t wanna hear it when I’m horizontal.’ For a while there I was heading for horizontal-dom. Substance abuse and alcohol was getting in my way. And the end result for many people is you’re horizontal and they’re all saying, ‘What a guy.’ You think of all the musicians we’ve lost, the horizontal ones. Well, let’s hear it for the vertical ones, who had a problem but come through. So now it’s, Are you vertical? Or are you horizontal?
It’s like I’m living in this vertical/horizontal world. It’s a vertical breakfast or it’s a horizontal breakfast… Well, I’d think of muesli and berries as a vertical meal, and the old egg and bacon as a horizontal meal… I’ve been trying to be vegetarian for years. But sometimes you can’t help yourself. Bacon is the vegetarian’s downfall, actually.
Mojo, July 2001
The album received its world premiere on 15 June with a radio special. To coincide, interviews with Starr appeared in the New Yorker and USA Today.
Vertical Man was released the next day in the United States, with the single ‘La De Da’ following on 20 July. The album peaked at 61 on the US Billboard 200 Chart
A limited edition digipak version was limited to 100,000 copies. In Best Buy stores in the US, the album came with a bonus disc containing three additional songs.
In Germany Vertical Man had the bonus track ‘Mr Double-It-Up’, and the Japanese edition included that song and ‘Everyday’.
People attending the 1998 Beatlefest convention who had pre-ordered the album received a 7″ single of ‘La De Da’, with ‘Everyday’ on the b-side.
Vertical Man was released in the United Kingdom on 3 August 1998. It peaked at number 85 on the official albums chart.