The song is the nearest any of the former Beatles came to the glam rock movement. Indeed, the title was inspired by Marc Bolan, whom Starr directed in the documentary Born To Boogie.
He was an energised guy. He used to speak: ‘Back off, boogaloo … ooh you, boogaloo.’ ‘Do you want some potatoes?’ ‘Ooh you, boogaloo!’
VH1 Storytellers, May 1998
Despite rumours that Bolan had ghost-written ‘Back Off Boogaloo’, Starr later admitted that it was co-written with George Harrison. The guitarist remained uncredited until 2017.
Well, I was great at writing two verses and a chorus – I’m still pretty good at that. Finishing songs is not my forte. I have written songs with 26 verses, ’cause I didn’t know how to end them! I started writing ‘Back Off Boogaloo’, then took it to George to help finish off. Same with ‘Photograph’ and ‘It Don’t Come Easy’.
Time Out, 24 July 2003
Starr initially offered ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ to Cilla Black to record, but she declined it in the hope of recording ‘Photograph’ instead.
In the studio
Starr recorded ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ in September 1971 at Apple Studios in London, with George Harrison producing.
The backing track had Starr on drums, Harrison on electric guitar, Gary Wright on piano, and Klaus Voormann on bass guitar and saxophone. Overdubs included backing vocals by Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan, and Jean Gilbert.
The first remake was recorded at Evergreen Recording Studios in Los Angeles on 4 November 1980. It was produced by and featured Harry Nilsson, and contained lyrics from ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, ‘Good Day Sunshine’, and ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’, ‘Help!’, and ‘Lady Madonna’.
Further recording took place from 1-5 December at Nassau’s Compass Point Studios. Starr’s lead vocals were laid down on 4 December.
The 2017 version was one of four bonus tracks on the CD and digital editions of Give More Love. It was produced by Starr, and featured guitar by Jeff Lynne and Joe Walsh. On the album, ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ was co-credited to George Harrison for the first time.
‘Back Off Boogaloo’ was released as a single in the UK on 17 March 1972, and three days later in the USA.
The b-side, ‘Blindman’, was originally intended to be the theme song of the 1971 film of the same name, in which Starr starred.
The single peaked at number two on the UK singles chart, Starr’s highest performance. In the US it reached number number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, and 10 on the Cash Box Top 100. It was also a top 10 hit in Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
A promotional video was shot at Tittenhurst Park, where Starr was then living. It was directed by Tom Taylor and featured Starr being followed around the grounds by Frankenstein’s monster.
‘Back Off Boogaloo’ was included on the 1975 greatest hits compilation Blast From Your Past.
The song and ‘Blindman’ were both bonus tracks on the 1992 reissue of Goodnight Vienna. ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ was also included on Starr’s 2007 compilation Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr.