Ringo Starr’s great drumming and affable personality earned him a place in the musical pantheon, but even legends fail from time to time. On his third album ringo, Starr included a cover of the song You’re Sixteen. The content of this song wasn’t blatantly problematic when it was released, but the idea of a grown man singing about the beauty of a teenage girl only gets creepier with time.
The inclusion of a young Carrie Fisher in the song’s promotion is also uncomfortable, given the significant age difference between her and Starr.
Starr’s cover was the last big hit of his career
published in 1973, ringo is a remarkable record for several reasons. It’s one of the few times all four Beatles have collaborated on the same project, albeit on different songs. It was also the commercial pinnacle of Starr’s solo career.
The album went platinum in America, with “You’re Sixteen” becoming one of the artist’s two number one hits. This fact is strange, both because the song isn’t very good and because the lyrics glorify unethical behavior.
The song, originally performed by rockabilly singer Johnny Burnette in 1960 and written by the Sherman Brothers, is the protagonist’s ode to her relationship with a teenage lover.
Burnette was 26 when he released the original version of the song, but as Tom Breihan wrote in a review for Stereogum, it originated in an earlier era of pop music where musicians were more open to inhabiting characters to placate certain audiences.
But Starr’s decision to pull this song from the past when he was married at the age of 33 remains a bizarre decision. (Starr and his first wife, Maureen Cox, divorced in 1975.) Perhaps the cover was just the result of uncomplicated nostalgia.
Starr’s cover of “You’re Sixteen” appeared during a renaissance of 1950s music in mainstream culture. The song would also appear on the soundtrack of American graffiti in the same year. Whatever the reason Starr made the song, “You’re Sixteen” has no meaning in this day and age.
Starr collaborated with Fisher for a duet and the music video
Four years after the song peaked on the charts, Starr included a music video for “You’re Sixteen” in his 1978 variety special, also titled ringo. Like most vanity TV programs of the time, the special, which was based on the story of The prince and the beggar is at best a cheesy time capsule that attempts to mythologize Starr with unforgettable narration and plenty of song-and-dance numbers.
The updated version of “You’re Sixteen” was now a duet between Starr and Carrie Fisher. Fisher was a breakout star at the time, having made her debut as Princess Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope the year before. She was 21 at the time, but still played a 16-year-old, while Starr was 37. The scary factor was still firmly intact.
As the years have passed, the concept of “you’re sixteen” has become increasingly uncomfortable
Judging older media by contemporary standards is often an unfair position, but when it comes to issues like the sexualization of young girls, there’s no reasonable way to ignore the inappropriateness of the concept. It’s true that at the time Starr released the song, most people didn’t think it was odd that a grown man would sexually pursue someone less than half her age.
Marvin Gaye is known to have had a child with 15-year-old Denise Gordy and married 17-year-old Janis Hunter. There are many stories of other beloved stars who behave in a similar way. But these decisions should have been criticized then and must now be contained.
As this 2016 Huffington Post article points out, an adult having sex with a 16-year-old was not considered a statutory rape or criminal offense in 1973, contributing to the acceptance of such inappropriate dynamics at the time.
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https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/carrie-fisher-21-sang-ringo-starr-youre-sixteen.html/ Carrie Fisher was 21 when she sang with Ringo Starr on You’re Sixteen