Ringo Starr met songwriter Dean Grakal at a party on New Year's Eve 1996, during which the pair had a discussion about songwriting, with Grakal proposing that they form a team with Mark Hudson, whom Starr had met years prior while Starr was working on Time Takes Time (1992). Starr spoke of the writing process in an interview with Billboard magazine: "This is the first time I've really been involved [in my record]. Whereas before, I'd just sort of pick out other people's songs or songs other people had written that I thought were vaguely trying to say what I would have liked to say, on this, we're really trying to say what I want to say, thank you."
In February 1997, Hudson and Grakal visited Starr in his Beverly Hills residence for a songwriting session. The result of this meeting was a song called "My Love", which was promptly renamed to "Everyday" after Starr commented that McCartney had already used the title. The song was demoed under that name by Starr, Hudson, Grakal, and guitarist Steve Dudas. Happy with this session, the quartet followed it up with more recordings the following month, at Los Angeles's Whatinthewhatthe? Studios. There the musicians recorded two tracks: "Mr. Double-It-Up" and "One", the latter of which, per Grakal's lyric sheet, was originally called "All It Takes Is One". For these sessions, Starr played the drum set he had used during his time with the Beatles. In mid-to-late April, Starr and Hudson worked on Vertical Man as Starr began rehearsals for an upcoming tour. Before embarking on the tour (which would begin on 28 April), Starr recorded "I'll Be Fine Anywhere". After the tour had finished on 8 June, Starr went on holiday, and returned in July. Recording for the album restarted in the same month, on 20 July, with Starr playing with the Roundheads as his backing band.
Starr and the Roundheads recorded the tracks "What in the... World", "La De Da", and "Mindfield" on 20 July at Whatinthewhatthe? Studios. Starr added vocals to "What in the... World" on 28 July, and two days later to "Without Understanding". On July 31, Joe Walsh showed up at Whatinthewhatthe? Studios and added guitar parts to "What in the... World", "La De Da" and "Mindfield". The next day, Starr re-recorded his "Without Understanding" vocal. On 5 August, the track "Old Country Song" (soon to be re-titled as "Good News") was recorded. The bass track to "Good News" was recorded two days later, by Lee Rocker. Starr and Hudson then flew to Europe at the end of August.
On 29 September, at McCartney's The Mill studio, McCartney, Starr, Hudson, Emerick and Paul Wright worked on the track "La De Da", which McCartney contributed bass and backing vocals to. This session was filmed by Grakal, and excerpts were later featured in the music video for the song. Also recorded was a new bass track for "What in the... World"— replacing the placeholder bass track from a July session. Upon hearing a playback of the track, McCartney remarked "Whoo ... Rich! Sounds kinda Beatle-ish!" to which Starr replied "I know! That's what I said to Mark months ago". McCartney, now looking at Starr, told him "You are a fucking Beatle!" On 15 October, the same day Starr was in Paris to watch McCartney's daughter Stella's fashion show, string overdubs were added on to "I'm Yours" and "King of Broken Hearts" at AIR Studios, located in London. Starr returned to Los Angeles on 1 November to add overdubs to the latest recorded material, and on 3 November, he recorded "I Was Walkin'". On 4 November, "The Puppet Song" was recorded. The song had originated from a comment by Starr ("Put the puppet to bed"), and would be renamed to "Puppet". On 6 November, "Sometimes" was recorded, which contained a riff taken from Ringo's Rotogravure's (1976) "Cryin'".
On 7 November, Jeff Baxter overdubbed a steel guitar onto "One" and "Sometimes". On the same day, Jim Cox added keyboard overdubs to several songs; Starr originally wanted Billy Preston to play the keyboards, but he was in jail at the time. On 11 November at Village Recorder Studios, Baxter also added keyboards to three tracks: "I Was Walkin'", "La De Da" and "Sometimes". Overdubs were added to a number of tracks the following day at the same studio. On 13 November, an ensemble of 45 people—consisting of Starr's friends and family—gathered at Village Recorder Studios to record backing vocals to the track "La De Da". The following day, both Schmit and Dave Gibbs added backing vocals to "Puppet" and "Sometimes". On 17 November, Tyler flew from Amsterdam to Los Angeles to overdub harmonica to both "I Was Walkin'" and a re-make of "Love Me Do".
The following day, Tyler re-did his harmonica part to "Love Me Do". This was done at Starr's request, who wanted it to sound closer to the Beatles' original version. On 19 November, Alanis Morissette stopped by Whatinthewhatthe? Studios and recorded a vocal for "Drift Away". The next day, at Village Recorder Studios, the gospel-choir group Sauce recorded backing vocals for ""Without Understanding" and "Drift Away". Brian Wilson, as well as Barbara Bach's cousin, Christian Phillippe Quillici, overdubbed backing vocals to "Without Understanding" on 25 November. Wilson dubbed several backing vocal tracks at Hudson's request. On the same day, Morissette added backing vocals to two tracks: "Mindfield" and "I Was Walkin'". Engineer Eric Greedy made two mixes—one with only vocals, and one of the just the backing tracks—of both "King of Broken Hearts" and "I'll Be Fine Anywhere". These were sent the next day to Harrison at his Friar Park residence. Up to this point, sixteen tracks in total had been recorded for the album. After arriving in Los Angeles on 30 November, up until 11 December, Geoff Emerick worked on mixing five tracks at A&M Studios ("One", "Mr. Double-It-Up", "Everyday", "I'm Yours" and "What in the... World"). Also on the 11th, minor mixing was conducted on "Love Me Do".
Starr had not paid rent since the beginning of the record sessions. As a result, Nina Pieseckyj—the landlord's secretary—arrived at Whatinthewhatthe? Studios on 12 December to request the rent. Starr immediately asked if she played an instrument, to which she replied "Yeah, cello". Starr proceeded to tell her to "go get it". Pieseckyj ended up playing a cello riff similar to "I Am the Walrus" on the track "Vertical Man". Also on this day, Starr was announced to have signed with an EMI subsidiary label, Guardian Records, to release his new album on the planned date of 21 April 1998. On 16 December, a final mix of "Love Me Do" was made. A few days after having been signed to Guardian, the label (along with several other minor labels) was shutdown by then-current EMI president Ken Barry, leaving Starr without a label on which to release the album. Upon finding this out, Starr added a final lead vocal track to "Vertical Man". All musicians and staff members then took a Christmas break from recording. Harrison's guitar overdubs were sent to Starr via mail and arrived on 22 December, after which he went with the Roundheads to Village Recorder Studios to hear the results. Upon hearing the solos, Starr exclaimed "You're killing me, George. You've got me crying, you bugger!".
Between 6 and 11 January 1998, the tracks "Mindfield", "King of Broken Hearts" and "Drift Away" were mixed at A&M Studios. Osbourne added a vocal track to "Vertical Man" on 16 January. The following day at A&M Studios, saxophonist Joel Peskin overdubbed saxophone onto "Puppet", which was then mixed on 23 January. On 29 January, Starr and friends listened to a playback of the album. Hudson and Emerick flew to New York on 17 February to oversee mastering of the album. Later that day, Hudson and Grakal met with Mercury's Danny Goldberg, with whom they made a deal to release the album. On 23 April, Starr removed Tyler's vocal at Mercury's request, as Aerosmith was due to have tracks released on the Armageddon soundtrack. Mastering was handled the next day at Masterdisc by Greg Calbi. Final mastering for the album was done from 2 to 6 May at A&M Studios. On the same day, at Abbey Road Studios, Starr, and Mark and Scott Gordon, via telephone, recorded Petty's (who is assisted by Greedy) vocals for the song "Drift Away", who was at Village Recorder Studios in Los Angeles. "Drift Away" was remastered, now with Petty's vocals for the song in the mix, on 12 May.
On both 13 and 14 April 1998, Starr held interviews to help promote the album. On the latter day, a photograph of Starr was taken for the album booklet by Henry Diltz. Starr planned to film a music video for "La De Da" at Shea Stadium in New York, though when the scheduled day arrived, filming was disrupted due to rain. As a result, filming moved to the streets of New York City, where Starr was shot sitting on a bench with an umbrella. The video is intercut with Starr and his backing band performing the song, along with footage of McCartney singing the chorus from the previous September. The original plan was for Starr to conduct a crowd singing one verse from "La De Da". On 14 May, in the US, Mercury sent out Electronic press kits (EPKs) for the album. On 18 May, Entertainment Tonight aired an interview with McCartney and Starr that was filmed during the sessions at McCartney's home studio. The "La De Da" video first aired on MTV in Europe, on 19 May, while in the US, the video aired on Entertainment Tonight on 25 May. Interviews with Starr about the album were printed in both New Yorker and USA Today newspapers.
With the recent Beatles Anthology having introduced the group to newer and younger fans, it was reasoned that Starr would benefit from the exposure; McCartney's Flaming Pie had done very well upon its 1997 release. With Starr newly signed to a worldwide major label deal with Mercury, he was hoping for a similar reaction. On 1 June, radio stations were sent promotional copies of the single. A radio special, on 15 June, premiered the album worldwide. Vertical Man was released on 16 June in the US, with "La De Da" released as a single on 20 July before being withdrawn a week later. It received average reviews and reached number 61 in the US. The album was then released in the UK on 3 August, where it bubbled below the official Top 75, reaching number 85 there, after having sold 2,000 copies. The album was originally to be titled Thanks for Comin', before being changed after looking through a book belonging to Barbara Bach's daughter, Francesca. The German version of the album included the bonus track "Mr. Double-It-Up", while the Japanese edition contained "Mr. Double-It-Up" and "Everyday". Within the album's week of release, Starr held an online chat with fans. Attendees at the Beatlefest convention who had pre-ordered the album were given a 7" single of "La De Da", which included a non-album track as the B-side.
Those who pre-ordered the album with Best Buy were given a three-track bonus CD of material not included on the album. Starr also arranged for a digipak edition—limited to 100,000 copies—to be released. A tour followed the release of the album, although Starr said the tour wasn't only to promote the album: "I don't really ever want to do the two hours where it's just me. I like the mixture of the All-Stars because it's so much fun." On 5 April 1999, Hudson and Gordon made a single edit version of "La De Da", which Starr approved on 9 June. Nearly a month later, on 4 July, the single edit aired for the first time on British airwaves, thanks to The Chart Show.
All songs by Richard Starkey/Mark Hudson/Dean Grakal/Steve Dudas, except where noted.
Japanese edition bonus tracks
- "One" – 3:02
- "What in the... World" – 3:29
- "Mindfield" – 4:06
- "King of Broken Hearts" – 4:44
- "Love Me Do" (Lennon–McCartney) – 3:45
- "Vertical Man" – 4:42
- "Drift Away" (Mentor Williams) – 4:09
- Dobie Gray cover
- "I Was Walkin'" (Starkey/Hudson/Grakal) – 3:19
- "La De Da" – 5:41
- "Without Understanding" (Starkey/Hudson/Dudas) – 4:22
- "I'll Be Fine Anywhere" – 3:39
- "Puppet" – 3:19
- "I'm Yours" (Starkey/Hudson/Mark Nevin) – 3:24
German edition bonus tracks
- "Mr. Double-It-Up" – 4:00
- "Everyday" – 4:09
- B-side to "La De Da" single
Pre-order bonus CD
- "Mr. Double-It-Up" – 4:00
- "Mr. Double-It-Up" – 4:01
- "Sometimes" – 2:43
- Partial remake of "Cryin'", from Ringo's Rotogravure
- "Good News" – 3:11
Personnel per booklet.