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Monday, March 7, 2011

Ringo

That's right. I'm reviewing a Ringo Starr album. Not only that but I really like it. I know it's slight but the songs on here are really well crafted and Ringo's impossible-to-dislike persona can't help but make this a fun listen. Also, I thought it would be an interesting follow up to my Who's Next review. While the Who album was one of the first post-Beatles album I bought, Ringo was the album that made me decide to start broadening my horizons. Why it took me so long is anyone's guess. You would think that McCartney II would be enough of an incentive but, alas, it took a perfectly enjoyable little record like Ringo to get me there. Go figure.


Oh and there are certain guest appearances on this one that are kind of noteworthy too. And I'm not just talking about Mark Bolan and members of The Band...


From Epinions.com (Originally published 4 October 2004)


The dissolution for the Beatles in 1970 meant different things for the four lads from Liverpool whom together forever changed the face of pop music. For one it meant a freedom to explore more personal and political areas with his music while another used the opportunity to escape the shadow of the world’s most renowned songwriting partnership and went on to release rock and roll’s most spiritual album. For yet another it meant a chance to continue the spirit of experimentalism and melodic inventiveness that was such a pivotal part of the Beatles best work but under his own terms.


For the last former member of the Fab Four, well, things weren’t quite as simple. Ringo Starr was/is a fantastic drummer and his importance to the Beatles should never be underestimated but by the time the Beatles went their separate ways, his very limited experience with songwriting and singing meant launching a solo career would be problematic at best. Unsurprisingly, his first two solo albums released in 1970 were written off as unsuccessful takes on Hollywood tunes and country music (I haven’t heard them myself but I doubt it’s too far from the truth) and only confirmed the fears that Ringo would never make it as a successful solo artist.


His third solo effort, simply titled Ringo, released after a two (or so) year brake must have then come as quite a shock because though it may be little more than a collection of lightweight pop tunes, it’s a stunningly and consistently enjoyable collection of lightweight pop tunes. This may seem like I’m damning this album with faint praise (ah, gotta love a well placed cliché) but there’s a place in everyone’s collection for a bit of lightweight pop music especially lightweight pop music that is as well written, produced and performed as this one is. 

So what brought on the change from potentially doomed has-been to revitalized pop sensation for ol’ Ringo? Well, for one thing, Ringo has never exactly been associated with country music or show tunes so a return to pop music was obviously an essential – and quite obvious - first step. Secondly and perhaps even more importantly, Ringo finds our Mr. Starkey making incredible use of his apparent likability and humility as he wisely enlists the aid of some mightily impressive talent to back him up.


Aside for the already impressive talents of the likes of Billy Preston, Marc Bolan and Nicky Hopkins this album also features the presence of all three of his former band mates. That’s right, for the first – and only – time since the split of the Beatles, Paul, John, George and Ringo appeared on the same album together. Admittedly, frictions were still high so you won’t find all four of them together on one track but the album opener, I’m The Greatest does feature three of the former-Fabs working together. This tongue in cheek slice of egotism was written by John Lennon and features George Harrison on guitars, Ringo on drums and lead vocals and John himself on pianos and backing vocals. It’s a great little song that would have seemed pretentious and narcissistic had John kept it for himself but with Ringo at the helm, it’s turned into an entirely likable bouncy pop song, free of any self-centered connotations. 

Mr. Lennon’s former songwriting partner also makes a songwriting contribution to the album with the immensely pretty ballad, Six O’Clock, a song that would have easily been a highlight on any of Paul’s own albums. Quite why he decided to give a song as beautiful as this away, I can’t even guess but it does work very well here. Ringo gives one of his most touching vocal performances while Paul provides synthesizers, pianos, backing vocals (with his wife Linda) and string and flute arrangements. 

Meanwhile, George Harrison provides the album with no less than three excellent songs. Sunshine Life For Me is an exuberant, lighthearted and quite authentic country song that should appeal even to those of us who normally hate country music. Photograph, co-written with Ringo himself, is probably the albums most serious cut featuring some truly heartbreaking lyrics, an awesome sax solo, some moving orchestral backing and (of course) an absolutely irresistible melody. You And Me Babe, co-written with former Beatles roadie (or is that roady?)Mal Evens ends off the original album perfectly. Acting as the “closing credits” for the album (ala the Stones’ Something Happened To Me Yesterday), this chugging pop ditty includes a terrific guitar solo courtesy of our man, George and some charming “thank-you’s” from Ringo. All three of these songs rank among my favourite George Harrison songs ever and for good reason. 




The rest of the songs here are either Ringo originals or covers. Not too surprisingly, the covers (of which there are two) are the albums weakest moments. Randy Newman’s Have You Seen My Baby is notable mainly for Marc Bolan’s distinctive guitar playing and even if it doesn’t quite take off, it’s still very listenable. So too, in fact, is You’re Sixteen, the hit single taken from this album. Unfortunately it’s too syrupy to be much more than “pretty listenable” so I don’t really understand why the worst song on the album was chosen to be the album’s representative single. Oh well at least it has a pretty interesting mouth sax (whatever that is) solo from Paul McCartney proving once again that there’s nothing that the man can’t play. 

Ringo himself wrote (or at least co-wrote) the remaining three songs on the album. Step Lightly is as basically likable as anything else here but it’s a bit too plodding to be considered among the album’s best songs – in fact, it’s the worst non-cover song here. The two songs he wrote with Vini Poncia, on the other hand, are both mightily impressive. Oh My My is a stomping piano-based pop rocker featuring Billy Preston on piano and organ. Devil Woman is even better though, as it’s an even more ferociously energetic take on the same style of music, complete with more electrifying guitar licks, lively horns and pounding drumming.


Ringo also wrote the three fine bonus tracks that make this album an even more worthwhile purchase. It Don’t Come Easy features George Harrison on guitar and backing vocals (again) and is usually considered to be Ringo’s finest moment, songwriting wise and I, for one, am certainly not going to argue. A genuine, no-bars-held classic from Ringo Starr - who woulda thunk it? Early 1970 is Ringo’s rather good countryish ode to his three former band mates. Rounding off the three bonus tracks is Down and Out, a surprisingly down-beat (at least lyrically) pop song that’s every bit as good as the best stuff on the original album. Actually, these bonus tracks are so good that I can’t really imagine the album without them. 





South African readers buy Ringo from Take2. Or from this alternate link at Take2's More US store.

International readers buy Ringo from Amazon:







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