Ringo Starr

TrackAlbum
Act Naturallywith Buck Owens (single)
I'’m The GreatestRingo
It Don’'t Come Easy45 Apple R5898 + Ringo (bonus)
$15 DrawBeaucoups Of Blues
PhotographRingo + All-Starr Band 1989
The No No SongAll-Starr Band 1989
Weight Of The WorldTime Takes Time
Wine, Women & Loud Happy SongsBeaucoups Of Blues
Don’'t Hang UpChoose Love
You’'re SixteenRingo + All-Starr Band 1989

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Even his mum wouldn’t say Ringo Starr was a natural singer, but The Beatles cannily made sure he had one song per album. That’s because they had created the image of four characters for girl fans. Paul was the good-looking, safe, friendly boy-next-door. George was the shy, quiet loner. John was the dangerous one. Ringo was the teddy-bear for girls a couple of years younger. In 1964, Ringo lapel pins or buttons outsold each of the other band members. None of these created images was (entirely) true, but it shifted a ton of records and so Ringo had to have his songs. Boys was sung in the days when no one cared about switching gender in song lyrics. Add I Wanna Be Your Man, Matchbox, Honey Don’t, Act Naturally, What Goes On, Yellow Submarine, With A Little Help From My Friends plus Don’t Pass Me By and Octopus’s Garden which he wrote. The Beatles versions are disqualified from this Ringo solo Toppermost, but none would make a Beatles Top Fifty.

An aside on drumming. There is that oft-quoted interview where Ringo said ‘I’m not the best drummer in the world,’ and Lennon cuts in ‘You’re not even the best drummer in The Beatles’. Lennon was joking and later praised Ringo’s drumming to the skies. That remark’s been seized upon by those who are into show-off drumming, and those in awe of Paul McCartney’s undoubted multi-instrumentalist abilities (including drums), as a stick to beat Ringo with. Professional musicians and even more professional drummers regard him extremely highly. It’s nothing to do with flashy technique, but as Modern Drummer magazine said: “One of Ringo’s great qualities was that he composed unique, stylistic drum parts for The Beatles’ songs. His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song.” Steve Smith

Ringo’s solo career begins with Sentimental Journey a collection of standards with a picture of a pub on the sleeve, the sort of record you can only put out when you own 25% of the label and the other three owners have all put out their own albums. I haven’t listened to it in years. Toppermost duty calls … I should give it a spin, but just looking at the track titles will have to do. Whispering Grass (shades of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum), Bye Bye Blackbird, Stardust. Skipped.

The next was intriguing; Beaucoups Of Blues (1970) my most-played Ringo solo album. It was a revelation to me, because I was heavily into country-rock, but couldn’t take full-on country & western. Ringo went to Nashville, got Pete Drake to produce, Scotty Moore to engineer, D.J. Fontana on drums (as well as himself) plus Charlie Daniels, Jerry Reed, Charlie McCoy, Ben Keith and half dozen more of the finest session men he (and before him Bob Dylan) could buy. The third Elvis connection, to add to Scotty & D.J., was having The Jordanaires sing all the backing vocals. Pete Drake commissioned new songs for the sessions. Wine Women & Loud Happy Songs is my first choice. $15 Draw the runner-up. Fabulous stuff throughout.

He followed it with a couple of singles; It Don’t Come Easy (UK #4) and Back Off Boogaloo (UK #2) which is as well as any Beatle was doing. It Don’t Come Easy was perfectly matched to his voice, and the first one selected in my Toppermost list. He also did it on The Concert For Bangla Desh. Back Off Boogaloo sounds like early glam rock.

Ringo in 1973 set the tone for the next run of albums. Get John to write one, I’m The Greatest, Paul & Linda to write another, Six O’Clock, George to write Sunshine Life For Me, You & Me Baby and with Ringo, a third, Photograph. Write a few yourself with Vini Poncia. Three Beatles, John, George and Ringo appear on I’m The Greatest, Paul played on Six O’Clock. Invite a few people to help; Marc Bolan, Steve Cropper, Bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Jim Keltner, Martha Reeves. Add a Randy Newman song.

Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond) has Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko of the Band, plus George and Ringo and David Bromberg. The result sounds like Mungo Jerry on a mediocre day. Photograph was his third Top Ten hit in a row, You’re Sixteen his fourth.

Goodnight Vienna was slightly less stellar, with only Lennon contributing a track … the title track. Mind you Elton John and Bernie Taupin gave him Snookeroo, and Lennon produced Only You, the old Platters song, and Goodnight Vienna. The C&W feel was back in Roger Miller’s Husbands And Wives and Hoyt Axton’s The No No Song, which Ringo recycled for years.

After two hit albums in a row, Ringo started his own label, Ring O’Records, and its basic problem was that he never recorded himself for it. In spite of decent tracks by Bobby Keys, ‘Dirk and Stig’ (The Rutles) and Graham Bonnett, the label was said to be a financial disaster.

Ringo’s Rotogravure came in 1976, and again all three other ex-Beatles contributed, and Eric Clapton, Harry Nilsson and Dr John joined in. Bruce Channel’s Hey, Baby! was an interesting choice of cover, as it had inspired the harmonica part in Love Me Do. Ringo The 4th followed in 1977, the odd title of the sixth album was because he counted Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups Of Blues as genre excursions rather than straight rock releases. Wings was another Starkey-Poncia composition, and one he revisited on Ringo 2012. The album, with its disco orientation, and six Starkey-Poncia songs, was a critical disaster, and clearly not a style suited to his voice.

Bad Boy in 1978 eschewed celebrity guests, interesting covers and disco, and also eschewed airplay, chart success or pleasant reviews.

After two albums that had totally stiffed, he issued Stop And Smell The Roses in 1981 centred around George Harrison’s Wrack My Brain. Just before his murder, John Lennon had handed Ringo two songs for the album, including Nobody Told Me, but Ringo felt he just couldn’t use them in the circumstances. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Stephen Stills, and Ronnie Wood helped out. While it’s much better than its two predecessors, it did not sell. Old Wave followed in 1983. At this point, amazingly, we have several years when an ex-Beatle can’t even get a recording deal, though Thomas The Tank Engine started, with his narration.

1989 was a good year. First, Ringo and Buck Owens teamed up to duet on Act Naturally, a Buck Owens song Ringo had covered with The Beatles. It was a #27 C&W hit in the USA. And firmly in Beaucoups Of Blues territory.

The revival came with a new project, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, focussing on live tours, not record sales … and this is 1989, twenty years before all the other rock stars had to focus the same way. The All-Starr Band has gone through many incarnations. A new one is put together for each tour, and the chosen musicians are an eclectic mix, who all get to feature a couple of their own hits. DVD has been the main medium, but the first band had a CD too, and there is a budget compilation of several All-Starr bands. The 1989 one was never surpassed … Clarence Clemons on sax, Rick Danko on bass, Billy Preston and Dr John on keyboards, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren on guitars, Jim Keltner, Levon Helm and Ringo Starr as a three drummer section. In later All-Starr bands, Ringo chose younger and more widely, which is why the first version matched him better. The CD was recorded at the last gig in a two month tour, so they were tight. The versions of his hits on that are It Don’t Come Easy, The No No Song, You’re Sixteen and Photograph. I think they’re the best he’s done them. We’ll ignore the great versions of the band members’ own back catalogues.

The All-Starr Band line-ups tend to repeat the same Ringo songs, those above plus Yellow Submarine, Act Naturally, Honey Don’t, With A Little Help From My Friends. 1992’s tour kept Walsh and Lofgren, and added Todd Rundgren, Timothy B. Schmit and Dave Edmunds. 1995 had Felix Cavaliere and John Entwistle. 1997 and 1999 had Gary Brooker, Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton. 2000 added Eric Carmen and Dave Edmunds (again). 2001 was a particularly good tour with Roger Hodgson, Ian Hunter, Greg Lake and Sheila E. 2003 had Paul Carrack and John Waite. 2006 had Rod Argent and Edgar Winter. 2008 added Gary Wright and Hamish Stuart. 2010 was the same plus Rick Derringer. The 2012 Tour had Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather. Basically, Ringo went through the same stuff with each band, possibly a little flatter each time.

Odds and ends are interspersed throughout his career. He recorded Sweet Little Sixteen in a duet with Jerry Lee Lewis, and Think It Over> for a Buddy Holly tribute album. 1992’s Time Takes Time album brought the extremely Beatlesque Weight Of The World which was a minor hit. I bought it.

During this he produced more albums to a critical blank wall. Vertical Man was 1998’s attempt. Paul and George helped, plus Brian Wilson, Tom Petty, Joe Walsh, Ozzy Osbourne. People obviously love him. He did a Christmas album in 1999, I Wanna Be Santa Claus. Ringo Rama is 2003.

Choose Love is 2005. It’s not a great album, it’s not even a good album, but I’m going to take Don’t Hang Up duetting with Chrissie Hynde because Ringo drums in classic style, and the guitars are wonderfully late Beatlesque, and Ringo even plays organ too. The Beatle guitar sound continues on the title track Choose Love which also has Ringo’s collaborator, Mark Hudson, playing exuberant bass. But the lyrics are crap.

It must have been frustrating. Poor sales, but people lining up to see him do the oldies with yet another All-Starr Band.

A full album, produced by Dave Stewart, came with Liverpool 8 in 2008, when Ringo whipped up controversy in interviews by suggesting that Malibu might be a more pleasant place to live than Liverpool, and that he no longer wanted to sign autographs. Liverpool 8, the title track, got attention by namechecking the other Beatles and reciting his career.

Played Butlin’s Camp with my friend, Rory
It was good for him, it was great for me

and

Went to Hamburg, the red lights were on
With George and Paul, and my friend John

Namecheck doesn’t help if the song’s mediocre, and it is.

Y-Not in 2010 featured Paul McCartney on Walk With You. Ringo 2012 was a second choice of title … Ringo wanted to call it Motel California. And just as Liverpool 8 starts with the title track, Ringo 2012 starts with In Liverpool. Forced lyrics again, and Think It Over and Rock Island Line, both jaunty, stand out.

For record store day in 2012, he issued a box set with three replica 7” singles at £45 to £50 the box (now £35 on amazon). The replicas of Don’t Come Easy, Goodnight Vienna and Photograph are somewhat overpriced. Goodnight Vienna was never a 45, but the other two rate at £6 mint, meaning £2 to £3 in your local secondhand store. Six months later, I know three stores that still have them unsold.

Ringo is at his best with cheerful covers, keeps recycling those 70s hits on tour, and with new material is falling further off the radar as time passes.

 

The official Ringo Starr site

Ringo Starr biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #103

1 Comment

  1. Rob Millis
    Oct 27, 2013

    I’ve often wondered whether to pick up Beaucoups of Blues. Maybe I will.

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