The Solo Project: Ringo Starr, Ringo

Hello, m'baby, hello, m'darlin', hello, m'ragtime gal!

“But then [producer Richard Perry] called back and said ‘Why don’t we do it in Los Angeles?’  So I said “Okay, we’ll come down to Los Angeles for a week,’ and I thought that we would just do a couple of tracks, but in a week we had eight backing tracks and we only needed two more for an album.  So we felt that we had to carry on.  The tracks were sounding good, we had four good songs, and John was in town, and so was George.  They wrote me some songs and then I didn’t want to leave Paul out, so I phoned him and we flew back to England to do Paul.  It just came about like that.”

-Ringo Starr, 1973

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Isn’t that just the cutest fucking thing you’ve ever heard?

Golden boy Ringo Starr’s Ringo is a drunken bash, a nutsycuckoo glam-pop album made by old friends hanging out and cutting loose (with one notable absence) for the first time in a very long time, and for the last time, too.  It opens with a song called “I’m The Greatest,” which is appropriate, as, at the time, Ringo was.  It’s his best album–which is saying a little more than one would expect–and it’s the most lovable record any of the Beatles released, solo or together.  You simply can’t resist it.  Cue, “The Greatest”:

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John wrote that song (1980: “I couldn’t sing it, but it was perfect for Ringo. He could say ‘I’m the greatest,” and people wouldn’t get upset. Whereas, if I said, ‘I’m the greatest,’ they’d all take it so seriously.”) in very much the charming manner of Beatle classics like “Yellow Submarine.”  Absent the heady atmosphere of A Beatle Recording Session, however, transplanted to the sniffling studios of the L.A. recording industry, that charm balloons into bombast.  “I’M THE GREATEST!  AND YOU BETTAH BELIEVE IT BABY!”  Everybody loves Ringo, but he’s nobody’s favorite.  To hear him bellow like that?  Ah, man.  Such, such fun.  Plus, George plays guitar on it.  “I’m The Greatest” is the closest the Beatles ever came to a reunion.

Ringo should be much more of a mess, given the circumstances of its recording.  It is not.  It is an outright blast that never once takes itself even an ounce seriously, except perhaps during Paul’s “Six O’Clock” (stunning).  But “Six O’Clock” is lovely!  In the early years of the Beatles’ recording career, George and Ringo would receive, at best, leftover Lennon-McCartney workovers (“I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” etc.) or, at worst, a decent cover to belt out (“Roll Over Beethoven,” “Boys”).

George eventually learned to write for himself.  Ringo tried–“Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden”–but of course did not have the knack.  As everybody aged, separated and mellowed, the songs written for the drummer got a little more thought, a little more TLC.  “Submarine,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Good Night.”  The other Beatles knew Ringo’s understated drumming would never gain him respect with a lot of people, and so they emphasized his ebullience and seemingly undrainable optimism.

So the best and most interesting songs here are the ones written by his old war buddies.  “Photograph” was a monster hit, produced by George and co-written (mm-hmm) by George and Ringo, and pairs perfectly with “Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond),” a jaunterrific sea shanty that sounds a whole lot like “Don’t Pass Me By” and that may or may not be about the mulleted elephant that wasn’t in Los Angeles.  Harrison also penned the album-closing “You And Me (Babe)”…oh, actually, it says here that this was written by George with longtime Beatle roadie Mal Evans.  Uh, huh.

The party wasn’t limited to the oldest friends, though, and Ringo is full of friendly favors from talented people who just wanted to see ol’ Ring’ succeed.  Randy Newman contributes the extremely likable “Have You Seen My Baby,” reminding the listener that maybe Ringo Starr should sing ALL of Randy Newman’s songs.  Ringo also teamed up with a buddy, Vini Poncia (don’t ask, I don’t know either), to crank out “Step Lightly” and “Oh My My,” the latter of which is the catchiest tune on the album (which is saying something, as there’s a cover of “You’re Sixteen” present).  And, of course, he got one done all by himself: the C&W wanderer “Step Lightly.”

Nothing on Ringo is music for the ages, at least in the traditional sense.  While the friends who gave him a golden ticket were busy screaming at each other, sniping at each other and tarnishing the very fresh memories of their collective greatness, Ringo was just trying to have fun.  He’d spent the preceding few years acting, testing a new muse, and, of course, he was just fine at it, in the correct one-note role.  (Eventually, this bug would get him married to a Bond girl.  Ringo, man.)  His marriage was falling apart, he knew he’d never make A Great Pop/Rock Album, so he flew out to the coast and let the work come to him.  It worked.  Ringo is one of the best Beatle solo albums there is.

BABY I'M A STAR

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TOP TRACKS

“I’m The Greatest,” “Photograph,” “Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond),” “Six O’Clock.”

DUDS and/or DISASTERS

…nah.  None.

HIDDEN GEMS

“You And Me (Babe).”  Some Jimmy Buffett shit right there.

AVAILABILITY

CD and mp3, for about ten bucks both.

IN THE MEANTIME…

John had a little too much fun in L.A.

Paul set about conquering the world with the release of Band On The Run.

George settled into a decent little groove, finally following up All Things Must Pass with Living In The Material World, a decent thing that would be the template for the rest of his decade.

ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE

Oh yeah.  Mr. Starkey tried his hand at directing, too.

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