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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ringo Starr: Ringo


1) I'm The Greatest; 2) Have You Seen My Baby; 3) Photograph; 4) Sunshine Life For Me; 5) You're Sixteen; 6) Oh My My; 7) Step Lightly; 8) Six O'Clock; 9) Devil Woman; 10) You And Me (Babe); 11*) It Don't Come Easy; 12*) Early 1970; 13*) Down And Out.

General verdict: Might just be one of the greatest drunken records of all time. If you're sixteen and you're beautiful, this album is just for you. (Or, at least, it WAS back in 1973).

While Ringo's first two solo albums are essentially indefensible, his properly self-titled debut in the world of genuine pop-rock presents a great pretext for the proverbial Ringo Apology. In the world of pop music, we do not always have to judge artists by their technical skills or songwriting genius: sometimes — much more often than we want to admit to ourselves, actually — charisma and personality is all it is really about. And there was never a time when Richard Starkey lacked charisma and personality, even if in those early years it may have been more apparent in the movies than in the music. And as the Seventies moseyed along and the individual Beatles' power of innovation and breaking new ground passed on to a new generation of musicians, and their solo albums began to be more about personality than about revolution, suddenly Ringo found himself in a position when his chances at making a good record became comparable with said chances for all of his former bandmates.

Sure, he would never become a fully competent, self-assured songwriter; but this did not prevent him from writing two songs on his own (ʽIt Don't Come Easyʼ and ʽBack Off Boogalooʼ) and sending them into the US and the UK Top Ten — not because he was Ringo Starr, but because they were really good songs, the first one fun and inspirational, the second one weird, frivolous, and catchy. More importantly, why should you bother writing songs when you can have your friends write them for you — particularly the kind of friends who understand very well what sort of songs would suit you best of all? And finally, whoever said that a good record need necessarily deal with soul-searching à la Lennon, pastoral idyllies à la McCartney, or religious epiphanies à la Harrison? ʽWine, Women, And Loud Happy Songsʼ, the title of one of the entries from the disappointing Beaucoups Of Blues, would be Ringo's motto from now on, and Ringo has as many terrific loud and happy songs about wine and women as Living In The Material World has about Lord Sri Krishna, or as Red Rose Speedway has about... uh, red roses?

It should probably be pointed out that Ringo came out in the right place at the right time. 1973 was the height of the glam era, and Ringo was living the life of quite the wild party animal, hitting it off with the likes of Keith Moon and Marc Bolan like there was no tomorrow. The glitzy, egocentric, hedonistic nature of the glam movement must have appealed to his unpretentious, simple-man-with-simple-pleasures artistic persona, and yet, at the same time, his natural charm, friendliness, and humility would definitely prevent him from coming across as an annoying, obnoxious jerk. If you are familiar with the music of the time, you do not need to go further than the opening dry-throat guitar chords of ʽHave You Seen My Babyʼ to make the identification (I honestly did not remember this, but I knew it was Marc Bolan with the first couple of notes) — but Ringo's adoption of glam trademarks stops abruptly at the line between «loud and cheerful» and «overpowered». Because the latter is just not what he is.

Besides, Bolan may have played on ʽHave You Seen My Babyʼ, but the song was written by Randy Newman — and, if anything, it presents the protagonist as a sore loser with his woman rather than Mr. Magneto-Man ("when you're through with my baby, milkman, send her home to me"). Even more blatantly, ʽI'm The Greatestʼ, donated by Lennon, clearly pokes all sorts of fun at the superstar craze — and John in person had gone on record saying that, well, if he'd written a song called ʽI'm The Greatestʼ for himself, people would have raised eyebrows; but for Ringo, it was perfectly alright. Nothing could hurt Ringo at the time.

Anyway, the sheer amount of talent on the album is legendary — all four Beatles (though never in the same room at the same time), Bolan, Newman, Nicky Hopkins, all of The Band, Steve Cropper of Booker T. & The MG's, Harry Nilsson, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner on drums: appa­rently, nobody could say no to Ringo, a phenomenon that he would make continuous good use of through the next four or five decades. Typically, such a superstar swamp does not guarantee true quality; but in the heated-up, inebriated, rambunctious atmosphere of Los Angeles in 1973, it almost certainly guaranteed a wild, irresistible ego trip. With most of the songs contributed by Beatles members, the deal was sealed, and up to this day, Ringo is almost unanimously regarded as the pinnacle of Starr's solo career, with which I can only concur.

The big hit was ʽPhotographʼ, co-written with George (and later, in a moment of accidental brilliance, revived by Ringo as a memory to his good friend at the Concert For George) with a bit of a Roy Orbison vibe, but also featuring George's trademark love for «winding-stairway» chords (here in the bridge section) and somehow cutifying the cheesy melodrama by means of that same old lovable Ringo personality. (I mean, when you just look at these lyrics, you probably expect a highly sentimental and tearful delivery — Ringo is not physically capable of that, which is why his nostalgic / depressed tunes have a miraculous edge not to be found in many of the far more versatile singers). The second big hit was Johnny Burnette's ʽYou're Sixteenʼ, which only went to No. 8 in 1960 — perhaps the world was not yet ready for such underage lust; in 1973, though, it was OK, plus, it did not really sound all that dirty when it was Ringo behind the mike. (For extra cheese, be sure to take in the 1978 video with the already far-over-16 Carrie Fisher as Ringo's love interest).

In all honesty, though, the album kicks more ass on Ringo's own numbers, sometimes co-written with guitarist Vini Poncia: the major highlight is ʽDevil Womanʼ, a fast, percussion-heavy glam rocker with distorted guitar, big brass, and even a slight whiff of creepy menace and sexual aggression — a whiff that quickly turns to humor as soon as you remember who the lead singer is, but the backing band is so talented and so enthusiastic (and hopefully, quite inebriated) that the balance between humor, kick-ass rock'n'roll, and sexual braggadoccio is just about perfect. And for ʽOh My Myʼ, the third single off the album, Ringo managed to stir up a solid R&B feel, with the participation of both Martha Reeves and Merry Clayton of ʽGimme Shelterʼ fame; the romp is four minutes of pure LA fun, not forgetting a good dose of coke, I am sure.

Is it all just trashy, disposable fun? I don't know. It's just a party-type album, sure, but unless you want to penalize it for sexism or something, it's a party-type album that still has not lost its boozy appeal. Because the art of making a party album that is humorous and endearing rather than just loud and obnoxious is an art in itself, and it is especially pleasant when that art comes to some­body as naturally as it comes to Ringo here. In fact, right here and there, off the top of my mind, I cannot think of any party albums that would top this one for sheer fun. It's always either too serious, or too loud, or too generic, or too moronic. Here, the combination of talent, humor, energy, and hooliganry is just about perfect.


  1. Small correction: only 4 out of 5 members of the Band played on this record. Richard Manuel did not take part for some reason.

  2. I do hate to tell you, but George actually co-wrote "It Don't Come Easy" and "Back Off Booglaoo"

  3. Almost sure both singles were number 1 hits in the US.
    I hate 1973. Ringo was more relevant than John Lennon. The Rolling Stones had lost their soul, The Who started to fade, Led Zeppelin thought they were like Mozart, VU was history, Brian Wilson was almost a plant, nobody paíd attention to The Stooges and lipsticks were more important than music. But not everything was so horrible. It was also the year of Dark Side Of The Moon, Catch a Fire and Red.

    1. What? Holland by Beach Boys, Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper, Larks Tongues by KC, Brothers and Sisters by Allman Bros, For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music, and a ton of other classics came out that year. 1973 was great!

    2. "Red" was '74 -- the also-excellent "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" was '73.

      I concur with William -- '73 had a lot of great stuff. "Selling England by the Pound", anyone?

    3. I will go back to 1973; Montrose - Montrose, Uriah Heep - Live, Spooky Tooth - You broke my heart so I busted your jaw, Deep Purple - Who do we think we are, Budgie - Never turn your back on a friend.

  4. I like that album. I would highlight Photograph on the page, it's a great song.
    For many years I didn't like McCartney's song, now I like it.
    I saw Ringo live in 2011, I think. It was a good concert, not the best I've been to, but I had fun. Edgar Winter was the man! I don't understand how Ringo is not perceived as the best drummer ever, he didn't even sweat playing while his support could barely breathe.