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Friday, August 31, 2018

Ringo Starr: Goodnight Vienna


1) (It's All Down To) Goodnight Vienna; 2) Occapella; 3) Oo-Wee; 4) Husbands And Wives; 5) Snookeroo; 6) All By Myself; 7) Call Me; 8) No No Song; 9) Only You; 10) Easy For Me; 11) Goodnight Vienna (reprise); 12*) Back Off Boogaloo; 13*) Blindman; 14*) Six O'Clock (extended version).

General verdict: A bit too much on the silly pop side, but still fairly consistent and fun as far as silly pop goes. Too bad the «Ringo as Klaatu» idea never got reflected in the music — hey, it could work.

The success of Ringo was a turning point in the man's career — from that point onwards, Ringo adopted the «Magnet Approach» as his primary guideline in creating new music. Namely, Ringo himself would be the magnet, and all sorts of famous musical people, preferably including one or two of his older bandmates, would be the objects of attraction. Even if the approach would not always work, it was pretty clear to Ringo that this would be the only way for his albums to sell, or, if not sell, then at least have some sort of reason for existence. Or maybe it was never all that clear to Ringo, but that is what he did anyway, drunk or sober.

Since Goodnight Vienna was recorded in more or less the same circumstances as Ringo — still in Los Angeles, still accompanying John Lennon on his «lost weekend», still featuring the same player line-up — one would expect it to be comparable in quality to its predecessor, and it is. Yet at the same time, there is a slight overhang of the balance towards the whimsical vaudeville side, and I would make a guess and blame this on the absence of one particularly important and crucial friend: Marc Bolan. The heaviest and most seriously-sounding song on the CD edition of Vienna is ʽBack Off Boogalooʼ, a single-only rocker that had actually been recorded in 1972 and was still heavily influenced by Marc — not just because of the lyrics ("boogaloo" was one of Bolan's favorite words), but because of the overall bombastic, snapping, snarling approach; Harrison's slide guitar playing, coupled with some of the loudest and fiercest drumming in Ringo's entire career, is a classic example of the no-holds-barred principle.

Compared to that heavy (but still fun) stuff, Goodnight Vienna is a bit of a letdown if you come looking for maniacal energy and party wildness. It is still a party album, but it looks like the party is winding down — if Ringo captured the guests in full heat, then Vienna is that late hour thing when it is not quite time to go yet, but the heavy stuff is already starting to wear off. So there is less heavy rock and more flat-out pop, less flashy guitar and more honky-tonk piano: Bolan is on his way out, but Elton is still in, with ʽSnookerooʼ sounding like something out of the ʽLove Lies Bleedingʼ textbook, only in a clown version this time.

The one song that most people probably remember from the album is the ʽNo No Songʼ, though it was really a cover — Hoyt Axton's original was a little more blatantly Caribbean-stylized, both in the singing and the musical arrangement, whereas Ringo's band goes for a more straightforward pop angle. There is a bit of self-irony in listening to Ringo consequently renounce all of Earth's nasty pleasures in the middle of a recording studio in 1974 Los Angeles ("ten pound bag of cocaine" — how could one refuse a ten pound bag of cocaine under those circumstances?), and the irony is further increased with a vocal and instrumental melody that would make the song perfect for Sesame Street... well, it's never too late to teach kids about the harmful side effects of heavy drugs, I guess. The whole thing may be dumb as heck and even sacrilegious if you want to think in those kinds of terms, but damn is it ever catchy, and Ringo is the perfect guy to sing it. (Though it is also a good incentive to check out more of Hoyt Axton's stuff — nobody ever remembers the guy, but he did record quite prolifically in the 1960s and beyond, and wrote some good songs that we usually know from other performers, such as Steppenwolf's ʽPusherʼ).

Other than that, most of the material is enjoyable and forgettable. The Lennon-written title track is a novelty toss-off — ʽI'm The Greatestʼ was at least swimming in irony, whereas ʽGoodnight Viennaʼ is just drunken nonsense sung against a banging piano riff that John might have thrown out while recording his version of ʽYa Yaʼ or something. Paul and George are no longer present; instead, we have the bright New Orleanian sound of Allen Toussaint (ʽOccapellaʼ), the Nashville sludge of Roger Miller (ʽHusbands And Wivesʼ, a fairly poor choice because Ringo very much sucks at slow, sentimental country waltzes), and the melancholic balladry of Harry Nilsson (ʽEasy For Meʼ — which you can hear on Nilsson's own album anyway, so there is really no reason to hunt down a Ringo version). All nice enough, but without quite the same atmosphere of total craziness that permeated Ringo.

Still, compared to the late Seventies' slump that would follow, Goodnight Vienna is quite a salvageable record. If we agree that we like to have Mr. Starkey clowning around as long as he understands that he is clowning and lets us in on the joke, then this album perfectly fits the concept. It rarely, if ever, tries to be serious; rarely, if ever, demands for any exceptional singing feats to be performed; totally respects the quality-pop laws of catchiness and professionalism; and still has that slightly dimmed (and, by now, a bit forced) party feel. You do get the impression that, perhaps, a nasty hangover would be just around the corner, and it was; but as of late 1974, the party was still on, and it is never too late to join in, not even in 2018.


  1. I think the title track is a catchy, fun song.

  2. Ringo's records are fun. But he totally depends on other Artists' talent. For sure he was smart enough to work "with a little help of his friends". And after all these years I don't know anyone willing to listen his music. Just a good entertainment in his days that sold quite well. Obviously, he was one of the 4 Fabs.