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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ringo Starr: Ringo's Rotogravure


1) A Dose Of RockʼnʼRoll; 2) Hey Baby; 3) Pure Gold; 4) Cryinʼ; 5) You Donʼt Know Me At All; 6) Cookinʼ (In The Kitchen Of Love); 7) Iʼll Still Love You; 8) This Be Called A Song; 9) Las Brisas; 10) Lady Gaye; 11) Spooky Weirdness.

General verdict: The cracks are clearly showing, but still a decent enough application of Ringoʼs classic mid-Seventies formula — a last stab at decency before the slump.

The final entry in Ringoʼs «With A Little Help From My Ex-Bandmates» trilogy was, not too surprisingly, the weakest. Paul was busy touring with Wings and trying hard to dethrone Led Zeppelin from their «jet kings» pedestal; George was busy sulking, litigating, and generally having the shittiest time of his life; and John had just announced his retirement from music altogether. In the middle of it all, Ringo himself was far from being in fine shape, since most of his free time in that period was largely spent collaborating with Keith Moon on various ways of destroying oneʼs own organism. And the album, produced for a new deal with Atlantic Records, was to be made on the spot in coke-rich L.A., under the supervision of Arif Mardin, who had just made himself a big name by producing the first disco hits of the Bee Gees.

Taken together, all these factors could result in one of the most awful experiences ever, or, by some curious chance, in one of those fascinating trainwrecks that are extremely interesting to experience, since they happen to convey a particularly deranged state of mind at a certain time period. Ringoʼs Rotogravure, however, is neither. It is, in fact, disappointing largely because it is so mediocre — smooth, passable, occasionally catchy, with almost no highlights and very few straightforward embarrassments. Various accounts tell us of how wild the life of British drummers could be in mid-Seventiesʼ L.A., but you do not really get any glimpses of it here: you do get a few on Keith Moonʼs solo album that came out a little earlier, but Ringo was just too shy in comparison. You can like this record or hate it, but you can be assured that it will tell you very little about Ringoʼs true state of mind in mid-ʼ76.

Arguably the most likable song on the album has nothing to do with John, Paul, or George anyway: it is the opening title, ʽA Dose Of RockʼnʼRollʼ, contributed by the little known Austra­lian songwriter Carl Groszman. Containing not one, but two deceptive starts, it takes twenty five seconds to settle into its lazy, nonchalant, friendly mid-tempo groove and just a few more to fully lay its cards on the table: "if your mama donʼt feel good / if your daddy donʼt feel good / take a dose of rockʼnʼroll / and wash it down with cool, clear soul". While I am not exactly sure that the message should be taken literally, and that the recipé could genuinely aid your parents on their deathbeds, the simple charm of the catchy chorus is impossible to resist, and I know for sure it helped raise my mood just a little bit a couple of times. (Put together two and two and you will see how it could probably raised Ringoʼs own mood at the time — not that I am implying that you can actually see a desperate man behind the smile without actively using your imagination, but thereʼs no harm in whipping up a little tragism to spice up a Ringo Starr record).

As for the old bandmates, there are signs of slacking. Paul actually worked with Ringo on the backing track for ʽPure Goldʼ (with Linda singing back vocals), but the song simply works over the old doo-wop progression with a slightly glitzy comical twist — unlike ʽSix OʼClockʼ, a song with clear traces of McCartneyʼs pop genius, ʽPure Goldʼ is more of a Fiftiesʼ homage that brings back Ringoʼs antiquated image instead of trying to adapt him to modern times. Johnʼs ʽCookinʼ (In The Kitchen Of Love)ʼ is better, a fun little pop romp that would be Johnʼs last contribution to the world of music until 1980 — but, funny enough, already shows a bit of that relaxed, pacified, at-ease-with-the-world spirit which would define the sound of Double Fantasy; apparently, getting back with Yoko and nursing baby Sean made a pretty quick impact on the man, or maybe it was always like that for him in Ringoʼs presence (maybe if they had moved in together as early as 1975, weʼd have Triple Fantasy four years earlier?).

The weirdest story concerns Georgeʼs ʽIʼll Still Love Youʼ, a song that actually dates all the way back to the All Things Must Pass sessions and which George originally intended for Shirley Bassey, then gave away to Cilla Black. Apparently, with George unable to come up with new material for Ringo and with Ringo being an old fan of the song, they decided they would give it a go. The attempt was noble, and there is even some fabulous guitar work by session player Lon Van Eaton that is every bit as deserving as anything George and Eric did on All Things Must Pass themselves — the bad news is, of course, that Ringo bravely fails the test of capturing Georgeʼs broken-hearted spirit, and his "Iʼll still love you!" at the end of each verse is pedestrian; compare this version with the much worse produced demo original from the 1970 sessions, and you will clearly see what distinguishes a great singer-songwriter from run-of-the-mill showtune level performance. Simply put, this is not Ringo in his right emploi — and I am certainly not implying that the man could not feel pain and spiritual torture; he simply lacked the means to make us feel that feel. He knew what it means, he just couldnʼt explain.

Everything else on the album ranges from «okay» to «okayish». Claptonʼs ʽThis Be Called A Songʼ captures Eric at the peak of his reggae-country-soft-rock period and predictably sounds like an outtake from Thereʼs One In Every Crowd — mildly catchy, professional, totally unexciting. Ringoʼs own songs cover old-fashioned country balladry (ʽCryinʼʼ), corny Mexican mariachi music (ʽLas Brisasʼ), and straightforward pop that abuses the hell out of its repetitive chorus (ʽLady Gayeʼ). I welcome this diversity, but it does not exactly turn the record into a White Album — although, in a funny way, it has its own brief equivalent of a ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ: the last minute and a half are given over to ʽSpooky Weirdnessʼ, a mix of mock-creepy musical hooliganry and cheesy-scary voiceovers that might suggest an influence of Welcome To My Nightmare, perhaps placed on a turntable during one of Team Ringoʼs drunken binges at one of the local LA clubs. It is a totally innocent twist, but then again, we do not often get twists of any kind on Ringo Starr records — plus, its goofy messiness may be pretty symbolic.

The record was seriously panned upon release, and its commercial failure and critical backlash drove Ringo to abandon the formula and try something new for his next two albums — but in retrospect, it is way better than whatever followed, and the backlash itself was more due to changing times than decreasing quality; to be sure, Rotogravure rocks much less than Ringo, but it is not just because of Ringo — it is because the glam-rock aesthetics that Ringo conducted so fine was becoming stale. It is curious, actually, that Arif Mardinʼs role in the albumʼs sound turned out to be purely passive: there is no guarantee whatsoever that Ringo could be made to churn out fun disco singles with the same passion that he had for T. Rex-style singles, but the very fact that this was not even attempted is quite telling of the general situation. Now that we are not in 1976 anymore, Rotogravure can be enjoyed a bit more openly and freely outside of that context — but, of course, it is still far from the standards of «fabulous simplistic pop».


  1. This album doesn't sound like it deserves such a rigorous, thoughtful review - which is why we appreciate your work all the more.

  2. I bought this album when it first came out because I just knew that more Beatles help would be great, just like Ringo. I hated every single note.(even the Lennon tune) I no longer have a copy of it and I don't mourn that at all. I tried it several times over the years and never rated it above putrid. Never bought another Ringo album again. Ever.