Monday, 4 February 2019

Ringo Starr

Ringo albums are just that - Ringo albums....

Sentimental Journey (1970)

This was, in effect, the first solo album by a Beatles member, coming, as it did before the release of the group's final album in Let It Be. It was also the first album that saw an established rock artist covering old 1920s to 1950s easy listening standards. Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Rod Stewart would all follow suit, albeit many, many years later in some cases. Ringo did it to please his mum, apparently. Members of the Starkey family helped to pick the songs. Whatever, it was immaculately produced, involving McCartney, The Bee Gees' Maurice Gibb and Quincy Jones. There is not much more you can say about it, really. It is a pleasant half an hour or so of carefree, Sunday morning listening, as indeed I am doing now.
Starr sings at times with a good-humoured style that makes you briefly wonder if it is a bit of a send-up, but it is simple the nature of the beast. Gold old Ringo. There is no doubt he enjoyed doing this. This is what he said about it:-

"....I wondered, what shall I do with my life now that it's over? I was brought up with all those songs, you know, my family used to sing those songs, my mother and my dad, my aunties and uncles. They were my first musical influences on me. So I went to see George Martin and said: 'Let's do an album of standards, and to make it interesting we'll have all the arrangements done by different people....".

At the time it took a bit of a critical pounding from haughty rock journalists and (what a surprise), John Lennon, who called it "embarrassing", harshly. Maybe the Eurovision-style  "oompah" of tracks like Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? didn't help. (This is not the much later-written Van Morrison song, by the way). The way to treat it is not as anything other than what it is. If Ringo wanted to do this, I am sure as a blessed relief from Beatles stresses, then so be it. You can't help but enjoy the heartwarming, cosy feel of Sentimental JourneyWhispering Grass and the big band punch of Night And Day. It is simply harmless and charming. It served also to firmly cement positive opinions of Ringo's personality, which had held fast, particularly as the other Beatles "went weird". George Harrison liked it too and of course, McCartney did.

I have to say, though, that despite these plus points, Ringo's voice is a bit flat on occasions, especially on I'm A Fool To Care, but maybe it didn't really matter. The jazzy instrumentation on this, and many other tracks, is simply top class. Just check out the big brass break on Stardust or the intro to Blue, Turning Grey Over You. There is a lovely warm bass on Love Is A Many Splendored Thing too. Incidentally, Bye Bye Blackbird was also done many years later by Paul McCartney on his very similar Kisses On The Bottom album from 2012. September of the same year would find Starr releasing an equally pleasing album of country style material in Beaucoups Of Blues. Finally, what a wonderful, evocative photo of an old Liverpool pub is on the cover.

Beaucoups Of Blues (1970)

Six months after releasing a quaintly charming album of slickly-produced covers of easy listening standards in Sentimental JourneyThe Beatles had now split up, and Ringo Starr turned to another of his musical influences - Country and Western. Like its predecessor, this was an essentially harmless, appealing personal labour of love for Starr. The sound quality and production is once again outstanding and the while thing has a laid-back, sleepy flavour to it, heightened by Starr's naturally laconic voice. The latter suited the maudlin country songs perfectly. He had dabbled in C&W while with The Beatles, of course, with Act NaturallyWhat Goes On and Don't Pass Me By. There are no Starr compositions on here, but the material is performed in the same style. There were a few snooty criticisms at the time that largely stemmed from Starr's limitations as a singer, but you really have to leave that at the door and just enjoy it for what it is. There are echoes of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline but the material is even more traditionally C&W than on that album.                        

All the material is largely pretty much as you would expect - laid-back with lots of twangy steel guitar and lachrymose lyrics. Beaucoups Of Blues exemplifies that, (sung as "boocoos" of blues") as does the bassy, walking pace warmth of Love Don't Last LongFastest Growing Heartache In The West is a fiddle-backed, steel guitar typical C&W, while Without Her has a big influence from Nashville Skyline all over it. This sort of country rock was so de rigeur in 1970, with Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Byrds and America among many artists putting out such stuff.

Woman Of The Night has a big, seventies-style chorus but it has to be said that Ringo's voice isn't great on this one. To be honest, none of the rest of the songs deviate from the furrow being ploughed in any way, although $15 Draw has a bit of a country blues feel about it, and there isn't a huge amount more to be said other than it is, like Elvis Costello's Almost Blue - a pleasant enough venture into Country And Western. Actually, the mould is broken just a tiny bit on Losers' Lounge - an upbeat, honky-tonk-ish number with hints of Elvis to it.

** A quick mention has to be made of the two bonus tracks that appear on the latest remaster - Starr's own bluesy Coochy Coochy, which is upbeat and fun, and should have been on what is a short album and a six minute plus instrumental in the lively, bass and organ-driven Nashville Jam. They both augment the original album considerably, giving it a bit more "oomph". With the release of this album, it had people wondering whether Starr would explore a different genre on every outing. As it happened he took it easy for a few years putting out a couple of successful singles in It Don't Come Easy and Back Off Boogaloo before returning with a more standard rock album in 1973's Ringo.

Ringo (1973)
After two “easy listening” albums in the crooners of Sentimental Journey and the country of Beaucoups Of BluesRingo Starr released an album of more rocky “Ringo songs”. He had a couple of earlier rock singles in Back Of Boogaloo and It Don’t Come Easy (the latter of which is included in the bonus material this album, but this was his first effort at doing an upbeat, rock album.
I'm The Greatest, written by John Lennon, is a wryly amusing, vibrant take on the previous years, and being part of “the greatest show on earth”, while Randy Newman’s Have You Seen My Baby is a rock’n’roll-ish, Bony Moronie-style saxophone-driven romp that sounds a bit like John Lennon on Rock’n’Roll. Boogie-woogie piano and rocking guitar (played here by Marc Bolan) enrich a pleasant enough slice of fun. 

Photograph was the big hit single, and a good one it was too, from its dramatic piano and drum into and Ringo’s hangdog, mournful vocal. It brings back such memories of Top Of The Pops in 1973. I am sure Starr did not sing it, but Pan’s People danced to it, or else it was used as the “play out” song. The song had a bit of a big “wall of sound” style backing, all backing vocals, strings, saxophone and percussion. The other single from the album was a cover of Johnny Burnette’s rock’n’roll classic, You're Sixteen, which was amiable enough, although Starr felt uncomfortable singing it, the older he got. It does have a rollicking piano intro though, and Starr’s vocal is fetching. A kazoo solo from Paul McCartney on there too is a bit of fun.

Down And Out is a pounding, brassy rocker with a convincing vocal from Starr. It is easy to take a pop at Starr’s albums. They are obviously not those of the other three, but taken in isolation, there is not a Ringo Starr album I own that I have not enjoyed. 
Sunshine Life For Me is a George Harrison country blues stomper, with airs of The Stones’ Beggars’ Banquet about it and plenty of hoe-down fiddle from The Band’Rick Danko. The Band’s Robbie Robertson plays guitar on it too. Other notable luminaries appearing on the album are Harrison, Lennon, McCartney, Steve CropperGarth HudsonBilly PrestonNicky HopkinsBobby KeysLevon Helm, Rick Danko, Martha Reeves, Merry Clayton and Harry Nilsson amongst others. Oh My My is more lively, upbeat effervescence. Step Lightly is like a slow, mid-album Beatles song as indeed is the next one, Six O'Clock. Both are pleasant enough, but actually nothing remarkable. 

Devil Woman has a bit of a glam rock drum sound to it and more rocking saxophone. It almost sounds like a Suzi Quatro track at one point. The drinking good time song, You And Me, is a laconic piece of advice from Ringo, with a Lennon-esque “goodbye everybody” vocal bit at the end. It Don't Come Easy was a great rock single, while Early 1970 is a most sad tale from Ringo about The Beatles’ break up. As with all Ringo’s albums, it is not all that great, but it is certainly not all that bad either.

Goodnight Vienna (1974)
This was Ringo Starr's follow-up to the successful Ringo, from the previous year. For many, it is rated as highly. Personally, I think it is the equal of its predecessor. As usual, Ringo ropes in his mates to help out - Lennon, Elton John, Steve Cropper, Robbie Robertson, Dr. John, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston amongst others all make appearances. It was an appealing album, but it was probably the last decent album Starr put out for quite a while. Incidentally, I won myself a copy of this album, aged fifteen, for winning a competition in the "Disc" music paper. (I had to make as many words as I could out of the phrase "Ringo Starr's new album is Goodnight Vienna").

Goodnight Vienna is a rollicking, piano-driven slice of rocky fun. It is very Lennon-esque in places (Lennon wrote the song), and Harrison-esque too, with its "wall of sound" saxophone sound. Occapella has a great bass line and even goes into a dubby bit in the middle of its staccato beat. Oo-Wee is a jaunty, horn-powwered typically Ringo singalong rock number. Roger Miller's wry, observational Husbands And Wives is ideal for covering given Starr's love for country music.

Snookeroo was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and Elton plays piano and is one of the album's best tracks. Elton John was huge in 1974 so this was a coup for Ringo to have this on the album and it no doubt brought in a fair few sales. Both All By Myself and Call Me are very "Ringo" hangdog songs in their mournful, deadpan vocal delivery. 
No No Song is a tongue-in-cheek, amusing song about drug taking and Starr claiming he doesn't do that suff any more, man. The lead-off single, surprisingly, was the slow fifties cover, Only You (And You Alone)Harry Nilsson's sombre Easy For Me was full of grandiose string orchestration and an easy listening 1930s feel. A brief reprise of Goodnight Vienna lifts things up a bit, but actually the album finishes off on a bit of a downbeat note. The best material was earlier in the album and you know, thinking about it again, I think people are right, Ringo was the better album!

** The bonus tracks are the excellent single Back Off Boogaloo, which adds to the appeal of this latest  release; Blindman - a mysterious, brooding number, and Six O'Clock, which is a very McCartney-ish song.

Liverpool 8 (2008)

As I have said throughout my reviews of his work - Ringo albums are Ringo albums, always completely inoffensive, but nothing ever really stands out on them. A bit like the character of Starr himself - amiable and inoffensive, but in that amiability lies his weakness - an inability to really stand out from the crowd. Most of the material on here is predictable - solid mid-pace rock delivered in Starr’s often too deadpan voice - nothing to really get me excited - and possessing of a sound that is strangely sub-standard and a bit lo-fi, particularly for a 2008 recording.

Liverpool 8 revisits a regular Ringo topic of the good old days, when he, along with Paul, John and George conquered the world with their little band. Starr also likes a bit of cloying childhood nostalgia and this is served up in huge dollops on this song, which also has some genuinely moving moments but is far too saccharine on most occasions for my liking, although maybe I'm being a bit unfair there, because I'm a shameless nostalgist myself. 

It appears to me that this is a song that has been recycled by Ringo on a fair few occasions, I’m The Greatest and Early 1970 spring to mind and the Harrison tribute, Never Without You. The chanted “Liverpool” bit at the end isn’t great, either, making me half like the song and half find it a bit of a contrived, clumsy embarrassment. I come down on the side of liking it, however. Gone Are The Days also finds Ringo referencing It Don't Come Easy, further pursuing his habit of nostalgically (and sometimes wryly) quoting old songs in his lyrics. Harry’s Song is a nice, sensitive tribute to Starr’s old mate Harry Nilsson done in the style of him, most convincingly but R U Ready is spoilt by some poor production that seems to be trying to make it sound like a scratchy old record. It ends up as a bit of a mess, I have to say. Think About You is a solid, thumping rocker, backed by some muscular guitar and eighties-style keyboards that I like a lot. 

For Love is a typical Starr chugger that sounds like John Lennon meeting The Electric Light Orchestra. Now That She’s Gone Away has a nice, rolling drum sound and some killer guitar breaks. Starr’s albums are always musically good. Give It A Try is also very Lennonesque. The catchy If It's Love That You Want, Tuff Love and Love Is are all perfectly acceptable, but Pasodobles, a song about dancing in Spain, is probably best glossed over. There you are - another enjoyable but not world-shattering Ringo album, an aural equivalent of a comfortable old pair of slippers. 

Y Not (2010)

This is easily one of my favourites of Ringo Starr's many very similar albums. This one has a really upbeat, lively sound to it. It really is quite good. Benmont Tench from Tom Petty & The Heartbrrakers enhances the album considerably with his Hammond organ and piano work. there are also appearances for Paul McCartney, Edgar Winter and Joe Walsh. 

I remember really liking the album when I bought it, at the time of release, but, in the intervening years I had subsequently forgotten all about it. Therein lies the eternal problem with Ringo albums.

Anyway, on to the songs - Fill In The Blanks is a great, riffy opener that, for me, is a considerable improvement on the material and sound quality of the previous album and Peace Dream is good too, although it uses the old Lennon references - again! Starr gets all balefully nostalgic once more on the searing, bluesy rock of The Other Side Of Liverpool. I know it covers the same old ground but it is a really good number. 

Walk With You is another one overflowing with sad Ringo pathos. Again, it has a lovely appeal to it. Good old Ringo seems a clich├ęd response, but it is one I find impossible not to have. Great guitar at the end of the song too. Ringo even tries his hand at reggae on the equally appealing Time. Once more the instrumentation is top notch. I really like this. Everyone Wins is good too. Mystery Of The Night rocks solidly and sadly too. Old Ringo cannot help the nostalgia, can he? Guess what? The bluesy thump of Can't Do It Wrong has the same vibe to it. Y Not has a superb, groovy, reggae-ish bass line and a Ringo vocal that sounds a bit like Edison Lighthouse on Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) merged with late seventies-era Squeeze and Madness. In fact it sounds a lot like Madness's more recent material. It even dabbles in Eastern music at one point - George would have liked that. Who's Your Daddy is a kick-ass duet with Joss Stone that ends this short, but highly enjoyable album in rollicking style. It is an album that rocks harder and far more convincingly than its predecessor. Nice one Ringo. 

What's My Name (2019)
Ringo Starr albums are reassuring things - always about half an hour in length, always full of immaculately-played, catchy, pleasing, inoffensive rock songs. The world is sort of a better place with Ringo still in it, putting out an album every few years. Who would have thought it? This is his twentieth studio album.

Gotta Get Up To Get Down is a vaguely funky, pounding but catchy slow rock with contemporary references to Facebook. It also has a few “rap” passages that don’t sound too incongruous. After a few listens, I really like it. There is some good wah-wah guitar bits in it as well. It’s Not Love That You Want is a lively little tuneful rocker with a typical, endearingly deadpan Starr vocal and some nice guitar and keyboard riffs. Septuagenarian (soon to be octogenarian) Ringo urges his listeners to Grow Old With Me on his cover of John Lennon's song from the Milk And Honey posthumous album from 1984. Yes this is a big slice of cheese (it always was, let's be honest) but when I listen to it I can’t help but just think "good old Ringo”.

Ringo likes a bit of shameless nostalgia and he delivers a bit of it here on the endearingly mournful Magic. The jaunty beat cannot hide Starr’s natural laconic air. It features a nice guitar solo and some infectious drums at the end. The old Barrett Strong number Money is delivered by Starr singing through some sort of voice distorter. It is what it is, a classic song covered enthusiastically. Better Days is an upbeat, brassy pice of typical Starr fare - good, solid rock but no work of genius. The same applies to Life Is Good
Thank God For Music is a sort of Beach Boys meets Ian Hunter nostalgic saxophone-driven rocker. Send Love Spread Peace is quite Springsteenesque in places, again, it is very singalong. The organ intro is very Dylanesque too. What’s My Name is a fun piece of harmonica-driven rock with a Status Quo riff.

You know what you’re getting with Ringo albums - every one he has done has been enjoyable, none of them really stick on the mind, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? I actually prefer the last few he has done in this century to his 1970s output. “What’s my name? - Ringo!!…” is the final line sung on this album. Simple, but somehow touching in a strange way. I can’t really explain why. Probably because he has always been my favourite Beatle.

Check out Ringo's work with The Beatles here :-

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