Category Archives: Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr Discography

ringo starr imageIf Jimmy Page is the world’s greatest rock guitarist, by virtue of being the guitarist in the world’s greatest rock band, then Ringo Starr must be the world’s greatest drummer. The last member to join the group (at the invitation of John), replacing Pete Best in 1962, Ringo was already a drummer of some renown, having played with Rory and the Hurricanes and Tony Sheridan. Although not conventionally handsome, Ringo soon became one of the most popular Beatles, aided in part by his comedic performances on Beatles films such as A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

Ringo was a rock-steady drummer with a flair for quick fills. He wasn’t a brilliant drummer any more than John Lennon was a brilliant guitarist or pianist, but he was the perfect fit to sit behind the kit. Behind the microphone, well, eh, maybe not so much; Ringo couldn’t carry a tune if it had rolling wheels on the bottom of it. That didn’t stop him from trying all the same, with occasionally winning results, both from the Lennon-McCartney camp (“Yellow Submarine,” “With A Little Help From My Friends”) and on his own (“Octopus’s Garden,” “Don’t Pass Me By”).

After The Beatles broke up, Ringo released a couple of unsuccessful genre exercises covering oldies (Sentimental Journey) and country music (Beaucoups of Blues), neither of which was well suited to his limited voice. He struck gold, however, with a couple of actual rock songs (“It Don’t Come Easy,” “Back Off Boogaloo”), followed by the popular Ringo (1973), which included three top 10 singles: “Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen” and “Oh My My.” Goodnight Vienna (1974) nearly repeated the feat. Both albums featured Ringo alongside his former bandmates and rock luminaries such as Harry Nilsson, Marc Bolan and Elton John.

Ringo’s revolving rock and roll party continued with Ringo’s Rotogravure (1976), although the album only produced one Top 40 single, “A Dose of Rock ‘n Roll.” Subsequent albums suggested that Ringo-mania had come to an end, with no more hits forthcoming. In the 1990s, Ringo revived his career in part through his All-Starr Band project, which found the former Beatle again joined by equally fading rock stars like Joe Walsh, Robbie Robertson and Billy Preston playing their hits (and Ringo’s) on stage. In between, Ringo released a couple of solid solo albums (Time Takes Time, Vertical Man) that traded on his legacy with The Beatles without selling it outright. If (as I had envisioned many, many years ago) Ringo turns out to be the last of the surviving Beatles, it is only fair that he have the spotlight all to himself for a little while.

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[Review] Stephen Stills (1970)

stephen stills album coverI haven’t listened to every solo CS&N record, but this is the best of the lot so far. It opens with the most popular of the solo bits, “Love The One You’re With.” In the middle, Stills holds his own with guests Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton on guitar and Booker T. Jones on organ. It closes on a Beatle-y treat with Ringo Starr on drums. An auspicious start indeed. Solo releases from Graham Nash and David Crosby followed, each helping to bring into sharper relief the different musical personalities of CS&N’s members. Stills took most of the trio’s musical chops with him; he could have made a fine living playing keyboards and guitar and never opening his mouth. “Do For The Others” makes plain what a shame that would have been. The songs here range from thoughtful, acoustic bits sans support to electric blues-rock numbers with rock royalty. Those two sides of Stills won’t surprise anyone. Stills with strings (“We Are Not Helpless”) and Spector-al pop (“To A Flame”) might, but they’re also two of the more interesting avenues on here. Like Clapton’s coming out party, which also featured Rita Coolidge on backing vocals and Bill Halverson behind the boards, this debut had been a long time coming: Buffalo Springfield, the Bloomfield/Kooper session, CS&N. It’s tempting to speculate on whether some of these songs had been rolling around in Stills’ head for a while. “Black Queen,” rendered here in a fiery live acoustic version credited tongue-in-cheek to Jose Cuervo Gold Label tequila, was first recorded in a 1968 demo session unearthed 40 years later. Several of these tracks have since been folded into the extended CS&N canon (“Love The One You’re With” was featured on 4 Way Street), and no harm done if you want to cross that Street and come directly here, since it has the most to offer of the early CS&N solo albums (Young, of course, being another story entirely).

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George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970)

all things must pass album coverThe Rolling Stone Record Guide of 1980 called this a “grand gesture,” and one was needed after the letdown of The Beatles’ breakup. None of the Fab Four had sketched out a roadmap for the future, McCartney opting to recycle ditties from the past, and All Things Must Pass became something of a beacon. Great works from John, Paul, even Ringo would follow, but it took George to call their bluff. Spread out across three albums (now two discs), All Things Must Pass confirmed what many already knew: George was a good songwriter just waiting for a patch of sun to call his own. No longer overshadowed by John and Paul, the quiet Beatle has a lot to say about the breakup, God, and (on the album of jams) his own guitar heroes. Phil Spector sometimes suffocates good ideas under too much varnish (“Wah-Wah,” “Awaiting On You All”), but more often elevates these acoustic songs into powerful statements (“My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It A Pity”). With Bob Dylan contributing half of “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” (given a more earnest reading on his own New Morning), it’s perhaps no surprise that All Things Must Pass sounds like a son of the Nashville skyline, all cool country charm when the mood strikes. You can imagine “Let It Down,” “Behind That Locked Door” and “All Things Must Pass” sharing a train ride with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Maybe it’s the pedal steel guitar or the fertile arrangements, maybe it’s the easy way these songs just roll along with an offhand genius. And then there’s the joy apparent on All Things Must Pass. It’s at the heart of songs like “What Is Life,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting On You All,” a sort of revival-meeting energy that sweeps you up. Toss in some songs that recall the solo work of John (“Beware of Darkness” in its demo version) and Paul (compare “Art of Dying” to “Mrs. Vanderbilt”) plus a few nods to The Beatles (“I Dig Love,” the second version of “Isn’t It A Pity”) and you may have the most substantive solo musical statement in all of Beatledom. The album of instrumental jams, while often overlooked, show Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason blowing off some steam in various settings. Of course, Jimi Hendrix left vaults full of stuff like this behind, so they’re best seen as a bonus disc of curiosities rather than a balanced contribution.

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Ringo Starr: “It Don’t Come Easy” (1971)

After two noncommercial albums, Ringo released the single “It Don’t Come Easy,” the first sign that Ringo might have the makings of a rock star. Adopting a sound that borrowed heavily from George Harrison’s solo work, the song introduced what would come to be called “boogaloo,” rock songs with horn charts and a large, loose cast of players that suggested a party with a mike in the middle. Not for nothing, it was also one of the most fully realized songs that Ringo has ever written, featuring George Harrison on guitar and Ringo himself playing the drums as well as singing. The flip side finds Ringo in the familiar role of country bumpkin, reprising his turn on “Act Naturally” with an open invitation to the rest of The Beatles on “Early 1970.” The pokes at Paul, John and George (as well as himself) are good natured, and happily the invitation was accepted by all three during Ringo’s solo career (George was already on board). Originally a sought-after single, both tracks were later included on the greatest hits compilation Blast From Your Past and, in 1991, the expanded reissue of Ringo. It appears the single was re-released through the ‘70s and ‘80s, a fact I know only through the tireless work of Tim Neely, whose 45 rpm Record Guide is filled with goodies like this. (And, yes, I will scan the labels one of these days so you can track your vinyl through the ages.)

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Stephen Stills 2 (1971)

The critical consensus is that the five records that Stills released on Atlantic (six if you count Stills Live) represent his best work. No argument there. Where I tend to part ways with critics is in the put-down of Stills 2 as inferior to the works before (Stephen Stills) and after (Manassas). It is not the beneficiary of stockpiled songs; only “Change Partners” and “Know You Got To Run” are leftovers, to my knowledge anyway. Second albums are often disappointing for this reason. But Stills 2 doesn’t back down from the challenge; it charges into the breach with a dozen new songs that offer something for everyone: ravers (“Relaxing Town”), CSN-styled harmonies (“Singin’ Call”), the blues (“Open Secret”), guitar duels (“Fishes And Scorpions”) and a smartly arranged return to the old buffalo hunting grounds on “Bluebird Revisited.” Honestly, I think these songs stack up fine against the material on the double-album Manassas and rise above Down The Road. As with his first record, Stills invites some of the world’s best guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia and a young Nils Lofgren) and more than holds his own in their esteemed company. While the first album had a genuine hit to rally around, Stills 2 has more surprises in store: the retro raver “Marianne” (it’s a shame Stephen Stills and Steve Miller didn’t play together), the funked-up blues of “Nothin’ To Do But Today,” the sweet southern sound of “Sugar Babe.” Unfortunately, it was “Change Partners” that was tapped as the first single, and listeners may have compared it to “Love The One You’re With” and extrapolated the album’s quality from that single data point, which would be a mistake. On Stills 2, I hear Stephen Stills growing more comfortable as a singer, songwriter and arranger. I know, I did pick on Stills for his lackluster performance on 4-Way Street but, as Stills 2 shows, he’s still a significant talent when fully engaged.

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[Mini-review] Ringo Starr: “Back Off Boogaloo” (1972)

back off boogaloo picture sleeve“I sat down with Marc Bolan one night and he’s using this ‘Back off, boogaloo’ kind of language. I went to bed and I woke up with this song in my head, ‘Back off boogaloo, what d’ya think you’re gonna do.’” – Ringo Starr as quoted in Keith Badman’s The Beatles: The Dream Is Over – Off The Record 2.

Kronomyth 2.7: CANDY GLAM FOR RINGO. Ringo took a greater interest in film after The Beatles, appearing both in front of and behind the camera as an actor (“200 Motels,” “Blindman”) and director (the T. Rex concert film, “Born To Boogie”). This single is sort of the musical soundtrack to that moment, featuring the Bolan-inspired “Back Off Boogaloo” on the A side and, fittingly, his song from the B movie “Blindman” on the flip side. The enthusiasm for “Back Off Boogaloo” owes much to Beatlemania; outside of Ringo’s stellar drumming (the song’s best feature), it’s pretty forgettable. (A film short was made to accompany it, featuring Ringo and a man dressed as Frankenstein’s monster. If Ringo has any acting ability, he hides it well for three minutes.) “Blindman” is interesting as Ringo’s interpretation of the spaghetti western scores popularized by Ennio Morricone, fused with a country song. While it’s tempting to re-appraise Ringo’s work as better than it really was, I don’t believe he released a decent record until Ringo and have yet to see a film where I would refer to Ringo as an “actor” without wincing a bit.

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George Harrison: Living In The Material World (1973)

Kronomyth 5.0: IMMATERIAL. I remember that the B side for “My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t It A Pity,” scared me off from buying All Things Must Pass for years. What if the other songs sound like that?, I wondered, doing the multiplication in my head with trepidation. Two years later, the sunny single for Harrison’s modest Material World arrived and I wondered: What if the rest of the album sounds like “Give Me Peace” and “Miss O’Dell?” This was an album I had to own! Only, in retrospect, it turned out to be more Pity-full than George’s earlier Pass. Living In The Material World is wonderfully packaged and expertly produced (I think) by George, but gone is the joy of tracks like “What Is Life,” “Wah-Wah,” “Awaiting On You All,” “I Dig Love,” etc. In essence, George the lighthearted Beatle had been replaced by George the enlightened Beatle, who turned out to be something of a killjoy. “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” is at least a match for “My Sweet Lord,” the title track is neat as is George’s version of “Try Some Buy Some,” but the rest of the record is minor-key music minus the memorable melodies of his earlier, grander opus. You get the sense that George could write these songs any time, and in fact he revisited some of them on subsequent records like 33 & 1/3 (e.g., “The Light That Has Lighted The World” sounds a lot like “Learning How To Love You,” la la la). From a production standpoint the Material World is more complex than I first imagined; I’m suspending final judgment until I hear this on a digital remaster. But I don’t suspect that any digital remaster will reveal melodies that were never there to begin with. Living In The Material World set the stage for a solo career that offered a respite from John and Paul rather than an alternative. All Things Must Pass, it turned out, was a fantasy world pieced together from bits of broken Beatles. Here was the real world, and the material was frankly a little dull in comparison.

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Ringo Starr: Ringo (1973)

With a little help from his friends, Ringo delivered a pop album that put to rest questions of whether he would succeed as a solo artist. The self-titled Ringo spawned three Top 20 singles: “Photograph” (cowritten by George Harrison), “You’re Sixteen” (which included vocal backing from Harry Nilsson and Paul McCartney) and “Oh My My” (cowritten by Vini Poncia). Ringo doesn’t have a great voice, but his everyman charm is winning, deferential where John Lennon was egotistical, grounded where Harrison could seem celestial. Ringo’s records (like Lennon’s) always seemed to be loosely aggregated parties, with guests coming and going, some staying only briefly (Marc Bolan, John Lennon, Billy Preston, The Band) while others hang around long enough to help clean up afterwards (Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins, Tom Scott). These are the same circle of friends who formed the extended Beatles family, supporting Lennon and Harrison throughout their solo careers as well, so it’s no surprise that Ringo feels like the work of John and George from this period (e.g., Walls & Bridges, Dark Horse), which is referred to as “boogaloo” (whatever that means). But where fans had set expectations for the other Beatles, it’s fair to say that anything Ringo added was pure gravy; after all, Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups of Blues hardly boded well for the future, though the singles “It Don’t Come Easy” (which was added to this disc for the 1991 reissue) and “Back Off Boogaloo” did show promise. Starting with the Lennon-penned “I’m The Greatest,” Ringo gets out of the gate quickly, reprising his role as Billy Shears in order to remind folks of whence he came (Lennon obviously perceived the importance of Ringo’s first serious commercial album). Material from George [“Sunshine Life For Me,” “You And Me (Babe)”] and the McCartneys (“Six O’Clock”) added to the album’s cachet, with Starr (a.k.a. Richard Starkey) ably filling in the holes on “Devil Woman,” “Step Lightly” and “Oh My My.” Although his next albums would follow the same formula, it was on Ringo that listeners became starr-struck all over again, and for most fans this remains his best solo album.

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Ringo Starr: “You’re Sixteen” (1973)

you're sixteen 45 rpm imageKronomyth 3.1: STARR WARS. This was a Christmas present come early: Ringo crooning the old Johnny Burnette song with Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson hamming it up behind him. Originally recorded in 1961, the Burnette version was revived for the film, American Graffiti, which appeared a few months before the release of Ringo. Completing the Star Wars connection, Ringo recorded an early music video of “You’re Sixteen” with Carrie Fisher for his 1978 television special, Ringo. The flip side is another elpee track from Ringo, “Devil Woman,” featuring a really sharp horn arrangement from Tom Scott and some fine drumming from Ringo’s regular stand-in, Jim Keltner.

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Ringo Starr: “Oh My My” (1974)

oh my my 7 inch singleKronomyth 3.2: MY CANDLE BURNS AT BOTH ENDS. The second hit single from Ringo was a rollicking number co-written by songwriter Vini Poncia, who was introduced to Ringo by producer Richard Perry. (Perry had produced The Anders & Poncia Album back in 1969.) At the time, it was Poncia’s highest-charting hit; two years later, Poncia would top the charts with Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’.” In 1975, David Hentschel had a minor UK hit with an instrumental version of “Oh My My” that was more suited to roller rinks than the radio. The flip side is the elpee track “Step Lightly,” a country-rock song with clarinets that sounds better than you’d think.

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Ringo Starr: “Only You” (1974)

only you record sleeve“Everything was sweeter with Harry.” – Van Dyke Parks, as quoted in a 2013 article in The Telegraph.

Kronomyth 4.01: IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PLATTERY. John Lennon basically handed this hit to Ringo on a silver Platters. John recorded a stylized version that sounded a lot like his Rock And Roll recordings at the time and gave it to Ringo to re-record. Ringo apparently liked the version so much that he kept John’s guide vocals and guitar and simply re-recorded his own version on top of it. If you’ve heard John’s version, you’ll hear that that the two are almost identical; Harry Nilsson’s backing vocals are really the only difference, but what a difference they make! (It’s a wonder Ringo wasn’t shadowed by a small army of backing vocalists all the time: shopping, in the shower, on the phone.) Ringo and Harry also made a music video for this song featuring Ringo in his spaceman costume and Harry Nilsson in a bathrobe. The B side is the elpee track, “Call Me,” a likeable pop song in the mold of “Don’t Pass Me By.” The piano is provided by a young David Foster, who would go on to take over the L.A. music scene in later years.

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Ringo Starr: Goodnight Vienna (1974)

Kronomyth 4.0: KLAATU BARADA RINGO. It was da-da-down to Ringo and John at this point, but the old Snookeroo still managed to deliver more actual, honest-to-goodness hits on Goodnight Vienna. “No No Song,” “(It’s All Da-Da-Down To) Goodnight Vienna” and “Only You” did well on the charts, and only the last could be credited to post-Beatlemania inflation — the rest of these are actually really catchy. Funkier and more electric than his last record (and thus, I guess, more boogalooey), Goodnight Vienna starts on familiar footing with a new song from John Lennon (although you may wonder why he says goodbye when he should be saying hello). Ringo carries the rest of the record with the usual stalwarts (Harry Nilsson, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, Billy Preston, Vini Poncia) and a peck of pianists (Elton John, Dr. John, David Foster, Lincoln Mayorga). The Starr of the show again manages to pull a few good ideas from his melon and chooses some interesting covers, including Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives” and Allen Toussaint’s “Occapella.” His voice hasn’t improved, and yet it’s oddly compelling on songs like “Easy For Me,” almost as if Ringo had grown comfortable enough with his voice to render songs in his own idiom (think Frank Sinatra with a head cold). The horn sections and backing vocalists further sweeten the nasally roughness of Ringo’s voice, which seemed a little dry on his last album, all of which lends to the impression that Goodnight Vienna is a more musical-sounding album than its predecessor. It is more lively by a little, but that doesn’t compensate for the lack of The Beatles’ participation. Thus, without George Harrison contributing harmony vocals or Paul McCartney’s romantic ballads in the mix, there might be a little too much Ringo in this strawberry tart for some tastes. Still, compared to what was expected from the man, Goodnight Vienna is another commercial triumph.

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George Harrison: Dark Horse (1974)

Kronomyth 6.0: AT THE RISK OF BEATLING A DEAD HOARSE. Ahem. Let me just clear my throat before lighting into Dark Horse. George Harrison was going on tour and, since tours typically promote an album, he decided to record a new one. Only George was beset by a bad case of laryngitis during the recording sessions (and the subsequent tour), and what came out of the gate was more of a Dark Hoarse. The record still charted well enough in the US since The Beatles’ fans were a forgiving lot (exhibit A: Ringo Starr), but doff your rose-colored teashades and you’re looking at one of the lamest efforts from any of the Fab Four. “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” which is about as good as it sounds, joined the dubious ranks of jingle bell rockers and remains the only track from Dark Horse that still shows up on American radio; presumably the English trot out “Dark Horse” from time to time as well. Of the remaining songs, “Simply Shady” is a bright spot, and “Maya Love” and “So Sad” aren’t so bad. But this album never should have been recorded; the material wasn’t there to support it and George’s voice was is no condition to do anything but butcher the few good ideas he had. Unlike the earlier, spiritual Material World, Dark Horse finds George in a less peaceful mood, striking back at Pattie and Eric Clapton (in a failed reworking of The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”) and what I always took to be a poke at Frank Sinatra in the opening of “Far East Man” (although, in his defense, Frank’s version of “Something” was nothing short of criminal). All in all, not the tastiest apple on the tree, despite the tantalizing cover—which was switched with the back cover on the Capitol non-gatefold reissues, probably to cut their costs/losses.

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Ringo Starr: “No No Song” (1975)

Kronomyth 4.1: DOUBLE RUBBLE. If you thought Beatlemania ended with The Beatles, nuh-uh. In the opening weeks of 1975, John (#9 Dream”), Paul (“Junior’s Farm), George (“Dark Horse”) and Ringo (“Only You”) were still firmly entrenched in the US Top 20. And the #1 single? Why, Elton John’s “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” of course. Surprisingly, it was Ringo who struck gold again with “No No Song” and Elton’s “Snookeroo” on the flip side. Guess you could say it was a mix of Beatlemania and Eltonmania at work there. Written by Hoyt Axton, “No No Song” could be construed as an anti-drug song I suppose; Axton’s own version seems to take a stand against drugs by politely refusing to take a toke, whereas Ringo’s version is more tongue in cheek (e.g., “And he wasn’t joking”). In 1988, Starr went into rehab with his second wife, the acktress Barbara Bach. The following year, Ringo’s son Jason was fined for drug possession. Guess they didn’t have a copy of Goodnight Vienna in the house.

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Stephen Stills: Stills (1975)

After Manassas, Stills went back to recording solo material, signed with Columbia Records and released Stills. The opening “Turn Back The Pages” sums it up nicely, as the album collects material from several sessions including one (“As I Come of Age”) dating back to 1971. The music on Stills isn’t quite as compelling or cohesive as the last two Manassas records, a point that didn’t escape critics. But it’s not a bad record by any means. You’ll find ambitious arrangements (“Love Story,” “Myth of Sisyphus”), sneaky melodies (“My Favorite Changes,” “In The Way”), a Neil Young song (“New Mama”) and what might be the best CSN song that never was, “As I Come of Age.” The supporting players represent a several-year span of time, including some new faces: Donnie Dacus, Marcie Levy, Kenny Passarelli, Rick Roberts. If you’re a fan of Stephen Stills, then Stills is definitely worth a flyer at some point. At least it meets my expectations of a Stephen Stills solo album: solid songs, thoughtful lyrics, some sharp guitar and organ playing, a revolving cast of stars and cameos from Crosby and Nash. You get the sense, reading some of the negative reviews of Stills as the time, that critics had simply soured on the whole CSN and sometimes Y experience. I’ll admit that their hand was overplayed and that the whole country-rock movement (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crosby-Nash, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, Firefall, Poco, The Southern Hillman Furay Band, etc.) seemed to re-shuffle the same cards in endless and often-diluted variations. A world that had grown tired of Stephen Stills, however, was a jaded world indeed. I think there’s plenty on Stills to hold your interest, even if it isn’t the first, second or third Stephen Stills album you need to own.

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