Ringo Starr has exactly no albums that I list in the main reviews as “rave-worthy”. Therefore, you might ask, why am I bothering with discussing his recordings at all? Well, since a lot of people like The Beatles and because I discussed John, Paul, and George’s non-rave recordings, it didn’t seem right to leave off Mr. Starkey. For me, Beaucoups of Blues (1970), Ringo (1973), and Time Takes Time (1992) are by some distance his three best "solo" albums. Those are the only three Richy records I'd take to my solo-Beatles desert island.
Anyway, let’s delve into his stuff, at least the stuff up to 1992:
1970 – Sentimental Journey
Not a particularly good album. Ringo wanted to make an LP of standards for his mum and family members he grew up singing old jazz tunes at Liverpool parties with. It’s an interesting idea, and he was certainly ahead of his time as a contemporary pop star doing classic tunes… but unfortunately, Ringo is not really a singer, which kinds of sinks the ship before it leaves port.
A bunch of different arrangers handle the music (recorded at Abbey Road), including George Martin, Quincy Jones, and some of Ringo’s peers like Klaus Voorman, Beatle Paul, and Maurice Gibb. How much you’re going to get out of this depends on how much you enjoy Ringo’s pipes on the various standards like “Stardust” and “Love is a Many Splendoured Thing”. For me, these mostly fail to impress… with one exception. I absolutely love Ringo’s take on Cole Porter’s “Night And Day”, if you can believe it! This track was arranged by Cuban musician Chico O’Farrill, and I don’t know if he really pushed Ringo or if the track just suits his voice, but I think he really nails it. Otherwise, you're advised to skip this one….
1970 – Beaucoups of Blues
Needless to say, Ringo’s approach is better suited to a country genre-album than a jazz-standards one. Sentimental Journey is mostly smelly lizard-feces, but I will say that I really like Beaucoups of Blues.
The only disappointment of this record is that Rings didn't put any of his own songs on here. "Coochy Coochy", a nice one that Ringo wrote, was the B-side of the single, but it didn't make the original album for some reason.
The best song here is probably "$15 Draw". It's like Ringo's alternate-universe autobiography if he hadn't joined The Beatles. Great stuff. And how could anyone not love that cool-slacker LP sleeve?:
Beaucoups Of Blues – It's a very nice country song, but his voice is pretty shaky here, to say the least. Nice harmonica, though.
Love Don't Last Long – Conversely, his voice is good here. Typically country tearjerker.
Fastest Growing Heartache In The West – Now we got fiddle & everything. Nice enough tune.
Without Her – Starts off sounding like "Everybody's Talkin'". Redolent of 1969/1970. Not bad.
Woman Of The Night – Pretty decent song, but the chorus is overblown. Good vocals.
I'd Be Talking All The Time – Not much of a tune, not much of a vocal. Steel-guitar solo is nice.
$15 Draw – My favorite track. Nice pickin', uptempo tune, evocative lyric that suits Richy.
Wine, Women And Loud Happy Songs – Yawner.
I Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way – Another typical country tune. Ringo cannot really handle the vocal.
Loser's Lounge – Not bad at all. I can get into this.
Waiting – Yawn. Ringo croons pretty well, though.
Silent Homecoming – Good song... despite Ringo's rather poor vocal.
By the way, Jeannie Kendall is the woman Ringo duets with on "I Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way".
Some of the best tunes here (“$15 Draw”, “Silent Homecoming”, “Woman of the Night”, “Without Her”) are written by Sorrells Pickard. Hope he got some dough for his efforts!
1973 – Ringo
Ringo’s first contemporary pop album… and he depended on a lot of help from his friends. It worked this time, though, and this LP was a huge smash hit, producing two US #1 singles. It’s probably the best place to start delving into Ringo’s solo catalog for the casual fan … but it still isn’t quite rave-worthy, being rather slight and disposable, with some shaky vocals. But it’s fun.
I'm The Greatest – I've never liked this song. The lyrics are kind of crappy ("yes, my name is Billy Shears / you know it has been for so many years"… ugh!), and, as with many of Lennon's early-70s' compositions, the bridge is really weak. The whole song just kind of plods along with slick production, like a bad 70s' Beatles' pastiche... which is exactly what it is. Ringo's shouting at the end is in bad taste.
Hold On/Have You Seen My Baby – Better, at least it's an actual song (by Randy Newman), and a good one. Marc Bolan's guitar is good, and the solo (did he play it?) is great. This track is like glam-rock meets rockabilly.
Photograph – Near-classic, and a great tune. Still kind of slick for my tastes, but I love the big Spector-like production. This is Ringo's signature solo-song. It's interesting that George is the co-writer, as he wasn't listed (I think) as co-writer for "It Don't Come Easy" or "Back Off Boogaloo", even though it's clear that he helped a lot with the former and maybe the latter. But he is listed here. I saw an interview a few years ago where Ringo said, "I wrote 'Photograph', but George helped out", or words to that effect. I guess we'll never know exactly who wrote what and Ringo hasn't given us a "Paul-percentage"...
Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond) – Wow, great song! George wrote this in Ireland, while reflecting on Paul's suing the Beatles. (In retrospect, I wish George had kept this for Living In The Material World, to which it would have been a perfect addition.) You can hear George's backing vocal very clearly near the end of the song. Anything that's country-ish usually works with Ringo's vocal, and this is no exception.
You're Sixteen – Yes, great, nice way to cover a classic. (I don't enjoy the kazoo, though – thanks, Paul!) I like Ringo's vocal on this. Funny how he pronounces "divine" as "DEE-vine". Nice back-up vocals by Nilsson.
Oh My My – Not much of a song. This (and "Devil Woman") was Ringo's first collaboration with Vini Poncia... together, they wrote much of the future disaster Ringo the 4th. But at least this one still has some bite and was a hit... much ado about not very much, though.
Step Lightly – Interesting in that it's the only solo-Ringo composition here. (Steve Cropper is in there on guitar somewhere.) A simple, three-chord kind of song as you'd expect, but not a bad one at that. Some fancy arrangement-touches elevate the pretty-good song somewhat.
Six O'Clock – Some people seemed to really like this Macca-tune, but I'm not really hearing anything too special. Not bad, though. The chord changes are quite nice and show the handiwork of a talented composer, but the rest is kind of third-rate by Paul's higher standards. Still, a nice tune for Ringo. (Ringo's vocal is really bad on the first verse of this, but seems to improve as the song progresses.) Question: Was the "I don't treat you like I should" line a coded-message from Paul to Ringo...?
Devil Woman – The second Poncia/Ringo tune. "The only way I'll get you is to get you in bed." Hmm, I dunno, a bit desperate. The horns work well here, and the Keltner / Ringo (?) drum-"duet" at 2:30 is cool. As a song, this isn't anything memorable, but the individual musicians' parts are all great, and the production is fine. The LP also needs something really uptempo here. No harm done.
You And Me (Babe) – Meh, I don't care for this. The most interesting point is that George wrote the music from ideas by Mal Evans, finally giving Mal some songwriting credit and (presumably) decent royalties... for a couple of years, before he was shot dead, that is. It's cute how Ringo thanks everyone at the end.
Listening to this whole album in sequence, one surprising fact emerges (to me, anyway): Of all the talented contributors to this all-"starr" record, it's those by John Lennon and Paul McCartney that are the weakest. I really cannot stand "I'm the Greatest", and though "Six O'clock" is better, it is still fairly disposable McCartney.
The credit needs to go to (besides Ringo) Richard Perry and George Harrison, in particular, and also Nilsson, along with the dependable Klaus Voorman and Keltner. But especially Perry and George Harrison, who are heroes on this record.
George Harrison really did some fine work here. (Sadly, shortly after these successful sessions, George slept with Maureen, and when Ringo discovered it Maureen drove her car into a brick wall. But we won't get into that.)
Basically, I don't like "I'm the Greatest" or "You and Me (Babe)", but I can say all other 8 tracks have good things going for them. This is a pretty good album, if a bit "folk songs for grannies" as John would say. But, a very good career-move by Richy, and it would be a long time before we could say that again….
1974 – Goodnight Vienna
It's amazing how much this is Ringo Part 2. It was also quite successful Stateside, though rather less so in the UK, where he was already losing his audience.
Goodnight Vienna – Chords are pretty good, but the actual song is rather dire. (I must say I really don't understand the British "Goodnight Vienna" phrase.)
Occapella – So-so. Not terrible, though.
Oo-Wee – Pretty bad. His voice just isn't cutting it.
Husbands and Wives – Roger Miller! There's something apt about Ringo singing country, even though his voice is pretty awful here. Was this done in thinking of Maureen, after Ringo discovered she'd been shagging George?
Snookeroo – Made-to-order for Ringo, by Elton & Bernie. Not bad at all, and bounces along nicely.
All By Myself – There's no two ways around it: this blows.
Call Me – It's always interesting to get a 'pure' Ringo, solo-composition. Having said that, mostly only the lyrics are interesting here. Must be a shout-out to Mo? I don't dislike this one...
No No Song – Country novelty, but not bad. Even though it's cheesy, the arrangement is really good and Ringo sounds engaged, vocally. (Could he possibly have sung those lyrics with a straight face?)
Only You (And You Alone) – Nice! John Lennon on guitar. I think the vocal is good here because John gave Ringo a recorded demo/guide-vocal to follow, which seems to have inspired Rings to give it his all. It's nice. It's amazing how good the vocal is here, and how poor it is on some other tracks.
Easy for Me – Cute little Nilsson tune. But it sounds like a leftover from Sentimental Journey.
Goodnight Vienna [Reprise] – Didn't care for this the first time, so didn't need a reprise!
The album isn't bad, but it’s thin as hell. The top 3 songs are all very worthy, even if none were written by Ringo. After one hit album, he’s already treading water and barely keeping his head above it….
1976 – Ringo’s Rotogravure
And so it came to pass that Ringo, on the sauce, divorced, and with eyebrows and hair shaved off, got a new record deal.
Decades later, does anyone know what a "rotogravure" is? Well, one Beatle fan informed me that it means as follows: “a type of intaglio printing process, which involves engraving the image onto an image carrier.”
I mean, nothing says “rock’n’roll” like that does…
A Dose of Rock & Roll – Not bad at all.
Hey! Baby – Production and his vocal are fine, but it just pales compared to the original.
Pure Gold – Yawn... okay tune, but needs a stronger vocalist.
Cryin' – Fascinating Ringo-lyric insight into his failed marriage with Maureen. Not a bad song.
You Don't Know Me At All – Weird song... and who is Dave Jordan, the writer? Video for this is on YouTube. Anyone know why he made a video for it?
Cookin' (In the Kitchen of Love) – Not bad, charming little Lennon tune. Throwaway, but fun. Chords are good.
I'll Still Love You – Very average, somewhat ponderous George-tune.
This Be Called a Song – Not too bad... nice change of aesthetic into Caribbean sound. Thanks, Eric.
Las Brisas – From Caribbean to mariachi... sorry Ringo, but your voice just doesn't cut it. Co-written by Nancy Andrews...? What?
Lady Gaye – So-so song, but that guitar soloing is good! Is that Clapton? Frampton? The guitar is awesome!! He should have fired Vini Poncia or whoever and hired that guitarist as collaborator!
Spooky Weirdness – More like 'Spooky Crapness'.
This album wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. Don't get me wrong – it's still mostly disposable garbage, but it does have a nice, easy-listening-with-diversity kind of charm. Nothing is particularly offensive.
Vinyl inner-sleeve photo might be the 'moodiest' photo I've ever seen of Ringo!:
1977 – Ringo the 4th
Here we go with Ringo's R&B/disco album, aka: the album that completed the murdering of his career that Rotogravure had started!
Drowning In The Sea Of Love – Good song, but what really makes this is Ringo's committed vocal. (Needless to say, the Joe Simon original, with the real Gamble/Huff production values, is better.)
Tango All Night – Uptempo pace is good, but the song is nothing of substance.
Wings – I'm not feelin' it. Groove is okay, but the melody just isn't strong enough to merit being a lead-off single. No wonder this album flopped. Also, this is what's known as "Death-by-midtempo". I guess I respect Ringo trying to push one of his and Vini's songs but... em, this just isn't good enough.
Gave It All Up – Major vocal "fail" on this Gallagher/Lyle snoozer.
Out On The Streets – Silly lyric, but relatively speaking, this is bouncy and more fun than most tracks. Ringo seems to be tryin' for a disco-era "street", hard-man persona here.
Can She Do It Like She Dances – Why is Ringo trying to vocally "growl" his way through all the tracks? This song is... really bad. "Some girls get off by putting on a show"... really, Richy?
Sneaking Sally Through The Alley – I'm not buying Ringo as swingin', urban sex-God. Maybe it’s just me.
It's No Secret – Better. Nice, light guitar parts.
Gypsies In Flight – Hard to stay awake through this. I like how Ringo pronounces "affair" as "affer". His vocal is surprisingly good here.
Simple Love Song – Seems like a cheesy song to impress a woman. Who was he chasing in 1977?
I have a feeling this one is even worse than Rotogravure, which is quite an achievement. However, I will say his singing is quite inspired at times on this one, and in general is much more impressive than on most of his records. The quality of the songs, however, is not so pleasant....
1978 – Bad Boy
Umm.... Better than the previous one...? But that's like saying root canal is better than having a testicle removed. Ringo's recording career at this point is in the toilet, circling the bowl.
The following songs actually aren’t too awful (not that that's saying much):
- Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)
- Heart on My Sleeve
- Who Needs a Heart
- Where Did Our Love Go
- Old Time Relovin'
- A Man Like Me
But boy, “Hard Times”, “Bad Boy”, “Tonight”, and “Monkey See-Monkey Do” are horrendous.
1981 – Stop And Smell The Roses
According to some, this LP represents a comeback of sorts for Ringo and is one of his best. I would like to confirm that this popular opinion is false. This record is another bad one.
It kicks off with the repetitive and bouncy “Private Property”, in which Ringo declares his woman his private property and says, “She belongs to me!”. PC it ain’t. This is the 80s now, right Ringo?? It’s a disposable pop tune that leaves the mind the moment it’s over, and the rest of this record follows suit. George Harrison’s “Wrack My Brain” is an almost highlight here, but it’s horribly produced and has that same negative-vibes, mad-at-the-world feeling of George’s early-80s’ stuff. Harry Nilsson’s “Drumming is my Madness” is a total embarrassment of the highest order, while his and Ringo’s collaboration on “Stop and Take the Time to Smell the Roses” might be even worse. Paul McCartney gave Rings a toss-off (don’t stop reading the sentence there) called “Attention”, but it’s not really worthy of any.
Side Two is similarly all-filler, no killer. Ringo and Ronnie Wood’s “Dead Giveaway” is hard to stay awake throughout. Some boring covers then fill out this second half of the album, before Ringo ends with a pointless re-recording of his own long-ago hit, “Back Off Boogaloo”.
Why are horns all over this album? Nothing was more out-of-fashion in 1981 than horns.
My advice is, do not stop and smell the feces.
1983 – Old Wave
Okay, this was a shocker for me. Old Wave is surprisingly good! This is the one where no record-label in the UK or the USA was willing to release it, and Ringo had to settle for it coming out on RCA-Canada in select territories, and on the Bellaphon label in Germany. It sank like a stone, failing to make the top-100 on any international chart. As Ringo was already riding a major downward spiral, I had assumed that this one must therefore be a total turkey. But it’s not bad at all!
In My Car – Great! Crunchy rock riffs, à la Bryan Adams, with just the subtlest hint of a new-wave style. I already like this better than anything on the previous three or four albums. Decent song. Hell, even his voice reaches some pretty good heights. Nice rock-out at the end! Yes, I'm having this!! It pisses all over all Wings' albums and might be better than anything on Somewhere in England! Color me surprised!
Hopeless – Ugh. After a cool-as-f*** opener, did Richy have to jump straight into a cornball, self-mocking novelty-tune? And holy Debbie-downer lyric. At least there's some gnarly guitar leads – thank God Joe Walsh was on board – to lift it above the wimp-fest of solo Beatle material of this era. Not much of a melody here, and another mid-tempo pace.
Alibi – More mid-tempo. Lyric for Barbara? Unfortunately, the style here sounds exactly like the first two songs, with even less 'tune' than "Hopeless".
Be My Baby – Joe Walsh tune. At least it has some melody, and a catchy chorus. This isn't too bad, and the guitar is cool again. Unfortunately, the bizarre synthesizer effects and distortions don't really help except in adding novelty. Ringo's even kind of scat-singing at the end, which is nice!
She's About A Mover – The inevitable cover. Ringo and 12-bar blues can't be all bad, and it's nice to hear him dig in vocally and growl it out a bit. Awesome licks by Joe Walsh again. The horns aren't really doing it for me (the original was 'Tex-Mex' style), but at least it allows for some much-needed aural diversity. A worthy track for the Ring-master.
I Keep Forgettin' – I didn't go back to listen to the Chuck Jackson original (1962), but I can see why, according to Wiki, this is an unusual Leiber/Stoller tune. It's a cool song, and once again Joe Walsh elevates it with his awesome guitar tone. Damn, that cat can play!! Still, shouldn't we kick off Side 2 with an original tune and not another cover? A really good cover, though.
Picture Show Life – Nice song by John Reid (Elton John's manager)... and John Slate, whoever he is. I like this a lot! Anyone know if this was written exclusively for Ringo? The arrangement is really good, and it even sounds very contemporary, like a Hall and Oates tune with some better guitar. Cool song! Only Ringo's slightly weak vocals diminish it a bit. But that's not terrible either. This tune is an undiscovered gem.
As Far as We Can Go – A wimpy ballad with electric keyboards all over it was not a good idea. The problem with these kinds of torch-ballads is that Ringo simply cannot sing them very well. Why did he even try, at this point? (I see that there's a five-and-half minute version of this available now…? Ugh.)
Everybody's In a Hurry But Me – From this 1978-derived jam session, I was quite excited to hear ol' Ringo bashing the skins off the top of the track... but then I read that it's Ray Cooper playing drums (he also plays on “I Keep Forgettin''). I guess basically there's no Ringo on here at all except the two sentences he speaks.
Going Down – Throwaway Ringo/Walsh tune, but that harmonica sounds good (played by... you guessed it!... Joe Walsh). Ringo's drums sound good here. Not a bad groovy little toe-tapper.
Regan is PLEASANTLY SURPRISED. I would say this is best thing Ringo had done since Goodnight Vienna. "In My Car" should be on every Ringo compilation. It's not only a good song, but it's got contemporary style that isn't embarrassing! The two 60s' covers are both great. "Picture Show Life" is an out-of-nowhere winner that grabbed me by the knackers and wouldn't let go. "Be My Baby" is a fresh, uptempo, catchy song (goes a bit overboard with the synths). "Going Down" is another winner, and is the kind of easygoing, groovy tune Ringo should have done more of (and ditched the torch ballads). "Everybody's in a Hurry" is a good one, too, even if Ringo's barely on it.
The lesser few songs kind of suck, but even among them there isn't anything terrible, unlike his late-70s' albums which were chock-full of cack. I do think this LP could have been better sequenced, as three mid-tempo songs in a row off the top kind of lulls the listener.
Needless to say, this is as much a Joe Walsh album as a Ringo album. Actually, it's much more a Joe Walsh guitar album than a Ringo drum album! This is a good thing, as Walsh is a world-class musician and possibly the best guitar player Ringo ever worked with in his entire career.
In conclusion, this is one of Ringo's best albums and not at all a turkey.
1992 – Time Takes Time
Weight Of The World – The intro is so 'Byrds' it's not even funny! This is where Ringo announces he's back to retro-60s' sounds, and he's very comfortable there and isn't going to move. This tune suits his voice very well.
Don't Know A Thing About Love – generic retro-rock style tune. Guitar lead is nice.
Don't Go Where The Road Don't Go – "I guess there's just so much to learn" is a crappy line, but otherwise an interesting, self-critical lyric. Song has good R&R energy, even if it's rather simplistic (are there two chords in the song...?).
Golden Blunders – Good song, and I wish ol' Rings had done more covers of cool alt.-rock songs by the 80s/90s' generation of bands. I like his voice on this, too.
All In The Name Of Love – Written by the late Jerry Lynn Williams, who wrote songs for Eric Clapton in the mid-80s. Ringo's voice doesn't really suit this, and this track above all the others sounds "80s", from the gated-reverb drums to the overly processed guitar solo.
After All These Years – Lots of Jeff Lynne here, but anyway the song just isn't that interesting.
I Don't Believe You – Good! Ringo does uptempo, strong tune by guys from early-90s' band, Jellyfish. (This should have been nearer to the top of the record.)
Runaways – Well, the intro was cool. I thought I was listening to early-90s U2 or something... After that, the song proper is pretty average. Very 80s' sounding guitar. (Is Ringo trying to sound like David Bowie, vocally...?) Just seems rather strange subject matter for Ringo in the early 90s. Except for the intro and quiet bits, the songs sounds like a leftover tune from 1986.
In A Heart Beat – Ringo does Diane Warren...? Not a particularly good song, but pleasant in a way, and (unusually for him) Ringo handles the ballad vocals really well. He seems to 'dig in' quite a bit to get a nice vocal. Good voice, Richy!
What Goes Around – Song has a bunch of lyrical cliches. (Who is this Rick Suchow?) Not terrible, but not memorable. Goes on way too long.
Yes, this is a solid album. It is the best one since Ringo (1973) (although Old Wave was surprisingly decent). As to which of those two I prefer, I would say the '73 album is more fun and sounds more organic or something, whereas the '92 album is more well-crafted and sounds more committed (being, as it was, kind of his "comeback" album that would make or break his recording career).
Unfortunately for Richy, this fine LP sank like a stone with the weight of the world. Even two appearances on the Arsenio Hall show couldn't push him into the top-100 albums list. That must have been a hard blow for Rings, after he'd spent a lot of time and put in some sweat to get this record right.
Anyway, it's a good one, and has a solid place in the solo-Beatle catalog. (It’s still not rave-worthy, though… it’s not that damn good!)