Ringo Starr was born Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940. He celebrates his 74th birthday today and, of course, is best known as the drummer of the Beatles. For many, that’s actually all he is famous for, which is unfortunate.
image courtesy of Kirkland/MPI/INFevents.com
Starr’s days as a solo artist are usually dismissed and he really was the one most affected by the break-up. After all, he couldn’t write and he wasn’t much of a singer. During his time with the group, he could do what he did best – which was drum – and his opportunities to sing were generally novelty numbers.
In 1970, that great position crashed and burned. The Beatles were over and Ringo was left with little to do. Obviously, after establishing himself as the greatest drummer for the greatest band in the world, his skills behind the drumkit would be in high demand. But his status as a Beatle allowed him to take on two personal projects in 1970 – Sentimental Journey, an album of standards decades before that would be the usual thing for rock stars to do; and Beaucoups of Blues, a country album recorded in Nashville.
But to the surprise of everyone, Ringo suddenly became a strong singles act. “It Don’t Come Easy” was a smash hit in 1971, with “Back Off Boogaloo” was the same a year later. Then, in 1973, RINGO came out, headlined by “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen.” While 1974’s Goodnight Vienna was a moderate hit, Ringo has never reached the same success as he did from 1971 to 1973. Unlike George Harrison and Paul McCartney, Ringo has never had another brief moment of success since his early days as a solo artist. That means that there’s a lot of music you may be missing that is actually pretty good.
[new page = Starting on the right road]
10. “Don’t Go Where The Road Don’t Go” – Time Takes Time, 1992
Let’s start with a cut from Ringo’s best album outside of Ringo, 1992’s Time Takes Time. Ringo co-wrote “Don’t Go Where The Road Don’t Go” and it was produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Despite the strength of this and tracks like it, plus strong reviews and the All-Starr Band tours to promote it, the album failed to be a hit. But that’s the story of Ringo’s career, sadly enough. Even when he does good material, he can’t sell.
[new page = He may be short, but he is a…]
9. “Vertical Man” – Vertical Man, 1998
While Vertical Man isn’t quite as good as Paul’s response to the Beatles’ Anthology, Flaming Pie, it is a good album. It introduces us to modern Ringo. He brings in a bunch of friends to write and record. For many years, his top friend was Mark Hudson and Vertical Man was their first production together. The title track on the album wasn’t a single, but it’s a favorite of mine.
[new page = Starr-Stills]
8. “You’ve Got A Nice Way” – Stop and Smell The Roses, 1981
Like George and Paul, Ringo’s best response to John Lennon’s death was to just make music. Stop and Smell The Roses was released just after the tragedy and John had written material for Ringo, but he decided not to record them out of respect. Instead, we got gems like this one, written by Stephen Stills.
[new page = Allen Toussaint to the rescue]
7. “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” – Ringo The 4th, 1979
Ringo the 4th is all kinds of bad (starting off with the fact that it was actually his sixth solo album), but this song written by the great Allen Toussaint is the only saving grace on it.
[new page = Instant amnesia might make you sick]
6. “Instant Amnesia” – Ringo Rama, 2003
Ringo Rama is another effort with Hudson producing and actually gave Ringo a brief taste of success. It was such a hit that he actually released a deluxe edition. I find his tribute to George (“Without You”) a little on the saccharine side, sadly and the “It Don’t Come Easy” references are just annoying. But “Instant Amnesia” is a great chunk of rock and roll, mixed with the blues.
[new page = Macca and Ringo]
5. “Six O’Clock” – RINGO, 1973
I suppose putting any track from RINGO is wrong, because it’s probably the only album of his that anyone has actually heard. Still, “Six O’Clock” is not only a hidden Ringo gem, but a hidden Paul gem as well. The track was written by Paul and features this majestic feeling, in an “Another Day” way.
[new page = A little touch of Schmilsson]
4. “Easy For Me” – Goodnight Vienna, 1974
This is a classic example of a great Harry Nilsson song. Nilsson just got Ringo and understood how to use his voice, writing a tender track and the only other person who could sing it aside from Ringo was… Nilsson, of course.
[new page = Beatle meets Eagle]
3. “Alibi” – Old Wave, 1983
During the 1980s, Ringo was plagued with personal issues, including alcoholism. Occasionally, he would record an album, but he’d be lucky if they would get released in the U.S. or even the U.K. That was the case with Old Wave, a great album he made with the Eagles’ Joe Walsh. The two wrote most of the tracks together on the album, imbuing them with a curious sense of humor. This is one of the best songs on it.
[new page = A trip to Nashville]
2. “$15 Draw” – Beaucoups of Blues, 1970
If you’ve never heard Beaucoups of Blues, I strongly urge you to stop what you’re doing and seek it out. The album features the finest Nashville musicians producer/steel guitarist Pete Drake could put together, who all contributed fine material for Ringo to sing. This is a real country album that just happens to have a kid from Liverpool singing. “$15 Draw” was written by guitarist Sorrells Packard and has been a favorite of mine since I first heard this record.
[new page = Getting the beat back]
1. “Give Me Back The Beat” – Choose Love, 2006
When I saw Ringo in Boston in 2006, I remember him joking about how there were probably more people at that one show than people who bought his newest record. That year, he released the finest album to come out of the Hudson years, Choose Love. While it certainly had no shortage of “peace & love” and “It Don’t Come Easy” references, the material was still different enough, including this great track, “Give Me Back The Beat.”