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"All I wanna do is boogaloo"

Class E

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Roots Rock, Pub Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Ringo Starr fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Ringo Starr fanatics (if there are any, that is - if you're a Ringo fanatic, you're a weird guy indeed!). If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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My Beatles' fanaticism in the past years led me to collecting quite a decent load of Ringo solo albums which I probably never listened to more than once upon purchasing or taping. However, now that they were just lying there gathering dust on the shelves, I finally took the decision to brush off a little dust and give Mr Starkey a second chance. And you know what? It's not all that bad!

These days, when the historical truth is finally being established, I think that nobody in his right mind will try to argue that Ringo still was the 'accidental' Beatle, chosen for his 'looks', and could have easily been replaced by a million other, more or less professional drummers. Listening to early Beatles records makes it absolutely clear that Ringo's drumming, with its precise beats and heavy stress on the cymbals, defined the sound just as much as John's steady rhythm or Harrison's rudimentary bits of soloing - maybe even more. Take away the drumming from 'She Loves You', for instance, and watch the song lose so much of its charm. Of course, there's no denying Ringo's charisma as well - he was always the 'friendly' Beatle, and the big star in all of their films. Finally, near the end of his career in the Fab Four he also started displaying signs of amazingly tasteful songwriting - 'Octopus' Garden' is just as fascinating today as it was then. Thus, there's absolutely no reason to dismiss his 'cartoonish' solo career before at least taking a couple of listens to some of his most successful solo albums.

I also have a feeble, yet possible hypothesis that "talent" or "genius" as we know it can actually be developed along the way with a less talented individual constantly working along with the more talented ones. Many years of working side by side with John and Paul couldn't help but leave a special favourable trace on Ringo - their being hyper-demanding from themselves, their care for melody and hook, their endless perfectionism, self-irony and 'light' approach to music, all of these things were also present in Ringo to a lesser degree. In the end, being a Beatle is definitely good for your health, isn't it?

Of course, I needn't repeat the usual accusations against Ringo: yeah, he's got a weak voice - but it ain't as weak as you'd really want to imagine (at least, it sounds friendly, which is more than I can say about Jon Anderson), and his inability to sing on key has been seriously overrated. And yeah, his songwriting abilities are limited - but again, he's not such a talentless wreck as people often think him to be; a person who could write such a brilliant song as 'Octopus's Garden' certainly deserves some credit. Hey there, Stevie Winwood never wrote a song as good as that one, and he's hailed as a rock hero! Give enough credit to Ringo, will ya? I wouldn't want to give him a rating higher than 1, of course, but you gotta remember that 1 isn't bad - it's 'the lowest range of good', which Ringo sure is.

That said, his career took a very low start, of course, with embarrassing collections of Hollywood and country classics, and Ringo's emergence in 1973 as a minor 'star-lette' took everybody by surprise, including Ringo himself. By then he'd worked out a stable formula that he's still using up to this day - a small bunch of self-penned songs surrounded by loads of graceful 'donations' by colleague superstars, and for several years the formula was quite successful. It would be unjust, though, not to notice that Ringo's best material was nevertheless always self-penned: neither Lennon nor McCartney nor Elton John nor anybody else ever presented the ex-Beatle with a song of the same quality as the optimistic, upbeat 'It Don't Come Easy' or the all-out rockin' 'Back Off Boogaloo'.

Trouble came in the late Seventies, when help from the finest of colleagues had gradually decreased and Ringo got caught up in lots of personal problems, alcoholism not the least of them. His late Seventies' - early Eighties' catalog is usually written off by critics as complete crappy pablum, which is unjust as well - I admit that it's hard to notice minor gems such as Stop And Smell The Roses among truly mediocre albums like Bad Boy, but hey, a critic's work should always be hard: after all, no work is easy. Anyway, Ringo essayed a commercial/artistic comeback in the Nineties, with endless 'All-Starr' bands going out on tours to support him, but here it seems that this success is mostly based on nostalgia, image and publicity: his Nineties' artistic career never really took off (although Vertical Man was a fine return to form, and here's hoping that the old boy still holds a few aces up his sleeve). Instead, he's just content to go around demonstrating everybody the impeccable quality of his teeth, the disgusting fashion of his hair, the ultra-cool choice of his clothes, and the constant demonstration of the 'V" sign. All right, folks, he earned it. Let him be happy, and don't forget to have an occasional listen to Ringo now and then.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 5

A horrendous bunch of Hollywood tunes - the biggest imaginable blow to a Beatles' reputation. Fortunately, there wasn't much to start with...

Best song: go inquire in Disneyland.

Track listing: 1) Sentimental Journey; 2) Night And Day; 3) Whispering Grass; 4) Bye Bye Blackbird; 5) I'm A Fool To Care; 6) Stardust; 7) Blue Turning Grey Over You; 8) Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing; 9) Dream; 10) You Always Hurt The One You Love; 11) Have I Told You Lately That I Love You; 12) Let The Rest Of The World Go By; [BONUS TRACK:] 13) It Don't Come Easy.

What an odd record to represent the very first true post-Beatles collection of material by any solo Beatle. Ringo actually started recording this album as early as late 1969 when it still was rather unclear if the Beatles would go on or disband completely, so it wasn't actually a 'fuck-you' type of gesture as McCartney's first solo record (which, by the way, was intentionally released by Paul in a flurry to make it before Sentimental Journey - he wanted the world to know that it was him, and not the others, who was making all the major decisions). Moreover, rumour has it that this record was recorded mostly in order to please his aging parents (like in: 'listen here, dear boy, when are you going to stop all that nonsense and get back to the basics...'), and as far as I know, that's about the only suitable excuse for this load of shite that I can accept.

After all, isn't it nice to be able to grant your parents' wish, especially a long-time-ago-conceived and thought-to-be-impossible one? There are twelve numbers on here, and all are covers of some obscure or semi-obscure Hollywood classics from the thirties 'n' fourties, all performed strictly by the book - with pompous orchestration, swooping strings, practically no rock instruments at all and above all, Ringo's 'pleasant' singing voice. Now how do you feel? The next logical thing to do would be to dress Ringo up in a swallow-tail, put him on stage in the company of a few dozen cabaret dames and let the show roll on.

To be totally honest with you, the record is so grotesquely ridiculous that it isn't even pukey. Maybe if it were Paul who'd make such a foolish decision, that would be totally unbearable - after all, Paul would have no trouble becoming a new Fred Astor or anybody if he'd only want to. But seeing as the material is actually let through Ringo's interpretations, it almost looks parodic - though Ringo probably didn't think so whilst recording. I mean, I usually have no problem with his singing at all, but here the old boy just sounds so horrendously strained and his voice is so out of touch with the orchestra that it often sounds like he just got drunk in a nearby bar and started singing karaoke. Which, of course, lends the proceedings a completely different aura.

Even the track listing, with its endless 'Let The Rest Of The World Go By', 'Have I Told You Lately That I Love You', 'Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing', 'You Always Hurt The One You Love', etc., etc., is enough to make you roll off the coaster and drown in the over-surrounding cheese. Mind you, I don't have anything in particular against any of the songs, and I wouldn't want to condemn the music-hall genre at all: objectively, it's at least not any less important or musically inventive than the Motown scene. But I'm somewhat at a loss when it actually comes around to reviewing this stuff.

I can't even discuss the virtues and flaws of any particular songs because they all sound the same. Perhaps a couple of them are somewhat smile-attractive: for instance, the 'lonely-romantic' title track has some countryish overtones and is somewhat less pompous and brass-full than anything else on here. It forms an acceptable 'intro' for the album and if you had to choose some 'classic' from this album, you'd have no choice but to throw on 'Sentimental Journey'. I also like 'Bye Bye Blackbird', a lightweight jazzy pastiche that's quite pleasant in the 'tasteful' sense of the word. But that's just about it. On the contrary, songs like 'Blue, Turning Grey Over You' are plain awful, with loud brass announcing Ringo's arrival on the scene (in a swallow-tail, no doubt) and the poor boy really failing to produce anything serious with his pair of unhappy vocal cords - he ruins the vocal melody all to pieces.

It's a huge pity actually - if ever there was a period in Ringo's career in which he was close to brilliant songwriting capacity, it was this bridge between decades. Remember that he'd just scored a big one with 'Octopus's Garden'? And that's not all: his sole original composition at the time, the single 'It Don't Come Easy', which is graciously tackled onto the end of my CD edition as a bonus track, is a really good one, too - an energy-filled pop rocker with a really clever use of the brass section, quite unlike the ugly ducklings on this album. It's so good it managed to become a hit and still remains a deserved stage favourite. Maybe it wouldn't be a mistake for him if he actually had tried to record an entire album of self-penned compositions at the time; there would be no second chance for him, and he still managed to blow it.

Actually, I don't quite understand why Ringo just didn't perform this Hollywood crap to his parents in private and imposed this curse on Beatles completists. An album that's as inessential as only can be. Isn't it strange that solo careers of all four Beatles started out with some random crap and only picked up steam later on? John's experimental records, Paul's Music For The Family Way, George's Indian music soundtracks and Electronic Sound, and this? That's the price for being a reverend Beatle: you can record anything you like, and your company will only be happy to release it, while the fans will only be happy to buy it.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

Ooh! Better! Even if it's just country, it's at least a couple of steps closer to art than that Hollywood dreck...


Track listing: 1) Beaucoups Of Blues; 2) Love Don't Last Long; 3) Fastest Growing Heartache In The West; 4) Without Her; 5) Woman Of The Night; 6) I'd Be Talking All The Time; 7) $15 Draw; 8) Wine Women And Loud Happy Songs; 9) I Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way; 10) Loser's Lounge; 11) Waiting; 12) Silent Homecoming; 13) Coochy Coochy; [BONUS TRACK:] 14) Nashville Jam.

Free from his parents' obligations at last, Ringo started thinking about making a real solo record, and these thoughts, along with a near-accidental meeting with pedal steel guitar hero Pete Drake during the sessions for Harrison's All Things Must Pass, directed him from L.A. to Nashville - after all, his Beatles days performances were often in the country vein ('Act Naturally', 'What Goes On', 'Don't Pass Me By'), and this was only natural; Ringo's love for country music is quite well-documented.

The result is fairly dull, but at least listenable - it is possible to sit through this record in one sitting without getting the definite urge to play some break dance on its top. As with the first (and most of the following) records, Ringo preferred not to rely on his songwriting skills, instead placing his fate completely in the hands of professional Nashville tunesmiths like Larry Kingston and Chuck Howard. One can only wonder why he was so insecure of his songwriting skills, because the best song on the whole album is his - the hilarious 'Coochy Coochy', a driving country rocker with almost as much drunken charm as there was in 'It Don't Come Easy'. And yet, once again the song was excluded from the original album for unknown reasons and only came out as a single (or even the B-side of a single, I don't really remember): only on CD justice has been finally and, hopefully, forever reinforced. No, it ain't spectacular, but a whole album of such material, if only Ringo would care enough to get himself to write it, would have been welcome very much. Anyway, Ring, if you were that modest, why were you cutting records at all? Modesty need not compromise beauty.

Well, we still have to do with facts and not fantasies, don't we? The facts are that the album is a straight country-rock one, and if you hate that kind of stuff, you'd better forget about it just like it is necessary to forget about Sentimental Journey. But if you happen to be reviewing it on a record review site and wouldn't want to look too biased towards Ringo's multi-genre efforts (oops, that's just like me, actually), here are a few recommendations. First of all, you might note that the record tries very hard not to bore you: the songs significantly vary in structure, speed and mood, ranging the gamut from sharp, bitter, electric guitar-based patches of boogie ('Loser's Lounge') to slow, dreary, pessimistic contemplations ('Silent Homecoming'). Of course, too many of the melodies are still kinda samey; isn't it fun that 'Fastest Growing Headache In The West' and 'I'd Be Talking All The Time' begin with exactly the same fiddle line? Yet it's country music, and as we all know, country music is hardly any less formulaic than blues, so get ready to forgive that.

Next, the playing is super-professional - it was recorded in Nashville, remember? I won't list the whole band because I don't feel it's necessary - if you're an expert, you probably realise who were the best players in Nashville at the time, but let us just mention Pete Drake on pedal steel - the same Pete Drake that used to work with Bob Dylan on Nashville Skyline, and I really admire the man's guts, because he really makes some of the numbers 'smoke', like the ominous 'Woman Of The Night' or the debauchery '$15 Draw', or slower numbers like 'Waiting', etc. The album sounds completely authentic, like the real thing, whereas Sentimental Journey was just a ball of stupid goofiness. And just a personal remark of mine: I love pedal steel guitar, especially when it's played well, and Pete Drake is a true master of minimalism: his short, sharp licks are always up to the point, conveying the needed mood (anger, fear, tenderness, mysticism, whatever) at the needed moment. So there's a lot of taste on the record, even if the melodies often leave a lot to be desired. I mean, if you're yet uncertain, listen to 'Nashville Jam', a track previously unreleased and only included as a bonus onto the CD. Does it sound all that different from the 'Apple Jam' section of George's All Things Must Pass? It doesn't, except that the guitar work is naturally not so prominent and the band seems more restrained. But it's fun to hear these guys jam and realise what great musicians they all were.

And finally, this time around Ringo does a fine singing job - while it's hardly possible to imagine him convincingly pull off a Frank Sinatra which he tried to do on the last record, he fits quite well into the image of a country singer.

Of course, all these faint praises shouldn't procure you the impression that it's a really good record. Actually, I was just listing all the good points I could find to justify its existence and the fact that I get really tolerant when I put it into the CD deck. If you really want a word of truth, well, then, of course it isn't a Ringo record - it's really a Pete Drake and all those other Nashville thugs creation. But if you go analysing Ringo's albums from this point of view, what will you be left with? Me, I think making a thorough investigation of his 'creative' path is a jolly interesting occupation!



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Finally, Ringo puts out a jolly good album with enough silly catchy tunes to entertain your friends for a whole whoppin' forty minutes with. Youppee!

Best song: DEVIL WOMAN

Track listing: 1) I'm The Greatest; 2) Have You Seen My Baby; 3) Photograph; 4) Sunshine Life For Me; 5) You're Sixteen; 6) Oh My My; 7) Step Lightly; 8) Six O'Clock; 9) Devil Woman; 10) You And Me (Babe).

Oh, all right, this is finally the start of a more or less decent solo career for Ringo. Taking almost three years off to pursue a fruitless filming career, Ringo returns back to the stage with a brilliant idea: from now on, most of his albums would be written, arranged and produced by fellow Beatles! That way, everybody's content: the public gets some great material, the fellow Beatles get some royalties, and Richard Starkey gets all the fame. This is the pattern Ringo has followed ever since, the only exception being that due to sporadic lack of interest from fellow Beatles, he's had to find some lesser-status replacements to write his songs over the last several decades. Here though, everything works just fine: both John, Paul and George contribute some good-to-great stuff, and all of them even play on this record - albeit not on the same tracks. The album is actually a drunken mess, and it seems like it was cut in about two days over an intermission in non-stop boozing (remember, this was the time of John's Lost Weekend in Los Angeles, wasn't it?) But that's what makes the record so fascinating - its sloppiness, variety and unpredictability contribute to the fun factor and really make it one of the few really enjoyable Ringo records, so that you won't even have to blush if your friends see this on your shelf by accident, much less if they catch you secretly grooving to it because they're bound to begin doing likewise.

The sound on the record is mostly reminiscent of some contemporary Lennon stuff - Ringo uses the help of everybody within range, including Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Bobby Keys, the Band, hell, even Marc Bolan plays guitar on 'Have You Seen My Baby' - could you really imagine Ringo as a glam star? Oh, okay: there are some mock-glam elements on the album, especially its cover. But for the most part nothing is taken seriously: Lennon contributes the goofy anthem 'I'm The Greatest' (he later said that if he'd sung that song himself, people would complain about his pretentiousness, but when placed at the disposition of Ringo, it would become a silly self-mocking, and he was perfectly right), and the whole record is just a load of fun.

Thus, there's a couple pop gems hidden in here: McCartney's 'Six O'Clock', with its beautiful, tight and memorable structure is a real upper - a really good number which could have easily fit onto any of Paul's own contemporary records, in fact, it would have definitely benefited from a gentle McCartney falsetto, I suppose, even if I'm in no way a Ringo basher when it comes to vocal cords. And Harrison's 'Photograph', although a little cheesy, is still entertaining and, indeed, quite Harrison-like, rising to a mighty all-instrument climax near the end; it turned out to be a Ringo fan favourite and is still used at Ringo shows. Another Harrison contribution, 'Sunshine Life For Me', is such a jolly mock-country-western send-up, with its overemphasized guitars and banjoes and Ringo's hilarious singing, that you can't help but laugh - whoa-whoo, these guys were really getting it on! It's all the more fun to think that at the very same time George was deeply engaged in spirituality and releasing albums with titles like Living In The Material World - which he clearly was expressing a wish to get away from. He was quite content to engulf Ringo in the temptations of the material world, though. :)

'Have You Seen My Baby' with its brass rhythm mostly reminds one of Lennon's and Spector's production of the former's Rock'n'Roll record: if you liked that one's thick jazzy sound, you'll enjoy this particular song as well - I do, for instance. 'You're Sixteen' overdoes the cheese factor, though, and I don't get it why it was this song that was immediately made into a Ringo classic and not 'Six O'Clock'.

The best in the whole deal, though, is the only rocker on this record: Ringo's own 'Devil Woman', written in collaboration with Vini Poncia. The guitar sound there is nothing short of a marvel - crisp, clear, and totally up to the point: Keith Richards would not have refused the riff on a Stones' record, I deem. What it shows is that Ringo still wasn't washed-up as a composer, and maybe it would have been a good idea to try and pen a couple more numbers ('Step Lightly', his second composition on here, isn't really that attractive - a moderate, pleasant, but forgettable country number).

There are maybe just about a couple downers on the record, like the closing 'You And Me', an unsuccessful Harrison-Evans attempt at addicting Ringo to lounge music (as if he wasn't already); nevertheless, its ending, where Ringo introduces the band who's been doing 'this piece of plastic' and says good night to the audiences, is a perfect finale for the whole boozy, stoned-out, sarcastic affair. In fact, it's totally useless to go and praise any particular song off the album for any particular detail - there's nothing outstanding neither about the playing nor the songwriting. It's the atmosphere that makes the listening experience so damn pleasant, and when the cheese factor is low (and it is), a record with such an atmosphere can be truly endearing. Personally, I think Stop And Smell The Roses displayed tighter songwriting and performing, but I admit that it's nowhere near as close to the listener and immediately hard-hitting as this record, Ringo's, err, 'glam rock album'? Hah! Buy it today and have a large, extended party! And don't forget the Remy Martin!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

More of the same formula, but with a couple major embarrassments - do you really want to hear Elvis-style balladeering on a Ringo album?

Best song: NO NO SONG

Track listing: 1) Goodnight Vienna; 2) Occapella; 3) Oo-Wee; 4) Husbands And Wives; 5) Snookeroo; 6) All By Myself; 7) Call Me; 8) No No Song; 9) Only You (And You Alone); 10) Easy For Me; 11) Goodnight Vienna (Reprise); [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Back Off Boogaloo; 13) Blindman.

The previous album was working really well, and Vienna is yet another attempt at a sloppy, drunken mess: the lead-off title track sounds exactly like it, starting with the energetic John Lennon countdown of one-two-three-four (John was the author) and ending with the rambling, crazy march sound that it's based upon. The track perfectly embodies the overall spirit of the album: even messier than the previous one (apparently, the level of alcohol in the blood of every one of the participants was rising on a daily, if not hourly, basis), but also funnier and as cheerful as it ever goes. Anyway, messy or no, the song is quite hook-filled, and it's exceedingly good - like quite a few of the tunes here. What makes the difference is that the sound is not so 'big': the band employed for Vienna is much smaller... well, at least there ain't no Marc Bolan here, for sure. Ringo still goes off in search of a glam hero image - just look how cute he looks in that space suit on the album cover - but this time around these pretentions are not entirely justified. For instance, there are no rockers on the album, just nothing that could account for the funny ferocity of 'Devil Woman': at best, the songs on Vienna are your average catchy fast pop, while at the worst Ringo starts to fall back into the excesses of Sentimental Journey.

Indeed, a couple of tracks are atrocious: 'Only You (And You Alone)' is a formulaic retro ballad (originally essayed by the Platters, I guess) where Ringo tries to emulate Elvis as closely as possible, together with the unlistenable spoken mid-section. And Miller's 'Husbands And Wives', a stripped-down ditty prattling about the cause of increase in divorces, showcases the limitations of Ringo's voice in addition to its dorky lyrical matters. Unfortunately, the percentage of such numbers would start to gradually increase in the following years.

Elsewhere, the band mostly goes for a most user-friendly jazzy sound, with interesting, hook-filled songs whose main distinction is sounding silly to the point of being catchy. I, for one, get my kicks even out of the stupid 'Occapella', with its nearly offensive jazz-pop rhythms that would normally not be fit even for a second-class lounge. I mean, isn't it the funniest, most charmingly pretty moment on the album when Ringo chants "everything's a-gonna be mellow, we gon' jes' be singin' occapella?' I, for one, nearly die of good-natured laughter when I get to hear those lines. Then there's 'Snookeroo', a funny tale of a gigolo contributed by Elton John, and, of course, the 'big hit' - 'No No Song', a ridiculous anti-drug composition with a charming refrain. One might detest it at first sight as a slick child-style popularization of the 'just say no' idea, but don't forget that Ringo has always been going 'child-style', and if you like 'Yellow Submarine', why shouldn't you like 'No No Song'?

There's also a typical 'Ringo-shuffle' in the vein of 'Step Lightly', the mild, rhythmic groove of 'Call Me'; and for those who like their Ringo loud and pseudo-raunchy, there's the loud and pseudo-raunchy rant of the loud and pseudo-raunchy tune 'Oo-Wee' - in all, as you see, the album's pretty diverse, even if it misses the edge of Ringo. Oo-wee babe, oo-wee yeah. All these songs are just as trashy in their essence as anything on Ringo and even more, and it's easy to see why this album is so often overlooked in favour of its predecessor: Goodnight Vienna doesn't even pretend to be anything more than a feeble collection of grooves. Where Ringo was at least funny and genuinely amusing in that it presented Mr Starkey as a 'full-fledged glam star', full of ironic self-importance and self-mocking bombast, this is just a homebrewed party session. And yet, musically it's just as strong; I, for one, have no problem in assimilating Ringo's 'party boy' image, not any more than I had in assimilating his 'pseudo-glam star' image.

Nevertheless, on my CD version the best moment arrives when we get to the bonus tracks: Ringo's successful 1974 single 'Back Off Boogaloo', maybe his third best composition ever after 'Garden' and 'It Don't Come Easy'. Opening with some really really powerful drumming, almost a la John Bonham (or maybe a la Keith Moon - after all, it was Keith who was a very close friend of Ringo's), it is presented to us as a mighty rocker with near-psychedelic lyrics and a stupid, but memorable and kick-butt chorus. The verses are so well structured, and the chords so neatly set up that I guess the song would have suited even John Lennon; the only complaint is that the coda, with the chorus being repeated over and over and over again, is a bit draggy and overlong. The drumming, however, redeems it. And the B-side 'Blindman' is fairly decent as well, with its Latino influences and strong melodic hooks. In fact, both songs easily overshadow even the strongest material on Vienna, just because they can be digested as 'serious' numbers, something more than just a bunch of drunken grooves. Which again proves, to me, that Ringo's songwriting skills have been severely underrated by everyone, himself included: he had enough talent to spit out something great now and then.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

A little more pretentious-sounding than last time around, but the songwriting's a bit improved, too, so guess it's a tie.


Track listing: 1) A Dose Of Rock'n'Roll; 2) Hey Baby; 3) Pure Gold; 4) Cryin'; 5) You Don't Know Me At All; 6) Cookin' (In The Kitchen Of Love); 7) I'll Still Love You; 8) This Be Called A Song; 9) Las Brisas; 10) Lady Gaye; 11) Spooky Weirdness.

Some view this as a huge letdown after Goodnight Vienna, but this is where I'm left dumbfounded. I mean, this record follows exactly the same formula, but with enough diversity and originality in the songwriting so as not to seem a complete rip-off, so why should one like Vienna and Ringo and hate this one is a complete mystery to me. Personally, I find this to be Ringo's third or fourth best release of all, and any problems I have here are maybe limited to just a couple of pathetically weak numbers, which are nevertheless hardly offensive at all.

As usual, he gets in all of the ex-Beatles to collaborate on the album, and it works, particularly in the case of John who contributes his best Ringo-destined song of all. Yeah, 'I'm The Greatest' might seem clumsy and erratic at times, and 'Goodnight Vienna' was too short and throwaway-ish anyway, but 'Cookin' (In The Kitchen Of Love)' has it all: a boppy, silly and catchy pop melody that's unarguably the most memorable and exciting on the record, a crazy, drunk atmosphere, and these ridiculous, completely dorky backing vocals that echo Ringo's stuttering ('well I'm dancing - DANCING - da-da-da-dancing - DA-DA-DA-DANCING...'). You know how it goes in Ringo's case - the sillier, dumber, stupider the song sounds, the better it is. And kudos to good old pal John who really knew how to write a really silly and dumb song, the likes of which he'd never include on any of his own records even in his worst nightmare. But hey, quod licet Jovi non licet bovi, which, if you'll excuse my Latin, translates as "don't let Ringo perform 'Imagine' even under pain of death!", so this is actually a compliment to John rather than an accusation. That's why George Harrison's contribution on the album just doesn't sound thrilling at all, because he provides good old Ring with a sentimental, emotionally overblown ballad with searing lead guitar lines ('I'll Still Love You') where the poor drummer just doesn't fit with his vocal style. Give it to Greg Lake and eliminate those annoying strings and we'll see about it. And Paul's 'Pure Gold' is a slight letdown from the ear-pleasant melodicity of 'Six O'Clock' as well; it isn't devoid of hooks, but it's too much of a generic country bore for me...

Hmm, well, I guess I shouldn't have said that the 'songwriting's a bit improved'. Why did I say that, anyway? Oh yes. The big improvement is in that there are almost no generic Hollywood send-ups this time, if you don't count Jordan's wretched 'You Don't Know Me At All' (come to think of it, it should be counted - as one of the first signs of Ringo's late-Seventies decline into cabaret-type schlock, so obvious on the following two records). On the other hand, Ringo tries quite a large bunch of styles, and his own compositions are again acceptable: the best is probably the nostalgic ballad 'Lady Gaye', but 'Cryin' is interesting, too: he's once again riding his country-rock vibe, with all those steel guitars around and a nice, memorable chorus to enjoy. And on one track he even tries a new mood, going for a crazy, Latin style dance number ('Las Brisas'): its artistic value is somewhat doubtful, but at least it's really pleasant to learn that Ringo was still trying to experiment. He may not have earned the title of 'experimental Beatle', but he sure wasn't just a bummer looking for fame and fortune. Rather, he was a limited-talent-guy who tried very, very, very hard to match his Beatles past, and must be given due respect for that.

Apart from these high/not so high points, there are not that many guest appearances on record. The weirdest one, of course, is Eric Clapton, who contributes, no, not a tired blues number as one might suggest, but a reggaeish dance number ('This Be Called A Song') whose most prominent feature is the title, endlessly repeated in the chorus. One mustn't forget that this was the time of Eric's most complete immersion into reggae and all that Jamaican stuff, but this one's really a bit too much. I wonder what would happen if Eric had decided to put a song like that on his own album. Again, in the case of Ringo it works amazingly.

And, of course, the record has its little share of oldies, most notably 'Hey Baby' and 'A Dose Of Rock'n'Roll' - two old 50's pub rock numbers with anthemic, 'overblown' choruses that fit Ringo's 'mock-glam' style to a tee: overarranged, silly, and engaging. 'A Does Of Rock'n'Roll' is particularly good-timey, absolutely irresistable and endearing - even despite the somewhat lame 'ecstatic' guitar solo that hardly fits in with the goofy lyrics. The drunk craze goes again like it had never stopped since 1973, and reaches its culmination in 'Spooky Weirdness' that closes the album. This is Ringo's 'psychedelic' (right!!!) number: about a minute of weird (although by no means 'spooky') noises, accompanied by gentle piano tinkling, a strange bass line, and a metallic voice saying something like 'good evening, come into my dreams...' and various other crap. It may not say much, but it sure reflects the state of things: obviously, every recording of a Ringo solo album at the time was interpreted by all the 'guests' as a good chance to play the fool, and, as long as Ringo didn't object, everybody did just that. Well? He didn't object!



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

Ringo goes 'soul'. He also goes 'straightforward' and 'mainstream', not to mention 'generic', 'tasteless' and 'forgettable'.


Track listing: 1) Drowning In The Sea Of Love; 2) Tango All Night; 3) Wings; 4) Gave It All Up; 5) Out On The Streets; 6) Can She Do It Like She Dances; 7) Sneaking Sally Through The Alley; 8) It's No Secret; 9) Gypsies In Flight; 10) Simple Love Songs.

Apparently Ringo finally got tired of trying out his star-studded formula on record after record and decided to try something completely different. John Lennon wasn't around any more - the 'Lost Weekend' was overm and, while still alive, he'd already entered his famous 'seclusion' phase; and Paul and George either got fed up with donating quality tunes for Ringo or, which is more probable, were having a hard enough time to write enough quality tunes for themselves (Paul was getting prepared for the big slump, while George was already entering its first stages). So it's my guess that Ringo just had to do something different because he had no choice; otherwise, who would want to mess around with such a great formula?

The best thing about this record seems to be its title (besides referring to Ringo's status as a Beatle, it can probably hint at his dismissal of his first two records - Ringo The 4th is indeed the fourth album if we start from Ringo); the worst thing about this record seems to be its album cover - a chick replacing a crown? Jesus, what a clever idea. (Asshole! The back cover is even more disgusting, mind you). In between are the songs: ten slabs of standard, normal, totally forgettable pop numbers, some of which are full of cheese and some are not so full, but not a single one of which could ever hope to break through Ringo's 'golden dozen', whatever it consists of. Apart from the three ballads that close the album, written by Herr Starkey in collaboration with Signor V. Poncia, all the other tunes are donations or covers; most of the latter are penned by Tom Seufert and Stephen Hague, two 'modernistic' dudes that were, so it seems, obsessed with mostly boring dance muzak. So there's a definite contradiction between the first and second side of this album: Side A is a self-conscious effort to sound contemporary, all drenched in cheesy synths, generic-sounding, synth-processed guitars, slick disco beats and corny female backing vocals, while Side B is mostly the good ol' Ringo having some debauched fun, even if nothing on it is as entertaining as the best stuff on the previous three records.

To put it short, Side A mostly sucks (surprise surprise). 'Drowning In The Sea Of Love' says it all with its generic bombastic title: the song wouldn't even be fit for the likes of Rod Stewart, with its obvious lack of melody or convincibility. Not to mention that drawing it well over five minutes of length was a really smart move. 'Tango All Night' is even cheesier... eeek, I was never able to think I'd one day review such dance-crap dreck on my site. It sounds like it was taken directly off of one of these two murky debut ABBA records. Funny, only Ringo's vocals save it from being 'exemplary garbage' - the guy sounds so incompatible with this genre of muzak he's almost 'cute', in his own unique way. 'Wings', while it opens out with a hope-giving grumbly riff, immediately turns into a generic power ballad, not without an ounce of catchiness, but definitely without an ounce of enjoyability. 'Gave It All Up', with its murky kiddy-nostalgic lyrics and the naggin', obnoxious refrain, is even worse, not saved by the cool harmonica lines either. So kudos to the last track on Side A - the bouncy disco number 'Out On The Streets', which at least has some damn energy to it. Huh.

To be entirely honest, though, I'll just have to admit that most of these numbers are memorable: that's the worst thing with Ringo albums, you can pour as much dirt on them as you want, but you can't deny the catchiness! Just put any of these numbers on twice in a row and then go ahead and tell me they hadn't stuck around in your head for the ensuing night (or day). A different problem is whether it's the 'healthy' or 'diseased' sort of catchiness; unfortunately, in the case of 4th I suppose it's the seconda variant. The songs are so simplistic, dumb and generic that no catchiness is going to compensate for lack of real excitement.

So it's the second side I mostly put my bets on - the groovy 'Can She Do It Like She Dances' may sound just as dumb as all that first-side filler at first, but ultimately it may seem like the only stand-out piece of boogie on the whole album. I mean, at least Ringo sounds as if he's really drunk on that one, whereas he was only faking it on the first side. (The lyrics are crap, of course, all about getting laid, but who pays attention to the lyrics in Ringo's songs, anyway?) 'Sneaking Sally Through The Alley' cuts out the disco stuff on a relatively pleasant note, and the last three songs are Ringo's self-penned ballads: believe it or not, melodically they are decent, especially the cute, soothing 'It's No Secret' and the closing 'Simple Love Song'.

Once again, this strange fact makes me wonder: could Ringo actually make a brave move and try to release an entirely self-penned album? After all, while it's obvious that his material rarely matches the quality of his Beatles colleagues, I really can't see what makes his contributions weaker than the ones of these corny disco automatons. As it was, Mr Starkey was fully responsible for his Big Slump that began on here and reached its nadir on the following record; he should have known better what kind of colleagues to select for his work.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 7

No more 'formula', and the album is full of cheap schlocky embarrassments as a result.


Track listing: 1) Who Needs A Heart; 2) Bad Boy; 3) Lipstick Traces; 4) Heart On My Sleeve; 5) Where Did Our Love Go; 6) Hard Times; 7) Tonight; 8) Monkey See - Monkey Do; 9) Old Time Relovin'; 10) A Man Like Me.

Now this is a huge letdown; not just a 'generic', but thoroughly inoffensive record that 4th was, but a slick, soulful-and-soulless piece of modernistic crap and the worst effort of Ringo's self-conscious career (I mean, Sentimental Journey was just a treacherous first step, wasn't it?) Apparently, he just wanted to be cool - you know how it goes: leave all kinds of pretention and just come out with a bunch of decent, but intentionally low-profile pop hits that would secure his position as a simple, but tasteful popster. Did he succeed? Rats. Read on.

On the surface, Bad Boy basically follows the same 'product' formula that took over on 4th: the musicianship is still decent, but the genius-guest-penned songs are replaced by either banal modern pop ditties or well-cliched oldies. Again, Ringo throws in a couple of his own songs, but this time around they seem to fall into the general forgettable atmosphere without any special distinctions. Only the album opener, 'Who Needs A Heart', is relatively strong, grooving along with bits of the old vibe preserved; however, it's essentially just an imaginationless pop rocker, without any of that silly countrishness that made older Ringo tunes special.

As for the other stuff, well, it ranges from passable to atrocious. All over the record, the band goes for a most middle-class acceptable sound, with toned-down guitars, mellow synths and generic female backup vocals, the kind of arrangements that was probably the most universally spread (and despised) in the late Seventies and which is basically the equivalent of modern VH1 garbage. The good news, if there's any, is that the songs are for the most part catchy and hummable; it's not so much the actual melodic structures than the routine arrangements, lyrical triteness, and near-complete lack of real fun and imaginativeness that are so offensive. The band itself is completely faceless, not a single interesting instrumental passage, not a single captivating piano or guitar part, hell, if you read the credits, you'll see that the band even goes unnamed: lead guitar is played by 'Push-a-lone', bass is played by 'Diesel', and rhythm guitar by 'Git-tar'. The dude who operates the corny synths is called 'Hamisch Bisonette' - you tell me if it's a real name or not. I'd probably die in my childhood as soon as I'd learned that my name was 'Hamisch Bisonette', but people are different, of course. And anyway, can a player called Hamisch Bysonette be a great keyboard wiz?

All right, let us not be offensive. Or, rather, instead of people let us offend songs - there's enough here to rant for hours. Thankfully, only two or three songs here are downright atrocious, and if you ever fall upon the album, you'd better program it so that these songs are left unheard, at least, on first listen. The title track is simply ridiculous: Ringo doing a Louis Armstrong number (and a truly mediocre at that)? It's a jazz tune, but with nothing to redeem it, and the lines 'I'm just a bad boy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy...' will be an insult to any person with a good musical ear. The mock-reggae terror of 'Monkey See-Monkey Do' is another serious offender, and the backup female singers only add to the disgust - you can almost see a modernistic video of this song, with good old Ring in a white suit doing tap-dance on a glittering stage with a swarm of sexy young cretinettes around him. In other words, trying to find an image as an alternative Rod Stewart, huh? And the album closer, 'A Man Like Me', is just a trashy operetta tune with an overblown sentimental melody that hearkens back to the worst excesses of Sentimental Journey. Truthfully, each and every one of these songs deserve the subtraction of at least one point in the rating, which I gone and done.

Elsewhere, there's a couple of relatively harmless 'soft-rock' tunes with interesting hooks, like the groovy 'Hard Times' ('she gives me hard times/but when she loves me she loves me') and the catchy 'Tonight', and another couple of passable, but totally unsubstantial ballads like 'Old Time Relovin'. The worst blow, of course, comes from the realisation that some of these songs could have sounded much better if not for the painful, almost defiantly mainstream sound they're given. This has a good side, of course, in that this may be Ringo's best-produced album since his Beatles days - everything is well-combed and in its place. And yet, this is also the main flaw, for a great part of Ring's enjoyability lied exactly in the sloppy, boozy scent possessed by all of his 'classic' 1973-76 records. Even on Ringo The 4th, some of this charming debauchery still stood out (in songs like 'Can She Do It...', etc.), and, while it was obvious that Ringo was indeed going through the motions, there were still little shiny sparks of life flashing over the record at times. On Bad Boy, the transgression is complete: he just sounds like a completely talentless popster trying to make it real big and professional but failing - one listen to syrupy trash like 'Where Did Our Love Go?' with the horrible 'baby baby' vocals all around is enough to prove what a fatal mistake this album is.

Luckily, he'd realise his big mistake and patch it up later - hey, in the near future, actually. Unfortunately, John Lennon wouldn't live long enough to enjoy it. Although I personally think he probably gave up on Ringo altogether after hearing this self-parody.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Well, who'd have thought Ringo could make one more country-mellow album and come up with a winner...


Track listing: 1) Private Property; 2) Wrack My Brain; 3) Drumming Is My Madness; 4) Attention; 5) Stop And Take The Time To Smell The Roses; 6) Dead Giveaway; 7) You Belong To Me; 8) Sure To Fall; 9) You've Got A Nice Way; 10) Back Off Boogaloo.

Well, well, well. Seems like nobody gives a damn about what I'd easily call the best Ringo Starr album ever. Yeah, I agree that Ringo is his big commercial point, and the peak of his whole 'sloppy-glam' schtick. But this doesn't mean that it represents his 'ultimate' in songwriting: it does have a fair share of filler. Now I know I may sound out of my head, but I do say that SASTR does not have any filler at all, and I mean it. It doesn't have a lot of great songs, either - there are no 'instant classics' like 'I'm The Greatest' or 'Six O'Clock'. But there's not a single bad song on here. What I want to say is: (a) none of these songs bore me; (b) none of these songs even come close to the type of modernized soulless, faceless schlock that dominated Bad Boy, on the other hand, much of the material here seems genuinely retro; (c) all of the songs are sparsely, but tastefully arranged and well-performed. For some reason, it's been heavily underrated through the years - supposedly, it didn't come out at the right time, because by 1981 critical opinion had already turned away from poor Mr Starkey and nobody was really interested in restoring his reputation as a 'good performer'. So the record was panned, and the original panning, as usual, leads to a general underrating as well. Well - here's just one more blatant example of the critics' negative influence on society. That's about it, but I guess I should say more.

Once again, Ringo returned to the formula - he was wise to do so, having experienced the humiliation of Bad Boy. This time, though, there was no more John Lennon to kick arround, so George (one song) and Paul (two songs) are used instead, plus such megastars as Stephen Stills, Ron Wood, and, er, Carl Perkins (well, not exactly him). The interesting thing is that the styles and the moods do not seem much different: you couldn't really tell Paul's songs from George's or Harry Nilsson's on here. The overall feel of the record is quiet, homely, cozy and mellow - in fact, there's not even a single hint at the 'boozy' days. The songs are full of tinkling pianos, soft drumming, lazy brass instruments and tasty steel guitar, nothing like a ferocious rocker in sight, but don't let that bother you - there are so many hooks that I'm really, well, hooked (I'm at a lack for words, see). The album, in fact, is nothing short of ideal to play when you're driving somewhere on a short distance while feeling extremely happy and light-headed: that's just the way Ringo sounds here. Actually, we know that this was the period of his hardest troubles, but who can tell when he songs so ridiculously silly and enjoying life? His only original new composition on this album (title track; co-written with Nilsson at that) is an idle, lazy jazz shuffle that droons on pleasantly while Ringo's informing you of the pleasures of life and ends the song with a hint: 'So stop/And take the time to buy this album/So I can plant roses/And smell them all day long'. Oh well, at least we deal with a perfectly honest artist.

Apart from that, for no special reason Ringo decided to re-record 'Back Off Boogaloo', this time in a very 'gloomy' version, and for an even lesser reason decided to stuff it with musical quotes from himself (the intro is taken from 'It Don't Come Easy') and the Beatles as a whole (they chant 'Good Day Sunshine' in one place!) It seems like an incredibly stupid and pointless idea, but it seems to work, and the song ends in a little 'werewolf' passage that you'd never guess was Ringo's work. Just listen!

And the other songs are all pretty, just as well. McCartney's two numbers are bouncy, catchy and veeery silly: 'Private Property' gets me giggly with its lyrics about breaking the law, and 'Attention' just has that delightful early Fifties' retro sound that doesn't sound at all annoying. Good, solid pop. George contributes a number about paranoia ('Wrack My Brain'), very much in his contemporary style: if you're a diehard George fan like me and can actually appreciate stuff like Somewhere In England, you'll love this as well: a good, but inessential melody. The record's big 'groove', though, comes courtesy of Nilsson, in 'Drumming Is My Madness', a song that kinda imitates 'I'm The Greatest', with Ringo again playing the mock-superman ('Do you think I'm sexy? Do you think I'm Sadie?') and, indeed, turning in a great drumming performance to match the title.

The second side may be a little weaker... then again, it may be a little stronger, with two genuine Fifties' numbers (King-Stewart-Price's 'You Belong To Me' and an old Beatles' stage number, Carl Perkins' 'Sure To Fall'); it all depends on whether you enjoy all that doo-wop/pre-rockabilly sound. I do - partially - and I find these two songs to be enjoyable and not particularly irritating. On the other hand, the side begins in a tight pop rocker, Ringo's and Ronnie Wood's 'Dead Giveaway', a clever and actually rockin' number that's not likely to be found on a lot of Ringo's albums. Finally, Steve Stills' 'You've Got A Nice Way', while arguably the weakest number of the bunch (for some reason it brings memories of CCR's Pendulum numbers to my mind), still does have an interesting melody, the only thing that distinguishes it from similar Bad Boy stuff.

Yeah, I understand that Ringo made such a good record by pure accident - it just so happened that he got into a good company one more time. Next time around, he wouldn't be so successful. But accidentally, he did turn in some of his best performances - and this album wouldn't feel strange in any prime record collection.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

Not a stinker or anything; more like an 'average' Ringo record. Little to slam and little to praise.

Best song: HOPELESS

Track listing: 1) In My Car; 2) Hopeless; 3) Alibi; 4) Be My Baby; 5) She's About A Mover; 6) I Keep Forgettin'; 7) Picture Show Life; 8) As Far As We Can Go; 9) Everybody's In A Hurry But Me; 10) Going Down.

Er... back to square. Well, at least it's not such an artistic flop as Bad Boy was. On here, Ringo abandoned his ol' Beatle pals again (bad idea) and, for some oblique reason, teamed up with Joe Walsh (worse idea). For the record, Walsh is still a big pal and regularly touring with Ringo, as if to hint at how much does the Eagles' music really cost. The result seemed so pale and unsatisfying at the time that the record company did not even allow the album to be issued in America - it got no further than Canada and prompted Brian Burks to use this album as a pretext for dismissing the solo Beatles careers. (Well, nearly so). In retrospect, though, I don't see anything that would be so particularly irritating about the record: some of the tracks are dismissable indeed, but most of it is harmless, danceable, sometimes funny and sometimes even highly enjoyable pop, without even the least traces of modernistic production - I was really scared by those ominous synth notes at the beginning of 'In My Car', but I was quite reassured soon afterwards. In fact, Ringo is still on a nostalgia trail, as evidenced by the general mood and the assorted covers, including the album cover (I bet his photo dates to the Please Please Me era; boy, did he look pleasant back then, totally unlike the grotesque monster we're happy to face now).

I count one huge embarrassment on this record, a ridiculous, over-synthed and over-orchestrated Hollywood-ish ditty that is the cover of R. Ballard's 'As Far As We Can Go'. Walsh and company arrange it as pompously as ever, even including (gosh!) a Quadrophenia-style synth solo, but it still doesn't work because it can't even hope to. Apart from that, though, the songs are mostly interesting - there are enough clever gimmicks and fine guitar playing (some of it contributed by Clapton, by the way) to amuse you all the way through, and there are only occasional mini-lapses of taste. The funniest number on here is Ringo's/Walsh's ode to a martian invasion, 'Hopeless'; the melody seems to be little more than a re-write of 'No No Song', but the lyrics are less dumb, and it's all quite pleasant.

The old rockers (D. Sahm's 'She's About A Mover' and Leiber-Stoller's all-time favourite 'I Keep Forgettin', the one that was even done by Procol Harum) do not rock mercilessly, but they do rock - and they do not seem strained, like some dumb Rod Stewart rocker from the same epoch. They make for fine background music, what else could you expect from Ringo? Fine, tuneful background music, and doesn't he sound weird, almost gross on 'I Keep Forgettin'? Sure he does. These songs were made for Ringo.

The original rockers, like 'In My Car' and 'Alibi', don't amount to that much fun, but they're tolerable anyway, and perhaps the record's main attraction is the weird, nearly psychedelic 'Be My Baby', all built on these bizarre synth/Vocoder/talkbox grunts the likes of which you can hear on Pink Floyd's 'Pigs' and 'Keep Talking'. Why they thought such an inclusion was necessary is beyond me, but somehow it works. And those of you who hate Ringo's voice can find a good ground to joke upon (like, you know, 'Ringo finally found his match in the talkbox' or something like that).

I even admit to liking the most 'dubious' tune on here - the dance-poppy 'Picture Show Life', at least, the way it is sung by Ringo; I'm pretty sure the original (by Reid & Slate) would sound tedious. And they end the record with two kick-butt instrumentals, the first one of which is especially notable as perhaps the only song in the world where you can hear both Eric Clapton and John Entwistle play on one track. You don't imagine how cool it sounds to have those cool, fluent Entwistle lines and his wonderful 'zoops' combining with some of Eric's more rockin', frantic soloing. Where can you hear such rock'n'roll paradise? Why, on a Ringo Starr record, of course, where else? You also get the one and only Chris Stainton on the keyboards, not to mention the one and only Ringo Starr on drums. And they close the record with a moody, slow bluesy shuffle ('Going Down') that is indeed quite repetitive, but never annoying, with some more fabulous guitar soloing by I don't-know-who - could it be Clapton again?

In short, this is one highly underrated album. No, not among Ringo's best, and no true classics on here, but America lost a good deal by not having it issued in time. Because, come to think about it, in 1983 Ringo showed himself to be the most artistically valid Beatle of the bunch: John was dead, so he couldn't have stood up in self-defense, George was fresh off the somewhat better Gone Troppo, but he wouldn't release anything else until 1987, and Paul was going through one of his major stinkers (Pipes Of Peace). Ringo proudly waxed nostalgic and took the big apple this time. Not that the apple was so big, of course, but it was (and still is) at least worth a bite. Sadly, the album passed unnoticed, and led Mr Starkey to a lengthy life of artistic, or, at least, musical seclusion - and when he emerged with a new studio album, it wasn't the same old Ringo as we used to know and love him.



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

The 'new look' Ringo comes to life - a pretty meaningless one, if you ask me, but at least a well-deserved one.


Track listing: 1) Weight Of The World; 2) Don't Know A Thing About Love; 3) Don't Go Where The Road Don't Go; 4) Golden Blunders; 5) All In The Name Of Love; 6) After All These Years; 7) I Don't Believe You; 8) In A Heartbeat; 9) Runaways; 10) What Goes Around.

By the early Nineties, after taking a decade off and only releasing a couple of presumably dull live albums that I don't yet own and wouldn't really care, Ringo came back. (As if anybody asked). Surprisingly enough, he came back with a great critical success - Time Takes Time is often spoken about as one of his best, most artistically valid albums. Well... maybe. I'd rather not, though. There is one terrible truth for everybody to realise, want it or not: in the Seventies, when Ringo still hung around as a fresh ex-Beatle, he was interesting. The Mark Nineties Ringo is simply dull. He'd rebutted alcohol, cleaned up his organism, cut his hair, got around to wearing some cool shades and started flashing V-signs around every corner - and that's Ringo as we know him today: grotesque, slightly stupid and unbearingly banal, more of a parody on true Ringo than a shadow of him. Mind you, I'm in no way saying that he shouldn't have cleaned up his organism - but maybe he shouldn't have released a new album? Did that perspective ever occur to him?

Not that this album is bad or anything. It's obvious that Ringo really cared, and he wanted to make a solid, enjoyable album, filled with well-crafted melodies and hooks. Even more, he wanted the album to be a 'return to form' - and the sound that he goes for is a skillful replication of the early Beatles' vibe. More exactly, though, it's a skillful replication of the early Herman's Hermits' vibe: personally, I don't feel much connection between this glossy, one hundred percent commercially oriented music, and the real Beatles' sound; producer Don Was tried hard, of course, but he's no George Martin anyway. To achieve that goal, however, the record company dudes, or maybe even Ringo himself, brought in 'retro' bands like the Jellyfish and the Posies, made them play the guit-tars, and even forced them to contribute each a song. Some of the other material is written by Ringo himself, but for the most part he's putting his fate into the hands of corporate songwriters: apart from Gary Grainger on one track (the dude who wrote many of Rod Stewart's songs in the late Seventies), I really don't know any of these guys, and frankly, I'd never want to ask for their autograph even if I recognized one on the street which I wouldn't.

The material on here is very even and consistent - but that's no compliment for Ringo, whose material is more or less always consistent. This is mostly okay pop stuff, with hooks in almost every song. But it all sounds deadly stiff and devoid of real traces of life! Dammit, what I loved about Ringo in the first place was that the guy managed to sound funny: his albums were, really, you know, like witnessing a groovy, boozy company of friends having some good clean fun: not more and not less. Here, it seems like he's put on a collar and tie: all the songs sound deadly serious, with no funny gimmicks, no genuine excitement, nothing to get enthralled about; hell, even the sole more or less 'fast' number on the whole record ('Don't Go Where The Road Don't Go') sounds like a bad commercial. The guitars sound generic and tired, the drumming is solid but stale, and the orchestral arrangements that crop up from time to time are just as rote as the ones on Bad Boy. The lyrics are abysmal - preachy, pappy crap, with not a hint at a tongue-in-cheek intonation. It never bores me to sleep - after all, the tunes are upbeat and bouncy and mid-tempo, but I still can't remember any of the tunes I'd heard.

Okay, there are still some redeeming factors: like I said, some of the individual melodies are indeed valuable and memorable, and in another life (with another producer, mayhaps) they could have been seen as mini-gems. I, for one, like 'Don't Know A Thing About Love', with its wonderful 'sleazy' backing vocals, the quirky 'I Don't Believe You' (this one's by the Jellyfish, I s'pose), and the album closer, the 'epic' 'What Goes Around', again, mainly due to the vocal harmonies in the chorus which are far above average - I'd bet you anything they placed especial effort in arranging the vocals, according to the Beatles-imitation policy. And, besides the ridiculously 'scary' atmosphere of the somewhat dumb 'Runaways', and the nursery rhymery of 'Golden Blunders' (ha! the Posies are fuckn' up!), there are no particular stabs I'd like to take at anything. But no appraisal, either. Anyway, I think I have at least earned the right to put down Ringo's career in the Nineties, after presenting more than an objective assessment of his heroic deeds in the previous two decades. An okay album, but nothing but corny nostalgia, really. Really.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Hey, this is a bit more serious than before: Ringo actually trying to make a solid pop record all the way through.

Best song: I WAS WALKIN'

Track listing: 1) One; 2) What In The... World; 3) Mindfield; 4) King Of Broken Hearts; 5) Love Me Do; 6) Vertical Man; 7) Drift Away; 8) I Was Walkin'; 9) La De Da; 10) Without Understanding; 11) I'll Be Fine Anywhere; 12) Puppet; 13) I'm Yours.

Some time ago, I looked at my Ringo page and got a sudden shock: actually, I realized that I quite like all of his albums - excepting the first two Hollywood & country excesses, of course, and the schlocky mistake of Bad Boy. 'Hey', I said to myself, 'this can't be so! He's more consistent than John and Paul! This has gotta be stopped!' So I picked up Vertical Man, thinking I might take my revenge and write up a sneering little review about how the old fart finally ran out of gas and degraded to the point of utilizing Alanis Morrisette and Ozzy Osbourne on his n-th solo project. No way. What a disappointment. This is actually quite a strong effort for Ringo, not quite up to the standard he'd used to hold on his Seventies' records, but an obvious improvement over Time Takes Time and, what's more important, probably his only more or less moderate success at writing something with actual artistic value (if you don't count 'Octopus' Garden', of course).

Seriously now, this is a perfectly produced, not ultra-long, cleverly timed and overtly professional album, and the arrangements on the songs are among Ringo's most complicated and entertaining ever. Most of the songs here are co-written by him with two or three other duds whose names I've already forgotten, so I may be overpraising him a bit; but as long as the songs are funny, catchy and not too schlockish, I can forgive anything. And let me give you this here advice. When I read the actual reviews, I was pretty scared. They said that there are a lot of 'guest stars' on this album, yes, Alanis Morrisette included, and that there's a cover of 'Love Me Do', and I think these remarks kept me waiting so long before getting it. Now that's what I gotta say to you: 'tain't no big deal at all. Yes, there are certain guest stars over here, but their singing is fairly limited - a little verse here, a little verse there, some backing vocals, not more. In ninety percent of the cases, it's Ringo who does his job. And that cover of 'Love Me Do'? It's groovy! It's done pretty much by the book, except that, of course, instead of John and Paul, it's just mr Starkey who sings it, and then near the end the band jams a little and it almost becomes funky, in a rather grotesque way, so it might be amusing for you to hear that one.

There's also a cover of the old soul standard 'Drift Away' which I personally know from the great Rod Stewart rendition on Atlantic Crossing; sure, Rod is a great singer, but Ringo and Company have found a more impressive musical backing, and there's no whiff of fake pretentiousness that marred the Rod version so much. They're all just having fun. Good clean fun. Can they? Guess they can.

Apart from that, the songs are all originals. A clever and bright eye can pick out a stinky duffer now and then, in fact, you don't even have to try very much: 'What In The... World' is an unimpressive, faceless ballad, 'Without Understanding' is a bland, robotic chant that shamelessly cashes in on the phrase 'good vibrations', and the album closer 'I'm Yours' is a sappy, over-sugary serenade to Ringo's wife where he probably goes for a 'Good Night' type-of groove, but fails because, after all, 'Good Night' was written by Lennon/McCartney, and he's neither. Plus, if we really want to get picky, 'King Of Broken Hearts' is an obvious rip-off of Ringo's earlier hit 'Photograph', but hey, 'Photograph' was good, and 'King Of Broken Hearts' is catchy, too, mayhaps just a bit embarrassing. But no, what about that moving slide guitar in the background? I don't know if George Harrison was ever brought to the sessions, but sounds just like George Harrison.

But what about the others? My favourite is the overly stupid, but totally funny, boozy stomper 'I Was Walkin', in the best tradition of Ringo's 'let's make a silly but catchy rhythm and bang it into the listener's head'. 'I was walking... I was walking... I was walking by my-self-last-night... I was talking... I was talking... I was talking to my-self-last-night...' Isn't that just like Ringo boy? So unbelievably dumb that it borders genius. 'But there's also 'One', a charming Beatlesque ditty with some slide guitar a la Harrison, a soulful middle eight a la McCartney, some addictive vocal harmonies a la Lennon, and even a harmonica solo... a la Jagger. Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was speaking of the groovy stuff. Well, ever heard 'Minefield'? That one's cool, with Ringo alternating nursery rhymes with a fairly ordinary rock beat, multiple overdubbed guitars and a real mine explosion at the end. And then, of course, there's the title track, probably Ring's most complex and 'artsy' composition to the present day; I'd never think he would be ever able of composing that wonderful vocal crescendo in the chorus.

I don't think I'll bring myself to reviewing the other songs on here; it's rather a hard task to describe Ringo's songs, and anyway, I don't think I should. Suffice it to say that this is a solid, solid and quite respectable effort by mr Starkey (of course, according to his own criteria - remember, he's a one-star artist after all). And, whatever you may say against him, do not forget that - strange as it may seem - Ringo has never, as of yet, sold out. He has a formula, a good one, and he keeps sticking to it, and so far it still works. And, after all, where else can you find a record released in 1998 that would not have techno beats or hip-hop excourses or bizarre computer-programmed sounds on it? Heh heh. Nowhere. Perhaps you'd like to exchange this for Clapton's Pilgrim? Please don't.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

An immaculate live album with lots of good songs. Nobody needs it, of course, but makes a good retrospective.

Best song: not here. He only picks up the best.

Track listing: 1) With A Little Help From My Friends; 2) It Don't Come Easy; 3) I Was Walkin'; 4) Don't Pass Me By; 5) Back Off Boogaloo; 6) King Of Broken Hearts; 7) Octopus's Garden; 8) Photograph; 9) La De Da; 10) What In The... World; 11) Love Me Do; 12) With A Little Help From My Friends (reprise); 13) "I've Got Blisters..."; 14) The End.

Ringo has had a million live albums out, with each and every version of his 'All-Starr Band' that he assembles from time to time; most of them are probably pretty obsolete by now and out of print, so all I have is this latest one, recorded, that's right, for the shiver-sending atrocity of VH-1, but hey, what does it matter? It doesn't mean that if it's VH-1, it's Hell Preserved? Nope. It's actually a good live album, although the 'storytellers' bit does get on my nerves from time to time. If you're not familiar, the 'storytellers' program requires the artist to tell a long, boring story before each song, and, sure enough, Ringo tells a lot of stories in between the songs, half of which are uninteresting and the other half of which are repeated word by word as presented in the Beatles' Anthology documentary - remember, the tale about how George Martin didn't allow him to drum on the original recording of 'Love Me Do'? Or how Ringo was quitting the Beatles during the recording of the White Album and couldn't figure out who's finally got some good relationships going together in the band - him and the others or the others without him? Hmph. The story about Marc Bolan and his 'boogaloo' talking style that led to the creation of 'Back Off Boogaloo' is funny, though.

However, if you're actually willing to tolerate, maybe even enjoy, the stories or otherwise willing to push the fast forward button from time to time, you could easily grab this album for cheap if you're desperately in need of a greatest hits collection for Ringo, as the song selection is awesome. If not for the boring stories and the fact that, after all, this is a collection, like it or not, well, I'd probably have given it a 10. Ringo's backing band is careful and clever (led by Joe Walsh! Geez!), Ringo himself is in top form, and only the female backing vocals give the happening a light smell of cheesiness; otherwise, you simply couldn't tell.

And, of course, the track selection. They do both 'Don't Pass Me By' and 'Octopus' Garden', as well as 'With A Little Help From My Friends', though, for unclear reasons, there ain't no 'Yellow Submarine'. And if you're the nose-twirling kind of dude, I'll just tell you this: the version of 'Octopus' Garden' on here is not an inch worse than the original. Perfectly copied and perfectly performed. And for 'Don't Pass Me By', you get Mr Starkey in person fumbling with a piano. Isn't that cute? Nostalgia pumping out of every corner.

And from Ringo's fruitful solo period, they do both 'It Don't Come Easy' and 'Back Off Boogaloo', as well as 'Photograph', though, for unclear reasons, there ain't no 'Devil Woman'. And yeah, from Ringo's last album, they do both 'King Of Broken Hearts' and 'I Was Walkin', as well as 'La De Da', though, for unclear reasons, there ain't no 'Minefield'. What's with these unclear reasons, anyway? And why the heck did they put 'King Of Broken Hearts' so close to 'Photograph'? Don't they realize people will have every possible chance to track down the ripping-off process?

Oh, they also do 'What In The... World'. Yuck. But I guess, for a bunch of such fabulous songs, there's gotta be a couple yucks, anyway: where would the world be today if there were no yucks in this world? Also, you may not be wooed over by some of the 'doctorings' that the Beatles songs have received, like the harmonica and the backing vocals on 'Don't Pass Me By'. But these are minor quibbles. In recompense, though, you get an absolutely devastating, rip-roaring live version of 'Back Off Boogaloo', and yes, it's probably Ringo's best ever solo composition; man, is it ever addictive. And I think I already mentioned that, but I'll just repeat one more time that it also has the album's funniest and most entertaining 'story', about how Ringo got to think of the melody after listening to Marc Bolan's full-mouth mumblings over dinner and couldn't find a working tape recorder in the middle of the night... ah, never mind, I'm getting carried away. Wild guess, but I suppose it's one of the few numbers where Ringo actually joins Simon Kirke on drums - his vocals are not too distinctive in among the whole crowd, and the drums are so wild that they could only be handled by two drummers. Blind guess, though. Just a blind guess.

Tweet-tweet. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I was just going to finish the review and say that this - quite predictably - is a funny, entertaining, and very happy record. Please check it out if you're not too happy in your miserable life. Mr Richard Starkey is here to make it better for ya! As long as he hasn't got blisters on the fingers, which is his phrase after all. Oh well, I always thought that.

P.S. The only thing I don't quite understand is the last two tracks. Is it really worth the trouble to make a two-seconds long track just to say 'I suppose that's the end' or something? What's the point of the joke? Am I missing something? Maybe you should rub the CD with a magic cloth and then it turns into a full-blown bonus track like 'Yellow Submarine'? That would be cool!



Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

The one record I'm sure Osama bin Laden is secretly grooving to somewhere in his lair.

Best song: DON'T HANG UP

Track listing: 1) Fading In Fading Out; 2) Give Me Back The Beat; 3) Oh My Lord; 4) Hard To Be True; 5) Some People; 6) Wrong All The Time; 7) Don't Hang Up; 8) Choose Love; 9) Me And You; 10) Satisfied; 11) The Turnaround; 12) Free Drinks.

Looks like the happier he gets, the more frighteningly consistent he becomes - very much of an anomaly in the world of rock and pop idols. But then Ringo's main specialty is happy music, after all, and as long as he gets to do it right, there should always be a spot for another Ringo record to brighten our day. There is absolutely nothing on his latest studio album that wasn't there on his two or three previous ones, and that's a good thing; by pure chance and nothing else, he has managed to surround himself with a bunch of guys who know exactly how to make the kind of music that he prefers to play sound unpretentious, tasteful, and modern without succumbing to silly trends, and I can only hope and pray it stays that way until the Great Gig In The Sky.

Well, actually, there is one thing that's new: Ringo has been saved. Or at least reborn. Or, at the very least, made peace with the Lord. There's a wee bit more religious lines in a few of the songs than usual, and there is, of course, that kind of Frankenstein that we'd never seen before (but maybe felt its upcoming presence): The Big, All-Powerful, All-Starr Gospel Anthem. I do not doubt for one tiny second that Ringo intended 'Oh My Lord' to be a tribute to George in the first place, but the feeling is obviously larger than that - evidently, Ringo just grew old enough to have wanted to find the Lord before it's too late. And certainly I can't blame him. If some of you young healthy atheists find this ridiculous, just wait until you hit sixty-five and your mates start dying of cancer.

In any case, 'Oh My Lord' is more or less what I expected it to be: pompous, simplistic, repetitive, heartfelt, and ultimately emotionally moving because absolutely nothing is forced on you; just like George before him, Ringo uses the God concept for his own humble personal needs, and if he finds it suitable to let the listener in on his little secret, well, much obliged, Mr Starkey, sir. Billy Preston provides some much-needed support with the keyboards - it is his organ work, I think, that is eventually responsible for the "overwhelming" feeling that is there, yeah, right, don't fight it. Equally great are the psychedelic guitar parts (the soaring solo is awesome, whoever plays it) and the obligatory female backing vocals are there but somehow are felt rather than heard, in true Phil Spector fashion (okay, so Phil applied this trick to instruments rather than people, but it never hurts to try something backwards). And, as it often happens, the simplicity of the song is its secret weapon - I couldn't imagine a more perfect chorus than the ever-repeated "oh my Lord, oh my Lord, I need your love so bad", even if it so obviously echoes "my Lord, my sweet Lord".

However, when he's not busy gospelising, there's little for Ringo to do but return to the old tricks. Unlike Ringorama, this time around he doesn't hand out too many free guest spots; one notable exception is Chrissie Hynde and their duet on 'Don't Hang Up', which, incidentally, has cracked me up so many times that I had no choice but go along with it as best song. As always, the overall message is optimistic (which is more or less reflected in the title), but the two whip up a good dose of sarcasm on the verses ('I wanna sit here, drink beer, I really love you dear but there's a rent man knockin' at the door'), and it's the closest you'll get to the healthier-than-thou drummer saint letting his hair (what remains of it) down a little bit, reminding you that beer used to actually enjoy a certain popularity with him back in the early days. Don't get me wrong, I like this new cleaned-up fingers-clinically-stuck-in-V-position avatar of Ringo as much as anybody (as far as music is concerned, that is), but I still miss the old one, and I think 'Don't Hang Up' is practically the only song on the album that'd fit in nicely with his 1973-74 period. And the guitars are great again. Warm, loud, colourful tones, which has even led to some people dubbing the tune 'psychedelic'. Well, let it be psychedelic, I don't care.

The only other tune which may deserve extra writing space is 'Free Drinks', the album closer. Maybe the stars were set the wrong way after all, or maybe Ringo wanted to wipe off some of the "formula" stains, but fact is, after eleven perfectly normal, optimistic, life-assuring tracks, 'Free Drinks' is somewhat of an oddity, even more so than a radical intruder of the 'Spooky Weirdness' type, where you just sorta go "okay, this is filler noise track to make the album seem more 'diverse'. Diverse my ass!" and leave it at that. It's somewhat more overprocessed than usual, which includes the vocals - more distant and not at all Ringo-ish, and it's basically a sad, bitter even piece of reflection on the "high class social life sucks" subject. Catchy as usual, but so bitter that I can't even utter the word "exciting". With lyrics like 'Tuesday in love with a girl I don't know/Lost her that night in a disco/I don't care, lovers are everywhere' I'm even beginning to wonder if I missed something. Has Society all of a sudden shut its door on Ringo Starr and is this his little unexpected revenge? Or is this a cry of mercy, from somebody who really had that kind of existence for too long - but now all he really needs, so bad, is the love of his Lord? Do I smell hypocrisy or do I smell repentance? Or do I smell irony? Good song.

Everything else is best taken in a bundle, as usual. Everything is upbeat and punchy, except for the old-timey 'Wrong All The Time', a loungy ballad which is pretty generic but far from the worst work This Man has ever done. Another tendency that I notice is that with age, the tendency of stuffing every hole with Beatles references and quotations is constantly increasing. However, as long as it doesn't involve any obvious re-writes, it can actually be fun. It's like a spot-ten-differencies game or something. I'm sure that avid fans have caught much more than I have; right now, I certainly count the way he sings 'time after time' in 'Hard To Be True' (same way as Paul does in 'You Won't See Me', that is), and the fairly obvious - and, let's face it, rather cringeworthy - lines in the title track ('The long and winding road is more than a song/Tomorrow never knows what goes on' - what is this, a Barclay James Harvest revival?). Then there's the melody which is loosely based on 'Taxman', too. And I'm sure there's more but I have misplaced my electronic microscope.

In terms of catchiness and adequacy (i. e. no messages, just fun), I'd have to single out 'Give Me Back The Beat', with a chorus that has probably set in forever (and another classy guitar solo, this time reminding me of George Harrison trying to play Carl Perkins), and two of the last tracks, 'Satisfied', even more radiant in nature than the big gospel thing, and 'The Turnaround', which rocks pretty hard in spots. All of them work well individually, and it just might be that hearing them individually is the best way to hear them in the first place - otherwise, you might end up not merely choosing love, but getting a mighty high overdose of it. Clearly, this is a case of Ringo giving his usual approach a little tap so it can be turned in the "Ringotherapy" direction: this is not just simple pop music to dig in to, this is music to make you feel good, good, GOOD - and love your neighbour till the cows come home. Somebody has to do it if Stevie Wonder keeps procrastinating.

Unfortunately, we're not in the Sixties anymore, and I seriously doubt that many people will "convert" to whatever Ringo happens to be preaching. It's nice to know he chooses love and all, but those who consciously do not choose love in our troubled times will hardly choose it because Ringo told them so. This, in turn, makes the album heading all the more silly. It's 2005, and we live in a 'Gimmie Shelter' period, not a 'Yellow Submarine' one. Where John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave, and even Robert Smith all seem to realize this, Ringo doesn't seem quite aware to me. But on the positive side, you have to agree that a little love, sunshine, and silly rock'n'roll has never hurt anyone, and maybe Ringo is actually doing a noble job and we have to thank him for it. Besides, if you don't choose love, you probably choose hate, and who needs that?


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