It’s high time we address a major conundrum of such a chronicle as this: How does one explore the solo careers of the Beatles while excluding Ringo? Easy, says Everybody’s Dummy. Impossible, says everyone else who’s undertaken such an assignment. But let’s be reasonable here; very little Ringo did after 1969 stands up with the efforts of the three songwriting Beatles, and the little that did usually had the help of one of those Beatles, and probably George. So to be fair, here’s a look at Ringo’s Apple output. There’s little need to go further.
Recorded in late 1969 and released a few weeks before McCartney, Ringo’s first solo album was Sentimental Journey, a collection of old standards. Each track was arranged by a different musician, from George Martin and Paul McCartney to Maurice Gibb and Quincy Jones. Some are straightforward, and some sound like they belong on Laugh-In. It’s a vanity album at the very least, something he could have given his mum for her birthday. But how often did she listen to it?
With nothing else to do in 1970, Ringo indulged his love of country music by recording Beaucoups Of Blues with the cream of Nashville’s studio cats in support. It’s not a half-bad album for its genre, with plenty of syrup underneath his lonesome voice, but again, would anyone care were it not for that name on the spine? (The CD gets bonus points for including “Coochy Coochy”, Ringo’s one-chord exercise that was a contemporary B-side, but it’s also a head-scratcher for adding the pointless “Nashville Jam”.)
At least with 1973’s Ringo we were finally getting somewhere: a production that lives up to the support underneath, with help from the Beatles (and all their solo studio friends, like Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Jim Keltner and Klaus Voormann), the Band, Marc Bolan, Randy Newman, and anyone who happened to be in LA that week. The songs are finally worthy of an ex-Beatle, while the illustrated booklet is downright scary. The album spawned several hits, including “Photograph”, co-written with George and possibly the greatest solo Beatles single ever. (The CD adds to the value by including “It Don’t Come Easy”, his second greatest single that also had help from George, along with its flipside, the topical lament “Early 1970”, and the boring B-side “Down And Out” for the completist.)
Since it worked the first time, Goodnight Vienna brings a similar bunch of famous friends—in this case, John’s drinking buddies—into the studio for another vanity album with Ringo’s name on it. A couple of hit singles helped, but the album simply doesn’t hold as well together as the last one. (Perhaps because there was no place else to put them, some anachronistic bonuses are included on the CD: the noisy 1972 single “Back Off Boogaloo”; its inscrutable B-side, “Blindman”, meant to accompany the hideous film of the same name; and the extended edit of “Six O’Clock” from the 8-track of the Ringo album, featuring another 90 seconds of McCartney music.)
And from there, really, it’s all downhill. Each of his other albums featured all-star help, but it just didn’t matter. Once he got sober (and stopped acting) most of his musical time was spent on the road with various (well-rehearsed) All-Starr Bands, sometimes in support of yet another album that sold only to rabid Beatlemaniacs.
If you really can’t live without Ringo in your collection, Blast From Your Past should do just fine. It’s a faithful CD transfer of an album that was only half an hour long to begin with, and includes a lot of the 45s that have since been added as bonus tracks to the CDs above. All the tracks are also included in the more expansive Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr, bolstered by a further handful of tracks from three decades’ worth of his post-Apple albums. (At least somebody was smart enough to include “Wrack My Brain” from 1981, which George wrote and produced for him.)
Ringo Starr Sentimental Journey (1970)—1½
Ringo Starr Beaucoups Of Blues (1970)—2½
1995 CD reissue: same as 1970, plus 2 extra tracks
Ringo Starr Ringo (1973)—3½
1991 CD reissue: same as 1973, plus 3 extra tracks
Ringo Starr Goodnight Vienna (1974)—2½
1992 CD reissue: same as 1974, plus 3 extra tracks
Ringo Starr Blast From Your Past (1975)—3½
Ringo Starr Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr (2007)—3½