One Track Mind: Ringo Starr, "Harry's Song" (2008)

NICK DERISO: None of them were better apart, but never was this more true than with Ringo Starr.

See, the other Beatles, in turn, could typically find the pitch-perfect note for Ringo — and his best work, within the band and without, always had their fingerprints on it: The aptly titled “With A Little Help From My Friends” (McCartney), of course, but also “It Don’t Come Easy” (Harrison), “Only You” (Lennon), “Yellow Submarine” (McCartney), “Photograph” (Harrison), “I’m the Greatest” (Lennon), “You’re Sixteen” (McCartney) and even on later — though smaller — successes like “King of Broken Hearts” (Harrison) from 1998’s “Vertical Man.”

That made mounting a solo career its own daunting task for Ringo, who became the only former Beatle to fail to chart an individual No. 1 hit in his native Britain. Starr’s subsequent traveling all-star tours, and a more recent series of collaborations with the ultimately too-reverent producer Mark Hudson, were fun, but couldn’t be confused with creative triumph.

Insert new producer and former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, however, and perhaps things would be different on Starr’s belated return to EMI Records, “Liverpool 8.” No masterpiece, mind you, but something more impressive than the simply affable, which was the best Ringo had mustered in years.

I stayed away from the title track, since it promised yet another mawkish chronicle of Starr’s joining the Beatles. (Not to mention the fact that it begins with this: “I was a sailor first/ I sailed the sea.” Right.) Similarly, I’ve only listened once to “Gone are the Days” — with its too-obvious Indian raga intro, Lennon-like “oh no, oh no!” and (not kidding) it-don’t-come-easy lyric.

“Harry’s Song,” on the other hand, is everything you’d like a Ringo Starr song to be. That is, a Beatlesque track that’s not trying so hard.

Dedicated to the mad genius that was Harry Nilsson, who died in 1994, Ringo loosens up in the tradition of Nilsson himself — a sometime musical collaborator/drinking partner with Lennon (the superlative “Old Dirt Road”) who had this crazy knack for mixing Tin Pan Alley and 1970s’ Hollywood hedonism.

It’s this record’s best cut. In the same way Ringo once buttressed three of rock’s most important songwriters — and that is Starr’s true, largely underestimated legacy — he finds full flower during “Harry’s Song” in restating what made those old collaborations great, and greatly missed.

It begins with the kind of bawdy guitar riff Lennon always loved, stumbles over an end table into this soaring vaudevillian chorus right out of the McCartney playbook, gets lost for a moment in bouncy George-type psychedelia, then skips into a happy finish that nearly matches those loveably utopian lullabies associated with the Beatles’ middle period.

An inspired (for a change) piece of remeniscence, this bit of sweet and folky pop is just right for Ringo, like a final gift from his Beatle buddies. It doesn’t overstate those previous successes (again, for a change), so much as it fondly recalls them.

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

 

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.