When Ringo Starr recently announced that he wouldn’t be responding to any more fan mail, it occurred to me that he must be completely unaware of the disastrous foibles he’s unleashed on a loving but ultimately unwitting fanbase.
Certainly likeable (at one time, anyway), Starr was and is a drive-by celeb, someone so lightning-strike lucky to have replaced Pete Best on the eve of the Beatles’ major-label signing and unprecedented subsequent fame.
That’s never more obvious than over the course of Starr’s hit-and-mostly-miss solo career: Even with consistent assists from hall of famers Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, Ringo never produced a chart-topping UK single; he’s also the only former Beatle who failed to earn a No. 1 hit in his native country’s album listings.
Looking back at the low points, presented in no particular order of god-awfulness, you’d think Ringo would be happy for whatever posts happen to arrive:
1.: “NO NO SONG” (single from 1974’s “Goodnight Vienna,” Apple): An almost-unlistenably sing-songy, denunciation of the ’60s aesthetic of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, this Hoyt Axton composition might have been funnier if Starr hadn’t subsequently wrecked his own career over the next decade with … well, you know the rest.
Upside: This washed-out reggae actually rose to No. 3 in the U.S, despite its bitter irony. Downside: Says more about us than him. Early in the Fabs’ solo careers, we clearly would buy whatever they put out (see “Ringo’s Rotogravure,” later on this list).
2.: “LIVERPOOL 8″ (2008 title track and single, Capitol): Quit while you are ahead.
Starr had already issued the definitive look back at his time with the Beatles — the charming countrified B-side “Early 1970″ from “It Don’t Come Easy,” which chronicled the contemporary lives of three of Starr’s suspiciously familiar musician friends.
Upside: He got plenty of press for lyrics referencing his old band’s meteoric rise. Downside: They were blindingly rote … “When I look back / It sure was cool / For those four boys from Liverpool.”
P.S.: We did like one of the album cuts.
3.: “WRACK MY BRAIN” (single from 1981’s “Stop and Smell the Roses,” Capitol): In the wake of John Lennon‘s murder, two of this session’s best cuts ended up elsewhere. “Nobody Told Me” became Lennon’s final, posthumous charting hit, while George Harrison ended up rewriting “All Those Years Ago” as a tribute to their fallen bandmate and re-recording it with Starr and McCartney.
Starr was then left with Harrison’s slight “Wrack My Brain” as the lead single, and it somehow overcame a terrifically annoying cadence to become Ringo’s final Top 40 hit. In a way, though, that’s fitting: From 1971 to ’75, Starr issued seven consecutive Top 10 records, including back-to-back No. 1s in 1973 — the bulk of which had the fingerprints of his former Beatle bandmates on them.
Upside: There were some great career highlights along the way, including Harrison compositions like “Photograph” and “It Don’t Come Easy,” McCartney’s “Six O’Clock” and Lennon’s fun rocker “I’m The Greatest.” Downside: This wasn’t one of them.
4.: ALL OF “RINGO THE FOURTH” (1977 album, Polydor): Worse still was when Ringo made an album where his old buddies were absent.
We’ll leave aside Starr’s vaudeville-themed CD “Sentimental Journey,” and his twangy “Beaucoup of Blues” recording, both of which have their moments. Run screaming, however, from “The 4th,” produced with an unerringly blind eye to the punk revolution brewing around him by slickster disco maven Arif Mardin.
He positions Ringo in a shamelessly overproduced, “dance”-oriented atmosphere that ranks as the most embarrassing, gut-churning moment for any former Beatle. (Remarkable, really, when you consider that McCartney later actually recorded a duet with Michael Jackson called “The Girl Is Mine.”) Nonsensical from desperate beginning to thudding end, “The 4th” even got its title wrong: This is actually Starr’s sixth solo release.
Upside: A multiple-chick backup group features the big-voiced Bette Midler. Downside: Sample titles include “Can She Do It Like She Dances.”
5. ALMOST ALL OF “RINGO’S ROTOGRAVURE,” (1976 album, Polydor): Ever wondered if it was possible for an album featuring Dr. John, the Band’s Levon Helm, Eric Clapton and a song a piece by Harrison, Lennon and McCartney to actually suck? Here’s your answer. As the former Fabs’ saw a mid-1970s creative decline, whatever table scraps they had for Ringo became increasingly difficult to warm over.
Upside: This, somehow, became Starr’s most recent Top 40 album. Downside: From this ocean of musical errors, I’ll pluck out “Las Brisas” — and, you can be assured I’m not making this up, since I actually purchased this dreck … on eight-track — which features a mariachi band.