Deep Cuts: Ringo Starr’s ‘She’s About a Mover,’ ‘Harry’s Song,’ ‘King of Broken Hearts,’ others

Affably difficult to dislike, yet seldom transcendent as a solo artist, Ringo Starr would become the only ex-Beatle who failed to earn an individual chart-topper in his native Britain. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden moments to enjoy.

In fact, though the bulk of his albums away from the other Fabs have been roundly ignored, there remain a number of unjustly forgotten gems. (Leaving aside, of course a few obvious misfires that deserve their comfy spot in the musical dust bin: Ringo the 4th, we’re looking at you.)

Still, where to begin? Leave it to your pals at Something Else!, who have happily (well, except for Ringo the 4th) sorted through the chaff.

Here are five recommended deep cuts from the artist formerly known as Richard Starkey …

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p76WSvjlHQQ&w=385&h=280]

“LOSER’S LOUNGE” (BEAUCOUPS OF BLUES, 1970): In retrospect, this album didn’t quite come out of nowhere — despite its chilly reception by fans on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, Starr had already lent his voice to a number of country-tinged Fab numbers from “Honey Don’t” to “Don’t Pass Me By.”

There is a humor, and a pathos, to Starr’s singing that lends itself to country music, and that’s never more clear on his sophomore solo release than on “Loser’s Lounge,” a knee-slapping hoot that would have fit in perfectly during the Beatles folk period in 1965. In fact, a timely reissue of this album might fit right into any modern-day Americana radio format.

Still, as at ease as Starr sounds, so completely himself, that’s not the way things started out. Working with an all-star cast of Nashville sidemen — including Charlie Daniels, Dave Kirby, Pete Drake (who also served as producer), Ben Keith, D.J. Fontana and the Jordanaires — it took the former Beatle a moment to acclimate. That is until Drake, who’d met Starr when both contributed to George Harrison’s smash triple-album All Things Must Pass, piped up: “Hoss, if you don’t get loose, I’m gonna come in there and stomp on your toes.”

If “Loser’s Lounge” is any indication, Starr walked out of there with his toes in tact.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzCjo4vvxFo&w=385&h=280]

“HARRY’S SONG” (LIVERPOOL 8, 2008): 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.

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 lovably utopian lullabies associated with the Beatles’ middle period.

An inspired piece of reminiscence, this bit of sweet and folky pop is just right for Ringo. It doesn’t overstate its love of those previous successes, so much as it fondly recalls them. And Nilsson, who had this crazy knack for mixing Tin Pan Alley and 1970s’ Hollywood hedonism, I’m sure would have been thrilled by its sense of off-kilter joy.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axjP-qww6Ng&w=385&h=280]

“SHE’S ABOUT A MOVER” (OLD WAVE, 1983): This song is one of the few on the album that matches what the cheeky-at-the-time Old Wave title seemed to promise: It’s a rockabilly hoot. At first, anyway.

After a raucous couple of minutes, including a serrated guitar solo from producer, co-writer and future brother-in-law Joe Walsh, “She’s About a Mover” suddenly takes a truly stunning turn into a jazz second line — complete with a rumbling tuba — in place of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s fuzzy organ fills on the original. Always most at home as a vocalist inside such age-old forms, Starr sounds, at long last, like he’s having fun again after a long dark period following John Lennon’s awful murder.

He had actually moved into Lennon’s former home, which Starr had purchased from his former Beatles bandmate in the early 1970s, and did the bulk of recording for Old Wave in its converted studio. But he was, by this time, without a label and the album was issued piecemeal on different imprints worldwide. Old Wave would be Ringo’s last studio effort until 1992’s Time Takes Time.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCD7XFfj1NM&w=385&h=280]

“KING OF BROKEN HEARTS” (VERTICAL MAN, 1998): Starr has, since Harrison’s death in 2002, written a number of loving tributes to his fallen friend — with 2003’s “Never Without You,” featuring Eric Clapton, proving to be a particular standout. Still, I’m not sure if this late-period collaboration doesn’t make the more emotional statement about the camaraderie this pair always had in the long shadows of their more famous bandmates.

Arriving just after Starr, McCartney and Harrison convened to complete a pair of lost Lennon tracks for the Anthology series, “King of Broken Hearts” found Starr returning with a unvarnished enthusiasm to the things we loved best about him with the Beatles. It sounds something like a collision between “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Act Naturally.”

You have Harrison contributing a crying slide performance here, while producer Mark Hudson’s Beatle-inspired strings give “King of Broken Hearts” an anthematic swoon. Both might have engulfed a lesser performance by Ringo, but instead he rises to the challenge — singing with a billowing sadness. It’s his finest performance.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c68v6WIZeRI&w=385&h=280]

“WALK WITH YOU” (Y-NOT, 2010): A duet with fellow bandmate Paul McCartney, this track finds the friendly bravado of Ringo’s best early records melting into a sadly appropriate melancholy — and not the put-on, aw-shucks kind so familiar from his youthful performances as a member of the Fab Four. Instead, “Walk With You” features perhaps the darkest, most mature chorus of any song he’s put out.

McCartney’s vocal works in counterpoint, taking the high road, while Starr intertwines beside and underneath. He had initially been invited to add the bass part for the sometimes perfunctory “Peace Dream” (a collaboration between Starr and legendary composer and arranger Van Dyke Parks), but was struck by “Walk With You.” Paul’s vocal — a quick breath behind Ringo’s, it’s like an echoing afterthought — recalls their fresh, offbeat Abbey Road constructions. Only there are these soft edges associated with age, and with loss.

Singing finally without the other half of the Beatles, McCartney and Starr tap into the deep well of emotion associated with those who fortunately and also, in a way, unfortunately remain. They are at once together, but alone.

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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.
  • Chris

    This website is the BEST. Always cool interviews, features, and discussions. This latest post is another great example!

    So here are my Ringo moments (hope they aren’t too obvious):

    1. Six O’Clock (Ringo): McCartney’s Moog work on here is really tasty. In fact, one could argue that McCartney’s synth work is too overlooked. Very tasteful and musical arrangment on this song (as well as many other tracks)

    2. You’ve Got A Nice Way (Stop & Smell The Roses): Probably more of a CSN filler track, but I like the groove and the CSN-ish harmonies that Stephen Stills and Mike Finnegan bring to the song.

    3. Don’t Know A Thing About Love (Time Takes Time): Such a nice mid-tempo upbeat song. Great vocal harmonies as the song just keeps pushing on. Nice return to pop music and the beginning of Ringo’s reemergence to regular touring and recording.

    4. Attention (Stop & Smell The Roses): Another McCartney contribution and probably a Wings throwaway suitable to “London Town” or “Speed of Sound”, but it’s still catchy! Horn arrangement is nice and the whole track just feels nice.

    5. I Was Walkin’ (Vertical Man): Nice driving groove from a pretty solid album.

  • Derek Roberts

    i would’ve also added “$15 Draw”, “I’ll Still Love You” and “Drowning In The Sea of Love”

  • Michael

    Excellent choices, and I agree with each one. I had all about forgotten about “loser’s lounge” and added it back to my ipad…thanks.

    Love your analysis of “king of broken hearts” & “walk with you”. Made me appreciate these gems, which never leave my playlist.

    Another favorite of mine is : “Elizabeth Reigns” specially the end where Ringo says, “there goes me knighthood…”

    Would love to read your take on some Harrison deeper cuts.

    • Nick DeRiso

      Thanks for the kind words, Michael. Here are some our thoughts on George …

  • Michael A. Ventrella

    My top five forgotten gems would be:

    1. Vertical Man

    2. Elizabeth Reigns

    3. Don’t Hang Up (With Chrissie Hynde)

    4. La De Da

    5. Fading In Fading Out

    The albums he did with Mark Hudson are gems (and I give Hudson credit for most of the songs, honestly).

  • Claus Nielsen

    Well, I´m goind upstream by saying that I love the Ringo the 4th!!, it´s not a fantastic album, but doesn´t deserve the severe beatings it has recieved since it was released in 1977.. it has the song Wings on it (Ringo has just released a remake on the 2012 album), and Drowning In The Sea Of Love.. and the ultra rare b-side Just A Dream (the only Ringo tracks that still hasn´ t been officially released on cd!)

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Nice call on “She’s About A Mover.” That’s definitely an underrated cover. I’ll also nominate “Six O’Clock” and “Drowning in the Sea of Love” as standouts. In addition, Y Not! is an overall underrated album; it places Starr in the producer’s chair with mostly delightful results (except for the duet with Joss Stone on “Who’s Your Daddy”–that came off a bit creepy).