Harry Nilsson played a key role on Ringo Starr’s Liverpool 8, 14 years after his death

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Though they never worked again as a quartet, Ringo Starr often helped spark smaller Beatles reformations.

Along the way, these collaborations became reliable highlights over his solo career — from “Photograph” (with George Harrison) to “Walk With Me” (with Paul McCartney), from “I’m the Greatest” (with John Lennon) to “King of Broken Hearts” (Harrison). It’s understandable, then, for casual passersby to get the sense that Ringo was nothing without them, that he had no other circles.

The Dave Stewart-produced Liverpool 8, released January 14, 2008 as Starr’s belated return to EMI Records, showed otherwise. Sure, they dabbled in a few too-obvious Beatle-isms (the title track, of course, but also “Gone are the Days,” with its entirely expected Indian raga intro, Lennon-like “oh no, oh no!” and it-don’t-come-easy lyric.) And some of it (“Give It a Try,” “Love Is”) is more sweet than it is memorable.

But, then there was “Harry’s Song” — a moment that lifted Liverpool 8 all by itself.

Dedicated to the mad genius that was Harry Nilsson, who died almost exactly 14 years earlier on January 15, 1994, the track finds Ringo Starr loosening up in the tradition of his old friend Nilsson himself. A sometime musical collaborator/drinking companion of Lennon’s, too (I’m still a sucker for “Old Dirt Road”), Nilsson had this crazy knack for musical alchemy. Maybe that’s why something so intriguing happens along the way.

With “Harry’s Song,” Ringo Starr rediscovers the fizzy feel of his most enjoyable solo sides. It is, in fact, everything you’d like Ringo’s music to be. That is, fun while not trying so hard — something that, sadly, couldn’t have been said about his more recent offerings to this point.

Listen as Ringo Starr and Co. begin with a bawdy guitar riff, then stumble over an end table into this soaring vaudevillian chorus. From there, Ringo gets lost for a moment in bouncy psychedelia, then skips into a happy finish that nearly matches the 1960s era’s most loveably utopian lullabies.

Credit Ringo, who was so inextricably linked to that time. Credit Dave Stewart, who helped pull it out once more. But, in a similar fashion, credit Harry Nilsson. Channeling this lost julienne-style genius, Ringo Starr returned in full. And, notably, with nary a Beatle buddy in sight.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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