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Ringo Starr

Although emerging as a major star in his role as drummer and occasional singer/contributor with 60s icons The BEATLES, Ringo (born Richard Henry Parkin Starkey, 7th July 1940 in Liverpool, England) was the last of the Fab Four to crack the lucrative solo market. It was also Ringo who most visibly built on the droll comedic talent he’d flourished in those early BEATLES movies.
Taking up the drums professionally in his late teens, Starkey played with various skiffle outfits (including Rory Storm & The Hurricanes) before being invited into The BEATLES fold in August 1962 replacing the band’s original sticksman Pete Best. So named due to his predilection for wearing rings, RINGO STARR filled the drum stool right through ‘til their messy demise in 1969/70, occasionally doing a lead vocal and finally penning his own track with the endearing `Don’t Pass Me By’ (from 1968’s classic double set `The Beatles’/”White Album”).
Early in ‘69, just prior to the band’s split, STARR appeared in the movie version of Terry Southern’s novel Candy, taking a role alongside Peter Sellers the following year in another Southern adaptation: The Magic Christian (music provided in part by Apple Records proteges BADFINGER). A busy year for the budding actor, STARR also released two post-BEATLES solo albums SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1970) {*5} and BEAUCOUPS OF BLUES (1970) {*6}. While the former was a string-laden, George Martin-produced set of Tin Pan Alley standards which made the UK Top 10 (and the US Top 30), the latter was a Nashville-recorded country affair, STARR immersing himself in a genre with which he obviously felt at home. He’d previously sung the few country/rockabilly tunes The BEATLES attempted, while the honky-tonk fiddle of the aforementioned `Don’t Pass Me By’ was an indication of the direction he was headed.
Although these sets failed to spawn any hit singles, STARR scored a string of transatlantic Top 10 hits in 1971 with the hard hitting `It Don’t Come Easy’, `Back Off Boogaloo’ and `Photograph’. An American chart topper, the latter song (co-penned with GEORGE HARRISON) was featured on the eponymous RINGO (1973) {*8}, his most successful solo album by a mile. Boasting the musical and songwriting talents of all three former BEATLES (although not as a group), the Richard Perry-produced album was also STARR’s most consistent, spawning a further sizeable hit with Bobby Sherman’s `You’re Sixteen’ (a hit for JOHNNY BURNETTE). Alongside LENNON’s `I’m The Greatest’, McCARTNEY’s `Six O’Clock’ and HARRISON’s `Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond)’, there was room for “Born To Boogie” film buddy MARC BOLAN as a guitarist on a take of RANDY NEWMAN’s `Have You Seen My Baby?’.
The following year’s GOODNIGHT VIENNA (1974) {*7} included the Top 5 cover of Hoyt Axton’s novelty number `No No Song’, The Platters’ nugget `Only You’, ELTON JOHN (and Bernie Taupin’s) `Snookeroo’, Allen Toussaint’s `Occapella’, LENNON’s title track and HARRY NILSSON’s `Easy For Me’; Ringo had supplied a voiceover on the latter’s animation `The Point!’ in 1971. NILSSON was in fact, such good pals with STARR that he took a leading role opposite him in Freddie Francis’ 1974 comedy-horror flick `Son Of Dracula’ even though he regarded the script as second rate. STARR also landed a major part in rock’n’roll musical `That’ll Be The Day’ (1973) opposite David Essex, and even made a cameo as the Pope in Ken Russell’s demented `Lisztomania’ (1975); a compilation BLAST FROM YOUR PAST (1975) {*8} summed up the first half of STARR’s solo career.
Ringo subsequently signed with Atlantic Records in 1976, RINGO’S ROTOGRAVURE {*4} – produced by Arif Mardin – failing to match the success of his previous efforts, despite featuring BEATLES songsmiths LENNON (on `Cookin’ (In The Kitchen Of Love)’), McCARTNEY (`Pure Gold’) and HARRISON (`I’ll Still Love You’) plus ERIC CLAPTON’s `This Be Called A Song’ and Bruce Channel’s `Hey! Baby’.
RINGO THE 4TH (1977) {*4} was another critical and commercial failure, songs like Gamble & Huff’s `Drowning In The Sea Of Love’ and Toussaint’s `Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’ little better than the disco-meets-soul material of Ringo and his stalwart songwriting partner Vini Poncia. A near-covers album for Portrait, BAD BOY (1978) {*4}, failed to reverse his ailing fortunes. One-time BEATLES fans (and real “Bad Boy” punks) were beginning to find MOR stuff from the pens of Peter Skellern, Gallagher & Lyle, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Lil Armstrong somewhat out of sync in the day’s market. But along with NILSSON, fellow drummer KEITH MOON (another of STARR’s drinking buddies) were reunited on screen in both Mae West’s final stab at reliving her youth, Sextette (1978) and The WHO documentary, The Kids Are Alright (1979).
And while he scored a Top 40 hit in 1981 with `Wrack My Brain’ (a HARRISON song from STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES {*5}), there was little of substance, bar some McCARTNEY and NILSSON fodder to write home about; having met actress Barbara Bach, he married her shortly afterwards on the 27th April 1981 – another celebrity couple were born.
The 80s proved a difficult time for STARR (1983’s JOE WALSH-produced OLD WAVE {*3} was only released in Germany) as he struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, resulting in him retiring completely from recording and concentrating on TV/film work; he famously narrated celebrated children’s TV series Thomas The Tank Engine from 1984 onwards.
Starkey eventually returned to music full-time at the turn of the decade with RINGO STARR & HIS ALL-STARR BAND (1990) {*6}, a live project set of Ringo ringers and cover versions performed with a formidable line-up of DR. JOHN, BILLY PRESTON, NILS LOFGREN, the aforementioned JOE WALSH (from EAGLES), Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Clarence Clemons. The collaborative spirit carried over into both TIME TAKES TIME (1992) {*6} – a solo set produced by Don Was and Featuring The Posies and Jellyfish cuts – and “All-Starr Band” Volume 2 LIVE FROM MONTREUX (1993) {*5} and the bargain-bin Blockbuster Music store third set; note that on “Vol.2”, LOFGREN (`Walking Nerve’), WALSH (on `Desperado’) were now augmented by Timothy B. Schmidt (on the EAGLES’ `I Can’t Tell You Why’), DAVE EDMUNDS, TODD RUNDGREN and Burton Cummings of The GUESS WHO.
VERTICAL MAN (1998) {*5} was a return to basic solo fun, although Ringo (alongside Steve Dudas, Mark Hudson and Dean Grakal on paper) was also joined by contemporary stars like ALANIS MORISSETTE and SCOTT WEILAND. Not that the album itself was contemporary, merely an update of STARR’s offbeat, unassuming style. Regurgitating BEATLES and STARR numbers through MTV’s stripped-down VH1 STORYTELLERS (1998) {*5} was a nice idea, informing fresh-faced Ringo fans that he’d stuck in more than his fair share of beauties in the past. RINGORAMA (2003) {*6}, meanwhile, found the likes of Willie Nelson and DAVID GILMOUR pitching in with the amiable studio antics.
While STARR’s vocal talent may be basic, his patter and wit more often than not makes up for it, and while he displays little of the technical flash of his BEATLES heyday, he remains one of the most solidly reliable drummers in the business.
The self explanatory TOUR 2003 (2004) {*4} was another offering from Ringo’s revolving door All-Starr Band, featuring a very 80s/B-list-looking line-up of Sheila E, John Waite, Colin Hay (ex-Men At Work) and Paul Carrack; the omission of whose `Tempted’ was chief among many criticisms.
CHOOSE LOVE (2005) {*6}, by contrast, cut back on the stars (only Chrissie Hynde and BILLY PRESTON made the session; the former duet-ing on `Don’t Hang Up’ and the latter pounding the keys on the salutary `Oh My Lord’) to a core of the usual Ringo sidekicks on an album buoyed by the undying spirit – and a few lyrical cues – of The BEATLES. Of his latter-day works one would have to vouch for 2008’s Mark Hudson-produced major-label (Capitol-EMI) solo comeback LIVERPOOL 8 {*6}, while Y NOT (2010) {*5} has seen the amiable STARR once again break out of his comfort zone.
God loves a trier as they say and, for many decades, Ringo has been trying – walking a thin line between retro and er… retro. Surrounding himself with a little help from his friends – as per usual – (on this occasion VAN DYKE PARKS, JOE WALSH, DAVE STEWART plus other co-songsmith Glen Ballard) and rewinding his “Ringo” set of nearly 40 years past, everybody’s favourite living Beatle went all Chas-And-Dave-abroad for RINGO 2012 (2012) {*4}. Clocking in at under a cheeky half an hour, the bearded one was in party mode for RnR standards `Rock Island Line’ and `Think It Over’, while nostalgia and retrospection were also key words for `Anthem’, `Wings’ and `In Liverpool’.
Employing an identical collaborative alumni, with the addition of STEVE LUKATHER, TODD RUNDGREN, RICHARD MARX and anybody else that turned up at his house, 2015’s POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE {*6} filled out further autobiographical pages in the man’s sunny-day songbook. Amiable and cheesily cheery to the point of nausea (the man could make a turd shine!), the sentimental STARR steered his ship in his own inimitable horizontal fashion, reminiscing for us mere mortals on `Rory And The Hurricanes’, the title track and the contradictory `No Looking Back’. Now where’s my pipe and slippers?
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Apr2015

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