Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Sun August 26, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
"I get by with a little help from my friends," Ringo Starr famously sang in 1967. It’s doubtful that he knew it at the time, but this simple phrase essentially provided the template for nearly all of his post-Beatles solo efforts. Like everything else he has done, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, his first career-spanning retrospective, is an amiable collection of material. Starr is the main attraction, of course, but the assortment of guests dotting its landscape plays just as much of a role in keeping the endeavor afloat.
After a pair of diversionary outings on which he explored old standards (Sentimental Journey) and country-western fare (Beaucoups of Blues), Starr re-emerged as a pop artist in 1973 with Ringo. His old pals John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison joined him on the endeavor, as did Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, and Klaus Voorman. Since then, everyone from Tom Petty to Alanis Morissette, from Harry Nilsson to Willie Nelson, and from Elton John to Scott Weiland has graced his studio work. Even his concerts were turned into all-star or, as he dubbed them, All-Starr extravaganzas. Not surprisingly, some of his forays were successful, while others fell flat. The difference came from whether the parties that he threw were coldly calculated or organically derived.
For decades, Blast from Your Past, Starr’s career retrospective from 1975, was the only truly essential album in his canon. The set featured all seven of the Top 10 singles he had scored over the course of the preceding four years, and it rather effectively distilled and summarized the various aspects of his individual endeavors. Starr’s love of country music was represented by the inclusion of the title track from Beaucoups of Blues; his obsession with early rock ’n‘ roll was highlighted by his covers of Only You (and You Alone) and You’re Sixteen, which had been hits for The Platters and Johnny Burnette, respectively. Naturally, Starr’s feel-good melodies, happy-go-lucky personality, and jovial mannerisms carried the day. Yet, when he turned introspective — as he did on I’m the Greatest, a tune that was penned by Lennon — an air of sadness lurked below the surface of his exuberance, and the result was that he didn’t sound quite like the over confident if plain-spoken braggart that everyone thought he was.
It’s no wonder, then, that when Starr’s fortunes turned, when fame began to get the best of him, his output faltered. Although he continued to record and release albums after 1975, his stubborn persistence in sticking with a tired formula — even when his heart wasn’t in it — imprinted his work with the sense that it was being created simply to fulfill an obligation. Wisely, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr touches only briefly upon this era. Both cuts from Ringo’s Rotogravure — a cover of Bruce Channel’s Hey Baby and the Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs-inspired Dose of Rock ’n‘ Roll — fit well with the rest of the collection’s contents. Likewise, the Harrison-penned Wrack My Brain, which surfaced in 1981, is a brutally honest admission that his prospects of continuing his reign as a pop star were grim.
It wasn’t until the ’90s that Starr finally got his act together. Although the albums that he made — Time Takes Time, Vertical Man, Ringorama, and Choose Love — were hit-and-miss affairs that ruminated upon a familiar formula, his enthusiasm for making music thankfully had returned. King of Broken Hearts is both dipped in Beatle-esque psychedelia and laced in Harrison’s shimmering slide guitar, while Fading In Fading Out is a bubbly pop tune that outlines his basic philosophy of life. The highlight of Starr’s later years, however, is Never without You, a touching tribute to Harrison that he crafted with the help of Eric Clapton.
In many ways, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr gives new context to Starr’s work. It not only is a reminder of his successes in the 1970s, but it also deftly makes the case that his recent pursuits have featured some equally stellar material. Naturally, Starr will never be held in the same regard as John, Paul, or George, but in staying true to himself, he parlayed his easy-going charm into a rather sturdy solo career, thanks, of course, to a little help from his friends. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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