Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

In the dark days that followed the break-up of the Beatles, concerned friends, associates and fans wondered aloud if the group’s drummer Ringo Starr would be able to sustain any sort of post-Beatle career. After all, aside from playing the drums, he wasn’t really an in-demand writer or singer. And how far could he take the whole acting thing? All the naysayers and their pie holes were quickly subdued when the nasally enhanced drummer bolted out of the gate with numerous solo albums, Top Ten singles, and a few movie roles to stave off the cynics. Over 35 years later, the All-Starr Band is more or less a franchise and the Starr’s sporadic solo efforts, while not burning up the charts, are always welcomed with open arms by Beatle fans. As EMI readies the re-release of a vast, uneven catalog, the whole shooting match receives a proper retrospective with Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr.

Clearly, Ringo Starr was as prolific a solo artist as Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison in the early 70s. His first two solo albums, Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups Of Blues, came out in 1970, effectively throwing Starr into the spotlight. While neither album was as commercially accessible as what would follow, both candidly revealed that now Starr was on his own, he was willing to try anything, even if the results were less than satisfactory. The performance of “Beaucoups Of Blues” — featured on the new CD — demonstrates an affinity for country music that adds to his credibility. But the drummer, no stranger to the hit parade, finally stepped up to the plate and blasted a couple of pop rock singles out of the park: “It Don't Come Easy” (1971) and “Back Off Boogaloo” (1970). Penned by Starr, each song (included on the CD as well as n the Collector's Edition DVD) would come to define the drummer’s convivial reputation. It would also signal the start of a diligent run at Billboard’s Top Ten singles chart.

Starr’s solo “star” was assured with the release of Ringo in 1973. Not only was the record rich with Top Ten hits like “Photograph,” “Oh My My” and “You’re Sixteen”; it was also the first album since Let It Be (or maybe it’s Abbey Road) to include all four Beatles, although not necessarily together. The reflective zeitgeist charm of Lennon’s “I’m The Greatest,” which features the late, great Dr. Winston on keyboards and Harrison on guitar, casts Starr as a self-deprecating wisenheimer with a wicked sense of humor. How could he lose!

Goodnight Vienna, the 1974 follow-up to Ringo and Starr’s last album for Capitol, proved just as potent with the title track, “Snookeroo” and the infectious “The No-No Song.” The move to Atlantic Records would begin a descent of sorts for the drummer, whose presence on the charts began to dissipate. “Hey Baby” and “A Dose Of Rock 'N' Roll” from 1976’s Ringo's Rotogravure (and this compilation) lack the spark and magic of the earlier hits.

From there, it’s pretty much a hit-and-miss affair. Starr’s records were fewer and farther between. When he made a record, he brought in a lot of support to help refine the end results. Some times it worked, and when it did, it gave credence to the argument that Ringo Starr was much more than the drummer for the world’s greatest pop group; he’s the consummate showman, a court jester embracing his past and everything it represents. He's a valid musician. So, while it’s easy to pass the former Beatles off as a funny sideshow attraction because of the novelty behind much of his music (and this goes all the way back to “Yellow Submarine” right up to “The No-No Song”), how can you dismiss him for simple, appropriate songs like 1993’s “Weight Of The World,” 1998’s “King Of Broken Hearts” (featuring a Mellotron with a “Strawberry Fields Forever” flavor), and more recent forays like the autobiographical “Never Without You” (2003) and “Fading In And Out” (2005)? No matter how you look at it, the man is pure gold.

As complete a retrospective as you could hope for, Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo Starr is available as a single 20-song CD or, for hardcore Ringo fans, there’s the Collector’s Edition, which includes the CD, along with a bonus DVD. The DVD includes several promotional films, including “Sentimental Journey,” “It Don't Come Easy,” “Back Off Boogaloo,” “You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful And You're Mine),” “Only You (And You Alone),” Act Naturally (with Buck Owens)” and “Goodnight Vienna.”

~ Shawn Perry

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