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Ringo Starr - Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2007
format:    16-bit CD / PCM Stereo DVD
performance:    9
sound:    9
released:    2007
label:    Capitol
reviewer:    K L Poore

ImageWhen my friends and I get together to drink, shoot the bull and generally dampen each other’s overblown egos, one of the games we play is “put your band together.” My band changes based upon who I think I am at that moment. Maceo Parker or Lenny Pickett? Jimi Hendrix or Lowell George? I guess the only thing consistent about my band is that it’s always changing. Except for the drummer. It’s always Ringo.

I’m not bringing this up so that we can debate it later on, I’m just letting know you he’s my guy. He’s solid as a rock, incredibly creative, and there’s no way you can convince me you wouldn’t want to hang out with Ringo while waiting around back stage. I love the guy. And Photograph – The Very Best of Ringo has reminded me that I love his recordings too. Much more than I’d remembered.

Photograph is at once exceptional and something of a cautionary tale. It’s filled with bona fide classics and classics that never were. Songs you love and songs you’ve probably never heard, but should have. You can’t help but consider solo Ringo and feel a tinge of sadness. What happened along the way? Although I’ve been collecting his solo releases (but not the All Starr Band recordings), over the years it seems as if his solo career got lost and never regained its equilibrium.

As I made my way through Photograph, and its glossy booklet, I was stunned by my own lack of reflection in regard to Ringo’s post-Beatles success. I knew all of these songs intimately, loved them, and realized I’d never attempted to put them in any real context. I’ve been championing him for years and at the same time not giving this vital portion of his career the recognition it deserves.
Early on Ringo put out two of the best singles ever, “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo,” and he was on his way. Sure he had help from producer George Harrison but they’re his songs, and they sound just as fresh and radio friendly today as they did then. And both of these hits were released prior to two of the most popular albums of the early ‘70s, Ringo and Goodnight Vienna. Those albums were jammed tight with hits, including “Photograph,” “Oh, My My,” “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine),” “Only You (And You Alone),” and “No-No Song,” and when I say hits I’m talking Top 10. Reflecting on them, it’s not too far a stretch to consider that from ‘71 to ‘75 Ringo may have been the most commercially successful ex-Beatle. But here I am, still looking at him as if his entire legacy really only consisted of his being a happy-go-lucky drummer.

But perhaps it’s not always fondness that comes with absence. Sometimes it’s forgetfulness. And I think that’s what has happened with Ringo. Although he’s continued to release CDs, some of them quite good, he’s never come close to reaching those early heights again. It’s as if one day he dissipated right in front of the public’s fickle eyes, and in turn it just forgot about Ringo the rock and roll hit maker. And some of the newer songs on Photograph, such as “Weight of the World” and “Fading In and Fading Out,” prove that’s our loss.

Over half of Photograph is pulled from the initial five years of Ringo’s solo career, and you’ve got to wonder what happened in the mid-’70s. Did he make a conscious decision to step away from the mad merry-go-round of the music industry, or did he let go of the brass ring for a little too long (perhaps because of alcohol or other reasons) and couldn’t grab hold again? But then again, does he even care about hit making? I mean he is Ringo, after all, and he really doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone but himself.

Or perhaps the buying public grew tired of Ringo’s shortcomings. Even he would admit that his singing is somewhat limited, and even with outstanding material and production sometimes there’s sameness because of it. Also, some of his recent music may have drifted too far into that gray area between reflection and nostalgia. And although people may wish to take that trip with him, they can grow tired of it quickly.

Or perhaps “Snookeroo” did him in. It was the B-side of “No-No Song” and was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin at the highest point of their success. Those are the good things I can say about it, because I believe it was the lowest ebb of their songwriting partnership. I can see why Ringo would, at that time, include it on Goodnight Vienna, but I can’t see why they couldn’t have given him a good song or why he included it on this otherwise sterling release.

Photograph also contains “Early 1970,” the B-side to “It Don’t Come Easy.” It’s a country-flavored tune written about the other Fabs and I’m certain it’s quite interesting to completists and Beatle nuts for a number of reasons. I find it remarkable for Klaus Voormann’s bass playing, because it’s that same churning, yearning, burning thud that he contributed to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Compare it to “I Found Out” and you’ll know what I mean.

Which takes me back to Ringo’s drumming. It’s pretty damn remarkable. And although on some of the later recordings he’s supplemented by Jim Keltner (supplemented by Keltner – that’s something), if you focus on what’s he’s doing on cut after cut you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from when I put him in my band every time. But Photograph shows that he’s more than a drummer. He’s a top-notch recording artist with a catalogue of wonderful songs, and I hope that one day he puts out a record that can compete with his wonderful early releases. And then everyone, including my ego-bashing friends, will come to the same realization that I have while listening to Photograph – The Very Best of Ringo. His music, like him, is even more special than we already believe.

Photograph is a nice-sounding recording and it seems as if the producers have put a lot of effort into making the tracks jump out at you. The CD passes my “driving down the freeway playing it loud test” with flying colors and I actually preferred listening to it in the confines of my automobile versus my home theater system. These are singles and there’s no better place to hear them than in your car. “Back Off Boogaloo” sounds particularly meaty and I solemnly request that you play it as loud as you can stand in any environment. Nothing like a shuffling drum beat to make you feel like the world is moving forward! The producers of this compilation, Mike Ragogna and Rob Christie, have done themselves proud.

Extra Features
The special edition includes a DVD which basically contains the promotional videos for “Sentimental Journey” (not on the CD), “It Don’t Come Easy,” and others. The “Act Naturally” duet with Buck Owens has the highest video quality and all the songs are all in lively stereo! But that’s it. I had to have the special edition but unless you collect Ringo or Beatles stuff there’s nothing really compelling about it other than the Goodnight Vienna commercial featuring the voice of John.

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