There's been a lot of ink about Ringo Starr in the last week or so, spurred on by yet another return engagement of Mr. Starkey's All Starr Band. The opinions shared in these digital pages have been split. My colleague Rich Abdill recently gave the ex-Beatle some love relative to his role in A Hard Day's Night, but lamenting the fact that Ringo seemed all but overshadowed by his All Starrs in concert.
But as Rich so rightly pointed out, Ringo's always been diminished in every historical perspective. That's not so much through his own doing, mind you -- he was, in retrospect, a damn decent drummer -- but because anyone would naturally pale in comparison to the combined genius of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. He himself noted this sarcastically the other night following a run through of "Don't Pass Me By," the first song he ever wrote: "Lennon and McCartney, here I come!"
Being rock and roll's Rodney Dangerfield seems to have come with the territory, but if there's ever a time to show Richie some respect, it's on his birthday -- tomorrow, July 7.
The guy is a senior statesman, after all, given that he's turning the big 7-2, in a case of unusual longevity in a profession that often only values its young. In fact, if one looks back beyond A Hard Day's Night, there are plenty of other reasons to put him on a pedestal. Here are but a few:
1) Ringo was the only one of John Lennon's former compadres to visit his widow Yoko after Lennon was killed. He interrupted a Bahamas vacation, hopped a jet, braved the mob scene outside the Dakota, and spent time playing with the then-baby Sean. That's loyalty.
2) He was the first on the Fab Four to actually quit the Beatles, walking out during sessions for the so-called White Album because he got tired of McCartney's insistence on playing so many of the drum parts himself. When George left during the making of Let It Be, Lennon dismissed the gesture and suggested they get Eric Clapton to fill in. On the other hand, when Ringo did return, he found his kit festooned with flowers along with a warm welcome from his bandmates to greet his arrival.
3) Nowadays, there's a trend among aging rockers to revisit old standards. Ringo was among the first to go that route when he released the album Sentimental Journey, prefiguring his Beatle buddy McCartney's Kisses on the Bottom LP by more than 40 years.
4) Ringo was also the first Beatle to put out a solo album of real music, with the one-two punch of Sentimental Journey and his seminal country set, Beaucoup of the Blues. Harrison had the cosmic Electronic Music and Lennon offered the scandalous Two Virgins, but neither of them can be considered as a collection of actual songs. What's more, in his post-Beatles solo career, Ringo's albums measured up with the best of his buddies, particularly the eponymous Ringo set and its follow-up, Goodnight Vienna.
5) Ringo also held his own as far as hit songs were concerned, scoring early on with "Photograph," "It Don't Come Easy," "Oh My My," "You're Sixteen," and "Back Off Boogaloo," among several others.
6) In many ways, Ringo was the glue that held the Beatles together, both before and after their split. He not only played on each of his former bandmates's solo albums, but he was also the recipient of songs donated by all three. The band finally fractured over McCartney's announcement that he was leaving the band and would release his McCartney album the same day as Let It be. It was Ringo was sent round to Paul's house in an attempt to reason with him, and nearly got a thrashing as a result.
7) On the other hand, early Ringo albums regularly featured musical contributions from the other three Fabs, bringing the four Beatles as close to reuniting on record as they ever would.
8) Ringo may not have been given the Beatles' best material to sing, but there's no doubt that songs such as "Yellow Submarine," "With a Little Help From My Friends," and "I Wanna Be Your Man" are still standards that can rouse a crowd in concert.
9) For such a supposedly unassuming personality, Ringo managed to make his way into the jet set, not only by marrying the beautiful actress Barbara Bach and making his home in Monte Carlo and other glamorous locales, but also by basking in rock royalty. His friends and acquaintances came to include Keith Moon, Marc Bolan, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and Joe Walsh, the latter of which later became his brother-in-law. There's certainly no denying his ability to stitch together one great All Starr ensemble after another.
10) In many ways, Ringo was the most practical Beatle. He was the first to leave the Maharishi's retreat in India, due to his distaste for the food.
11) Ringo was the first Beatle to grow a beard, which he sported when he was tapped to join the band in the first place and replace Pete Best. However he was also advised to shave it off in favor of their patented mop top look.
12) Ginger Baker and Keith Moon might have shown more flash, but Ringo's turn in the spotlight on side two of Abbey Road remains one of the more memorable drum solos of all time. And if that's not Starr power, then nothing else is!
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