With his third solo album, Ringo, the former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr finally put his solo career in gear, showing that he had a lot more to offer than his eccentric first two solo albums, Sentimental Journey and Beaucoup Of Blues, both released in 1970. Issued three years later, on November 2, 1973, in the US, and November 23 in the UK, Ringo was a far more satisfying record, made on a big budget and featuring an amazing cast of backing musicians.
A Beatles reunion… sort of
In its review of the album, Rolling Stone magazine said, “This Ringo Starr album is the first to actually invoke The Beatles’ aura.” That was down to the fact that John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney each contributed as songwriters, singers, and instrumentalists on the album, across recording sessions that began in March 1973 and wrapped later that summer.
Consequently, Ringo is the only solo Beatle album to feature all four of the Liverpudlians playing on one record. However, on no single track did all four appear together. Harrison played the guitars on the Lennon composition “I’m The Greatest,” with Lennon playing piano and singing harmony on a song he re-wrote for Starr and which was used as the album’s opening track. Harrison also joined in on “Sunshine Life For Me,” “Photograph” and “You And Me (Babe).” He wrote “Sunshine” himself, and co-wrote the latter two.
In June 1973, Starr flew to London, where Paul McCartney and his then-wife, Linda, joined in on the McCartney tune “Six O’clock,” which had been written specifically for the album. With a tight structure and lyrical grace, it is a standout composition on the record. McCartney also appeared on Starr’s cover of the 1960 Johnny Burnette No. 1 hit “You’re Sixteen” (written by the Sherman Brothers), which provided the biggest single hit of the album. Nicky Hopkins, a session musician who appeared regularly with The Rolling Stones, provides some lively piano backing, and there is even a kazoo impression from McCartney. Starr had been able to persuade the latter to be involved in the project by telling him, “You don’t want to be left out, do you?”
But it wasn’t only the guests that made Ringo such a success: Starr advanced his own cause by co-writing two of the album’s Top 10 singles, the No. 1 “Photograph” and “Oh My My,” which had backing vocals from Motown star Martha Reeves. Starr and Vini Poncia’s “Devil Woman” were just as good as the hits. Though Starr’s vocal range is not particularly wide, he sings with gusto throughout and his voice carries a certain pathos.
One of the highlights of Ringo is a version of master songwriter Randy Newman’s composition “Have You Seen My Baby.” Starr’s version has real verve, helped by compelling boogie guitar from T.Rex main man Marc Bolan and fine honky-tonk piano from New Orleans legend James Booker. Though the album was recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, Bolan’s guitar was added as an overdub at A&M Studios.
Starr’s best and most consistent new studio album, Ringo represented both the drummer/singer’s dramatic comeback and his commercial peak; it was only beaten to the top of the Billboard charts in November 1973 by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The original 10-track 1973 album was reissued in 1991 as a 13-track CD, the bonus tracks including “Early 1970,” Starr’s interesting perspective on The Beatles’ break-up.
Ringo was produced by Richard Perry, who had worked with Lennon’s friend Harry Nilsson. Starr said: “We met at a session for one of Harry’s albums. I went down and played and Richard and I got to egging each other on about doing something together. We ended up at a club, and when we were leaving we promised we’d get together.” Perry was a good choice as producer, and Nilsson returned the favor by singing backing vocals on “You’re Sixteen.”
Among the other leading guest musicians are Jimmy Calvert (guitar on five tracks), Steve Cropper (guitar), Billy Preston (piano), Jim Keltner (drums), Milt Holland (percussion), and The Band’s Garth Hudson (accordion), Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm (mandolin).
The album cover art
The cover art was created by Tim Bruckner, who had been working as an apprentice jeweler in Beverly Hills when he met Perry and pitched to do some freelance album artwork. Bruckner was flown to London to show Starr some concept ideas and was hired by the singer. In 2015, the artist told Beatlesbible.com: “There are 26 portraits in the balcony. The rest are people I invented. Ringo’s cover sidekick, the cherub, happened after I got home. Having met the man and spent some time with him, I understood how important humor was to him and his circle of friends. The cherub just seemed like a natural extension of that part of his character, funny and a little mischievous.”
The Latin motto at the top of the sleeve – “Duit on mon dei” (“Do it on Monday”) – was Nilsson’s idea. “Harry wanted to make it a joke on a Latin motto. I think the only reason it got on the cover was they thought it was funny and asked that I include it,” added Bruckner.
Ringo has a stellar cast; it’s light-hearted, unpredictable, and entertaining, and stands as a testament to Starr’s ability as a musician outside of The Beatles.