Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Ringo Starr Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums

Sentimental Journey (1969, Apple)                                                                


Ringo's first solo album is an odd one, comprised exclusively of covers of '30s and '40s standards.  Ringo, even by his own admission, isn't much of a singer, so doing a covers album - and one of beloved classics like "Stardust," "Bye Bye Blackbird," and "Night and Day" - is an odd route for him to take on his first post-Beatles project.  It's not bad - and Ringo gets help from a virtual who's who of arrangers, including Quincy Jones and George Martin - and it's certainly better than it has any right to be, but all the same, it's hard to grade this album all that highly for the simple reason that it's just hard to imagine that you'll ever spin this album more than once or twice.  Give him credit, though – as far as Beatles solo albums go, it’s a more encouraging and slightly less insular first solo outing than George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music or John Lennon’s Two Virgins.  

Beaucoups of Blues (1970, Apple)                                                                 

C +

Like Sentimental Journey, this isn't a bad album - there's nothing embarrassing here - but it's also one whose novelty is fascinating on the first or second listen and wears off rapidly after that.  Beaucoups finds Ringo in Nashville recording a full-on country album.  Ringo had already delved into country during his years in the Beatles, covering Buck Owens' "Act Naturally," and succeeded at that, so this is a much stronger fit for him than covering '30s and '40s standards is, but nothing here is really a knockout, either - even the leadoff single, the title cut, isn't terribly hooky and would stall all the way back at #87 - so there's not much here to keep you coming back to this album, valiant though Ringo's efforts are.   

Ringo (1973, Apple)                                                                                       

A +

Easily the best of all Ringo's solo albums, and his first true pop-rock album as a solo artist, this album's a super-fun listen.  Richard Perry produces this star-studded affair; all three Beatles stop by to make guest appearances, each penning a song as well; and Harry Nilsson, The Band, Marc Bolan (T. Rex), Martha Reeves, and Billy Preston are just a few stars who lend a hand to the proceedings.  All of this might mean little if the songs were just mediocre, but three of Ringo's biggest solo hits are all here: the excellent Number One hits "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen," and the Top Ten hit "Oh My My."  There's more to be enjoyed here than just the hits, though: the Lennon-penned "I'm the Greatest" kicks off the album to great results, "Devil Woman" is the most driving uptempo rocker in Ringo's solo catalog, and Ringo also turns in a surprisingly great rendition of Randy Newman's "Have You Seen My Baby." And Ringo’s spoken outro during the closing bars of “You and Me (Babe)” ends the disc on a really fun and personality-defining moment. 

Goodnight Vienna (1974, Apple)                                                                    

A -                                                              

A slight fall-off from its predecessor, Vienna features a lot of the same guest stars - Lennon, Nilsson, Preston, Robbie Robertson - while also including an appearance and song from Elton John, and Richard Perry turns in another strong production, but the quality of the songs isn't quite as strong as those on Ringo.  The best material is still quite fun, though - the Lennon-penned title cut is a fun album opener that went Top 40, "Oo-Wee" and the Elton-penned "Snookeroo" are fine album tracks, and there are also two Top Ten hits here: the deliriously fun and catchy Hoyt Axton-penned anti-drug song "No No Song” (the album’s highlight, and a single that you never hear on oldies radio these days but remains one of Starr’s best) and a soulful reworking with Harry Nilsson of the Platters classic "Only You (and You Alone)."  Ringo wouldn't make this strong an album again until more than twenty years later, so this is certainly one of the high points in his solo catalog.

Ringo's Rotogravure (1976, Atlantic)                                                            

B – 

Even more star-studded than its predecessor, Ringo's first album for Atlantic Records boasts cameos from John and Paul (who each contribute a song, as does George, who was unable to take part in the recording), Nilsson, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, Dr, John, and Melissa Manchester.  For that reason, it certainly has its fun quotient, but the set of songs themselves is a steep drop-off from those on Goodnight Vienna, and the album bizarrely ends with nearly two minutes of odd studio noises.  Of the material here, the best is the lead-off single, the Frampton-featuring "A Dose of Rock'n'Roll." 

Ringo the 4th (1977, Portrait)                                                                          

D + 

The nadir of Ringo's solo career, this album notoriously tanked on the charts and led to Ringo being dropped from Atlantic Records.  The inherent problem with this album is its desperate attempts to be relevant; dropping the guest-star-heavy format of the last three albums, Ringo here - in collaboration with Vini Poncia - produces himself, and he and Poncia go a bit overboard with the disco stylings of the songs.  The end result winds up being quite reminiscent at times of Elton John's equally notorious Victim of Love, the sound of a rocker ill-suited for disco records dipping into that well.  Mind you, Paul McCartney also immersed himself into disco on several occasions ("Silly Love Songs," "Goodnight Tonight"), but it suited him better than it does Ringo, who just sounds stiff and awkward dipping into that territory.  "Wings" is a great moment, but none of the other songs here really click. 

Bad Boy (1978, Portrait)                                                                                 


Bad Boy finds Ringo largely shaking off the disco stylings of its predecessor and delving back more into Ringo's Rotogravure territory.  While the sense of fun that latter album boasted isn't as obvious here and Starr seems a bit off his game and uncertain of himself, the material here is better than it was on Ringo the 4th, and "Heart on My Sleeve," a remake of a song by obscure A&M recording act Gallagher & Lyle, is an incredibly underrated single - Ringo's best since "No No Song," in fact - that should have landed Starr back into the Top 40; sadly, it wouldn't chart at all.

Stop and Smell the Roses (1981, Boardwalk)                                                 


Ringo's last album released in the U.S. until the '90s, Roses - a one-off release on Neil Bogart's Boardwalk Records - finds Ringo once again re-visited by old bandmates Paul and George - as well as Stephen Stills, Harry Nilsson, Al Kooper, and Ron Wood.  This alone should be a good sign, but the set of material is well below the standards of everyone involved.  If you already own the George-penned "Wrack My Brain" on a best-of package, you won't be missing very much if you skip over this one.