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Friday, April 10, 2015

Ringo Starr

Continuing my look at this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I turn to Ringo Starr, who is now a double inductee, having also been inducted as a member of The Beatles.

The Beatles are one of the great contributors to our civilization, at least the last fifty years of it, and Ringo is a part of that, even if he is the least prolific of the quartet. He only wrote two songs by himself ("Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus' Garden") and was always sort of seen as the sad sack of the group. Many think of him as the luckiest man alive, given that he was the last asked to be in the group, replacing the fired drummer, Pete Best, who is thought to be the unluckiest man alive.

But Ringo was asked to join The Beatles because he was a terrific drummer, very underrated. He wasn't like a John Bonham or Keith Moon--there is only one drum solo I can think of on a Beatles record--but he made the drums a key part of the rock and roll ensemble. He usually sang lead on one song an album, most of them written by Lennon and McCartney, and usually written especially for him and his limited vocal range, such as "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Yellow Submarine."

This induction is about his solo career, which has been quite rich. He had two number one hits in the U.S.: "Photograph," which he co-wrote with George Harrison, a minor masterpiece, and a cover of "You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful and You're Mine)," which today seems an unfortunate choice of titles.

I've been listening to his greatest hits album, called Photograph, and discovering how talented the man really is. In addition to those songs, he had hits with "It Don't Come Easy," "Back Off Boogaloo," and a cover of "Only You (And You Alone)." He recorded another George song, "Wrack My Brain," (it's distinctly a Harrison composition), and John Lennon wrote him a song called "I Am the Greatest," which is a tongue-in-cheek number:

"I was a part of the greatest show on Earth
For what it was worth
Now I'm only thirty-two
and all I want to do is boogaloo."

I remember when his cover of Hoyt Axton's "No-No Song" was a big hit. A testament to sobriety, Ringo writes in the liner notes that may have been so, but he was hardly sober during the 1970s.

Ringo's voice, often maligned, can be at times quite beautiful. I think of a song called "Beacoups of Blues" or "King of Broken Hearts." And he's quite good on country and western numbers, such as his duet with Buck Owens on "Act Naturally" (which he also did as a Beatle).

Part of The Beatles mystique is that each of the group seemed to represent a different part of the human condition. They were each born in a different season (Ringo in the summer), and as Tom Robbins wrote, you can basically divide all of humanity into who their favorite Beatle is. I'm sure there are those who favor Ringo (the merchandise featuring him was the biggest seller during the height of Beatlemania), and I would imagine those people are the kind who take a cheery optimism through life. After all, he survived two deadly bouts with illness, but he's still standing, still performing, still recording, acting like he is the luckiest man alive.

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