In honor of Billy Shears’ birthday, it seemed like a good time for a brief appreciation of his best record.
I’m one of those misguided souls who count his 1973 Ringo among the top five of all post-Beatle solo LPs, second only perhaps to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (which to my mind is in its own class). Already some will be gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair at such an absurdity. I don’t care! Yes, it’s not as “heavy” as John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band or Imagine or Living in the Material World. Yes, the tunes and musical arrangements are nowhere in the league of those on Ram or Band on the Run. But, as an entertainment experience, as an aural “show” that we (or at least, I) often want the listening experience to be, Ringo comes closest to that much-prized quality often called Beatlesque. The reasons are many: the songwriting talents and musicianship of all four Beatles, as well as the conscious effort to emulate Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band in creating a sort of aural vaudeville show, being chief among them. After the late 60s, the other Beatles had a distressing tendency to regard themselves as “artists”, frequently over-reaching themselves, and shedding millions of irritated fans (and critics) in the process. To put them in perspective: they made their American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. They had the best act in show business. They threw it over for several uneven ones.
At any rate, there is an exhilarating presentationalism about Ringo, from the Lennon-penned “I’m the Greatest” (with its overt Sgt Pepper references, including a cheering audience)…to Ringo’s jokey “last call” banter at the end of “You and Me (Babe)”, the record’s last song. “Step Lightly” (written by Ringo himself) actually has a tap dancing section. Further, the album runs the emotional gamut from humor (notably the irresistible “Oh My My”, a #5 hit), to nostalgia (“You’re Sixteen”, a #1 hit), to downright melancholy (“Photograph”, another #1). “Sunshine Life for Me” (written by George Harrison) is not only a country song (on which Ringo is backed up by The Band), but also sounds like the latest in his long line of children’s songs. “You’re Sixteen” actually has a terrific kazoo solo! The best song on the album (the headliner) may well be Paul McCartney’s “Six O’Clock”, an A list tune that its writer would have done well to keep for himself. And a vaudeville show wouldn’t be a vaudeville show without some dreadful numbers (I’m thinking chiefly of “Have You Seen My Baby”, which is saved only by the presence of Marc Bolan, and the cringe inducing “Devil Woman”). (Alright, this record is my second favorite, not the second best). At any rate, if you own it, today’s a fitting day to play it.
To learn about the history of vaudeville, including psychedelic sixties vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.