Graded on a Curve:
Ringo Starr,
Blast from Your Past

Beatles fans, stop your incessant bickering about who’s the better artist, Paul McCartney or John Lennon! Because let’s face it, Ringo Starr beats the MBEs off both of ‘em! He’s a hit machine, a genius and a true Starr! And to those who would say otherwise I say, well, to HECK with you!

I don’t base my opinion on the fact that Ringo is the humblest and most lovable Beatle. No, all one has to do is compare his best of, 1975’s Blast from Your Past, with those of the other members of the Fab Four. It’s got a higher winner to loser ratio (90%, and that’s only if I call “Beaucoups of Blues” a loser, which it ain’t!) than John Lennon’s Shaved Fish (64%) Wings’ Wings Greatest (50%), and George Harrison’s The Best of George Harrison, which I refuse to even consider seeing as how its first side is composed solely of Beatles’ era songs.

And not only does Ringo have a better batting average–he’s also a lot more fun. Sure Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” (to pick just one song) is a harrowing depiction of heroin withdrawal blah blah blah, but do I ever listen to it? Of course not! It’s a stone bummer! And yes, Paul the Frivolous has written some lovably lightweight songs over the years, but he’s also the spitwit responsible for “Silly Love Songs,” “Let ‘em In,” and “Ebony and Ivory,” which makes him a horrible person in my book! And don’t even get me started on that nebbish George Harrison. No, Ringo’s the King, and I say that not as a fan but as a completely objective party who Ringo just paid me to say that!

Look, I would call Ringo the Greatest but I don’t have too since he comes right out and says he is in “I’m the Greatest,” just one of the delicious trifles that make Blasts from Your Past as indispensable an album as, well, pick an album, any album! And just in case you think Ringo’s only good for producing trifles, I give you “Photograph” (as touching a song as you’ll ever run across) and “It Don’t Come Easy,” which has George Harrison’s fingerprints all over it but who gives a shit!

Ten songs, nine of them hits–move over Joe DiMaggio! A couple of them may be glorified novelty songs, but since when are novelty songs (just ask Jim Stafford) something to look down your nose at? I’m talking about “No No Song,” which may be the funniest anti-drug song ever–cocaine, marijuana, and moonshine whisky all make poor Ringo sneeze, and he don’t do them no more! And then there’s “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine),” which is basically a musical Mann Act violation but people could get away with this shit in the 1970s! Oh, and that’s Paul McCartney on kazoo!

And let’s not forget “I’m the Greatest,” which was written expressly for Ringo by John Lennon and is one of the funniest expressions of high self-esteem (and no wonder, what with everybody from his mom to his friends to his woman to the Whole World praising him to high heaven!) ever written! “I’m the greatest!” shouts Ringo, “And you better believe it, baby!” And not only is he greatest in this world, says Ringo, he’s the greatest in “the next world, any world!”

And where would we be without the do-a-happy-dance “Oh My My,” in which Ringo’s physician tells him he can boogie if he tries–and his doctor’s right! Thanks for the sassy keyboards, Billy Preston! And I dig that swinging sax solo, Tom Scott! And if the backing vocals by Merry Clayton and Martha Reeves don’t boogify you, nothing will!

And speaking of boogie, “Back Off Boogaloo” is a glorious Glam masterpiece that stands up with anything by Gary Glitter, or T. Rex even! And speaking of T.Rex, it was inspired by none other than Marc Bolan himself! Some have interpreted it as a stab at McCartney, but who cares, what with Ringo’s drums front and center, and George Harrison playing primo slide guitar!

But hey, If you really want to hear a Beatles critique, just check out “Early 1970,” in which Starr delivers some friendly digs to his former bandmates, singling them out in turn before turning his satire on himself. P. McCartney “lives on a farm, got plenty of charm, beep beep.” J. Lennon is “laying in bed, watching TV, cookie!” and going in for primal scream therapy (“They scream and they cried, now they’re free”). As for George, he’s a “long-haired, cross-legged guitar picker” with “a forty acre house he doesn’t see.” But at bottom Ringo only wants one thing–”to see all three,” presumably reunited as the Beatles, of course. Sorry Ringo, your egotistical bandmates had better (as in worse) ideas!

“Photograph” hardly needs talking about–Ringo hits the exact note of heartbreak, the song has a scrumptious P. Spector Wall of Sound feel to it, and Bobby Keys’ sax solo comes out of nowhere, a triumph of delicious hurt. Seriously, I’ve cried listening to the damn thing, and I was happy as a lark when I turned it on! And if it’s the greatest Starr song of ‘em all, “It Don’t Come Easy” is a close second. John Lennon’s calls for peace and love always struck me as strident and didactic–as lectures almost, but Ringo’s is down to earth; the man’s practically pleading. And has George ever sounded so great? No! And those horns! It’s a symphony! A bagatelle of sheer brilliance! I just listened to it ten times in a row!

Which leaves us the covers of “Only You (And You Alone)” and “Beaucoup of Blues.” The former is a Buck Ram (what a name!) cover that shuffles along real nice; Lennon plays acoustic guitar, Starr is real laid back, and if the 1954 Platters’ version is better, you gotta remember they had Ringo outnumbered five to one! And on “Beaucoup of Blues”–a Buzz Rabin (who?) tune and the title track of Ringo’s 1970 country LP–he’s a mournful Muswell Hillbilly who went out to conquer the world and lost. But boy do the good old boys picking along have his back! Do they know how tug the heartstrings or what? I’m crying tears in my beer here, people!

On Blast from Your Past Sir Ringo proves he’s more than just the huggable Beatle. If the solo Lennon set out to be an avant-garde artiste, the solo McCartney to marry high art and low, and the solo Harrison to penetrate the veil of Maya where only his sitar could follow, Starr remained Starr, and proved you can do it by charm alone. Was he the most talented of the Liverpool 4? Not by a long shot. But who gives a flying kazoo about talent? This is rock ’n’ roll we’re talking about!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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