I know that I have a tendency to dwell on the past, but it seems somehow sad to me that the release of a new album by a member of the Beatles no longer gets much attention, especially when it’s something new from Ringo. I suppose people still look forward to a new album from Paul McCartney. The hope dies hard that he will be able to recapture the magic, maybe because on occasion he has. But it’s been more than 30 years since a Ringo solo album created any ripples in the musical pond.
Ringo carries on playing the drums and making records because it’s what he does. It’s obviously not something that he has to do. And so this new album, Y Not (Universal). It is an enormous advantage for a musician to be able to choose virtually any musician to work with, and Ringo, producing himself for the first time, has made some very good choices here. His co-writers on the album include such stalwarts as Joe Walsh, Gary Wright, Dave Stewart, Van Dyke Parks, Richard Marx, Glen Ballard, and Joss Stone. Walsh and Stewart also play on several tracks, as do Benmont Tench, Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, Don Was, and one Paul McCartney, who plays bass on “Peace Track,” and sings with Ringo on the album’s most moving song, a tribute to the lasting power of friendship, “Walk With You.”
It may sound odd, but Ringo’s songs always seem more personal, more soulful than Paul’s songs to me. He is not afraid to go back and reflect on the old days, and after all, isn’t that what Beatles fans want to hear? For all of his talent, and the many magnificent achievements, there has always been a sense that Paul is holding back when it comes to his personal feelings, only giving us a small glimpse of his soul now and then. On “The Other Side of Liverpool”, Ringo presents a very personal look at the pre-Beatle days in his hometown, even offering shout-outs to friends who helped him along the way.
Ringo has been touring the oldies, giving the fans what they want, and making an album now and then. Most of his albums in recent years have been merely serviceable. Not particularly revelatory, but not embarrassing, just okay. He seems a little more invested in Y Not, though. No, not every track is killer, but they are, for the most part, at least solid. The more cynical among us will see some of the ’60s vibe as naive (which probably says more about us than it does about him), but Ringo delivers it in such a charming, unassuming fashion that you can’t hold it against him. Needless to say, given the cast on board, the playing is first rate, and songs like “Walk With You,” co-written by Van Dyke Parks, lift this album above mere journeyman fare.
I suppose it’s understandable. Ringo didn’t write the songs for the Beatles, and only sang a handful of them. There were often jokes about him being the dispensable Beatle. The fact of the matter is that the sound and technique of Ringo’s drumming were absolutely integral to the sound of the band. The fact is that the Beatles became legends because of the chemistry of those four people. Don’t feel bad for Pete Best. The Beatles would never have reached the heights that they did with him in the band. The chemistry wasn’t right. It wasn’t until Ringo joined that the puzzle was perfectly complete. As long as Ringo is interested in making music, the least I can do is listen.