When Paul got too schmaltzy, George too preachy, or John too hateful, we always had Ringo, the lovable clown whose poor-schmoe demeanor effaced his fellow Beatles’ indulgences. He was the slightest member of the Beatles, sure, but Help, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album would’ve been different sans Ringo’s vocals on “Act Naturally,” “With a Little Help from My Friends” and (my favorite) “Don’t Pass Me By.” Of course, Ringo only wrote one of those songs, and the combined presence of the other Beatles is what makes them classics.
But Ringo’s post-Beatles career, more than John’s, Paul’s or George’s, served to remind us that the individual Beatles would never be as powerful solo as they were as a group — though paradoxically it was probably Ringo who most clearly understood this fact. His biggest successes came from collaborations with his former bandmates: “Photograph,” “I’m the Greatest,” and “Goodnight Vienna” all feature songwriting and session work from his ex-bandmates. Capitol’s Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr seems to understand this, focusing mostly on the hits from Ringo (1973) and Goodnight Vienna (1974), throwing in a few jarring numbers from recent years.
But given the mediocre quality of the post-’70s material, maybe the Photograph‘s biggest detraction is its focus on hits that are just as easily available on classic-rock radio. A track from Sentimental Journey, his admittedly forgettable 1970 solo debut, would’ve been interesting, and deep cuts like Ringo‘s cover of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby” (featuring Marc Bolan on guitar) or Goodnight Vienna‘s Harry Nilsson-penned “Easy for Me” would’ve given the collection a greater scope of Starr’s tastes.
Those would’ve fit perfectly, because Ringo’s greatest charm was his shaggy-dog takes on other people’s songs. He occasionally wrote great songs (his hit “It Don’t Come Easy” was probably the best), but the John Lennon-written “I’m the Greatest” is the best post-Beatles affirmation of his Ringo Starr persona, with its oddball, not-entirely-serious boasting. Other winners besides those here include the piano boogie “Snookeroo,” written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and “Early 1970,” Ringo’s take on his ex-bandmates’ post-breakup relations.
Mostly, though, Photograph highlights the marginal quality of most of Ringo’s work, especially his unfortunate predilection for bland oldies material such as his cover of Johnny Burnette’s “You’re Sixteen” (inexplicably a number-one U.S. hit in 1974). It’s also a shame that Ringo, the archetypal rock drummer, should have devoted so little of his solo records to his exceptional drumming skills; frequent producer Richard Perry seems to have little room for the blistering fills that propelled the Beatles’ work. Fans would be encouraged to hunt down a bargain-bin copy of Ringo or Goodnight Vienna, or, for a taste of his more experimental drum work, check out his session work on some of Lennon and Yoko Ono’s solo albums.