History: This album is the true beginning of after “The End,” that is it’s the first album to be recorded after all four Beatles recorded together for the last time, and while the break up had not yet been mentioned to the public, they at least largely knew it was over for them. Uncertain of what to do next, Ringo was coaxed by the other former members as well as his parents to record a solo album of covers even if he wasn’t comfortable writing all his own material yet. He decided to build the album off of older songs that he was used to hearing his mother and other family members sing while he was growing up, a tribute to them exposing him to a love of music for the first time. He had George Martin assist with producing the album, and called on a different person to do the musical arrangements for each song. George Martin did one, and Paul did another, along with other friends and famous musicians and producers like Quincy Jones, Klaus Voorman, and Maurice Gibb. Billy Preston also makes an appearance on a couple songs playing piano and organ.
My own history and initial prediction: While the title feels vaguely familiar to me, I definitely was not expecting a Ringo record this early. Glancing through the tracks I recognized the titles “Night and Day,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” and “Have I Told You Lately That I Loved You” so I guessed this would probably be an all covers album but wasn’t even technically sure of that (and purposefully didn’t look it up until afterward). I’ll admit I remained skeptical of Ringo being able to pull off some of these numbers, particularly so early in his career, but figured it was probably better than him trying to fill a whole album with originals this early on.
What I worked on while I listened:
I had to pause the album at one point thanks to a mishap which involved nearly a full bag of navy blue “gems” spilling between the cushions of my dark gray couch, so that was real fun. Also, I hope you guys aren’t getting bored of seeing The Last Unicorn, I promise I will finish this and move on to other projects eventually.
Review: I have to say if nothing else it was really nice to listen to a true musical album and not just an experiment in sound production again. While jazz and big band songs aren’t necessarily among my favorite genres, I think there’s something about them that we’ve also sort of absorbed them into our collective memories at this point. They may sound “old timey” or “classical” but that in and of itself is not a bad thing. They’re generally very pleasant to listen to and can put you in a nice relaxed mood.
The bad news is that my hunch ended up being largely correct. Ringo is just not a strong enough vocalist at this point to truly shine on these songs. He comes off a little out of tune in places, and he rarely has the strength to give the vocals the oomph they need. The version of “Night and Day” I’m most familiar with is Frank Sinatra’s, and while it’s unfair to compare most vocalists to old blue eyes, it’s hard not to. He gives it his all, and I certainly think he’s doing his best to give the songs what he can, but he unfortunately misses the mark a lot. He fairs a lot better on songs where they double track his vocals or give him something to harmonize with. He even does a bit of scatting at the end of “Blue Turning Grey Over You” which comes off a bit awkward, but then the “I just lost myself there, child” comment that follows makes up for it with his classic charm.
While I didn’t realize while listening that each song had a different arranger, I’m not surprised to find that out, because some are definitely stronger than others. Klaus Voorman’s work on “I’m a Fool to Care” was the first to really make me notice the arrangements and wonder who was behind them. I also find it fascinating that I thought “Dream” has a particularly 60s feel to it, when that is George Martin’s contribution. I guess with him working with the Beatles so much, it makes sense that this song would bring me back to the feel of their sound even if the music genre isn’t the same. I also really enjoyed John Dankworth’s arrangement for “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” I think this is the first time I’ve really payed attention to that song’s lyrics, because I never realized it was the singer’s lame attempts to half apologize to the person he’s singing to: If I hurt you last night it’s only because I really love you! Yeah, that’ll make up for whatever you did wrong, suuuure.
Also, I completely confused “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” with “Have I Told You Lately” which in my defense the first line finishes in exactly the same way! I knew the Rod Stewart version I was familiar with was a cover, but that is a song originally written by Van Morrison whereas this is a song from the musical Sing, Neighbor, Sing. It is frankly not as good as the other one, and it was a little hard to not be disappointed that I wasn’t hearing that song instead. Never mind that the Van Morrison song wasn’t even written until 1989, I wanted to hear Ringo sing that one! Oh well.
All that said, this certainly is not the album to convert me over to Ringo’s solo work just yet, and I don’t think there’s anything here I will be saving to my playlists. It’s not awful by any means, his vocals are just a little too weak at this point to truly make any of these work. But I feel like if I heard modern day Ringo sing them, I’d feel much differently. I definitely think it’s at least worth checking out for the broad range of musical arrangements on display, and I look forward to hearing him grow as a vocalist and performer as this journey moves on.
Next time: Paul makes the band’s break up official and releases his own first solo album, McCartney.