History: George Harrison invited pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake to record some parts of his upcoming album All Things Must Pass, and in the midst of those sessions Drake and Ringo met for the first time. Ringo’s love of country music had been well documented up to this point, and Drake invited Ringo to come to Nashville to record a true country album. The entire session was completed in three days, with Ringo providing vocals, guitar and drums to the album along with a roster of Nashville musicians. All songs were written by the other musicians present, with the exception of “Coochy Coochy,” a song technically not on the album that was the B side when the title song was released as a single.
My own history with the album and initial prediction: I had heard about this album before, but my own personal distaste for country music has not made me particularly inclined to listen to it before now. I promise I went into it with an open mind, though I obviously was not expecting too much.
What I worked on while listening: Nothing! Yardwork and other chores had caused me quite a bit of back pain (oh the joys of being almost 40) so I sat back with a warm cup of tea in my Beatles mug and gave the album my full attention.
Review: Like any other genre of music country has lots of eras and styles. I’m not particularly well versed in the variations that country music can bring, but this is definitely what I would call classic country. Lots of pedal steel guitar and fiddle, and a generally slow tempo. Sad, sad songs about how the woman who left you was no good but now that she’s gone there’s this empty hole in your heart. There’s a couple exceptions, but for the most part that’s exactly what this album is. While listening I wasn’t sure if Ringo had written these songs or not, but there were so many songs about heartbreak that I started to wonder if this was when his first marriage ended. It wasn’t, and he’s just singing the lyrics others provided him, but his vocals are well suited to the material so he definitely brings in those feelings of loss and heartache. It truly started to wear on me after a while though, and I was hoping for something a little more upbeat.
The good news is you do get at least a few of those. “Woman of the Night” and “Loser’s Lounge” while not fast songs stand out as far more up tempo than the most of the rest of the album. “$15 Draw” is also a bit more upbeat. And it’s not that all of the slow songs are bad. “Love Don’t Last Long” reminded me very much of some of Elvis’ slower numbers, and “Silent Homecoming,” about a soldier who returns from war without a grand welcome, is timely for the Vietnam era and a welcome change from the songs of breakups that had proceeded it. But the biggest problem is that so many of these songs just sound the same to me. I imagine the very quick turnaround time for the album is a big part of that. With such a small window to truly record, the musicians may have chosen to stick with what they knew, handing Ringo the lyrics to quickly learn before recording them, and therefore not providing a whole lot of time to hash these out and make them more unique.
I think it’s really telling that the bonus tracks from the 1995 re-release are much more interesting. Ringo’s “Coochy Coochy” has a sound very similar to the Beatles country tracks. There’s not much there lyrically, but it’s a fun upbeat country tune with good harmonica and guitar solos. And the “Nashville Jam” is exactly as described, but it gives the musicians a bit of time to show off and really have fun with the music. I wonder, if either Ringo had had a bit more time to stay in Nashville, or if they had been willing to send tapes back and forth across the pond for them to work on, if we would have gotten something much stronger than what we got. Given the genre it probably still wouldn’t be something I would return to very often, but I wouldn’t have found myself double checking the tracklist to see just how much more of these sad, sad songs I was going to have to sit through before I reached the end.
Next time: George decides to record all the songs the Beatles wouldn’t give him space for on All Things Must Pass.