This upcoming Wednesday, July 21, I’m lucky enough to be seeing the fabulous Ringo Starr in concert with his All Starr Band. A real live Beatle, right in front (well, eleven concert rows in front!) of me! Can you imagine? I know that I’m pretty damn excited. So excited, in fact, that I didn’t even spend all that much time being bummed after learning that seeing Ringo also means seeing his bandmates sings songs like Dream Weaver and Broken Wings! Trade off, folks, trade off.
Anyway, in gearing up to see Ringo later this week — did I mention that it’s just a few days away? — I thought it would be a good idea to do a new top 5 list of Ringo tracks. Previously, I’ve written a post of top 10 Ringo drum tracks, and talked about just how severely undervalued poor Ringo is as a drummer. Even crueler than the jokes about his drumming, though, are the jokes about his singing and solo career. His solo music and individual Beatles tracks are almost entirely overlooked, even though some of it all is really quite good.
Look, Ringo is no John, Paul, or George. He doesn’t have a particularly spectacular voice, and he continues today to write songs mostly through collaboration with other writers, rather than on his own. But John, Paul, and George are no Ringo, either. Ringo wasn’t built to be a singer or songwriter, but dammit, no one else was built to be Ringo. And that’s how he makes it work — through the sheer force of his personality. Ringo could have a spot as a drummer in any band he chose, but the reason he has a career as a solo artist is because we all absolutely adore him. His music works so well, in large part, precisely because he is so fun and lovable.
Further, it’s clear that Ringo is doing exactly what he wants to do. I imagine that the last thing he needs is money — I’m sure that he and Barbara are more than comfortable, have lovely holidays, and give their grandkids very, very happy Christmas seasons. He doesn’t need to continue releasing albums and going on tour. He does it because he loves it, and because we love it when he does it. And along the way, he’s sung quite a few classics.
1. It Don’t Come Easy
Straight out of the gate after the “official” breakup of the Beatles, Ringo scored the first hit single with this song. (Many years later, Ringo joked about this accomplishment, “I was the biggest Beatle for two weeks.”) The writing credit remains disputed — legally it went to Richard Starkey, while Ringo has since admitted that George Harrison was a co-writer, and others speculate that George wrote the track fully — but whoever is responsible, it’s a damn good song. It’s my personal favorite Ringo song, I must say, only reinforced by my introduction to it through his live performance at the Concert for Bangladesh. In its favor, the track features not only a great hook, but some excellent drum fills, a searing guitar solo by George Harrison, and the always fantastic Klaus Voormann on bass.
VIDEO: Ringo’s song It Don’t Come Easy plays over an image of the original picture sleeve for the single. The picture sleeve shows a black and white photo of Ringo playing an acoustic guitar in 1971, while sitting down with one leg crossed and wearing a cowboy hat. It Don’t Come Easy lyrics.
2. With a Little Help From My Friends
With the only possible competitor of Yellow Submarine, With a Little Help From My Friends has become Ringo’s staple song, the one with which he is most associated, and the one that would start riots if he didn’t sing it for the good people who paid to hear him put on a show. With a Little Help From My Friends is memorable both for being a fantastic song — easily the best that John and Paul ever wrote for Ringo — and for including one of Ringo’s best vocal tracks (and quite arguably the very best he has ever laid down on record). All around, it’s among the best tracks on Sgt. Pepper, and just plain polished perfection.
VIDEO: The Beatles’ song With a Little Help From My Friends plays over an image of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. With a Little Help From My Friends lyrics.
3. Octopus’s Garden
As the second ever Ringo-penned track to be recorded, Octopus’s Garden is a big step up from his first attempt, Don’t Pass Me By. And though it may be an unpopular opinion, I say that it beats Lennon/McCartney’s Yellow Submarine any day of the week. In its favor, Octopus’s Garden has vivid, fun lyrics, fantastic drum fills, a spectacular guitar part, and luscious harmonies. Ringo also delivers his very best singing voice. Written during the period where Ringo had quit the Beatles, during the White Album sessions, this Abbey Road track not only stands up to the other songs on the album, it’s securely better than a few of them.
VIDEO: The Beatles’ Octopus’s Garden plays over mostly black and white images of Ringo around and throughout the 1969 recording of Abbey Road. Includes several rare photos of the Beatles in the studio. Octopus’s Garden lyrics.
Photograph was pretty much Ringo’s most overall successful solo song, and easily the most revered and remembered. Over 35 years later, the 1973-style production on the song seems a bit heavy-handed, but the song remains a beauty and a classic all the same. Always a bittersweet song about the loss of a loved one, this collaboration between George and Ringo took on an especially somber meaning when Ringo performed it in memory of his recently deceased co-writer at the Concert for George. I, for one, can’t hear it without getting just a little bit teary-eyed.
VIDEO: Ringo’s song Photograph plays over various photographs of Ringo throughout the years. Photograph lyrics.
5. (It’s All Da-Da-Down To) Goodnight Vienna
This lesser-known single from Ringo’s 1974 album by the same name is one of my absolute personal favorite Ringo songs. Written by John Lennon (hear him do the count-in), this poppy rocker is about as fun as fun gets, and is absolutely perfect for Ringo. In my view, Goodnight Vienna could go on for three times the length that it does, quite easily, without getting at all old. I’m a huge fan of the low growl that Ringo uses to sing the last verse, the drum fills, and of course, Billy Preston’s clavinet. If you don’t know it, do take the time to listen now!
VIDEO: Ringo’s song Goodnight Vienna plays over images of Ringo from around the time of recording for the Goodnight Vienna album, as well as images of Ringo doing promotion for the album in his blue spacesuit. Goodnight Vienna lyrics.
Bonus Track: Peace Dream
Ringo’s latest album, Y Not, is actually quite good. It’s filled with cute, simple pop music, and with the exception of the final track Who’s Your Daddy? (Hint: it’s even worse than the name suggests) the whole thing is a real treat. I was even genuinely impressed with several of his vocal tracks.
Along with Walk With You (the single that features Paul McCartney’s prominent backing vocals), Peace Dream is one of the album’s highlights. The track is so goofy and so dorky, and yet also so sweet and so cute. And therefore, it is just so very, very Ringo. As he earnestly name-checks his old buddy John Lennon and cites several of his songs, Ringo also continues his mission from recent years to help Yoko keep John’s message of peace (and love!) alive. If that’s not enough, the song also features Paul McCartney on bass! Can’t beat that.
VIDEO: Ringo’s song Peace Dream plays over a video of photos and archival footage of Ringo Starr throughout the years, mostly with the Beatles, but sometimes during his solo years. Peace Dream lyrics.
Feel free to share your own favorite Ringo songs below! Do you love the No No Song or his cover of You’re Sixteen? How about Back off Boogaloo or Oh My My? Let me know which songs on my list you would have knocked off and what songs you would have added in the comments.