Going solo is never an easy task, especially after providing the beat for The Beatles. But in recent years, Ringo Starr has bravely faced the challenge, launching a solo career that echoes the energy of the Fab Four and at the same time establishing his individuality as a musician, song writer and comedian.
Starr’s latest endeavor is his live appearance on VH1’s “Storytellers” series, which has been recorded and released as an album. In Storytellers (Mercury), Starr emerges from the back corner to take center stage, singing the lead vocals and providing some drums and keyboard. Starr is accompanied by The Roundheads and ex-Eagles member Joe Walsh on electric guitar.
The performance involves a juxtaposition of old Beatles hits and songs from Starr’s new album, Vertical Man. Songs from the good old days include Lennon-McCartney classics such as “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Love Me Do” as well as “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden,” which Starr wrote with the Beatles.
Starr’ s renditions of these songs doesn’t match The Beatles’ originals, but they provide a nice dose of nostalgia. The trip down memory lane is needed, especially in between some of Starr’s monotonous songs with tempos so repetitive the listener is lulled into a unconscious state of head-nodding. Unfortunately many of Starr’s originals induce this type of reaction, especially the mournful love song “King of Broken Hearts,” which drones on for more than seven minutes.
On the other side of the spectrum, “Back Off Boo Galoo” has a hard, Joan Jett edge with the same tiresome tempo. The song would hedge on embarrassing if it were not for Starr’s lighthearted attitude toward his song-writing ability. In an anecdote in between songs, Starr talks about the many times his song-writing attempts sent the other Beatles’ members rolling on the floor in fits of laughter.
The best original post-Beatles song included in the performance is “It Don’t Come Easy” written by Starr and George Harrison in the 1970s. Inspired by the peace movement, “It Don’t Come Easy” is catchy and motivating, with a beat suited to Starr’s flat, low voice. The song is tightly orchestrated with an effective blend of swinging horns, traditional guitar and thick harmonies.
Despite some of the obvious musical pitfalls, Starr’s VH1 performance is commendable. It’s apparent that he just wants to have a good time doing what he loves, and his uncanny charm and wry sense of humor are the ultimate crowd pleasers. Starr fondly acknowledges his past while giving an energized solo effort.