I’ve ranted before about the profusion of blogs and music sites that analyze and re-analyze the recordings of the past, generally in much more intelligent fashion than I can muster.
(One such site — and they’re usually very good — is The Quietus. They’ve done a whole raft of 40th-anniversary retrospective essays this year, including especially good ones about John Cale’s Fear and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It’s possible that 1974 looks infinitely more interesting in their hands than it ever did when it was happening.)
It occurs to me that we are currently passing a 40th musical anniversary that — as far as I’ve seen — no one has written much about.
I don’t know much about it, certainly not enough to be an authority. But, since unexplored musical blog-space seems rarer than rocking-horse shit nowadays, I’m gonna jump in and claim it for my own anyway:
This late autumn and early winter marks 40 years since the peak of Ringo Starr’s solo career.
Our lad’s Goodnight Vienna LP, released in mid-November 1974, would mark the end of his brief run as a superstar-level solo performer.
The LP reached Number 8 on the U.S. charts and spawned three Top 40 singles (“Only You (And You Alone),” “Goodnight Vienna” and the double-sided “No No Song”/”Snookeroo.”)
Local airplay charts from around this time 40 years ago show Goodnight Vienna holding comfortable Top 10 positions at stations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Hartford, while the record’s lead single was at mid-chart levels and on the way up at stations across the country.
In the U.K., Goodnight Vienna would be Ringo’s last Top 40 album for almost a quarter-century — by which time he was no longer an active hitmaker, but more of a nostalgia artist, really.
After Goodnight Vienna, Ringo released the greatest-hits comp Blast From Your Past in time for the Christmas market in ’75.
His next new studio album, September 1976’s Ringo’s Rotogravure, peaked at No. 28 and fell off the U.S. charts quickly. And 1977’s disastrous Ringo the 4th pretty much sounded the death knell for Ringo Starr as a solo headliner, at least on record.
As I’ve said before, the brief flowering of Ringo’s solo career has always been something of a mystery to me.
The guy genuinely could not sing … and, while he was/is an underrated drummer, underrated drumming doesn’t sell singles and albums to the general populace. (Worth mentioning: Studio ace Jim Keltner plays at least some of the drums on the Goodnight Vienna album.)
For that matter, the songs he was singing weren’t always that great either.
His oldies covers are pleasant enough, but they’re not so tremendous as to make us forget the originals. “You’re Sixteen,” with its Paul McCartney kazoo solo, still seems to me like it was crafted as part of some race-to-the-bottom competition to produce the worst possible Number One single.
(1974 was just the year for such a competition, too. Compared to fellow Number One hits “Seasons In The Sun,” “The Streak,” “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” “I Can Help” and “Havin’ My Baby,” Ringo’s nostalgia trip seems downright attractive.)
And songs like “Goodnight Vienna” — which sounds exactly like the sort of thing a dissolute rocker would write for his buddy after too many brandy Alexanders — lack the spark or imagination that makes classic pop:
And yet, in his few years as a true solo star, Ringo racked up enough hits to legitimately fill a best-of album, with two Number One hits and multiple other visits to the Top Ten.
Ninety-nine percent of the people who have ever picked up a guitar (or a set of drumsticks) wish they had a career even half as successful as Ringo Starr’s solo career.
Did Ringo owe his success to pure nostalgic sentiment? Was the pop world so thoroughly out of gas in ’73-’75 that anything Beatles-related was greeted with rapturous cheers?
(Having heard the Number Ones mentioned above, and having listened to a whole bunch of Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from that period, I find this explanation entirely plausible.)
Or, did he owe his success to the Seventies buying public’s fascination with celebrity collaborations?
Ringo’s mid-’70s solo albums featured guest shots by all three of his former Beatles colleagues, as well as the likes of Robbie Robertson, Elton John, Billy Preston, Marc Bolan and Harry Nilsson. That’s as close as the world ever got to a Beatles reunion, plus lots of other celebrity firepower besides.
Were people buying just to see what all those star(r)s would stir up? (Surely millions of people weren’t plunking down their hard-earned dollars to spend 40 minutes in the company of just Ringo.)
Also, now that time has shown that lots of celebs together don’t necessarily make good music, is anyone buying these albums nowadays?
Sure, I know nobody’s buying music any more. But I wonder if there are 60-year-olds replacing their worn-out vinyl copies of Goodnight Vienna with digital versions; whether there are 15-year-olds or 20-year-olds discovering these albums for the first time; or whether they are largely forgotten 40 years later. Do they stand anything resembling a test of time?
Having extensively picked apart his shortcomings, I have to say I kinda like the idea of Ringo as a solo star. He has always seemed like the most grounded and approachable of the Beatles, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome to every gold and platinum record on his den wall.
I don’t really understand the whole phenomenon; but time has proven repeatedly that my comprehension is not necessary for pop success.
It’s all da-da-da-down to … well, I don’t know what, exactly. But it happened, and proof exists.