Blast From Your Past (Capitol 46663)
This is where it gets fun. Ringo Starr's Blast From Your Past gets six l'il puppies, while Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band gets five. That's a beautiful thing, and moreover, it's so true. Because when it comes down to pure enjoyability, this album is miles past Sgt. Pepper. For all the good material on that album, this one is just more fun, and almost more of a Beatles album. It features a truly incredible Side 1, a nearly as good Side 2, and zero filler, though at barely over thirty minutes, it could probably be successfully reissued with a few more songs. People who regard Ringo as a walking punchline should give Blast From Your Past a listen, and discover that for the most part, Ringo's always been in on the joke.
Ringo's "with a little help from my friends" thing is very real. Without the table scraps thrown to him by his fellow ex-Beatles, Ringo would have seriously languished in (more of) an alcoholic stupor throughout the 70s. And while his albums were generally not anything close to solid (Ringo's Rotogravure? Um, no), this 1976 best-of presents him in the best possible light. After '76, the career would take a fairly enormous nosedive (actually, didn't everyone's career take a nosedive from '76 on?), but until then, the energy was good and Ringo was able to successfully play off his lucky simpleton image with a string of great singles, generally written and/or produced by Lennon, McCartney, or Harrison.
The three other Beatles often tossed off some of their better material for Ringo, probably because there was no pressure to do anything good ("Please, George, I'll take anything" pleads Ringo, Seagram's wine cooler in hand) it's just a Ringo Starr album, right? But it's a measure of Ringo's specialness that, for example, Harrison would give him "Photograph," which certainly would have been one of his own biggest hits had he recorded it under his own name. These days Ringo seems grateful for all the bones he's been thrown, but what people don't tend to see is that there is a uniqueness to Ringo that would compel Harrison to throw him a masterpiece like that. It wasn't all about charity.
And let's not perpetuate the myth that Ringo couldn't write to save his life. No, he doesn't have the catalog of standards behind him that McCartney does, but he wrote "It Don't Come Easy," a song most songwriters could bank a career on. And "Back Off Boogaloo," while essentially a glorified drumbeat, is still a pretty great song. My favorite of the Ringo originals on this album is "Early 1970," which charmingly talks about the Beatles' breakup from Ringo's perspective at the end of the day, all he really cared about was seeing his friends. With one verse devoted to each Beatle, Ringo creates one of the most touching and honest things any of the four have come up with about their existence as Beatles.
And of course, it's done with his typical humor. Most of the tracks on this disc are humorous (who are we kidding, no one would want to buy Ringo Starr/Plastic Ono Band): the lighthearted 50s covers of "You're Sixteen" and "Only You," the Jimmy Buffett-like "No No Song" (a personal favorite in which Ringo extols the virtues of sobriety recorded probably at the peak of his drunken years), and "I'm the Greatest," written by Lennon for Ringo as a sort of sequel to "With a Little Help From My Friends." This features the great line "Now I'm only 32/and all I wanna do is boogaloo." What's with the boogaloo fixation?
The simple country of "Beaucoups of Blues" suits Ringo remarkably well and balances well in the context of the album, which covers a lot of stylistic ground, actually. This is a great Saturday morning album, possibly the best single-disc snapshot of Ringo's career, and a disc to play for people who mock the man. No one understands how funny it is to be Ringo Starr than Ringo himself, and the humilty comes through in the material. A few more tracks might be welcome, though perhaps everyone involved was aware that the pickin's were kinda slim. Better thirty minutes of concise goodness than forty-five padded with filler, I guess.
Review by Ala Arnuro