Ringo Starr – Ringo

Here’s another oldie but goodie from the days of the Blogspot blog. Enjoy!

Poor Ringo was always the least of The Beatles. He wasn’t the writing genius like Lennon or McCartney, he wasn’t a spiritual guru like Harrison. He was this affable little man with a big nose who had an extremely limited vocal range and who occasionally sang songs about underwater gardens and brightly-colored submarines. It’s difficult to take Ringo seriously, honestly.

This isn’t to say that Ringo is without his charms. He is affable, after all, and he has a certain charm to him that’s hard to deny. Ringo is just so damn likeable. He’s loveable, and you honestly want to see him do well. You root for Ringo.

And so when The Beatles broke up in 1970 and inevitably started releasing solo records, you knew it was only a matter of time before even Ringo jumped into it; because honestly, he’s a Beatle, and Beatle = instant chance. So he put out a couple of almost noveltyish records, and then released Ringo in 1972.

The thing about Ringo? It’s really pretty damn good. Ringo knows what folks want to hear from him–vaguely folky, bright, uptempo songs that are poppy, fun, and probably just a little superficial; it’s what we expect of Ringo–and he delivers here. There’s not really any filler on the record, which is to say that all the songs are pretty decent. There are standouts, of course: “Photograph,” a song he co-wrote with George Harrison, is a fantastic number, as is his cover of “You’re Sixteen.” “Oh, My My” is fun, and “I’m the Greatest” (written by Lennon) is a tongue-firmly-in-cheek celebration of status, even if it’s only presumed status in one’s own imagination. The record maintains a consistent feel, which is that of a good time with old friends. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, nothing as overwhelming as All Things Must Pass or as daring as Plastic Ono Band or as self-consciously homemade as McCartney. This is just a fun record, and it succeeds on that level very, very well.

The record also serves as an unofficial Beatles reunion of sorts. All three of Ringo’s former bandmates contribute not only songs for the record but themselves: each appear on at least the track they penned, and their presence offers a legitimacy to the whole affair. Also on hand are Klaus Voormann, old Beatle pal from the Hamburg days, Billy Preseton, and The Band, who offer assistance (along with Harrison) on the excellent “Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away Raymond).”

The CD release of the album actually manages to sweeten the deal, adding three bonus tracks–including the single “It Don’t Come Easy”–to the already strong record. Really, if you have any love at all for old Ringo, this is a fantastic record (much better than…well, pretty much anything else he’s released). It’s a comfortable, fun, almost superficial (in the best possible sense of the word) album that it’s hard not to enjoy. You’ll tap your toes, you’ll sing along, you’ll be glad you’re listening to it. Not liking it would be like not liking a puppy, and do you really want to be known as the person who doesn’t like puppies?

Top 5 Desert Island Discs

It’s a question that’s been asked since we first figured out how to record sound onto physical media for later playback: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only have five albums to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Now, admittedly, in the age of the iPod and cloud-based computing, this is maybe a slightly less relevant question than it once was. However, it’s still a fun exercise, and one I have given much thought to over the past few days. It doesn’t hurt that I watched High Fidelity Friday night.

Anyway, my top five, desert island discs are, in no particular order:

"And no one is ever gonna change my life for me/I lay it down/A ghost is born, a ghost is born, a ghost is born"1. Wilco, A Ghost is Born: This may not be the best Wilco album (an honor that still goes to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or maybe SummerTeeth), but it’s my favorite. It’s one of those records I can listen to over and over and never get tired of it (well, except for maybe “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Less Than You Think”). Plus, every time I hear that record, I hear something new in the songs. That’s something worth taking to a desert island.

"Hey, ho, rock 'n' roll/Deliver me from nowhere!"2. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: Atypical of the Boss’s albums in terms of style and arrangement, but Nebraska is (I think) the essence of Springsteen’s songwriting boiled down and stripped of all unnecessary elements. It’s just his voice, his guitar, and occasionally a harmonica. It’s just the bare soul of the songs, and you really connect with the tunes on this album in a way you can’t with some of his more elaborate, bombastic stuff with the E Street Band. I know folks toss around words like “haunting” a lot for records like this, but it’s applicable. And it’s not like there’s a single bad song on the record, either: “Atlantic City” is a fatalistic yet somehow still optimistic look at struggling through a rough economy, “Open All Night” is a fun, goofy rockabilly number, and “Reason to Believe” is at times warm, at times sad, and at times jubilant. This is Bruce’s best storytelling album, hands down.

"Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?/Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight."3. The Beatles, Rubber Soul: It’s hard not to just pick all Beatles albums for this (and even then, it’s hard to just pick five), but if I had to narrow it down to a single Beatles record for the rest of my days, it’d probably have to be this one. It’s the Beatles at the peak of their early career, transitioning into the headier themes of the second half of their arc. You start to get a bit of the experimentation that was to come (“Norwegian Wood” and its sitar, for instance), but you still have just really well-crafted, fun pop songs, too. I think I’d have to have the version of the album with the false start on “I’m Looking Through You,” just because it’s always interesting to think of the Beatles as fallible.

"And that wasn't the opening line/It was the tenth or the twelfth/Make of that what you will."4. AC Newman, Get Guilty: I would listen to this guy sing the phonebook, I think, because he just writes such damn catchy songs. This would be the album I’d have to spin to remind myself that, while I might be stuck on a desert island, life is still pretty damn good. Also, maybe I could finally take the time to figure out what the hell it is, exactly, that he’s singing about. It’s the newest album in this group, admittedly, but it’s one that I listened to a dozen or so times in the first few months that I had it, and I never seem to get tired of songs like “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” or “Elemental.” Alternately, I could swipe this out for the New Pornographer’s Twin Cinema, which is essentially more AC Newman goodness with Neko Case singing a bunch (and that’s always awesome).

"I started out on burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff/Everybody said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough."5. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited: Selecting a single Dylan album to take is, much like the case with the Beatles, very difficult. But if you have to go with just one, this is the album to go with. From the pistolshot crack of that first snare on “Like a Rolling Stone” to the honky tonk piano of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and the wailing harmonica outro on the epic “Desolation Row,” it’s an album unlike anything else in his catalog, and there’s just not a bad song on it (well, maybe “Queen Jane Approximately,” but that’s less bad and more just kinda boring). Plus, I’d have that police whistle thing from the title track to keep me company on those lonely nights on the island.

It’s hard making a list like this. On another day, it might’ve included Van Morrison’s Moondance (or Tupelo Honey), or the Avett Brothers’ Emotionalism, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedos! (yes, the exclamation mark is necessary and part of the title), or Pink Floyd’s Meddle, or…well, you get the idea. This isn’t easy.

But, dear reader, what would your top 5 desert island discs be? Let me know in the comments section!

Top 25 Most-Played Songs for 2011

Every year, I reset the playcount on all the songs on my iPod. But before I do that, I count down what the top 25 most-played songs on the iPod were for the year.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for that once again. Here they are, in descending order:

25. Elliott Smith, “Baby Britain,” from XO (13 plays): I love me some Elliott Smith, as does my wife. He’s one of the few artists we completely agree on, and makes a great compromise when we’re in the car and want something to listen to. The man had a way with words and a deftness and nimbleness in his guitar playing that I absolutely loved.

24. Amanda Palmer, “Oasis,” from Who Killed Amanda Palmer (13 plays): This is quite possibly the best song about date rape and a trip to the abortion clinic you’ll ever hear, though that’s probably a pretty short list of songs to begin with, I’d imagine. Palmer offsets the seriousness of the situation with one of the brightest, poppiest melodies you could imagine (with Ben Folds on backing vocals, no less!), and the bouncy rhythm really makes you think there is something seriously wrong with Amanda Palmer in the best possible way.

23. Moxy Fruvous, “The Present Tense Tureen,” from Wood (15 plays): There was a time in college – probably about six to nine months – when I listened to nothing but this Canadian band, and it may have broken me. I mean, how many songs do you know about a guy walking along a creek, encountering an elf, and getting relationship advice while waiting for a stew to boil that isn’t actually in the tureen? Just this one, I assure you. Plus, it features the line, “Then he giggled in French/That’s what he did,” and that is possibly the best line in anything ever.

22. Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones,” from August and Everything After (15 plays): Several of the songs that pop up on this list (including this one) are songs on the playlist I designed specifically for my wife, because the alternative was she would always have to listen to Bob Dylan (or we’d be divorced; I imagine it’s a one thing or the other sort of situation) in the car. Anyway, we both enjoy this song, and it features a Bob Dylan reference, so I’m happy.

21. The Arcade Fire, “Intervention,” from Neon Bible (15 plays): Another song off the playlist for the wife. She identifies it as her favorite Arcade Fire song, while I love the prominent use of church organ.

20. Harlem Shakes, “Sunlight,” From Technicolor Health (17 plays): This band’s place in my music collection seemed like a bit of an anomaly, though I’ve never been able to really articulate why. They don’t really sound much like any other band I listen to much, and I don’t really care for any other bands that play their particular style of indie-guitar rock, and yet…I really love this album, and this song in particular. Dunno why.

19. The Gaslight Anthem, “Stay Lucky,” from American Slang (18 plays): Okay, these guys, I know exactly why I like. Anyone doing straight-ahead Bruce Springsteen-inspired rock is okay in my book, and these guys have finally grown beyond just aping their influences (the aforementioned Bruce Springsteen). This is a great song for driving to, though I do have to pay attention not to drive too fast when it’s on. Also, way too much fun to sing along with at the top of your lungs.

18. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” from Pendulum (19 plays): Let’s speak plainly: Pendulum is not a good CCR album. Hell, it’s not a particularly good album, full stop. It’s bland and does not have a clear identity, something CCR albums usually never suffer from (Mardis Gras is pretty mediocre, too). However! However, it does feature this particular song, which is a slice of redemption so powerful, so beautiful, so perfect, that I am willing to forgive the existence of the album based solely on the presence of this single song. Also, “Hey Tonight” is pretty good.

17. The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, “The Golden Age,” from The Golden Age – EP (19 plays): Yeah, it’s that song from the Hieneken commercial. I am highly susceptible to the music used in advertisement, if not the product (I don’t really care for Hieneken, for instance). Plus, it’s fun.

16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Kings Road,” from Hard Promises (20 plays): Tom Petty has been one of my favorite musicians since I was a young, young man (one of the first concerts I ever went to, in fact, was a Tom Petty concert). He’s one of the best songwriters in rock and roll, and Mike Campbell is one of the most criminally overlooked and underappreciated lead guitarists in music. Campbell’s guitar parts always fit the song perfectly, and he doesn’t solo to show off his skills, he solos to meet the needs of the song. I think it’s safe to say I’ll buy any album these guys put out.

15. Cream, “Badge,” From Goodbye (20 plays): Between this and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” I think it’s safe to say that the Eric Clapton/George Harrison songwriting partnership is one that should have been much more fruitful. These guys did some of their best work together, but never really got around to doing many songs with each other. I call it a tragedy.

14. 8in8, “One Tiny Thing,” from NightyNight (21 plays): Take three musicians and one Neil Gaiman, sit them in a recording studio for a night, and see what they come up with. It’s a beautifully simple concept, and one that created several of my favorite songs this year. This particular tune, “One Tiny Thing,” is an excellent example of what they accomplished: simple, direct, but perfectly captured, a little slice of four friends working together to create music that is both fun and emotionally engaging.

13. The National, “Think You Can Wait,” from the Film “Win Win” (21 plays): I will listen to pretty much anything the National puts out. Seriously, it could just be Matt Berninger reading the phone book over Bryan Devendorf’s drums, and I would listen to it and declare it wonderful.

12. The Avett Brothers, “Will You Return?,” from Emotionalism (21 plays): Harmonies and banjos? Yes, please.

11. The Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man,” from Doolittle (23 plays): I never really listened to contemporary music when I was in high school, so I completely missed out on bands like the Pixies in the ’90s. My wife, on the other hand, was a bit of a Pixies devotee, so I’ve since been indoctrinated into their holy communion. This is probably my favorite song of theirs; I just love the harmonies in the chorus.

10. Josh Ritter, “Golden Age of Radio,” from Golden Age of Radio (23 plays): I think the record will show I love me some Josh Ritter (even if his last record was a little bland). This song is just fantastic: thumping percussion, a great chord progression, and a spirited vocal delivery from Ritter. Plus, it name drops Patsy Cline and Townes Van Zandt.

9. Florence + the Machine, “Dog Days are Over,” from Lungs (23 plays): I really only play the guitar, but I am apparently a sucker for a stripped-down, bone-rattling drum beat. This song has that, plus Florence Welch just sings with such gusto. That woman can belt it and has no fear, which I appreciate in a vocalist (possibly why I like Dylan so much).

8. Stephen Stills, “Wooden Ships,” from Just Roll Tape (24 plays): More a demo than anything else, this rough draft version of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young AOR staple is stripped down and simple, just Stills and a guitar. But stripped of harmonies and bombast, it’s still a great song. The core of the tune – the chord progression, the melody – is strong enough to make this just as great as the version everyone knows.

7. Dan Auerbach, “My Last Mistake,” from Keep it Hid (24 plays): While it may just be a simple song about screwing up a relationship, there’s something universal about the concept that musicians keep coming back to for a reason. And hell, this is just a great tune. The chord progression is catchy, the bluesy lead is pitch-perfect, and Auerbach’s vocals really deliver the emotional punch the song needs. It’s a simple song, but it’s a simple pleasure that really satisfies.

6. The Beatles, “Chains,” From Please Please Me (25 plays): Is this the best Beatles song? No, not by a long shot. Is it even the best song on this album? Heck no (I mean, there’s “I Saw Her Standing There,” For crying out loud). However, it’s a perfect distillation of what’s great about early Beatles: a great beat, excellent melody, and some of the best upper-register vocals you’ll ever hear. Plus, it’s got George on the lead vocals, and he didn’t ever get the love he deserved in that group, man.

5. Colin Hay, “Beautiful Word,” from Scrubs (Original Television Soundtrack) (27 plays): This song was used to great effect in the TV show Scrubs, but even standing on it’s own, it’s beautiful. The melody is gorgeous, and the simplicity of Hay’s delivery (and the stripped-down arrangement of just his voice and acoustic guitar) makes it all the more affecting. It’s one of those sad, sweet tunes I could just listen to over and over, and obviously did this year.

4. Drive-By Truckers, “Everybody Needs Love,” from Go-Go Boots (29 plays): Again, a pretty universal theme (people want to be loved) that’s been tackled hundreds, even thousands, of times in popular music, but this is just the sort of anthematic song you can’t help but sing along to at the top of your lungs when it comes on.

3. The Decemberists, “Don’t Carry it All,” from The King is Dead (29 plays): I have a pretty solid music crush on the Decemberists. I will listen to any album they put out, though I’ve always been a little disappointed they went the prog-rock concept album route instead of focusing on smaller, single-song stories. Well, The King is Dead was something of an answer to my prayers, and “Don’t Carry it All” was the hallelujah. It’s the loosest and most joyful I’ve ever heard them be, and it’s just fun to listen to (I know, not a word I’d really associate with the band, either). Honestly, The King is Dead is a strong contender for my favorite album this year, and it’s mostly on the strength of this one song.

2. The Hollies, “Just One Look,” from The Air That I Breathe: The Very Best of the Hollies (33 plays): A great little unrequited love song full of harmonies and a great bridge. If you can listen to this song and not want to sing along, I think you might actually be dead inside.

1. Deer Tick, “Easy,” from Born on Flag Day (35 plays): This song has consumed me in the past few months. Everything about it is amazing, from the feedback that opens the track to the use of the vibra-slap, the deep throb of the bass line under those riffs in the intro, to the Telecaster twang of the guitar and the growl in the singer’s voice. This is a song full of despair, gloom, doom, and a sense of overwhelming frustration and anger. It’s brilliant: in under 4 minutes, Deer Tick deliver one of the most affecting songs I’ve heard in a long time. As soon as the song is over, I want to hit the back button and hear it again. And the harmony in the second verse? Gets me every time. It’s perfect, and it’s the song I’ve listened to the most times this year.