Correct me if I'm wrong, but I would venture the guess that not too many people reading these words could say that they look to Ringo Starr for New Horizons in Pop Music.
Still with me? Then, I am prepared to say that you won't be disappointed with Ringo's all-country and western album, Beaucoups of Blues. Shucks, you'll probably even like it.
Anyone who can recall Ringo's rollicking renditions of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox" or Buck Owens' "Act Naturally," or even Ringo's own "Don't Pass Me By" from the white album, will know of the eldest Beatle's affection for country and western, and I don't think I'm alone in knowing that I'll never be able to hear Lorne Greene sing his oldie-but-goodie, "Ringo," without picturing Richard Starkey, cute and majestic atop his pony, the high noon sun bathing down on his neck, sending rays glinting off his sheriff's badge and his rings.
So Ringo has always had a vaguely country and western image anyway, so why not put out his first solo record (let's be generous and forget Sentimental Journey) in the country and western genre? That sounds like a good idea. So Ringo went all the way to Nashville to record what sounds like Marion Lorne attempting to sing the Tammy Waynette songbook.
Beaucoups of Blues is an unusually apt title for this collection of 12 songs, each one sounding more ridiculously degenerate than the one before. And the very thought of Ringo Starr being backed by the cream of Nashville's studio musicians from Jerry Reed right on down to the Jordanaires, produced by Pete Drake, the man who made the steel guitar fucking talk, and engineered by Elvis' old guitar player, Scotty Moore, is, well . . . Ringo doesn't even play drums on the record, and I thought he played drums.
Make no mistake about it, though, this record is a real winner. After the opening, title song, there's a tune that is so utterly heavy in its lyrics that I'm willing to bet that even Bobby Goldsboro would think twice before recording a song like "Love Don't Last Too Long." Try this story on for size, pardner:
A young man was unlucky and got
Busted in Kentucky
Asked his dad to go his bail.
But his dad had big ambitions with
The local politicians
Told his son to go to hell.
He hung his self that morning and
The note that they found on him
Said "dad, please take me home."
Um. Love don't last long.
And as though that wasn't enough, in "Fastest Growing Heartache in the West," Ringo's own true love seems to have abandoned him to look for those well-hung studs that put ads in the "Personals" column of the L.A. Free Press, he has to live his life "Without Her," gives his love to one of those "Women of the Night," and ends up singing, "If I had talked about the good times/There wouldn't be much to say."
Whew! And that's only the end of the first side! Pretty maudlin, eh? It's a good thing Ringo isn't a better singer than he is, or this record could have ended up being as depressing as Hank Williams' Luke the Drifter album, and that one is so depressing that Commander Cody himself broke the record over his knee the very first time he heard it. Fortunately, the only reason Ringo can carry a tune is that the composers of the tunes were singing along with him on most of the songs, just out of mike range. No matter how morose the material gets, Ringo's easy-going baritone assures us that he has little idea of what's going on, anyway.
If Beancoups of Blues reminds one of any record, it's Nashville Skyline, only instead of being lovable, spaced-out Bobby Dylan in front of those luxurious Nashville backups, it's lovable Richard Starkey who is crooning his heart out.
Like Nashville Skyline, Beaucoups of Blues opens side two with what will doubtless be one of Ringo's greatest hits, "$15 Draw," about a Nashville Cat who neglects his home life to sit and pick his guitar:
I'm sure daddy always knew that Tom
Would be the one to take his place
And when he tried to lecture me I'd
Sit and pick and sing and let him nag
But way down deep inside I think he
Knew that hardware ain't my bag.
It's a terrific rocker, and who really cares if it's Jerry Reed and not Ringo Starr who plays the fantastic guitar riffs on "$15 Draw"? There's a nice photo of Ringo fingering a "C" chord on the inside cover.
Side two also features some pure honky-tonky songs, like "Loser's Lounge" and "Wine, Women, and Loud, Happy Songs," the latter containing some of my favorite lines on the album: "It's strange how the wine/Works on a fool/It seeps through his mind/Leaves him blued to the stool."
Credit for the amazing songs on the album are shared by some of the backup musicians, Sorrels Pickard, Chuck Howard, Larry Kingston, and Bobby Pierce, all of whom have a good ear for making bizarre twists to country and western cliches. Coming from the lips of Ringo Starr, the songs sound terrific, but it's hard to imagine any more traditional country singers who would take them seriously enough to record else-where.
Take the last song on the album, an anti-war song called "Silent Homecoming." Now, normally there's nothing terribly funny about a girl waiting for her beau to come home from the war, wondering if the killing he has done will have changed him, and all those other thoughts that would run through one's mind while standing at an airfield. Anyway the guy has come home from the war, all right, but he's in "That hearse filled up with flowers." Not too funny, right? So right after that, Ringo asks us the question, "Did he really have to die?" Quite a ponderous question for anyone, let alone Ringo Starr (who, if we are to believe rumors from early Beatlemanis, has an I.Q. of, well, less than, say, John Lennon). Ah, but Ringo proceeds to answer the ponderous question, singing, "No, no, no ..." as the song fades out. It's all so unbelievable that it's not even in poor taste. After all, can you really imagine Ringo Starr trying to hurt anyone's feelings?
No, right? So why don't you go ahead and buy Beaucoups of Blues. Ringo plays the part, and it sounds as though he hardly did any rehearsing. All he had to do was act naturally. Natural Ringo Starr may not exactly be New Horizons in Pop Music, but, hell. He's really pretty good after all. (RS 69)
(Posted: Oct 29, 1970)
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