Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Review #20: Old Wave

Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, arguably, has had the worst solo career of the four Beatles. Oh, it’s not that he’s made bad albums; in fact, most of them are pretty good. It’s just that no one buys them. His latest album, Choose Love was an incredible album, but as Ringo asked to the audience on his latest tour (I kid you not) “Did anyone buy it?” In fact, despite the incredible reviews, it actually never charted on EITHER side of the Atlantic!
Starting with
RINGO (actually with a set of big band covers, Sentimental Journey, decades before something like that was ‘cool’, but Ringo doesn’t want you to know that. It’s probably why the horrid Ringo the 4th wasn’t called Ringo the 6th) Starr began a promising career that plummeted with 1976’s moderate Ringo’s Rotogravure. However, the 1980’s began hopeful enough. It started with Stop And Smell The Roses (which I’ve never seen nor heard, but is ‘supposed’ to be good) and then with the incredible (and incredibly rare) Old Wave. The story (at least what I read on Wikipedia) goes that Ringo wanted to get right to recording, despite the fact that RCA in both America and the UK were dropping him, leaving him without a label in the two most important countries. So, as soon as Stop… had run its course, he got right to it, with pal and Eagle Joe Walsh. The sessions fly by and he wanted it out ASAP and it would get released by RCA’s other divisions in Canada, Germany, Japan and others. To this day, it remains one of Ringo’s hardest to find albums, along with Stop And Smell The Roses on either LP or CD. A version of Old Wave was issued on CD in the US (not in the UK, however), but that was only in print for a short time in 1994. (For the record, Stop… is fairly common on EBay in LP form, but the CD fetches a pretty penny.) So…how did I manage to get a hand on Old Wave? Well, it turns out that RCA in Japan released its own version of the album on CD, which does not go for as much on EBay as the US version, which included a bonus track. I won this Japanese version from a man in Belarus (of all places) for a mere $15!
So, after that incredibly long introduction and a huge amount of useless history that you’ll never find on your college exams, read on!

Starting with the lead single, the album gets off to a great start with one of the many Walsh-Starkey originals that grace the album, In My Car. It’s a great upbeat track, with some nice drumming and nice guitar work. The lyrics are classic Ringo, out from nowhere. The track is carefree rock ‘n’ roll. It’s so unfortunate that most people don’t get to hear this. Next is the laugher of Old Wave, Hopeless. It’s basically about a guy who doesn’t care about anything because “It’s hopeless.” With lines like “The Martians have invaded/it’s hopeless”, it’s so hard to not give out a chuckle. Again, the instrumentation is great, with a great, exuberant piano and nice lead guitar from Walsh. Alibi is a funky, wonky track, built around an incredible bass line. The track is slow, but good nonetheless, with steady drumming and interesting lyrics. Next is a sole Joe Walsh composition, Be My Baby. The lyrics are rather forceful to the woman subject. The song features a really cool ‘talking’ guitar effect, but the track sort of falls, with Ringo more or less acting as backing vocals to this guitar, which is more prominent than Ringo! The rest of the album is built around some pretty good covers. She’s About A Mover, a basic tune, with not much in the lyrical sense, was a hit song for author Doug Sahm in the 60’s. Although I’m not familiar with the song, I can say that Ringo does a great version of it, with intense horns and a great vocal performance.
I Keep Forgettin’ is an obscure Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song opens the second half of the album. The song is a nice blues tune, with great drumming and an incredible guitar solo. The extended coda runs a little too long and actually makes the track the longest song on the album! Next is a great track, I think, written by John Reid and John Slate, titled Picture Show Life. I absolutely love the guitar and keyboard work that answers Ringo’s lines. It’s just a nice track that shows that if Ringo has a good song to sing and a good band backing him, he can do an incredible job. Russ Ballard supplies Ringo with the slow, ballad song on the album in As Far As We Can Go. The song itself is great and Ringo does a good vocal job, but it falls with the old 1980s habit of replacing a real orchestra with cheesy synthesizers. The piano is well placed behind him, but the synth pretty much kills it. The slight percussion that comes in halfway through the song is good. However, the synth has killed it by then. Where a great string arrangement would lift the song and Ringo’s vocal, the synth instead takes it down, lowering the song into just another ‘80s track. Despite being only the eighth track on the album, it pretty much is the end and climax of the album, as Everybody’s In A Hurry But Me and Going Down are both just jam tracks. The former has a great band, with Eric Clapton on guitar with Walsh and John Entwhistle on bass, but it after hearing it you get a little disappointed. Ringo and Joe got these great guys to star on the album, but all you get is an instrumental track, with Ringo saying the title three times. The last track has a few more lyrics, but it still seems like a throwaway. There’s the introduction of a great harmonica part and even a semi-drum solo in the middle, but it really doesn’t help it. With all this great material on four-fifths of the album, you would think that Ringo and Joe could have come up with at least one more song to close the album.
The artwork for the album is really cool, with an old picture of Ringo (from the Hamburg days) graces the cover, with a picture of Ringo’s hands (with a ring on each finger) holding his chops sitting on the back! This Japanese version completely recreates the LP packaging, including listing the titles under the ‘Side One’ and ‘Side Two’ banners. The only issue with that is, though, you need a magnifying glass to see the credits, which sit opposite the titles on the back. The disc is packaged in a sleeve that shows the LP labels on both sides. Also included is a lyric sheet that has the credits and a mini-biography of Ringo in Japanese on the other side. (Thankfully, the lyrics are in English.)
In conclusion, the album is a mix. As I said, the first eight tracks are really good, with the album sort of going from high (“In My Car”) to low (“As Far As We Can Go”). The album disappointingly ends with the two jam tracks, making t seem as if Ringo and Joe couldn’t think of some way to end the album, or at least come up with two more tracks. I mean, come on, you know you’ve hit rock bottom if you use loose JAM tracks to fill out the album. Nonetheless, if you can get a copy on EBay cheap, get it. There are some incredible tracks (“In My Car” and “Picture Show Life” particularly) here, and I seriously doubt that EMI will put it up for download on August 28, when they put up the rest of Ringo’s catalogue. “In My Car” is not included on the line-up for Photograph: The Best Of Ringo Star, which comes out on the same day. (You can tell that I am crossing my fingers that they put up Stop And Smell The Roses!)
Old Wave is an incredible addition to the Beatles solo catalogue and definitely better than what Paul put out in ’83 (Pipes Of Peace) and it’s a shame it is ignored.

So, that wraps up the twentieth review on my blog! I can't believe I made, it but I did. Although I start my freshman year at Hofstra University on Long Island, NY, I'm bringing a huge load of CDs that I've never reviewed, that, when time permits, I may get to. Wish me luck!

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