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Meet the Beatle: A Guide to Ringo Starr’s Solo Career in 20 Songs

A crash course in the last 45 years of the most under-appreciated Beatle

Ringo Starr

02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Since the Beatles called it quits in 1970, the three men who stood in front of the stage have had no problem building their legacies — John Lennon wrote the iconic “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance,” George Harrison released All Things Must Pass and spent time as a Traveling Wilbury, Paul McCartney headlines Super Bowl halftime shows and Olympic opening ceremonies. 

Drummer Ringo Starr, alas, has not been afforded the same luxury: After a string of hit singles in the early Seventies, he’s mostly been out of the musical spotlight, reappearing as a consummate session man (he’s drummed for Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Ben Harper among others) or as a voice actor.

Starr’s Award for Musical Excellence at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony gives the drummer some well-deserved, and long-overdue, props as both a sideman and a solo artist. In the latter role, he’s released 18 albums, with his latest, Postcards From Paradise, due this month. Catch up with the career of our cover star with these 20 songs.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“No No Song” (1974)

Starr gets offered weed from Colombia, coke from Majorca (you even hear his nose sniff for that one) and bootleg hooch from Tennessee, but he turns them down because he's on the wagon and doesn't like floor-sleeping. Hoyt Axton, the folkie who also wrote the "Joy to the World" song about bullfrogs (i.e., not the Christmas one) and "Greenback Dollar" (which introduced the word "damn" to pop music), was the author; his more mariachified version didn't come out until a bit after Starr's, but at least it had Cheech & Chong on it. The music's real root, though, is apparently the Rhodesian number "Skokiaan," (first recorded in 1947), the title of which actually gets affixed to certain pressings of Ringo's records.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“(It’s All Down to) Goodnight Vienna” (1975)

This rousing New Orleans-style rock & roll number, written by Lennon, lifted its title from a British slang term for “it’s all over.” And after this minor hit, it was pretty much goodnight Vienna for Starr’s career as a hitmaker. Not even his charisma could enliven the slick studio rock of the two last albums he’d release in the Seventies.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“Wrack My Brain” (1981)

In 1980, Starr was hopeful for a comeback. Lennon had written two great songs for him and George Harrison offered up a third. But the former's tunes quickly became off-limits after his murder in December: A demo of "Nobody Told Me" was set aside to become a posthumous Lennon hit and the playful country tune "Life Begins at 40" was now gruesomely inappropriate. As for Harrison's contribution, he kept "All Those Years Ago," revamped as a tribute to his late bandmate, and offered Starr this uptempo bit of fun in exchange. The track, which peaked at Number 38, became his final single to chart.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“Act Naturally” (Buck Owens With Ringo Starr) (1989)

Starr was a longtime fan of Owens, a pioneer of country's stripped-down Bakersfield sound, who scored a Number One country hit with "Act Naturally" in 1963. Of course, Starr first recorded the number for Help! in 1965, a little joke about his budding acting career. Fourteen years later, in 1989, the timing was right for them to do it together: Owens' career had just been revived by a duet with his young disciple Dwight Yoakam, and Ringo had just begun touring with his All-Starr band. The video, with these two expert hams playing bumbling gunfighters, is even more fun than the song.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“Weight of the World” (1992)

Back in the groove after touring with his All-Starr Band, Ringo recorded his first album in nearly a decade, 1992's Time Takes Time, and the lead single was his best song since the Seventies. As though taking a hint from Starr's buddy George Harrison, producer Don Was arranged shimmering 12-string guitars to take on an almost Wilbury-ish feel.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On” (1999)

Starr's 1999 Christmas album, I Wanna Be Santa Claus, contained the usual standards like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Winter Wonderland," as well as "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," a song the Beatles had recorded for their 1967 Christmas message. But for the promo single, Starr got back to his glam roots with this football chant, featuring background vocals by Jeff Lynne.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“The Official BBC Children in Need Medley” (as Thomas the Tank Engine) (2009)

Many millennial tots are likely to have first encountered Ringo not as a Beatle, but as the voice of the original narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine or as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. Here, he joined in with a number of other British kiddie show voice talents for a strange medley that starts out with the Jacksons' "Can You Feel It" and arrives at Elbow's "One Day Like This," with stopovers in "Jai Ho!" and "Hey Jude." 

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“Walk with You” (with Paul McCartney) (2009)

Starr had initially planned to pen a song about God, with something of a gospel flavor, but writing partner Van Dyke Parks took the tune in a more secular direction. The new topic was friendship and its power to endure over the years, which made it the ideal setting for a collaboration between the two surviving Beatles as they neared their seventies.

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02 Jul 1969 --- Ringo Starr Playing Acoustic Guitar --- Image by © Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

Douglas Kirkland/Corbis

“I Wish I Was a Powerpuff Girl” (2014)

As adorable and animated in his way as the Powerpuff Girls themselves, Starr was just the Chemical X the Keane-eyed crime fighters’ 2014 comeback special needed. “‘Cause then I’d save the world, and afterward, cuddle up with a puppy or two,” he sings, proving that you’re never too old to dream of becoming a lab experiment gone awry.

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