In the summer of 1989, Ringo Starr proved that fading, under-employed rock stars like Levon Helm, Billy Preston, Joe Walsh, Dr. John, and Rick Danko could rise out of the casino and state-fair circuit by joining forces in a giant supergroup that plays nothing but their biggest hits. And for the past 32 years, his All Starr Band has given refuge to countless other artists who can no longer fill the big venues on their own.
But Ringo took a year off in 1990 and gave an opening for others to try out the formula. And since the Eagles, the Who, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were all inactive at the time, a one-time-only union of Joe Walsh, John Entwistle, Keith Emerson, and former Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter came together to see if they could do it without a Beatle backing them up. Rounding out their lineup with drummer Simon Phillips and Canadian session singer Rick Livingstone, they called themselves the Best and launched a short run of Japanese dates in September 1990.
Cameras were rolling when they played the Yokohama Arena on September 26th, 1990, which means we can simply log onto YouTube to see one of the few shows in rock history where “Life in the Fast Lane” goes directly into the Who’s “My Wife,” Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva,” ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
This may sound like a train wreck, but these guys didn’t call themselves the Best for no reason. Every musician on that stage is an absolute virtuoso, even if this was an era where they were known to enjoy a cocktail or two between sets. As you can see from this video of “Reelin’ in the Years,” the only weak link is their singer. We’re sure Rick Livingstone is a great guy and he gave it his all, but asking anyone to be Don Henley, Roger Daltrey, Donald Fagen, and Greg Lake all at once is just too much.
Sadly, the Best lasted just a little under two weeks and is now little more than a tiny classic-rock footnote. Much like George Harrison’s 1991 tour and Jimmy Page and David Coverdale’s 1993 run, they couldn’t seem to get it out of Japan. But Ringo Starr didn’t seem to mind that others copied his formula. He welcomed Walsh back into the All Starr Band in 1992, and Entwistle followed in 1995. The whole thing just works a lot better when there’s a Beatle on the drums and they don’t have some rando singing all the songs.