❉ Fifty years ago this week, Ringo Starr released the first bona fide solo Beatle album.
“Sentimental Journey hit the UK top ten and US top thirty. It’s an easy album to mock for its lack of bite, substance and menace. And yet it’s as pleasant to listen to as Double Fantasy, comfortable in its own skin as Lennon’s tributes to fatherhood were.”
Although 1970 was superficially a bittersweet year for Beatle fans, the music that came out of the tumultuous break-up could match anything that The Beatles produced in their ‘sixties heyday. Piano ballads Maybe I’m Amazed and The Long and Winding Road showed Paul McCartney could write beautifully inside and outside the band’s orbit. A piano also appeared on God, John Lennon’s exhilarating closure of the decade he’d seamlessly conquered. Then there was George Harrison, the disciplined spiritualist, his voice confidently strident through the Homeric triple-album All Things Must Pass.
Drummer Ringo Starr released two albums in 1970, his second Beaucoup of Blues one of the fixtures of ‘seventies country music. Before that, Starr released Sentimental Journey, a work that couldn’t eclipse any of the others musically but boasted its importance by coming out first. It beat both McCartney and Let It Be to the shops, echoing the standards that proved his mother’s favourite.
Not very punk is it, trying to please your mum? Whatever the sentiment, it was the first bona fide solo Beatle album, excluding The Family Way and Wonderwall Music as soundtracks, Electronic Sounds as a studio experiment and the myriad Lennon-Ono collaborations as some sort of avant-garde theatre, so, for my money, Ringo wins this prize. I’m sure he’s happy he won!
Good on him that he did. Never the most prolific of The Beatles singers (despite his lead performance in the film, Starr had no vocal duties to perform on A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack), Starr had developed a mature warble on his self-penned Don’t Pass Me By and Octopus’ Garden that lent itself to lounge ballads. This crooning style had an antiquated charm, likely to charm an older audience than his sixties contemporaries. Yet McCartney had shown a similar passion for the genre on the vaudevillean likes of When I’m Sixty-Four and Honey Pie. With Lennon’s invitation, Starr could restore many of his rock credentials drumming on the hard-edged Plastic Ono Band.
Sentimental Journey hit the UK top ten and US top thirty. It’s an easy album to mock for its lack of bite, substance and menace. And yet it’s as pleasant to listen to as Double Fantasy, comfortable in its own skin as Lennon’s tributes to fatherhood were.
Credited among the album’s arrangers are George Martin, Maurice Gibb, Klaus Voorman, Ron Goodwin, Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney (marking the duo’s last collaboration for some time). Through the standards, Starr’s voicework, rather than his stickwork, were the centre of attention. His Love Is Many a Many Splendoured Thing is the most successful, the baritone washing over a delightful concoction of strings and electric bass parts.
Stardust, a superlative ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael number, is confidently translated and then there’s twenties standard Bye Bye Blackbird, sung with music hall wit. The title track proves an emotive listen, understanding how sentimental the drummer must have felt as he watched his Liverpool bandmates tear each other apart verbally.
He didn’t need them anymore. He could sing, play and, as he proved in the seventies, could write his own hits. As the seventies wore on, each of the Beatles would enjoy an incredible string of hits. In 1973 alone, My Love, Give Me Love and You’re Sixteen captured the hearts of the radio listening public. McCartney painted pictures of the Scottish mountains, Lennon a world free of possessions, while Harrison and Starr joined together to sing about a series of personal photographs. If Sentimental Journey was untrendy, at least it started the trend. Normally seated behind his bandmates, it was Ringo Starr who lunged forward and took one for the team. Think of that next time you want to quote Jasper Carrott.
❉ ‘Sentimental Journey’ was originally released in the UK on 27 March 1970 (Apple PCS 7101), and in the US on 24 April 1970 ( SW 3365). A budget edition was released in February 1981 by Capitol. ‘Sentimental Journey; was remastered and reissued on CD in 1995. The music video for the title track appeared on the CD/DVD version of ‘Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr’.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.