Thursday, October 25, 2012

George Harrison/Ringo Starr discographies, ugh, heard.

Don't you love how those old Rolling Stone Record Guides just had to award a five-star rating to at least one album by each solo Beatle? The perfect scores are a perfect snapshot of early 1970s delusion when fans tried to convince themselves that the dream wasn't quite over yet. In this climate, it'd be difficult to resist George Harrison's de facto debut All Gas Must Pass, three discs of outpourings from the repressed Beatle. Why bearded types still adore the thing today remains a mystery, especially since they tend to ignore the third disc "Apple Jam." Even more baffling are the hosannas showered on Ringo Starr's de facto debut, Ringo. Certainly more fun than All Things Must Pass but can those who deem it a masterpiece really hum "Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away Raymond)" and most of side two on command? (Really?) And those are the five-star albums. (And those are the five-star albums?!?) Hmmm...

So whose discography is worse? It depends. Which route causes you the most pain - a musician following his spiritual muses in order to express himself artistically (George) or one adhering to standardized pop music forms because he really has no other choice (Ringo)? Me, I'll always opt for standardization where at least there's something to grasp - a pleasure in formula, say. When I reach for George's music, I get mashed potatoes smushing through my fingers - shapeless, inefficient for the long haul, requiring some sort of condiment to help it go down, etc. Add vocals worse than Bowie at his most theatrical and oh boy where are those Tums?

That's why I dug Wonderwall Music, Harrison's soundtrack to the 1968 British film Wonderwall - he doesn't sing on it. And if you need some ersatz 1960s party music, voila. Certainly more useful than much of what was to come. Sadly, lack of vocals does nothing for Electronic Sound (1969), 43:50 of George futzing around with his Moog.

As for the man's 1970s, some will insist that there's a gem buried on side two of x. Do not believe these people. There isn't even enough material for a full-length best of and Dark Horse (1974) and Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975) are two of the very worst albums of all time worth hating.

Somewhere in England (1981) and Gone Troppo (1982) bear the same relation to his discography that Back to the Egg (1979) and McCartney II (1980) do to Macca's  - quirky, new wavey attempts to keep up with the times and as such, his most attractive albums up to that point. In the first instance, Harrison's zeitgeistification was forced on him by Warner Bros., poor guy. Thank gawd, sez I. They allowed the dreadful George Harrison (1979) to happen so I cannot imagine what they vetoed (I know the orphans are out there - please don't tell me where kthxbye). Gone Troppo is pretty awful but hilariously so - from its opening "Gloria" (Laura Brannigan's) synths, it's bound to embarrass Beatlemaniacs, an undeniable pleasure as always.

Cloud Nine (1987) and Brainwashed (2002) are his best albums. For once, Harrison was wrestling with standardized pop music forms but like most of McCartney's 1980s output, Cloud Nine comes off a bit too, well, pro forma. Brainwashed is Cloud Nine knockin' on heaven's door. Recorded as he was deteriorating from cancer and released posthumously, it makes you wonder why he needed death to create something that finally connects so well. Maybe most of us do.

Ringo gets the edge over George because he's funnier. Or at least his albums are, inadvertently so at times. Sentimental Journey (1970) is a laff riot and a hell of a karaoke album. Gimme Ringo desecrating The Great American Songbook with his not-all-that-much-better voice over George's philosophizing any day. Just give it to me two, three times tops. I respond to it much more viscerally than Beacoups of Blues (1970) in which Starr tackles country non-standards. Not that an album of Jimmie Rodgers and George Jones covers would've been classic. But at least I'd recall it more quickly.

Ringo (1973) and Goodnight Vienna (1974) are as classic as this era gets and even there it's strictly stick-to-the singles. And then après ça, le poo poo. From Ringo's Rotogravure (1976) to the Canadian-import-only Old Wave (1983), he's on autopilot. You almost long for some self-expression here. Almost. If you're going to dip into one album from this low point in his career, I'd try Stop and Smell the Roses (1981) which features a decent ska-lite single, "Wrack My Brain," and "You Can't Fight Lightning," a CD bonus track of swampy self-indulgence with guest stars Paul and Linda (and wife Barbara Bach too!).

Did you know that he outpaced George in the 1990s (well, so did Sinatra) and has managed five releases over the past decade including 2012's very own Ringo 2012? No? And really, why would you? Whatever their quality, they are of as much consequence as the next Molly Hatchet stop at your state fair. If listen you must, go for Ringo Rama (2003) which is his best album ever. It crunches hard like he just heard of Nirvana and showcases his droll humor in anti-monarchy and pro-Barbara songs.

For the comp below, I reduced their discographies by simply alternating George with Ringo based on the theory that their voices sound better one song at a time. It works...sort of. (See if you can guess who sings what just by the titles.)

Starrison: And I'm Being Generous Here... (Bozelkablog, 2012)

1. Ski-ing    
2. My Sweet Lord      
3. It Don't Come Easy  
4. What Is Life  
5. Early 1970 
6. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace) 
7. Back Off Boogaloo 
8. Don't Let Me Wait Too Long 
9. I'm The Greatest   
10. This Song   
11. Photograph   
12. Crackerbox Palace  
13. You're Sixteen  
14. Love Comes To Everyone    
15. Goodnight Vienna   
16. All Those Years Ago   
17. No No Song  
18. Wake Up My Love     
19. Come on Christmas, Christmas Come On   
20. Got My Mind Set On You   
21. Eye To Eye   
22. Free Drinks    
23. Marwa Blues      

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