Ringo Starr's Goodnight Vienna (1974)

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Hurt feelings, toxic masculinity and competition kept everyone at arm’s length, except Ringo, because the loveable motherfucker didn’t have any teeth. So they wrote him songs, never their best stuff, but good enough for Ringo. Not good, good enough, nothing that’ll gum up the charts.  

This record is evidence against learning by osmosis, that in spite of the odds, a decade playing music with three of the greatest songwriters of all time will not teach anyone how to write songs. Money, leisure, and fame can’t overcome the gnawing belief that your richer, more-leisurous, more-famous friends are the REAL stars, and it’s hard to argue. When Ringo stayed in bed all day, there were no cameras. He sings John’s words on the title track: “Don't call no doctor when ya just feel like crying, Uh Huh Hah.”

And in spite of everything, Ringo still reaches. It’s heroic, in its way, a rich-desperate triangulating of Hercules, Sisyphus, and Willy Loman. The corny title track even gets a reprise at the end, a jaunty bookend that acts as if what you’ve just heard is a concept album. And it is, just not in the narrative world-building rock-opera-statement sense. The concept here is more like Your C-Sides + My Cocaine = Goodnight Vienna.   

The one solo Ringo composition on this record, “Call Me,” fades out with what might be the clearest summation of this relationship: “Call me if you want to see me/ Call me if you still want to be my friend/ Call me if you want to see me/ Call me if you still want to be my friend…” It’s a testament to Ringo’s interpersonal professional relationships that so many talented people picked up the phone. Maybe that’s how we should hear this record. Certainly, it’s better than actually listening to it.    

— Ghil Scraw

Phil Shaw