Review: Ringo Starr ‘What’s My Name?’
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Of all the Beatles, Ringo Starr was the only one the other three could agree upon. George Harrison thought Starr had the best backbeat of any drummer. John Lennon wished all human beings were as kind as him. As for Paul McCartney, he and his former drummer have now been friends for half a century.
And when it comes to Starr’s albums, they, like him, are agreeable. There have been some strokes of brilliance, such as the almost Beatles reunion of Ringo. But for the most part, Starr has presented himself as a straight ahead entertainer.
And there’s a remarkable degree of self-acceptance – and modesty – to this persona. While Starr’s former bandmates spent years coming to grips with the shadow of Beatlemania, Ringo was already singing Lennon penned lyric, “I was in the greatest show on earth” in 1973. Starr had no pretensions about already having made his biggest splash.
What came next for him was reveling in the absurdity that he, the Beatles’ drummer, was now the main attraction. What’s My Name? continues to echo this idea some 48 years later. Like most of Ringo’s output, What’s My Name? is a record filled with famous guests and warm intentions. Key talking points have been the face-in-palm lyrics of opening track ‘Gotta Get Up To Get Down’, the weird retreading of With the Beatles cover ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, and a nostalgia-inducing interpretation of Lennon’s ‘Grow Old With Me’ recorded with Paul McCartney.
Let’s start with ‘Gotta Get Up’ on which Ringo complains of people “working out on Twitter.” Did he mean Instagram? He’s even recruited The Eagles’ Joe Walsh to echo this geriatric sentiment, with Walsh adding memorable line, “Everybody’s on the internet. What’s up with that?”
At first the heavily synthesised ‘Money’ seems pointless. One might think that the former Beatle had learned his lessons from the nadirs of 1980s and ’90s record production. But apparently not. It seems to serve little use other than pointing the listener back to With the Beatles or Barrett Strong. Catching sight of Ringo wearing a Lennon badge on the album’s cover though pulls upon the heartstrings, especially when it arrives with the realisation that it was John handling those vocals on the Beatles original.
Which leads to ‘Grow Old With Me’. The album’s third track sits heavy with emotion. It’s not hard to feel a twinge of something, especially knowing that when Lennon was laying down the original demo tape he was doing so with Ringo in mind. It’s some of the heaviest Beatles nostalgia either Starr or McCartney have invoked in recent times. Ringo sings it plaintive and to-the-point. As when he delivered those seminal Ringo numbers ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, ‘Don’t Pass My By’ or ‘Octopus’s Garden’ in past, Starr continues to remind us that life’s pleasures, problems, and solutions are often the simplest ones.
When you are Starr’s age any album could be your last. And then again it might not be. So why worry? Why not enjoy it? Why not rock ‘n’ roll? When the better part of your life is past, existence becomes as Starr once sang on ‘Imagine Me There’, “a fragile occupation.”
What’s My Name? is a simple record. Ringo doesn’t overstep his usual modus operandi, revisiting several familiar themes. Starr casts a warm and emotional presence. He continues to urge listeners to spread love and peace. And in doing so he demonstrates that with age comes an appreciation for the less complicated things in life. Ringo knows his role, the main thing he is here to do is to play music. And when he does, he makes those he plays it too feel good. This album nothing more complicated than that.