Pop Life

Rotation: Ringo Starr, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo

Confession: I don’t really like the Beatles.

Exception: Ringo Starr.

Why, you ask? With three other brilliant Beatles, why Ringo? Why, indeed. The answer is complicated, and does not lie in the songs of Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo.

In the history of the earth, only four people have claimed the distinction of “the best-selling music act of all time,” as Wikipedia succinctly explains. Four humans have sold over an estimated 1 billion records and are #1 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Make no mistake—that’s not the 100 greatest musicians of, say, the past 100 years. No, it’s the 100 greatest artists of all time.

That’s right. The Beatles are the best artists who have existed since the Big Bang.

This generally implies that if you don’t like the Fab ones, you are a rock and roll heretic, atheist and pariah who should be ostracized, or at least given funny looks when you express your opinion. I am one of those sacrilegious people, which is why I adore Ringo.

Ringo Starr, a.k.a Richard Starkey, is the Beatle in the background. By his own admission, he can only play guitar in the key of E and piano in the key of C. He has never single-handedly penned a Beatles hit. Some people say he’s an adequate drummer, but let’s face it, he’s not John Bonham. He’s not Keith Moon. Heck, this Web site lists the drummers of Jethro Tull, Toto, Rainbow, and Journey ahead of Ringo, and he barely edges out Aretha Franklin’s drummer for 47th place.

Starkey’s singing voice is inoffensive yet unremarkable. He’s arguably influenced more children with his acting role as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and as Shining Time Station’s Mr. Conductor than with his musicianship. Personally, I prefer him as the Mock Turtle in the 1985 TV movie Alice in Wonderland. Which brings me closer to my point. Any billion-selling music artist who dances around in a turtle suit and tights and blows blue sparkly dust out of his mouth has earned my respect. None of the other Beatles did that.

Ringo is smart like Hillary Clinton is smart – hear me out. Hillary has used her husband’s connections, among other things, to propel herself to the forefront of the 2008 Democratic campaign. In the same way, Ringo Starr, ho-hum drummer that he is, hitched a ride with the No. 1 band of all time. If only everyone could be so lucky! If only every Joe Schmoe who fiddled with an instrument was entitled to sell a billion records by virtue of being surrounded by alleged geniuses.

Ringo’s sunglasses, which seem permanently affixed to his face, encapsulate his stardom in a single, pristine symbol. Imagine, if you will, an adequate drummer in 1962 Liverpool. One day, he spies a pair of shades – perhaps the day young John Lennon first attends a Richard Starkey performance.

Starkey thinks to himself, “Hmmmmm…maybe these will make me look like a pop star.” He dons the sunglasses, and swoosh! Like Jim Carrey in The Mask, the shades supernaturally attach to his face, and a star is born. Richard Starkey is now Ringo Starr: icon, legend and superhero. And drummer. Those sunglasses are the ruby slippers of rock and roll.

But back to Photograph. Many songs credit Ringo as writer or co-writer, but he gets substantial help from acquaintances such as George Harrison, John Lennon, Elton John and Richard Perry. The tunes are bouncy and catchy in a Partridge Family kind of way. Probably their biggest crime is likeability without profundity.

The liner notes, penned for each song by Starr, reflect his trademark nonchalance, and the limited edition’s bonus DVD tracks him doing the following: grooving with backup dancers, nodding with a penguin bobble-head, swinging on a teeter-totter, drumming with ping-pong paddles, and romancing a 16-year-old girl. The absurdity makes it all worthwhile.

In short, the collection epitomizes Ringo’s brand of cool: relatively normal and eternally endearing. Not to mention one of only two living alumni of the most successful, critically acclaimed rock band of all time. – Linda Leseman