“It Don’t Come Easy” (Ringo Starr Cover)

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome back to another brand-new Laptop Session! Jim and I have been laughing this week about how funny it is that Ringo has used his classic phrase “it don’t come easy” in at least one song for his past three albums. This is, of course, a reference to his early hit “It Don’t Come Easy,” one of the first solo Beatles singles. I figured, why not go right to the source? So, here I am singing this great Ringo tune!

I just bought his new album, Liverpool 8, last week, and I have really been enjoying it. I was hesitant to buy it, since I had heard that he severed his working relationship with Mark Hudson. However, I was excited to see that Ringo, Hudson, and the Roundheads (Ringo’s studio band) co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album. And it had a lot to live up to — after all, Ringo Rama and Choose Love are great, if underrated, albums. In the end, I have to recommend it, whether you’re a fan of Ringo and/or rock ‘n roll. I’ll certainly be recording a Laptop Session for “If It’s Love That You Want” — track 10 — if not others in the future. And I’m not going to say much more than that about the album, but look for an article from me about Ringo’s and George Harrison’s solo careers in the coming weeks!

As always, thanks so much for listening (and reading)… I hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to come back to LaptopSessions.com tomorrow for an all-new session from Jeff!

Music Review: The Beatles’ “Let It Be… Naked” (2003 Remix)

By Chris Moore:

The chart-topping success of Let It Be is truly a testament to both the heights of Beatlemania and also to the abilities of the four Beatles to consistently top themselves in their songwriting and musicianship.  Even by 1970, amid tensions that caused all four to at least threaten to quit the band, they managed to come together (no pun intended) to finish the principal tracks for a new album.

This was made easier, of course, by the fact that this new album was based primarily on material that had been written and recorded before their previous record, Abbey Road, was released.

The true complication in this process arose when Phil Spector was somehow given the “okay” to add his signature studio treatment to the tracks.  Perhaps with the disagreements between the Fab Four obscuring their collective vision, Spector was allowed to turn these songs — many of them little gems — into overblown, overproduced testaments to the capabilities of a mixing board.  Orchestras aside, the original concept of this album (at least, when it was begun in January 1969) was that there would be no overdubs of any kind.  How the leap was taken from “no overdubs” to “here’s Phil Spector” is a subject of some debate.  The result?  An album that made many fans and sources close to the band wonder what it would have been like without all the accessorizing.

Let It Be… Naked puts an end to that inquiry.

The cover of the 2003 remix of "Let It Be"

The cover of the 2003 remix of “Let It Be”

As the title implies, Naked is a stripped-down, bare bones version of Let It Be that highlights the instruments and original vocals of the four Beatles which, not surprisingly, is more than enough to excite and entertain.  Ringo once pointed out that, despite all their issues and arguments, when the count began and a song was performed live, they transformed back into those four boys from Liverpool who just loved to play music together.  For anyone who thought that may have been an overstatement, this new take on their final album is the proof of its veracity.

Throughout Let It Be… Naked, the Beatles’ harmonies are tight and their instrumentation is simple yet impressive.  The drums and bass are particularly fun to focus on, perhaps imagining Ringo and Paul falling perfectly into the rhythm and putting all their combined experience, personal talent, and emotion into what would be these final released tracks.  Of course, John and George are just as much fun to listen to.  George’s guitar work, for instance, clearly never needed to be and never should have been buried beneath layers of production and overdubs.

Even the track listing is rearranged on this 2003 remix of the album, tossing out “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae,” as well as adding “Don’t Let Me Down,” a track that had made the cut on the earlier Glyn Johns mix of the album, before the project was shelved.  This is hardly a revelation — I don’t imagine many will miss the two deleted tracks and the album is certainly much better for the inclusion of the latter.

In every conceivable way, Let It Be… Naked is a success and finally presents the album as originally intended, making it a must-listen for any Beatles fan as well as any fan of rock music who is interested in hearing the real story of the final album of this legendary band.

COMING LATER THIS WEEK:  In addition to our regular Beatles cover songs, a review of the new Let It Be 2009 remaster.  How does it compare?…

Ringo Starr’s “Y Not” (2010) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  2.5 / 5 stars

Although Ringo’s past several albums have been billed as solo records, they have actually been songwriting and performance collaborations with a core of talented singer/songwriters better known as the Roundheads.  They have been musically and lyrically interesting and, at times, even ambitious.

Well, there is no question that Y Not is a true Ringo Starr solo release.

Whereas the collaborations on his past records could be traced through the liner notes and behind-the-scenes documentaries, it is clear that any collaborative efforts on this album are directed by Ringo himself.  Ownership is the key word for Y Not, as his fifteenth studio album finds him producing his own material for the first time in his considerably decorated career.

The result?  This is a fun record, one that Ringo and his assorted guests obviously enjoyed recording.  As the title implies, there is a generally carefree attitude ringing forth from these tracks, an attitude which Ringo has carefully cultivated over a lifetime’s worth of recording and performing.  As early as “Peace Dream,” his positive worldview is sung with as much emotion and sincerity as ever before, followed by the blunt honesty and autobiography of “The Other Side of Liverpool.”  The latter is different from many of his previously autobiographical tracks — think: “Liverpool 8” — in that it covers some darker realms of his past, but it does so with that same air of confidence and cool attitude that we have come to know and expect from the famous drummer for the Beatles.

Ringo Starr's "Y Not" (2010)

Ringo Starr's "Y Not" (2010)

There are many positive comments to be made about Y Not, to be certain, and yet the unfortunate flip side of the “ownership” coin is that this most recent Ringo release comes across as somewhat flat compared to his previous albums.  Anyone who has heard his recent work — Ringo Rama (2003), Choose Love (2005), even as far back as Time Takes Time (1992) — will note the diminished effect of this record.

Even from the outside looking in, Y Not is a black and white, one-fold booklet release with a minimum of effort put into design and packaging.  The advertisement label, never mind the album cover, looks like something I could have designed on Windows 98 and printed out on an inkjet printer manufactured a decade ago.  The advertisement sticker itself seems like an afterthought, placed on the bottom rear of the CD case.

But these are only superficial observations; obviously, an album should be judged first and foremost on the quality of the material contained on the CD or downloaded from Internet.

And this is where the true inconsistencies of the album begin.

There are some truly outstanding songs — the funky, uplifting “Time” and the aforementioned “Peace Dream” to name two.  Then there are some fun if mediocre tracks like the repetitive “Everyone Wins,” the somewhat phoned-in (pun intended) “Fill in the Blanks,” and the title track, which frankly borders on annoying, especially by the time the Indian-influenced middle section arrives. “Walk With You” narrowly avoids falling into this category by virtue of the fact that Ringo’s duet with Paul McCartney elevates it to “gem” status.  There is a reason why these two men were members of what was arguably the best rock band of all time.

Finally, there is a track which will make you shake your head, and not in a good way.  Consider the album closer “Who’s Your Daddy” which is every bit as embarrassing as it sounds.  This is essentially a Joss Stone song with Ringo Starr guest-dueting on the chorus, laying down the anchor phrase “Who’s your daddy?” amidst her lead vocal.

The review essentially boils down to this: Y Not is a disappointment if you’re looking for material to compete with the best material of his career, or even his recent career.  (If you think too long about the title, that’s an oddity and perhaps a disappointment in and of itself — IM shorthand?  Really?)

If you’re simply looking for some fun rock and roll to kick off your 2010 soundtrack, then give this one a try.  Even for all my criticism, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend an artist or band who can so consistently provide such fun, upbeat, positive rock music as Ringo always has and continues to produce.  And, really, between the excellent and embarrassing songs, there are some wonderful tracks like the oh-so-obviously Richard Marx co-written song “Mystery of the Night” and the one Roundhead throw-back “Can’t Do It Wrong,” both of which are more than up to snuff, earning a place alongside some of Ringo’s best album tracks.

The final verdict is that I’m sad to see the Roundheads disband, but I’m happy to have Ringo carry on and take more personal responsibility for his music than ever before.

And yes, embarrassing as it may be, I’ll be singing along with Ringo on “Who’s Your Daddy” just about every time…

Christmas, Volume 1 – Playlists on Parade

By Chris Moore:

Living for years with a friend who made it his business to know, love, and compile Christmas music, I’ve never really taken much ownership of the hundreds of holiday songs that are on my iPod, many of the older and/or more obscure selections having been discovered through him.  Of course, there are certain albums that I look forward to hearing every year.  These albums are collections of music that really help me get into the spirit of the season, ranging from classics like the Beach Boys’ sixties Christmas album to 2004’s Barenaked for the Holidays.

The problem I encountered last year was that the albums were easy to isolate in my iTunes, but the individual tracks from artists that I only listen to at Christmas time were more difficult to call up.  Some of the more legendary singers are easy to remember, like Bing Crosby and Burl Ives, but it is still inconvenient to flip between artists after every song or two.

This year, I was struck by the desire to hear the songs I missed last season, so I woke up early this morning to sort out all the yuletide tracks.  In the end, I had 340 songs in a playlist titled simply “Christmas Collection.”  Now, this is an excellent list to play on random when friends or family come over, or when you’re simply looking to mix it up.

But it could also be a drag to suffer through all your least favorite versions of your favorite songs or to keep hoping a song you’re thinking of is coming up next.

Thus, I sorted out my favorite songs into a separate playlist.  After I had picked through all 340 tunes, I found myself with 70 songs.  Still too many, so I forced myself – forced! – to cut out ten more.  With sixty remaining, I set about separating them into three more manageable lists of twenty each.

This is volume one of the creatively titled “Christmas” playlist series!

In this first playlist, I’ve included some of my absolute favorites, like the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” and the Moody Blues’ “Don’t Need a Reindeer.” I’ve also added some lesser known but equally excellent holiday themed tracks, like Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” (a song I definitely did NOT fully understand when I first heard it at age 12) and Relient K’s “I Hate Christmas Parties.”  One of the most difficult decisions for me here was whether to use the original and unarguably classic Band Aid version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”  In the end, I went with the BnL version, which is on the whole much more listenable, as it’s louder and clearer.

When they remaster the Band Aid version, I may need to revisit this playlist…

I’ll be back with more commentary on the tracks in specific and my process overall next Saturday, so be sure to check back for volume two!

1. “Little Saint Nick” (Single Version) – The Beach Boys

2. “Christmas Vacation” – Mavis Staples

3. “Don’t Need a Reindeer” – Moody Blues

4. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Barenaked Ladies (Band Aid cover)

5. “Back Door Santa” – Clarence Carter

6. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love

7. “Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives

8. “The First Snow” – Mike Fusco

9. “Winter Wonderland” – America

10. “Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On” – Ringo Starr

11. “Blue Christmas” – Elvis Presley

12. “I Hate Christmas Parties” – Relient K

13. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon

14. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Judy Garland

15. “Christmastime (Oh Yeah)” – Barenaked Ladies

16. “Christmas Time is Here Again” – The Beatles

17. “Christmas Don’t Be Late” – Alvin & the Chipmunks

18. “Run Rudolph Run” – Chuck Berry

19. “Here Comes Santa Claus” – Bob Dylan

20. “The Christmas Song” – Nat King Cole