Ringo's country album! I love Ringo because he just doesn't seem to care. He'll just go up to anybody and ask them to be in his band because he knows they'll probably say yes based on one fact alone: he was a Beatle. No joke — this thing was recorded in Nashville with some of country music's top session players of the time. And I really don't get the feeling that Ringo didn't mean any of this 100%. Just have a listen to 'Without Her' and try not to get into it. Yeah, it's not the greatest thing ever, but it's a darn good rendition of the tune. Classy production throughout the whole thing and even a totally righteous Vietnam protest song on 'Silent Homecoming' at the end make for a pretty fun album. Sure, I wouldn't ever have listened to anything like this had Ringo not been in the Beatles, but isn't that the beauty of solo albums?
John Lennon — Mind Games (1973)
Probably the Lennon album that is most unjustly forgotten. The title track is one of his best tunes and, despite being produced and arranged by John himself, sounds totally like one of his Phil Spector-helmed ballads. Along similar lines, 'Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)', 'Out of the Blue' and 'You Are Here' strike me as some of his best love songs, just because of their relative unfamiliarity. There are some of those weirdly poppy/arty Lennon songs that pop up occasionally here too on 'One Day (At a Time)' and 'Intuition.' I expected to hate this one, honestly. It's pretty unarguably strong, after really sitting with it.
John Lennon — Shaved Fish (early 70's)
A collection that I had heard a good chunk of previously, but it does contain some key album tracks and non-album singles, so it was a good cost-effective way of getting some of that stuff. As an initial knee-jerk reaction —and even though I'd heard it before in passing— 'Cold Turkey' strikes me as one of the most badass things to come out of the entirety of the Beatles family tree of music. After a short intro of 'Give Peace a Chance', the album launches into that sonuvuhgun like it's not even trying to be a 'best of' collection (which it most certainly was supposed to be). The very next track is 'Instant Karma!' and, at that point, it's like, yeah, I know he's super popular and generations upon generations will worship him without even understanding why he was so important, but I'm just thinking in my own head, "This guy could write ANYTHING and be good at it." And the big thing here is: he meant every single word. There's other great stuff here, but it doesn't really hang together as an album too well. But, then again, it wasn't supposed to. One of the greatest songs of all time ('Imagine') going straight into John's pseudo-Bowie disco ramblings ('Whatever Gets You Thru the Night') is par for the course here, so if you just set aside any hopes of a really profound album, you'll get a great overview of John's career up until this point. '#9 Dream' is one of the album's final songs and, boy does it sound great right now. Again, I knew it in passing before, but coming through my stereo now, it's just clicking. A shame that history's written off Lennon between Imagine and Double Fantasy, because he really did do some great stuff in those interim years. This one shows up in dollar bins 'round these parts. Don't hesitate to grab it.
Paul McCartney — McCartney (1970)
I've fallen victim for too long to the thought that Paul was the weak link in the Beatles. He was an adequate bass player, maybe a campy singer and had a penchant for sappy tunes. But you know what? When he was first getting away from the band, he was just concerned with domestic life, simple pleasures and no nonsense tunes (okay, maybe a bit of nonsense). Pure jangly pop gems like 'Every Night' illustrate this perfectly. And while I don't like his favoring of the epithet "mama" (which he uses a lot over the course of these first few albums) I can't dislike such a fine tune. 'Junk' is one of the most melodically rich songs he ever did, Beatles or otherwise. Definitely the album's highlight. The album does have a bit of a tossed-off quality to it, as most of the songs are short and have simple lyrics (in fact, the two longest songs are instrumentals [the breakbeat classic 'Momma Miss America' and the strangely fitting closer 'Kreen-Akrore']), but as this was just McCartney sitting around throwing out ideas that were (probably) rejected from the Beatles, it's a darned good album that hangs together inexplicably well. 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is the one that people remember from this album and it's a good proto-power ballad. Overall, I find that, while there are definitely good songs here, the whole is, without question, greater than the sum of its parts.
Paul McCartney — Ram (1971)
Damn Ram! Somebody wrote an obnoxious review of this album that I read and it put me off listening to the thing for years. Finally putting it aside after realizing I've been upset by somebody's comments before I find this album that's just sheer pop exuberance. Every last song is catchy as hell. And it kind of rocks out a little. The title track is one of the album's quieter moments and one of Paul's best, complete with a totally ace multi-tracked vocal arrangement (and a whistle solo!). 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey' sounds straight out of the Abbey Road outtakes (and yes, that's Paul on proto-beatbox!) while 'Long Haired Lady' is the sort of sappy love song that seems to be a McCartney cliche. 'The Backseat of My Car' is, musically, probably the most ambitious thing Paul did in these days. Shifting arrangements and many layers of thought-out harmonies, it's a moment of pure earnestness and melodic brilliance from a one man band firing on all cylinders. He rarely sounded this genuinely happy ever again.
Wings — Wild Life (1971)
This album definitely sounds just as tossed off as his first solo album. But because he was sitting around with a group of musicians for the first time since the Beatles, it has a very jam session quality to it. Many of the songs might be seen as stupid or half-baked by some people, but I don't know. It all feels very genuine to me. I just like that it documents a series of recordings where Paul was probably sitting around telling Denny Laine things like, "No, play it like I would play it!" The first two tracks are the soul rock jam 'Mumbo' (which finds Paul mostly shouting the same two lines over and over again) and the Linda-sung blues vamp 'Bip Bop' so that should give you an idea of what's happening here. The cover of 'Love is Strange' is nearly reggae-fied, but things don't really get started until the title track closes out side one. A dense metaphor via a seriously stoney psych-blues jam and one of Paul's best vocals ever ("aminals" and all) seals the deal for me: this album is serious business after that. The content soft rockers 'Some People Never Know' and 'Tomorrow' point the way towards the band's future, while 'Dear Friend' is, hands down, no buts about it, one of McCartney's most affecting songs. Never thought I'd actually dig a Wings album. But, then again, I never thought I'd come to the realization that, at least in these initial years, Paul had the most consistent run of any of his former bandmates.