Revisiting Ringo Starr’s Solo Debut, ‘Sentimental Journey’
If anything, the first few Beatles solo releases underscored the group's essential complexity.
After wild experiments with keyboards and soundscapes from George Harrison and John Lennon, respectively, Ringo Starr followed with a debut that explored pre-rock standards favored by his parents' generation. Paul McCartney then issued his own homey, acoustic album. It was like they were taking the White Album apart, piece by piece.
For Starr, who was working again with producer George Martin shortly after the arrival of the Beatles' Abbey Road, this was as comfortable a place as any to begin his own journey away from their fame. Sentimental Journey was released in late March 1970 – just weeks before the Beatles' finale, Let It Be – and featured photographs of Starr's family superimposed into the windows of an old building near his place of birth in Liverpool.
"I wondered, What shall I do with my life now that it's over?" Starr mused in the album's original liner notes. "I was brought up with all those songs, you know, my family used to sing those songs, my mother and my dad, my aunties and uncles. They were my first musical influences on me. So I went to see George Martin and said, 'Let's do an album of standards, and to make it interesting we'll have all the arrangements done by different people.'"
These "different people" included Martin ("Dream") and McCartney ("Stardust"), but also the Bee Gees' Maurice Gibb ("Bye Bye Blackbird"), Richard Perry (who later produced Starr's huge self-titled hit album in 1973), longtime Beatles confederate Klauss Voormann ("I'm a Fool to Care") and jazz stars of the day like Quincy Jones ("Love Is a Many Splendored Thing"), Oliver Nelson ("Blue, Turning Grey Over You") and Chico O'Farrill ("Night and Day").
It all drew a straight line back to the easygoing charm of Starr's White Album-closing turn on Lennon's "Good Night." Unfortunately, Sentimental Journey didn't boast that earlier project's heady eclecticism. Instead, Starr remained firmly entrenched in a prewar vibe that had little to do with his mainstream success as the vocalist on Fab Four favorites like "Boys," "Yellow Submarine" or "With a Little Help From My Friends."
Nevertheless, such was the the level of interest in anything Beatles-related at the time that Sentimental Journey is said to have sold some half a million copies during its first week of release in the U.S., becoming a surprise Top 25 hit. Starr fared even better in the U.K., where Sentimental Journey shot to No. 7. "The great thing was that it got my solo career moving – not very fast, but just moving," Starr later told Mojo. "It was like the first shovel of coal in the furnace that makes the train inch forward."
Indeed. Even amid the deeply nostalgic classicism of Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter, there remained the fast beating heart of a pop star. On Feb. 18, 1970, the same day that Ringo Starr put down the vocal track for the Les Reed-arranged closer "Let the Rest of the World Go By," he also made his first pass at a demo called "Gotta Pay Your Dues." Completed for release in April 1971, the retitled "It Don't Come Easy" would become a kind of theme song for Starr, shooting to the Top 5 all over the world.