Catch up on Part 1, if you haven’t read it yet.
It’s 1970 in an alternate universe where the Beatles never existed. Four unknown English musicians – Ringo Starr (30), George Harrison (27), John Lennon (30), and Paul McCartney (28) – release their first albums in the first three years of the decade. Do they become famous rock stars or remain obscure? That is what I’m going to keep in mind as I listen to these earliest post-Beatles recordings.
Artist: Ringo Starr
Album: Beaucoups of Blues
Release Date: 25 September 1970
Favorite Tracks: Beaucoups of Blues, Fastest Growing Heartache in the West, Nashville Jam
Ringo switches gears from standards to Country & Western on his second solo album of 1970. His voice is suited to country and the songs have a nice Hank Williams vibe, although I’m not sure many would want to listen to this if they could listen to original country legends instead. There are some nice songs, especially early on, but there are also some songs that overly silly and/or lazy and kind of embarrassing for poor Ringo.
Artist: George Harrison
Album: All Things Must Pass
Release Date: 27 November 1970
Favorite Tracks: I’d Have You Anytime, Wah-Wah, What is Life, Awaiting on You All, All Things Must Pass, Plug Me In, Thanks for the Pepperoni
George Harrison must’ve bottled up a lot of songs in his last years with the Beatles, and unleashes them on this three-disc album. Arguably, with previous efforts being experiments in music and/or hasty personal recordings made public, this is also the first “real” album by a solo Beatle. I really like the big-band sound and slide guitar Harrison adopts for this album. And after all these years, I still don’t think “My Sweet Lord” sounds all that much like “He’s So Fine.” Despite being a triple-album, nothing here is filler – although I also think “What is Life” is the only standout song – but the whole thing flows in a cohesive whole. The large stable of guest musicians is also a plus, especially on the Apple Jam tracks.
Artist: John Lennon
Album: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Release Date: 11 December 1970
Favorite Tracks: Mother, Working Class Hero, Remember, Well Well Well
John works through some issues and explores his feelings in his first true post-Beatles recordings. Powerful vocals, thoughtful lyrics, and good instrumentation predominate on the album. The songs on this album are often referred to by rock critics/biographers but are less familiar to me because they’re never played on the radio, even the Classic Rock radio. Granted, there are some f-bombs, but it’s still a shame that Lennon’s legacy as a solo artist is built on some of his lesser works.
Artist: Paul and Linda McCartney
Release Date: 17 May 1971
Favorite Tracks: Too Many People
McCartney improves upon his solo debut with better production values, instrumentation, and some great harmonies on his sophomore effort. Unfortunately, the songs are lyrically frothy and empty for the most part. It’s so odd after hearing Ringo sing sad country songs, George’s spiritual exploration, and John’s primal scream that Paul is just so damn chipper! Ironically, the only stand out track is “Too Many People” where Paul wallows in nastiness long enough to to take a swipe at John and Yoko. There’s one song on this album I’m familiar with – overly so – and that’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” which is overplayed on the radio despite fact that it’s terrible. Even in the context of Ram, this is the absolute worst song.
Artist: John Lennon
Release Date: 9 September 1971
Favorite Tracks: Imagine, Crippled Inside, It’s So Hard, I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama
Speaking of overplayed songs, this album’s title track is more worthy of that treatment, a true classic and more politically radical than it’s given credit for. On the other end of the spectrum is “Jealous Guy,” overplayed, but it just creeps me out as it’s basically domestic abuser apologetics. The rest of side 1 is a good set of blues-based rock, that I really like. Side 2 is mostly softer songs – a bit overproduced – but not too bad.
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Album: Wild Life
Release Date: 7 December 1971
Favorite Tracks: Mumbo
Wings takes flight with an album deliberately recorded in a rush with minimal takes for a desired “raw sound.” The songs rock more than on the similarly unfinished McCartney, but Paul & Co. apparently didn’t have much time for lyrics as the album features a lot of nonsense words on the first few songs. I do appreciate the effort to make peace with John on “Dear Friend” though.
Artist: John Lennon & Yoko Ono and Elephant’s Memory
Album: Some Time in New York City
Release Date: June 12, 1972
Favorite Tracks:Sisters O Sisters, New York City, John Sinclair, We’re All Water
This album begins with the biggest “what were they thinking?” as far as trying to make a commendable political statement in the worst possible way. The cheerful, 60s girl-band style “Sisters O Sisters” with Yoko on lead vocals is a much, much better feminist anthem. This album features some of Ono’s best work to date. The political protest songs keep coming with songs about the Attica State prison uprising and brutal suppression, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and imprisonment of activists John Sinclair and Angela Davis. There’s a lot of intense energy and immediacy in these songs but they also suffer from short shelf-life, more news report than art. The autobiographical rocker “New York City” may be the standout song on this album for being a personal reflection, albeit the personal is political in Lennon’s immigration troubles. The Live Jam portion makes me think that going to see Lennon, Ono, and company in concert could’ve been pretty fun.
In two short years, the Beatles had broken up, and new bands had coalesced – Wings, Elephant’s Memory, the collective of artists jamming with George, and Ringo’s all-star support crew. None of these bands would ever be real bands in the way the Beatles were (no, not even Wings), but they were proof that the former Beatles could not work alone.
To answer the counterfactual I proposed in the opening paragraph, if four artists who’d never been the Beatles made they’re debut in 1970, would they have been successful by 1972? Surprisingly, I think Harrison is the most likely to succeed, although he wouldn’t have gotten away with releasing a triple-album for his debut. Lennon, too, would see some success, although people would be confused about these “Beatles” he doesn’t believe in. Starr may have found himself a drummer in a band somewhere, but definitely not crooning country tunes. And, McCartney … well, his early solo material was poorly received at the time, so his Beatles’ fame is really the only thing that let him continue to make more dreck, so I think alternate universe McCartney would be a flop.