Though the mixes on this disc are only marginally different from the final ones that make up Ringo's rather beloved self-titled 1973 album, it's still an interesting set in that it emphasizes the "Beatle Superfriends" aspect in the creation of Ringo. Many, if not most, Beatles fans most enjoy the band's solo music when several Beatles are involved (rather than just one, especially if that one is Ringo). Ringo had all four, though only one or two at a time.
The presence of John, Paul, and George on these tracks is, of course, completely apparent in the regular album mixes, but these rough and semi-final mixes really make Ringo seem like a puppet. Which is fine, since that's what he was through much of his solo career. I mean, you don't really put Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in a room together and expect totally equal collaboration.
So when you look at these "Ringo-as-dancing-monkey" songs with a focus on the particular Beatle who is each track's organ grinder, you get a clear view of how each former Fab truly esteemed their old chum.
Only George seems to have genuinely respected and loved Ringo, as he contributed a couple of his best songs, "Photograph" and "Sunshine Life For Me," and this at a time when George's own albums weren't exactly jam-packed with classics. Both of these tracks are produced with an obvious intent to make Ringo sound really good, too, something that can't quite be said of John and Paul's contributions.
Now, clearly both John and Paul saw recording with Ringo as an opportunity to have a lot of fun, and the tracks show it. While the George tracks ring of friendship and the unpretentious joy of making music together, the John and Paul tracks definitely smack of "let's throw Ringo a scrap of crap and get good and plastered during the session." John's "I'm the Greatest" is in every respect a weird song, but he was right in seeing that it makes perfect sense as a Ringo track; as a Lennon track it would have been downright despicable. The Beatle-referencing lyrics established an unfortunate precedent for Ringo's career in particular. Though all of the Beatles spent too much time on in-jokes for the fans (and/or pathetic reminders to the public that they were once Beatles, you know), Ringo has been forced to rely on this crutch more than anyone, Billy Preston included.
Paul and Linda seem only marginally aware that they're even working with Ringo, except for the fact that they've thrown him one of the lamest MoMac throwaways ever, "Six O'Clock." You know how giant pharmaceutical companies seem to think old, expired medicine is "good enough" for impoverished third-world nations? That's how the McCartneys saw Ringo, I think. "Six O'Clock" is what happens when "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Hello Goodbye" disintegrate into worthless wisps of odorless powder five years past their expiration date.
"You're Sixteen" is a lot more fun, though it's clearly the James Paul McCartney show with Ringo as a semi-begrudged guest star, sort of like when the network forced "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" to allow Michael Chiklis to sit in for a week's worth of shows he tried his best, sure, but you can't say the regular cast particularly wanted him there. (Oh wait, that most likely never happened.) Anyway, with the exuberent kazoo solo and wide swath of background vocals, it's apparent that Paul sort of wished he hadn't commited the track to Ringo.
Ringo himself fares best on his own "Oh My My" and a great cover of Randy Newman's "Have You Seen My Baby," both of which show he didn't particularly need a little help from his friends. Even so, when the Beatles are having fun together, it's like a bunch of old chums hanging out, and the listener is included.
About half of the tracks on With a Little Help aren't even full mixes, but rather studio playback reels complete with tape stops and rewinding. These are semi-interesting if you're into album production, though again the mixes aren't too far off from the final ones, so there aren't any real sonic revelations even for rabid fans. Yet despite the multiple takes and frustrating playbacks, ultimately this disc does what it sets out to do: presents a snapshot of Ringo Starr getting ready for his moment to really shine, with his best mates by his side.
Review by "Fierce" Pierce Pettipong