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Interview: Robert Rodriguez on first decade of Beatles' solo careers, part 2

The cover of "Solo in the '70s."
Parading Press

(Introduction: Robert Rodriguez's latest book, “Solo in the '70s: John, Paul, George, Ringo 1970-1980,” is a detailed, through look at the careers of each Beatle through the decade. The book covers everything: the music, the members, lawsuits, concerts, Apple Records and much more. He is also the author of "Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock 'n' Roll." We questioned Rodriguez by email.)

Q: What, in your opinion, are the best solo albums for each Beatle?
Robert Rodriguez: “I’ll limit my response to the decade covered in the book: with Ringo, you can’t escape the success of the 'Ringo' album, as a purely commercial, crowd-pleasing undertaking. Richard Perry’s production was pitch-perfect, and he set the template for the successes that followed, which included 'Goodnight Vienna' and 'Ringo’s Rotogravure.'

“Artistically, I wonder if Ringo drew more satisfaction from his earlier country album, 'Beaucoups of Blues.' While authentic country music is a limited taste among rock fans, this was very much an undertaking that made the most of his strengths/limitations. As a listening experience, it holds up.

“John and George began their post-Beatles careers with landmark albums that were each one-off statements. They were so singular that they could not be repeated, not in terms of theme and certainly not in terms of impact. Therefore, I look to what followed as works that perhaps didn’t receive their due; maybe not at the time, maybe not now.

“John’s 'Walls and Bridges' was a work that did well at the time, as I’d mentioned, but remains greatly overlooked today, very likely because it was so undervalued in hindsight by its creator. I think it’s because it was the only album of original material that he ever issued without Yoko at his side, and he dissed it while promoting 'Double Fantasy.'

“As it happened, it was also John’s most successful upon release; not even the 'Imagine' single made it to number one. I see 'Walls and Bridges' as a sustained song cycle where his deeply personal song craft was presented with the sheen of accessibility, absent on Plastic Ono Band.

“With George, I think his body of work as a whole holds up very well, if you are willing to exchange ear candy for depth. His music has been tagged as preachy, even boring at times, but I think if you give it a chance and let the music sneak up on you, you will be rewarded. The melodicism is unending, and while he didn’t particularly rock hard most of the time, you can’t help but admire that Harrisonian guitar - possibly the most distinctive instrumental voice of all the Beatles.

“Setting aside 'All Things Must Pass' as the obvious high point everyone gravitates to, 1976’s 'Thirty-three & 1/3rd' is probably the collection of his containing the biggest dose of humor throughout, not something he often let creep into his work. All the Harrison hallmarks are there: stellar musicianship, with contributions from Billy Preston and Gary Wright, crisp production, first-rate material, some of which went back to the Beatle days and weighty subjects without the usual ponderous tempos.

“Paul, with Wings, produced a number of chart-topping albums, some of which I frankly don’t think rank among his best work. I do think that it was the hit singles that propelled things like 'At the Speed of Sound' and 'Red Rose Speedway' to number one at the time. But the one that I think people have finally started to take a good second look at is 1971’s 'Ram,' credited to Paul and Linda. This was a work worthy of the guy that gave us 'Abbey Road' and its memorable side two medley.

“The amount of musical ideas flying by are beyond counting, but unlike other instances where they just don’t add up to anything, here they are deftly woven together, creating a seamless listening experience. From the opening salvo of 'Too Many People' to the lush but passionate 'Back Seat of My Car,' I hear Paul operating with his usual calculation subsumed by compete abandon.”

Q: Was Paul's idea to work with Linda inspired by John's work with Yoko?
Robert Rodriguez: “It’s hard to completely conclude otherwise, especially when Paul purportedly literally used the words when telling John about his debut album, 'I’m doing what you’re doing.' With both men, they clearly felt the need to fill the absence of each other in their lives with people that loved them and would support them unconditionally.

“Now Yoko was an artist in her own right, prior to coming into the Beatles’ orbit. She’d staged avant garde concerts, written free verse and poetry; and while her style was as far removed from the commercial accessibility as the Beatles’ work as is possible, there was a musical background there. That said, John’s collaborations with her were intermittent. They only made two joint rock albums and one single together overall in his lifetime, mostly keeping their projects separate.

“Linda’s qualifications to join her husband as a musical partner were nonexistent. She was a fan, and not a musician or writer of any kind. She entered into the partnership reluctantly and with no ambitions of her own. It is a measure of her devotion to Paul that she was willing to withstand the mountain of abuse thrown her way, not just from critics and fans but also her fellow bandmates in Wings.

“That aside, this didn’t mean that she brought nothing to the table. With Denny Laine, she contributed a vocal blend that defined Wings. Their voices combined well, and that really became their signature sound.”

Q: What are George and Ringo's proudest solo moments?
Robert Rodriguez: “
Musical accomplishments aside, which I detailed above, we can easily find a few events that stand out. With George, organizing the Bangladesh charitable effort must have given him a great deal of personal satisfaction, albeit probably balanced out by the headaches it caused. It was the first high profile all-star rock benefit, commonplace enough now, that showed the world that a bunch of pampered strung out rock stars were capable of looking past their own interests to contribute to something greater than themselves.

“With Ringo, look no further than his efforts to channel that cinematic 'it' factor evident since 'A Hard Day’s Night.' His co-starring role in 'That’ll Be The Day,' wherein he played roughly a version of his pre-Beatles self, rightly earned him accolades, even the suggestion of an Oscar nomination. He definitely had the skill set to take on character roles, something that it’s a shame he didn’t explore further ever after.”

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