Mick Ronson was perhaps the ultimate limelight grabbing sideman. Be he by the side of Ian Hunter, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, or, most famously, David Bowie, Ronno always gave whoever he was backing up a certain amount of legitimacy and added star power. Quite why his own solo career consisted of merely two mid-70s efforts is something of a puzzle, as he certainly had an over-abundance of talent, both as a guitar player and arranger.
Play Don’t Worry, was Ronno’s second stab at a solo album and the follow up to the much-hyped, yet undervalued Slaughter on 10th Avenue. Consisting of a blend of cover versions and original material, and given Ronno’s vocal similarity to Bowie, Play Don’t Worry can often sound like a groovy alternative version of Pin Ups. Granted, it’s nowhere near as commercial, but it’s darker, moodier and more intense than it’s older sibling, albeit still connected by way of “White Light / White Heat”, which is basically a spruced up demo from the Pin Ups sessions.
For all its moody intensity, Play Don’t Worry is an album which smoulders, but never truly ignites. If anything it was the final clinching proof that Ronno would always be more comfortable collaborating with a frontman to give their work more impact, than he was being the guy under the sole spotlight. Not everyone is cut out to be the sole centre of attention, and it seems that Ronno always knew in his heart of hearts where his strengths lie, and it was rather over-enthusiastic management and record label that tried to mould him into a solo star.
It’s a shame that Ronno never again achieved the commercial success that he achieved as a Spider From Mars, and there’s certainly still a market for a career spanning compilation. Ideally such a compilation would span his pre-Bowie career, celebrate his work as a side man for Bowie, celebrate his contribution to the last days of Mott the Hoople and Hunter’s subsequent solo career, acknowledge his brief time backing up Bob Dylan, as well as the work he did in the last few years of his life. Of course, there would be all manner of tangled management and record contracts to contend with, but part of me still hopes that one day it will be done, if only to finally give Ronno the respect he deserves. Until then, we have Slaughter on 10th Avenue and Play Don’t Worry. They’re not bad albums, they just emphasise how much more comfortable he was helping others rather than just himself.