McCartney Times

In defence of Ringo Starr – a masterful drummer and the Beatles’ unsung genius | Music | The Guardian

In defence of Ringo Starr – a masterful drummer and the Beatles’ unsung genius | Music | The Guardian

In defence of Ringo Starr – a masterful drummer and the Beatles’ unsung genius | Music | The Guardian
September 19
09:35 2017

In 1983, the British comedian Jasper Carrott made an unhelpful contribution to Beatles legend when he coined a joke that would go down in history: “Ringo isn’t the best drummer in the world,” he quipped. “He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

It resonated, to the extent that it entered into Beatles lore as the wisdom of John Lennon. That was eventually debunked by Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn – but the misrepresentation says a great deal about the public’s perception of Ringo Starr: a non-musician who got lucky, a journeyman alongside three musical geniuses.

This is total nonsense. Ringo, whose new album Give More Love has just come out, wasn’t just the funniest Beatle, the life and soul of those early press conferences; and he wasn’t just the best drummer in the Beatles. He was the best drummer for the Beatles.

This is a vital distinction to make. His beats may not have had the furious technical clarity of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, say, or the phenomenal precision of James Brown’s drummer, Clyde Stubblefield. But what he had was perfect for the Beatles, where Bonham would have been too showy and Stubblefield too tight.

Most drummers recognise this. “Define ‘best drummer in the world’,” Dave Grohl said in a tribute video for Starr’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame presentation. “Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.”

What this means is that many of Ringo’s best performances go unnoticed. These are beats designed to enhance the song rather than show off the drummer’s abilities. Take She Loves You, the song that kicked off Beatlemania. Ringo’s brief introductory tom roll is the shot of adrenaline that gets the heart of the song thumping; it is teen mania in sound, and one of the most important drum rolls in recorded music history.

On Can’t Buy Me Love, Ringo’s drumming is the primal force that drives the song’s hormonal energy, all whipcrack snare and floor-tom bombast, wrapped up in Ringo’s signature sound: a wall-of-sound hi-hat thrash that sounds like five drummers at once. His drumming here is not complicated but – as numerous live versions of the song attest – it is lethally exact with not a note out of place, giving the lie to the notion, repeated by John Lennon in a 1980 Playboy interview, that Ringo was “not technically good” as a drummer.

Another criticism of Ringo is that he wasn’t a creative god like the other Beatles. He didn’t write the songs and he wasn’t a studio genius like producer George Martin, who helped to mould Lennon, McCartney and Harrison’s tunes into something spectacular. Again, this is nonsense. Octopus’s Garden may not put Ringo into the songwriters hall of fame, but his drumming helped to shape countless Beatles classics, bringing personality and life to them.

Consider Tomorrow Never Knows, one of the most influential Beatles songs. How would it sound without Ringo’s beautifully lopsided breakbeat, his unexpected twitching snare pattern emphasising the song’s feel of psychedelic discombobulation? How would Strawberry Fields Forever feel without Ringo’s fantastically weary tom fills, which seems to drag the listener down into Lennon’s nostalgia?

Some people consider Ringo to be a terrible drummer because he doesn’t play solos. But who, apart from other drummers, really enjoys a solo? Ringo knew this and for years resisted all attempts to get him to play them, eventually giving in for the 15-second break on Abbey Road’s The End. It’s not flashy or difficult, but it has an understated funky charm and when it turned up on Beastie Boys’ The Sounds of Science 20 years later, it was hard to resist a smile.

The Chemical Brothers also borrowed the shape of the Tomorrow Never Knows beat for both Setting Sun and Let Forever Be, while J Dilla sampled Starr’s 1974 solo song Occapella on In the Streets. Other Ringo solo songs that prove the funk didn’t end when the Beatles split include the lolling glam funk of Back Off Boogaloo, the irresistible disco-ish stomp of Oh My My and the rolling percussive waves of It Don’t Come Easy, which has the added bonus of supporting an absolutely fantastic tune.

At 77, being the butt of drumming jokes is certainly not going to faze the famously phlegmatic Ringo Starr. But underestimate him at your peril. Because if you don’t get Ringo Starr, then you’re only getting three quarters of the Beatles – and that’s no laughing matter.

Source: In defence of Ringo Starr – a masterful drummer and the Beatles’ unsung genius | Music | The Guardian

About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

Related Articles


No Comments Yet!

There are no comments at the moment, do you want to add one?

Write a comment

Only registered users can comment.