A Beatle has come out for Brexit, although it seems that previously Ringo Starr claimed to have voted for it and now says he would have voted for it only he lives in Los Angeles these days. Perhaps he got confused. To paraphrase the saying about the happenings of the 1960s and mind-bending drugs: if you can remember the Brexit referendum you weren’t really there.
But one thing no-one should be confused about is Ringo Starr’s status as a great drummer in the pop and rock field. Inevitably, because he dared to open his trap on Brexit the old mockery has surfaced about his competence as a player. Old myths resurface. He wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles, said John Lennon. No, Lennon didn’t say that. The comedian Jasper Carrot did as a joke.
Incidentally, the Beatles would not have gelled fully without Ringo. In the gang all the others had grudges to varying degrees against each other. Paul always wanted to impress John. George deeply resented Paul being patronising. John coveted his status as leader of the gang and was thrown when Macca overtook him at various points creatively. But every one of the three simply loved Ringo, not just because of his loveable persona but for his drumming too, because it was as Lennon and McCartney used to say always there, right on the money, appropriate, simple, unpretentious, inventive. Later, in the early 1970s, through drink, drugs, bad records and hanging out with Keith Moon in LA Ringo became a bit of a twit, but he calmed down again later after drying out.
Thinking Ringo in the Beatles was a bad drummer is one of the surefire signs that a person does not know about music. It is almost as much of a giveaway as mocking the Beach Boys and thinking they were all about surfing, rather than Surf’s Up and Pet Sounds, or preferring the dire Guns and Roses to the far superior Stone Roses at their 1989-1990 peak.
Anyway, of course Ringo was not “great” in the highly technical complex manner of the best jazz drummers such as Jo Jones, Tony Williams with Miles Davis, or Max Roach, blending their intricate patterns and making it swing. The Beatles were pop and rock music made, initially at least, to be consumed on transistor radio or on a tinny Dansette record player in short bursts. Their three minute music thus needed to be propelled by something solid that held it together. Ringo did that. As the band developed, Ringo developed in tandem with George Martin (who came up with new ways of miking the drums) and got better and better with each album, until on the farewell Abbey Road he has invented the modern drum sound.
Anyway, here are five bits of evidence of the underrated Ringo’s complete brilliance as a drummer.
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1) A Day in the Life. The drum fills are as good as anything ever recorded at Abbey Road. The sweep of that song, its eerie atmosphere, is in part down to what Ringo does backing Lennon.
2) Tomorrow Never Knows, from Revolver. Just listen to it and try telling me the drummer doesn’t know what he’s doing.
3) Come Together. If you want to hear this at its best have a listen to the section covering this song on the BBC’s Record Producers series if you can find it online. Here is the invention of the “fat” modern drum sound, with a rich, punchy bass drum. The interplay with McCartney’s bass is delicious.
4) Twist and Shout. All the focus tends to be on Lennon’s blistering vocal – delivered in the first and only complete take at the end of the session for their first album – but it is the most extraordinary team performance. They absolutely nail this cover version. The enthusiasm and excitement of youngsters knowing they have become extremely good is palpable. But at any point the track could have broken down (they were tired and Lennon had a cold) and a moment of magic would have drifted away on the air as a lost classic. Again, Ringo holds it together and makes it work.
5) Back in the USSR. Joke. Paul played drums here, with John overdubbing snare, because Ringo had briefly resigned from the Beatles in 1968, sick of their growing egomania.
So, Ringo in the Beatles was a great drummer. Also right about Brexit too.