Posted by Austin on 10:24 PM in music
"Ringo isn't even the best drummer in the Beatles."
- John Lennon
- John Lennon
Tomorrow, 9/9/09, marks what could easily be called the second Beatles Invasion. A few hours from now, stores will be flooded with the spectacularly remastered Beatles discography and The Beatles: Rock Band, which no less than the Grey Lady herself has described as possibly being "the most important video game yet made". Even Apple Corps. themselves had mentioned they'll have an important 'music-related' announcement tomorrow.
Anyway, in a sea of Beatles-related excitement, I thought it might be fun to tackle a Beatles related music topic, namely, Ringo. In a poll conducted last month by Rolling Stone Magazine, respondents were asked who was their favorite Beatle. As you can see, John predictably comes in first, and Ringo predictably comes in last.
In an interview in the mid 60's, Lennon was asked, "Is Ringo Starr the best drummer in the world?" His response lives on in infamy: "Ringo's not even the best drummer in the Beatles". While the comment may have been a typical Lennon sarcastic dismissal, the idea that Ringo is an awful drummer has prevailed since the band's earliest releases.
Ringo, of course, was the last member to enter the band, replacing Pete Best. When Best was fired from the band in 1962 (for reasons that nobody, including The Beatles, is really sure about), Ringo was the ready replacement. He had already gained a reputation as being 'the best drummer in Liverpool' while touring with Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, and had filled in for Best during a few sessions.
So why, then, is Ringo considered to be the 'worst Beatle'? For a guy recruited into the band, he couldn't have been that bad, right?
What I propose here is a defense of Ringo.
Ringo is not the best drummer in the world. Around the same time that Starr was plugging away in The Beatles, Keith Moon (arguably one of the best drummers of the 60's) was murdering drum kits with The Who. But Ringo wasn't competing for the title of 'best drummer', and therein lies the zen of Ringo Starr.
Ringo was the best drummer for The Beatles, period. Given all possible candidates for the position, Ringo was and is the perfect choice to provide rhythm for Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. The brilliance of Ringo, you see, is that he isn't flashy. Ringo was never one to give in to flashy excess and, when he did, it was like most of his drumming: classy and restrained. A perfect example of this is Ringo's drum solo in 'The End', which is less a solo and more a display of impeccable rhythm and timing.
When David Byrne was interviewed by himself (one of my favorite interviews) to promote 'Stop Making Sense', he describes director Jonathan Demme's best asset as that "he knew what not to do is what he did do". Nothing could sum up better Starr's drumming. Perfectly aware of his role in the band, Ringo provided perfect rhythm; nothing more and nothing less. Whereas other drummers of the period are prone to excessively fancy drumming and complex rhythms, Ringo always knew the right rhythm for any song. Because of this, it's nearly impossible to listen to certain Beatles tracks (such as 'Birthday') and imagine anyone else providing drums. Further, Ringo was the heart of the whimsical charm of The Beatles. Whereas Paul, John and George provided the most interesting music for the band, Ringo was the happy-go-lucky human element that seemingly kept the band grounded. This is, after all, the same band that let Ringo sing 'Yellow Submarine' a few tracks before 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and a couple after 'Eleanor Rigby'.
Ringo was and is good at what he does: provide the right rhythm reliably. Even his detractors must admit that he's a vital part of Beatles history, and that even at his most goofy, Ringo was great. 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' wouldn't nearly be as powerful if it wasn't prefaced by the light-hearted and fun 'Octopus's Garden'. Who else could have lended the same credibility to 'With A Little Help From My Friends'? For heaven's sake, he made the matched grip popular with rock musicians, what more do you want from him?!
I salute you, Ringo Starr, for your dedication to smart and reliable drumming, as well as your impeccable restraint in the places where other drummers would have muddied up the tracks with overly long fills.