Just because Ringo Starr had the good fortune of being a member of the Fab Four, did he really earn the moniker? Should The Beatles' nickname have been The Fab Three and a drummer named Ringo?
Ringo’s a fabulously, peaceful man. He’s a fabulous personality. He has a fabulous sense of humor. He’s even a fabulous train conductor. But is he really a fabulous drummer?
Mr. Starr's drumming has been challenged throughout this career. For instance, on the recording of “Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," producer George Martin called in a studio musician, Andy White, because Ringo had trouble keeping time.
Ringo himself has been the first to acknowledge his shortcomings: "Whenever I hear another drummer I know I'm no good. I'm no good on the technical things [...] I'm your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills. The fills were funny because I'm really left-handed playing a right-handed kit. I can't roll around the drums because of that."
John Lennon was once asked if he thought that Ringo was the best drummer in the world; Lennon jokingly replied, "He's not even the best drummer in The Beatles!"
Ringo has taken a fair share of criticism, but when he joined The Beatles in 1962, he brought an unbridled personality, enthusiasm and talent to a band that simply would not have succeeded without him. Ringo was the missing piece, and he did more than hold the foundation for the rhythm section. Ringo's drumming is essential to every Beatles' composition.
Drummer Steve Smith from Journey has praised Ringo's virtues as a musician and collaborator: "Before Ringo, drum stars were measured by their soloing ability and virtuosity. Ringo's popularity brought forth a new paradigm in how the public saw drummers. We started to see the drummer as an equal participant in the compositional aspect."
"I Feel Fine"
This song is well known for Paul's opening bass note and feedback of John's guitar, but Ringo's bossa nova beat makes the pop song truly original. Much of this tune is an homage to Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," including the rhythm section. Nevertheless, Ringo's playing is in the pocket and really drives the Lennon/McCartney composition.
"Ticket to Ride"
In 1964, Ringo Starr found his groove, and by the time The Beatles recorded Help, he was the greatest rock drummer in the world. George Martin once said, "He's got tremendous feel. He always helped us to hit the right tempo for a song, and gave it that support—that rock-solid back-beat—that made the recording of all The Beatles' songs that much easier." This particular drumbeat is ingenious, demonstrating Starr's authentic feel for the song. It has been emulated by countless drummers, including Larry Mullen of U2.
Sure, he may have been high as a kite during its recording, but Ringo's drums absolutely sneer on this track. Starr has often stated that "Rain" - the B-side to "Paperback Writer" - along with "She Said She Said" contain some of his best drumming.
"Tomorrow Never Knows"
Can Ringo play with the intensity of a Keith Moon? Listen to his playing on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and you decide. Steve Smith said, "One of Ringo's great qualities was that he composed unique, stylistic drum parts for The Beatles' songs. His parts are so signature to the songs that you can listen to a Ringo drum part without the rest of the music and still identify the song." This is perhaps Ringo's most original drum part.
"Strawberry Fields Forever"
Ringo's drumming can be categorized as simple and straightforward, but that should not be mistaken for unimaginative and humdrum. His feel for his instrument is exciting, inventive and above all original. His fills on "Strawberry Fields Forever" - particularly during the chorus and reprise - are exciting, inventive and highly original.
"A Day in the Life"
Phil Collins, who has been influenced by Ringo Starr, said, "Starr is vastly underrated. The drum fills on 'A Day in the Life' are very complex things. You could take a drummer today and say, 'I want it like that.' He wouldn't know what to do."
"I've Got A Feeling"
On January 31, 1969, the day after the band performed for the last time on the roof of Apple Studios, Paul McCartney sent Ringo Starr a postcard stating: "You are the greatest drummer in the world. Really." See for yourself.
Mark Lewisohn, the author of The Beatles' Recording Sessions, claimed that Starr has influenced various modern drumming techniques, such as the matched grip which is holding the drum stick in the same way by gripping it with one index finger and middle finger curling around the bottom of the stick and the thumb on the top. This approach allows the stick more freedom and bounce. Starr was also innovative when it came to sight and sound; he placed the drums on high risers for visibility as part of the band, he occasionally sang, tuned the drums lower, and employed muffling devices on tonal rings.
Mark Lewisohn has also stated that Ringo Starr "was both proficient and remarkably reliable and consistent. According to Lewisohn, there were fewer than a dozen occasions in The Beatles' eight-year recording career where session 'breakdowns' were caused by Starr making a mistake, while the vast majority of takes were stopped owing to mistakes by the other three members."
As a matter of fact, Ringo played drums on every Beatle track with the exception of five: "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," in which he played tambourine and maracas, "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence," where John, Paul and George all played drums because he had temporarily quit the band, and "The Ballad of John and Yoko," where the drumming was left to the capable McCartney because he was filming The Magic Christian.
So where do the readers of Rolling Stone rank Ringo Starr, a drummer who has influenced countless others including: Dave Grohl, Max Weinberg, Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, Eric Carr of Kiss, Phil Rudd of AC/DC and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater? In the February 2010 Readers' Poll, Ringo Starr came in at number six. Sure, these numbers are subjective, but it's nice that the little fella from Liverpool has been recognized for his contributions.
In September 1980, John Lennon had this to say about Ringo Starr: "Whatever that spark is in Ringo that we all know but can't put our finger on -- whether it is acting, drumming or singing I don't know -- there is something in him that is projectable and he would have surfaced with or without The Beatles. Ringo is a damn good drummer."
Simple. Original. Inventive. Ringo.