If you want to learn how much someone doesn't know about music, engage them in a conversation that weighs in on the importance of Ringo Starr to the Beatles. If the person casts Ringo as the bit player in the Beatles, you know he is missing the big picture and only assessing the vocal and songwriting prowess of the other three against "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden."
And there's always that business about how Ringo couldn't play drums (we'll address that later).
People love to ape tired argument gambits like "He's the luckiest guy in show business," "He was the guy who was along for the ride," or "Ringo wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles," that nasty quote attributed to John Lennon that everyone from Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn to Snopes has proved was uttered by a forgotten British comedian in 1983, three years after John ceased to exist.
The Beatles lucked out by having Ringo as their timekeeper, and there were enough times Ringo actually saved them from losing the plot completely. I know. I've compiled them. All 10, in fact!
Lucky you — you can catch Ringo Starr live at Celebrity Theatre on Tuesday, November 15.
1. Ringo was highly regarded as a professional musician by the beatless Beatles. Don't believe the Beatles were lucky to have Ringo? Consider how John extolled Ringo's virtues from their earliest days in his 1980 Playboy interview: "Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met. He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had Ringo Starr-time, and he was in one of the top groups in Britain, but especially in Liverpool, before we even had a drummer." And in 2008, Paul seconded that motion to Larry King, saying, "We were big fans of his."
2. Ringo is a drummer's drummer (except if you're Bernard Purdie) Anyone that says Ringo can't play drums is likely to blurt out the name of someone really technical from the same era as a better drummer, perhaps Cream's Ginger Baker or session drummer Steve Gadd. But all those guys are on record saying they admired Ringo. Baker? Before he became rock's bitterest old crab, Baker told Rolling Stone, "Yeah, whenever a new Beatles album came out, all the drummers would run out to get it to see what incredible new stuff Ringo was doing." Gadd? He played alongside Ringo and said of him in a 2010 interview with Musicradar.com, "Ringo comes from a different kind of school, and I find that totally exciting and challenging. How he does what he does … it's so different from what other drummers do. If somebody approaches music or their instrument in a way that's unique, I want to be around that person. To me, there's something to learn there."
Keith Moon? John Bonham? They're both old drinking buddies of Ringo's. And they're dead.
About the only living drummer to ever say something unkind about Ringo was Bernard Purdie, who once claimed he overdubbed drums on 21 Beatles recordings,including "She Loves You," and that Brian Epstein paid him $10,000 to keep quiet about it. Vilified by the music community for this easily proven false story, it has since been revealed he overdubbed drums on the Beatles' 1961 recordings backing Tony Sheridan. Anyone wondering why you'd need to have drum overdubs on "My Bonnie" and "When The Saints Go Marching In" is advised to advance to reason number three immediately.
3. Ringo saved The Beatles from a fate worse than Best!
John Lennon once minimized the importance of their longest-sitting drummer pre-Ringo by saying "We got Pete Best just because we needed a drummer the next day to go to Hamburg." But they kept him for two years, one for each beat he knew how to play. On this recording of "Besame Mucho" from their failed 1962 Decca audition, you can hear both of those beats, plus the loud bass drum that was called "the Atom Beat," which Best, in rare bit of bravado, even insisted to Beatles biographer Hunter Davies every drummer in Liverpool copied, including Ringo. Best developed this nail-driving bass drum style in Germany, and when the Beatles had their first professional session backing Tony Sheridan, producer Bert Kaempfert went nuclear over "the Atom Beat," taking away Best's bass drum for the entire session.
4. The first time The Beatles dug in their heels opposing George Martin, it was in defense of Ringo.
When they insisted Ringo play drums on at least one take of "Love Me Do," the Beatles started a precedent of Beatles recording sessions being the give-and-take collaborative effort of five equals it famously became (no doubt that George Martin was the Fifth Beatle). But even more importantly, Ringo was the fourth one, without whom the four-headed monster would have been forever lopsided.
5. Ringo was one of the all-time great smilers.
Freed from the moody magnificence of Pete Best, The Beatles naturally smiled a lot more in photographs, which definitely accelerated Beatlemania, especially in America, where a joyful phenomenon after seeing our President killed was sorely needed. Okay, all four Beatles pitched a moody on the cover of Meet The Beatles, but by that time Pete Best was safely in the rear-view mirror. And positioning the shortest Beatle below the other three was the album cover's subtle attempt at humor.
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