The Indispensable Ringo -- A Case for the Greatness of the Often Overlooked Beatle
A few weeks ago, Ringo Starr got his own star, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Many, in the past, called Ringo Starr "the luckiest man in show business," and some still do. Fortunately, as time has passed and Ringo proved himself with a damn good solo career, this is heard less often. What's also happened is that we've gotten to listen to The Beatles over and over - and when you do that, you realize that Ringo indeed got lucky in joining a band with three musical geniuses. But then again, each of the others got lucky the same way.
If you've had a chance to listen to the remastered Beatles CDs, you understand: it's a revelation, being able to hear, crisply and distinctly, all of the instruments. All of The Beatles sound great but it throws Ringo in sharp relief.
His drumming simply drives "Get Back." He's got blisters on his fingers at the end of "Helter Skelter" because he's blasted the heck out of those skins, take after take after take. Those who know their biz swear that his drumming on "A Day In the Life" is, in a word, masterful, a vital contribution to one of the best Beatles' songs. (Phil Collins: "The drum fills on 'A Day in the Life' are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, 'I want it like that.' They wouldn't know what to do.")
And is there a more beautiful drum solo than the only one Ringo played while with the Beatles, the one on "The End"?
As Dennis Kiken of USA Today wrote last year, "John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison found in Ringo an ironclad timekeeper who rocked and swung like mad, with style, imagination, and versatility. He was the secret weapon of the best band of all time."
So why isn't Ringo more celebrated? Perhaps because he was modest, and consistent, writes Tim Riley in Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album by Album, Song by Song, the Sixties and After. "Ringo wanted to serve the songs rather than show off. As a song writer's drummer, Ringo was the type of musician who could follow instructions as he completed the overall sound. His commitment to the music was bigger than his ego."
None of the other Beatles were known for offering easy praise - they could be quite harsh with each other - so what they had to say about Ringo is also key.
John Lennon: "Ringo is Ringo, that's all there is to it. And he's every bloody bit as warm, unassuming, funny, and kind as he seems. He was quite simply the heart of the Beatles."
Paul McCartney: ""Ringo is right down the center, never overplays." (That's effusive praise, coming from Paul).
George Harrison: "Playing without Ringo is like driving a car on three wheels."
In other words, without Ringo, the Beatles wouldn't have been quite so fab.
Five Ringo tracks to make your day:
"Rain": Ringo has called this his best track. -
"I Feel Fine": "The drumming is basically what we used to think of as 'What'd I Say' drumming. ... One of the big clinching factors about Ringo as the drummer in the band was that he could really play that so well." - Paul McCartney. -
"Get Back": Paul gets the credit, but Ringo's driving.
"Ticket to Ride": Not complicated. But awesome.
"Long Tall Sally": Ringo live, and wild!