Ringo Starr is arguably the most underrated drummer in music history — which is ironic considering he was a member of the most iconic band of all time. For years his skills have either been criminally overlooked or derided, and he is often seen as being somehow less important than his fellow Beatles. In honour of his birthday, it’s time to challenge that view and celebrate some of his greatest drumming moments.
It’s become fashionable to say that Ringo wasn’t a good drummer, but in fact drummers themselves are often the first people to praise his talents. And they should know. His bandmates were also well aware of how crucial he was to their sound. Ringo had a formidable reputation prior to joining The Beatles and was one of the most sought after drummers in Liverpool.
The apparent simplicity of Ringo’s playing is probably the main reason why he is so misunderstood. People often mistake simplicity for lack of talent. In reality, this was what made him so good. He didn’t need to be flashy and overcomplicate things; he always served each song perfectly. George Martin praised his “incredible feel.” But he also had his own unique, instantly recognisable style, largely due to being left-handed and playing a right-handed kit. No one else sounded quite like him — and so, it wasn’t really so simple after all. The hallmark of any great musician is making it look easy when it really isn’t, and that was Ringo’s great gift.
George Harrison once likened playing without Ringo to driving a car on three wheels, and to me that speaks volumes about his importance to The Beatles.
This is the only time Ringo ever played a drum solo on a Beatles song. He was initially reluctant to do it, not being a flashy type of drummer, but was eventually persuaded. The result? A piece of brilliance that is sure to shut up anyone who tries to claim he was no good.
A Day In The Life
From the orchestra to the blending of two separate pieces of music, there are so many wonderful aspects of the closing Sgt Pepper track. One of them is Ringo’s powerful drum fills, which add yet another interesting layer to the song.
Paul intended ‘Helter Skelter’ to be the rawest, heaviest rock song The Beatles had ever recorded. Ringo helped make it just that, attacking his drums to such an extent that he can be heard shouting, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end.
Tomorrow Never Knows
This track is known for its innovative use of tape loops, backwards sound effects and Indian instrumentation — but Ringo’s constant, driving drum pattern is undoubtedly the stand-out feature for me. It’s a heavily compressed, unusual backbeat that provides a perfect complement to everything else that’s going on in the song.
This is Ringo’s own favourite drum performance, which he once described as “out of left field.” He recalled that it was the first time he began a drum break “by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat.” It’s another piece of brilliant playing that really makes you sit up and take notice.
Ticket To Ride
‘Ticket To Ride’ is another example of Ringo’s use of syncopation, though he shifts effortlessly into a more standard rhythm during parts of the song, which keeps things interesting. His drum rolls also add a nice touch.
This is one of those Beatles songs where the rhythm section really shines. Ringo’s tom-tom fills are incredibly powerful, as is his hi-hat work, and it all supplements Paul’s iconic bassline beautifully.
Ringo’s contribution to one of George’s most beautiful love songs is understated but brilliant. He keeps things simple and gentle when necessary, and lets rip with some creative fills at just the right moments. Sublime.