Today is Ringo’s 69th birthday. Happy Birthday, Ringo!
Ah, lovable Ringo. The most overlooked Beatle. John, Paul and George have all received their own top 5 posts by now, so it is long past due for Ringo to get his.
Ringo doesn’t get his due in a lot of ways. He was stacked against the talent of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison — admittedly, it’s a little hard to measure up. But that doesn’t mean that he deserves all of the snide remarks, mean-spirited jokes and outright insults that are thrown his ways. It’d be pretty damn hard to not be the least talented in a group otherwise comprised of John, Paul and George. That doesn’t mean that the man doesn’t have talent.
But it’s exactly what you’ll hear. The “Ringo is a horrible drummer, and so lucky that the Beatles even gave him the time of day” bullshit meme is almost as common as the “Yoko is an evil bitch who broke up the Beatles” bullshit meme.
Often cited is John Lennon’s statement that Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles. But here’s what you need to know in order to fairly assess said statement:
- John was a dick.
- John was known for telling really mean-spirited jokes. Ugly, but undeniable.
- John was a liar, especially with regards to Beatles lore. He also once claimed that he and Paul never wrote songs together.
- John loved Ringo’s drumming. Period. When he could have literally had any drummer in the entire world work with him on Plastic Ono Band, who did he ask along? Ringo. In Memories of John Lennon, the drummer from the Double Fantasy sessions talks about John not liking his drumming and imploring him (to the drummer’s delight) to “play it like Ringo.”
- Paul, allegedly the best drummer in the Beatles, is certainly competent. But he’s nowhere near as good as Ringo. If you need evidence, look at Back in the USSR and The Ballad of John and Yoko. Fine, yes. Even good. But if you think it’s anywhere near the quality of Ringo’s drumming, I don’t even know what to say to you.
- Though Paul was rather well-known for giving Ringo drumming “advice,” everyone in the Beatles was quite used to taking Paul’s “advice.” In criticizing George Harrison’s guitar playing in Let It Be, Paul can also be heard saying “I’m just trying to help you.” So used to it, George was, that Paul did not end up strangled with a guitar string.
Indeed, the reason that Ringo’s drumming so regularly gets a bad rap is precisely because of what makes it so great. Ringo is not flashy. He hates drum solos. He hates drawing attention to his skill. His drumming blends into the song. It doesn’t distract from the song, it’s a part of it.
I’d often heard the statement that Ringo may not be a “technical drummer,” but his strength is that “Ringo plays the song.” Not understanding a whole lot about music and its technical aspects, I never quite understood what this meant. It wasn’t until I read the following layman’s explanation that it finally clicked: if you were to take the drum track from virtually any Beatles song and isolate it, you’d know based on the drums alone exactly what song it is.
And it’s absolutely true. Try it. I’ll tell you straight up that it’s the statement I needed to hear in order to both finally understand Ringo’s drumming, and to put the “Ringo isn’t very good” idea entirely to rest. The fact is that only non-drummers really buy it to begin with.
In composing this list, the difficulty I had wasn’t with trying to come up with 5 songs in which Ringo’s drumming was just tolerable enough to highlight. It was with trying to narrow the list down after coming up with well over a dozen very strong and deserving contenders for the very best. In the end, I couldn’t, and so Ringo gets 10. It’s about time that he’s the Beatle who gets the special treatment.
Ringo has said that he thinks Rain is his best drum track. I believe that he made an accurate assessment.
2. Glass Onion
Just listen to it. I don’t know what to say other than that.
3. The End
Ringo’s only drum solo with the band. He had to be begged into doing it, and then only agreed if they made his section shorter. Said begging paid off.
4. I Feel Fine
I think this is one of Ringo’s finest examples of “playing the song.” The drums almost blend into the guitars, and it’s an amazing result, driving one of the Beatles finest pieces of pop perfection.
5. Get Back
Without Ringo, there is no Get Back. It’d be the same as Get Back without Billy Preston: what’s the point?
6. Tomorrow Never Knows
This drum piece quite obviously drives the entire track. It’s greatness is further shown on the LOVE soundtrack, when it’s removed from Tomorrow Never Knows and inserted into Within You Without You. It’s simple, it’s powerful, it’s brilliant.
7. Ticket to Ride
Simple, and genius.
8. Long Tall Sally
One of the greatest joys is watching Ringo play this song live. YouTube it. The man goes absolutely wild. And if you’re still not convinced, watch the Jimmy Nicol version with the Beatles. The difference is immediately discernible.
Subtle, and lovely. Pay particular attention during the bridge.
10. Helter Skelter
That’s Ringo screaming “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end of the track — because the other Beatles made him beat the shit out the drums take, after take, after take, until he was about ready to pass out. The end result was worth it.
So, even with 10 I still had to eliminate several great picks. What are yours?
Big thanks to the husband for help with the choices.