Top 10 Ringo Starr Drum Tracks

ringo-starrToday 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:

  1. John was a dick.
  2. John was known for telling really mean-spirited jokes.  Ugly, but undeniable.
  3. John was a liar, especially with regards to Beatles lore.  He also once claimed that he and Paul never wrote songs together.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

1. Rain

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.

9. Something

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.

34 thoughts on “Top 10 Ringo Starr Drum Tracks

  1. Incendiary Blues

    Those are perfect.

    I remember watching the Anthology discs, and Ringo talking about how whenever they were performing live everyone was screaming so loud that the band couldn’t hear themselves at all. It was all he could do to just grab the backbeat and hang on for dear life for the sake of all four of them. I really can’t think of another drummer who could have pulled that off.

    Reply
  2. frau sally benz

    Um. I love you. Thank you for posting this today and putting a great end to my otherwise gloomy day.

    I LOOOOOVE Ringo. Love Ringo so much that when I took the pic at Abbey Road with my friends, I wanted to be Ringo and everyone else was left fighting to be John or Paul. Growing up I wanted to learn how to play the piano like Billy Joel and the drums like Ringo. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened… lol

    My favorite is The End because his solo in that song makes that song for me. Really, I love all of your picks, though maybe I’d switch them around a bit. I’d keep Rain near the top, move Helter Skelter up a bit. I might take it I Feel Fine and put in She Loves You because the drums is what really brings me into that song and I don’t actually like it that much apart from the drumming (am I an awful person now?). I also love the drumming in Come Together though, so maybe I’d pull Ticket to Ride for that? Oh darn, I just don’t know…

    Reply
  3. Cara Post author

    Sally, She Loves You was of the extras I had to drop . . . though the husband did argue valiantly in its favor. (Unfortunately his best argument was swapping it out with Get Back, which is why I told him to take a hike!)

    Ringo the most underrated member of the Beatles? I think that both George and Ringo are wildly underrated, honestly. So it’s a tough call. Though Ringo does undoubtedly get the worst of the side effects of being one of what George once gamely called “the economy-class Beatles.”

    Reply
  4. Meowser

    Ringo is a great groove drummer — like Al Jackson Jr. or Earl Young or Uriel Jones (or, for that matter, Stevie Wonder). Sure, if you listen to any of those guys next to Elvin Jones or Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa, of course they’re going to be lacking something in the technique department.

    But groove drummers are something entirely different, and just as important in their own way. I had a drum teacher once tell me, “Your job is to make the singer sound good.” (Boy, I miss playing, I hope I get to again one day.) That’s what those guys did, and do. Jones and Rich and Krupa, you’ll notice, didn’t usually play behind singers.

    Reply
  5. L. E. Hairstylist

    Yes yes YES. Everything about this post is so right.

    And, having had the opportunity to see Ringo in concert a few years ago, I do concur that watching him play live is one of the happiest sights ever; so much so that my spirits were not dampened when it started to pour during the outdoor concert.

    Ringo’s drumming is so perfect and the song that I often find myself actually singing his drum parts. Especially the solo from The End.

    Reply
  6. Vince

    Hey Cara, this is an excellent top ten list. I love Ringo and you have picked out some of his best performances. My favorite is “Get Back”, an amazing song.

    Reply
  7. Oblio

    XLNT post! Ringo was always my fave Beatle… as a kid with their life-size posters in my room, Ringo’s was the one with the most prominent location on the wall. I’ve always viewed his drumming as metronome-like: perfect syncopation, great fills and very fun to pick out from the other instruments. His solo in ‘The End’ is first-rate… and how did I know that it was Ringo yelling about his fingers on ‘Helter Skelter’?!?! Long live Da Beatles!

    Reply
  8. frau sally benz

    Ringo’s drumming is so perfect and the song that I often find myself actually singing his drum parts. Especially the solo from The End.

    I do that too! hehe thought that was just me!

    Reply
  9. Lefty

    Ahh, Ringo. So nice to see folks giving him his just do’s. As a lead singing drummer myself for the past 40 years, I truly appreciate Ringos attitude on all the tracks he performed on. He knows how to push the song without getting in the way, give it excitement without walking over any other parts and how to let it breath for the vocals. His drumming was and is expressive and supreme on Sgt. Peppers and exceptional on Revolver and Rubber soul and he was on fire in the early days as well. Even Sir Paul says that the Beatles did not happen til Ringo joined the group. and even snide ass John admits that he loved Ringo’s drumming. Fellow drummers like Tris Imboden of Kenny Logiins and now with Chicago, Kenny Aronoff, Greg Bissonnette etc all are big fans of Ringo. In my humble opinion, he is and will always be one of the most expressive and musical drummers ever. And he certainly does not EVER deserve the snide comments and rubs by non musicians. Anyone who knows music, knows tha he is one of the most musical and subtle but powerful drummers we all have had the pleasure to listen to. Thank you to Ringo for keeping his head up and having the confidence to keep on Rockin’ all these years!

    Reply
  10. kkuster

    I have always thought the drumming on “Here comes the Sun” is some of Ringo’s best work. It’s amazing. These are all good selection however.

    Reply
  11. DDC

    Ringo gave each song (other than the straight rock’n’roll tracks) its own rhythmic signature. Very few drummers do this. You can hear it very well on Revolver (“In my life” is one great example).

    “Strawberry Fields” and “Helter Skelter” are about as different as you can get in pop music, and Ringo handled them both. Unlike the power drummers he was versatile.

    Reply
  12. Delvis

    I love the Beatles. I am also a drummer. I think some of Ringos best drum tracks were “Come together”, “In My Life”, “Birthday”, “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” and “Dear Prudence” just to name a few!!!

    Reply
  13. Ringo mccartney 09

    Great picks
    Rain is definitely one
    I think more of abbey road should be up there in my opion that’s his best drumming album
    Here’s some good ringo picks in my opinion
    Rain
    The End
    Something
    Come together
    Oh darling
    Birthday
    Hey jude
    And almost all of abbey road

    Reply
  14. Richard Sewell

    Great post! As a drummer of 30 years I have found myself defending Ringo for so many of them. Perhaps one of the most under-rated musicians of all time. I use the “Ringo scale” to gauge a young drummer’s understanding of “groove” and finding the pocket, as well as playing the drums as an instrument and contributing to a conversation. The entire discussion about Ringo’s technical lapses seems unnecessary. I was trained as a purely technical drummer with memorized mechanics and I still do not posses the internal metronome and timing Ringo perfected…. this is impossible with bad technique….

    His technical skill is not lacking, just overshadowed by his ability to create the perfect track for every song. Just listen to how beautiful and tasteful his parts… brilliant!

    Reply
  15. Pete

    I fell into that trap in the Seventies – the belief that Ringo didn’t do THAT much. Then, I picked up a guitar and a few other instruments and ultimately realized, Ringo was to the Beatles as was Charlie Watts to the Stones as was Keith Moon to The Who. In short, I can’t imagine the Beatles without Ringo. Great picks, Cara. Here’s a few great Ringo moments(actually 31) that crossed my mind.

    I Saw Her Standing There
    There’s A Place
    She Loves You
    You Can’t Do That
    When I Get Home
    Every Little Thing
    I Feel Fine
    Ticket to Ride
    You’re Going To Lose That Girl
    Wait
    You Won’t See Me
    Drive My Car
    In My Life
    Paperback Writer
    Rain
    Tomorrow Never Knows
    Strawberry Fields Forever
    Getting Better
    A Day in the Life
    Magical Mystery Tour
    Hey Jude
    Glass Onion
    Yer Blues
    Everybody’s Got Something to Hide
    Helter Skelter
    Get Back
    Let it Be
    Come Together
    I Want You
    Something
    The End

    Reply
  16. Kent

    I would say that Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in a Life, and Hello Goodbye would be good choices for a best of Ringo’s Beatle’s drum tracks.

    And as some other people have mentioned, Here Comes the Sun and Ticket to Ride.

    Also, Please Please Me is great drumming. Listen to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult and while I am sure the fans of this band’s harder rock sound would probably argue that their drummer is better than Ringo, the end of Reaper is straight out of Ringo’s ending on Please Please Me.

    See, Ringo’s influence is everywhere, even when people don’t realize it.

    One of things that a lot of people miss about Ringo’s drumming is that he can play a lot of different styles, which gave the Beatles a lot of room to try different things.

    Other drummers may have faster chops but how many of these drummers can step out of their comfort zones and play beyond their niches?

    One more song comes to mind, I love Ringo’s old fashion take on the beautiful ballad “Til there was you.”

    So the original poster was right, not only was it easy to come up with ten great Ringo Starr drum tracks, it is hard to limit the list to just ten as there are so many great tracks to choose from.

    Reply
  17. Kent

    Some more comments about Ringo Starr’s best drumming:

    There are also some great tracks from Ringo’s solo carrer. Two off of the top of my head come to mind, It Don’t Come Easy and Back Off Boogaloo.

    Also his drumming with the All Starr Bands deserves mention as, like I said in my earlier post, he plays a lot of different styles which enables him to play with a diverse group of musicians and he double drums with other drummers such as Sheila E, Simon Kirk, and among others, his son Zak Starkey, with precision.

    Zak, by the way, has been for quite some time the drummer for The Who, which shows that great drumming runs in the family.

    Among the All Starr Bands, Ringo’s drumming along side Simon Kirk on the Cream song Sunshine of Your Love sung by Jack Bruce during, I believe the 1999 tour, is excellent as his drumming beside Sheila E on songs by Rod Argent, in particluar, during the 2006 All Starrs.

    Reply
  18. LennonStarr

    yours a pretty good but these are mine:
    1. Rain
    2. She Said She Said
    3. The End
    4. Strawberry Fields Forever
    5. I Feel Fine
    6. Good Mourning Good Mourning
    7. Helter Skelter
    8. Come Together
    9. Something
    10.Get Back

    Reply
  19. Tim

    i grew up with the Beatles. They were an inspiration and an energy that has not yet been duplicated. Ringo was probably the most unsung but i do have admiration for all of them. Yes, Ringo was not the best drummer at the time but he came up with the most creative beats to some of the most progressive music ever composed. He himself was like a Mozart at thedrums as Paul, John and George were to the composition of their songs.

    Reply
  20. Mark

    In my opinion, Strawberry Fields Forever is his best drum work. Everything about that song is absolutely brilliant, and his drum work still stands out above it all. It may sound a touch hyperbolic but his drum work really makes that song.

    Reply
  21. VZ

    Great selections! What’s missing ? “Hey Jude” and “She Said She Said” They are amazing drum tracks. Ringo’s playing brought joy to the music. His groove was infectious. As U may gather I’m a Ringo freak. I hope U will check out my tribute to his playing and the Beatles musical style in my video :
    “Ringo”
    at:

    Peace
    VZ

    Reply
  22. DMK

    Anybody who has drummed professionally knows Ringo is par excellent! That I why I never listen to arm-chair-critics, a.k.a., non-drummers. My favorite song is “Tomorrow Never Knows” . . . it is so Ringo! . . and oh so trippy!! (my second choice drummer is Ginger Baker-wink)

    Reply
  23. Steven

    My favorite example of Ringo’s drumming is Penny Lane. He always does really nifty, melodic (can drums be melodic?) fills, and he was at his finest in Penny Lane.

    Reply
  24. Kent

    I don’t remember if I mentioned this in my other posts but even though some people say that Ringo is nowhere near as good a drummer as say, Keith Moon, what these people probably don’t know is that Ringo actually played on Moon’s solo album.

    On the songs Ringo played on he laid down a backbeat and Moon overdubbed his drum parts so they were double drumming on the finished product.

    I would say Moon knew more about drumming than the Ringo doubters and even though he and Ringo were friends, Moon was a professional and he wouldn’t have used Ringo if Ringo wasn’t any good, friendship or not.

    Reply
  25. Steve Muldofsky

    Ringo is a genius. He served the song & was always tasteful. The sound of his drums were unique although that may partially be due to the production.

    The highlights for me were the “Ringoisms’ which is how I describe his fills.

    There are far too many tunes where he shines but here are a few of my favorites;

    I saw her standing there: if you’ve ever seen the footage of the 2/11/64 wash D.C. concert check out his classic bashing.

    I feel fine: not an easy song to play but he’s so fluid & graceful

    In my life: interestingly the basic drum part is similar to Anna & believe it or not the Youngbloods “get Together’. Listen to the subtleties of his playing as he goes from verse to chorus.

    Help: the opening drum fill is beautiful & Ringo’s right hand (as always) is impeccable.

    Please Please me: probably my favorite drum break in history.

    His playing progressed along w/the Beatles & the brilliance of his work on the later albums defines modern rock drumming.

    Reply
  26. Pingback: Top 5 Beatles Songs From 1966 — The Curvature

  27. Pingback: Top 5 Ringo Starr Songs — The Curvature

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