'Sir Richard Starkey: It's Got a Ring to It'
Now a knight of the realm, can we please start giving Ringo Starr the credit he deserves?
"I read the news today, oh boy" is probably the most quoted Beatles lyric ever. One could say now that, after all these years, Ringo Starr is the "lucky man who made the grade."
I read the news—on Christmas Day, to be precise—that Ringo Starr was to be knighted by the Queen for "services to music and charity" and decided that my first contribution to Vocal should take the form of an appraisal of him.
Being as he is a drummer, obviously he has been the butt of a great many jokes over the years. We’ve all heard the traditional drummer jokes:
“What do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians? A drummer.”
“How do you know a drummer is at your door? He knocks four times and comes in late.”
To an extent, a lot of drummers invite these kind of jokes onto themselves. Like many musicians, they are possessive of a self-deprecating sense of humour. I, for one, have worked with drummers who, when I asked them about chord sequences and musical arrangement—or even any question, sometimes—they would quip “I don’t know, I’m just the drummer.”
Ringo Starr, however, has probably had more jokes made about him and his abilities than any other drummer. He was the most important member of the most important band ever and people treat him like some kind of joke; usually the same people who trot out the overly exhausted "John Lennon was the only one with any talent" bullshit. When I refer to Ringo’s "luck," it’s more to tie in with the aforementioned lyric, and in reference to his knighthood, then the common theory that he was just lucky, in the right place at the right time, etc. Over the years, I’ve noticed a "quote" circulate around the internet that is attributed to John Lennon:
“Ringo isn’t the best drummer in the world. He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles!”
This is apparently in reference to the fact that Paul McCartney substituted on drums in the brief period Ringo had walked out of the studio during the White Album sessions.
However, I can find no evidence of John having said this. Research seems to uncover that it was a joke actually uttered by comedian Jasper Carrott (Though another problem is that I can’t seem to find that clip, either). All I can find from Lennon consists of positive comments about how underrated he is.
And he is. And I will give my take on this and my reasoning for it. A common reason Ringo’s technique is identified as unique is that he is a left hander playing a right handed kit, therefore he makes choices when playing that other drummers would not necessarily make. I guess this sort of thing was common in the days before instruments were set up for specifically-abled musicians or players swapping to their less dominant hand (see Noel Gallagher), so Ringo was just expected to work within those limitations.
Drummers, including Geddy Lee and Phil Collins, have posited that you could isolate the drums from any Beatles song and listeners could identify the song on drumming alone. The aforementioned "A Day in The Life" and "Rain" are commonly cited examples, but a favourite of mine would have to be "Come Together."
Dave Grohl once said of the floor tome pattern carrying the verse: “If you can play that and have people dancing, you’re a great drummer.” Ringo shone by keeping people engaged with that simplicity, but the drums on this track are technically very clever at least, if not proficient. If you listen to the song closely, you can hear that, when the bass riff and drum fills are played side by side, the drums are translating every note and note length onto the drums.
There is a place for Ringo’s simplistic style of playing and “taste,” as Klaus Voorman described it, in rock music whether you prefer the styles of, say, Keith Moon and John Bonham or not. It poses the question of: Who would you rather be as a musician? Someone whom everyone stands in awe of for their technically ability, or someone whom everyone watches and goes “I could do that”—leading, of course, to a percentage who do. I do feel that popular music’s development can be described as a conversation between the simplistic and the complex. So rock and roll (and indeed Mersey Beat) was a response to the complexities and technical requirements of jazz and big band, psychedelia a response to the simplicity of rock and roll, punk and new wave a response to the complexity of prog rock, and so on…
Beyond technique, Ringo as a person has undoubtedly influenced legions of musicians. Back in 1962, when Ringo was first being recruited in place of Pete Best—who, it should be added, was deemed to have limited ability by George Martin—it would be fair to say that it was not just for his drumming. Whilst in Hamburg, Ringo was playing the same venue as The Beatles in another band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, so he was already making his mark on the music industry, making it understandable that The Beatles would admire him.
He was also older and had his own car. You’ll have to forgive my inability to find the full quote, but John Lennon once said there was “something about Ringo, his acting, his drumming, his personality,” and that he “would have ‘made it’ either way,” ie: without the Beatles. An oft-cited reason Best being jettisoned is just that—his personality and humour didn’t gel as well with the other three and the band just did not feel complete. George Harrison sometimes took the credit for bringing Ringo in, and their long-standing friendship would seem to corroborate this.
Something else, too. It has been said that Pete Best was better looking than the other three (incidentally I say three because Stuart Sutcliffe had died by this point), thereby diverting the attention from the core members. Ringo, perhaps, was seen as less of a threat in that respect (Sorry Ringo, just speculation).
So with Ringo in the band and fame beckoning, interviews with the band would always reveal their humour, but Ringo in particular, and this is where countless young people would have watched these clips (and maybe still do), looked at Ringo, and thought, That guy. That’s who I want to be. The solid, dependable member of the band who everyone likes and who makes everyone laugh. In later years, Ringo’s humour and affability quelled tensions within the four.
And just like that, thousands of drummers were born. Promoting his autobiography, Phil Collins said that he would set his first drum kit up in front of a mirror to copy Ringo’s "moves," as it were.
So, Sir Richard "Ringo" Starkey, on this day in 2018, I salute you and thank you for being a reminder of the harmonious relationship The Beatles could share, and for serving every song of theirs perfectly. Oh, by the way, the fact Ringo never wrote songs for The Beatles is irrelevant. If you were in a band with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, would you write songs?
Because I wouldn’t.
I would be extremely intimidated and not particularly motivated to. I suspect your answer would be the same.
About the Creator
Musician/ Music Techie. Contributing to the BEAT sub-feed of VOCAL. I'd like to think I have something to say about Music and pop culture.
PSYCHE/MOTIVATION contributions possible too.
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