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From Ringo Starr to John Bonham: Paul McCartney’s favourite drummers

Sir Paul McCartney, while with The Beatles, wrote some of their most memorable and biggest hits the world of music has ever known. Along with John Lennon, the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership is the most important partnership in the history of popular music. In a televised interview with Jarvis Cocker at the Liverpool Institute for the performing arts, Macca explained to Cocker, that in the early days when he first met Lennon, there weren’t really many options for recording musical ideas as there are now. 

Therefore, when the magic duo wrote a song, it had to be memorable out of necessity. By the same token, McCartney’s musical education was not conventional for a musician of his order. He had to use whatever was available, and listen to records and play along in order to learn the songs.

It was this organic approach to learning and playing music that allowed McCartney the ability to pick up multiple instruments without a lack of musical education stopping him from doing so. In the earlier days of The Beatles, when they were known as The Silver Beetles, McCartney played electric guitar. He would, of course, eventually switch to the bass. 

Despite being known as the ‘cute Beatle’, McCartney was the most domineering one of them all, sometimes to the point of control. Along with the ability to play many instruments, comes the challenge of merely letting another bandmate to play their part in their own style, without feeling the need to tell them what to do and how to do it.

During the White Album sessions, this was precisely why Ringo Starr would walk out amidst the sessions. Macca, at times, had a tendency to criticize Ringo’s playing, and because of this, he decided at one point, that enough was enough. This forced McCartney to play the drums on a few of the numbers on the album. ‘Back in the USSR’ was one in which he also played the guitar on as well as drums. ‘Dear Prudence’ was another one. Despite Ringo Starr rejoining the recording sessions later on and on good terms with McCartney, Macca recorded drums on the ‘Martha My Dear’. 

This was most likely because of McCartney’s highly tuned vision for what he wanted the song to sound like, and to not risk upsetting Ringo again by explaining to him what he wanted to hear, Starr just let him play. It is not surprising to hear this, as tensions began bubbling up by the time The Beatles were recording The White Album, so much that the album really presented a fragmented Beatles, the songs were written entirely individually and whoever did write the song would sing it with the rest of the band doing what the writer wanted them to do.

As an act of diplomatic assurance and true brotherly love, recently, on The Howard Stern Show, when asked who his favourite drummer was, Paul McCartney answered with his top three. Ringo Starr would take the first place. John Bonham for the second place, and Keith Moon for third.

This is what Sir Paul McCartney had to say on the show: “Not technically the best by a long shot, but for feel and emotion and economy, they’re always there, particularly Ringo.”

According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, when Ringo Starr joined The Beatles, it seemed like he was the last missing piece of the puzzle, he had the personality and the chops, having been the only member of the band to have toured in another band. The Beatles asked Ringo Starr, “What about drum solos, then? We were thinking he would say, yeah, I’ll have a five hour one in the middle of your set. And he said, I hate em! We said, Great! We love you!”

Ironically, the other two drummers on McCartney’s list were firecracker drummers who would, in fact, take extended solos throughout their respective sets. Unlike Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and John Bonham incorporated a lot of fills in their styles. 

Keith Moon’s last time on stage before he died, was when he made a guest appearance while Led Zeppelin were playing, funny enough. The concert was in Los Angeles in 1977. While Zeppelin were on stage, a very inebriated Moon jumped onto the stage and accompanied one of Bonzo’s classic solos. 

This was not the only connection between the two master drummers. When Jimmy Page was looking to put a new band together out of the ruins of The Yardbirds, he had every intention of creating a supergroup of sorts. Among Jeff Beck, Page had asked Keith Moon whether he would join. As fate would have it, another as equally as dynamite as Keith Moon would join instead. 

John Bonham would die in 1980 from a similar fate as Keith Moon, the coroner’s report showed that Bonzo’s bloodstream contained the amount of alcohol equivalent to 40 shots of vodka. 

While Ringo Starr does not share the same drumming sensibility as The Beatles were more of the pop variety, it is another great discipline all together to remain ‘in the pocket’ and to provide the essential beats that a song needs. There are those musicians who love jamming and going off, and there are other musicians who play for the song. Whether or not Paul McCartney felt obliged to name Ringo Starr as one of his favourites because of their past together, is unclear, but one thing is very clear: Paul McCartney, as a member of The Beatles and Wings, has eclectic tastes and never settles for less than the best.

Paul McCartney’s favourite drummers of all time:

  • Ringo Starr 
  • Keith Moon 
  • John Bonham