You gotta love the Ringo song. For the eight years that The Beatles professionally released music, the ever-reliable Ringo would step up to the mic for one goofy, amicable performance per album. When he’s not there, something feels like it’s missing: A Hard Day’s Night and Let It Be are great LPs, but there’s a gap in the music because of the clear lack of Ringo.
Does Ringo Starr have a great voice? No. Does Ringo Starr admirable belt his way through some great songs? Absolutely. One of Starr’s most underrated aspects of his performance is that he could make any kind of ridiculous image or oddball phrase shine in ways that his three bandmates couldn’t. No matter how quick they were with a quip or a joke, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were just so serious in their vocal prowess. Ringo was the necessary palate cleanser – part comic relief, part audience surrogate, and complete fun package.
There were no winks or nudges when Ringo sang: he was sincere, whether he wanted to be put on the silver screen, plunged into an underwater garden, or even when he was singing about boys. He was a powerhouse behind the drum kit, but when Starr stepped up to the mic, he was relatable. Every time that final high note in ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ hits, you cheer along with him as he goes outside his comfort zone and sticks the landing.
We’ve compiled all thirteen of Starr’s lead vocal turns (including the ones where he shares the lead vocal duties) during his time in The Beatles and ranked them based on their greatness. Starr has a surprisingly diverse repertoire considering he usually only got a single song per album: high energy rockers, gentle lullabies, psychedelic children’s songs, self-written country and western tunes. The man had range, even if his voice wasn’t quite as refined or adept as his bandmates’.
Here are all of Ringo Starr’s lead vocals, ranked in order of greatness.
Every Ringo Starr lead vocal in The Beatles, ranked:
What is ‘Flying’? An instrumental? Some calming transition music between scenes of the Magical Mystery Tour film? A bit of tossed-off nothingness to fill out an album that even The Beatles themselves didn’t want to release – at least not in its American full-length LP version? Yes to all of those, but the track certainly has its whimsical charms as well.
It’s just not much of a vocal song, even in Starr’s voice pops out prominently in the wordless harmonies.
The Beatles loved their cover tunes, and while the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney reached its apex during the A Hard Day’s Night album, it came at the expense of Ringo’s signature lead vocal song.
Starr recorded the Carl Perkins track ‘Matchbox’ during these sessions, but when it was decided that every song on the album should be a Lennon/McCartney tune, Starr’s cover got the axe. It’s an amicable rocker, but it was probably for the best that ‘Matchbox’ was left off the album proper.
11. ‘Honey Don’t’
The superior Carl Perkins Ringo cover, which admittedly isn’t saying much considering how this Beatles for Sale is the perfect illustration of just how fried The Beatles were by the end of 1964.
Starr’s strained wail doesn’t have the drive of ‘Matchbox’, but the major difference is that Ringo sounds like he’s having a ball here, all the way down to calling out for Harrison to give him not one but two solos. Starr later performed the song at Harrison’s tribute concert, the Concert for George, in 2002.
10. ‘Carry That Weight’
So technically Paul McCartney is the lead singer on ‘Carry That Weight’, the penultimate track in the ending medley that closes out Abbey Road (not counting ‘Her Majesty’). But Ringo’s vocals during the chorus are loud and prominent, which gives the song a cohesive unity that goes with the track’s message of shouldering the burden that came with the band’s success. Ringo’s vocals are necessary to give the track gravity, and that’s why it lands on this list.
9. ‘What Goes On’
Ringo was a natural country singer: his Liverpudlian accent belied a little bit of twang that he picked up from indulging in classic western tunes. He named himself to sound more like a cowboy, and he had the perfect tone for The Beatles’ brief forays into the world of country.
‘What Goes On’ represents Starr’s first songwriting job within the group, and although it’s relatively light fare, it’s right within Starr’s wheelhouse. Even if most of the song is goofy and fun, the line “Did you mean to break my heart and watch me die” is surprisingly impactful, and Ringo nails the sadness in it perfectly.
8. ‘Act Naturally’
At the end of the day, Starr was the perfect goofball. With a prominent nose and a comedian’s natural timing, Ringo was the affable, fun-loving everyman who brought The Beatles a level of relatability and down-to-earth realness that no other member could properly provide. Who else was going to sing a song about falling ass backwards into the movie industry, something that Starr eventually did in real life?
‘Act Naturally’ is just perfect for Ringo, and even if it’s not a terribly impressive song or performance, Ringo sells it like the natural showman he is.
7. ‘Good Night’
When it was necessary for Starr to show some real emotion, the results weren’t always up to The Beatles’ lofty standards. He’s just too dopey and fun to give anything too much complex weight, but he’s an expert at conveying comfort and ease.
That’s what ‘Good Night’ does – express a genuine sense of nurturing and safety that Ringo, with his soft edges and warm tenderness, was perfect to take the lead on. ‘Good Night’ is purposefully sappy and saccharine, but damn if Ringo doesn’t once again give it his all.
6. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’
The Beatles was, intentionally or not, the perfect document on just how fractured the band’s relationship with each other was in the late 1960s. Paul McCartney often recorded songs by himself, quibbles broke out over minute details, and walkouts were not uncommon. Starr himself left during the recording of ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, unhappy with the tense and critical atmosphere. But he also got his own personal statement of growth in as well, with his first solo contribution to The Beatles’ canon in ‘Don’t Pass Me By’.
Simple, psychedelic, and jaunty, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ takes Starr’s charms and dials them up to maximum efficiency, rendering this three-chord country a wonderful delight.
5. ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’
Hot and heavy rockers were The Beatles bread and butter, especially during their early years. While they gained renown for their love songs and pop harmonies, they were also one of the first true-blue rock bands, ready to shake out the lust-filled jams like ‘Twist and Shout’ or ‘Long Tall Sally’. Ringo got in on the fun with ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, a sweaty ode to love set at a breakneck tempo and delivered in a harried howl.
Ringo was able to hit some great notes during his high energy rock songs, and ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ is ramped up for high impact.
The slightly-superior rocker from The Beatles’ early days, ‘Boys’ shouldn’t work on paper – here’s a brand new band, recording their first album, and refusing the switch the genders for a fairly conservative early ’60s audience. But why does it work: because Ringo gives it all he has, practically screaming with delight in this classic early cut.
Maybe it was because the song was recorded during the frantic one-day session that produced most of Please Please Me, but this is Ringo’s wildest and most unrestrained vocal performance on record. That makes it an incredibly exciting listen even 60 years after it was first recorded.
3. ‘Octopus’s Garden’
The final Ringo song in the band’s chronology is a kaleidoscopic underwater fantasy tale of safeness and serenity. Harrison believed that Ringo was writing cosmic songs without even knowing, but I liked to believe that Ringo knew exactly what he was doing. ‘Octopus’s Garden’ is a progression beyond anything Starr had attempted before while still staying right in his winning wheelhouse.
The song hangs perfectly within the tracklist of Abbey Road, proving that Starr was evolving and excelling in the same fashion that his bandmates were.
2. ‘Yellow Submarine’
Who else could turn a goofy kiddie song about floating beneath the waves into a career highlight? ‘Yellow Submarine’ has an undeniable power: it’s just so damn catchy and soothing that stays firmly planted in your subconscious for the rest of your days.
Ringo is the perfect narrator for the tale, turning his limited range to his advantage by keeping the whimsical tale grounded. “Fun” is often the word associated with Ringo, and no song plays into his good-natured joy more than ‘Yellow Submarine’.
1. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’
The platonic ideal of a Ringo lead vocal. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ is more than just “a Ringo song” and the occasionally pejorative connotation that follows it. It’s a classic song that couldn’t have worked if anyone else stepped up to the mic. More importantly, it’s a triumph for Starr, who gives the greatest lead vocal of his entire career.
‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ isn’t just Ringo’s best song, but it’s one of The Beatles’ best songs as well, standing toe to toe with anything else the band wrote. With any luck, it will be the song that is forever associated with the man, the myth, and the legend of Ringo Starr.