“I feel the older I get, the more I’m learning to handle life. Being on this quest for a long time, it’s all about finding yourself.” — Ringo Starr
As The Beatles drummer and all-around nice guy, Ringo Starr becomes the grooviest octogenarian we know. In celebration of his birthday, we thought we’d look back at his often overlooked, and utterly star-studded career as one of the finer songwriters and performers of the 20th century, and pick out our ten favourite Ringo songs of all time.
It makes for an astonishing list and a reminder that for a time, however short it may have been, Ringo Starr was the Beatle doing his best work outside of the band, far removed for the perception that constantly swirls around the percussionist. Sure, George Harrison was finding his feet and Lennon-McCartney were going about their business, but, quietly, Starr was making waves.
It makes for a truly impressive list of songs to which Starr can be largely attributed. Of course, on The Beatles records, Starr wasn’t often given the chance to shine with his songwriting, instead, letting his game-changing percussion style speak loudly for him. But on the songs he did contribute heavily, either with lyrics or vocals, he clearly had a signature style.
It’s a style of sunny and supportive tracks he has carried off throughout the years with a charming authenticity that has given credence to bandmate Paul McCartney’s assessment of the drummer; “Everybody loves Ringo!“.
Below we’ve got ten of the drummer’s best songs of all time.
Ringo Starr’s 10 greatest songs of all time:
10. ‘The No No Song’
Taken from Ringo’s album Goodnight Vienna, the drummer let Hoyt Axton take the reins on songwriting and allowed ‘The No No Song’ to reach its full potential with him as the frontman. The track is a classic Ringo number, sunny and charming, but with a difference.
Despite the track sounding like a nursery rhyme at times, Axton’s vision of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol abuse would have likely been thrown out if released today. However, in 1974, the public enjoyed it immensely and sent the track to number three in the charts.
9. ‘Octopus’ Garden’
The debate whether Ringo Starr can be called the sole composer of this song will rage on for a long time, with many pointing to Ringo’s friend George Harrison as being the man behind this Abbey Road number. However, that can’t take away from the song’s infectious tone.
While the song may well be out of time with the rest of the album, as colourful as it is, there’s something utterly charming about the little ditty and it screams of Starr’s affable personal persuasions.
It was Starr’s last lead vocal for the Beatles and it appears he had some fun with it.
As well as The Beatles films, Ringo Starr found himself a part of some other cinematic pictures during his career. As well as 1968’s Candy, there was the 1971 effort Blindman which gathered up some attention thanks to his starring role.
The film may leave a lot to be desired but the best by-product of the picture was Starr’s titular song that appeared as the B-side to ‘Back Off Boogaloo’.
In the song, a droning and hypnotic affair, Starr and longtime collaborators Klaus Voorman and Pete Ham create a pulsating and riveting song—comparative obscurity this track deserves a second reckoning.
7. ‘What Goes On’
Credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, this track from The Beatles album Rubber Soul put Ringo front and centre on vocal duties and he doesn’t disappoint and delivers one of his finest moments.
The song originally started life in 1963 but it wasn’t until two years later it was given its official release. “I used to wish that I could write songs like the others – and I’ve tried, but I just can’t,” said Ringo recalling the track.
“I can get the words all right, but whenever I think of a tune and sing it to the others they always say, ‘Yeah, it sounds like such-a-thing,’ and when they point it out I see what they mean. But I did get a part credit as a composer on one – it was called ‘What Goes On’.”
6. ‘Back Off Boogaloo’
‘Back Off Boogaloo’ was written with a helping hand from one of Ringo Starr’s friends and, in fairness, that’s what a lot of other bands and artists do too. It just so happens that the drummer’s friend is George Harrison.
Harrison produced the song and offered up some unique guitar playing too. The track was released at the height of glam rock and is a no holds barred rocker itself. The song was inspired by Ringo Starr’s other friend, Marc Bolan, and his 1972 concert film Born to Boogie.
The song broke the top ten in the charts on both sides of the pond.
5. ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
Now, we can’t quite say that Ringo Starr was the driving force behind one of The Beatles most enigmatic tracks, ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, but we can say that, without him, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.
The Lennon-McCartney composition, more accurately given to Lennon, acts as a vital introduction to arguably the band’s best album Sgt. Pepper, as it appears as the first ‘proper’ song to speak of.
The likelihood is that any member of the band could have performed the vocals on this one, but there’s something genuinely captivating about Ringo’s performance. Perhaps it was because, unlike the rest of the band, he was still everybody’s friend.
4. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’
Ringo Starr’s first original recorded composition ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ landed in 1968’s White Album some years after Starr had first penned the track.
In 1964, as the group readied to perform for Top Gear, Starr was asked whether he had plans to write any songs. He replied that he had written one and Macca sings: “Don’t pass me by, don’t make me cry, don’t make me blue”.
“I wrote ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ when I was sitting round at home,” recalled Ringo in Anthology. “I only play three chords on the guitar and three on the piano. I was fiddling with the piano – I just bang away – and then if a melody comes and some words, I just have to keep going. That’s how it happened: I was just sitting at home alone and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ arrived.”
Despite what every major music publication at the time had guessed, it was actually George Harrison and Ringo Starr who came out of The Beatles split relatively unscathed and raring to make their solo career sparkle just as brightly.
Many had predicted Lennon and McCartney’s solo successes, but nobody had thought that Harrison and Starr would lead the way with record sales. The two members of the Fab Four worked together a lot following the split and ‘Photograph’ is the best of the Harrison-Starr partnership.
The duo wrote the song together, with Harrison on production and it became Ringo’s first solo US number one and suggested he had been overlooked for too long.
2. ‘It Don’t Come Easy’
Sitting behind the most famous drum set in the world must’ve been a hard task for Starr. Not necessarily blessed with the same ingenuity when it came to songwriting as his three adopted brothers, what he did possess was a likeability unlike any other.
It’s part of why when he released his third single ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ the music world was more than pleased to see him reach his potential. Produced by Harrison it became Starr’s first major hit, cracking the top five in both the US and UK.
It not only one of Ringo’s finest moments in the studio but ranks highly among The Beatles post-band work entirely.
1. ‘Yellow Submarine’
If you asked us to pick just one song which encapsulated not only everything that made Ringo Starr a celebrated musician and vital member of The Beatles, but everything Starr was as a person, then it would have to be ‘Yellow Submarine’. It just so happens it was written by somebody else.
The song, written primarily by Paul McCartney, was always intended to be a children’s song and that incessant whimsy has often provoked Beatles fans to cast it into the fire as one of the Fab Four’s throwaways. But there’s something incredibly wholesome about the track, something Starr adds to in buckets.
About the song, Macca remembers, “I quite like children’s things; I like children’s minds and imagination. So it didn’t seem uncool to me to have a pretty surreal idea that was also a children’s idea. I thought also, with Ringo being so good with children – a knockabout uncle type – it might not be a bad idea for him to have a children’s song, rather than a very serious song. He wasn’t that keen on singing.”
Ringo himself backed that up: “I don’t actually know where they got the idea for it; I just felt it was a really interesting track for me to do. I’d been doing a lot of covers. At that time I did either covers or something they wrote specifically for me.” While the song wasn’t written specifically for Ringo, it somehow marries up effortlessly with his demeanour and marks itself out as his best because of it.