Why Ringo Starr preferred playing on John Lennon’s songs than Paul McCartney’s
Unlike the rest of the Fab Four, Ringo Starr never suffered a significant long-term fallout with any of his former bandmates from The Beatles following their split in 1970. It meant Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon all recruited Starr to play on their solo material.
It’s often left Ringo in the middle of a lot of messes surrounding the band. Being torn between two or three opposing forces can be tough to bear for anyone. Starr has since revealed that there was one member of the band he preferred playing for than any other—John Lennon.
The two held a strong bond that was never in doubt, following the split of The Fab Four the success that Starr had in his solo career made Lennon immensely happy. The bespectacled Beatle was initially anxious about how Ringo Starr would fair outside of the Beatles-bubble because of him not being a natural songwriter.
In Lennon’s final ever TV interview in 1975, he spoke about this pride he had in seeing Ringo succeed and revealed: “I’m most happy for Ringo’s success because it always went round that Ringo was dumb but he ain’t dumb. He just didn’t have that much writing ability and he wasn’t known for writing his own material.”
Adding: “There was a bit of a worry, although he can make movies and he does make movies and he’s good at it, but how was his recording career gonna be? And in general, it’s probably better than mine actually,” he added with a self-deprecating laugh.”
In The Beatles’ Anthology, Ringo spoke of how the two sides of the Lennon-McCartney partnership began to falter and start going their separate ways by the late ’60s, he stated that: “By then it was Lennon or McCartney. It was up to about 80% separately written songs.” It’s a sad state of affairs for the biggest band on the planet but seemingly one that was necessary to ensure the success of the group.
The band’s sessions were often conducted singularly by the end of their career together, with the idea of all four Beatles in one room usually leading to a disagreement of sorts. It meant the drummer was often completing sessions on his own. Still, Ringo could innately tell who was the brains behind each track straight away, adding: “I could tell which were John’s songs, I always preferred to play on them—they always had a bit more rock ‘n’ roll to them.”
‘Rain’ is Ringo’s favourite Beatles song, which is a heavy-hitting classic Lennon track which apart from ‘Helter Skelter’ was a style that McCartney shied away from and let Lennon be in charge of that side of the band’s output. The affinity that Starr has with his former bandmate and close friend is still one that he discusses at great length today, with him still managing to find inspiration from Lennon on his last release 2019 effort What’s My Name.
He spoke movingly with Dave Grohl about this last year, stating: “The interesting thing is this guy Jack Douglas, the producer, brought this track of John’s to me [‘Grow Old With Me’, from Lennon’s 1980 ‘Bermuda Tapes’ demos] just this year; I’d never heard it. So he’s still in my life. And so it’s on the new album. But why he gave me this CD is [because] at the beginning, John says, ‘Oh, that would be great for Richard Starkey’.”
Starr poignantly added: “I well up every time I think [about it] — he’s talking about me. He says [imitates Lennon], ‘Hey, Ringo, this’d be great for you’. And I can’t help myself. [He chokes up.] I’m emotional now thinking of him 40 years ago talking about me on his tape and thinking of me.”
It makes the band’s ending moments even more difficult to take: “The four of us were great friends with a couple of side issues. And it was far out. So anyway, I didn’t know how to act. And then I got back to L.A., and I grieved, and then, of course, you always go through the grief.”
Listen to ‘Rain‘ below, which perfectly encapsulates why Ringo loved playing with John so dearly.