We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look at the moment the usually entirely affable Ringo Starr lost his cool and temporarily quit The Beatles. The decision came during the recording sessions for The White Album and a particular grilling from Paul McCartney, which pushed him over the edge.
The band’s unique drummer was in the middle of recording for the Chuck Berry inspired song ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ and saw Ringo leave the studios promising never to return. It was one of the first real signs that the band were headed for the rocks.
By 1968, the talent of The Beatles was widely known. The group had become a pop behemoth and scored countless number ones as well as receiving critical acclaim. With John Lennon and Paul McCartney as the principal songwriters and singers of the band, the duo dominated the spotlight. However, over the last few years, George Harrison had begun to emerge from their shadow.
Sadly, Ringo still felt left out in the cold. It was this, plus a continued barrage of orders from the notoriously meticulous Paul McCartney about a tom-tom fill. It eventually pushed Starr into quitting the band before finally returning after a spell on actor Peter Sellers’ yacht.
The recording sessions started off well though, “While we were recording the ‘White’ album we ended up being more of a band again,” remembered Ringo in Anthology and that’s what I always love. I love being in a band. Of course, I must have moments of turmoil, because I left the group for a while that summer.”
The drummer continued: “I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.” It was the beginning of a protracted split, especially after Lennon confirmed he had been feeling a similar way. “I went to see John, who had been living in my apartment in Montagu Square with Yoko since he moved out of Kenwood. I said, ‘I’m leaving the group because I’m not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.’ And John said, ‘I thought it was you three!’”
“So then I went over to Paul’s and knocked on his door. I said the same thing: ‘I’m leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I’m out of it.’ And Paul said, ‘I thought it was you three!’” It seems as though the group was already beginning to isolate itself. “I didn’t even bother going to George then. I said, ‘I’m going on holiday.’ I took the kids and we went to Sardinia.”
It was a notion that producer George Martin picked up, “I think they were all feeling a little paranoid. When you have a rift between people – if you go to a party and the husband and wife have been having a row – there’s a tension, an atmosphere. And you wonder whether you are making things worse by being there. I think that was the kind of situation we found with Ringo. He was probably feeling a little bit odd because of the mental strangeness with John and Yoko and Paul, and none of them having quite the buddiness they used to have. He might have said to himself, ‘Am I the cause?’”
It was in Sardinia, while staying on Peter Sellers’ yacht, that he wrote ‘Octopus’ Garden’ alongside the actor, “I stayed out on deck with him and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar – and we had ‘Octopus’s Garden’!”
Ringo would come back to the band and they would continue to write some of their most poignant and beloved work, proving that while the return may have been fairly swift it was worth going back for. Ringo’s departure was the signal for the end of The Beatles, the pressures of stardom had made such a well-loved character feel isolated and alone. Soon the Fab Four would be out on their own.