Too often has The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, been the butt of some unkind jokes. Falsely reportedly that a gag purported by his bandmate John Lennon, the adage goes that when asked about whether Ringo was the best drummer in the world, the bespectacled Beatle responded: “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles”. Thankfully, that myth has been dispelled, and the joke traced back to a 1981 radio show featuring Jasper Carrott to prove that nobody within the Fab Four thought of Ringo as anything less than integral to their sound.
That hasn’t helped the wider public acknowledgement of Ringo’s drumming to be any less derisory though. As we all know by now, it doesn’t have to be the truth when widespread stories start to become known as factual. But, for Ringo, it is an unwelcome and unwarranted tagline. The truth is that Ringo may not have been a studious percussionist, or particularly gifted with what was deemed as precision playing, but he had that one unteachable thing that every musician craves — he had style. As Paul McCartney said when picking his own favourite drummers: “Not technically the best by a long shot, but for feel and emotion and economy, they’re always there, particularly Ringo.”
The truth is, the music world is full of snobs. That means that while Ringo was a part of the biggest band the world has ever known, and contributed some of the most stylish and simply captivating fills of all time, he was, for a long time, an outsider to the music community at large as being below par, in no small part thanks to his resistance to drum solos. In fact, his refusal to embellish his playing style is what endeared him to the rest of The Beatles.
McCartney remembered when speaking to Mark Lewisohn, the group cornered Ringo and asked: “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!”
Another stalwart of percussion, Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, has also shared his appreciation for Ringo’s style at large. When asked to pick the best drummer of all time, Grohl responded resolutely: “Define ‘best drummer in the world’,” Grohl said in a tribute video for Starr’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame presentation. “Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel?”
He added: “Ringo was the king of feel.”
Still, Ringo’s name doesn’t carry the same weight as Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Cream’s Ginger Baker, Rush’s Neil Peart or The Who’s madman, Keith Moon. Instead, he is subjected to jokes from people who, frankly, don’t know any better. However, below, we have just the thing as we’re bringing you five isolated drum tracks to prove that Ringo Starr was one of rock music’s understated geniuses.
Ringo Starr’s best drumming songs for The Beatles:
‘She Said, She Said’
The song ‘She Said She Said’, a track penned by Lennon for the 1966 album Revolver, was once described as “an ‘acidy’ song” by Lennon. It was the beginning of the band’s rejection of their pop star tagline. They were now expanding not only their sound but their inner sanctums too. The lyrics were inspired by actor Peter Fonda’s comments during an LSD trip in August 1965. The striking opening lines, “She said, she said, I know what it’s like to be dead,” were attributed by Lennon after a particular night with acid took place with members of The Beatles and The Byrds.
‘She Said, She Said’ is also a contentious song for the fact it doesn’t feature Paul McCartney at all on the record. Macca allegedly stormed out of the recording sessions after an argument over the arrangement of the tune. But Ringo Starr more than makes up for his departure by bringing an understated rhythm to this psychedelic number.
The isolated drum track showcases Ringo Starr’s unique drumming at its best. A sequence of interesting fills that he attributes to his unique style of drumming. You can hear his precise and purposeful patterns below as well as the bass line too.
‘Ticket To Ride’
‘Ticket To Ride’ is a pioneering song, not only for The Beatles but for music as a whole. Listening back, it is truly astonishing to think it was released in 1965, as it sounds so ahead of its time and fresh even now. That is a feat, in part, down to Ringo’s emphatic drumming. John Lennon went as far as proclaiming that this classic Beatles song was “the first heavy metal record”, despite many people attributing that label to their song ‘Helter Skelter’ released three years prior to this one.
“It’s a heavy record, and the drums are heavy too. That’s why I like it,” Lennon suggested in 1970, which he would echo once more a decade later to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980: “That was one of the earliest heavy-metal records made. Paul’s contribution was the way Ringo played the drums.” This comment provides perhaps the biggest bugbear people have when it comes to Ringo — he was always under heavy direction.
While that may have some truth to it, most drummers are given similar direction. The difference is that Ringo was not only capable of achieving what was required but doing it with an effortlessness that seemingly annoyed his contemporaries. The isolated drums will leave you in total awe of Ringo’s mastery but, more importantly, it dispels the myth that he’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.
In Many Years From Now, the biography of Paul McCartney, Ringo made the revelation to author Barry Miles that his favourite recording of anything he’s played during the entirety of his career was the B-side to ‘Paperback Writer’ the classic tune ‘Rain’: “I feel as though that was someone else playing,” he said.
“I was possessed!” It’s a remarkable idea and one which sees Ringo perhaps at his peak, delivering a drum pattern and style that is utterly unique and totally Ringo.
He then went on to detail what exactly he loved about it: “I was into the snare and hi-hat. I think it was the first time I used this trick of starting a break by hitting the hi-hat first instead of going directly to a drum off the hi-hat,” Ringo said. “I think it’s the best out of all the records I’ve ever made.” Again completed by the bassline, we can listen to Ringo’s playing below and marvel at the shoulder-slinging skill he possesses.
Ringo’s unorthodox drumming style has given the band some of the most memorable moments in their songs. Take, for instance, the John Lennon-written bluesy classic ‘Come Together’. Starr’s drums on this single are a testament to his laconic style. His style is swinging and cultured, as he “plays with his shoulder”—which leads to some off-beat and unique fills. It’s a style that is almost impossible to replicate.
It remains one of the Beatles’ ultimate fan favourite songs and we’re given even more room to appreciate the track through Ringo’s unique playing style. Seemingly casual and yet always in control, Starr’s style has always offered the band a swing that other pop acts of the time could match.
Even on ‘Come Together’ Starr shows off a degree of lefty style, descending through his toms and even producing some muted notes that computers would be happy if they created.
Always remembered by Frank Sinatra’s comments of being “the greatest love song written in the last 50 years,” the George Harrison-penned track ‘Something’ is rightly regarded as one of the best The Beatles ever produced. It also included one of the simplest but most prominent drum fills the group had ever recorded.
In the isolated drum track for The Beatles Abbey Road classic, it is easy to see Starr’s unique styler and how his slinging shoulder led to a whole new approach for rock ‘n’ roll drummers and set the standard for percussionists for decades to come. From the change of stick position (moving most modern drummers from orthodox grip to matched grip—no small feat) to his always powerful percussion, Starr changed a lot of minds along the way.
That’s perhaps Ringo’s crowning achievement in life: he inspired literally millions of people to pick up the sticks and have a go themselves. Though, when they eventually did grab some sticks and have a go at the ‘easy’ Beatles songs, they soon found that Ringo Starr just had a habit of making them sound easy.