A band is a fragile thing. While it might force its members to live like a family and work as a tank crew, at the end of the day, it’s an assortment of individuals, none of whom are guaranteed to get along. John Lennon clearly learned this the hard way in the early days of The Beatles, when he performed alongside Pete Best, the group’s much-maligned early drummer.
Best performed with Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison for two years before being fired in 1962 and replaced by Ringo Starr. He was asked to join the Beatles after it transpired that the group wouldn’t be able to play their planned season of concerts in Hamberg without a drummer. McCartney settled on Best, who he’d seen playing in the Casbah club with his own group, the Black Jacks. Despite being a fairly unremarkable drummer, Best was a hit with the crowd and Paul was desperate. McCartney persuaded Best to join him and the other Beatles in Germany, promising him £15 a week.
Best accepted, but it soon became apparent that he didn’t gel with the other Beatles. Some have questioned whether Lennon’s frustration with the drummer might have resulted from jealousy. Best was, after all, very popular among the group’s female fans. “Pete had been an extremely popular Beatle, despite his ex-band mates’ misgivings about his drumming ability and his personality,” Starr recalled in Ringo: With a Little Help. “The group’s female fans, in particular, dug Pete’s brooding good looks.”
McCartney would later claim that Best never really shared the same humour as the rest of The Beatles and insisted that his personality drove a wedge between him and the rest of the group. He was remarkably distant and didn’t seem to share their passion for art or wacky antics. By the time The Beatles found themselves back in Liverpool, things had got so bad that Brian Epstein concluded Best had to go.
Epstein broke the news as delicately as possible, and that was that. Best performed two final shows with The Beatles in the Cavern Club before being replaced by Ringo Starr. Years later, Lennon did his best to explain how things had turned so sour. “By then we were pretty sick of Pete Best too because he was a lousy drummer, you know? He never improved and there was always this myth being built up over the years that he was great and Paul was jealous of him because he was pretty and all that crap. The only reason he got in the group in the first place was because the only way we could get to Hamberg was he had to have a drummer. We knew of this guy. He was living in his mother’s house that had a club in it, and he had a drum kit so we dragged him, auditioned him, and he could keep one beat going for long enough so we took him to Germany.”
According to Lennon, The Beatles never intended to keep Best on for longer than was necessary. “We were always gonna dump him when we could find a decent drummer,” he continued. “By the time we’d got back from Germany, we’d trained him to keep a stick going up and down. He couldn’t do much else.” Lennon did concede that there were some advantages to having Best on side: “He looked nice and the girls liked him so that was alright.” Generally speaking, however, it seems that Lennon couldn’t wait to part ways with Pete.
Best’s story verges on the tragic. The drummer was asked to leave the group just before the ‘Fab Hour’ hit the big time. As they rocketed to stardom, he was left on the sidelines, watching on as his former bandmates landed hit and after hit. Makes you want to weep, doesn’t it?