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Why Ringo Starr wasn't allowed to play drums on The Beatles' first single

Released on October 5th, 1962, ‘Love Me Do’ was the debut single by the Liverpool rock band, The Beatles. It peaked at number 17 on the UK charts before it went to number one on the US charts two years later in 1964 after a re-release. Famously, the skeleton of the song was written many moons before it was released, across 1958-59, a time when the teenage Paul McCartney was truanting from school.

Eventually, it became an early Lennon-McCartney classic, and the rest is history. The release of the single dawned the ascendancy of the world’s biggest band, and throughout the rest of the decade, they would become music’s first true cultural phenomenon. As they came to be known, the ‘Fab Four’ would make massive, pioneering strides in every corner of music, and without their contributions, music would not be the same today.

The Beatles had initially planned to record ‘Love Me Do’ with their original drummer, Pete Best, whose position was becoming increasingly untenable due to his aesthetic and drumming ability. Furthermore, the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, and producer, George Martin, had similar ideas.

Due to his drumming ability, Martin wanted to use a session musician for the single, and the band took this a pretext of firing Best, something that John Lennon would later claim they were always going to do, and that this was the right opportunity. However, it was Epstein that made the final decision. He felt that if the band were to remain happy, Best had to go. 

He was dismissed on August 16th 1962, and Ringo Starr had joined the band by August 18th. Fast forward to September 11th, and the excited Ringo arrived at EMI Studios in London to record what he thought would be his first outing with the band. However, he found someone else sat behind the drum kit. 

Of the session, Martin recalled: “On September 11th 1962, we finally got together to make their first record. The boys, meanwhile, had brought along a guy (Starr), and they said: ‘We’re going to get Ringo to play with us.'” Unbeknownst to the band and Starr, Martin had arranged for London’s premier session drummer, Andy White, to play the drums on the track as he was unsure of Ringo’s drumming ability at the time and wanted to erase the possibility of him ruining the track’s potential.

Allegedly, he said: “We just spent good money and booked the best drummer in London. I’m not having your bloke in. I’ll find out about him later.'” Of Starr’s reaction, Martin remembered: “Poor Ringo was mortified and I felt sorry for him… so I gave him the maracas.”

In the 2000 Beatles book Anthology, Starr provided his opinion on the move. He remembered: “I went down to play. (Martin) didn’t like me either, so he called a drummer named Andy White, a professional session man, to play.” 

He continued: “I was devastated he had his doubts about me. I came down ready to roll and heard: ‘We’ve got a professional drummer.'” In what seemed like a personal affront to Starr, he then discussed how it affected his future relationship with Martin: “He has apologised several times since, had old George, but it was devastating – I hated the bugger for years.”

In 1967, Starr also recounted the events when talking to Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. More fresh in the memory than in 2000, he said: “I found this other drummer sitting in my place. It was terrible.” He remembered the way it made him feel: “I’d been asked to join the Beatles. Now it looked as if I was only good enough to do ballrooms with them, but not for records.”

Ironically, at the time, Starr went as far as to think that the Beatles were “doing a ‘Pete Best’ on me.” He even opined that this could have been the end of the road before the journey had even begun: “How phoney the whole record business was; I thought. Just what I’d heard about. If I was going to be no use for records, I might as well leave. What could the others say, or me? We just did what we were told.” 

In Anthology, McCartney also gave his opinion on Martin’s decision: “George got his way and Ringo didn’t drum on the first single. He only played tambourine.” He said: “I don’t think Ringo ever got over that. He had to go back up to Liverpool and everyone asked: ‘How did it go in the Smoke (London)?’ We’d say: ‘B-side’s good,’ but Ringo couldn’t admit to liking the a-side, not being on it.”

Imagine The Beatles without Ringo. It just seems weird. It’s a good thing he decided to stick out the slight and persevere. Even though at first he wasn’t well-received by fans either, and the decision to oust best landed George Harrison a black eye after a show in Hamburg, the decision to bring Starr into the fold was ultimately a brilliant one. He would rhythmically ballast the Beatles as they got increasingly experimental, which is something that by all accounts, Best wouldn’t have been able to do.

We get Martin’s point that he was unsure of Starr’s ability at this early stage, but the fact he was relegated to the tambourine seems ridiculous. Ah, the beauty of hindsight.

Listen to ‘Love Me Do’ below.

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