Thursday, July 8, 2010

In Defense of the Much Maligned 4th Beatle

ringo starr has never been my favorite beatle. in fact, as the movie "(500) days of summer" reminded us, having ringo starr as your favorite beatle is ridiculous. john lennon was the visionary goofball leader. paul was the babyfaced pop sensibility. george was the quiet, sensitive one that pulled out the most intimate feeling songs. those three really created the beatles' music, sound, and image. so what about poor ringo? i had a friend recently rail on him for not making good beats. then my father essentially said he was boring. really, many people feel like ringo is something of a replaceable member.
the truth is, the beatles weren't the beatles until they added ringo. he was older than the rest of the band, and while they were still trying to cut their teeth in the circuit, he was anchoring bands all over england and germany. when they saw him in germany, they knew they needed him. they valued him so much that they created songs just for him to sing in, because they felt he needed to be heard more from. but this post isn't about his singing, it is about his drumming.
indeed, none of the beatles were really all that great musicians, especially early on. some of george harrison's stuff later began to show true skill, but his lead guitar was rarely something to write home about. it certainly wasn't cutting edge. john's voice was unique, but not really technically amazing. his guitar was mostly just maintaining the melody. paul's bass wasn't his first choice of instrument. he really only took it on because nobody else was willing to do it. that being said, his bass work is the earliest of the good skill shown in the band. their real strength was in the song creation. i won't even call it song writing or making, because i really think that the beatles transcend those words in many aspects. they were about the entire world of the music, creating not only the notes, but the entire experience. the only other musicians i can think of that created music in a similar way was the beach boys(their production quality and song structuring on animal noises was earth shatteringly ahead of its time).
ringo's beats often get lost in the mix. the focus on the songs themselves lend focus to the melody and singing rather than any other component. but in songs like ticket to ride, rain, tomorrow never knows, or everybody's got something to hide, 'cept me and my monkey, i can really hear the genius in ringo's playing. my personal favorite of his is come together. that is his definitive drum line. he was just as integral a part of the beatles as anyone else. so here's to you, ringo starr. you may never have sold a bajillion solo albums like the rest of your compatriots, but you made the quirkiness of summer finn a little quirkier, and for that, i thank you.
plus, you narrated thomas the tank engine. that made my childhood awesome before i even knew what the beatles were.

1 comment:

  1. Great, finally some appreciation for poor Ringo. He was the most famous of the four when he joined, and at the Beatles peak he received the same amount of fan mail as the other 3 put together. He was the best actor of the four, which helped them break through into the public consciousness in a way that no other band ever had and he came up with many great 'Ringoisms' such as Tomorrow Never Knows and A Hard Days Night. He eased the pressure in the studio with his calm manner and cheerful smile and, as you have said, he was a great drummer. Who cares if a handful of rock drummers can technically drum better than him, when they write forgettable drum fills and parts. His drumming is very distinctive, helping to create the Beatlesque sound. He worked brilliantly with Paul's melodic bass and Johns ragged guitar work. He only ever had one solo, he never hogged the limelight. George Martin called him the human metronome because he was song consistent and had such great timing. As he has said, he always served the song. He is the underrated underdog, alongside George, the Dark Horse of the group. Without Ringo, there would be no Yellow Submarine song or film. He was a great muse for John and Paul. There also would not be the two Beatles classics that he wrote, Octopus's Garden (a great dreamy/psychedelic pop song) and Don't Pass Me By (the Beatles best country song). He had a very powerful, distinctive voice, warm, rich and friendly. Very characterful. Those who attack his voice should listen to With A Little Help From My Friends and then try and sing it. He reached very high notes on that song, Paul really had to push him but he could do it. He also had a big influence on the Beatles that is not really mentioned. In the same way George got the others listening to Raga/Indian music, Ringo got them listening to country music. Dylan inspired them to go towards folk music, but Ringo was just as influential with his country music. The sound on Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul has a lot to do with him.

    Great article, thanks for sticking up for Ringo.