Ringo Starr, world’s best rock drummer

I didn’t even think it was a question. I don’t know much about drums, but damn, the man has laid down some wonderful, unique drum tracks. (Try turning down the rest of the parts and listening to him.) A friend once argued with me that Keith Moon was better, and I laughed. (Because Keith Moon wasn’t all that versatile.) There’s no one else who sounds like him, and I’m thrilled he’s getting this recognition:

Ringo was the first rock drummer on the scene with a sound and style of his own, and a distinct feel that was embedded in his band’s songs. He was influenced by other drummers (you can definitely hear bits of Palmer and Blaine, along with the swing of jazz giants like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich in his playing) but the way he played was pure Ringo. And it was basically ground zero for Rock Band Drumming.

He gave us the rapid-fire right hand on the hi-hats in songs like “I’m a Loser” and showed how a deep groove could be applied to both the ballads (“Let It Be”) and the rockers (“Taxman”). He introduced those fills-as-hooks that appeared from nowhere in the middle of a verse (like the snare-to-tom-tom pattern that follows ‘He blew his mind out in a car …’ in “A Day in the Life”), and those stoned-sounding cadences in songs like “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” that helped to usher in the psychedelic rock era. He dropped on the world that groovy beat to “Ticket to Ride” (OK, the beat was Paul’s idea, but Ringo nailed it) that’s been copped by a million garage and power pop bands. He married a minimalist approach with maximum effort on the Abbey Road-medley capper “The End” to produce the most identifiable drum solo in history. He – the drummer! – even sang lead occasionally, for Pete Best’s sake! Above all, he introduced to rock ‘n’ roll drumming that Ringo Feel. You know that feel when you hear it. It’s a snappy, head-bobbing vibe when it’s up-tempo, and sits in a beautifully unhurried place just behind the beat at a slower pace. That feel was the secret ingredient to the Beatles sound.

Yet for some reason, Ringo’s role in the Beatles’ cultural impact seems to come with an asterisk — as if his only contribution was showing up to the gigs and recording sessions.  Some contend that Ringo is merely the luckiest man on earth — successful and notable only by his association with musical visionaries like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison; that any old serviceable drummer would’ve been suitable for that lot.

I say this with peace and love: The Ringo detractors don’t know their ass from a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire. Technically speaking, no, Ringo is certainly not the best drummer in rock history. No one will ever confuse his unfussy approach to timekeeping with John Bonham’s raw power and monster groove, Neil Peart’s percussive wizardry or Bernard Purdie’s deep, precise pocket. (Purdie, incidentally, claims to appear uncredited on a number of Beatles tracks where Ringo is credited. Go down that internet rabbit hole at your own peril.)

But with the melodies, imagination and studio innovation the Beatles had at their disposal, they didn’t need a virtuoso drummer to help get their songs across — just one that knew his role as part of the ensemble, which Ringo did.  Live, he drove the band (there’s no better example of this than the Live at the BBC collection), and in the studio he glued all that boundary-smashing creativity together with a song-first sensibility that evolved with the sophistication of the songwriting. People like to mention how in the space of a couple of years Lennon and McCartney went from writing bubblegum-y love songs like “She Loves You” to deeper fare like “Nowhere Man.” But don’t forget Ringo matriculated from backbeat-focused playing to the more adventurous patterns of songs like “Baby You’re a Rich Man” and “She Said, She Said” in fairly short order as well.

It’s also worth noting that Ringo glued the Beatles together on a personal level. He was the lighthearted everyman in a roiling pit of personal agendas and outside influences.

Bottom line: He was a perfect fit for the Beatles. And he is most deserving of his singular place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


2 thoughts on “Ringo Starr, world’s best rock drummer

  1. And he is a modest, unassuming, *kind* human being.

    Not too many world-class musicians of any kind that you can say that about.

  2. Congratulations to Ringo! Well-deserved for sure.
    Netflix has an unflinching documentary about Ginger Baker that’s interesting – and yes, he’s a world-class a-hole.

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