Since the Fab Four defined what it means to be “popular,” the debate has raged on: is Ringo Starr a good drummer?
The answer is dependent on your definition of good, and there is no room for personal preference; you either like Ringo Starr’s drumming or you don’t. However, we believe there is a case for objectivity here, and given that The Beatles covered more musical ground in a decade than many bands could hope to cover in an entire career, there is something in their catalog for everyone to be inspired by, particularly Ringo’s drumming.
Here’s why Ringo, while not the greatest drummer in the world, is the ideal drummer for the greatest band of all time.
When he began, pop drumming was still in its infancy
It’s easy to look at The Beatles’ success now, after 60 years of musical and technical advancement, and wonder why Ringo inspired so many drummers. But in order to get it, you must first understand what came before. Ringo was born in 1940, a year after World War II began, so rock and roll did not exist for at least the first ten years of his life. The sounds of the day included jazz standards, wartime laments, and smooth crooners.
When Ringo began playing in his first skiffle bands as a teenager, the time-keeping role was still performed on household objects like boxes, biscuit tins, and washboards. The point is that the drum kit and ‘pop’ drumming were still in their infancy when The Beatles hired Ringo.
He may not have invented it, but he certainly helped shape it during those early years, transforming the drums from an orthodox, military, and jazz-led discipline into a more democratized art form. Ringo’s approach broadened the blueprint for what drummers ‘did’ in rock ‘n’ roll.
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Ringo’s unique drumming style
To determine whether Ringo Starr was a good drummer, consider what Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters and former drummer of the legendary grunge band Nirvana, had to say about him: Define the phrase “the best drummer in the world.” Is it someone who is technically savvy? Or is it someone who sits in the song and expresses themselves? Ringo was the king of emotion.
The instinctive nature of Ringo’s drumming is a key component of his style.
Ringo would go with the flow and play his rhythms and fills in such a spontaneous way that it was almost impossible for him to repeat the same drumming sequence a second time, as he once explained on the Conan talk show.
Ringo’s unusual drumming style can also be attributed to his left-handed nature, which was suppressed by his mother when he was a child. Even though he played the drums in a right-handed configuration, his stronger left hand set him apart from other drummers.
Detractors, on the other hand, claim Ringo never possessed strong drumming chops and that his style was simply too plain and simple.
Ringo Starr was never an overbearing drummer. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Professional drummers look up to him for his ability to add just the right number of drums to a song without overdoing it.
Returning to David Grohl’s words, Ringo is the “King of Feel.” He has a strong instinct for the songs he plays and knows how to enhance them without overdoing them.
Ringo’s drumming is simple but effective during the Beatles’ early years, as heard in songs such as She Loves You. It adds movement and dynamics while not interfering with the vocals or instruments.
If that doesn’t make it clear, think about the phrase “less is more.”
Music is forever changing
The Beatles’ musical approach changed dramatically around 1965. Rubber Soul was the first example of this shift, which was carried even further with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There is a lot of exciting experimentation in terms of music production on this album. The Beatles began experimenting with sound effects, compressors, limiters, phasing, backward recording, different miking techniques, and new sonic solutions with this release in order to capture the essence of Ringo’s drums.
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The drumming changed dramatically
The slightly intrusive hi-hat of Eight Days A Week, for example, was replaced by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s introductory tom-tom, followed by a gentler tambourine in With a Little Help from My Friends.
Ringo’s natural swinging rhythm can also be heard on this album. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is a prime example.
Ringo transformed drumming in numerous ways.
One example is the use of unusual muffling techniques. He would attenuate and obtain a sound that would fit the song using anything from tea towels to cigarette packets.
In contrast to jazz standards, he was also one of the first drummers to tune their kits down.
He is your favorite drummer’s favorite drummer
Ringo played drums in front of a larger audience than anyone had ever seen before in 1964. In fact, 73 million people tuned in to see The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.
There were more than a few future drum heroes among them, and we’d argue that it’s difficult to think of another time when one drummer inspired an entire generation of children to pick up a pair of sticks and beg their parents to buy them a kit.
All roads lead back to Ringo, from Dave Grohl’s simplistic heavy-hitting to Mike Portnoy’s progressive mind-bending and far beyond.
A lasting legacy
Many artists have been inspired by Ringo’s drums over the last few decades.
For example, Ringo’s drumming is sampled at The End of Beastie Boys’ 1989 album The Sound of Science.
Danger Mouse released a mash-up album in 2004 that included samples from The White Album as well as a cappella version of Jay-The Z’s Black Album. Ringo’s drums stand out as one of the most distinctive elements in this fusion experiment.
The Chemical Brothers, a rock band, also took inspiration from Ringo for their songs Setting Sun and Let Forever Be, the beat of which is heavily influenced by the drumming in Tomorrow Never Knows.
Furthermore, Ringo’s influence did not end with the demise of the Beatles. Most of his solo works highlight his inventive drumming techniques. Listen to Back Off Boogaloo or Oh My My for a few examples.
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He’s a fantastic musician
Ringo and the band were having so much fun that you’d never guess they weren’t recording to a click. They always performed as a group, and Ringo paid close attention to the vocals. He never wanted a fill to interfere with the song.
When he sings, he has the same great time, feeling, and swings. Furthermore, he brings joy to the music and makes it enjoyable.
Whether you like Ringo Starr or The Beatles, you have to admit that he was a game-changer as a drummer, and he forever changed the landscape for beat keepers everywhere.
- Is Ringo Starr one of the all-time great drummers?
Ringo Starr has been playing drums since he was 13 years old, and as a member of the Beatles, he has more number one hits than any other act in music history. Ringo is the richest drummer in the world, with a net worth of $350 million, despite being one of the greatest drummers.
- Why was Ringo so talented on the drums?
The drummer is no longer just keeping time in the shadows; they are also counting the songs, leading the way, and creating the atmosphere. Ringo also pioneered the recording of drums. The compression on the drums and cymbals, the sound, the tuning…all of it was revolutionary at the time.
- Ringo Starr learned to play the drums in a unique way.
Starr didn’t fully embrace the drum kit until he got a gig playing rock music with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. At lunchtime, they’d often play in the basement for the men. And if you’ve ever played a factory, you’ll understand.
- Was Ringo the most well-known Beatle?
Ringo’s primary talent as a drummer has been validated by his former bandmates, who have all requested his services for solo albums. He was not only the best drummer in the Beatles, but he was also the most popular Beatle within the Beatles.
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Ringo Starr was a member of the most successful rock band in history, The Beatles. The Beatles sold billions of records, created music that changed people’s lives, and then disbanded when they were at their peak.
So, is Ringo Starr a good drummer? Ringo Starr may not be the greatest drummer of all time, especially in terms of flash. However, what John Lennon said in that 1980 interview with Playboy is correct: Ringo is a natural talent who can fully exploit his “animal instinct.”
His non-intrusive approach to songs and “going with the flow” should be valuable lessons for any drummer.