Ringo Needs More Love

ringo3On a long drive the other day, I was listening to “The Beatles,” aka “The White Album” and had some non-writerly non-bookish thoughts to share about it.

Ringo continues to get a bad rap as a drummer. The idea is that he’s just a lovable, average lunkhead thrown in with three geniuses and that anyone could have filled those shoes, but that just doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. If you listen to Beatles tracks and focus in on the percussion, you can hear how Ringo gives every single song a distinctive sound, so much so that if you were able to tune down the rest of the band you could identify a Beatles track just by what Ringo’s doing.

ringo1Sometimes I run across a quote wherein John Lennon was asked if Ringo were the greatest drummer in the world and he reportedly said: “he’s not even the greatest drummer in The Beatles.” It turns out that Lennon never actually said that — a comedian did years after Lennon’s death. All of The Beatles seemed to hold him in high regard and repeatedly emphasized to (often disbelieving) listeners that he was a vital part of the band. That, for instance, he almost always got the exact right sound the first time through and almost never flubbed a take, that his malapropisms inspired song titles, and that he was the missing ingredient that really helped the band gel.

ringo2If you don’t believe any of this, try an ear test yourself. Listen to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and pay particularly close attention to the percussion. That’s Paul McCartney as he’s just mastering the drums. He’s competent, but once you’re aware it’s him you can never NOT notice that there are some ragged parts. Contrast it with another track on the first side of the first disc of “the white album,” even the relatively minor “Glass Onion”. It should be immediately obvious what a difference a great versus competent drummer makes. Ringo, on “Glass Onion” is confident, assertive, driving. His presence makes the song stronger, opposed to the drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” which simply fade into the background.

The more you pay attention, the more obvious Ringo’s contribution to the band’s sound becomes. In short, then, give Ringo your love. That’s all he needs, right?