He bangs the drums: Ringo Starr at 80

When people talk about The Beatles, you’ll hear some knock Ringo Starr as the band’s weakest link. It’s true the oldest member of the Fab Four has certainly taken his share of knocks over the years. Some of his critics, in the interest of full disclosure, came from fellow musicians, such as legendary jazz figure Buddy Rich’s blunt assessment: “Ringo Starr was adequate. No more than that.”

But you didn’t hear Starr’s bandmates speak that way. While Paul McCartney and John Lennon may have been hard on him at times in the studio, they’d vouch for their guy in the press. “Ringo’s a damn good drummer,” John told Playboy’s David Sheff in one of his last interviews in 1980. “He was always a good drummer. He’s not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated.”

I concur.

And it wasn’t like Starr the sticksmith didn’t have his moments — often curiously effective moments, but moments nonetheless. Anyone who listens closely to the Beatles’ recorded output would likely agree.

The thing about Starr was, despite his chosen name he was the opposite of showy. He generally avoided the musical spotlight and refused to take drum solos (with one famous exception) prior to the band’s final group track on Abbey Road. “Solos have never interested me; I was opposed to it,” Ringo said in Anthology. “‘I don’t want to do no bloody solo!’ [But] George Martin convinced me. Anyway, I did it, and it’s out of the way.”

But he had more than his share of moments over the years. Rain, the B-side Ringo considered his best work, offers a sparkling example. But Ringo didn’t just bang the drums on a whole host of Beatles gems; he also got to sing the odd one himself, most memorably on the mid-‘60s curious Yellow Submarine and With A Little Help From My Friends, but the very first time he sang lead on a Beatles song was in 1962, on a cover of Boys, which had been a hit for the Shirelles.

It’s a song of lust for the male of the species. What did he think about singing those lyrics at the time? In an interview in 2019 with Parade, Starr was unfazed.

“It didn’t matter to me that it was about boys. I just loved the song. I’m still doing that song every night. I was doing it with Rory [and the Hurricanes], the band before the Beatles. I thought it was humorous that I’m singing about boys.”

In honour of his 80th birthday today, a little bit of Boys and more. Good Night.

Steve Pafford

BONUS BEATS: Salutin’ the Starr

 

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