Confusing Simple With Great


Ringo Starr is an acquired taste; if you love the Beatles, you automatically love Ringo's simple style of drumming. If you evaluate Ringo as a musician, it's easy to find holes in the theory that he was the equal of the Beatles as players.

This is a poor way to argue that Starr was given short shrift as a drummer; his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist or musician is the worst form of charity for a man who doesn't need the acclaim. He's a Beatle and always will be; you can't give him any awards that equal such a thing.

Ringo has 18 solo albums since leaving the Beatles. I have yet to meet anyone who can name any of these albums and I would be shocked to meet someone who owns all of them. This is not to say he's not worthy of acclaim. He's a genuinely wonderful person who lots of people enjoy playing music with. But he's very much a drummer from the 1960s who utilized the technology of his day to make great records with minimal skill.

At the time, drums sounded plummy and were washed out of the mix. Put a really great drummer like Charlie Watts on your car stereo and listen to Let's Spend the Night Together. The sound is mixed onto the right channel (at least that's how I heard it) and it sounds like he's banging around on a pile of buckets. Listen to the half-slow, dopey fills on The Dark Side of the Moon, which features a drummer with only marginally more talent than Starr in Nick Mason.

You have to wait until the 1970s before the drums begin to sound good (think of Keith Moon on Quadrophenia, which is leaps and bounds better than anything The Who had ever done in terms of a quality drum sound). It would seem that there's a line that appears around this time--some bands sound fantastic and others sound like they're being supported by the plastic bucket brigade.

Whether this is because of better multi-tracking, better quality drums and cymbals, better mixing, or just plain better musicianship is up for debate. I still think Paul McCartney was the best drummer in the Beatles (go listen to Band on the Run and argue otherwise).

Simple drumming can be great, but great drummers know the value of being simple with skill. Ringo was a great simple drummer who took direction in the studio. That does not mean he was a great drummer.