Magical Mystery Tour
Ah, good old LSD. Great for songwriters, maybe (depends on your opinion of songs like "Blue Jay Way" and "Baby, You're a Rich Man" - "I Am the Walrus", on the other, is clearly the work of a brilliant mind at its most lucid) but not so wonderful for drummers. There are a number of moments when one suspects Ringo was not at the top of his game, and at least one example of inexcusably bad drumming.
The title track is a dog's breakfast of rhythms - starting with a strong "Sgt. Pepper"-style beat, lapsing into a pep rally tom-and-snare pattern, then a very sloppy middle section with hi-hat accents played on a very loose cymbal that muddies up the mix. The drumming may reflect the haphazard composition of the song, but I think a clearheaded Ringo might have tied the pieces together better. The outright shoddy drumming occurs in "Blue Jay Way" after the second verse. There's a moment when he breaks down into squibbles on the snare and it really detracts from the track.
"Strawberry Fields Forever" is another mess. Ringo seems to be playing his part without reference to the melody or arrangement - just scrambling all over the kit at will. And then he plays the middle backward. Interesting sound, but not particularly useful for keeping the beat.
Otherwise, the general direction of the drumming on this album shows that Ringo was ahead of his bandmates in the move to simplify their music that characterized 1968. Gone is the drums-for-drums sake style of Sgt. Pepper; Ringo mostly focuses on keeping a solid beat, and spicing things up with his fills. I believe it's in this period that the late style of Ringo's drumming that most fans would say is a Beatles characteristic really comes to the fore. Its main features are the swinging backbeat that we've heard so much of, punctuated by a unique style of playing fills. The timing Ringo uses is inimitable - even highly-paid session cats can never quite match the quirky spacing of his drumming. His resort to a simpler drumming style has the positive effect of demonstrating how he has grown technically. On "All You Need is Love" he even plays the one and only drum roll of his career, while smoothly handling the 7/4 time signature with a gentle quarter-note pattern.
"I Am the Walrus" is a fine example of the "classic" style developing here. Through most of the song he plays an aggressive eight-to-the-bar beat, and transitions between verses with distinctive snare fills. Notice the entire song is played without any tom-toms. He's even able to double-track the snare, fills and all. My favorite moment is after the second verse, when the whole band stops and Ringo plays two taps on a cymbal and a snare triplet. Simple, but incredibly effective.
"Flying" shows his restraint as well. Earlier he might have gone hog-wild on an instrumental, but here he restrains himself to a gently crescendo on the snare to ease between the verses.
"Blue Jay Way" walks a fine line between the baroque and the classic. Aside from the gaffe mentioned earlier, it's quite a performance. He starts with a menacing floor tom beat, but soon opens up with a swinging ride cymbal pattern, punctuated with big tom fills. On another song, the drumming would be intrusive, but here it helps fill the space created by the long droning chords (it's interesting to compare his playing on this drone number with the drone numbers on Revolver - I believe the reason he opens up more here is that the earlier pieces were more melodically active).
Magical Mystery Tour is not Ringo's best moment, but it does point out the wisdom of quitting drugs when he hooked up with the Maharishi.
Return to Top
As our hero said, "There's a lot of information on a double album. We should have released two albums - the White Album and the Whiter Album." With thirty tracks on hand, you might think this will be a massive review, were it not for the fact that no less than 10 of them feature no drumming from Ringo. Several are acoustic guitar ditties, the Beatles having learned from "And I Love Her" that Ringo and bongos don't belong in the same room. "Piggies" and "Good Night" utilize mock-classical arrangements with no room for a drum kit, although Ringo does pitch in with tambourine on the former and a less-flat-than-usual vocal for the latter. "Wild Honey Pie" and "Revolution Nine" are Paul's and John's respective attempts at destroying the hard-earned reputation of the Beatles as master tunesmiths, and self-respecting musicians like Ringo need not apply. "Back in the USSR" and "Dear Prudence," however, have drumming, just not Ringo's. When the drummer took a leave of absence from the session (perhaps a little miffed at being excluded from fully a third of the compositions?), Paul "Mr. Ego" McCartney decided he might as well give the impression that Ringo's drumming skills had taken an appreciable nosedive. By showcasing the awkward stickwork of Paul on the first two numbers (particularly the triplet fills on "USSR" and the hi-hat work on "Prudence") and not crediting Paul as the man at fault, the Beatles do a disservice to Ringo's name as a drummer.
That said, Ringo's drumming does appear to be a little subpar this time out - he has remarked that the reason he left the band was because he didn't feel he was drumming well. He mostly sticks to the basic Ringo beat he established as his style back in '67, and doesn't throw in as many surprising turns as one would expect. Interestingly, however, he makes this work for the band. While it's clear the group is intending to work in a lot of styles, Ringo's drumming keeps the Beatles feel throughout. For example, "Don't Pass Me By" has a country-western melody, but the beat remains rock and roll, while "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da" has a ska piano line, but Ringo sticks with the backbeat (he does give an interesting Caribbean-sounding tom fill into the bridge.)
"Glass Onion" has been said by many to have "Rain"-style drumming, but the only similarity is the double flam at the beginning of the verses. He does introduce a nice snare shuffle in the middle of the lines, though. "Birthday" has the backbeat under the riff, but kicks in a four-to-the-bar beat under the vocals; Ringo even gets a bit of a drum solo (augmented by that ever-lovin' tambourine). "Everybody's Got a Long Title That I Don't Feel Like Typing Right Now Even Though This Is Probably More Keystrokes Than The Original" has the same trick, but with mammoth compression, which makes for a great snare sound but fuzzes out the cymbals. Check out the timing in the refrains; it parses as 4/4 if you tap your foot through it, but Ringo plays it as two bars of 3/8, then syncopated triplets. Very tricky. Even "Helter Skelter" features the famous Beatle beat - but it sounds different because it's played on what sound like either the world's tinniest ride cymbal or a hi-hat opened up about 3 inches. There are lots of Ringo fills for once - just feel the rhythms as he kicks into the chorus - played on toms tuned incredibly loose.
In a few places Ringo departs from his formula - "Bungalow Bill" finds him shuffling with brushes on the snare during the chorus. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any particular pattern in mind, so that the syncopation occurs differently each time around. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" has him overdubbing his part, so he sticks to just the kick and snare, but I enjoy the way he plays off the handclaps in the introduction - it really throws the listener off the downbeat so the vocal comes as a surprise. "Revolution One" is more laid back, with a slow kick drum groove, but he botches the refrains that slip into 2/4 by emphasizing the change in meter with cymbal hits instead of riding through them.
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" finds Ringo in fine form, leading the band through the many changes in texture and even meter. He starts with the back beat, then open up into a half-time bashing under "I need a fix", and slips into a slow behind-the-beat groove with "Mother Superior jumped the gun" (although he apparently felt the need to overdub an extra hi-hat to keep things together). The doo-wop section is remarkable: after the opening phrase, the other Beatles slip into a 12/8 meter, but Ringo stays in 4/4. This was surely a deliberate move (probably from the mind of John Lennon, who had inflicted so many other time changes on Ringo), and the fact that the band pulls it off and are able to land back in 4/4 for the final phrases is a testament to their ensemble playing.
"Long Long Long" has Ringo returning to the "Day in the Life" trick of using drums as counterpoint instead of rhythmic foundation. Here it's a little trickier, as George uses him to fill out the bars of 9/8 between the verses in 12/8. Again, one is impressed with Ringo's unique sense of time, as these fills cross all sorts of metrical lines but never lose the beat. There's a nice light brush pattern in the second verse as a form of contrast.
"Savoy Truffle," on the other hand, features Ringo abandoning his famous fill style and instead charging through the toms in the same rhythm as the backbeat.
"Yer Blues" shows that Ringo has mastered the sloppy white-blues drumming style pioneered by guys like Mitch Mitchell. Too bad it's a lousy drumming style - so loose that a snare overdub is necessary under the first guitar solo.
Overall, the White Album shows Ringo playing competently, but without the inspiration that characterizes so much of his best work. He would be back on form soon enough.
Return to Top
I hope that Abe comes to love this album.
Let It Be
For the first time since 1963, there are drums on every track ("Across the Universe" has a tom-tom line buried in the mix), and for the first time ever Ringo is playing on all of them (that was a session man on "Love Me Do.") Ringo makes the most of his opportunity here, playing at a high level and introducing some new patterns as well. I believe that having practiced these songs all day long for a month contributes to the effect.
Most noticeable about the drumming is the wide variety of styles he hasn't used before. "Two of Us" is straight out of 1961 Nashville, sticking to the kick drum and a very lightly played tom pattern, until an overly long snare fill introduces the bridge, which has some nicely timed open hi-hat crashes.
Ringo finally conquers the shuffle here, with brushes on "For You Blue" and sticks on "Get Back." Unlike his previous attempts, he plays the pattern consistently throughout, and all is groovy.
"Dig A Pygmy" has a pattern I don't think I've ever heard from any drummer - he simply smashes the cymbals on the downbeats and lets them ring through the measure. This is one way to cope with the highly irregular meter, but I think it contributes to the feeling that this song lacks energy. When he turns in a few snare fills into the chorus, it definitely lifts the track.
Ringo is at his best here, though, playing in the classic style. Appropriately, he tackles "One After 909" with a part straight out of With the Beatles, complete with open hi-hat and four-to-the-bar kick drum. "I Me Mine" is more challenging - but Ringo manages to fit his style into the triple-time verse by adjusting the hi-hat to play two sixteenth-notes in the last beat of each phrase, and he does wonders for the dynamics of the chorus with a snare fill into some flashy ride cymbal patterns, and a varying fill at the end of each melody phrase.
"Let It Be" is perhaps his finest drumming ever. Ringo uses all the tricks of his patented style to produce an amazingly supportive drum track that never attracts attention away from the melody and lyrics. It starts with a simple hi-hat tap (augmented with the world's longest reverb), then slides into a classic back beat that opens into a ride cymbal pattern under the chorus. A cool tom line plays under the piano break, then he rests while the organ plays. An efficient little fill kicks off the guitar solo, during which he plays a more aggressive hi-hat pattern (pushing the beat instead of laying back). A different tom pattern plays under the last verse, after which the ride cymbal carries the song home. An amazing variety of textures here, yet he glides into each so smoothly that unless you're really concentrating, you hardly notice. This is what Ringo Starr is all about.
Return to Top
The Beatles recorded one last album because they wanted to go out on a high note, and Ringo does some of his finest playing on Abbey Road. Kudos to engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald. Working with eight-track for the first time, they give Ringo his own track on most songs and the presence and clarity of the drums here is as good as on modern recordings.
The album kicks off with Ringo's most divergent drum part ever - it doesn't even resemble the Merseybeat! "Come Together" finds him playing a couple quick crashes, four sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat, and a fill around all three toms - just under the opening riff. The verse features a syncopated floor tom leading into a lone kick drum on the beats during the end couplet, and the chorus introduces a snare drum for the first time. There is also a terrific fill that comes unexpectedly right before the solo - Tim Riley says it takes his breath away, which is a good description of how surprising it is.
Most of the rest of the drumming is more standard fare, but Ringo pulls it off with much creativity, putting a little twist on almost everything. "Something" finds him laying off the hi-hat completely during the first two verses - it's all kick and snare, with some of his signatures fills. The bridge has a fantastically complex pattern (perhaps double-tracked?) of triplets on the toms and hi-hat.
"Oh! Darling" and "Octopus's Garden" are standard-issue beats, but each has one great moment: the long tom fill in triple-time leading to the bridge of the former, and the wonderful tom-tom pattern under the guitar solo in the latter.
Even "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," where one might expect some simple tub-thumping, gets a unique pattern: kick drum paced with delicately tapped hi-hat, and some brisk snare fills into the chorus.
"I Want You" finds Ringo doing a modified Latin beat - it features the tom hit on two, but doesn't swing. He continues to use the ride cymbal under the "She's so heavy" section, which is probably a mistake. An open hi-hat or even a floor tom pattern would emphasize the "heaviness" of this better.
"Here Comes the Sun" finds George pulling the old Lennon trick of switching up the meter; but Ringo responds in an unusual way. When the bridge falls into 11/8, Ringo puts in a 7-beat fill on the snare and toms, and repeats it precisely every time. This is prog-rock drumming at its finest, sandwiched into a beautiful pop number! Also notice how delicately he plays the snare (tuned quite high) throughout.
As far as the medley goes, there's enough going on melodically and harmonically that Ringo makes the wise decision to emphasize the backbeat through most of the numbers. He does get in some interesting licks on "Sun King", on which, instead of a typical ballad drumming style (see "Michelle"), he sticks to a very loosely tuned kick drum and some light cymbals.
"Polythene Pam" is simply brutal with its close-miked tom thrashing - sounds like Bow Wow Wow!
Ringo also does his part to keep the medley tied together. Many of his drum fills are similar from song to song. I was playing the album on shuffle mode, and when it went from "Sun King" to "Carry That Weight" the transition was exactly the same as when it usually goes into "Mean Mr. Mustard." The characteristic Ringo fills on "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" are also found in "Golden Slumbers" (but slower) and at the very end of the medley.
And of course there's the drum solo. This is the only drum solo I've ever wanted to listen to twice. The reason: Ringo Starr knows what drummers are for - to keep the beat. So many other drum solos lose the beat and turn into random percussive noise. If I want random percussive noise, I'll head down to the local stamping plant. If I want drumming, I put on Abbey Road. Ringo sticks to a tightly tuned kick drum and plays what can almost be considered a melody on the toms. It's absolutely exhilarating as he increases the frequency of the fills, piling them faster and faster and then crescendos into the guitar part. But best of all is what happens next: he plays the Beatlemania beat. Just to remind us what it's all about. Ringo Starr may not be a virtuoso, but when you're looking for the solid beat that is the basis of all good rock and roll, he's the man.
Return to Top
This collection spans so many years that it's impossible to generalize about his style, so I'll just point out some notable playing.
"She Loves You" is typical Beatlemania playing but uses syncopation effectively in the chorus, when Ringo hits a couple flams on the "and" of 3 and the 4 to disrupt the momentum a little.
"I Feel Fine" has a wonderful Latin rhythm transferred from the toms to the ride cymbal, here played on the bell for maximum brightness.
"Rain" is credited by many - including Ringo himself - as his finest performance. I guess it depends on your definition of good drumming. If you mean showy fills that trample all over the singer and disguise the location of the downbeat, it's top-notch. If you mean solid rhythms that support the arrangement and help keep the energy of the track moving forward, it's a piece of crap.
"Hey Jude" is a fine performance, but what I love most is the story. It seems Ringo had gone to the lavatory between takes, but Paul forgot and started the song. The drummer had to sneak into the study very quietly and pick up the beat with that terrific fill into the second verse. This is the take used!
"Don't Let Me Down" finds Ringo applying Occam's razor to the drums. Faced with yet another time shift from Lennon (the chorus starts with a measure of 5/4) he simply doesn't play anything at all. Brilliant in its simplicity.
Return to Top
I don't have a lot to say about this collection, other than that the Beatles were quite justified in giving Pete Best the boot. Ringo's drumming, as it was almost always the first "layer" in the recordings, sounds the same here as on the official albums.
However, I would like to note that they are guilty of a great misuse of our language in the title. Anthologies are collections of previously published works. 1967-1970 is an anthology; Anthology is not an anthology. The word they're looking for is Ephemera.
Return to Top
A Final Word
I'd like to note that it has been a real pleasure listening closely to all the Beatles' albums in order to write these notes on Ringo's drumming. As a fun way to close this review, allow me to present a couple non-drumming Beatles lists.
TEN FAVORITE BEATLE MOMENTS
- the falsetto closing to "In My Life"
- the guitar solo (duet? trio?) in "And Your Bird Can Sing"
- "better, better, better, better, ah!" in "Hey Jude"
- the harmony stack and scream in "Twist and Shout"
- "and you're nowhere!" in "I'm Looking Through You"
- the drone and congas break in "Getting Better"
- the moment when "Polythene Pam" meets "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"
("oh look out" - guitar lick - "she came in through the bathroom window…")
- the fourth "come on" during the bridge of "Please Please Me"
- the opening line on "You're Gonna Lose That Girl"
- the last guitar break on "The End"
TEN SONGS THAT ARE WORSE THAN "REVOLUTION NINE"
A Taste of Honey
Blue Jay Way
Devil in Her Heart
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Run For Your Life
What Goes On
Wild Honey Pie
Within You Without You
"Nowhere Man"??? Worse than "Nine"?? You have to be joking. The harmonies themselves put this song lightyears ahead of "Revolution Nine". And again, it is a meaningul, provocative song. I've never had the need to put "Nowhere Man" on repeat play for an entire afternoon, but I dare say I could listen to it a few times in a row. With "Revolution Nine", if you put it on repeat play, I would have a hard time figuring out where the first stopped and the second began.
The ultimate audacity is to actually list "Wild Honey Pie". You cannot deny the raw sexuality of this song. It is the polar opposite of Honey Pie, a sweet little song to a childhood sweetheart. Wild Honey Pie gets past that and into the writer's/players' teen years with every pound of the bass drum meant as a .... ahem... thrust. Again... superb ideas way beyond "Nine".
Let's go with "Within You Without You" first.
A) You will not find a 'deeper' lyric in the entire Beatles catalogue. Apparently from the 'baby' of the band.
B) Indian music makes Western music look like a caveman banging two sticks together.
C) The importance of the song itself.
Point A is open to conjecture of course, and what you find deep, but overall, that song lyrically is miles ahead of what Lennon or McCartney wrote while in that band. Miles. Philosophically, metaphorically and metaphysically to be blunt.
Point B. Eastern music is so complex rhythmically I don't expect many to understand it. I'm not saying I'm all that for understanding it either. All I'm saying is, the time signatures and Indian music itself is so mathematically and rhythmically complex, it makes Western music seem primitive by example. Polyrhythms a plenty.
Point C: The amount of work Harrison did with Eastern music should have made him by now at least the 'Godfather of World Music', if not credited with at least the foundation of the work artists such as Peter Gabriel, Philip Glass, Paul Simon and others would take to other levels. Primarily Gabriel with WOMAD. But Harrison was doing WOMAD's before WOMAD ever was.
He is quite literally, the first Western musician in popular music, to actually pick up that eastern instrument, play it, and put it on a western pop song. He didn't emulate the sitar with a guitar. He didn't 'bend' strings to simulate it (see The Kinks and The Yardbirds). He actually played it. Though "Norwegian Wood" is not the first experiment with East and West, it marks the first time a Western musician played an Eastern instrument for a Western song. If he had stopped there, like so many did (including Lennon, Davies, Townshend, McGuinn), and just use it for one song and then see ya later, he wouldn't be so important in Western music history.
But he is. As soon as he employed eastern musicians for 'Love You To' in April 1966, he pretty much changed pop history. It is virtually the first time a white musician actually asked a 'brown' musician to play on a song that was a representation of the 'brown' person's music OR culture. The Yardbirds tried it, but dumped the original recordings. Why do you think the term Rubber Soul was used to describe something or a state of mind? And in essence, that is the foundation of World Music. It's the same thing that Paul Simon would get lauded for on Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints 20 years later. Harrison was doing this when he was 23 years old.
"Within You Without You" is a gigantic leap forward in melding East and West, and by this time Harrison was actually writing and reading Indian music. McCartney couldn't even read the music to 'Golden Slumbers', so he made up his own to accompany the lyrics. Harrison was instructing Indian musicians in their own terminology, the structure, melody and arrangement of his songs that explored their culture through Western eyes. While Lennon and McCartney were writing about Mr. Kite and getting old at 64, Harrison was breaking colour and cultural barriers.
I need not remind you of the history of England & India. What Harrison did in a 2 year span of time, was introduce one culture to another through music, on different terms that had been established with 200 years of British rule in India, and the independence brought about by Gandhi. What Harrison did with music was introduce these two cultures together on common ground. Music.
When I see people saying this song sucks, or whatever, I just cannot believe my eyes or ears. That song changed Western music AND society on so many levels, and had Harrison just wrote songs about India, that would have been one thing, but he totally introduced Hindu philosophy into the Western society. Now c'mon! You can still see the effects of that introduction in today's world.
I have yet to see the World Music forums give Harrison just due. His tour in 1974 was basically WOMAD in spirit and convention.
Blue Jay Way
The only thing I'd ask you to notice about this song is the lyric and the music. And how much what Harrison is talking about, a relatively simple subject about friends being lost in a fog, is coupled with music that recreates that atmosphere.
That music is fog.
He did a thing which people like Durer, Monet, Vivaldi and Holst tried doing with their works. Recreate something creatively and artistically, something that happens in nature, through painting or music. To physically capture that natural event or natural body in musical notes and texture. And that's exactly what "Blue Jay Way" does. It doesn't even matter if you think it's a good pop song or not. From its beginning seconds, exactly what George is describing lyrically is happening in the music as well, and you'll find no other Beatles song that does this. OTHER than "Here Comes The Sun", and George's solo song "Here Comes The Moon". Either sound effects are added from the BBC recording library to emulate pigs, or birds on any other Beatles song, but "Blue Jay Way" sonically recreates fog in music. And that's exactly what Gustav Holst was trying to capture when he wrote The Planets in the early 1900's.
Rant over, and thank you for a great site to read and enjoy. I was pleased to find SOMEONE giving Ringo his due in a technical manner.
1. Run for your life
2. When I get home
3. Hello Goodbye
4. Maxwell's silver hammer
5. I want you [she's so heavy] [this is tough!]
6. Oh! Darling
7. Mother Nature's Son
8. Julia [but it's OK]
9. Why don't we do it in the road [but it's OK]
10. Martha My dear [but it's OK]
Complaints, criticisms, or bribery reviews: Contact me!