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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beatlefan Review of 'Ringo Starr and the Beatles Beat'

8:47 AM Posted by Nicole M
Article by John Firehammer and originally published in Beatlefan magazine (P.O. Box 33515, Decatur, GA 30033)Adapted with permission.

By Alex Cain and Terry McCusker
Matador, hardcover edition, 416 pages
$45.99

From the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Buckingham Palace, Ringo Starr is – finally – getting his due.

And this book, first published electronically and now in hardcover, is one of the best tributes of all.

Ringo’s abilities as a drummer have been debated for years. He was stereotyped for years as “just lucky,” a mediocre musician who landed the best gig on earth. Much of this is due to his lack of flashiness as a player – people are impressed by drum solos, even when they’re as musical as a car wreck – and his own self-deprecating personality.

But most people who know anything about playing drums will say, without hesitation, that Ringo was great. And here two drummers detail many of the reasons why.

Cain and McCusker, both Liverpudlians, cover just about every percussion-related topic in Beatles history, including Ringo’s predecessors in the band. There are descriptions and photos of Ringo’s various drum kits and McCusker’s entertaining firsthand recollections of seeing the Beatles in action in the Cavern, including an anecdote about the time Ringo almost ran him over outside the club in his Ford Zephyr.

But the real meat of the book is the song-by-song examination of the Beatles’ catalog and the percussion parts featured on each. Even the songs on which Ringo doesn’t play drums (the most famous case being “Back in the U.S.S.R., featuring Paul pounding the skins) and the songs with no drums at all, such as “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby,” are analyzed for their rhythmic properties.

There’s interesting information here that will get you listening to the Beatles’ music in new ways. I was struck by how, even early on, the band was experimenting with different percussive techniques and instruments. “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” for example, features not just drums, but echo-drenched overdubs of Ringo pounding two drumsticks together, creating an unusual and ear-catching effect. And on “Don’t Bother Me,” Ringo plays an African djembe drum joined by John on tambourine and Paul on woodblock.

Musical notation of Ringo’s drum parts is featured throughout, along with the time signature(s) of each tune. We see how, recording in the days before drum machines, the Beatles’ shortened and stretched the meter of their tunes to accommodate their lyrics, or just make the songs more interesting. The opening bars of “Drive My Car,” for example, are in 9/8, while “Good Day Sunshine” shifts between 4/4, 3/4 and 5/5. Ringo made it all make sense.

And, finally, we also get this perfect description of Ringo’s musicianship, taste and contributions to the Beatles’ songs: “It wasn’t simply what Ringo played, it’s how and when he played. Ringo possesses a sensitivity and empathy that enhances each song without dominating.” Exactly.