That’s Not Ringo on the Drums?

As the head-bopping, most affable drummer ever, Ringo Starr’s distinct drumming is a huge part of what gave The Beatles their unforgettable Fab Four sound. He established the feel for so many of the band’s greatest hits, from his furious high-hat work on “She Loves You” to his subtle brilliance on “A Day in The Life.” But truth is, Ringo’s drumming isn’t heard on every recorded Beatles song. There have been a very few exceptions. Let’s shine a light on four songs that made it to vinyl without Ringo’s signature touch.

“Back In The USSR”
The recording of the legendary double album The Beatles, forever known as the White Album, lasted from May to October of 1968. You could slice the tension in the studio with a knife, or in the case of Ringo, a drum stick. The usually happy-go-lucky percussionist had simply had enough during the recording of the album’s first track “Back in the USSR,” and had quit the band after having trouble picking up the drum pattern Paul was requesting. According to Beatle historian Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now, it was a “fluffed tom-tom fill” that prompted Paul to hop on to the drum set himself. Ringo would later be quoted as saying that he felt like “an outsider” and wasn’t playing up to his standards. Because of that, Ringo didn’t return for two weeks, leaving Paul to sit in on drums for this high energy classic rock hit. Supposedly John and George took over drums for the overdubs since, as engineer Ken Scott noted in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Paul played other instruments on the second day.

Read related post: Ringo’s Few Songwriting Moments with The Beatles

“Dear Prudence”
The second song on the White Album that was recorded in Ringo’s absence was “Dear Prudence,” a tune in which John’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful on lyrics like “the sun is up, the sky is blue.” It was inspired by Mia Farrow’s namesake sister who had been hiding away and meditating during the band’s earlier retreat to Rishikesh, India.  During recording, the Fab Four was still dealing with being the Fab Three, so Paul filled in (again) on drums, nailing the high-hat work that was Ringo’s specialty — while also handling tambourine, bass, and flugelhorn. But the drums were never the hook for “Dear Prudence.” That fell to John’s sweet vocals and trippy finger-picking guitar work, both of which give the song a soothing, dreamlike quality.

“Martha My Dear”

Here’s a sweet little song, named after Paul’s sheepdog, a tune recorded in October towards the end of the White Album sessions. This one has Paul’s imprint all over it and he originally intended the song to be a challenge for himself on the piano. “Martha My Dear” opens simply enough, with Paul delivering a piano-accompanied verse recorded in one take. Then he hopped on over to the drum kit to overdub the rhythm section. He didn’t play all the instruments here mind you, as 14 session musicians came in later that night to add their imprint to George Martin’s orchestral score. And let’s face it: that brass and horn section is pretty remarkable. But if you think this happened during Ringo’s time away from the band, you’d be wrong. By that time, he’d already received the telegram from the band saying how much they loved the “best drummer in the world” and returned to find flowers adorning his drum kit.

“The Ballad of John and Yoko”
In John’s haste to musically commemorate his wedding to Yoko, he enlisted only Paul of the Beatles to record with him on Apr. 14, 1969. (Paul was on drums; John on lead and acoustic guitar.) Where was George? House hunting! And Ringo? Working on the set of the film The Magic Christian. That left John and Paul to produce this beloved song without them. This upbeat tune and comedic romp is far from the somber ballad that its title might suggest. Plus, it reunited the duo with longtime Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. Paul has been quoted in the book Many Years From Now as saying he was “surprised with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles.” And you know what? He’s right.

Jeff Finkle

Photo Credit: Ringo Starr, circa 1966 courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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54 comments on “That’s Not Ringo on the Drums?

  1. What about the Andy White sessions on Love Me Do?

    • Dan Eilenberg

      Everyone mentions Love Me Do but forget that Andy White played drums on P.S.I Love You too. (Ringo on maracas.)

    • Pete Morabito

      There’s also no Ringo on drums on Harrison’s “Within Without You,” Lennon’s “Good Night” (though it’s Ringo vocals), Paul’s “I Will,” & Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son,” both of which are all Paul recordings.

    • There were sessions where Pete Best played drums on Love Me Do, right before Ringo replaced him.

  2. After listening ,This is who I am certain of played drums and percussion on Revolver and Rubber Soul and Sgt Pepper:

    Drive My car- Drums -Paul
    Norwegian Wood- Ringo Percussion
    You Won’t See me- Drums & Perc -Paul
    HiHat overdub – Ringo
    Think For Yourself- Ringo -Drums & Shaker, John Tamborine
    Say The Word- Ringo- Drums ,Paul -Shaker
    Wait- Ringo -Drums,Paul -Shaker,John -Tamb
    Little Girl- Ringo Drums,Paul -Shaker and Tamb
    Taxman Ringo -Drums and Perc Paul- Bell Cym overdub
    She Said,She Said,Run From Your Life,I Want to Tell You,
    I’m Only Sleeping- Ringo -Drums
    Love To You- Anil Bhagwat-Tabla, Perc

    Alright Sgt.Pepper
    1-Sgt Pepper- Ringo
    2- Little Help -Ringo
    3- Lucy – Ringo
    4- Getting Better- Paul Drums , ringo conga
    5-Fixing a Hole – Paul drums
    6- no drums
    7-Benefit Of Mr Kite- Ringo and Paul ( middle section)
    8-Within You, Without You-Natwar Soni Tabla
    9-when I’m 64-Paul drums
    10) Lovely Rita -Paul Drums
    11- Good Morning – Ringo and Paul
    12-Sgt Pepper reprise- Paul amd Ringo drums
    13- Day In The Life-Ringo drums , George bass

  3. Lol, Andy. Put the pipe down.

  4. Quincy Jones said a jazz drummer sat in on an unnamed song when Ringo was having trouble playing the part. Did he make that up?

    • Barney Dunn

      His solo record

      • Charles MacKay

        Bernard Perty

        • Bernard “Pretty” Purdie claimed to have played on a number of recordings that he surely did not play on. The guest musicians who contributed to albums produced by The Beatles have all been identified and their identities have been well-documented and publicized. Purdie is an excellent musician who is credited with the so-called “Purdie Shuffle.” Perhaps he should be credited for having a very active imagination, too!

  5. Dean DeLaHaye

    When John was asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world, he replied, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

    • Of course the “He wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles” was part of a comedy sketch and not a real quote.
      Ringo was solid. Of the thousands of takes they only had to stop because of his mistakes six times. He complimented the extraordinary song writers perfect .

    • BS! This has been discredited MANY times. John NEVER said that.

      • Dan Eilenberg

        Exactly right, Doug. I’ve given up trying to correct people on this. It’s a mythological quote. It’s like the crap about Dylan turning on the Beatles for the first time. More nonsense! They’d all tried pot in Hamburg. But people regurgitate the bullshit fairy tale so many times that eventually it’s accepted as “fact.”

        • What was said was, Pete Best was a better drummer but Ringo was a better Beatle

          • Dan Eilenberg

            No, sorry. No one ever said that. At least no one in the Beatles or the Beatles’ inner circle said that. Maybe someone from the Pete Best fan club?

          • Jethro Suave

            NO he wasn’t. If was better he would not have been replaced by George Martin on “Love Me Do”. Fact.

        • Stacy Morrison

          Um sorry Dan Eilenberg, but it’s on video in the Beatles anthology of both Paul and Ringo saying yes they were turned on to pot by Bob Dylan in a hotel room with Paul telling Mal Evans to write down something about “seven levels”. I think I will believe the people that were actually there thank you very much.

          • Dan Eilenberg

            There’s also exists “evidence” to counter this. George is on record saying they tried “reefers” in Hamburg. Thank YOU very much.

          • Dan Eilenberg

            Sorry, Stacy Morrison. We may never know the truth.

    • This quote is taken far too seriously and repeated way too often. John told Ringo he was “The Greatest” and to believe it. And yes, Ringo Was the best drummer in the Beatles.

    • John never said this. It was actually a joke made by comedian Jasper Carrot in the 80s which has been wrongly attributed to Lennon in the years since.

    • I’ve heard this when I was a kid. When did John say this?

    • Um, sorry, this quotation was discredited long ago.

  6. Mike stobie

    Bernard Purdie has claimed many times that he played drums on many of the beatles greatest songs.he said he was paid twice. Once to record the song and once to keep hus mouth shut

    • Interestingly, no one–including Mr. Purdie–can name even one of them. Not because he was “paid twice” but because lying in court is illegal. But nice try, BP! : )

  7. Interesting. All the songs were from The White Album, except Ballad of . . . White Album is the most distinct sounding, and least “Beatles sounding” record. Ringo’s absence was certainly noticeable, and the tension during the sessions definitely affected the over all vibe of the album, which is darker and spookier than any other Beatles album. Not knocking it, many White Album tracks are some of my favorites.

  8. Ringo also didn’t play drums on revolution 9.
    Besides all that, Ringo has never played drums on any of my songs, either.
    …still waiting…

    • Joseph R. Nelson Sr.

      Believe it or not, you’re wrong! R9 evolved from a six minute discordant jam session at the end of “Revolution 1” that takes place after the fade out. Ringo certainly played on that, so he’s on the R9 basic track as well.

  9. Michael Euefueno

    Bernard Purdie played drums on the Bee Gees Sgt Pepper Sound Track, not the Beatles
    He is listed on the credits list

  10. Colin Beaumier

    Look up Bernard “Pretty” Purdie – I think he is credited with playing on 2 or 3 Beatles songs. Ringo – You are one of a kind, though! You started the ball rolling. Thanks!

  11. Oh, please! No one needs to look up “Bernard Purdie.” It’s like looking up “9/11 as Inside Job.” A waste of time and utter nonsense.

  12. What does matter, it’s about the music.

  13. gesauce

    John never answered seriously to any question

  14. I can honestly state I never played for or with the Beatles

    • Christopher Gaber

      Is this THE Bill Stewart? If so, I’ve seen you with Sco several times. You are an amazing drummer.

  15. Beatle Ed

    Bullhockey! You played nose harp on “Wild Honey Pie” and slide drums on “Paperback Writer,” Bill. Google it.

  16. Steve Hopper

    In those days, a lot of musicians didn’t play on their own bands’ records. For example, the members of the Wrecking Crew (the famous bunch of session musicians) played on the recordings of numerous bands in the ’60s and’ 70s.

  17. I always say it was the Fab 4! Not 3, 2, or 1. Ringo was great. In the recent video of Paul answering the most popular Google questions, one was, did the Beatles use a click track. He said, first of all there was no such thing, and second, Ringo played in time, steady! Check out that vid on You Tube.

  18. “Ringo was a good drummer, but an even better Beatle.” That’s the actual John Lennon quote.

  19. Scott Peterson

    Right. And all the rest are all Bernard Purdie. Just ask him. I love these polls where no sources are quoted just like The comment John never made about ‘Ringo not even being the best drummer in the Beatles.’ Horse puckey. John didn’t say any such thing, the Beatle Bible and about 3 other sources prove the comment was made by a British comedian.

  20. Does anyone really care. They produced great music that we all love!

  21. It appears that Purdie was called in to play drums over Pete Bests’ drumming on Tony Sheriden with The Beatles!

  22. 1 Ringo was the best Beatles drummer! And Paul was the best backup Beatles drummer!

    2 Bernard Purdey may have sweetened some drumming on VeeJay records of the Beatles He did not play on the real records as they were recorded in England and Purdey lived in America.

    • Sonny Schlesinger

      The VeeJay recordings were just the EMI recordings on an American label, so he was not on those. Purdie’s sweetening was for the Polydor recordings featuring Tony Sheridan. He’s on a few of those recordings, done after the fact. Around the same time, he also drummed on some Beatles covers by an unknown group called the Swallows which was also for Polydor. This might have led him to the confused idea that he was playing on original Beatles recordings and therefore taking the place of Ringo.

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