5 Times Ringo Starr Stepped into the Spotlight as The Beatles’ Lead Singer

Ringo Starr is sometimes overlooked in The Beatles. In Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, there are times when Starr waits passively while John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison work out their arguments. 

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But Starr’s swinging groove was an essential and vastly under-appreciated part of The Beatles’ sound. Though outshadowed by the other lads, occasionally Ringo grabbed the mic and stepped out front—as he would with a number of successful solo albums and his ever-evolving All-Starr Band on stage.

But here are the five most high-profile times Ringo Starr stepped into the spotlight as the lead singer of the greatest band in rock ‘n’ roll history. 

1. “Yellow Submarine” from Revolver (1966)

Revolver was a groundbreaking album. Innovative and musically diverse, The Beatles experimented with tape loops and double-tracking, using the recording studio as an instrument. Starr leads the band through “Yellow Submarine” and its singsong chorus, whose whimsy might make it the most Ringo-sounding song there is. The tune could be mistaken for a children’s song if not for the lyrical fragments that sure sound like one of the song’s writers (“Yellow Submarine” was a true Lennon/McCartney composition) was describing an LSD trip. 

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
So we sailed on to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine

2. “With a Little Help from My Friends” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Ringo Starr is probably the only Beatle who could have sung this song. Lennon and McCartney seemed to know this. They purposely wrote the song in a limited vocal range—Starr’s sweet spot. “With a Little Help from My Friends” is the second track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the record many fans and critics consider the band’s very best. Following the hazy title track, “With a Little Help from My Friends” is a friendly invitation to a revolutionary album.  

What would you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

[RELATED: The Origins of Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band: “Everybody Is a Star”]

3. “Don’t Pass Me By” from The Beatles (1968)

The White Album’s minimalist album cover stood in contrast to the magical realism of Sgt. Pepper’s artwork. The cover’s lack of graphics also stood in contrast to the diverse range of musical styles explored by the band on the record. “Don’t Pass Me By” is Starr’s first solo composition for The Beatles. It dates back to Starr’s earliest days in the band. Paul McCartney’s bass line plods along, propelling the country-inspired tune. Starr still sounds like his joyful self, even while singing a song about being left alone. 

Don’t pass me by, don’t make me cry, don’t make me blue
Cause you know, darling, I love only you
You’ll never know it hurt me so, how I hate to see you go
Don’t pass me by
Don’t make me cry

4. “What Goes On” from Rubber Soul (1965)

Rubber Soul’s title was The Beatles admitting to their inauthenticity compared to the Black soul artists in America who influenced them so powerfully. But plenty of styles of American music shaped The Beatles. They interpret one of Starr’s favorite styles, country music, on “What Goes On.” Starr leads the band through this galloping track as George Harrison channels his guitar idol, slick country picker Chet Atkins.

What goes on in your heart?
What goes on in your mind?
You are tearing me apart
When you treat me so unkind
What goes on in your mind?
The other day I saw you as I walked along the road
But when I saw him with you I could feel my future fold
It’s so easy for a girl like you to lie
Tell me why

5. “Octopus’s Garden” from Abbey Road (1969)

A charming-as-ever Ringo song from Abbey Road, “Octopus’s Garden” is Starr escaping the pressure of The Beatles. He wrote the song with assistance from Harrison, and it serves as a playful interlude during the stressful period of The Beatles’ closing chapter. Truth be told, the song’s lightness sounds a little out of place on the complex, ambitious Abbey Road. Feeling the weight of being a “Beatle,” Starr seems to be looking for a getaway.

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
In his octopus’s garden in the shade
I’d ask my friends to come and see
An octopus’s garden with me

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Feel the power and nostalgia of music icons! Grab your tickets for the Ringo Starr All Starr Band Tour now and immerse yourself in their iconic hits.


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