Ringo Starr’s Top 5 Most Iconic Drumming Moments in The Beatles

Ringo Starr joined the Beatles in 1962, replacing original drummer Pete Best as the band’s permanent timekeeper. Even before he became part of the Fab Four, though, Starr was, well, a star. 

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“He was in one of the top groups in Britain, but especially in Liverpool, before we even had a drummer,” John Lennon explained during an interview with Playboy in 1980. “So Ringo’s talent would have come out one way or the other…I don’t know what he would have ended up as, but whatever that spark is in Ringo that we all know but can’t put our finger on—whether it is acting, drumming, or singing, I don’t know—there is something in him that is projectable, and he would have surfaced with or without The Beatles.”

He did surface with The Beatles, though, contributing to the band’s catalog not only as a drummer, but also as an occasional vocalist and songwriter. He wasn’t a technical player—”none of us are technical musicians,” Lennon added during the same Playboy interview—but he was inventive, filling the band’s songs with unlikely grooves, funky fills, and surprising tempo changes. He played drums like a composer, in other words, and his highlights behind the kit—five of which are documented below—represent some of The Beatles’ brightest moments. 

5. “We Can Work It Out”

This hit single from 1965 showcased Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s songwriting partnership at its best. McCartney wrote the song’s verses and chorus, while Lennon wrote the bridge. It was George Harrison who suggested removing a quarter note from the middle-eight and turning it into a waltz instead. This change can be heard after the lines There’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend and So I will ask you once again, and it’s one of the song’s highlights.

Harrison may get all the credit for that revision, but it’s Starr’s percussion that drives the point home. He emphasizes the downbeat with his kick drum and cymbals, then moves to the tambourine to clearly outline the rest of the 3/4 measure. 

4. “Something”

“Something” was a showcase for George Harrison’s songwriting, which had begun to flourish during The Beatles’ final years as a band. The song’s composition is brilliant, with both the verse and the bridge revolving around a series of descending half-steps. The bridge is also where Ringo shines the brightest, utilizing his tom-tums to create a thumping, orchestral effect that stands apart from the gauzy, gorgeous verses. 

3. “Come Together”

Two eighth notes played simultaneously on the bass drum and ride cymbal. A flourish on the snare, beginning with the left hand. A melodic run down all four of the toms, creating tone as well as texture. That’s just the beginning of Ringo’s iconic drumbeat in “Come Together,” an Abbey Road classic that grooves as hard as anything in The Beatles’ catalog.

[RELATED: The 20 Best Ringo Starr Quotes]

Lennon wrote the song, but Ringo’s percussion gives “Come Together” its uniquely swampy texture. Had Lennon switched the very first line from Here come ol’ flat top, he come groovin’ up slowly to Here come ol’ mop top, the song might as well be about Starr himself. 

2.  “Ticket to Ride”

With George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar holding down a steady rhythm, Ringo spends much of “Ticket to Ride” adding dynamic thumps and rumbling rolls on the drum kit. The result sounds a lot like loose luggage tumbling around the trunk of a car on a winding road. Everything comes together during the middle-eight, where Starr’s playing becomes crisp and precise, before the song returns to the stuttering swagger of another verse. During the coda, Starr launches back into a double-time rhythm as “Ticket to Ride” fades out, like a driver flooring the accelerator and speeding off into the unknown. 

1. “Act Naturally”

Numerous songs could have filled this spot, from “Here Comes the Sun”—where Starr shifts between complex time signatures in 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8—to the Latin-accented R&B percussion of “I Feel Fine.” Sometimes, though, the best approach to a song is also the simplest. “Act Naturally,” a cover of Buck Owens’ hit single from 1963, finds the rest of The Beatles in the backseat, being propelled forward by Ringo’s steady, shuffling drums. And he’s the singer, too, crooning the country song with an affable British accent. But it’s the propulsive percussion that truly makes him the frontman.

The Beatles recorded “Act Naturally” in a single day, attempting 12 different takes on June 17, 1965, before nailing the song on the 13th try. That means the percussion we hear on the final take is being played by someone who’s been behind the drum kit for hours, driving his right hand onto the hi-hat at 96 beats per minute, and making it all sound easy. Act naturally, indeed. 

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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