‘Made the group’s sound what it was': The Beatles’ Paul McCartney on Ringo Starr’s underrated role

So much of the modern history of the Beatles revolves around the twin songwriting genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with George Harrison — and, particularly, Ringo Starr — often being all but ignored.

McCartney, who has continued working with Starr throughout their solo years since the Beatles split in 1970, disputes the idea that his old band mate made a lesser contribution.

“I think Ringo gets that reputation because he wasn’t one of the songwriters,” McCartney tells Nesta Matthews in this clip, “and he was only an occasional singer in the group. It was mainly me and John, and then later George. He got a sort of secondary role. But I say to people: Every single member of the Beatles was just as important as the other. I liken it to four side of a square. Without one of them, it falls apart.”

Starr was a key contributor for the Beatles from “Love Me Do” forward, in a torrent of creativity that included some dozen albums in between 1963-1970. He was given a single vocal turn on all of the Beatles’ projects, save for Hard Day’s Night and Let It Be, but wrote just two songs for the group — 1968’s “Don’t Pass Me By” and 1969’s “Octopus’ Garden.”

Many have surmised that Starr’s quiet demeanor was to blame for his relative anonymity, but McCartney said the drummer was a key element to the Beatles’ decision-making process — and a equal partner in their musical successes, too.

“He was very sort of vocal. He would tell us what he wanted, what he liked,” McCartney counters. “And we always had this rule: If one of us didn’t like a song we were doing, it got chucked out. So we always had a very equal vote. And the whole spirit of Ringo was very important to the Beatles — and let’s not forget his drumming. He’s one of the best drummers in the world, you know? His drummer on the Beatles is very original. It made the group’s sound what it was.”

McCartney has appeared on a number of Starr solo projects, including 1973’s Ringo, 1998’s Vertical Man and 2010’s Y Not. Starr, in turn, memorably performed with McCartney on 1982’s Tug of War and 1997’s Flaming Pie, among others.

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  • J.M. Dempsey

    This is one of the best interviews of McCartney I’ve heard. The questions about Paul’s portrayals in the movies and the “Saturday Night Live” story – excellent.