Monday, May 7, 2012

Come Together

Ringo and some guy
Ringo Starr once said he was the greatest rock and roll drummer in the world. There are two ways for rock fans and/or musicians to react to this statement.

One is to laugh/scoff/mock the absurdity of such an assertion. The other is to think about it for a moment or two and then nod and more or less agree. Those who fall into the second category are people like Tony Williams and Steve Gadd, serious contenders for the title of Greatest Drummer Ever, or Jim Keltner and Max Weinberg. Phil Collins and Steve Smith and Dave Grohl. John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison. In other words, people who know what they're talking about. Into the first category goes, well, people who don't so much know what they're talking about. (Note: very often they're the ones who think they know what they're talking about. Very, very often they themselves are drummers, but have probably been playing less than a half dozen years, have been in only one or two bands or none and are big fans of playing in compound time. Chances are they'll learn eventually. Chances also are that in the meantime they'll worship Neil Peart.)

Check out the isolated drum track to "Come Together":

Pretty elementary, right? Two quick crash cymbal hits, four on the hi-hat and then an ascending roll on the toms and do it again. The verses are even more basic, just bass and toms. It's the kind of thing a drummer who's been playing for a year—or maybe even a few months—can do.

Except. As was once said of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue: there were literally dozens of other musicians who could've played everything he played on that album, no problem...but not one other person in the entire world who could've written it.

You know who wrote a drum part like "Come Together" before Ringo?

No one.

No one. 

No. One. 

There was no drum part like this.

No one else thought outside the box the way he did, in an almost orchestral manner. Not his friends, fellow rock superstars Charlie Watts or Keith Moon, nor monster technicians Ginger Baker or John Bonham. Maybe it's because, for all the jokes about drummers in general and Ringo in particular (especially his voice), he was a hell of a musician. His timing, his feel, his personality, his understanding of what a song needed and his willingness to play just that, no matter how monotonous for the drummer it may have been, all added up to make him the one and only guy who could have been the drummer for the Beatles.

Dave Grohl, a guy who knows just about all there is to know about amazing rock drumming, had a comment that was right on the money: "No one needs to defend Ringo Starr—he's fucking Ringo Starr. He was in the Beatles. Without him the Beatles wouldn't have sounded like the Beatles. And if the Beatles didn't sound like the Beatles, there would be no Beatles."

Listen to the track. Even with only the smallest hint of the other instruments and the vocals, it sounds just like the Beatles. Because it is.

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