Yet another 50th anniversary is upon us. For Beatles’ fans this is a big one. On 8/16/62 the Fab Four abruptly fired drummer Pete Best—an integral part of the “wall of sound” that helped propel them to local stardom in Liverpool—and replaced him with Ringo Starr.
This sacking occurred only 19 days before the band was scheduled to record their first single for Parlophone Records. An unusual business move, given the timing and the fact that Pete was the most popular member of the band, especially with the increasingly frenzied female fandom. Why did it happen? Inquiring minds want to know…
Well, like SO many things in life, it depends on whom you talk to. The “official version”—which gets endlessly recycled in Beatles lit—is that Pete was a stop-gap choice for drummer and that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison had coveted Ringo (aka Richard Starkey) for months.
Producer George Martin had told John and Paul at the band’s audition session for Parlophone that Pete wasn’t sufficiently top grade for recording purposes (though bands would often use a different drummer as a recording specialist and keep the original drummer for live performances). But this was the final straw for the band. With a recording contract in hand and a recording session around the corner, The Beatles—as the story goes—decided it was now or never to make the upgrade. Yet they felt too guilty to break the news to Pete themselves, and handed it off to manager Brian Epstein to do the dirty work. John, Paul, and George never spoke to Pete, then or ever again.
On the other hand, Pete Best was considered by other musicians in Liverpool to be a solid drummer and was by far the fan favorite in the band—with his dark, brooding James Dean look and his quietly mysterious persona. (So much so that the audience rioted at the Beatles’ first gig without him!) Wouldn’t his charisma be a mitigating factor in the decision—given the voice (or shriek) of the customer, which in this case was predominantly teenage girls? Ringo, to be charitable, was not a big draw for the “birds.”
As mentioned in my June 6th post and comment thread, there is no shortage of theories on why Pete was sacked. For instance, Paul McCartney was jealous of Pete’s appeal to the young fans and was persistently critical of Pete. Meanwhile Pete’s mother, Mona Best, was about to give birth to a child out of wedlock, fathered by Beatles’ roadie, Neil Aspinal—a looming Liverpool scandal that Brian Epstein was anxious to keep at arm’s length from the band. (Brian already viewed Mona as an annoyance—if not a threat—given her influence on the lads as the owner of the Casbah Coffee House.)
There is even a theory gaining some currency that Ringo wasn’t The Beatles’ first (or second) choice for drummer, and that they settled on him only after other Liverpool drummers declined the opportunity, as a courtesy to Pete. (Ringo, on the other hand, may have been under the impression that Pete had quit.) If so, the band was even more desperate to get Pete out of the picture fast.
What’s the real story? Pete Best Truthers: this is your chance to tell the world.