Not the Best idea

beatles-1295244__340Sometimes it's not a good thing to get sick and miss work.

Ringo Starr appeared with The Beatles at Liverpool’s Cavern Club 55 years ago this month, when their regular drummer, Pete Best, was taken ill. The Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, liked Ringo’s playing and circled back to Ringo six months later to persuade him to replace Pete on drums.

As stated in previous posts, the events surrounding Pete’s firing—in August of 1962—are STILL riddled in mystery. After all, Pete was the most popular Beatle with the female fans and a critical piece of the Beatles’ “Wall of Sound."

But as theorized here, there seemed to be several forces at work. One was McCartney’s constant attempts to unseat Pete Best, either because of McCartney’s jealousy at Best’s popularity with the “birds” or because McCartney thought Pete's drumming was weak (an opinion not universally shared by Liverpool musicians at the time).

Another factor was the eagerness of Brian Epstein, the band's manager, to avert a potential scandal. Pete’s mother, Mona Best, had recently become pregnant by the Beatles’ road manager, Neil Aspinall. If Pete left the band, The Beatles could be spared the bad publicity.

Then there's the fact that Ringo's quirky humor fit the crazy chemistry of the band far better than Pete's more serious persona.

But what adds to the mystery is that Ringo wasn't The Beatles' first choice to replace Ringo. (Some have said he wasn't the second or third choice either.) So Ringo was not the reason they sacked Pete.

At any rate, in the summer of 62, McCartney successfully persuaded band mate George Harrison to join his plot against Pete while band leader John Lennon was distracted by his own girlfriend’s pregnancy. Lennon eventually went along with the idea and Brian Epstein was given the job of breaking the bad news to Pete. Sadly, the band never spoke directly to Pete about it—ever. A few weeks later The Beatles recorded their first hit, "Love Me Do," and the band, with Ringo on drums, was on its way.

You heard it here first: Don’t get sick and miss work.

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  1. I've gone from curious to bemused by the whole thing. Once I discovered there was no simple obvious chain of events, it seemed it was all human nature and personal relationships, which are a bit difficult to analyze from the distance of time, especially without burrowing into people's brains.

    The thing that comes to my mind when a member of any group is suddenly an outcast with no explanation forthcoming is that they broke some unknown-to-us rule of the group. There are times when you don't say "He's dead to me because he did thus-and-so", you just move on and don't talk about it. The age those chaps were at the time, it doesn't take something monumental to create a rift which quickly becomes entrenched. Looking for answers in Macca's arrogance is easy, but it doesn't explain everyone else's facilitation. Ringo would have to be pretty simple to jump into that fire.

    I've been sick for three weeks. Good thing my wife does all the work. Though the house isn't as clean as I usually keep it. On the other hand, I've written 16 songs so far in February and plan, if I can, to double that, so it's not a completely lost month.

  2. Sometimes the explanation really can be taken at face value and suffers from being over-analysed. Maybe Macca, as the bass player, simply recognised that his partner in the rythm section just didn't fit with what he was hearing in his head. So he went.

  3. I heard that Epstein wanted to get Mona Best out of the way as a 'competitor.' She had booked the Fabs many times at her own club, the Casbah, and still held sway with them. By firing her son, Epstein would gain total control of the group.

  4. There's no real mystery about it.
    Pete's personality, style, and musicianship did not fit the band. They did not have a "wall" or any kind of unified sound with him on drums, as they did when Ringo sat in, which he did more than once because Pete was absent too often. At the very least, one must take their job seriously.

    But most importantly, George Martin would not record them with Pete on drums, because he was a lousy musician compared with the other three, and that's obvious to the trained ear. The Bert Kampfert recording and the Decca audition tape demonstrates this clearly, so that was the final incentive they needed to, as Paul said; "get the great Liverpool drummer" in the band. It wasn't an accident that they really took off from that point.

    1. It's not quite that simple, Ed. Although Ringo's personality fit the band better, the verdict on Pete's musicianship is not as clear. ALL the Beatles sounded dreadful on the Decca tape. And Pete wasn't the only member of the band who missed gigs.

      There have been many musicians from that era who have offered a counter narrative to the Pete-wasn't-that-good story. The main difference between their styles in 1961-1962, imho, is that Ringo hit harder.

      It was not at all unusual for a producer to not use a band's live drummer for recording purposes—especially at the beginning of the relationship—because a live drummer often doesn't keep the rock solid tempo that's needed in the studio. Norman Smith who was at the Beatles "audition" session in June at Parlophone with George Martin told me he thought Pete was more than adequate for live gigs but the band could use a "session drummer" to pull them together better for recording. Especially for "Love Me Do."

      At the September recording session Martin decided Ringo too was inadequate to the task and used Andy White as a session drummer for the single. In the end there were three versions of "Love Me Do" that have been released to the public, performed by Pete, Ringo, and Andy respectively. The differences between them are minor, although I kinda' prefer Pete's version because of the change from shuffle to straight time in it.

      The band took off once they had a hit. And Ringo did improve immeasurably in the following year.

  5. For anyone interested in this subject, the play PETE BEST OF THE BEATLES returns to the Dublin stage at the end of March 2017. It will be on at the Complex – just off Capel Street. The play is almost two and a half hours long, with a short interval, and it covers ‘everything’. It had a successful run last year at the New Theatre in Temple Bar – and the great Padraic McGinley is returning to play the part of Pete again.

    PS – John, that is very high praise for Pete’s version of ‘Love Me Do’. To be honest, I’m not convinced by his shuffle beat. I don’t think it fits well with the song – and Pete even loses timing during it. If you want an example of Pete on good form drumming – maybe listen to his version of ‘Money’ from the Decca audition. It‘s pretty good.

    1. Thanks for the tip on the Pete Best play!

      Different strokes for different folks, but in "Love Me Do" I love how Pete moves into straight time during the "bridge" (especially the second one) then at the stop moves back into the shuffle. It sounds very deliberate to me.

      I completely forgot about "Money" from the Decca sessions. Just listened to it and loved the feel. Of course Pete copied the "1 and 3" beat from the Barrett Strong version, but it really cooks.

      I've seen Pete play live several times in the last decade. As one drummer commenting on another drummer, the guy's got it.

  6. I don’t know, John. The fact that Pete loses time while trying to put in that shuffle beat during ‘Love Me Do’ is a serious negative point against his version. In fact, even Pete agrees that his version of ‘Love Me Do’ could have been a lot better. He has always said that the plan was to go back to Abbey Road and re-record those drums.

  7. Producer George Martin didn't seem too pleased with either Pete's or Ringo's performance. But the song itself wasn't one of their stronger ones and maybe that's why none of the three drummers could make it sound very good. It made it onto the charts and got them started, but it was a dog of a song.

    1. I'd have to agree that LMD wasn't one of their better tunes, but it had its charm. And the older I get the more I love the early Beatles' stuff.

      It's interesting to listen to Pete's, Ringo's, and Alan's versions back to back. I still like Pete's best (and I don't think he "loses time") though Alan's is the tightest. Probably none of the drummers were satisfied with their performances.

      Ringo certainly upped his game by the time they recorded their second album, With the Beatles. And by early 64 when they hit the US, he was in fine form.

  8. I think ‘Love Me Do’ has its charms and I really like Lennon’s harmonica on it. But their second single ‘Please Please Me’ was definitely a leap forward in terms of songwriting and playing.

    And I agree with John above about the early Beatles' stuff being great. The early albums have real energy. Obviously I don’t agree so much with John about Pete’s playing on his version of ‘Love Me Do’. Here is a link to it. (For me, the drumming falls apart between 1.00 and 1.20.)

    Of the three versions, Andy White’s is the tightest, but Ringo’s version is very good too. And Andy White was very happy with his drumming on his version. He mentioned that in interviews. (To be fair, Andy was the go-to session drummer for George Martin and Ron Richards – so it’s hardly surprising that he was a good player.)

    1. Completely agree on "Please Please Me" as a big leap forward. Btw, I highly recommend Jude Southerland Kessler's book, Shivering Inside, for a detailed play-by-play account of their early recording sessions, especially the all-day PPM album session.

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