The Beatles weren’t virtuoso musicians, and they were usually the first to admit it. When John Lennon spoke to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980, he put it this way: “Not technically great. None of us were technical musicians. None of us could read music.”
In 1977, George Harrison spoke about how his guitar technique slipped in the late ’60s. It was pretty simple: He stopped playing guitar for three years to focus on the sitar. When he picked up his guitar again, he focused on slide because he felt “so far behind in playing hot licks.”
As for Paul McCartney, the best all-around musician in the band, he spoke of how difficult it was for him to play the piano riff on “Martha My Dear.” That leaves Ringo, a drummer who refused to take a solo until the last track of the band’s last studio album.
Usually, the band could nail down parts when they needed to. But there were moments when the lack of technique got in the way. George’s aborted guitar solo on “Taxman” was one example. Another came during the Abbey Road sessions, when John got on Ringo’s case for his drumming.
John hated Ringo’s original drum part on ‘Polythene Pam.’
John wasn’t crazy about the medley on the second side of Abbey Road, but once George Martin and Paul convinced him to get involved, he dove straight in. After nailing down “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Here Comes the Sun King,” John and The Beatles turned to “Polythene Pam.”
According to Geeff Emerick, the engineer on these sessions, John didn’t like Ringo’s drumming on the track at all. “It sounded like Dave Clark,” Emerick recalled John quipping in Here, There and Everywhere. Emerick wrote that it was “clearly not meant as a compliment,” and no one would disagree.
Indeed, Ringo noticed how unhappy John was and kept working on his drum part. But John was impatient and refused to go back and record another backing track for the song.
“I’m not playing the bloody song again, Ring,” Emerick recalled John saying. “If you want to redo the drums, go ahead and overdub them.” That left Ringo on his own, but he decided to stay late and do it.
Ringo spent hours re-doing the ‘Polythene Pam’ drums that night.
Since The Beatles worked on eight-track for the first time on Abbey Road, Ringo had the chance to re-record his drum part alone. Emerick described him spending “many hours” that night to get down a part that topped his first stab at “Polythene Pam.” Eventually, he did get it down.
Even though John never came to like the Abbey Road medley — he called it “pop opera” and “junk” — he must have been happier about Ringo’s drum part. Shortly after, all four Beatles recorded their solos for “The End” and wrapped up Abbey Road.
John’s criticism of Ringo wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it did show how much the other Beatles respected John’s opinion. In a way, they always wanted to impress John. And Ringo succeeded in that respect.
In his 1980 Playboy interview, John had nothing but praise for his old bandmate. “Ringo’s a damn good drummer,” he said. “He was always a good drummer.”
And when John recorded his first post-Beatles solo album, he could have had anyone he wanted play drums. He chose Ringo.
Also see: The Beatles Album George Harrison Called His All-Time Favorite
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