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Rob Sheffield makes the case for Ringo in the next chapter of his stellar Dreaming the Beatles, putting the question regarding Ringo as whether he was an all-time genius drummer who made the Beatles possible, or "a clod who got lucky, the biggest fool who ever hit the big time". Sheffield puts his chips on the genius.
So ... let me first say that, as a self-professed expert in time travel (that is, I write it in fiction, and about it in nonfiction, and can't, alas, do it), I readily acknowledge that every event major or minuscule that ever took place might not have happened if even one exceedingly minor ingredient had not come before, and therefore the Beatles might well not have amounted to much if Pete Best had remained their drummer, and not in fact been replaced by Ringo.
But there's a big difference between being a necessary ingredient and a quintessentially great drummer, and Sheffield wants to shoot for both for Ringo. Towards that goal, he presents two arguments: One, that Ringo's infectious presence inspired the other Beatles. And two, that Ringo did incredibly good drum work in various songs like "Rain" (one of the my all-time favorites -- I like the song and rain itself so much that I often include "Rain, I don't mind" in lists of my favorite quotes) and the cowbell for "Drive My Car" (which as I mentioned in an earlier review, is also one of my favorite songs).
The great drum and percussion work in specified songs is of course easier to prove than Ringo being an inspiration, and Sheffield does a pretty good job of the first. But for Ringo to be as great in his own right as, say, drummers Phil Collins and Don Henley, I would've wanted to see Ringo do equivalent work on his own, which I don't think he did. And if he didn't manage to do that on his own, I think this makes Sheffield's claim that Ringo did such great work for the Beatles a little harder to demonstrate. So Sheffield's convinced me only partially, at most, though I much enjoyed his chapter.
Three last little points -
- Sheffield cites Robert Christgau in support of Ringo's importance. While I don't disagree with Christgau's assessment -- that Ringo was like a member of the audience, one of us, being in the band -- I can't let a mention of him go by without objecting to Christgau's peevish attack on McCartney (Paul's first solo album) once again.
- Sheffield mentions Paul's famous kazoo solo in Ringo's "Sixteen" -- but Wikipedia cites someone who says Paul is really singing the part, making his voice sound like a kazoo, even though the liner notes credit Paul with playing the kazoo. I'm just wondering, who is right?
- And speaking of Paul and Ringo, I just want to say that there once was a time, when the White Album first came out, that a lot of people were saying that the voice on "Good Night" was Paul doing his Ringo voice -- I assume this has now been settled as the voice actually being Ringo.
And I'll be back soon with another review, writing as best I can in my own voice.