Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The Beatles had a habit of self-projection. They often did it consciously - writing songs that burst into curtain pulled rooms like atomic sunlight, giving the young decade of the 1960’s its soundtrack of hope and the feeling that anything is possible. Which for a while, it was.
Their own personal joie de vivre was indecipherable from their early cataclysmically energetic output. They sometimes did it subconsciously - three unsmiling faces adorned the Let It Be cover that finally shut the light out on their collective career; only George expressing the relief of prospective freedom, one he craved creatively. Even though John had left the band months before, he, grim faced, was about to enter his period of screaming pain into the dark, thick hair of his new partner before the light appeared of the end of an Imagined tunnel. They couldn’t help but be disarmingly and dangerously honest. It may have been what drove them all along.
Truth was as important to the Beatles as their truth is to their fans. They were addicted to it. Free from commercialism (shut up, yes they were - although the biggest selling act in history, they never ever sold out or bought in despite what Lennon said about the suits) they were able to travail their career free of sponsorship or artifice. Where an uncomfortable truth was found, it was just as quickly expressed. Teenage pregnancy and abortion, the lonely plight of old age, drugs, descent into madness, being more popular than Jesus, Vietnam, Philippino despots, the love and loss of the Maharishi, refusal to play to segregated crowds four years before MLK and the Civil Rights movement eventually availed. None of these were popular ideals for a pop band to be popularising. Yet they did it.
It was the tidal wave that followed that drowned the resistance and created a new truth idiom on which the best wanted to play.
They unashamedly exaggerated their rather tame Scouse accents into pure ‘whacker’ for the benefit of the press who, lest we forget, were out to ‘get them’, much to their parents, and particularly Mimi's, consternation. They were proud of who they were. They were happy to bang down the doors of Denmark Street’s Tin Pan Alley with self-penned, self-recorded songs that came like a uninvited tsunami and ended many careers with the release of a single after single barrage of authenticity that the men on buses reading a broadsheet that populated the incumbent music industry could not replicate.
A will to express what they saw and how they saw it permeated every note of their work and their collective personality. It was contagious and it ripped across the globe like a climate change forest fire, holding no one prisoner. Not a soul was impervious, not even the bowler hatted capitalist; he thought he was, but his trousers were on fire and he was beating them out with the Times to the tune of She Loves You.
Richard Starkey had fewer tools with which to communicate his persona than the others. He had but a disarming charm and a nuanced address to his instrument. The rest of the spotlight was taken up, front of stage. That these traits alone were enough to provide him a platform to exhibit his own brand of iconoclasm says plenty of the singularity of the man. That he became the Beatle with the most fanmail during their first invasion of the America’s was nothing short of miraculous. To the other three, at least.
Ringo was a Beatle before he ever joined the band - John Lennon
He had no cynical agenda, did Richie. No end game. He as a percussionist was at once an innovator, not that he thought about it at the time what with his lop sided ‘rock lope’. He was in the Beatles on merit. They chose him. It would have been easy for them to choose almost any drummer in the world should they have wanted to replace him shortly after his arrival, but he remained as crucial to their symbiotic chemistry as John, Paul or George. He also enjoyed the ride more than any other Beatle. His ambition was nothing more than the fanciful notion of playing his drums for the Queen Mum. If he’d been capable of John’s immediacy of thought and ability to condense his into a three minute pop song, he may have written:
They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely
And all I gotta do is act naturally
And, amazingly, they did, and so did, all out of key and nervous, he.
There are two notable recorded versions of the Buck Owens song, the Help! Album side 2 opener (incidentally the first Beatles song I ever heard, having put the record on the wrong way around as a 6 year old) and a live performance in Blackpool, England 1965.
As a side note, I always enjoy the experience of Ringo sung Beatle songs - the production is often lighter, perhaps to mirror the feel and timbre of the tone. His drums are bereft of the splashy high hat style usually synonymous with his Beatlemania period, giving the guitars and harmonies more air and room to be heard. The boys loved Richie, and so should we.
It's only non-drummers who think of Rings as some kind of competition winner. The best drummers often state him as one of their mainstays of inspiration. Here's Dave Grohl, Copeland, Keltner, Smith and others agreeing with me:
What did you think of Act Naturally? I'd love to hear your thoughts. See you in the comments!