Did John Lennon Think Ringo Starr Was Talented?

Over the years, it has become common for people to think Ringo Starr isn’t talented. To legitimize this viewpoint, many have pointed to the time John Lennon was allegedly told Ringo was the best drummer in the world. According to Snopes.com, John supposedly responded “The best drummer in the world? Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles!” Did John actually make this callous remark?

The Beatles, circa 1963 | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

What people think they know about Ringo Starr and John Lennon

The alleged quote would not have become popular if didn’t reinforce people’s preconceived notions of Ringo. It is true Beatles records rarely featured songwriting from the band’s drummer. Some of the only Beatles tracks written by Ringo are the forgotten instrumental song “Flying” and the cutesy children’s song “Octopus’s Garden.”

While millions of Beatles fans enjoy both of these tracks, it is true they were never as acclaimed or popular as other songs by the Fab Four like “A Day in the Life” or “Let It Be.” Critics generally see Ringo as having the least artistic solo career of any Beatle. Although Ringo did give the world classic songs like “Photograph,” he never produced an album as beloved as Imagine, Band on the Run, or All Things Must Pass.

The “best drummer in the Beatles” quote is also very well-known because it reinforces fans’ perception of John. John was famous for speaking his mind even when it incurred major backlash. He famously claimed the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. In 1970, he released the song “God” where he dismisses many things people hold dear, including the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Buddha, President John F. Kennedy, and Elvis Presley. In interviews, he dismissed many songs by the Beatles and his former band-mates as well.

Did John Lennon say that?

John Lennon | Rowland Scherman/Getty Images

Ringo’s perceived lack of talent and John’s outspokenness have set the stage for many to believe John didn’t value Ringo’s musicianship. That’s why the remark is quoted so often. There’s only one problem with the remark: John never said it.

The quote comes from a 1981 episode of a comedic British radio show called Radio Active. The quote was clearly intended as a joke. John wasn’t even alive when the episode aired.

What did John Lennon and others actually think of Ringo Starr?

John actually felt Ringo was a very talented and underrated musician and actor. In a 1980 interview, John discussed his band-mates, saying “I don’t know what he would have ended up as, but whatever that spark is in Ringo that we all know but can’t put our finger on…whether it is acting, drumming or singing, I don’t know…there is something in him that is projectable and he would have surfaced with or without the Beatles. Ringo is a d*mn good drummer. He is not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way Paul’s bass playing is underrated…I think Paul and Ringo stand up with any of the rock musicians.”

Ringo Starr in 1973 | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Other musicians value Ringo as well. The Spectator reported Paul McCartney was in awe of the drummer when he first saw him perform, elaborating that he came across as “a grown-up musician. I remember the moment standing there and looking at John and then looking at George, and the look on our faces was like …what is this?”

According to The Guardian, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters praised Ringo, saying “Define ‘best drummer in the world.’ Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.”

There are many music fans – including Beatles fans – who see Ringo as untalented. There’s nothing wrong with holding this viewpoint, as art is subjective. However, Ringo received ringing endorsements from some of the most respected musicians ever, including John.