The Truth About John Lennon's Relationship With Ringo Starr

The Beatles' breakup, which was made official in April of 1970, marked the end of an era in a number of ways. For fans, it was the end of a six-year period in which the band dominated the international pop charts. But for the band members themselves, particularly John Lennon and Paul McCartney, it was the end of an iconic songwriting partnership and the beginning of a period that was largely marked by estrangement, with both musicians writing competing diss tracks about the other. Still, one often has to wonder about the other relationships the Fab Four had with each other, both in a professional and a personal sense.

While we know a lot about Lennon's relationship with McCartney as well as the relationships most Beatles had with specific bandmates, there doesn't seem to be much said in comparison about Lennon's relationship with Ringo Starr. However, the two men had quite a tight bond as bandmates and as friends, and there are several examples out there of how that bond manifested, may it be during the Beatles' heyday or in the years after they went their separate ways and launched solo careers.

Ringo's 'psychic' connection with his bandmates, especially John

When Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best and became the Beatles' new drummer in August 1962, he was no stranger to the would-be Fab Four. His previous band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, was a mainstay of the Liverpool beat scene, and the two bands were well-acquainted with each other, having formed a bond while they were both playing in Hamburg in the early '60s, as Starr recalled at around 13:30 of his appearance on "The Q Interview" with Tom Power. 

At the 15:40 mark of the interview, Starr looked back on the chemistry he had with the Beatles when he was playing with the band, specifically singling out John Lennon as someone he had a strong connection with on stage and in the studio. "When we were playing together we were the best band in the land," the drummer said. "I don't care what anyone says and we knew each other. It was like psychic. I would be playing drums with my eyes closed, the headphones on, I'd know John was going to go somewhere and I'd drum in that. And I would hold it together while they weren't mad and bring it back."

As drummers are essentially the quarterbacks of the band, that would have likely been one heck of a compliment for Lennon to hear if he was still alive. But how true is it that Lennon apparently wasn't a big fan of Starr's drumming?

Did Lennon really speak ill of Starr's drumming?

It's often been claimed in Beatles lore that John Lennon, perhaps as an actual joke or as a half-meant backhanded dig at his drummer, made this quip about Ringo Starr's musical abilities, or perceived lack thereof: "Maybe Ringo Starr wasn't the best drummer in the world ... maybe he wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles." Given that the only other drummer in the Beatles' classic lineup wasn't really a drummer (Paul McCartney played drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R.") and that it's been alleged Pete Best was fired for not being good enough for the band (among other supposed reasons), that's a savage diss ... if only Lennon had actually made the comments.

As RadioX explains, Lennon never said those words at all, whether as a member of the Beatles or during his solo career. And it isn't surprising that this isn't the case after all, as Starr was trusted to play the drums on solo albums from Lennon and George Harrison. 

Instead, it seems that the more interesting story here is the debate on who cracked the joke in the first place. According to RadioX, comedian Jasper Carrott was long believed to be the source of the gag, having purportedly delivered it in 1983. But Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn was able to provide audio evidence that the joke was made two years earlier by someone else. Taking to Twitter, Lewisohn shared a clip from the BBC Radio show "Radio Active" dated October 6, 1981, noting that the joke was written by Geoffrey Perkins and delivered by Philip Pope ... with no involvement from Lennon, who had died almost a year prior.

Lennon had some slightly critical remarks about Starr, but they came from a good place

While John Lennon never (and we repeat, never) said anything about Ringo Starr not being the best drummer in the Beatles, he made some frank, yet largely accurate comments about Starr's lack of creative experience as a Beatle during what turned out to be the singer-guitarist-songwriter's last television interview.

In his appearance on the April 8, 1975, edition of "The Tomorrow Show," Lennon told host Tom Snyder (via Far Out) that out of his ex-Beatles bandmates, he was most proud of Starr's accomplishments as a solo performer because he didn't have much experience writing songs while part of the Fab Four. "I'm most happy for Ringo's success because it always went round that Ringo was dumb but he ain't dumb," Lennon said. "He just didn't have that much of a writing ability and he wasn't known for writing his own material."

Apologies to those who have "Octopus's Garden" and "Don't Pass Me By" in their list of top 10 Beatles songs, but Lennon was calling things as he saw them, as was often the case. And his comments were largely positive, also extending to Starr's acting career. "There was a bit of a worry, although he can make movies and he does make movies and he's good at it, but how was his recording career gonna be?" Lennon noted before adding a self-deprecatory quip. "And in general, it's probably better than mine actually."

Lennon offered some interesting career advice to Starr in the late '70s

Ringo Starr's 2004 book "Postcards from the Boys" was the ultimate Beatles tribute from one man to his former bandmates more than three decades after they last played together as a group. As the title suggests, the book compiles various postcards John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison sent Ringo during their time together as the Fab Four as well as the years following the Beatles' disbandment. While not a juicy page-turner like your average band biography (or autobiography), "Postcards from the Boys" offers some great insight into Starr's relationship with John, Paul, and George — and with that in mind, it includes one particularly interesting postcard that Lennon sent in the spring of 1979, one that shows how he was always looking out for the drummer and eager to hear what he'd do next as a solo artist.

As seen in this Twitter post, the postcard, which was dated May 9, 1979, sees Lennon offering some suggestions for Starr's solo career path, including a cover of the jazz standard "How High the Moon," which is probably best known for Les Paul and Mary Ford's 1951 version. In the correspondence, Lennon suggested that Starr record a cover with female vocal harmonies — a disco version, no less, as emphasized underneath, though he noted that it wouldn't be simple to pull off such a cover.

Similarly, he also advised Starr to record songs in the vein of a far more contemporary performer. "Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' is the type of stuff y'all should do," Lennon wrote, adding that the band's oftentimes disco-inflected brand of rock is "great [and] simple." 

Ringo's poignant way of honoring Lennon following his death

The murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, profoundly affected legions of music fans around the world. And even with all the tension and acrimony that followed the Beatles' breakup a decade earlier, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were nonetheless heartbroken by Lennon's death, as the two ex-Beatles wrote songs honoring their late bandmate. McCartney's "Here Today" appeared on his 1982 album "Tug of War," while Harrison released "All Those Years Ago" a year prior, taking it all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1981.

Unlike McCartney and Harrison, Ringo Starr did not record any tribute songs for Lennon in the immediate aftermath of the latter's murder. But he still chose a unique way to honor the late ex-Beatle. As noted by Beatles Bible, Lennon wrote the song that eventually became "Nobody Told Me" in 1976 and recorded a demo version for Starr, with the intention of offering the song to the drummer for his 1981 solo album "Stop and Smell the Roses." While Starr considered including the song on the album, he ultimately chose not to record any of Lennon's compositions after his former bandmate's death.

Ultimately, "Nobody Told Me" appeared on Lennon's posthumous 1984 album "Milk and Honey" and became a top 10 hit that year. It would have been the proverbial "one that got away" in most other circumstances, but not in this situation.