The Beatles

[The Beatles][twocolumns]





Drummer Boy McCartney

It is one of the many legends surrounding The Beatles: When a music magazine in the late sixties proclaiming Ringo Starr the best drummer in the world, John Lennon would have said "How could he be the best in the world, if he is not even the best drummer in The Beatles?" Whom is he referring to? Paul McCartney. But the truth is, the anecdote is not true. Lennon never made this statement. It was a joke made by the British comedian Jasper Carrott, imitating Lennon. On the other hand, McCartney did play drums on several Beatles records.

According to tradition, Paul's brother Mike nabs a drum kit in the late fifties. He starts to exercise fanatically with a little hope, according to some, to drum his way into his brothers band. But when Paul takes place behind the kit for the first time and outplays his little brother completely without any exercise, Mike loses heart. Big brother appears to be a natural.

McCartney’s 'drum career' begins in the period the band dwells in Hamburg. Occasionally he stands in as a drummer for another British band that occurs in the Hamburg nightclubs, the one by Tony Sheridan. His influence as a drummer in The Beatles is first heard in 1965: Although Ringo is playing drums on the song, it is Paul who invented the distinctive drum track of 'Ticket to ride'. 

Video: Ticket to Ride

Three years later he makes his debut on vinyl as drummer of The Beatles. During the recording sessions for the White Album in 1968 Ringo Starr left the band for a short time. About how and why different stories going around. One is that there is a disagreement
about Ringo’s drumming on Paul's song 'Back to the USSR'. When after several takes McCartney still isn’t satisfied, an irritated Starr exclaimed: "Do it yourself!" And subsequently Ringo went on holiday for several weeks. In other stories, the recording of ‘Back to the USSR’ is not the reason for the resignation of Ringo. Fact is that he takes a few weeks break and during that time McCartney is observing his duties as drummer. As a result, Paul is heard drumming on ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and the aforementioned 'Back to the USSR '.

Later that year he records with Lennon 'The ballad of John and Yoko’ in which he takes the drumming on his behalf. That is mainly for practical reasons: Lennon is in a hurry to record and release the track, but George Harrison is on a vacation and Ringo Starr is busy acting in a movie. So it is just the two of them and thus the song is the only Beatles record on which you can hear just Lennon and McCartney alone.

Video: The Ballad of John and Yoko

In 1969 you can hear Paul for the first time as a session drummer: on the album Brave New World by the Steve Miller Band he plays drums on the song My Dark Hour, under his pseudonym Paul Ramon. On the day of the recording, there is a big argument of the signing of the contract with the intended new manager Allen Klein between Paul and the other three Beatles. John, George and Ringo leave  angered the studio and an equally furious McCartney stayed alone in the studio. At that time Steve Miller enters and offers a listening ear. Eventually the two end in a jam session where McCartney let off steam on the drums:
"I thrashed everything out on the drums. There's a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that's all I can say about that. We stayed up until late. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It's actually a pretty good track."

Video: My Dark Hour

McCartney's first solo album 'McCartney' also marks the first album on which he has anticipated all drums. The most notable contribution is perhaps the instrumental Kreen-Akrore, which consists to a large extent of one long drum solo. But a reputation as drummer makes McCartney in 1973 with his successful album Band on the Run. This album is recorded in Nigeria, but Wings drummer Denny Seiwell isn’t up for a trip to Africa and quits the band the day before departure. Therefor McCartney is forced to play the drums by himself. After the release many wonder who is this good session drummer who plays on the album.

Video: Kreen-Akrore

Only in 1980 McCartney is heard again as drummer on his experimental album McCartney II, which like his eponymous debut album he has recorded at home on his own. And in 1985, he plays the drums on the single 'Spies Like Us’. Then the drums remain silent again,
although he makes his live debut as a drummer for a big audience in 1993. For the MTV Unplugged sessions and during his New World Tour, he plays drums on the Bill Withers cover ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. But it takes until 1997 before McCartney returns to the studio as a drummer. On the album Flaming Pie, he plays drums in all but two songs. Since then, McCartney's drumming is heard regularly, for example on the CD 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard "(2005) and The Fireman-album Electric Arguments (2008).

Yeah, I like drumming (…) as long as I keep it simple.

The question is, how good is McCartney as a drummer? Seeing him drumming is quite frankly a bit of strange. Because it looks a bit stiff. But that may well be due to the fact that he is playing drums on a right-handed set while being left-handed. He does have a unique sound. He is accustomed, to express it disrespectful, to fully banging on the cymbals. That gives a loud howling sound, which he brings down in volume during the mix. A good example is the last minute of the single 'Fine Line' from 2005.

Video: Fine Line

He himself is modest about his drumming abilities: "Yeah, I like drumming (...) as long as I keep it simple." And in another interview: "The thing I really can’t do, are shuffles; they're kettle to do. It's a coordination I can’t”. Former Beatles producer George Martin is certainly impressed by McCartney as a drummer: "He's an excellent musical all-rounder, probably the best bass guitarist there is, a first class drummer, brilliant guitarist and a competent piano player." So, a first-class drummer; but that doesn’t mean he is The Beatles’ best drummer.

Related Posts:
The Voice

The Lead Guitarist
The Bass Player

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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