'Rock Band': Ringo Reappraised? : Monkey See You've heard a lot about The Beatles: Rock Band. But it might have a major impact on your assessment of the Beatle you've probably heard about the least.
NPR logo 'Rock Band': Ringo Reappraised?

'Rock Band': Ringo Reappraised?

After months of drooling anticipation (even by folks like me who don't even own a game system), The Beatles: Rock Band is finally here. Much of the excitement surrounding the game involves its potential to do a great many things: remind a new generation of exactly why the greatest band in rock and roll history is the greatest band in rock and roll history (something EMI's been careful to do every seven years or so since John Lennon's death), slake the thirst of gamers who've already burned through two Rock Bands and countless Guitar Heroes, provide a wish-fulfillment fantasy of a nearly pornographic nature to Beatlemaniacs, and cause players to contemplate on the simple, iconic beauty of a Rickenbacker guitar and a Hofner bass.

Maybe the most important, though, is the potential the game has, more even than the remastered versions of the Beatles albums that were also released yesterday, to foster a new appreciation for Ringo Starr.

Taking a second look at the drummer, after the jump...

Ringo Starr (seen here in 1963) stands to benefit from The Beatles: Rock Band. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite a small but vocal group of advocates over the years, the idea has become entrenched in the popular mindset that Starr was a competent timekeeper and little else, elevated to superstar status far more by virtue of who his chums were than by his skills behind the kit. An opinion, it should be noted, that was endorsed (if not, perhaps, actually believed) by John Lennon, who once famously responded to a question about whether Starr was the best drummer in the world by saying that he wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles.

I would usually debunk this sort of thinking by pointing out that Starr wasn't just some schmo from the Beatles' woodshedding days that they were stuck with by the time they became huge. (In fact, they had one of those -- Pete Best -- and got rid of him so that they could steal Starr away from a rival band.) Or I could call attention to his inventive (if not immediately attention-grabbing) parts in songs like "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Revolution" and "Come Together."

But I don't need to, because The Beatles: Rock Band will do that for me. In order for the player sitting on the drum throne to succeed, he or she needs to focus on Starr's parts to a degree that's going to be new for a great many people. And that means noting the off-center relentlessness of "Tomorrow Never Knows," the mostly cymbal-free thump of "Revolution" and the soft rolls of "Come Together" leading into the snareless thwack of the verse. (To say nothing of the sublime, skipping-heartbeat fills of "A Day In The Life" and the almost Keith Moon-like abandon of "Oh! Darling," both of which will be available for download in the next few months.)

In short, it will force people to pay attention to Starr's playing, rather than dismissing him because, well, he's not John, Paul or George. (Or Moonie or Bonzo or Ginger or Peart.) And once they do that, they'll pick up on the fact that there was a lot more to him than a genial disposition and an ability to count to four. They'll be primed to notice the creativity Starr brought to his instrument, even without the flamboyance of his more celebrated peers.

Before the release of the original Rock Band in 2007, John Drake of Harmonix (the company behind the game) told Blender that the drum controller mimicked an actual kit closely enough that the game would "create drummers." It would be a bit of a stretch to assume that The Beatles: Rock Band will create Beatles. But it should, at the very least, help to give at least one of them some of the respect he's long been denied.