14. Murray the K.
New York City disc jockey Murray the K. cajoled the Beatles into indulging his request to be called “the fifth Beatle” during their first trip to America. He was only the fifth Beatle in the sense that if there were four Beatles in the room, he would be the least important. He was a pretty big deal radio DJ, but who cares about radio DJs? Stop talking over songs, dudes, you’re killing my buzz.
13. Pete Best
In “The Lives of John Lennon,” Albert Goldman argued that Best was a better drummer than Ringo and that Best’s sacking was a travesty. Now, with recordings of both drummers available at a moment’s notice on YouTube, it is clear that Goldman was very, very wrong. Best was a lousy drummer who derails the band with his incompetence (notice how wobbly it gets at 1:10 or so). It makes me wonder if anything else in the book might be inaccurate as well! Anyway, at the height of Beatlemania, Best put out a record called “Best of the Beatles,” a title both technically accurate and totally misleading. So kudos for that, Pete. Your drumming was terrible but your punning was on point.
12. Eric Clapton
By virtue of playing the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Clapton qualifies as sort of a Beatle. It’s pretty funny that George Harrison, the lead guitar player for the most popular guitar band of all time, subcontracted out the guitar solo on his signature song which includes the word “guitar” in the title. But otherwise, Clapton sucks, Cream sucks and if you ever feel nostalgic about the monoculture, remember that one of its final collective decisions was the constant rotation of “Tears in Heaven.”
11. Kevin Parker/Julian Lennon/Sean Lennon
My wife had on The Shonen Knife Pandora station the other day and John Lennon voice rang out and I was like, whoa, how did the Beatles get on this thing. But it wasn’t John Lennon at all. It was his son, a man genetically fated to sound like one of the most famous singers of the 20th century. Anyway, I wish that Paul McCartney would join up with one of Lennon’s kids or that Tame Impala dude and make a record of Everly Brothers covers or something. It would be better than that “Free as a Bird” bullshit for sure.
10. Yoko Ono
Yoko doesn’t deserve 95 percent of the hatred she gets. It’s sourced in racism, misogyny and misplaced anger at John Lennon. She did not break up the Beatles. The Beatles broke up the Beatles. But that five percent of hate she does deserve is undeniable. I want to like her since everybody hates her but she is so unpleasant it’s impossible. From her facile twitter wisdom to her grief-mongering art, she’s insufferable even to this day.
9. Stu Sutcliffe
The Beatles’ first bass player quit the band to concentrate on his painting career and died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly thereafter. It’s a pretty sad story that was made into a movie called Backbeat that I have never had any interest in seeing for some reason.
8. Phil Spector
Sure, he’s a convicted murderer and pulled a gun on the Ramones, but have you heard his production work on Let it Be? That shit is hilarious. “The Long and Winding Road” invented psychedelic elevator music.
7. Billy Preston
He’s a chill dude with a dope afro who kept the Fab Four from ripping each other’s throats out during tortuous recording sessions. The songs he played on were among the worst the Beatles wrote but he made them work. His solo on “Get Back” elevates the song out of mediocrity and he almost turns “Let it Be” into something decent.
6. George Harrison
If there was ever a guy who lucked into a gig but managed to be defiantly ungrateful about it, it’s George Harrison. Boo hoo, the guys who wrote “Yesterday” and “She Said, She Said” won’t record your songs. Maybe just learn the parts and smile while you collect a paycheck as a member of the greatest band of all time. “Here Comes the Sun,” is pretty good but ultimately it’s hippy campfire soft rock. Thank god he was eventually liberated from his Beatles servitude so he could perform classics like “My Sweet Lord” (which he stole) and “Got my Mind Set on You” (which was both terrible and a cover). The Traveling Wilburys are OK, I guess.
5. John Lennon
John Lennon was supposed to be this cosmic revolutionary artiste. But what if he just had a shitty attitude that seemed deep? There’s a whole cottage industry of people on the internet who hate John Lennon, but a lunatic shot him to death so my instinct is to pull punches.
4. Brian Epstein
This was a mid 20th Century gay Jewish dude from a backwater town in England who saw a band playing at a bar during his lunch hour and turned them into the biggest group in the world. Such a legend. Shame he couldn’t handle his drugs.
3. Paul McCartney
The same guy wrote “Hey Jude” and the theme from “Spies Like Us.” McCartney is a workaholic who loves his weed and lacks an effective quality filter. His post Beatles work, which encompasses the majority of his life, ranges from OK to superfund site level toxicity. Still, his 1963-1969 hot streak is untouched. Despite how 80% of his work is shit, he is history’s greatest writer of pop songs. He’s also in the upper one percentile for singers and bass players. He’s so talented it’s hard not to be constantly disappointed in him.
2. George Martin
Producer George Martin handcrafted the analogue psychedelia of the Beatles while keeping his hair brylcreem-stiff and his suits freshly pressed. He guided each of their records until dropping out halfway through the White Album and skipping the brutal Let it Be sessions before returning for Abbey Road. You can chart out that quality dip in a tidy “U” shape. The Beatles used the recording studio like a symphony. George Martin conducted it.
1. Ringo Starr
Overall, the Beatles were about love and optimism. That never would have happened without Ringo, the least troubled man in the ensemble. He’s the warm candy center of the Beatles’ persona. It’s no accident he’s the featured player in their films. But goofball charm aside, he’s history’s most underrated drummer. He has the rare musical ability to perform complicated musical ideas simply. Beatles songs hopscotch through odd time signatures but you’d never know that Ringo is playing anything other than a quaint dancehall rhythm. Imagine the mess a showboat like Neil Peart would have made out of “Ticket to Ride” or “Here Comes the Sun.” If you don’t like Ringo, you don’t like holding down grooves and being chill and I fucking pity you.