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The John Lennon Series
by Jude Southerland Kessler

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Reference Library: Pete Best or Worst?

From: (Kozinn)
Subject: Re: A Musical Vindication for Pete Best
Date: 9 Dec 1995 23:19:59 -0500

It was previously written:

And I, at long last, understand that your ouster from the Beatles was motivated non-musical factors. (Jeez, maybe, just maybe, your mother was was motivated by jealously or envy. Amazing after all these years to finally understand this.)

I really disagree. I've known Best's drumming for a long time -- from the (complete) Decca audition, from the (undoctored: more later) Sheridan tapes and from the couple of sessions he recorded with the Beatles for the BBC. I find his drumming to be extremely dull tapping -- not a lot worse that many other bands had, but with nothing like the character that Starr brought to the group.

To my Beatle brethren who've been so intent on maligning Pete's performance on "Love Me Do": I entreat you: listen again. Without prejudice. It's a beautiful arrrangement.

I agree that it's an *interesting* arrangement -- by far the most energetic and interesting drumming I've ever heard from Best. And my impression listening to this outtake is that it could have been very good, perhaps even better than the released version, if Best had the technique to bring it off. But he doesn't: he sounds very unsteady and awkward, to these ears at least. (And so does Andy White, surprisingly enough, on Please Please Me.) If you want to read this as "my Beatles right or wrong," that's up to you. However:

I further challenge you to goback *one year earlier* and listen to his exemplary work on My Bonnie andCry for a Shadow.- where's he's not only demonstrating his abilities as atime keeper, but is handling tight rolls with aplomb- then tell me howthese skills could somehow desert him a full year later when it came torecord Love Me Do.

Well, here we have a little problem, because on the Sheridan cuts, it's not *just* Best that you hear. There are two versions of those recordings: the undoctored version has reliable-but-dull-old Best, unvarnished. But when the Beatles hit it big in the US in 1964, and MGM was getting ready to release a cash-in album of the Sheridan stuff, *they* thought the drumming was dull, and brought in a studio player -- *possibly* Bernard Purdie, who has for years been claiming to have dubbed Beatles recordings; these are the only likely candidates -- to liven up the drumming.

I haven't compared "Bonnie" and "Cry" lately, but because someone has asked specifically which version of "Ain't She Sweet" was used, I dug out a pressing of the undoctored version and made a comparison with the Anthology CD -- and sure enough, they used the embellished one. It's quite interesting: after the first verse, and indeed, after most of the verses, there's a deft little roll; and heading into the bridge, the high hat is introduced. Neither of these touches are on the pure-Best version. So if it's that kind of detailing that impresses you, that's fine, but it's not Best's work.

he was probably Ringo's equal, or close to it.

I really don't think so. Listen to the drumming on the Swedish radio stuff. And then, beyond the Anthology, listen to the drumming on Paperback Writer, Rain, Strawberry Fields -- I can't see Best having come up with that. His style was extremely light (with the exception of the Love Me Do instrumental break); Ringo's was always considerably more vital and varied.

Before I depart: A quick message to the "My Beatles Right or Wrong Brigade" who frequent rmb...and who somehow, (thru fancy or myopia), have failed to grasp the dangers of blind adulation (see Presley, Elvis, American Popular Singer, in your local library for details) I say this: this is not about equating Pete with Ringo. I love Ringo. This is about righting a grievous wrong.

You may theorize that the reasons were extra-musical -- and undoubtedly there were also extramusical reasons (there have been cited many times). But my feeling is this: If I were in a band with a guy that didn't quite fit in (extra-musical) and who I thought was serviceable but not great, and I went for a recording test only to have my judgement vindicated by a producer who said he'd use the band but would bring in a session drummer (and what was Martin's extra-musical objection, please?), I would consider looking for another drummer. In the Beatles' case, they knew one, but until that point (i.e., having a record deal) weren't in a position to offer him anything he wasn't already getting in his own band. The contract -- particularly coming as it did with Martin's objection to Best -- made the difference.

Allan (kozinn@aol) or (

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