Prior to joining the Beatles, he was the drummer for the Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, from 1959 to 1962. His musical talents were primarily confined to drumming, rather than singing or songwriting. Of all the Beatles, he did the least songwriting. The Beatles explained that when he would present a song as a contender for an album cut, the song would (to them) be a clear knockoff of another popular song, but Ringo would not recognize the similarities until they pointed it out. Ringo did, however, write "Octopus's Garden" (on the album Abbey Road) and "Don't Pass Me By" (on The White Album), as well as a few others. Ringo generally sang at least one song on each studio album; in some cases John Lennon or Paul McCartney would write the lyrics and melody especially for him, as Lennon did with "With a Little Help from My Friends", from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Often these melodies would be deliberately limited to take into account Starr's vocal range—most of With A Little Help From My Friends is sung within the space of five notes.
Starr did however contribute a number of lyric ideas and song titles to Lennon and McCartney, although usually unintentionally. One of the most famous examples of this was the title for the band's first motion picture, A Hard Day's Night. Starr had emerged from the studio after a long day of work and commented to the others that it had been a "hard day's..." - before he finished his sentence, Starr noticed that it was now night time and added "night". Lennon and McCartney liked the twisted phrase enough that they decided to use it as the title for the still untitled movie the band had been filming. Another example is the title to "Tomorrow Never Knows".
Although some have tried to downplay his contributions to the band, Starr's unique drumming style played a major role in the overall sound of The Beatles. To this day, many drummers list Starr as a major influence including Max Weinberg of The E Street Band, Liberty DeVitto of Billy Joel's band, Phil Collins, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish, and others. According to Collins, Ringo is "vastly underrated. The drum fills on "A Day In The Life" are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, 'I want it like that.' They wouldn't know what to do." Lennon, McCartney and Harrison have all said that Ringo was the best rock and roll drummer in the world.
In 1972, after the breakup of the Beatles, Starr's solo recording of "Photograph" topped the Billboard charts. He also toured with Ringo Starr's All-Star Band.
He acted in several films such as Candy (1968), The Magic Christian (1969) (alongside Peter Sellers), Son of Dracula (1974), and Caveman (1980). He also worked on the children's television series Shining Time Station, it's Christmas special Shining Time Station: 'Tis A Gift and Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. He appeared as himself on the cartoon The Simpsons.