Drummers may cop a lot of jokes for heaving the easiest job in the band and a lack of musical talent, but deep down we all know that’s a bullshit lie perpetuated by bassists! Drummers form the integral backbone of a song, ensuring that the rest of the band stay in time and don’t mess up. But outside of just keeping time, drummers get to lay down some pretty complex rhythms,which can often becoming the key feature of a song.
In no particular order, here are the ten most iconic drum tracks that rely heavily on their super-talented stickmasters.
1. Jon Bonham (Led Zeppelin), ‘When The Levee Breaks’
How could we kick off with anyone other than the shuffle-maestro and fill fanatic Jon Bonham. In a career that includes ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and ‘Fool in the Rain’ it’s near impossible to pick a favourite, but ‘When The Levee Breaks’ just takes the cake for being instantly recognisable. The beat’s distinctive echoey sound was accomplished by Bonham placing his kit at the bottom of a staircase, and recording it through microphones placed at the top. Led Zeppelin had tried and failed to cover the song (originally by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie) many times before, but it was only when Bonham laid down that iconic beat that the band came up with their unique take on the song.
2. Ringo Starr (The Beatles), ‘Come Together’
It may read like a cliche to say that ‘feel’ is the most important aspect of good drumming, but Ringo Starr is the perfect example of this. He may not be as crazy fast around the kit as other mentions on this list, his unique style and feel are instantly recognisable, making his simpler style still incredibly iconic. The perfect example: ‘Come Together’. Tell me you don’t air drum those fills each time they come up!
3. Ziggy Modeliste (The Meters), ‘Cissy Strut’
Surely if your name is Ziggy Modeliste, you have to play in a funk band?! Whatever the case, Modeliste’s beat is the true definition of funk and, as the title suggests, it’s impossible not to strut down the street when blasting this one. ‘Cissy Strut’ follows a basic principle which many modern drummers seem to forget – you don’t have to be fast to be complex. You many be able to tap along in time with the beat, but good luck keeping up with all the other syncopated hits going on.
4. Neil Peart (Rush), ‘YYZ’
If you want to see technique and technicality at its best, look no further than Neil Peart. If the beat in ‘YYZ’ sounds strange, it’s because it is. The rhythm is actually the morse code of YYZ, the code for Rush’s local airport Toronto Pearson International Airport. Peart starts off by using this code as the basis for his drum beat (as do the other instruments) before adding more and more complex fills and intricacies to the beat. It’s all so complicated that they don’t even bother singing over the top, or else our assembled brains would probably explode.
5. Lars Ulrich (Metallica), ‘One’
If you want to see drumming power, you look to Lars Ulrich. In terms of guitar and vocals, ‘One’ isn’t always as heavy as Metallica can get (at least in the first half), but the machine gun sounding drums are pure insanity. By the song’s last few minutes, Lars’ double bass and rapid snare work are so intense that they become a huge cacophony of sound, in the best possible way.
6. Keith Moon (The Who), ‘My Generation’
Moon opts for a somewhat simplistic drumbeat in this track, but throws in complex and chaotic drum fills in between, making for a high energy and varied performance.
If that isn’t high energy enough for you, during a performance of ‘My Generation’ on TV, Moon packed his bass drum with gunpowder, causing a big explosion and permanently damaging Pete Townshend’s hearing. Check out the carnage here.
7. Jeff Beck/Stevie Wonder, ‘Superstition’
Stevie Wonder actually came up with the ‘Superstition’ riff when he walked into the studio and heard guitarist Jeff Beck messing around on the drum kit and playing the the opening beat. Although the two produced the first demo together, Stevie Wonder ended up re-recording the track and playing the famous drum pattern himself for the studio version.
Beck did later release his version, but unsurprisingly it failed to live up the success of Stevie Wonder’s.
8. Phil Rudd (AC/DC), ‘Back in Black’
Rudd demonstrates another impressive trait that many drummers seem to lack; power with restraint. He can hit the drums pretty damn hard, but he also knows to sit back on songs, complementing rather than overshadowing his other bandmates. The perfect example: ‘Back in Black’. It’s powerful and iconic, but never overwhelming.
9. Dave Lombardo (Slayer), ‘Raining Blood’
Having said that, you can still go powerful and complex and create an awesome song, like Lombardo does here. There’s no denying the proficiency of metal drummers, but many find themselves sacrificing groove and feel in pursuit in favour of playing as fast as humanly possible. ‘Raining Blood’ makes the cut for perfectly balancing the two.
10. Larry Mullen, Jr. (U2), ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’
Say what you will about modern era U2 (and much needs to be said), there’s no denying the emotional power of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, thanks largely to its simple drum beat. The song is about the Bloody Sunday massacre and, to evoke this, Mullen plays a military sounding march on the kit which becomes the song’s hook and most recognisable element.
If you’re still not sold on the importance of the rhythm section, then check out this incredible video of two musicians playing 100 iconic bass riffs and drum beats: