“Greatest rock drummer” isn’t a label you throw around lightly, but with John Bonham, it’s a pretty safe call to make.
5. Fool in the Rain
This track immediately stands out from the other classics on this list for sounding nothing like a usual Zepp song. Unlike their usual guitar-led forays into blues/hard rock, ‘Fool in the Rain’ is led by piano and exhibits a distinctively swing and Latin feel. It therefore serves as the perfect example of the diversity Bonham was capable of, cracking out a jazzy-shuffle just as easily as he does a hard rock backbeat. He even abandons this at 2:25 to jump into a frenzied party style of percussion temporarily before using a fast fill to seamlessly slip back into that infectious groove.
4. Good Times Bad Times
The track that introduced the world to Bonham. In the first few seconds of the opening track on Led Zeppelin’s debut album, Bonham shows us that he was truly a force to be reckoned with. With those distinctive two hits, fills and two-triplet work on the bass drum pedal (pulled off with only one foot, despite how it may sound), Bonham stormed his way to the top of the rock drumming world and showed us that he was there to stay.
The sign of a great drummer is that even when they can tear through crazy fills and beats, they still know to show restrain when needed. That’s exactly what Bonham does on ‘Kashmir’, easily making it one of Zepp’s best and most recognisable tracks. The beat may not be as ferocious as the others on this list, but it fits the track perfectly, giving it a cinematic epic-ness without overshadowing the other instruments. As lead singer Robert Plant famously said of Bonham’s beat, “It was what he didn’t do that made it work”. Having said that, Bonham still throws in some subtle shakeups of the backbeat as it goes on, even including, you guessed it, some distinctive triplets on the bass pedal.
2. Moby Dick
Do we really need to say anything about this one? The studio recording and live performances gave us some of the greatest drum solos of all time. Bonham doesn’t just go for speed, he consistently mixes up his solos with rhythmic variety and tempo complexities.
1. When The Levee Breaks
This one also made our list of most iconic drum beats of all time, and with good reason. As we said, the drums in the track are instantly recognisable (and have now been sampled in hundreds of hip-hop tracks!). 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.