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20 Rock Songs with Great Drumming

The Beach Boys Wild Honey

A guest article by Scott Floman

I love lists, in fact it’s right there in the title of the book I’ve written (and continue to periodically update) about music: The Story Of Rock and Soul Music: Album Reviews and Lists. Our host Graham also loves lists, in fact he’s written a bunch of them lately which I’ve greatly enjoyed. One of them was about Graham’s favorite drummers, and, inspired by his article, I tried to come up with an article about the 100 Greatest Drum Fills in Rock History, or something along those lines. Eventually I decided to simplify it to a much less ambitious article about 20 rock songs featuring great rock drumming. These aren’t the greatest drum fills, though in some cases I feel they’re in the running, but are more 20 non-obvious songs that feature great rock drumming. In some cases they may be well-known, highly regarded songs, but in these cases the songs aren’t typically known or singled out for how awesome their drumming is. So, this article attempts to call attention to 20 mostly underrated cool songs that in particular are propelled (at least in part) by dynamic drumming. Thanks to Graham for letting me guest contribute to his fine site. Also, if you like this article you might want to check out my other article/list on the 100 greatest underrated guitar songs, which is a spiritual cousin of this one, located on my blog here). So, without further ado, here are 20 songs I hope you’ll check out, listed in alphabetical order by artist. 

1. The Beach Boys – Darlin’ (drummer: Hal Blaine): This effervescent blue-eyed soul number from 1967’s Wild Honey album is far from the typical Beach Boys song, but it’s one of my absolute favorites from them. Carl Wilson’s vocal is fantastic, for starters, and the harmonies are infectious, but I’ve always loved the drumming on this one as well, especially those little flourishes before the start of each verse. I’m not 100% sure, but I think credit there belongs to session drummer Hal Blaine who as part of the legendary studio group “The Wrecking Crew” was certainly no stranger to Beach Boys recordings.

2. Beck – Chemtrails (drummer: Joey Waronker): I often admire Beck’s craftsmanship, cleverness, and creativity, but he rarely makes me go “wow, that was an amazing song,” and that’s just what “Chemtrails” makes me do, in large part due to the drumming of session ace Joey Waronker, as well as Beck’s own excellent low-key vocals. From his underrated Danger Mouse produced Modern Guilt album. 

Big Star Radio City

3. Big Star – Back Of A Car (drummer: Jody Stephens): By now the story of Big Star, the ahead of their time power pop band who should’ve been huge but who were instead confined to being cult legends, in large part due to poor record company distribution, is fairly well-known. Group leader Alex Chilton deservedly gets the lion’s share of the credit for the band’s excellence, and to a lesser extent Chris Bell who was actually a group co-leader but who only appeared on their stellar first album #1 Record. But bassist Andy Hummel wrote or co-wrote five songs on their second album, Radio City, and Jody Stephens was a great rock drummer whose superb fills throughout “Back Of A Car” help make it a power pop masterpiece. 

4. Bloc Party – Luno (drummer: Matt Tong): Silent Alarm was one of the best debut albums of the 2000s, and was arguably the best “post-punk revival” album. The standout performer on the album, certainly on this moody, chugging groover of a song, is drummer Matt Tong, whose plentiful fills are simply awe-inspiring in their over the top awesomeness. 

5. Cactus – Parchman Farm (drummer: Carmine Appice): There were several songs I considered for Carmine Appice. For example, Vanilla Fudge’s appearance performing “You Keep Me Hanging On” on the Ed Sullivan Show is mandatory youtube viewing (it’s both brilliant and hilarious). But his drums fairly explode from the speakers on this blazing early (1970, to be exact) hard rock song from his criminally underrated subsequent band, Cactus. 

6. Chapterhouse – Breather (drummer: Ashley Bates): I considered several “shoegazer” songs with stellar drums from the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, but I kept coming back to this one. It really propels this dreamy yet hard-charging lead-off track from the band’s fine first album Whirlpool.

7. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Who’ll Stop The Rain (drummer: Doug Clifford): Singer-songwriter-guitarist John Fogerty was the prime genius in CCR, of that there’s no doubt. But the band also had incredible chemistry, with their signature choogling swamp rock sound (there’s a reason his solo career never came close to what he did in CCR). Drummer Doug Clifford was an impeccably tasteful player and his perfect fills throughout this gorgeous and affecting song from Cosmo’s Factory elevate it even higher.

8. Dio – We Rock (drummer: Vinny Appice): I already talked about brother Carmine, here younger brother Vinny does indeed rock with a masterclass in powerhouse drumming (fills being his speciality). When you’re in a band named after a guy who’s arguably the greatest heavy metal singer in rock history you know you need to be good to stand out, and boy does he ever on this blistering lead-off track from the band’s classic second album The Last In Line

9. Donovan – Hurdy Gurdy Man (drummer: Clem Cattini): This is a well-known song that was given a boost by its brilliant use in David Fincher’s movie Zodiac. The vocals are essentially a chanted mantra, and there was also the famous rumor that Jimmy Page played the psychedelic guitar on the song (it was Alan Parker), but to me the best thing about the song is Clem Cattini’s fantastic drumming throughout. 

10. Bob Dylan – Hurricane (drummer: Howie Wyeth): One of those epic songs that Bob Dylan does so well, there’s since been some question as to the accuracy of the story told within (about the “wrongful” incarceration of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who in an alternate reality “coulda been the champion of the world.”) Scarlet Rivera’s violin makes this hard-hitting song quite moody, and Dylan delivers one of his most passionate vocals, but let’s not overlook the superb drumming of Howie Wyeth, whose drum fills/punctuations throughout serve to further increase the song’s already formidable power.

11. Peter Gabriel – No Self Control (drummer: Phil Collins):  Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” probably has the most famous (3 second) drum fill in rock history, but this intense, foreboding earlier song by former Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel also featured the soon to be everywhere “gated drum sound” (actually introduced on the album’s also very good prior song “Intruder”). There are a lot of elements I like about this song (the synths, vocals, etc.), a highlight of his superb third solo album (i.e. Melt), but the drums in particular are mesmerizingly hypnotic throughout.

12. The La’s – Looking Glass (drummer: Neil Mavers): The La’s’ perfect power pop gem “There She Goes” is at least semi-famous, but this epic album closer from the band’s lone (if cherished) self-titled album is also fantastic, from its gorgeously atmospheric beginnings through to its explosive drum-fueled finale.

13. Love – 7 and 7 Is (drummer: Michael Stuart-Ware): The drums really drive this furiously rocking 1966 track, which presaged punk by a full decade (there’s a reason it was included on the classic Nuggets box set of American garage rock). It surges to an exciting conclusion as the guitars really pick up, and I dig its brief calm after the song fade-out as well. Although best-known for the baroque pop of 1967’s classic Forever Changes album, Love could seriously rock out as well. 

Van Morrison Saint Dominics Preview

14. Van Morrison – Almost Independence Day (drummer: Lee Charlton): This is Van The Man at his best. Need I say more? This epic 10-minute song possesses an understated beauty and an incredible intensity, helped along by one of the best vocals from one of the best singers ever, an eerie Moog synthesizer, some vigorous acoustic guitar strumming by Van along with Ron Elliott, and a fabulous unheralded drumming performance by Lee Charlton. The drama builds and builds throughout during this hypnotic track (which I always try to make a point to listen to during July 4th weekend), providing a fantastic ending to a fantastic album (I guarantee you that Bruce Springsteen thought so, as Saint Dominic’s Preview was an obvious influence on his early work, particularly The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. This song also likely inspired the guitar intro to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”).

15. New York Dolls – Vietnamese Baby (drummer: Jerry Nolan): David Johansen’s sneering vocals and Johnny Thunders’ lashing guitars are great, but I especially love the drum punctuations from Jerry Nolan on this moody, hard rockin’ track from this legendary “proto-punk” band’s classic (if poor selling) self-titled first album. 

16. The Rascals – What Is The Reason (drummer: Dino Dinelli): Dino Dinelli is probably the best drummer on this list. Heck I rate him among the best rock drummers ever. The Rascals (or “The Young Rascals” as they were originally called) were a wonderful “blue eyed soul” band, and it annoys me that they’ve been somewhat forgotten over the years. You used to hear their biggest hits – “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “People Got To Be Free” among them – all the time, but ever-shrinking radio playlists (don’t even get me started…) have relegated them to the margins. Anyway, off my soapbox, this is one of my favorite deep tracks by the band, especially the ending, when Dino takes over and provides several astounding examples of his peerless chops.

17. Raspberries – Overnight Sensation (Hit Record) (drummer: Michael McBride): I guess there’s something about the power pop genre that lends itself to great drumming performances. This joyous big ballad should’ve been at least as huge a hit as “Go All The Way.” The vocals are terrific, both lead and the sunny Beach Boys-like harmonies, and the lyrics are bittersweet and affecting when you realize that the song didn’t make them the sensations they deserved to be (and that the band broke up soon afterwards). But above all it is Michael McBride’s showy drumming, and one part in particular (I won’t spoil it but you’ll know it when you hear it), that makes this an all-time power pop classic to me.

Sugar File Under Easy Listening

18. Sugar – Gift (drummer: Malcolm Travis): Sugar was the second of Bob Mould’s great power trios (following Hüsker Dü, of course). This song kicks off their second full-length album by roaring out of the gate and showcasing an unbelievably tight musical unit. Fittingly, I once saw this song in a promo ad for a bobsledding competition, as the song hurtles forward with a similar sense of reckless abandon, driven forward by drummer Malcom Travis, who’s an absolute monster behind the kit.

19. Thin Lizzy – Johnny (drummer: Brian Downey): Brian Downey is one of my favorite drummers, as he always played with the perfect combination of finesse and power. His fills elevate this excellent hard rockin’ lead-off track (as are many of these songs, coincidentally) from Thin Lizzy’s strong Johnny The Fox album. (And as per most prime Thin Lizzy songs the guitar work and vocals are outstanding as well.)

20. The Waterboys – Rags (drummer Kevin Wilkinson): One of my favorite songs during The Waterboys’ “Big Music” period, this one just has a majestic overall sound and really grooves along, especially the second half of the song. Man, just try not to play air drums along to this one! I know that I can’t!

Read More

The Story Of Rock and Soul Music: Album Reviews and Lists
Scott’s Music Writings

Do you have some suggestions for songs with great drumming performances? Add them below.

14 thoughts on “20 Rock Songs with Great Drumming Leave a comment

  1. Great list. Independence Day’s drumming is breathtaking as the song is…
    Raspberries – Overnight Sensation… I always considered this song a power pop masterpiece…it’s epic. The drums have a hint of Keith Moon…love the big sound also. The song should be well known if life was fair.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have a greatest hits package. Most of the songs are really good. I’m glad to see others appreciate that song as well. That was Carmens last shot with the Raspberries… it should have worked.

        Liked by 1 person

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