The job of the drummer is to drive the train. The exceptional drummers do so taking you on a journey you’ve never traveled. The best grooves get your attention, but aren’t showy. Yes, drummers can be self-indulgent with exaggerated playing, tiresome soloing and drum kits that need their own zip code. It’s very difficult for a band to play without a drummer, and even worse to play with a bad one.
I got this idea from a YouTube video on drum grooves. The video ended with a challenge to pick your own; so I did. A drum groove obviously starts with the song, with the player’s technique and approach to creating something effective, yet unique.
“Lowdown” The 1975 release by Boz Scaggs. Jeff Porcaro played on this track, one of the most successful session drummers and a founding member of Toto. Porcaro was famous for his shuffle groove, a style of playing he got from Bernard Purdie. He is most recognized for using the pattern on the Toto song “Rosanna.”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” This one as easy. Keith Moon is a wild man on this song. Often thought of as a basher instead of a precision drummer, Moon used his entire drum set and it often sounded like a herd of wild animals was enveloping you, but it had purpose.
“Message in a Bottle” Stuart Copeland of the Police brought a freshness to rock drumming. He used different rhythms and variations of reggae. “Roxanne”, “Reggatta de Blanc” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” also show off Copeland’s talents.
“Whole Lotta Love” John Bonham developed the playbook for heavy metal drumming. Power, precision and creativity. I could have picked “Rock and Roll” or “When the Levee Breaks” or others, but this song had various beats and styles. Competing with Jimmy Page’s scorching guitar solo is not easy task.
“Benny the Bouncer” Carl Palmer of ELP is much a talented drummer that it was difficult to not pick one of the longer, progressive-rock pieces like “Karn Evil 9” (any movement) or anything from the first two albums. Palmer is quite the technician, masterful and able to change time signature on a dime. “Benny the Bouncer” is a jazzy piece, perhaps lightweight, but it showcases a breezier and simpler percussion groove.
“Home At Last” One of the classic songs on Aja by Steely Dan. This song is less known than “Josie” or “Big Black Cow” but features different time signature by Wrecking Crew musician Bernard Purdie. He also appeared on “Deacon Blues.” He worked on The Royal Scam and his drumming on the title song is amazing.
“She Loves You” Ringo Starr it would be easy to select “Come Together” which has a very creative drum pattern, or “Tomorrow Never Know” with is otherworldly, or “Rain” with the psychedelic imagery. Watch the video below to get an idea of Ringo’s creativity.
“Do What You Like” This is a song from the short-lived Blind Faith group. Written by Ginger Baker, it is rather excessive, but great fun. Going back to his Cream days, take your pick of incredible percussive experiences. “Politician” and “Sunshine of Your Love” are good examples. Baker came from a jazz background, that was his influence, as well as African tribal rhythms.
“Honky Tonk Women” When you honk of the Stones or Beatles, it is not splashy drumming that comes to mind. Charlie Watts is a great timekeeper, never showy or detracting from the song. Some of his best work is also in “Paint it Black” and “Time Waits for No One.”
“Take Five” The Dave Brubeck classic with Joe Morello on drums. Morello spent many years with Brubeck and declined offers to join Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman’s bands. He wrote books on drumming and tutored drummers like Max Weinberg (Bruce Springsteen) and Danny Gotlieb (Pat Metheny).
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” U2 Bono and The Edge get most of the credit for U2’s sound, but if you pay attention, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. and bass player Adam Clayton provide more than just the backbone, their work is quite phenomenal.
“We Will Rock You” Queen’s rock anthem that lives on at American football stadiums. Written by guitarist Brian May, the multi-tracked percussion is not representative of Queen drummer Roger Taylor, but this is a frequently sampled song.
“Hots for Teacher” Like a machine gun, Alex Van Halen blasts his usual double bass drums and tom toms. On this particular song he enhances the sound using additional drum tracks to give it an even heavier sound. He deep tom tom sound accentuated the Van Halen song riffs. Alex was the percussion version of guitarist Eddie.
“Children of the Grave” Bill Ward of Black Sabbath credits Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich as his influences. Imagine jazz stylings in “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man.”
“Highway Star” Ian Paice of Deep Purple was one of the first heavy metal drummers. He has great speed and power, which matched Deep Purple’s forte. “Highway Star” is often used as the example for Paice’s style.
“Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad” Jim Gordon was part of the second generation of drummers in the Wrecking Crew, who was also one of Derek’s Dominoes.
“L.A. Woman” John Densmore of the Doors had a jazz background, which he used in many Doors songs. His styling and technique was on display recording this song. He talks about it below. His drumming was essential on songs like “Break On Through” and “Light My Fire.”
“Blue Turk” This is a jazzy, lounge tune from the hard rock Alice Cooper Group. Drummer Neal Smith channels late night jazz players on the swinging tune. Smith set the beat for he rocking, theatrical ACG that was known to mix different styles into their act.
Hal Blaine was the Godfather of session drumming. The man played on more successful recordings than anyone in history. It was hard to pick one song, but I’ll go with “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys. Session players recorded quite a few of the group’s songs in the 1960s, including this classic. Blaine was in demand because he could serve up what any song needed, he called himself an accompanist, not a soloist.
“Tom Sawyer” Neil Peart wrote the lyrics for Rush in addition to setting the beat. Peart was known as a very precise drummer who reinvented his style with a jazz influence. “Tom Sawyer” is one of Rush’s most popular song, defining their style. Peart’s beat is unmistakable.
“Back in Black” AC/DC took over the heavy rock riffs from Led Zeppelin and although Phil Rudd is not the second coming of John Bonham, but he is well-respected in the world of drummers for his backbeat. The main focus of AC/DC is the nasty guitars and Rudd unselfishly provides the song’s spine for others to utilize.
“Walk This Way” Aerosmith’s first substantial hit included several grooves. Joey Kramer provided the shuffle beat to allowed the guitars and bass to be so effective. Kramer’s skillful drumming keeps this complex song on track, but operates in the background.
“Purple Haze” It took a special drummer to keep up with Jimi Hendrix. Mitch Mitchell played on some of Hendrix’s classic tracks.