Drumming is the heartbeat of music, a universal language that transcends cultures and time. Throughout history, drumming has played a pivotal role in shaping the way we experience music, from tribal rhythms to modern rock anthems. In this article, we’ll delve into the rich history of drumming in music, exploring its evolution over the years, and ultimately, we’ll present a list of the top 30 songs with best drums. These songs exemplify the power, creativity, and artistry of drummers who have left an indelible mark on the world of music.
The Evolution of Drumming in Music
Drumming has been an integral part of music for centuries. The earliest known drums were used by ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. In the Middle Ages, drums were used in military bands, and in the Renaissance, they became a prominent feature in orchestras. In the 20th century, drumming became an essential part of popular music, with the emergence of genres such as rock, jazz, and hip hop.
Over the years, drumming has evolved from simple beats to complex rhythms, with drummers pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument. Today, drumming is a highly respected art form, with drummers like Neil Peart, Buddy Rich, and Dave Grohl considered some of the best in the world.
Drumming has a history that spans millennia, with its roots deeply embedded in various cultures around the world. Here’s a brief overview of its evolution:
- Ancient Percussion: The earliest known drums date back to ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They were used for ceremonial and communication purposes.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll: The emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s brought drumming to the forefront, with legends like John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) and Keith Moon (The Who) setting new standards.
- Fusion and Beyond: Drummers like Billy Cobham and Tony Williams pushed the boundaries of drumming in the world of jazz fusion, while the 1980s introduced electronic drumming and sampled beats.
- Modern Drumming: Today, drumming has become more diverse than ever, with genres like hip-hop, metal, and EDM showcasing innovative drumming techniques.
The Top 30 Songs with the Best Drumming
Led Zeppelin – “When the Levee Breaks”
John Bonham’s thunderous drums in this iconic track create an unforgettable, primal groove. The most distinctive element of Led Zeppelin’s version is John Bonham’s thunderous drums. Bonham’s drumming, recorded in a three-story stairwell at Headley Grange (a recording and rehearsal venue), creates a powerful, echoey effect, which gives the track its primal groove. This effect was achieved by placing microphones at the top of the stairwell, capturing the natural reverb and resonance. The result is a drum sound that’s been widely admired and frequently sampled in other genres, notably in hip hop.
The Who – “Baba O’Riley”
Keith Moon’s explosive drumming perfectly complements this timeless rock anthem. The song was written by Pete Townshend, the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter. The title “Baba O’Riley” is a combination of the names of two of Townshend’s influences: Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master, and Terry Riley, an American composer known for his pioneering work in minimalism and tape looping.
Songs with Best Drums – Rush – “YYZ”
Neil Peart’s virtuosic drumming skills shine in this progressive rock masterpiece. Neil Peart’s drumming in “YYZ” is characterized by its complexity, speed, and precision. He uses a wide range of techniques, including odd time signatures, intricate snare drum patterns, and rapid-fire tom-tom runs. His drum solo in the middle of the song is a highlight, showcasing his technical prowess and creativity.
In addition to the drums, the song also features impressive performances by Geddy Lee on bass and synthesizers and Alex Lifeson on guitar. However, it is Peart’s drumming that often draws the most attention, helping to make “YYZ” a favorite among Rush fans and a standard for aspiring rock drummers.
Pink Floyd – “Time”
Nick Mason’s subtle yet profound drumming adds depth to this classic. Nick Mason’s drumming in “Time” is a key element, providing a rhythmic foundation that complements the song’s theme of the relentless, unyielding march of time. His drumming is not flashy or showy; instead, it’s subtle, with a steady, ticking rhythm reminiscent of a ticking clock, which ties in perfectly with the song’s theme. His use of rototoms provides a unique timbre that adds to the song’s distinctiveness.
Furthermore, Mason’s drumming in “Time” is a perfect example of his style – less about virtuosity or complexity, and more about serving the song and contributing to the overall mood and atmosphere. This is a common characteristic in Pink Floyd’s music, where the focus is typically on the overall sound and texture, rather than individual instrumental prowess. Mason’s drumming in “Time” contributes significantly to the song’s melancholic mood and introspective atmosphere.
The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”
Charlie Watts’ steady beat anchors this haunting rock gem. In this track, Charlie Watts, the drummer for The Rolling Stones, provides a solid rhythmic foundation that anchors the song. His drumming style is often understated, yet it is an essential part of the Stones’ sound. Watts’ steady beat in “Gimme Shelter” contrasts with the song’s haunting and intense atmosphere, providing a sense of stability amidst the chaos. This balance helps to enhance the overall impact of the song, making it one of the most memorable tracks in the Stones’ discography.
Songs with Best Drums – Queen – “We Will Rock You”
Roger Taylor’s simple yet powerful drum pattern has become a sports arena anthem. “Queen – We Will Rock You” is a classic rock song that has transcended its original genre to become a universal anthem. Released in 1977 on the album “News of the World,” it features a simple yet powerful drum pattern by Roger Taylor that has since become instantly recognizable. The song is noted for its minimalistic composition, primarily driven by Taylor’s stomping beat and clapping, which are later joined by a blistering guitar solo by Brian May. This stripped-down approach to the song’s instrumentation allows the driving rhythm to take center stage, making it a favorite at sports events and concerts worldwide. Taylor’s drumming, while not complex in this track, demonstrates the power of rhythm and its ability to unite and energize crowds.
Genesis – “In the Air Tonight”
Phil Collins’ iconic drum fill is one of the most recognizable in music history. “Genesis – In the Air Tonight” is a song that’s deeply associated with Phil Collins’ drumming. The song starts out slow and atmospheric, building tension with Collins’ haunting vocals and the use of synthesizers. The iconic drum fill, which doesn’t occur until about three and a half minutes into the song, is one of the most memorable moments in music history. The sudden, explosive drumming creates a stark contrast to the song’s otherwise calm tempo, making it a dramatic and cathartic moment that listeners anticipate. This drumfill has been widely imitated and parodied, contributing to its status as a cultural touchstone.
The Police – “Every Breath You Take”
Stewart Copeland’s intricate rhythms add a unique dimension to this hit. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police is a song that showcases Stewart Copeland’s unique drumming style. The song is known for its simple, haunting melody and the distinctive, muted guitar riff, but Copeland’s drumming is an integral part of its success.
His drumming on this track is marked by a blend of rock and reggae influences, a style that The Police were known for. Copeland’s rhythms are intricate and nuanced, providing a steady yet complex undercurrent to the song. His use of the hi-hat cymbals is particularly notable, creating a crisp, ticking rhythm that adds to the song’s tense, obsessive atmosphere.
Songs with Best Drums – Nirvana – “In Bloom”
Dave Grohl’s dynamic drumming drives this grunge classic. “In Bloom” by Nirvana is a quintessential grunge anthem. Dave Grohl’s drumming is a critical component of the song’s identity. He employs a powerful, hard-hitting style that adds a raw and aggressive energy to the track. His drumming is characterized by heavy use of the toms and crash cymbals, creating a thunderous, driving rhythm that propels the song forward.
Grohl’s drumming on “In Bloom” also showcases his ability to balance intensity with subtlety. The verses feature a more restrained, yet still energetic rhythm, allowing Kurt Cobain’s vocals and Krist Novoselic’s bass to take center stage. However, during the choruses, Grohl unleashes a barrage of powerful drum hits that amplify the song’s explosive energy.
Jimi Hendrix – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
Mitch Mitchell, the drummer for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, provides a frenetic, jazz-inspired drumming style that perfectly complements Hendrix’s virtuosic guitar playing. Mitchell’s drumming is characterized by his intricate, rapid-fire fills and syncopated rhythms, which play an essential role in the song’s overall texture and energy.
Hendrix’s guitar prowess is on full display in “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. He uses a wah-wah pedal to create a distinctive, wailing sound that has become synonymous with the song. His guitar work is both rhythmically complex and melodically innovative, blending elements of blues and rock with a psychedelic flair. Hendrix’s solos are explosive and improvisational, showcasing his exceptional skill and creativity.
Songs with Best Drums – Metallica – “One”
“Metallica – One” is a standout track from their 1988 album “…And Justice for All” and showcases drummer Lars Ulrich’s technical prowess and musicality. The song starts with a slow, clean guitar intro, allowing the drums to build up suspense and tension, before exploding into a fast, double-bass-driven verse.
Ulrich’s drumming in “One” is characterized by its precision and power. His use of double bass drumming, particularly in the latter half of the song, adds a layer of intensity and urgency, matching the song’s dark lyrical content about a World War I soldier who is severely wounded. His drum fills are intricate and perfectly timed, demonstrating his technical ability.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “By the Way”
Chad Smith’s funky drumming gives this song its infectious groove. Smith’s drumming in “By the Way” is energetic and dynamic, providing a solid rhythmic foundation that supports the melodic interplay between the vocals and the guitar. His drumming is not overly complex, but it’s the simplicity and precision that make it stand out. He uses syncopated beats and clever fills to add a sense of unpredictability, keeping the listener engaged.
Moreover, Smith’s ability to seamlessly transition between different rhythms contributes to the song’s infectious groove. He switches from a more straightforward rock beat in the verses to a funkier rhythm in the choruses, reflecting the song’s changing moods. Additionally, his use of the hi-hat and cymbals adds a layer of brightness to the overall sound, complementing the bass and guitar parts.
Songs with Best Drums – Tool – “Schism”
“Schism” by Tool is a progressive metal track that showcases the exceptional drumming skills of Danny Carey. His use of complex polyrhythms – where two or more rhythms are played simultaneously at different tempos or time signatures – is a defining feature of the song. Carey’s intricate drum patterns, which often shift and evolve throughout the track, provide a rhythmic backbone that complements the song’s heavy guitar riffs and Maynard James Keenan’s haunting vocals. His ability to maintain a steady beat while also introducing unexpected rhythmic elements helps to create the song’s distinctive, unsettling atmosphere. It’s a testament to Carey’s technical proficiency and creativity as a drummer.
Prince – “When Doves Cry”
“When Doves Cry” by Prince is a groundbreaking pop track that features the percussive talents of Sheila E. The song is unique in its absence of a bass line, which puts a spotlight on the rhythmic elements and makes the percussion more prominent. Sheila E.’s drumming is both complex and understated, providing a solid foundation for the song’s synth-heavy arrangement and Prince’s emotive vocals.
Sheila E.’s drum patterns in “When Doves Cry” are a blend of electronic and acoustic sounds, reflecting the song’s innovative fusion of genres. She uses a Linn LM-1 drum machine, which was revolutionary at the time, to create a synthetic drum sound that complements the song’s electronic elements. At the same time, she incorporates acoustic percussion instruments to add depth and texture to the rhythm section.
Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder is a quintessential funk song, and Wonder’s drumming plays a significant role in establishing its rhythmic foundation. His syncopated drum beats, combined with his iconic clavinet riff, create a distinctive groove that defines the song. The drumming is not overly complex, but it perfectly complements the other elements of the track, illustrating Wonder’s skill in creating intricate musical arrangements. His solid, in-the-pocket drumming style drives the song forward, providing a steady backbone for his powerful vocals and instrumental solos.
David Bowie – “Five Years”
Woody Woodmansey’s driving drums propel this Bowie hit. Woodmansey’s drumming style in “Five Years” is characterized by a steady, relentless rhythm that builds in intensity throughout the song. His use of the snare drum to accentuate the song’s rhythm, along with his dynamic fills and rolls, adds depth and texture to the track. His drumming also serves to punctuate Bowie’s emotional vocal performance, reinforcing the dramatic tension and melancholy of the song. The combination of Bowie’s poignant lyrics and Woodmansey’s driving drums creates a powerful and moving piece of music that remains a classic in Bowie’s discography.
The Beatles – “Come Together”
Ringo Starr’s minimalist drumming is the backbone of this legendary track. “Come Together” by The Beatles is an iconic rock song, and Ringo Starr’s drumming is a key element that contributes to its distinctiveness. The opening drum riff, characterized by its unique, swampy groove, immediately sets the tone for the song. Starr’s drumming style in this track is minimalist yet effective, demonstrating his ability to serve the song without overplaying. His use of space and restraint allows the other elements of the track, like John Lennon’s vocals and the bass line, to shine. The drum pattern is consistent throughout, providing a steady rhythm that holds the song together. This underlines Starr’s role as a supportive drummer who prioritizes the overall sound of the band over individual virtuosity.
Songs with Best Drums – Cream – “White Room”
Ginger Baker’s jazzy drumming elevates this rock classic. Baker’s drumming in “White Room” is characterized by his use of the double bass drum, a setup he popularized in rock music. The intro features a rolling tom-tom pattern, executed with precision and flair. Throughout the song, Baker’s drumming is intense and complex, but it never overpowers the other instruments.
His ability to switch between time signatures seamlessly is another highlight of the song. The verses of “White Room” are in 4/4 time, providing a more familiar rhythmic foundation for the listeners, while the choruses return to the 5/4 beat, maintaining the song’s unique feel.
Radiohead – “There, There”
Phil Selway’s hypnotic rhythm guides this experimental rock gem. The song starts with a tribal drumming pattern, courtesy of Selway, setting a haunting, mesmerizing tone that carries throughout the track. His drumming is not only rhythmically complex, but it also complements the song’s layered guitar work and Thom Yorke’s emotive vocals, creating a rich sonic tapestry.
Selway’s rhythm also helps to underscore the song’s theme of disillusionment and despair. The steady, relentless beat seems to mirror the protagonist’s internal struggle, providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the lyrics’ emotional content. This synergy between the music and the lyrics is a hallmark of Radiohead’s work, and “There, There” is a prime example of this.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “One Love”
Carlton Barrett’s reggae-infused drumming is the heartbeat of this anthem. The song itself is an anthem of unity, peace, and universal love, with the lyrics promoting a message of global togetherness. Barrett’s drumming serves to underscore this message, providing a steady, rhythmic heartbeat that drives the song forward and creates a sense of communal celebration. His use of traditional reggae rhythms, combined with his own unique style, adds depth and richness to the track.
Barrett’s drumming in “One Love” also contributes to the song’s distinctive sound. His use of the hi-hat cymbal, the snare, and the bass drum, all integral parts of the reggae drumming style, helps to create a sound that is both relaxed and uplifting. The drumming is both simple and intricate, providing a solid foundation for the other instruments and vocals, while also offering subtle nuances that add to the overall complexity of the song.
U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2 is a potent track that embodies the band’s political voice and musical prowess. Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming is a significant element of this song; it opens with a distinctive martial drumbeat that sets the tone for the entire piece. The drumming pattern is relentless and driving, mirroring the song’s theme of protest against the violence of the Northern Ireland conflict. This rhythmic undercurrent serves as a metaphor for the persistent struggle for peace, adding a sense of urgency and tension. Mullen’s drumming, combined with the Edge’s ringing guitar and Bono’s impassioned vocals, makes “Sunday Bloody Sunday” a powerful expression of U2’s commitment to social and political issues.
Songs with Best Drums – Steely Dan – “Aja”
One of the key elements that sets “Aja” apart is Steve Gadd’s dynamic and intricate drumming. Gadd, a session musician who has played with numerous renowned artists, was brought in specifically for this track. His performance is a masterclass in both technical precision and expressive musicianship.
The song begins with a simple, yet compelling drumbeat that anchors the piece. As the song progresses, Gadd’s drumming becomes increasingly complex, providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the melodic lines played by the other instruments. The pinnacle of Gadd’s work on “Aja” is arguably the extended drum solo in the middle of the song. This solo is a tour de force of rhythmic variation and technical skill, showcasing Gadd’s ability to balance complexity with musicality.
Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
The song is divided into several sections, with Taylor’s drums entering during the hard rock section. His pounding rhythm provides a stark contrast to the preceding operatic section, driving the song forward with a newfound intensity. This change in dynamics is a key element of the song’s theatricality, and Taylor’s drumming is integral to this shift.
In the final section of the song, Taylor’s drumming takes on a more subdued role, allowing the vocals and guitar to take center stage. However, his steady rhythm provides a grounding force, maintaining the song’s momentum until its abrupt end.
The Eagles – “Hotel California”
It’s a signature piece of the band’s repertoire, and Don Henley’s drumming plays an integral part in its success. His steady, unfaltering rhythm provides a solid foundation for the song’s complex guitar work and haunting vocals. Henley’s drumming is not overly flashy, but its consistency and reliability are key to the song’s overall sound and feel. His drumming style in “Hotel California” showcases his ability to perfectly balance the rhythm section, contributing to the song’s enduring popularity.
Santana – “Smooth”
Holmes’ drumming in “Smooth” is characterized by its Latin-inspired rhythms, which serve as a powerful driving force behind the song. His use of syncopated beats and intricate hi-hat patterns adds a distinctive Latin flavor that complements Carlos Santana’s signature guitar riffs.
The drumming’s rhythmic complexity and energy not only provide a solid foundation for the song’s melodic components but also contribute to its unique character. Holmes’ ability to seamlessly blend rock and Latin drumming styles is a key factor in the song’s widespread appeal and success, making “Smooth” a standout track in Santana’s discography.
The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”
“Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, released in 2003, is a rock anthem known for its iconic seven-note bassline. Meg White’s drumming plays a crucial role in the song’s success. Her minimalist approach to drumming, characterized by a simple yet powerful beat, complements the song’s raw simplicity. She uses a basic rock beat with a steady four-on-the-floor pulse, which drives the song forward and provides a solid foundation for the guitar riffs. Her drumming style in “Seven Nation Army” is devoid of any unnecessary complications, which aligns perfectly with the band’s stripped-down, garage rock aesthetic. This song showcases her ability to create a powerful impact with a simplistic drumming style, contributing to the song’s enduring popularity and influence in rock music.
Songs with Best Drums – OutKast – “Hey Ya!”
Andre 3000, who is actually the lead vocalist of OutKast, utilized programmed beats to create the energetic drumming that drives “Hey Ya!” This infectious hip-hop track features a rhythmic pattern that is both danceable and catchy, contributing to the song’s immense popularity. The drumming, along with the unique blend of funk, pop, and soul elements, helped to make “Hey Ya!” a standout hit in OutKast’s discography and a defining track of the early 2000s.
Daft Punk – “Around the World”
Thomas Bangalter’s electronic beats define this iconic dance track. The song is characterized by its repetitive and catchy electronic beats, which are a blend of house, techno, and disco sounds. The beat created using drum machines and synthesizers, is simple yet infectious, making it a staple on dance floors around the world. The track is also notable for its minimalistic lyrics, which consist of the phrase “around the world” repeated 144 times, further emphasizing the rhythmic and danceable nature of the music.
Songs with Best Drums – Beyoncé – “Crazy in Love”
The Neptunes’ production, including drumming by Andre 3000, gives this hit its swagger. “Crazy in Love” is a standout track from Beyoncé’s debut solo album, “Dangerously in Love” (2003). Although, it’s not accurate to attribute the production to The Neptunes or the drumming to Andre 3000. The song was actually produced by Rich Harrison, and it’s known for its use of a sample from The Chi-Lites’ “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So).” This sample, combined with a contemporary R&B and pop production, gives the track its infectious swagger.
Beyoncé’s powerful vocals and Jay-Z’s rap verses further elevate the song, making it a defining hit of the early 2000s. The horn-driven hook and the rhythmic drum pattern create an energetic, danceable beat that’s been influential in pop music.
Toto – “Africa”
Jeff Porcaro’s drumming is a defining feature of the song. His complex, shuffle beat pattern is inspired by a type of rhythm known as a “half-time shuffle”, giving the song its unique, syncopated feel. This rhythm, combined with the use of a variety of percussion instruments such as congas and shakers, contributes to the song’s distinctive African-influenced sound.
The song’s lyrics, penned by Paich, are inspired by his fascination with the African continent, although he had never been there. The lyrics tell a somewhat cryptic story about a man who is trying to write a song about Africa, but can only rely on what he’s seen on TV or remembers from his dreams.
Drumming has journeyed through the ages, evolving alongside the ever-changing landscape of music. From ancient rituals to modern rock anthems, drummers have left an indelible mark on the world of music. The top 30 songs highlighted in this article represent the pinnacle of drumming excellence, where rhythm becomes artistry, and the beat becomes a heartbeat in the soundtrack of our lives.