Drummers never get the due credit they deserve. The general audience sees them as the timekeeping machine and thinks they have the simplest job in the band. However, if you are even a little into music, you would know that drummers are the backbone of any song, and without them, the entire band would be out of sync. That’s not to say drummers are only limited to timekeeping. They can deliver incredibly complex rhythms and lay down iconic drum solos that showcase their skills. Here is a list of 18 great drum songs where the drummers have flexed their muscles and showcased themselves. We have covered all music genres, but rock drum music tends to be the most common genre as it typically involves heavy drum work.
Led Zeppelin, ‘When The Levee Breaks’
We begin the list with the work of none other than John Bonham, the fill fanatic and shuffle maestro. John has delivered a giant list of legendary drum songs with Led Zeppelin, making it hard to pick out one song as his best. However, what sets ‘When the Levee Breaks’ apart from his other songs is that this song is the most easily recognizable. Bonham played his drum steps from the bottom of a staircase and recorded it through microphones set up at its top; this gave this track it’s signature echoey sound. Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie originally made this track, and Led Zeppelin had tried so many times to cover it but could not until Bonham laid down this unique beat.
The Beatles, ‘Come Together’
Ringo Starr might not be the fastest or most intricate of the drummers here, but that has not stopped him from being an iconic drummer. “Feel” is probably one of the most challenging aspects of drumming to perfect, but Ringo had just done that.
Ringo began drumming at 13 years old while recovering from tuberculosis and later took on the nickname “Ringo” as he wanted to sound like a cowboy. He had his unique style, and the style was instantly recognizable, which made him a legend even though he only had a simple style. “Come Together” is one of the easy drum songs that are iconic.
The Meters, ‘Cissy Strut’
Ziggy Modeliste meant funk, and funk meant for Ziggy. Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste joined hands with the Meters in 1966 and has produced so many iconic funk beats with them. It is impossible not to strut when you hear ‘Cissy Strut’ as you walk down the street. He delivered a sophisticated beat that wasn’t fast; something modern drummers do not do too often. This means that you can comfortably tap along with the beat, which isn’t something we can say about most of the other songs on this list. This classic funk song even got inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011.
If you want to experience raw drumming power, you need to check out Lars Ulrich of Metallica. While the band has many heavy drum tracks, the first half of ‘One’ is less intense for Metallica. However, the drums that sound like machine guns are nothing short of insane. In the latter half of the song, the quick snare work and powerful double bass deliver pure chaos that is simply exhilarating. Lars had elevated the song to iconic status with his work.
The Who, ‘My Generation’
The Who and Keith Moon are known for music that involves complex beats and advanced songwriting. However, in ‘My Generation’ (from their 1965 debut), Keith Moon lays down a simple beat. That wasn’t all, though; there were still plenty of intricate and complex fills in the song, which made ‘My Generation’ into a power-packed but varied performance. If you think the song needs a bit more power, Kieth added gunpowder in his bass drum, resulting in a powerful explosion that permanently damaged Pete Townshend’s hearing.
AC/DC, ‘Back in Black’
Phil Rudd is one of the few drummers who can play powerfully but can restrain himself. He could be hammering on the bass drum and cymbals one moment and calm the next; this ensures that he doesn’t entirely steal the stage from his band members. This allows him to perfectly complement his bandmates while still allowing his talent to shine through. This makes ‘Back in Black’ an utter icon in the rock genre.
Slayer, ‘Raining Blood’
You don’t always have to be subtle to showcase complexity, ‘Raining Blood’ shows that power and complexity can work together to deliver a hit song. While most metal drummers tend to sacrifice a song’s feel and groove to play incredible fast drum songs, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo can balance speed and feel to deliver this signature song amazingly. This drum track is a favorite of all the band members and the writers and is a frequent occurrence in their live performances.
U2, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’
While the modern era U2 is nowhere near its past glory, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is an emotionally intense song from their glory days. This epic drum music was an ode to the Bloody Sunday massacre, and Mullen evokes this by playing a military march on his drums. This simple beat captures the song’s essence and is the most recognizable element in the entire track.
The Cream was one of the first supergroups of rock made of legends like Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, and Jack Bruce. Therefore, Baker had to meet the high standards of his bandmates, and boy did he deliver. In the solo of “Toad,” he had managed to fill it with brilliant layered tracks that were a testimony to how talented he was. The solo perfectly transitioned across the whole song, from cymbal centric sections to snare heavy sequences. This complexity level would be nothing short of a challenge for current drummers to replicate, but that is what Baker had delivered in Cream’s 1966 debut.
Led Zeppelin, ‘Moby Dick’
This list wouldn’t be complete if it had only one work of John Bonham in it, and ‘Moby Dick’ is another iconic song from this iconic drummer. What made Bonham iconic and unique was his ability to blend funk, rock, brawn, and folk seamlessly, which cannot be replicated. This track features an incredible drum solo that is a monument to Bonham’s skills and shows why he is simply irreplaceable. During Led Zeppelin’s tour, Bonham would extend his drum solo to 14 minutes long, sometimes even longer than 20 minutes. Therefore, his passing away renders any future Led Zeppelin’s reunion tours less authentic and less impactful.
Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Fire’
Jimi Hendrix’s mind-blowing guitar work always steals the show, but if you take a moment to follow the drummer and his beats, you will be able to understand that Mitch Mitchell had covered the entire song with propulsive energy-packed rhythms and fills. That is what allowed Jimi Hendrix to dive in and play his guitar to the maximum, thereby elevating the powerful beats to another stratum and making ‘Fire’ into an iconic rock song.
Steely Dan, ‘Aja’
Whenever a famous jazz or rock musician needs a drummer whose playing style is sophisticated and power-packed, Steve Gade would be one of the top names in their minds. Steve rendered a fantastic drum solo in ‘Aja’; this was one of the first songs of Steely Dan to feature a drum solo. With steady beats at the start and a powerful drum solo at the end, this 1977 song was so impressive that critics considered it to be the best song of that decade. If you are only in it for the engaging drum solo, listen from 4:45 of this 8-minute long song.
Tool, ‘Ticks & Leeches’
Danny Carey had already been regarded as one of the most talented drummers before Tool’s third album, ‘Lateralus.’ However, he had spent the large gap between the second and third album to hone and expand his drumming skills. This allowed him to deliver extraordinarily complex and intensive drumming, and nowhere is it better witnessed than in ‘Ticks & Leeches’. The entire album is intense, and it marked Tool’s transition from psychedelic rock into the progressive rock genre.
King Crimson, ’21st Century Schizoid Man.’
This song was the opening track of King Crimson’s debut album ‘In the Court of the Crimson King,’ and it featured Michael Giles as the drummer. While the entire band has highly acclaimed progressive rockers, Giles’s intricate polyrhythmic beats combine the multiple time changes and crazy solos into a single track that flowed seamlessly (for the most part). While this track is from 1969, you could have heard it recently as it was featured on ‘Power,’ Kanye West’s 2010 single.
Emerson Lake & Palmer, ‘Karn Evil 9’
If you think eight-minute songs are too long, you might be intimidated by ‘Karn Evil 9’ as it is over 29 minutes long. However, the song’s entire duration is with epic drumming by Carl Palmer, who shows off his incredible talent. The whole song has multiple tempo changes and mood switches, but Palmer can effortlessly transition through them. While you might think that this progressive rock track never seems to end, where else could you witness an iconic drummer showcasing his talent for such a long time?
Neil Peart has been the epitome of technique and technicality. ‘YYZ’ is iconic due to its weirdness. Peart uses a beat that is complexly unique and quite strange. The real beat is YYZ’s morse code, the airport identification code for the band’s local Toronto Pearson International Airport. Every instrument in the songs starts with the morse code beat and slowly adds on more intricate fills and other complexities. Thankfully no one sings over this beat because we would probably need a second brain to process all the different sounds. If you think this is a crazy idea now, think how mind-blowing it would have been when released in 1981.
Van Halen, ‘Hot for Teacher’
Van Halen is a rock band consisting of siblings Eddie and Alex Van Halen, playing the guitar and drums. Both the siblings were extraordinarily talented and innovative, but Eddie tends to get more attention for his guitar skills. However, Alex always had a slew of tricks on his hand, and he let every fiber of his talent shine in ‘Hot for Teacher.’ He moves away from his usual rock-solid foundation and takes center stage along with his brother in the intro for this track. The flamboyance goes excellent with the theme of the track, which is about a dream high school. The intro has layered sounds like two drum sets, achieved by setting up four bass drums. The sound explodes initially, following which the kick drum cuts low and softens the tone.