Monday, 4 March 2013

The Best (and Worst) Drummers of All Time

by Tim Bustin

I think it’s best if I point out at the start of this article that my opinion is the correct one. I wanted to write an article which was interesting but that would also inspire controversy, by annoying drummers who disagree with me on the list, but also by annoying guitarists, bassists and so on by considering drummers as musicians.

A drummer could be considered the conductor of a rock group (except much less well paid). Here are the best five (no arguing) in ascending order, followed by the worst three (also in ascending order).

5) Dave Grohl

(source: Wikicommons)
There is nothing Dave Grohl can’t do; a great guitar player, singer and songwriter, it can be hard to forget his roots are in drumming. But with the legendary Nirvana, Grohl’s skill was immense. Inspired by John Bonham, Grohl plays with sheer power, matching that of Kurt Cobain’s guitar and vocals back in the nineties. Despite his use of simplicity (Grohl said that Nirvana worked on drum rolls listeners could air drum along to), there is complexity hidden in his playing – in the way he makes what he does sound so easy, when in reality it’s impossible for all but a few. His performance with Them Crooked Vultures (with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Queens of the Stone age member Josh Homme) showed Grohl had lost nothing and he was still one of the greatest drummers of all time.

4) Neil Peart
Peart’s skills are simply unbelievable. For a drum solo, his kit will entirely enclose him; wherever he moves there is another tom, another snare, bongo drums, small cymbals, huge cymbals, and even an electronic xylophone. He will play one part of the kit, utilising as many drums in his reach, before swivelling around on his stall to play with whatever he comes too. This might give the impression of Peart playing randomly, but it is actually him trying to show that the drums have as much variety in their sound, in the incredible patterns they create, as any other instrument. He isn’t afraid to make use of electronic drums, even if this seems to be so he can pack more drums around him. To put it simply, it is just impossible to get bored watching him play.

3) Buddy Rich
Perhaps one of the few drummers most people have actually heard of, I’m sure most people won’t understand why they know his name. It’s because he’s brilliant, of course. With his own band, Rich was able to play drums almost like a lead instrument. If you ever listen to any of his songs, with ridiculous amounts of rapid drum fills, techniques which are hard for most to dream of, and an amazing ability to create endless patterns on the snare drum all of which seem to sound utterly unique, you will discover a majority of many of his songs are simply him soloing. Often accompanied by brass, which frequently play repetitive patterns at the start and end of songs (i.e. playing a backing role), the rest of the song is another great drum solo, difficult not to enjoy, unforgiveable not to respect. The energy the man had, which he kept throughout his entire life, was constantly phenomenal.

2) John Bonham

He’s not the best. I don’t care what you say, he’s just not. Famed for his heavy drumming (which was picked up by Dave Grohl) and exhilarating solos, there are many who believe Bonham surpasses all others. But he doesn’t. In the studio, Bonham favoured power over tricky patterns, leading to a sound which fitted Led Zeppelin perfectly. On stage, he showed indescribable talent, earning him the same respect as his fellow band mates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Often going off on long solos, most famously 'Moby Dick' (found on the Led Zeppelin II album), he was a true powerhouse, the engine of one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

1) Keith Moon

"People say you're eccentric, which
is a polite way of saying you're **** mad"
 “Moon the Loon”. His antics were as famous as his drumming: destroying his drum kit on stage, blowing it up sometimes with TNT, throwing TVs out of hotel windows, blowing up toilets with cherry bombs, allegedly driving a Lincoln Continental into a swimming pool and just being a general lad. Keith Moon’s drumming was a personification of his personality. He’d do anything for a laugh and, well, damn the consequences. Moon was bursting with energy --- perfect for drumming. He was the first drummer to sit behind a drum kit and just hit everything he saw. Yet, he was able to do it so beautifully and in perfect time to the music that it was in fact organised chaos. He also didn’t just make it up on the spot all the time; he was able to make exactly the same wild patterns and drum fills every time he played the same song.

"I survived all the major earthquakes,
and the Titanic, and several air crashes."
(image source: The Guardian)
 On stage, he completed the madness that was The Who: Pete Townshend’s wild leaping, guitar wind milling and power chords, Roger Daltrey’s  power vocals and microphone swinging and John Entwistle’s sublime bass playing all fitted with Keith Moon the Loon so perfectly that, at their peak, The Who were arguably the best live band ever. Moon inspired every single drummer after him: from the greats like John Bonham, to the little kid today who sees a drum kit and just wants to batter it. In fact, Keith Moon was originally going to play in Led Zeppelin  (he even came up with the name Led Zeppelin). But in The Who, he was able to surpass all. Take any Who song and it sounds like that is constantly soloing, but in a way that fits exactly with the music; Pete Townshend even admitted (paraphrasing) “if Keith Moon wasn’t the lead guitarist, it was John Entwistle; it certainly wasn’t me”. The effortless talent of Keith Moon, a lunatic with talent, a man who, when The Who were inactive for a year, forgot how to play the drums, created modern drumming.

Now for the worst three drummers of all time. Time for me to have a rant.

 3) Meg White

In case you don’t know, Meg White is an awful drummer. Every song is as simplistic and boring as the last with the drums in White Stripes songs. To be fair, the fantastic music provided by Jack White works well with the repetitiveness and power of the drums (achieved through slow tempos and crash cymbals played instead of high hats), but, even so, when listening to a White Stripes song, it sounds like Jack is silently mouthing to Meg what she’s supposed to play next. One gets the impression that she’s just constantly whacking the cymbals to cover the fact that’s she’s not actually playing anything.

2) Most drummers

The drummer is usually the butt of all jokes; laughed at, called talentless. “What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer!” Ha ha, bloody ha. However, it’s undeniable that a huge proportion of songs released, past and present, having overly boring and almost pointless drumming. There is no real effort and perhaps this is because drummers are psychologically disturbed by all the “drummers aren’t real musicians” jokes and hence believe they’re not supposed to be trying. But it is ridiculous how much worse this has become. Typical songs today are singer-orientated and, with the overuse of autotune, succeed in all sounding identical, once the necessary guitar, bass, drums/drum machine, and whatever weird noises they use in this rubbish are added in their smallest possible quantities.

This leads me to the overall worst drummer of all time – 1) The drum machine.  

This thing has ruined my life.
(image source:
 Granted, it has its uses, but most of them are useless and inspire nobody to take up drumming or enter the music business. Much pop music has always been mediocre but it’s been getting worse and worse, to the point where a hit song means nothing at all. Music is supposed to be expressing emotion through sound and patterns, but if every pattern is the same and you have no idea what that weird sound is, what is the future of music?

Maybe you disagree with on my ordering, or think I’ve left out someone important. If so, please feel free to comment at the bottom. I won’t actually care about what you say, but, hopefully you’ll feel better about it. And just remember, even if your way of playing drums is just to hit everything in sight, you still can't be worse than Meg White.


  1. Neil Peart should be number one. He posses more technical skill and natural ability than Kieth Moon. NC

  2. keith moon rightly no.1, but travis barker should be in there too (the blink 182 drummer)

  3. loved what david grohl said to a fan fighting in the itunes festival!

  4. Malitha Patabendi20 March 2013 at 11:16

    great description of the drummers and well chosen videos to match the text

  5. i am always trying to fineed some drum solos but this one is very active and awesome

  6. Liking that Dave Grohl is on the list, my favourite drummer, and he is so talented with everything, singing, guitar and drums.

  7. john bowhan is the best by far

  8. dave grohl best ever

  9. great videos!! especially the Nei; Peart drum solo!

  10. Buddy Rich is amazing!!!!!!


  12. Bonham for me.....

  13. Has anyone heard of Dave Weckl? A superb drummer to say the least, one who inspires the technical skill that was Buddy Rich. The man is without peer.


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