There is a certain snobbery in the music world regarding drummers. We all love Animal from The Muppet Show, and think him a rather accurate portrayal of your average drummer. There are tonnes of drummer jokes. It all boils down to the fact that we play our instrument with sticks, which is kind of odd, as when you look inside that most musical and upstanding instrument, the piano, what you realise is that the sounds are made by hitting strings with hammers. Hmmmm…
Before we begin…
I’d like to point out, because I know what some internet people can be like, that this is not a ‘these are the best drummers in the world list’, this is a list of my personal favourite drummers. Jon Bonham, you may have noticed, is not on the list, despite being one of the best drummers the world has ever seen. Considering who is at number 5 and the ‘young, ‘boring’ upstarts’ who rank higher than him, could provoke many an internet troll to comment on this post. It’s just my favourites. Now, in reverse order, my own personal opinion on the drummers who I like best:
5. Neil Peart
He is one of the best drummers alive today. His solo on the Rush 30th Anniversary World Tour DVD is what really brought him to my attention. What I love about Neil Peart is that he understands the musicality of a drum kit. The solo shows how he blends samples and layers of patterns and rhythms on electronic and acoustic drums to create a solo that, for the most part, sounds more like a song. I won’t lie, even as a drummer I find most drum solos boring. This one has depth to it that most don’t. Although obviously the underlying point of a solo, Neil Peart doesn’t seem to be bothered about showing off his (incredible) drumming skills, but simply to create a piece of music that people will want to listen to. My favourite part is probably the first couple of minutes, especially when he uses the xylophone.
4. Richard Hughes (Keane)
What people sometimes fail to realise with instruments is that the skill in creating good music does not come in what you know, but how you use it. Many, many rock and pop songs use the same patterns and chords, but it’s the way they are combined with melodies and each other that creates new and exciting sounds and tunes. Whilst many people may listen to Keane and wonder why Richard Hughes is in this list, drumming is not all about hitting as many drums as fast as you can in the smallest space of time. Drumming, like any other instrument is about adding to a song.
What Richard Hughes brings to Keane songs is a sharp, technical precision that accents the other instruments and never over complicates (one of the reasons that Ronnie Vannucci Jr. of The Killers isn’t in this list, despite being very talented, is that I feel he sometimes plays beats that are too complicated and muddle up the songs). Many great drum beats rely on the gaps between the notes, rather than the notes themselves. Knowing when not to play and when something simple will do is an important skill for a drummer in a band, and Richard Hughes has this nailed to perfection.
3. Liam Watts (The Enemy UK)
This is going to contradict brilliantly what I just said about Richard Hughes, but often drums are an under-used instrument in rock/pop music. I think partly drums and drummers are overlooked because people don’t realise how much you can actually do with the instrument (YouTube Neil Peart’s solo for examples). Where Liam Watts excels is in bringing a little variety to typical Indie Rock songs. He knows where the boundaries are but creates beats within those limits that let his skills and imagination shine through. His fills in particularly are imaginatively composed and add an extra layer of brilliance to The Enemy’s music.
2. Glen Power (The Script)
Your dead basic drum beat is called an ‘8-beat’ because it relies on eight crochets played on the high-hat in each bar, around which beats on the bass drum (that’s the Kick drum to you Americans) and snare drum are added. Pop music in particular is full of the most basic of basic drum beats.
To someone who pays attention to drums in songs, Glen Power is a welcome change. He plays proper rhythms, not plain-old patterns. They’re sharp and technical, but more importantly they flow. Interestingly, all of the drummers on this list are from bands with only three members. When you don’t have that extra guitar/keyboard to fall back on, each member has to make their instrument work a bit harder. Glen Power takes full advantage of the range of techniques in his possession and the sounds available to him. In my mind, his drumming is one of the reasons The Script’s songs sound so good.
1. Dominic Howard (Muse)
The remaining members of Led Zeppelin often say that when there’s thunder, it’s just Bonzo (Jon Bonham) in heaven, tuning his drum kit. There’s another thunderer on the field now, however. Dominic Howard, apart from having owned a range of drum kits that makes me rather jealous, is an incredibly versatile and talented drummer. Like Richard Hughes of Keane, he can play the bare minimum that is required, yet like Liam Watt of The Enemy, widen the boundaries a little and he will create something different and incredible, yet with all the clean technicality of Glen Power.
The most important role of a drummer is, of course, keeping the other instruments in time by creating a focal point around which the other instruments can then work. For all the jokes about drummers and how useless they are, take the drums off pretty much any track and it would fall flat. One of the most important things for a drummer is being able to synch with the bassist. Together they are called the ‘rhythm section’ or, in gig terms, the ‘backline’. When a drummer and a bassist gel naturally and synchronise, that’s when things get really interesting. Which is why if you want to see Dominic Howard at his best, you should watch the Helsinki Jam video. (I saw this jam live in the O2 arena. It was incredible.)
Dominic Howard is a truly talented drummer, able to play in a variety of styles to suit any song. From the fast and furious Assassin, to the Hip Hop style beats in Undisclosed Desires, Dominic Howard combines the skills of all the other drummers in this list and plays with passion and ability. He is the perfect third piece in the Muse trio, a musician able to match the skills of bassist Chris Wolstenholme and provide a solid foundation for guitar god and lyrical genius Matt Bellamy to work his magic.