Drum solos are cool, right? But what about drum solos in songs. Today, I’ll be going through 14 of my favorite drum solos, fills, sections, in popular music.
Table of Contents
- 1) Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin (John Bonham)
- 2) Tom Sawyer – Rush (Neil Peart)
- 3) Ram Jam – Black Betty (Peter Charles)
- 4) In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins (Phil Collins)
- 5) YYZ – Rush (Neil Peart)
- 6) Hot For Teacher – Van Halen (Alex Van Halen)
- 7) Aja – Steely Dan (Steve Gadd)
- 8) 6:00 – Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy)
- 9) Wipe Out – The Surfaris (Ron Wilson)
- 10) Tribute To Johnny – The Smashing Pumpkins (Jimmy Chamberlin)
- 11) Fred – Tony Williams (Tony Williams)
- 12) Brother to Brother – Gino Vannelli (Mark Craney)
- 13) Eleven – Primus (Tim Alexander)
- 14) Take Five – Dave Brubeck (Joe Morello)
1) Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin (John Bonham)
Who can deny John Henry Bonham? His drum solo in ‘Moby Dick’ is out of this world. While the album version of the solo is just around two full minutes, in concert, Zeppelin would extend this solo, giving John upwards of twenty minutes sometimes.
The climax of the solo features a pattern known as “Bonham Triplets.” This group of three notes became a hot lick many rock and jazz drummers utilize to this day.
Moby Dick is an instrumental off of Led Zeppelin II released October 22, 1969. Personel and composers of the song include John Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page.
2) Tom Sawyer – Rush (Neil Peart)
A compositional drummer by nature, Neil Peart is not shy in feature sections. His drumming is technical, busy, and purposeful. The breakdown in ‘Tom Sawyer’ features a 7/8 section followed by a lavish drum solo that follows the chord changes of the intro.
Similar to Bonham’s triplets I just mentioned, this song utilizes an almost identical rudiment known as quads. The hands and feet perform a syncopation of thirty-second notes across the toms and kick drums.
Tom Sawyer’s drum feature is emulated to this day by thousands of drummers worldwide; popular rock-pop act Imagine Dragons once covered the song on an arena tour.
The song was included on the studio album “Moving Pictures;” released in 1981. Songwriters on the track include Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, and Pye Dubois.
3) Ram Jam – Black Betty (Peter Charles)
For those unaware, the song ‘Black Betty’ was not written by the 70s band Ram Jam. The song is a 20th-century African-American work song credited often to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, though early recordings are not him.
Ram Jam’s iteration became a smash hit. The instrumentation on the song is a bit spastic, yet organized strangely. Drummer Peter Charles rips near the end of the song as the band cuts out. This tune is definitely worthy of the list.
Ram Jam’s classic 1977 song, “Black Betty,” is one of the most beloved rock anthems. This bluesy tune was written in the 1930s, and Ram Jam made it their own with their own gritty interpretation.
Peter Charles, Ram Jam’s drummer, does an incredible job laying down a thick groove that is as energetic and dynamic as it gets. His beats strike a perfect balance between lightheartedness and intensity, making it a great example of why he’s been called one of the best hard rock drummers.
4) In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins (Phil Collins)
I can hear the sound of gated drums as I type this roundup. While “In The Air Tonight“ may not have a full-fledged mad drum solo, it does feature one of the most iconic drum fills
Phil Collins’ 1981 hit “In The Air Tonight” not only captivates with its smooth blues-tinged rock groove but with the iconic drum fill that occurs at the end of the first verse and bridge.
Phil Collins was responsible for songwriting and drumming duties, giving him complete control over every aspect of this masterful creation.
As one of the most iconic drum fills in rock history, Phil Collins holds his place in pop music for creating such a gripping effect with a simple but powerful beat.
5) YYZ – Rush (Neil Peart)
Neil’s back at it again with the solo section. This time it’s YYZ, an instrumental based off the rhythmic morse code of Toronto’s airport location identifier.
Rush’s “YYZ” is a masterful musical composition, showing off the musical artistry of the Canadian rock group. Neil’s drumming performance throughout “YYZ” is incredible – sounding crisp and clear while providing distinct patterns and beats. His raw skill and power can be felt through each bar of music, driving home Rush’s iconic sound with his outstanding rhythmic excellence.
The song features Neil’s “signature ride pattern” as well as a rippin’ solo trade between Neil and Geddy followed by a guitar solo from Lifeson.
6) Hot For Teacher – Van Halen (Alex Van Halen)
It’s a common misconception that the beginning of Hot For Teacher features a motorcycle idling. Alex Van Halen layered two double bass drum parts together. The reason the first bass drums sound different is that they are EQ’d differently.
No matter your opinion on Van Halen, you have to respect the groove and playing of Alex Van Halen on Hot For Teacher (and in general).
7) Aja – Steely Dan (Steve Gadd)
There’s no way I would forget the wonderful playing from Steve Gadd on the song ‘Aja’ by Steely Dan.
Throughout most of the song, Gadd’s playing is somewhat reserved. Around the three minute mark, things kick up a notch.
The solo begins at 4:41 alongside a sax who plays a melody while Steve plays intricate patterns between the band’s offbeat chord changes.
Near the end, the same theme returns with the offbeat chord changes. The ride groove the Steve plays as the song fades is out of this world.
8) 6:00 – Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy)
6:00 from Dream Theater is hugely technical. Mike Portnoy puts on an incredible performance. The initial drum fill and groove stand out as a notable entry to the list.
Mike played an incredible part in DT. While he may not be in the band anymore, his performances will always be cherished by drummers of tomorrow.
Dream Theater’s song “6:00” is a melodic and energizing metal instrumental with some excellent drumming. The complex and inventive passages from Dream Theater’s drummer bear witness to Mike Portnoy’s skill, providing tremendous momentum and driving the listener into a frenzy.
Dream Theater’s drummer artfully toes the line between technical and musicality while still delivering an electrifying performance that demands attention. He carries the energy of the song through its entirety, so much so that “6:00” has become one of Dream Theater’s most beloved works, with its immersive and thrilling drumming at its foundation.
9) Wipe Out – The Surfaris (Ron Wilson)
The Surfaris’ Wipeout is a classic rock ‘n roll instrumental enjoyed across generations since its release in 1963. Wipeout made its mark on several radio charts as it climbed to #2 on the Billboard Top 100 and topped over ten music charts. It’s full of energy and adventure, thanks largely to Ron Wilson, who provided the song’s intense drumming.
If you’re a drummer and you didn’t learn to play Wipe Out, I feel bad for you. While I can’t say I enjoy surf music from this era, I can tell you I annoyed everyone in middle school with this lick. Wipe Out features one of the most iconic grooves to this day; the song still is used all over popular culture.
10) Tribute To Johnny – The Smashing Pumpkins (Jimmy Chamberlin)
I was browsing a forum when I heard about Tribute To Johnny. I do like The Smashing Pumpkins, but I wouldn’t consider myself a big fan. The post suggested listening to the end of the bridge section around 1:53.
Jimmy takes an impressive four-bar solo that is very reminiscent of Hocus Pocus by Focus (another song we have on this list).
“Tribute to Johnny” is a powerful song by the Smashing Pumpkins, featuring an impressive drum performance by Jimmy Chamberlin. With its simple but effective melody and steady percussion background, this track drives home its heartfelt tribute to the late Johnny Ramone.
The entire band showcases their musical talent on this number, while Chamberlin’s mesmerizing beats tastefully punctuate every line making it even more emotive in nature. You can really feel the passion and admiration each member has for the late punk rock pioneer they were paying homage to here.
11) Fred – Tony Williams (Tony Williams)
Just take a minute and listen to Fred by Tony Williams. Tell me you’re not blown away immediately. I absolutely love the playing and creativity on this album.
Tony Williams is considered one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time, having taken on a pioneering role in the fusion and progressive jazz-rock movements of the 1970s.
His celebrated album “Believe It” featured his memorable song, “Fred,” which personified Tony’s tremendous skill as an innovative musician.
The track has a heavy Latin influence, with Tony swinging between straight 8th-notes and 16th-note triplets while also playing syncopated patterns at astonishing speed.
Tony’s powerful yet precise playing demonstrated why he is so highly regarded as one of the greatest jazz players in history; “Fred” truly captures Tony Williams’ legendary style.
12) Brother to Brother – Gino Vannelli (Mark Craney)
I owe it to my father, else I would have no clue about Gino Vannelli. Brother to Brother is an epic song featuring great melodies and impressive solo sections.
Mark Craney’s playing is spectacular throughout the song. The drums and bass begin trading off at 4:35 (similar to YYZ by Rush, seems Vannelli could have been an influence on them).
13) Eleven – Primus (Tim Alexander)
No, this isn’t the South Park theme song. It’s ‘Eleven’ by Primus. As the name suggests, the track is in 11/8. Tim Alexander has some incredible grooves and fills throughout. His playing is so tight, and I can hear the Neil Peart influence.
14) Take Five – Dave Brubeck (Joe Morello)
This tune by Dave Brubeck is a masterclass in elementary jazz drumming. This tune provided a significant foundation for my playing as I learned. Take Five, a jazz classic composed by Dave Brubeck, set the standard for cool in 1959. Featuring Joe Morello on drums, Take Five was one of the first popular tracks to feature an increasingly common 5/4 time signature.
Its unique rhythm and distinctive melody immediately won over audiences around the world. Take Five has since been featured in numerous movies and television shows. Despite nearly 60 years passing since its initial release, Take Five continues to be a contemporary favorite among jazz fans worldwide.
As we can see, there aren’t too many songs out there with full-on drum solos in it, but it’s nice that we have these. Many of the drummers I included today are also listed in my best drummers of all time roundup, so give that a read if you’re interested.
What are some of your favorite songs with drum solos? I’d love to add your suggestions to the list. Please leave a comment down below and share the article on social media if you enjoyed reading it.
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