Drum Talk Part II: Our 10 Essential All-Time Drum Recordings

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When we heard that Ndugu Chancler passed away in February, we were more than a little heartbroken. If you don’t know that name, we guarantee you know his beats – among other tracks on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, this super pro recorded the drums on “Billie Jean.”

So many music sages have attempted to translate the perfection of that performance into words. Every note Chancler played on “Billie Jean” is precisely where it should be, an immaculately balanced midtempo pocket that weaves the fabric of a classic.

Our tribute to Chancler's contributions is to list 10 more drum recordings we consider essential. What would you add to this collection of extrasensory grooves? Drop us a line and let us know – we’d love to have a rhythmic listening party with your picks, together at BB4!

 Kiara Mudd, BB4 Studio Manager/Engineer

 “Feel Good, Inc.” by Gorillaz -- Drummer: Damon Albarn. I love how the groove of the drums drive this song. It’s very simple, but still a great arrangement. The drums come in, they drop out, you miss them for a little bit, and then they come back in again.

“Faint” by Linkin Park -- Drummer: Rob Burden. This is one of my favorite groups, and I love the drums on this song the most. The energy of the drums takes everything up a notch. The added effects of the phasers and glitches make it totally unique.

“Bat Country” by Avenged Sevenfold -- Drummer: The Reverend. Here’s another high energy track. I love the skill of this drummer: how he seamlessly goes into different patterns, and how quickly he is on the kick drums.

“Tank!” by The Seatbelts -- Drummers: Yasuo Sano, Akira Sotoyama. Their jazzy bebop songs are highly improvised, which makes the skills of these drummers -- improvising for five minutes solid -- incredible. They’re rocking out, then towards the end of the song they take it to another level. This is amazing chaos that you instantly get immersed in. Umami for the ears.

“I Miss You” by Blink 182 -- Drummer, Travis Barker. This is a sad song, but interestingly the drums are upbeat. It inspired me think of how I can recreate that dichotomy in some of my music. Before I heard this song, I always thought everything had to be unifom within the arrangement. “I Miss You” made me think of how you could employ fast drums within a more melancholy song, or vice versa. It shows how sometimes a song can do more than just move you -- it can show you how to break the rules.

Rafael Planten – Founder

“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin -- Drummer, John Bohnam. I get emotional remembering the first time I heard this. It just opens up the memories! That’s because a lot of the music I heard early on was from tape cassette copies that kids were constantly passing around.

I clearly remember how excited my brother was when he came home because now he had this Led Zeppelin song. I was about 11 years old when I first heard “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” This song is from the late ‘60’s, which to me meant The Beatles or Doo Wop -- not what I was about to experience. When I heard the first couple of drum hits, “Boom! Boom!” I said, “THIS is from the ‘60’s?” I was blown away by the energy, the ferocity, the strength of the hits, the rhythm of it, the momentum. If no one had told me it was classic rock, I would have thought that Led Zeppelin were a brand new band, kicking ass.

“Superunknown” by Soundgarden -- Drummer, Matt Cameron. Two years after I experienced John Bonham, I heard “Superunknown.” I had never heard such wild guitar riffs, but what I also loved was how the drums were keeping it all together. That was the first time I started air drumming. It was all air guitar before that, but with “Superunknown” I remember my body following the drums.

Matt Cameron’s work with Soundgarden became my gauge for modern drumming. I’d think, “This drummer from this other band is cool, but he’s not as good as the guy in Soundgarden!” His rhythms are so precise, heavy, deep and tight. It’s too human to be a machine, but in a way it feels like a machine, clunking and clanking a cinematic rhythm together.

“Superbad” by James Brown -- Drummer, John “Jabo” Starks. Hearing this song made me go deep into James Brown’s catalog. The wildness, the attitude, the drops, the feel, and the imagery all made my body move. At the same time, I felt compelled to really sit and pay attention to what was going on in this beat.

Whether they’re played by Jabo or Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubblefield, some of James Brown’s songs make you say, “How’s he hitting that kit?” The tracks can feel like a washing machine that’s gotten off balance, some weird natural rhythm that didn’t feel foreign or wrong -- more like unique and natural. They had momentum, pushed, and pulled with ease. When I discovered that early hip hop sampled so many of these drum patterns, making that connection was a real WOW moment. (Here’s why Rolling Stone ranked this pair #6 in their “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”)

“Revolver” by Rage Against the Machine -- Drummer, Brad Wilk. There’s a lot of highlights in this drum performance, but my favorite part is the final push on that song -- there’s a big jump when the drums come on, and Zach de la Rocha is just screaming the chorus. Whenever I need an energy boost, I play that song.

As I started to make my own music, I knew I wanted to produce something with that same type of intensity, that hyper buildup. And Brad Wilk is just bad. The way he goes from a stop to a sudden full armada of ships and energy coming at you, just blows my mind.

“New Fang” by Them Crooked Vultures -- Drummer, Dave Grohl. I was already a fan of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, but when I heard Them Crooked Vultures it was another revelation. I had forgotten how much I loved Dave Grohl on drums, and it felt so good to hear him again. No matter which band you’re talking about, his drums are so strong, crisp, and tight, keeping the energy right there, steady. It’s hard to describe, but the first time I heard the drums on “New Fang” it sounded like old school rock to me, like something I hadn’t heard in a long time.

Most people in the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in – which is home to BB4 – mostly like hip hop, reggae and salsa. There wasn’t a lot of rock ‘n’ roll love, but “New Fang” makes me remember how Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a huge crossover hit for all of us. My brothers, my friends, everyone was talking about it, and especially “the drums!!!” The song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was constantly being pumped on people’s sound systems all around South Williamsburg. Dave Grohl was part of something coming on, and it wasn’t pushed by marketing or promotion. It was crazy, new and exciting.

David Weiss