I was hooked on Modern Drummer magazine as a teen. And I always liked reading the record reviews at the back of the Modern Drummer, they focused on drums and ‘drum’ albums or at least highlighted the drums and drumming on pop and rock records when they reviewed them. They might write-up a pop album because of who was playing drums on the record, you see.
So it’s with that in mind – memories of all those reviews and the magazine’s various Best Drum Album lists (for best jazz, best rock, “all-time” best, etc) and the interviews where drummers listed the albums that influenced them that I offer my Top 10 ‘Drum’ Albums. These are the 10 albums I instantly think of when I think about why I started listening to these records, what they offered me, why I returned to them.
1. Buddy Rich Big Band, Big Swing Face: When I was about 10 years old I first heard this record. It blew my mind. It still does. My mum put it on and told me to listen to it. This was her advice because I had said something about wanting to play the drums. I had this record and a borrowed snare drum. I couldn’t make head nor tail of what Buddy was up to on this record – I guess I still can’t – but it became one of the most influential albums in my early listening.
2. The Beatles, Abbey Road: When I progressed to having a drum kit, to learning some basics, rudiments and an eighth-note rock beat, my mum shut me in the end-room and put this on the old Series 9 turntable. She cranked it up and told me to work out side one. For the next few weeks – and then for months (even years) after that I sat and bashed along to this after school. To start with I was playing it all wrong, but bit by bit I picked up on what Ringo was doing. Also, I recognised some of the parts from this from their (borrowed) use on The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. (That record almost deserves a place on this list too actually).
3. Cream, Best of Cream: After I got the hang of Abbey Road and also Wings’ Band on The Run (I love Paul McCartney’s playing) I started thrashing along to The Cream of Eric Clapton compilation album and then, from there this album. Ginger Baker was my first major drum hero. It’s common to hear people suggesting that Ginger wasn’t/isn’t anything special. But his playing across the very best Cream tracks is a huge part of what makes this music sing – and (of course) swing. His own assessment of his playing and his adamant view that he is absolutely and totally a jazz drummer don’t serve his legacy all that well. He was clearly jazz-influenced and cut his teeth in various jazz and R’n’B combos but it was the colouring of the blues and rock shapes with his jazz-ish playing that made this sound. Great jazz players will always run rings around Ginger. But his African feel, his jazz chops and his stubbornness combined to make him one of the great British drum heroes.
4. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II: You could listen to any of the Led Zep albums and get a great education in rock drumming. It’s baffling to hear people calling John Bonham out as some heavy-handed, lead-footed player. The guy swings. Big time. And his compositional approach to playing – he seemed to conceive his fills mid-flight, composing as he played, always thinking – was exhilarating to try to understand. I’ve picked this album because if my memory serves me well it was the very first album by the band I heard. Helps that it has some of his key drum tracks on it.
5. Art Blakey, Orgy in Rhythm: I’d heard Art Blakey’s playing – loved his work and though I sometimes found this album unlistenable it did send me down the wormhole of percussion-heavy albums; of world-music crossover material; of jazz (and then rock) players heading for the source. I bought so many other albums by other drummers in search of the sound of Africa, or Asia, in search of ways to attach their playing to examples of music that dated back beyond their jazz/rock roots. And this was the record that started all of that for me.
6. Max Roach, To The Max!: I love Buddy Rich’s playing but Max is the guy for me. If I had to pick one – if I had to name one great jazz drummer, one great drum soloist, it’s Roach. He made a lot of great records. I’m still collecting them too. But this one, a double compilation, shows four distinct sides of his playing (solo, quartet, big band and choir) across four sides of vinyl. I first bought the album on double-tape on a trip to Wellington to see Faith No More. About 20 years later, after looking now and then in stores all around the country and in Australia on trips there, I found it on double-CD for $15 in a store in San Francisco. I felt like I was about 12 years old again, that amped-feeling of having just found the exact music you had to have right then!
7. Deep Purple, Machine Head: I was into Deep Purple before I listened to Zep or Sabbath or any of the others. They were the first real metal band for me; and one of the all-time great rock acts. I got to interview Ian Paice and also interviewed Ian Gillan live on TV when the band played here about eight years ago. It was a bit of a thrill to meet him and be called up to do the interview, to help out. I went to a second-hand store and bought a copy of Machine Head on vinyl so I could get Gillan to sign it. And he did. But I didn’t expect him to start perusing the album – fortunately he flipped it over front and back but didn’t peek inside where it had someone else’s name scrawled inside the cover! I’d had this album – on tape – since I was 13. Smoke On The Water was one of the first songs I learned to play. The closing fills/nearly-solo as Space Truckin’ fades out are glorious. Paice is somewhat underrated I think. As is Purple.
8. Peter Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive!: Okay, so this is a guitar album, right? Well, I loved this album so much that I also used to play along to most of the tracks and when the band introductions were rolled out during that tour-de-force live version of Do You Feel Like We Do, the drummer (John Siomos) just laying into the hi-hats, I would imagine my name being announced. No doubt as I was playing woefully out of time. Jubilant, all the same…
9. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing: It’s full of samples, but it’s such a drum-heavy album. Still one of my favourite albums to sit down and listen to the whole way through while doing nothing else at all – it’s finding the time these days, of course…
10. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme: The rolling/tumbling style/feel of Elvin Jones was a bit part of my fascination with this album. Still is. Always will be.
So, that’s my Top 10 ‘Drum’ Albums today. I could add another 50 instantly. But we all know that’s how it is with such lists. What are the 10 albums you think of straight away when you think of drums, focussing in on the drummer, and what he/she is giving to the music?
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