The Greatest Drum Tracks In Music History

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (Dave Grohl)

It’s often forgotten that Dave Grohl wasn’t Nirvana’s original drummer, but he really announced himself with the thundering intro to their 1991 breakthrough hit Smells Like Teen Spirit. Thirty years after the song was released, Grohl blew the mind of Pharrell Williams by admitting he lifted the drum intro from 1980’s Burn Rubber on Me by disco funk act The Gap Band.

My Generation – The Who (Keith Moon)

Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Long acknowledged as the key inspiration behind Animal of The Muppets, The Who’s Keith Moon helped usher in the era of wild rock’n’roll drumming. While his eccentricity often overshadowed his musicianship, Moon’s proficiency behind the drum kit was undeniable, and he was notable for popularizing double bass drumming. His extravagant, energetic fills helped make The Who’s My Generation an all-time rock classic.

Wipe Out – The Surfaris (Ron Wilson)

Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Surfaris might not have enjoyed the same long-standing popularity as other Californian surf bands like The Beach Boys, but their massive 1963 hit Wipe Out became one of the defining surf rock songs – thanks in no small part to the widely-imitated drum work of Ron Wilson. Sadly, The Surfaris split by 1965, and Wilson passed away in 1989 aged just 44.

In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins

Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

By the early 80s, Phil Collins was well-known as a singer-songwriter, but he never moved away from the instrument on which he made his name: the drums. His 1981 hit In the Air Tonight (famously utilized on an episode of TV’s Miami Vice) starts out without percussion, but when the drums kick in midway, it’s an iconic moment in rock history.

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin (John Bonham)

Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Another of rock’s most influential wild man drummers is John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Though most noted for his tremendous power (and, like Keith Moon, his use of double bass drums), Bonham drew heavily on jazz and blues influences to create often deceptively intricate drum beats, such as on the British hard rock supergroup’s unforgettable 1970 track Whole Lotta Love.

Hot for Teacher – Van Halen (Alex Van Halen)

Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

80s rockers Van Halen might be synonymous with the virtuoso guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen, but the contributions of Alex Van Halen on drums shouldn’t be overlooked. Famously, a young Eddie had originally intended to pursue drums until he realized his big brother was much better at them, and Alex really shows off his chops in the boogie-woogie intro of 1984’s Hot for Teacher.

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles (Ringo Starr)

Credit: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

For decades, Ringo Starr’s simplistic approach to the drums saw him widely mocked, but contemporary reappraisals recognize that his work with The Beatles was, in its own understated way, truly excellent and groundbreaking. Starr’s distinctive style is instantly recognizable, and his energetic, insistent beat on 1966’s innovative psychedelic rock track Tomorrow Never Knows is among the most memorable, infectious drum beats ever recorded.

Tom Sawyer – Rush (Neil Peart)

Credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Hailed by many as perhaps the most technically brilliant rock drummer of them all, Neil Peart’s drumming (as well as his notoriously verbose lyrics) helped make Canadian power trio Rush one of the best-loved prog rock bands ever. 1981’s Tom Sawyer is almost certainly Rush’s most popular song, thanks in no small part to Peart’s powerful playing and bombastic solo midway through.

Funky Drummer – James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield)

Clyde Stubblefield might never have become a household name, nor is Funky Drummer the most well-remembered song that funk-soul pioneer James Brown ever recorded. However, the infectious groove in the 1970 track proved massively influential when hip-hop broke through in the 80s. It’s one of the most heavily sampled beats ever, popping up in the recordings of Run-DMC, Public Enemy, NWA, Eric B and more.

Basket Case – Green Day (Tré Cool)

Credit: Jo Hale/Getty Images

What punk rock may lack in technical sophistication, it more than makes up for in volume and energy. Green Day deliver this in spades on their renowned 1994 breakthrough song Basket Case, and a lot of that is down to Tré Cool’s wild, fast, thrashing style. Cool hits the drums hard, but his fills are more skillful and intricate than he’s sometimes given credit for.