Thursday, 13 December 2012


Drumming in pop: shitter = better.

Part of why pop music has always been resistant to muso professionalism (unlike, say, jazz) is that as soon as the rhythm section departs from the groove (the self-abnegating communitarian base) into narcissism and stylised elaboration, the whole thing will collapse. This is why the "drum solo" is so often cited as the ultimate transgression and tragic flaw of seventies prog.

So I've always had a lot of sympathy with the Stephen Morris of New Order theory that a drummer should try as hard as possible to resemble a drum machine. Ringo is another obvious (pre-electronic) example.

Listen closely and it sounds pretty clunky on a technical level, but taken as a whole (in Heideggerian jargon, when we regard the totality of equipment) it sounds fucking immense. As long as the drummer doesn't try anything fancy, everyone else in the band can get on with the baroque stuff (production as in the above example, songwriting, lyrics, politics) with the added bonus that simpler drumming is also likely to be more conducive to dancing from a listener/audience point of view. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think this is the hardboiled essence of late-twentieth century pop/rock/whatever, the thing that really distinguishes it from other macro-genres.

But, as the walrus said, THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS ...

The obvious Western indie example is of course Reni. On pretty much every Stone Roses tune, there is a palpable sense that Reni is single-handedly rescuing music that would otherwise be lumpen and grey, and transforming it into danceable, genre-crossing future-funk with a sort a casual, effortless virtuosity. Everyone knows the obvious examples (Fools Gold, the I am the Resurrection outro), but listen to his drumming the whole way through Where Angels Play, the way it builds and wanders and shimmies:

Without Reni, this would be dull as dishwater. As it is, the other members of the band are spurred on to be better and more alive and Where Angels Play gambols with magic.

Then there are the virtuoso moments from funk and groove-based music proper. The obvious example here I guess would be Tony Allen. Again, one of the most noteworthy and heroic examples of his brilliance is when he "rescues" this tune, which would otherwise be relatively trite white Western pop:

Now this is a drum solo, of sorts. But it gets exactly the right balance between groove and ornament. The drum riff is pretty constant throughout, but when the melody begins to open out around 3:30, Allen cracks open a can of virtuoso - ever so briefly, only for about 20-30 seconds - and when the vocal melody drops we're in Elysium again.

Some other magic moments:


Joe said...

Ringo - exactly. Me and my brother had an argument the other Christmas where he said, apropos of virtually nothing, 'Ringo was a shit drummer'. I said 'what makes you say that?' He said 'he just was.' No-one can ever give the slightest bit of technical justification for the Ringo=rubbish claim but everybody 'knows' it. Pure ideology etc etc.

More seriously, I guess the reason people think like that is because of the association between the late sixties and bombastic 'lead' drummers like Keith Moon and Ginger Baker. Ringo lack of obvious virtuosity marked his card it would seem.

Third theory - people think he's a bad drummer because of a false premise, namely 'Octopus' Garden'.

Greyhoos said...

Jaki Liebezeit -- hell yeahs.

Funny, I do my own drummage post; then click over here and see tha,t w/o knowing it, I'd posted the b-side to tune that you'd posted just hours previously. But I guess some things are indisputable.