• Civilization 7 has been announced. For more info please check the forum here .

Drum Solos

Gori the Grey

The Poster
Joined
Jan 5, 2009
Messages
11,504
Bear with a bit of a background story as my way of getting to my observation and my question (bolded below):

So, I got to thinking about drum solos.

And my first idea was that I should go listen to Neil Peart on YYZ. So I did.

And I thought to myself, "Well, the parts of that that are solos are actually pretty brief." Alex's guitar and Geddy's keyboards and guitar are active components of the music throughout almost all of that song.

I guess I'd remembered more of it being like the first two minutes of this, before he brings in any melodic element at all:


You know. A solo.

So I just searched "drum solos" on Youtube and I got this guy's seven best ever.


As you'll see, in the video, he goes back and forth over which Peart solo he should pick: YYZ or Tom Sawyer. He settles on Tom Sawyer.

So I thought to myself "Ok, that's where I'll find a true drum solo: Peart all by himself for some relatively extended period of time."

So I fire up Tom Sawyer.


But there too, the solo parts are extremely brief. The parts that we would count as a "solo" (where neither Alex nor Geddy are contributing anything particularly interesting) run from about 2:35 to 2:45 (and even those are actually three or four shorter bursts interrupted by a little bit of guitar work).

I do think we count those moments in Tom Sawyer as "drum solos." But it just made me think Observation: how short a stretch of music we can count as a "drum solo."

(If it were that short for a guitar, we would probably just call it a "riff" rather than a full-fledged "solo," no? Or are there "guitar solos" that are also that short?)

Question: Is that just because drummers can cram so much musical content into just ten seconds? Or maybe because drums are usually background instruments, so any foregrounding at all makes it a "solo"?

You are also welcome to make this thread more fun by just mentioning or posting your favorite drum solo, or arguing over which is the best of all time. I think I'd learn a lot from that discussion as well.
 
Last edited:
Yeah, drum-focused (that's me trying to avoid deciding if they're all solo's or not....) parts of songs tend to be pretty short. Dunno why, the mechanics of musical composition are somewhat beyond me. I kinda wish there were more longer ones, as I do enjoy them.

Live performances are often different - I go to a lot of rock/metal gigs, and it's not uncommon for the drummer to be given a minute or two to show off, but that tends to be between songs rather than during them.

If we take the shortness question to the extreme, is that drum fill (or should that be drum Phil?) a solo? I'm inclined to say no, but it is the defining part of the song.

 
No expert, but I think of drum solos as bits within a song that are drum focused, either solo'd or some accompaniment. Also, you have songs that are totally drum focused, but still have some other instruments at times during the song. One I can think of immediately that I'm sure folks are familiar with is John Bonham's Moby Dick.

Peart's work in Tom Sawyer is fantastic, and the closing of the song always gets me.

Another solo that stands out to me is Ginger Baker in Blind Faith's Do What You Like, which is actually one of my favorite songs. The middle section has a lot of instrumentation with Clapton going off for a bit and then Baker.
 
These two are from Yanni's "Live at the Acropolis" concert in 1994:

"Within Attraction" features a "duel" between two of the drummers, and an amazing "duel" between two violinists (the male violinist is actually the conductor of the orchestra - first time I ever saw a conductor play an instrument!).




"Marching Season" features a drum solo that some people think is a bit odd, given how it seems to come out of nowhere. I don't care about that. It's the first one I ever really enjoyed.

 
Wintersleep's Loel Campbell.



The song is called Nerves Normal, Breath Normal:

 
One of the songs on the Clerks OST has a drum solo for the last ~1:30 mins of a ~3:30 total runtime:
...though is maybe a good example of why they aren't usually that long...
 
...though is maybe a good example of why they aren't usually that long...

Well, I thought about adding that as one of my questions: can listeners only be engaged by the rhythmic component of a song, absent any melody, for a limited time period?

Of course, in the good ones above, the drummers are constantly changing the elements that make up the rhythm, so you get variety that way.
 
Even with virtuoso drummers, the lack of wide tonic differences makes the drum soloing still be a background/rhythm piece, just one which is faster and consisting of many rapid rhythmic variations and counter-variations. With something like the guitar, on the other hand, you have many more avenues for sound. There are even "solos" that consist of one note played with varying force and some alteration of rhythm, let alone compositions by Gilmour, Knopfler and other good players.
I'd also suppose that mostly drummers and other musicians, not the listeners, focus on the rhythmic rapid alternations - after all, how often do you focus on a piece's time tempo instead of just treating it automatically like a base covered by the various melodic elements?
 
Bear with a bit of a background story as my way of getting to my observation and my question (bolded below):

Observation: how short a stretch of music we can count as a "drum solo."
I don't really have a definitive answer to this. I'm more of a "I know one when I hear it" type of listener. I do think something can be so brief that it's really more of a fancy fill than a solo. I'm glad the video you posted mentioned Stubblefield's "funky drummer", but I'm not sure whether to call that a solo.

Question: Is that just because drummers can cram so much musical content into just ten seconds? Or maybe because drums are usually background instruments, so any foregrounding at all makes it a "solo"?
I think both, yeah. I find a drum can go on too long and become a little exhausting. And sometimes they just try to do too much. I like, for example, the solo your video mentions by Keith Moon on The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", which the narrator describes as "restrained and deliberate."

---

Some random drumming bits that came to mind:

Classic Rock: Alex Van Halen at the beginning of "Hot for Teacher" (1984) by Van Halen. This is notable for (a) starting off a song with drums, which is uncommon, and (b) he uses the solo to mimic the sound of starting up the engine of a big motorcycle. He goes for close to 30 seconds before the rest of the band joins in. Even if you roll your eyes at Van Halen - I did, for a long time - I think just the opening of this song is still worth a listen.
Spoiler :

Surf Rock: Ron Wilson, all throughout "Wipeout" (1963) by The Surfaris. The whole song is a showcase for the drummer and the guitarist, who take turns in the spotlight. Like Stubblefield's "funky drummer" they kind of set the sound that other bands would follow for decades and decades, up through alternative-rock bands like Man or Astro-Man? and the "psychobilly" subgenre of punk. Surf-rock musicians whose parents weren't born yet in '63 can drop a bill in Wilson's tip-jar.
Spoiler :

Grunge: Danny Carey in Tool's "Forty Six and 2" (1996) is an example of something that's not a pure solo. In this one, the drums take the lead and the bass and guitar accompany, by continuing the song's pulsating throughline. If you're already familiar with the song and just want to skip ahead to the part I'm talking about, it starts at 4:30.
Spoiler :

(If you want to put a stupid grin on your face, the kids at O'Keefe Music Foundation did a cover of "Forty Six and 2." I don't think any of them are much older than 15. The little girl who does the vocals looks 10 or 12 to me. And yes, the kid on drums does the lead part towards the end.)
Spoiler :
 
Another not-really-a-solo I just thought of, but where the drums are allowed to be the lead instrument for a bit.

Hardcore Punk: Mackie Jayson on "We Gotta Know" (1986) by The Cro-Mags. For the opening 72 seconds, the Mags' signature buzzsaw guitar sound just kind of wanders along while Jayson plays. I think the levels favor the guitar a touch too much, forcing one to sort of lean in to pay attention to the drums, but that's kind of fun too, I guess.
Spoiler :
 
I never really appreciated drum solos until I tried my hand at playing the game Rock Band. I know it's nothing like the real thing, but having my foot do one beat while my hands were doing another beat was really hard for me to get used to. I'm still not used to it.

IMO there is a fine line between a drum solo seeming out of place or being just right. Really good drummers can pull it off if a song is written well, but let's be honest, guitar solos get a lot more respect. I'm not casting judgement on one vs the other, but people just don't appreciate how hard it is to be a good drummer. I don't think people really get it until they try it. Yeah, playing the guitar is hard too, but having good rhythm and having your arms and leg keep a complex beat, and being right on cue, is a skill that I admire.

Can we talk about bass solos here too? They can also walk a fine line between seeming out of place and fitting nicely into a song. They're also not as respected as guitar solos, though. Bands like Primus have figured out how to incorporate bass solos into their songs that work really well, but not many have managed to reach anywhere near that level of bass solo competence. Is there a band that excels at drum solos in a similar manner?

When I was younger I assumed that drum solos were just the drummer showing off and usually thought that it took away from the song. But I was young back then and inexperienced. These days I don't love all drum solos, but appreciate the craft a lot more.

I think where drum solos fit in the best, IMO, is when a band is playing live and and the vocalist takes some time to introduce all the band members, going around from instrument to instrument, giving that musician a chance to show off a bit. Usually most of the focus is on the vocalist, and it's easy to forget the bassist even exists sometimes, and the other instruments can easily disappear into the background too. So that's my fav way to introduce a drum solo into a performance.

Live performances ending with an epic drum solo can also be great, especially if the drummer is talented.
 
One of the songs on the Clerks OST has a drum solo for the last ~1:30 mins of a ~3:30 total runtime:
...though is maybe a good example of why they aren't usually that long...
S'funny, Kevin Smith isn't the first guy I'd think of as a punk rocker, but that's a pretty good soundtrack. (But hey, nobody would look at me walking down the street today, either, and think, "Yeah, that guy listens to The Cro-Mags." :lol: )
 
Grunge: Danny Carey in Tool's "Forty Six and 2" (1996) is an example of something that's not a pure solo. In this one, the drums take the lead and the bass and guitar accompany, by continuing the song's pulsating throughline. If you're already familiar with the song and just want to skip ahead to the part I'm talking about, it starts at 4:30.
Spoiler :
Gawd I love Tool. Easily a top 5 band of all time for me. I've seen them in concert. I'd label them more alternative/progressive metal, though grunge can fall into that, I think of them as far transcending that genre. Glad you pointed out Carey - he is excellent. Maynard's Perfect Circle joint is a good listen too.

Hard to believe those guys are pushin' sixty now.
 
Shoutout to snarky puppy
 
John Bonham. Drummer for Led Zepplin.
Yes, if you watch the "seven best" video in my OP (last segment of video), you'll see that that guy gives Bonham top honors.
 
Top Bottom