What makes a memorable drum solo? Skill. A drummer’s ultimate expression and a showcase of talent and passion.
Musical expression is a tricky thing to measure when making a list like this because every genre sets different requirements for drummers to do.
One thing is for certain, drum solos, which include breaks and fills are really impressive and they can elevate a song and the drummer to new heights of recognition.
Another thing to consider is how a drummer’s live performance can differ from the studio version. During concerts and live performances, drummers show off their skills through improvisations. A 2 minute solo on the album can become a 20-minute performance during a concert. Often, these are where the best drum solos are born and recognized.
This guide will look at different genres and even different mediums like studio recordings, live performances, and even performances in movies. This list is also not arranged in any way.
1. Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin (Drum Performance by John Bonham)
The first in this list is the iconic performance of John Bonham of the equally iconic band, Led Zeppelin. In their single, the solo is around two minutes while their album release is twice as long and it varies greatly during live performances, lasting up to twenty minutes of pure talent
One highlight of the performance is a group of three notes named after the drummer called the Bonham Triplets, used by many rock and jazz drummers today.
Look up his live performance of the song either in Madison Square Garden or at London’s Royal Albert Hal to see a true master at its craft.
2. Tom Sawyer by Rush (Drum Performance by Neil Peart)
Neil Peart is a mesmerizing drummer and the breadth of his skill is in full display in this song. His solo in the song is accompanied by the electric guitar at around the 2:35 mark of the song but his drumline can be heard all throughout the song.
It may be a short performance but the amount of percussion instruments used is simply astounding yet he easily eases back into the song once the chorus is played.
Neil Peart’s performance is no improv It is quite technical and purposeful, a true compositional drummer. It features a technique called the quads where the hands and feet perform across the toms and kick drums.
Watch a version of this performance from a birds-eye view or aerial view and see him whip out those sticks is a mesmerizing way.
3. In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
This song features one of the most iconic drum fills of all time which easily makes the song instantly recognizable. The drum solo can be heard at around the 3:16 mark.
Now you might notice that the drums in the song sound different and this is because the recording studio used what is known as the reverse talkback option. It was discovered by accident but its uniqueness makes this drum solo stand out from the pack.
Originally, the song had no background drums but they were added to make the drum solo at the end stand out and the gambit certainly worked.
4. The End by The Beatles (Drum Performance by Ringo Starr)
This song captures the magic of Beatlemania in 2:21 minutes. “The End” was the very last song recorded by all four members of The Beatles and each member gets their own solo. It is easy to see how The Beatles paved the way for rock and roll to come to its own.
Ringo Starr the band’s drummer, is a standout in this song with a drum solo at the 20-second mark of the song. Ringo Starr was not particularly fond of playing drum solos so his solo in this song is particularly important.
To capture the iconic sound of his solo, they positioned a dozen microphones around the drum
5. Beast and the Harlot by Avenged Sevenfold (Drum Performance by Jimmy Sullivan)
Jimmy Sullivan really rocks the drums in this song from beginning to end. Affectionately named the Reverend. Jimmy Sullivan starts off with a cymbal roll for the first 20 seconds of the song.
At about the 45-second mark, he picks it up by adding the bass drums into the mix and goes on through the rest of the sound ending the song with the cymbals. The drums are an easy standout in this song.
6. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (Drum Performance by Ron Bushy)
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is a legendary song released in 1968. Originally titled “In the Garden of Eden”, it features a drum solo by Ron Busky that begins from the 6 minutes. 30 seconds point of the song until the 9th minute. That’s two and half minutes of drum solo goodness. There is a 3 minute edited version of the song that cuts out all the solo performances so you should look for the original which clocks in at around 17 minutes.
7. YYZ by Rush (Drum Performance by Neil Peart)
YYZ is a great song, no doubt about it. but one main contributor to its fame is from the solo performances in it There’s the guitar solo in the middle of the song that showcases tremendous skill which is followed by Neil Peart’s drum solo.
At the 3:23 minute mark, Neil Pert adds an epic drum solo that’s over three and a half minutes long.
The drum solo is based on the morse code of Toronto’s airport location identifier and is masterfully turned to music through Neil’s signature ride pattern. You will always be in awe, mesmerized by his performance.
8. Rock And Roll by Led Zeppelin (Drum Performance by John Bonham)
The second Led Zeppelin entry in this list is by no means any less than the first entry. While many consider Moby Dick as the highlight of John Bonham’s drum career with the band, Rock and Roll begin and ends with his drum solo.
While Moby Dick gives Bonham the chance to let loose and improvise his performance, here it is nuanced and unique. It features quick drum beats, accented by steady bass drum beats that run along with the guitar riffs.
9. Final drum performance in the movie Whiplash
Switching our list to an iconic drum performance in a movie, we have the final drum performance in the movie “Whiplash”. In that scene.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) returns to the stage to prove his worth as a jazz drummer and to prove his mentor, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), wrong. There’s tension between Neiman and Fletcher throughout the movie as Fletcher uses tough methods to challenge Neiman and bring out his talent.
The student becomes the teacher in this scene when Neiman tells Fletcher, “I’ll cue you in.” The song comes to a crescendo as Neiman’s performance reaches its climax with sweat pouring out of him.
While the movie is fictional, it is based on a real song which is the next on this list.
10. Caravan (Drum Performance by Charly Antolini)
Impressive is hardly enough to describe Charly Antolini’s drum solo in this jazz song. Look for the video of his performance in 1993 during the Jazzfestival Bern in Switzerland and prepare yourself for 14 minutes of pure eargasm.
Antolini masterfully uses the drumsticks to create a melodious and iconic performance from muted beats to drum rolls to melodies.
You will be making standing ovations for such an auteur performance. You can even watch videos of him in his 70s performing the same solo. What a maestro.
11. Wipe Out by The Ventures (Drum Performance by Mel Taylor)
There was a time when surf rock was its own subgenre with bands like the Beach Boys and The Ventures. The Ventures has the best drum solo for this subgenre in the song “Wipe Out”.
Mel Taylor has set the definitive standard for the drum solo for this song with frantic yet apt beats. The drum solo is a crucial part of the song as it sets the melody of the song.
Sadly, Mel Taylor passed away too soon so other drummers put their spin on the drum solo but Taylor’s version is the definitive one.
12. Girls on Film by Duran Duran (Drum Performance by Roger Taylor)
Inspiring aspiring drummers from the moment it was released. Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” features Roger Taylor’s influential drum solo.
Starting about a minute and 50 seconds out of the three and a half minute song, the solo goes on for 30 seconds but it shows just how adept Roger Taylor is with the drums.
The various cymbals, toms, and snares accentuate the song but it comes to its own during the drum solo.
13. Hot for Teacher by Van Halen (Drum Performance by Alex Van Halen)
Alex Van Halen’s drum solo in ’Hot for Teacher” has a unique layered sound from the beginning of the song. This was achieved by layering two double bass drums (Yes. that’s four bass drums) to create the unique double drumming effect one can hear during the solo.
Often mistaken for the sound of motorcycle idling it was actually designed to simulate the sound of fireworks.
14. Aja by Steely Dan (Drum Performance by Steve Gadd)
Aja is one of the first songs by Steely Dan where they have a drum solo but it will not be easy to catch it if you are not with the intention of isolating its melodious goodness as there are other solos in the song like the tenor sax. piano, and guitar.
But hearing Steve Gadd’s performance will make you appreciate his unforgettable performance. From the start of the song. Gadd’s drumming starts off with lots of reservation and it is during the 3-minute mark of the song that the drums come to life.
You can catch the drum solo at the 4:45 mark for this eight-minute song. Steve Gadd plays patterns that weave seamlessly with the band’s chord changes and it works!
15. My Generation by The Who (Drum Performance by Keith Moon)
Few bands are as iconic as The Who from the 60s era of music. Their 1965 hit “My Generation” features various percussive sounds throughout the song and even the guitar performances have it.
The drum solo in the song is at the 2:20 mark with Keith Moon’s drums leading the charge to bring the song to its climactic finish.
Keith Moon’s drumming looks impressive in live performance videos of the song.
16. Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes (Drum Performance by Meg White)
While men have dominated this list so far. women drummers are not far behind. Meg White of the band ‘The White Stripes” delivers in the song “Seven Nation Army.” She starts off near the start of the song and she never lets off with a steady beat until the closing segment of the song where she caps it off with an impressive performance.
During live performances, Meg White performs extended drum solos so be sure to be on the watch for that
17. The Brazilian by Genesis (Drum Performance by Phil Collins)
Yes. you read that right. Phil Collins was the drummer of the progressive English rock band. Genesis. Before leaving the band, they were able to put out the iconic “The Brazilian*. This song is fully instrumental and features both acoustic and electronic drum performances.
The iconic drum solo can be heard at around the 3-minute mark of the song in the midst of synthesizer and electronic sounds.
If you can find a video of their 1987 Wembley performance, consider yourself lucky to experience it almost three decades after.
18. Hysteria by Def Leppard (Drum Performance by Rick Allen)
The drum solo in this song by Def Leppard is short yet sweet in this 80s power ballad. Rick Allen plays the electronic drums throughout the song and all their other songs with a single arm.
This song is memorable for its strong drum solo that captures the essence of 80s power ballads. Its music video features Rick Allen playing the drums prominently.