Listmania: Top 50 Rhythm Sections (#35-21)

In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.

While lead singers and guitarists always seem to capture the spotlight, the heart and soul of any great band can often be traced to the backbeat; the rhythm. It is with that in mind that we pay tribute to the our Top 50 favorite rhythm sections.

The staff was challenged to name their all-time favorite drum and bass combos, regardless of genre. Once the participants had a chance to ponder the list, the final tally was established with the nominees with the most mentions moving quickly to the top of the list. We’ll unveil them through the month of September.

If you missed the previous week’s installment, you can catch up here:

Popdose Listmania: Top 50 Rhythm Sections (50-36)

Without further ado, here are numbers 35 through 21 of our favorite rhythm sections:

35. Kenney Jones & Ronnie Lane (The Faces)
The next time you happen to hear one of Rod Stewart’s unctuous adult contemporary hits, just remember: The asshole singing “Love Touch” and “The Motown Song” was once the leader of one of the greatest bands in the world. Before they imploded in a cloud of bad feelings and liquor fumes, the Faces delivered side after triumphant side of gloriously sloppy rock ‘n’ roll — and the glue holding it all together was the band’s crack rhythm section, Kenney Jones and Ronnie Lane. They never sold many records, and outside music nerd circles, they’re barely remembered — but do yourself a favor and pick up a Faces album, any Faces album, to hear this stuff the way it should be played, and imagine a world in which those Great American Songbook records never had a reason to exist. –Jeff Giles
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34. Rick Danko & Levon Helm (The Band)
Levon Helm was the American Ringo: steady, straight and smooth. Fills came when they were needed. The beats always fit the song. His multi-instrumental background also gave him the desire to experiment with his drum sound — deadening the sound when the tone of the song called for it; turning the tuning screws to different lengths to give the snare a unique, tambourine sound at times. Danko, on the other hand, was not the Canadian McCartney, but for The Band, that was just fine: schooled on American roots music during endless tours with Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, Danko knew just when the keep it simple, and to throw in an extra note or two for emotional emphasis. Check out the infamous “Royal Albert Hall Performance,” which didn’t include Helm (he’d quit The Band for a time) but includes near perfect playing by Danko, working in symbiosis with not just the drummer, but the rest of the group. — Matthew Bolin
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33. Gary Garry Beers & Jon Farriss (INXS)
Michael Hutchence’s funky moves and swaying hips were very, very important to me once upon a time. I am grateful to his bandmates, Jon Farriss and Gary Garry Beers, for providing such effective backbeats for their frontman to move and sway to. Most of INXS’ biggest hits are driven by their relentless rhythms: “What You Need” and “New Sensation” combine the raucousness of an Aussie pub with the grooviness of a dance club, while “Need You Tonight” and “Suicide Blonde” communicate desire and menace in equal measure. Even the slow jam “Not Enough Time” is shaped by Beers’ sexy bassline and Farriss’ simmering drums. It’s too bad Hutchence took the whole band into the grave with him in 1997 (despite their attempts to carry on with new vocalists); not only were we deprived of his talent and magnetism, but his rhythm section has found itself playing into the void. — Robin Monica Alexander
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32. Michael Anthony & Alex Van Halen (Van Halen)
Eddie wrote the riffs, Dave and Sammy (and, lest we forget, Gary) wrote the words, and Mike and Alex held it all together.  That’s the narrative, and I’m stickin’ to it.  Except I’m not.  Alex Van Halen, in his prime, was a wild motherfucker, the proverbial insane dude who makes a living out of hitting things with sticks. I don’t know whether he tuned his drums a certain way; or recorded them a certain way; or treated them with some mixture of polish, Marlboro smoke, and Schlitz Malt Liquor-but I can absolutely distinguish the sound of his drums from any other, and they are as integral a part of the Van Halen sound as Eddie’s guitar.  Same with Michael Anthony, whose low-end rumble and high, keening harmonies make Van Halen tracks Van Halen tracks. To lose him to Ed’s bad moods is akin to an athlete losing a leg, yet Van Halen is apparently hopping forward. Anthony’s true worth, however, is there for all to hear, in all those anthems that rocked our parties, our cars, our local arenas, our world. — Rob Smith
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31. Michael B. & Sonny Thompson (The New Power Generation)
The New Power Generation grew out of the ashes of the slowly dissolving Revolution. Much like the Revolution, the evolution of the NPG has seen many incarnations. The one constant through most of it has been powerhouse drummer, Michael Bland and bassist Sonny Thompson. Providing the funky undercurrent that made tracks like “Gett Off,” and “Billy Jack Bitch” slam, and cuts like “Sexy M.F.,” and “Papa” sizzle. Sonny’s relationship with His Royal Badness goes way back. When asked, Prince opined, “I thought Sonny was God. Sonny was my hero. A lot of what I do on guitar, I learned from him. I’d go over to his house and we’d play records and he’d show me things on guitar.” It’s no wonder that the pair show up — here and there — on many of his recordings, right up through 2009′s Lotusflow3r. These days, the pair provides the beat for Nick Jonas as members of The Administration. — Michael Parr
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30. Mick Fleetwood & John McVie (Fleetwood Mac)
Fleetwood and McVie may be the upper-crust version of Moon and Entwistle: The mad drummer looking like he’s about to explode at any moment, even when he’s keeping an unchanging downbeat on the 2 and the 4. Meanwhile, standing next to him is a bassist so low key you might lose sight of the fact that the dude is playing some super-melodic runs on his instrument. The popularity and sexual drama of Fleetwood Mac have overshadowed a good deal of their playing over the past thirty-five years, but a little studying of both their past and current histories show that these are guys with serious chops who cut their teeth on the British blues scene of the 1960s: not only did Fleetwood Mac start out as a blues band, but prior to joining forces with Fleetwood, McVie had already served time as one of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, including being part of the rhythm section on the legendary Clapton/”Beano” album. To put a fine point on it, these two guys have shown they can play virtually anything, and play it damn well. — MB
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29. Mickey Curry & Tom “T-Bone” Wolk (Hall & Oates)
In 1980, Hall & Oates were struggling to regain the momentum their career had lost since its high point, circa 1977. Things started looking up when they hired Mickey Curry to play drums on their 1981 album, Private Eyes. When bassist “T-Bone” Wolk came on board for the subsequent release, H2O, the duo, aided by their backup band, was poised to embark upon the most successful period of their career. They had added an extra shot of rock to their sound, and the record-buying public loved it, making H2O and its follow-up, Big Bam Boom, double-platinum smashes. Was this directly related to the contributions of Curry and Wolk? We may never know, but listen to the basslines and beats of “Maneater,” “Family Man,” and “Out of Touch” and then tell me…just a coincidence? I think not. — RMA
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28. Billy Cox & Buddy Miles (Band of Gypsys)
I only go to see Jimi Hendrix play live twice. One of those times was at something called the Winter Festival For Peace, which took place at Madison Square Garden on January 27, 1970. There were 11 other acts on the bill that night, and as the headliner, Hendrix didn’t play until 3 a.m. He was backed by the Band of Gypsys that night, but he was not in any condition to play. He opened with “Who Knows,” and then played “Earth Blues.” The effort apparently got to him, because at that point he sat down on the drum riser for a little while, and then got up and left. There are different stories about what happened that night, but it appeared to me that Hendrix was so frustrated with the playing of drummer Buddy Miles that he just got fed up. I don’t know what, if anything, Miles was doing wrong, but he was clearly not giving Hendrix what he wanted that night. Given the condition Hendrix was in, it’s quite possible that no one could have provided the groove he was looking for. It was a sad sight. If you listen to the one brilliant Band of Gypsys album, you will understand why they belong on this list. My personal experience was a different thing altogether. — Ken Shane
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27. Danny Carey & Justin Chancellor (Tool)
Can a current band with only four full studio recordings under their belt really rank up there with the best all time of anything? If you are asking yourself this question, then you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to a Tool album.  One of things that turns me off about progressive rock are those wildly outrageous passages that seem to spiral out of control. I need structure and Carey and Chancellor are excellent with being able to open up and jam while still maintaining a clear vision of where the passage is going.  One listen to the sprawling epics on 2001′s Lateralus showcase those talents. But you can even go all the way back to 1996 and listen to some of Aenima’s more concise straight-forward rockers to hear just how dynamic the duo can be with more traditional song structures as well. No matter what type of song is tossed at them, their presence is felt in a major way. — Dave Steed
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26. Russ Kunkel & Lee Sklar (The Section)
You may never have heard of the Section, but if your music collection includes anything by any singer/songwriter-type artist throughout the ’70s or ’80s, chances are you’ve listened to their work. Part of the same West Coast studio mafia that later inducted guys like Jeff Porcaro, Steve Lukather, and David Paich, the Section tended to show up on albums that didn’t exactly call for rhythm — who dances to James Taylor records? — but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t shake your booty when the music called for it. By the late ’80s, Section members had performed on so many albums that Sklar, in particular, was something of a star in his own right, popping up in any video that called for a bushy-bearded dude whose name was not John Kalodner (John Kalodner). –JG
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25. Peter Hook & Stephen Morris (Joy Division, New Order)
Rock bands break up all the time for any old reason. No one would have blamed Joy Division for disbanding following the death of their frontman, Ian Curtis; instead, they rechristened themselves New Order, building on Joy Division’s achievements but forging ahead. Bridging the gap between “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” were guitarist-turned-lead singer Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris. The latter two had to deal not only with the change in leadership, but also with the group’s increasing use of electronic elements, which could have pushed them aside or drowned them out. Yet even as New Order’s sound became more dense and lush, Morris’ primal beats and Hook’s yearning, inimitable bass shone through, and the band remained a band. “She’s Lost Control” and “True Faith” might sound like they’re from different worlds, but Hook and Morris are at the core of each. — RMA
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24. John Paul Jones & John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
It’s funny, but I never think of John Paul Jones as being John Bonham’s foil, his partner in Zeppelin’s rhythm section.  For me, Bonham’s main purpose in the band was to keep Jimmy Page in line, as though the quintessential guitar god would have completely overwhelmed the rest of the group had there not been this massive bloke behind him, smacking the snare with tree limbs and causing Richter-scale rumbles with his double-kick-drum Godzilla stomp.  Jones was essential, yes — his ways with the keyboard his skills as an arranger were just as spot-on as his bass playing, and just as vital to the band’s sound.  Zeppelin really took off, though, when Bonham and Page would go at it-”Kashmir,” “Rock and Roll,” “The Ocean,” “The Rover,” “Immigrant Song”-leaving Jones to stand back , add a flourish now and then, and keep the bottom from giving way from all the activity thrashing around above it. — RS
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23. Fred & Verdine White (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Earth, Wind & Fire’s cacophonous descent into programmed beats would have been annoying enough if they’d been an ordinary band of R&B/soul/disco/funk wizards, but goddammit, when you’ve got Fred and Verdine White locking things down, you simply don’t need machines. Between 1974 and 1983, they helped anchor a string of peerless, finely grooved hits, including “September,” “Shining Star,” and “Boogie Wonderland,” and although EWF has enjoyed varying degrees of success in the years since, things have never really been the same. –JG
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22. Lowell Dunbar & Robert Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie)
There are two distinct periods of Reggae music: pre-Sly & Robbie and post-Sly & Robbie. Before the duo introduced the world to the harder beat of the “rocker”  and the “rub a dub” riddim of the ’80s, Reggae was a one trick pony. From the producers seat, they have been behind the boards for well over 200,000 tunes; driving the pulse of Dancehall and producing such hits as No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” and “Underneath it All.” On the live front, the pair has backed up everyone from Dylan and the Stones to current favorites like Michael Franti and hassidic rude boy Matisyahu. Chances are, if you’ve heard a Reggae song in the last 25 years that wasn’t by Bob Marley, it was somehow connected to Sly & Robbie. — MP
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21. Sam Lay & Willie Dixon (Chess Records)
As one of the founding fathers of Chicago Blues, Willie Dixon could stand on this list alone. His contributions as a bassist, singer, songwriter, producer and talent scout for Chess records are more than enough. Alongside Sam Lay, they cement their place on our countdown. Laying down the foundation on countless records for the likes of  Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Joe Louis Walker, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Washboard Sam, Jimmy Rogers; I think you get the point. — MP
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  • Dumpsterbaby.com

    Great list! I got to call you out on Tool though. Justin and Danny make an amazing pair, but if one were to go back and listen to 1993′s Undertow, they will hear Danny with original Bassist Paul D’Amour. He left the band prior to the recording of Aenima.

  • Side3

    I love The Faces. I think Jones and Lane were equally good in The Steve Mariott-led Small Faces. I often wondered why Jones played it so safe with The Who when his Small Faces-era work was so good.

  • Chris

    This list won’t be complete without Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki of Big Country and that’s a fact!

  • Chris

    This list won’t be complete without Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki of Big Country and that’s a fact!

  • http://twitter.com/tcote Thierry Côté

    The entry for the Band (behind INXS? Really???) should at least include some mention of Richard Manuel, who played the drums on some classic songs, such as “Rag Mama Rag”, “Jemima Surrender”, “Strawberry Wine”, “Time to Kill”, “Daniel & the Sacred Harp”, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, “4% Pantomime”, “Smoke Signal”, half of Moondog Matinee, “Evangeline”, “Yazoo Street Scandal”, “Don’t Ya Tell Henry”…

  • http://www.bastardradio.com steed

    I was so excited they made the list I wasn’t thinking straight. At least the point I was making is still valid. It’s better now. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me that Hall and Oates did quite well with the 1980 release that preceded 1981′s Private Eyes, Voices.

    Sly and Robbie FTW- everyone reading this list should own a copy of Rhythm Killers. That album is the shiznit.