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

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.

Without further ado, here number 50 through 36 of our favorite rhythm sections:

50. Mike Joyce & Andy Rourke (The Smiths)
The “Morrissey vs. Marr” debate has been raging for over 20 years now, and among the Smiths faithful, it is unlikely ever to be resolved. But let us take a moment to tip our caps to the other half of their short-lived but passionately loved band, drummer Joyce and bassist Rourke. While their drama-prone singer and brooding guitarist were butting heads, they were simply, and elegantly, doing their jobs, because, you know, after all, we’re a rock and roll band. From the jangle pop of “This Charming Man” to the rollicking “Bigmouth Strikes Again” to the anti-social anthem “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” Rourke and Joyce helped to keep the Smiths from being swallowed alive by Moz and Marr’s eccentricities…for a few years, at least. Hang the DJ, if you must, but spare the rhythm section. - Robin Monica Alexander
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49. Rick Buckler & Bruce Foxton (The Jam)
A good rhythm section should be able to play anything; a great rhythm section can play anything and make it completely their own. As leaders of the Mod Revival, the Jam were sometimes dismissed as Who copyists. But what the two groups really had in common was an omnivorous musical appetite. The trebly roar of Bruce Foxton’’s bass owes something to Entwistle, as does his sheer athleticism on the instrument; but his approach is precise and riffy. Rick Buckler’’s drums, too, can turn on a dime, from the swagger of punk to Motown swing, always anchoring songwriter Paul Weller’’s frequent genre experiments. So the soul pastiche ““Town Called Malice”” and the jagged, funky ““Absolute Beginners”” are all of a piece with ““In the City,”” or the raging ““Eton Rifles”—” the same power, the same conviction. This stuff packs a wallop, now just as then. - Jack Feerick
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48. Jon Moss & Michael Craig (Culture Club)
What are the two things most people remember about Culture Club? A lead singer who dressed in drag and a hit single (“Karma Chameleon”) that used a harmonica. But behind all of Boy George’s (admittedly amazing) posing, there was a band playing some seriously cool dance pop. Like many British groups of the early 1980s, Culture Club was heavily influenced by reggae and other West Indian sounds, and Mikey Craig and Jon Moss were there to provide the beat for rump-shakin’ jams like “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” as well as the yearning groove of the classic “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.”  George’s public persona and cheeky lyrics made Culture Club an important contributor to popular queer culture, but he wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at putting that persona across if not for the rhythms that got millions of European and American kids out on the dance floor. - RMA
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47. Andre Fischer & Bobby Watson (Rufus)
Before “I’m Every Woman” and “I Feel for You,” Chaka Khan and her hair fronted Chicago’s answer to Sly and the Family Stone, Rufus. The band’s racially integrated roster of musicians shifted frequently, but at the height of their success, their funk was provided by Watson and Fischer, who played together on such hits as “Once You Get Started,“ “Sweet Thing,” and – Lord have mercy — “At Midnight.” Before Watson arrived, Fischer provided the (sick) beat for “Tell Me Something Good”; after Fischer left, Watson kept the party going on “Do You Love What You Feel.” Between them, they spanned the full career of a band that did, with relative ease, what many R&B bands dreamed of and schemed for — crossed over to the pop charts while maintaining their funk essence.  “When you get down y’all…ain’t no turning back now!” - RMA
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46. Jaco Pastorius & Peter Erskine (Weather Report/Word of Mouth)
When the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Bass Player, Jaco Pastorius, joined Weather Report in 1976, he quickly proved to be not just a rhythmic asset, but a stunning lead voice too. However, it wasn’t until two years later, when Peter Erskine became the band’s drummer, that the Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter-fronted jazz fusion ensemble’s bottom really began to let its skirt up. While Jaco was clearly the star in this group, Peter could more than hold his own when they locked in — they ebbed and flowed together as the music called for it, alternated between light and heavy approaches to make way for each other’s apeshit fits, and best of all, they were never too heavy handed. They tended to play the way one might imagine a rhythm section would feel if it were a giddy child skipping down the street toward the playground. Jaco’s early ‘80s Word of Mouth Big Band reaped the same benefits of this partnership for the brief period it existed, but when he and Peter left Weather Report in 1982, the band was never the same — nor as great — again. - Michael Fortes
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45. Mike Portnoy & John Myung (Dream Theater)
I’m going to be honest – I don’t spend a lot of time watching bassist John Myung do his thing in Dream Theater. Unlike a lot of the rhythm sections featured on this list, Myung has the slight disadvantage of existing in a musical universe where he competes for attention with the eight-armed visually overloading drumming machine named Mike Portnoy. And for anybody who has seen Portnoy play, you can’t exist as a sub-par bassist and expect to keep up with Portnoy’s flash flood of activity behind the kit. And therein lies the beauty of Myung – he does his duty gracefully providing the appropriate amount of low end horsepower helping Portnoy power the cosmic proggy ship that is Dream Theater. As a pair, they’re an interesting dynamic duo. And with Portnoy’s recent announcement that he is departing from the band, there’s now an empty slot within that duo and a whole lot of people questioning the band’s announcement that they will replace Portnoy with a new drummer and carry on. Will the spirit carry on as the band suggests in their press release? The odds are questionable at best. - Matt Wardlaw
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44. Doug Wimbish & Keith LeBlanc (Sugar Hill Records House Band)
Was a time, children, when the Eighties were just a-borning and the sample was not yet king, when live musicians played on hip-hop records; when you might actually hear a guitar solo wailing away beneath the later verses of a 12″ rap single; when the dopest beats were created not just by sorting through massive DJ crates, but by kids who would catch a ride out to Englewood to jam for hours in the little firetrap studio of Sugar Hill Records; when, as legend tells us, drummer and programmer Keith LeBlanc— — red-eyed and exhausted from recording all night — found himself banging on the studio water-cooler and chanting It’s like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under; when Doug Wimbish was slaving together effects units to elicit unearthly growls from his P-Bass. White and black, yin and yang, experimental and mainstream. Wimbish would later bring the funk to Living Colour and Rolling Stones, and LeBlanc would go deep into the club-dub underground. But was a time, o best beloved, the center held and it all came together in the icy tension and explosive release of “New York New York” and “The Message.” And it was a time of legends. – JF
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43. Eugene Wright & Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck Quartet)
It looks disastrous on paper. Modal jazz as a vehicle for drum solos, with albums conceived around odd time-signatures exercise? It sounds like some proto-fusion nightmare. But the Quartet’s late-’50s output (including the classic Time Out) is swingin’ populism at its finest. It certainly helps that the cool economy of Brubeck and Paul Desmond’s compositions is anchored by Eugene Wright’s chunky bass ostinati and powered by Joe Morello, perhaps the most profoundly musical drummer to emerge from the postbop scene. The justly celebrated “Take Five” succeeds on all levels; Morello explores the full range of textures and cross-rhythms on his kit —and you can whistle it in the shower. – JF
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42. Stephen Perkins & Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction)
Hard to believe that a band as revered among rock fans as Jane’s Addiction has only released three studio albums. On two of them, Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual (the ones that really count), Perry Farrell’s maniacal vocals and Dave Navarro’s feverish guitar meet their match in Perkins’ drum riffs and Avery’s not-to-be-denied bass lines. Tracks like “Mountain Song” and “Been Caught Stealing” are raised to another level — if not outright defined — by Avery’s playing, and Perkins no doubt kept plenty of heads banging in America’s basements circa 1990 with his virtuosity on “Pigs in Zen,” “Classic Girl,” and more. Together, they nearly steal the show from “stars” Farrell and Navarro. So come to think of it, it’s not hard to believe that a band with such a relatively small output looms so large in alt-rock history…not with four such complementary talents so expertly deployed. - RMA
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41. Stan Lynch & Howie Epstein (The Heartbreakers)
For many, watching Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent Running Down A Dream documentary about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers was enlightening on many levels.  If you weren’t aware of how vital drummer Stan Lynch was to the Heartbreakers sound, the documentary certainly did a great job of fleshing that out.  Lynch’s background vocals and overall feel behind the kit (particularly on tracks like “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” and “Surrender”) were a crucial part of the Heartbreakers sound and they’re sorely missed these days, even with a seasoned pro like Steve Ferrone in place as Lynch’s replacement.  Similarly, troubled bassist Howie Epstein was an integral part of the band during the middle period of their success both with his playing and vocal contributions.  Together, Epstein and Lynch are two important examples on why the Heartbreakers are easily the best backing group this side of E. Street. - MW
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40. Roger Taylor & John Deacon (Queen)
If I’m being honest; for me, Queen was always about Freddie Mercury, and in a smaller part Brian May. It wasn’t until looking back at the band’s discography that I was reminded of the power of the other half of the band. Listen to “Another One Bites the Dust” and tell me that John Deacon and Roger Taylor don’t fit the Chic-esque groove that inspired the track, while making it all their own. If that doesn’t covince you, consider the shuffle of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” or the massive drums of “We Will Rock You” or “Radio Ga Ga.” It might be buried beneath all the majesty, but there is a solid bottom end to those classic Queen tracks, and not just the “Fat Bottomed” type.  - Michael Parr
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39. Geddy Lee & Neil Peart (Rush)
It’s difficult to separate the rhythm section of Rush from the band itself; being that it’s the rhythm section that makes up the majority of the band. Between Geddy’s rock-steady bass work and unique voice, he brings more to the table than most bottom dwellers. Add to that the insanely talented and complex drums of Neal Peart and it leaves nary a spot for guitarist Alex Lifeson to fit. Not to mention the fact that Peart is also the band’s lyricist, and well, I guess it’s obvious why the duo is on this list.  - MP
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38. Bill Ward & Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
The prodigal sons of heavy metal, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward set the blueprint for future headbangers. Truthfully, how many songs could be recognized simply by four kick drum hits? “Iron Man” is perhaps the perfect example of the simple power of taking a single riff and having the entire band pound it into the listeners head. Hell, even Ozzy is just singing along to the riff. While Ward has been in and out of the band in the years following Ozzy’s departure — and subsequent return, and departure — Geezer has remained, providing the low end to Iommi’s menacing riffs. - MP
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37. Tom Araya & Dave Lombardo (Slayer)
Slayer’s music is so highly visceral and loud that, truthfully, the bass is the last thing one notices, if it’s even noticed at all. But then, that’s exactly the way it should be — and the fact that Tom Araya’s bass is barely noticeably in the mix is indicative that he’s in lock-step with Dave Lombardo, one of the greatest drummers metal has ever known. And if Tom ever stood out too much, he was probably making a mistake. In a way, you can’t truly appreciate this rhythm section until you not just listen to them, but watch them too. The entire band is tirelessly working that rhythm, bobbing and head banging together, deep in concentration, and Tom’s simple-as-shit bass lines are what make Dave’s jackhammer drums shine like platinum. Anything more from the bass would be a distraction. And that’s the irony — even Slayer, a band whose music is extreme in so many ways, has a fine sense of balance. And it’s all in the rhythm section. - MF
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36. Mike Dirnt & Tre Cool (Green Day)
It is hard to be understated in a band a brash as Green Day. Take the opening riff to their breakout single, “Longview,” based nearly entirely on Mike Dirnt’s classic walking bass-line riff and Tre Cool’s shuffle. Subtle elements that explode once the chorus hits with the velocity of a baseball bat to the head. Flash forward to the band’s most recent hits; would tracks like “American Idiot,” “21 Guns,” or “Are We the Waiting” have the same emotional impact if it were not for the machine-gun speed of Cool’s drums or the rock solid bottom end provided by Dirnt? Perhaps, but certainly not as eloquently. - MP
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  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ grayflannelsuit

    I spent almost all of last week listening to Queen’s The Game over and over, in particular “Dragon Attack”. Deacon was no slouch by any stretch but he really owns this album. I always found Taylor to be a little stiff, but he also delivers in a big way.

  • EightE1

    I agree. The songs on that record really lend themselves to Deacon’s strengths. Even on something like “Sail Away Sweet Sister,” he worked the upper end of the neck so fluidly, and applied the bass to the song’s melody quite well.

  • Matt

    God, The Game was such a great record – my first album that I purchased on CD!

  • Anonymous

    Glad you included the Heartbreakers – just a note that the photo features Ron Blair instead of Howie Epstein.

  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    I’m glad somebody else was there to say it before me.

  • Teamster6924

    I truly hope that brothers Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Carlton Barrett are on this list, as they are without a doubt the GREATEST rhythm section of the last half of the 20th century.

  • Dude

    Most good rhythm sections were spread through the bottom sections,I mean,Geddy Lee and Neil Pear win most best bassist/drummer polls separately but together they are at number 39??Also,the epic fail was Green Day right over Slayer…yeah right!