A man walks into a shop and says to the shop assistant: “Excuse me, I’d like to buy a guitar pick, and some strings.”
The shop assistant looks uncomprehendingly at his customer, and says “Pardon?”
“I’d like a guitar pick please, and some strings.”
The shop assistant thinks on this for a while, and then turns to his customer and says “You’re a drummer, aren’t you?”
“Yeah! How did you know, man?”
“This is a fish and chip shop.”
And now, on with the show! Take it away, Jack.
I’ve played with a lot of drummers, and they’ve all had a drum key — but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one actually using it. Good tuning, though, can turn a well-played drum part into not just a hook, but a melodic hook. To wit, here are six tunes where the drums sing.
A note: I’m disqualifying Phil Collins from this list, because (a) everybody hates Phil Collins, and (b) despite his considerable flaws as a songwriter, personality, and human being, he is an absolute ace at making the drums sing. And, truth be told, his hateful earworms would utterly dominate this list if steps are not taken to prevent it. I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise I will be completely successful.
Peter Gabriel, “Biko” (live)
Gabriel has spoken of his third solo album, for which “Biko” was written, as a turning point for his compositional method. Prior to this album, Gabriel composed his songs with a vocal melody. On this project, however, he built his songs on a bedrock of rhythms and drones. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Jerry Marotta to inspire you.
Golden Palominos, “Buenos Aires”
Though it began as a downtown free-jazz project, the Golden Palominos soon mutated into a vehicle for drummer Anton Fier to work out his arena-rock fixation. On this tune, Fier is ably assisted by bassist Bill Laswell (who, as a producer, oversaw Public Image Ltd.’s transformation into the thinking man’s Aerosmith), and a revolving-door assortment of songwriting collaborators — including the inimitable Syd Straw.
U2, “The Refugee”
U2 was always Larry Mullen’s band. And every once in a while, he likes to remind us of that.
Suzanne Vega, “Wooden Horse (Casper Hauser’s Song)”
In the ’80s, Suzanne Vega came out of the “girl-and-guitar” folkie tradition. But then, Erik Sanko, her music director at the time, put together a number of whip-crack bands to give her songs a fuller sound. For this song — which was inspired by a true story — drummer Steve Ferrera tunes his kit down to a terrifying thud that threatens to overwhelm the halting melody – which reflects the mental state of the psychotic narrator.
Frida, “I Know There’s Something Going On”
Okay, so I cheated. But in my own defense, Phil Collins didn’t actually write this one.
Dave Brubeck Quartet, “Countdown”
Joe Morello, who grew tired ripping it up on the trapkit, busts out the tympani for this time experiment, and makes ‘em swing – oh, and it also scared saxophonist Paul Desmond clean out of the room!