How Drums & Bass Make the Song: Isolated Tracks from Led Zeppelin, Rush, The Pixies, The Beatles to Royal Blood

There may be no more crit­i­cal inter­play between two musi­cians in mod­ern music than that between bassists and drum­mers. As jazz bassist Chris­t­ian McBride put it in a recent NPR inter­view, “the bass and drums should work as one instru­ment. It deter­mines whether it’s funk or jazz or coun­try or rock ‘n’ roll. It all depends on what rhythms are com­ing from the bass and the drums that make a par­tic­u­lar music what it is.” In funk and jazz, these rhythm play­ers tend to get a lot more cred­it. Most people—even die hard fans—would be hard pressed to name one coun­try bassist or drum­mer. In rock and roll, we’re used to laud­ing lead singers and gui­tarists. And cer­tain­ly clas­sic duos from Jag­ger and Richards, to Page and Plant, Roth and Van Halen, Mor­ris­sey and Marr and a lengthy list of oth­ers each have earned their vaunt­ed places in music his­to­ry.

Yet as a fan, I’ve always been drawn to unsung bass and drum combos—like The Smiths’ Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, Jane’s Addiction’s Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins, and many oth­ers in bands whose flam­boy­ant lead­ers tend­ed to over­shad­ow their rock sol­id sup­ports. This is not the case in many oth­er groups of super­stars. McBride gives us the exam­ples of Boot­sy Collins and John Starks in James Brown’s band, and bassist Sam Jones and drum­mer Louis Hayes from Can­non­ball Adderley’s ensem­ble. Today we look specif­i­cal­ly at some famed rock rhythm duos, and lis­ten in on iso­lat­ed tracks from some of their bands’ most well-known tunes. We begin with the absolute­ly clas­sic pow­er­house rhythm sec­tion of John Paul Jones (top) and John Bon­ham, whose grooves anchored the riff machine that was Led Zep­pelin. Just above, hear their push and pull on “Ram­ble On.”

As it turns out, Zep­pelin were big James Brown fans, and Jones has specif­i­cal­ly men­tioned the funk influ­ence on his play­ing. Jones and Bon­ham, in turn, have influ­enced thou­sands of rhythm play­ers, includ­ing per­haps one of the most famous of bass and drum duos, Rush’s Ged­dy Lee and Neil Peart. Just above, hear Lee’s fuzzed-out bass work in tan­dem with Peart’s expert time changes and break­downs in iso­lat­ed tracks from “Vital Signs,” a song from their ear­ly-eight­ies new wave-inspired album Mov­ing Pic­tures. Rush is cer­tain­ly not everyone’s cup of tea, but more rock and roll drum­mers than not prob­a­bly cite them as an influ­ence at some point in their careers. Though it wasn’t appar­ent to me in their hey­day, even such a min­i­mal­ist band as the Pix­ies had a Rush influ­ence, specif­i­cal­ly by way of drum­mer David Lover­ing. His locked grooves with bassist Kim Deal more or less defined the sound of the 90s through their influ­ence on Nir­vana, Weez­er, Radio­head, Smash­ing Pump­kins and count­less oth­ers. Hear their iso­lat­ed rhythm tracks from Doolit­tle’s “Wave of Muti­la­tion” below.

It’s hard­ly nec­es­sary to point out that per­haps the most famed rhythm sec­tion in rock his­to­ry comes from its most cel­e­brat­ed band. But Paul McCart­ney and Ringo Starr often get remem­bered more for their song­writ­ing and per­son­al­i­ties than for their rhythm play­ing. Ringo’s tak­en his share of unde­served flak for his no-frills style. I’ve always found him to be an espe­cial­ly taste­ful play­er who knows when to add the per­fect fill or accent, when to lay back and let the song dom­i­nate, and when to get out of the way entire­ly. Starr’s thought­ful drum­ming per­fect­ly com­ple­ments McCartney’s high­ly melod­ic walk­ing basslines—captured as well on the George Har­ri­son-penned “Some­thing,” below, as on any­thing else the band record­ed.

Again, it’s hard­ly nec­es­sary to cite the num­ber of bands influ­enced by the Bea­t­les, though it’s hard­er to name rhythm sec­tions direct­ly inspired by McCart­ney and Starr’s dynam­ic. Nonethe­less, their DNA runs through decades of pop music in all its forms. The oth­er three duos above have direct­ly inspired a more spe­cif­ic phe­nom­e­non of bands made up sole­ly of bass and drums. One such band, the UK’s Roy­al Blood, has won numer­ous awards (and praise from Jim­my Page). See them per­form a live ver­sion of “Fig­ure It Out” below.

Oth­er bands like Death From Above 1979 and Om have huge­ly devot­ed fol­low­ings. (See a dis­cus­sion of more bass-and-drum-only com­bos here.) With the suc­cess of these bands—along with the rise of elec­tron­ic dance music as a dom­i­nant form—it’s safe to say that killer rhythm sec­tions, so often over­shad­owed in rock and pop his­to­ry, have pushed past tra­di­tion­al lead play­ers and, in many cas­es, tak­en their place. I’d say it’s about time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks From Five Great Rock Bassists: McCart­ney, Sting, Dea­con, Jones & Lee

7 Female Bass Play­ers Who Helped Shape Mod­ern Music: Kim Gor­don, Tina Wey­mouth, Kim Deal & More

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.