16 best songs about drummers and drumming

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16 best songs about drummers and drumming

The Swingers Counting the Beat Drumming
Words by Christie Eliezer

Love is a hugely influential subject, with billions of songs having been written about it: including a love for drums.

First, some trivia! The longest drumming track is Norwegian electronic musician Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s 2009 version of the Christmas carol “Little Drummer Boy”, which ran for 42 minutes.

Songs about drums

American singer songwriter’s Amy Rigby unlisted bonus track “Tonight I’m Gonna Give the Drummer Some” throws in a drummer joke midway through.

Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day” (1982) was played by US sports teams as the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams when they had touchdowns.

Using military drummers, sometimes children, were used to drive home anti-war messages in the 1960s, including Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum” and Jim Reeves’ “Distant Drums”. 

More recent was US folk singer Richard Shindell’s “Arrowhead” (2002).

First Anniversary

On the first anniversary of the 2020 death of Rush’s Neil Peart from brain cancer, superfan Brandon Toews cut a 25-minute one-take video in which he drums along to seconds of all 175 songs Rush released during their 50-year career.

Washing DC writer and producer Citizen Cope’s “Let the Drummer Kick” is in the 2006 ensemble comedy Accepted, Samuel L. Jackson’s 2005 film Coach Carter, the ending sequence of S1E12 of CSI Miami, (air date January 6, 2003) and the Cannes Kids episode, season 4 of Entourage.

Meantime, here are what we consider the 16 best songs about drummers and drums.

Roger Daltrey: “Under a Raging Moon” (1985)

This tribute to the hell-raising antics of The Who’s Keith Moon was the title track of Who singer Roger Daltrey’s sixth solo album.

It was co-written by John Parr, whose manager had been Moon’s driver and tour manager for 20 years.

“He would regale me with stories of Keith’s exploits, it was as if I was there and I knew him.”

The bit about Keith playing under moonlight came from how when The Who played the Woodstock festival (1969), they didn’t go on until 5 am.

James Brown: “Funky Drummer (Pt. 1)” (1970)

The legendary Clyde Stubblefield’s eight bar 20 second drum solo on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” is one of the most sampled on record. 

Among those using it were Public Enemy, N.W.A, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Ed Sheeran, George Michael … and, umm, the theme to The Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network.

The original 9 minute 15 second track came from a jam session on November 20, 1969, at Brown’s King Studios in Cincinnati.

Before the 5 minute mark, JB fires instructions to his band and Stubblefield (in his band from 1965 to 1971), ” “Fellas, one more time, I wanna give the drummer some of this funky soul we got here… You don’t have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got … Don’t turn it loose, ’cause it’s a mother.”

Erykah Badu: “Rimshot” (1997)

On Erykah Badu’s breakthrough debut album Baduizm (three million copies in America alone), “Rimshot” is the intro and outro.

She’d open her early live shows with “Rimshot”, shouting out to drummer Poogie Bell: “I came to hear the band today, I ain’t thinking about you. I came to hear my drummer play…boom-klack-boom-klack.”

Nils Lofgren: “Won’t Cry No More (For Charlie Watts)” (2023)

When Charlie Watts passed away in August 2021 at 80 years of age, guitarist Nils Lofgren penned this tribute for inclusion on his Mountains album.

“Without the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, this music of mine wouldn’t exist,” Lofgren lamented.

“I was so furious and hurt when Charlie Watts died, I turned to his music for solace, desperate for connection and inspiration through the grief. 

“First one chord blues I ever wrote. Needed his musical spirit to cope and found it. One raw riff to sing for him. Miss you, Charlie.”

The Swingers: “Counting The Beat” (1981)

New Zealand guitar art-pop trio The Swingers rehearsed for eight months before their first gig, and had 18 songs which they played around the traps.

Mushroom Records’ Michael Gudinski flew to NZ and urged them to move to Melbourne to become the “next big thing”.

Moving to Australia was a culture shock. They were living on $15 each a week. 

Three Weeks

They played four or five times a week. But after petrol, production and crew costs, bassist Bones Hillman recalled, they had to split $40 three ways.

There were delays with the release of  “Counting The Beat” and their album Practical Jokers. Producer David Tickle held The Swingers; tape ransom until Mushroom paid him for work on Split Enz’s True Colours.

Once “Counting The Beat” came out, it shot to #1 and sold 100,000 copies by 1997. Its success actually made things tougher, as they toured harder but they said they weren’t making more money.

Ironically, by the time “Counting The Beat” came out, original drummer and co-founder Buster Stiggs had been sacked and joined The Models.

Drummer Gone

Part of the reason, Hillman (who later joined Midnight Oil and died in November 2020) said was that he and guitarist Phil Judd were living in an awful flat in St. Kilda, sleeping on the floor “and burned furniture when it got cold” while Stiggs was staying with Neil and Sharon Finn in a comfortable home “and wore flannel pyjamas to bed”.

Judd was criticised in some quarters for allowing “Counting The Beat” to be used on a K-Mart ad.

“What people don’t realise is that when The Swingers broke up, the band was $50,000 in debt.

“From selling that song to ad-play I have recovered that money, or most of it, but I have never really made any money off it.”

Skyhooks: “Rolls Royce In The Swimming Pool” (1980)

A song detailing some of the manic pranks of Keith Moon, including driving a luxury car into a swimming pool, blowing up a hotel room and rearranging the chandelier of a five-star restaurant.

As the song wryly puts it, Moon could easily pay off the damages and move on to his next madness.

The Stone Roses: “She Bangs the Drums” (1989)

An ode to Frankie Rose, a founding member of The Vivian Girls, drummer/vocalist with The Crystal Stilts and rhythm stick for Dum Dum Girls.

It was The Stone Roses’ first Top 40 single, the NME placed it at #12 in its May 2007 list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever, and Noel Gallagher reckons he played it 50 times at a party once.

Wilco: “Heavy Metal Drummer” (2002)

Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy remembered his innocent teen days when he’d go to see local bands play metal covers, and also serves as a homage to KISS.

Todd Rundgren: “Bang the Drum All Day” (1983)

Who doesn’t want to spend an entire day walloping drums and percussion instead of working or studying? Especially when it popped into Rundgren’s head as he slept.

His record company thought it had no commercial appeal. But it became his most successful track yet.

He told American college radio station WGRE its success was due to that line about abusing one’s boss – “I pound on that drum like it was the boss’s head”.

He said: “It’s a party anthem, and at least once a year I get a request to use it in a commercial or a movie. 

Play It Live

“I hate playing it live, though. I feel ape-like. My hands get tired, my ears get tired. But the audience loves it.”

Rundgren also recorded a Hawaiian style version called “Bang The Ukulele Daily”, on which he was accompanied only by a ukulele.

Florence + The Machine “Drumming Song” (2009)

Florence Welch used the idea of hip hop beats to convey the anxious/ exhilarated feeling of being in the presence of someone who turns you on.

“This is about when there’s that electricity between you and a boy, and it’s completely unspoken,” she explained.

“When they’re standing in front of you and you can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t do anything properly. 

“I’m really geeky – if I like someone, I just become incapable.”

OutKast: “Land Of A Million Drums” (2002)

“Land Of A Million Drums” was from the Scooby-Doo movie soundtrack is on the surface about a playful adventure to find missing “Scooby snacks” and solve a mystery of the 13 ghosts of Scooby-Doo.

But the title alluded to how hectic life was, and how you had to struggle to keep up in the world.

Sandy Nelson: “Let There Be Drums” (1961)

An early example of surf-rock, the “Let There Be Drums” instrumental was a guitar/drum duet by American drummer Sandy Nelson and guitarist Richard Podolor.

It had its biggest success in Australia where it was #1. It went to #3 in the UK and #7 in the US.

The b-side was titled “Quite a Beat” and the follow up was “Drums Are My Beat”.

Four Novelties About Ringo Starr

The madness of Beatlemania in the mid-60s inspired some novelty cash-ins on Ringo Starr.

Jazz and blues legend Ella Fitzgerald wrote and sang “Ringo Beat” (1965) about how her 16-year old son had been inspired to play drums like the Beatle. 

The R&B and jazz stations who played her stuff hated it as “awful” (read: it was rock and roll).

Future UK music journalist Penny Valentine’s “I Want to Kiss Ringo Goodbye” (1965) lamented she wanted to give the drummer a last peck before he married his childhood girlfriend Maureen Cox.

President Election

The Young World Singers’ “Ringo for President”, released during the 1964 US presidential election insisted that the Liverpool-born skinsman was an ideal candidate  “because he didn’t talk about war”.

Putting aside this nonsense that Ringo couldn’t stand for the top job anyway because he wasn’t born in the USA, it limped to #132 on the charts.

Rolf Harris couldn’t resist doing a version.

Love You

“Ringo, I Love You” (1964) was the debut solo single by Cherilyn La Piere, better known today as Cher.

It was released under the name Bonnie Jo Mason, because her producer Phil Spector wanted very American names for his artists.

It failed to be a national hit because Cher’s deep voice was seen by some radio programmers that the singer was a man, and, no siree, a man declaring his love for another man was unacceptable!

Read about the original “Little Drummer Boy” here.