John Bonham's ferocious isolated drums on Led Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker'
(Credit: Dina Regine)

From Keith Moon to John Bonham: 7 isolated drum tracks from rock’s greatest drummers

The art of drumming is one that is an often under-appreciated part of music despite it being the lynchpin that sticks all the other sections together and truly is the glue that it would all fall crashing down without. Drummers tend to not quite receive the acclaim that they deserve but here we are changing that and visiting the likes of The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham through their isolated drum tracks where their greatness is unavoidable.

These are seven of the most influential drummers who have played a part in shaping the history of rock music and are all among the drumming gods. All of these figures are deserved of their place on the Mount Rushmore of drumming and any drumming aficionado will be in absolute awe of. The percussion is the most important part of any song but is often the section which takes the least accolade but, on these isolated versions, there is no place for the drums to hide and they can finally achieve the glory that they have been shying away from for too long.

In Mick Bonham’s book on his late brother, titled John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin, even Robert Plant conceded that “Bonzo was the main part of the band. He was the man who made whatever Page and I wrote basically work, by what he held back, by what he didn’t do to the tempos. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who could replace him.”

That said Bonham was more than humble about his god-given talent when in conversation with his brother who tried to uncover how he became one of the greatest drummers of all time. “I don’t consider that I’m particularly influenced by anyone or anything,” the drummer said before adding that all he tries to do behind the drum kit is create something “bright and powerful” which can be said for every seven people who have made it onto this impressive list.

In just three words, Bonham explained what separates the best drummers from the rest and it is those kinds of bright and powerful drummers that are being celebrated in this piece. After these titans of the instrument, it was no longer acceptable to keep time and blend in, a drummer was a star attraction.

Let’s dive in!

7 of the greatest isolated drum tracks:

Keith Moon’s isolated drums on The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’

On this isolated drum track for The Who’s song ‘Baba O’Riley’, Moon really shows his chops. ‘Baba O’Riley’ is one of the band’s most iconic songs and offered the chance for both bassist John Entwistle and Pete Townshend to go crazy instrumentally while Roger Daltrey did his own gymnastics with his vocal. Yet none of this compares to the lunacy of Keith Moon letting rip.

Released in 1971 and a combination of a few bits of songs Townshend hanging around, including ‘Teenage Wasteland’. The track was written for the Lifehouse project, was originally 30 minutes long, and has since become a vital piece of the band’s live show. The guitarist wrote the song in response to Isle of Wight Festival and “the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where audience members were strung out on acid and 20 people had brain damage. The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration: ‘Teenage Wasteland, yes! We’re all wasted!’”

If there was a singular poster boy for the wasteland of Britain at the time then it had to be the 25-year-old Keith Moon. Here, he shows that they may be wasted but Moon was in his energetic prime, unleashing a unique fill that simply nobody could muster. Below, it is given some extra space with the isolated drum track.

Ringo Starr isolated drums on The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’

For much of his long and illustrious career, Ringo Starr has been struck with the ludicrous idea that, despite being part of one of the greatest bands of all time in The Beatles, he’s not actually a very good drummer. It’s a theory that was started with the rumour that upon being asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, his bandmate and friend, John Lennon, replied: “Ringo wasn’t the best drummer in the world… Let’s face it, he wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles”.

This comment turned out to not even be true, which is unsurprising considering John would carry on working with Ringo post-Beatles which he wouldn’t have done if he didn’t rate him. Starr is one of the most iconic drummers of all time and his work is often unfairly scorned upon because of this fake quote. This isolated drums on The Beatles song ‘A Day In The Life’ should convince anyone who was still in doubt about his immense talent.

On this isolated drum track, we can hear some of Ringo’s best work as he expertly navigates the spiralling music around him to keep the Good Ship Beatle on course. Taking the band from their pop beginnings to their new experimental waters with the comforting backbone such a trip desires.

Lars Ulrich’s isolated drums on Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’

Lars Ulrich is arguably the finest metal drummer of all time, the way he plays is the definition of technical and he has helped take the genre to dizzy new heights with his powerful, thundering style. There’s something about Ulrich’s thudding power on ‘Enter Sandman’ when you hear it isolated that just feels awe-inspiring and like a shot of adrenaline straight into your veins.

The opening track of the band’s self-titled album from 1991 has gone on to typify the group’s output. Powerful and unrelenting, Metallica takes no prisoners on the song and their fame grew dramatically after the song landed, providing a fork in the road for the group who had only previously enjoyed localised fame and fortune.

‘Enter Sandman’ is really underpinned by Ulrich’s epic drumming. The spare use of his kit, only using it to punctuate the song’s sentiment, show what a clever percussionist Ulrich is and will give you the energy to get through the rest of your day.

Dave Grohl’s isolated drums on Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Dave Grohl isn’t just the nicest guy in rock ‘n’ roll but he’s also a mighty drummer and it was a tough choice just to pick one isolated drum track from the great man but it’s hard to not go back to where it all started. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, by Nirvana, is one of the world’s most iconic songs ever written and helped sent their career into the stratosphere following the addition of Grohl in the group.

Released in 1991 on September 10th, it was taken from Nevermind but the iconic song initially didn’t chart and only really had an impact on the band’s fanbase at the time. But soon enough ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ began finding airtime on local radio stations and across the country the song began to pick up notoriety. When it hit MTV everything changed.

Often overshadowed by the legacy Cobain left behind, Grohl’s contribution to the band should not be forgotten. When you get down to it and listen to the precise and powerful percussion with the help of the isolated drum track below, it is easy to see how the song is given extra weight by Grohl.

John Bonham’s isolated drums on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’

‘Whole Lotta Love’ is undeniable Led Zeppelin’s stand-out song as we find the intelligence that propels Bonham’s engine. The song is equal parts brilliant as Robert Plant’s vocal soars, Page’s guitar rears its head like a snorting stallion and John Paul Jones provides a chugging rhythm. All while Bonham adds his unique power to the song.

With his juggernaut performances and unstoppable rock attitude, Bonham quickly became the darling of the rock world. He even had Hendrix positively purring as the legendary guitarist once told Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant: “That drummer of yours has a right foot like a pair of castanets.” It was a style all of Bonham’s own too.

Bonham will easily go down in the rock ‘n’ roll history books as easily one of the best. The world may never have got to witness the sheer power and precision of his percussion, a perfect example of which is in this isolated version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’.

Neil Peart’s isolated drums on Rush’s ‘YYZ’

The late Neil Peart was treasured for not only being an incredible drummer but also for being the driving creative force behind much of Rush’s glory years, with him taking up the duty for also writing the majority of the band’s lyrics which resonated greatly with their adoring fan base. However, with ‘YYZ’ being an instrumental track, it allows Peart to be let off his leash and his insane drumming performance sounds even better isolated.

The title ‘YYZ’ is actually the IATA airport identification code of Toronto Pearson International Airport, near Rush’s hometown. A VHF omnidirectional range system at the airport broadcasts the YYZ identifier code in Morse code which Alex Lifeson introduced to his bandmates and Peart later said in interviews later that the rhythm stuck with them. The piece’s introduction is played in a time signature of 10
8, repeatedly stating ‘Y-Y-Z’ in Morse Code using different musical arrangements.

In a 2012 interview in which Peart goes through the seminal album track-by-track and said this on the monster ‘YYZ’, he stated: “Talk about an organic release, that came when we were flying in one time and hearing from the cockpit this morse code rhythm and I said wouldn’t that be a neat introduction.”

The instrumental number really is a thing of cinematic beauty that and manages to evoke these intense emotions without having to use any words, in this isolated drum version, these emotions only come closer to the surface.

Ginger Baker’s isolated drums on Cream’s ‘White Room’

Ginger Baker will be forever remembered as one of the most twistedly talented percussionists of all time. A serial agitator and a virtuoso player. Put in simple terms, he was a drumming genius with a short fuse. Baker along with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, Cream, more so than most, really represented an elevated form of rock and roll. These weren’t the mop-topped British invasion types, they were serious, methodical, and mercurial musicians. The band were built out of an incredible array of technical talent that all seemed determined to push each other up another level when they stepped in a room together, which is a challenge they rose to.

Baker delivers an unstoppable performance with the sticks. Not only did he use his impeccable timing and frenetic speed to motor the song along, but he also used his jazz beginnings to deliver a notable moment in percussion’s modern rock history as he added his off-beat timing to the intro of the track. Hearing Baker’s isolated drums on Cream’s ‘White Room’ confirms his status as a drumming legend.

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