The Who’s iconic drummer Keith Moon is often remembered as a character of rock and roll rather than a leading light of instrumentation. His offstage antics very often overshadowed his onstage performances, some were even drastically affected by them.
The drummer may well have earned his moniker of ‘Moon the Loon’ with some incredible acts of debauchery as well as some of rock finest legends, but we shouldn’t forget he was a monster behind the drum kit. The duality of his career guarantees Moon remains an iconic figure of music to this day.
Largely considered in the annals of rock percussion greatness alongside such behemoths as Ginger Baker, John Bonham, and more, Moon has always had his detractors. The Who drummer has always had a way of ruffling feathers. Whether offstage, where his notorious antics would see him drive cars into swimming pools put explosives in drum kits, and even pass out in the middle of shows, or behind the kit where he refused to play the traditional way. Never turning from the job at hand.
The issue for a corner of the percussion world is that Keith Moon, despite being one of the best that ever lived, is a little bit, well, how do we put this? Sloppy. During much of the band’s fiery beginnings on the stage, it was put down to excitement, as he got older, his apparent lack of timing was labelled under the effects of drink and drugs. In reality, it was just an idiosyncratic style all of Moon’s own.
On The Who’s records and without an audience, where the band are free to tighten up and manipulate Moon’s drumming as they please, he is even more textured and speckled with artistic flourishes. The drummer is intent on implementing his own unique style to every piece he performed. He brought the anarchy he felt and chased away from the band to the very centre of his playing whenever he got behind the drums.
The isolated track below from the band’s iconic number, ‘Pinball Wizard’ sees Moon in mercurial form. The track is taken from their 1969 rock opera Tommy and the lyrics offer a glimpse of their main protagonist Tommy Walker in the middle of one of his legendary gaming sessions. It’ds one of the band’s most beloved songs.
While Pete Townshend once called the track, “the most clumsy piece of writing [he’d] ever done” it remains one of the most widely loved Who songs ever. A focal point of the opera much of the song’s power comes from Moon’s outrageous fills.
Much like Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Moon’s timing and cadence is, if not always to the millisecond perfect, is filled with passion and power.
The beats and fills he chooses for a song of such magnitude is not only astounding but uniquely Moon. So when Keith Moon once described himself as “the world’s best Keith-Moon-type drummer” he was right on the money. It is this ability to live completely in the moment if only for a short while, that transcends Keith Moon into the realm of genius.
Listen below to Keith Moon’s isolated drum track on The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’.