The late, great John Bonham is in the conversation as being the greatest drummer of all time—and for a good reason. If, and that is a big if, anybody still needed convincing of this fact, then the isolated drum track of ‘Heartbreaker’ by Led Zeppelin, which focuses on Bonham’s skills, is on hand to prove you wrong.
If you ask any drummer in the world to name a handful of sticksmen who they most admire as drumming gods, then the imperious talent of Bonham is a dead cert to feature on any decent list. That’s not to say he was technically the most gifted drummer around, but he certainly embodied the very spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and his performance on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker’ is a testament to that.
Bonham’s unique, furious and commanding technique was the pounding heartbeat behind Led Zeppelin. Following the drummer’s death, the band were never quite the same live act and were unable to recapture that same magic the group concocted every time they stepped foot on stage when Bonham was backing them up. To remove any drummer from a band is difficult, they’re the unofficial backbone of the group, but for Zeppelin, it was a critical moment.
Bonham was the powerhouse juggernaut of the band, driving it forward and, with his pursuit of percussive perfection, he provided resolute foundations for Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones to add their gallons of flair and capture the hearts and minds of a generation, and generations to come.
1969 effort ‘Heartbreaker’, which was taken from Led Zeppelin II, quickly became a favourite amongst fans which, it must be said, is down in no small part to Bonham’s performance on the track. While Jimmy Page takes the plaudits on this song with his insane guitar solo—which is widely viewed as one of the finest guitar performances of all time—Bonham is back there propping up the band.
Legendary Rick Rubin described it as being: “One of the greatest riffs in rock. It [“Heartbreaker”] starts, and it’s like they don’t really know where the “one” is. Magical in its awkwardness.”
Page’s show-stealing performance does take the limelight from Bonham’s magnificence somewhat, which makes the isolated version even more superb, offering a closer look at a master at work while seemingly slipping under the radar. Detailing a somewhat underappreciated and vital role on the track, the drummer somehow keeps everything together.
Listen to it, below.