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Music

The influence of Keith Moon on Queen's Roger Taylor

Queen were a stunning band. They were two quarters Led Zeppelin, one quarter of Nile Rodgers and a quarter Judy Garland. Freddie Mercury brought wit to the band, John Deacon brought the funk to the orbit, Briany May had technical prowess and Roger Taylor was the muscle of the outfit. Seated at the back of the stage, Taylor brought raw grit to the band, ploughing through the cymbals like an assassin working through the skull of its latest victim.

Those barrelling, brusque drums were heard on ‘Innuendo’, Taylor’s great tribute to Led Zeppelin. Taylor’s drums were often compared to John Bonham’s- the backbeat on ‘Loser In The End’ sounds very similar to the Zeppelin drummer – but there was more to his back catalogue than Zeppelin backbeats. He later admitted that The Who’s Keith Moon was instrumental for his musical education.

“Keith Moon was another big influence on me,” the drummer revealed.”He was just phenomenal at what he did, and he was another drummer with a great sound. Those tympanic toms were quite revolutionary and his phrasing was just so natural, untutored and brilliant.”

It’s interesting that he drew such a parallel to Keith Moon, because it’s hard to see what drum performances channel his inner “Moon.” The closest I can come up with is the scattered drums he plays on ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ , a tune he sang entirely by himself.

If anything, Taylor was a stronger singer than a drummer, and he would have been promoted to the front of the band, like Phil Collins was with Genesis if it wasn’t for the fact that Freddie Mercury was such a consummate talent at drawing crowds in, and entertaining people.

But like Moon, Taylor refused to be pigeonholed by the tags the public had in store for him, by virtue of being a percussionist. “I think drummers suffer from a misrepresentation of the image too often,” he said. “Traditionally, drummers have been regarded as the stupid ones in rock bands. It’s a bit unfair, and because of it, being a drummer is a thankless task sometimes. There’s responsibility involved in what I do, but it’s nice to broaden one’s horizon. These days it’s funny, because I think of myself much more as a musician than a drummer.”

Moon also regarded himself more as a musician than a drummer, which emanated in the solo album, Two Sides of The Moon. Keen to spread himself as a composer, he also sang some of the more unlikely vocals on Quadrophenia, although he wasn’t as accomplished a vocalist as Taylor was. Never the less, Taylor adored The Who, as did fellow heavy-metal disciple Brian May.

“Keith Moon was great,” Taylor conceded.”In the early days, he was absolutely brilliant. He had a total unique style; he didn’t owe anyone anything. The first time I saw him perform was with The Who in ’64 or ’65. It was just great. The Who was an outrageous band – real energy, real art. I loved them. I mean, to actually destroy your instruments – it was the most unheard-of thing in music.”

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In the same interview, Taylor makes it clear that he considered John Bonham to be the greatest drummer in “hard rock”, but the Queen member clearly saw a kindred spirit in Moon, particularly the way he thrashed around the kit.

Some of Queen’s early material was similar to thrash metal, not least ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ which features a helium-style falsetto vocal from Taylor, screaming from the back of the stage. He’s also gunning through the rhythms, invoking the carnage of Phil Collins on a progressive fusion record with Brand X.

It’s hard to discern the impact Moon made on Taylor, but maybe that’s the point. He homaged the drummer by channelling him, not by copying him. Zak Starkey could never be anything more than a Moon fill in, precisely because his style of drumming was so clearly modelled on Moon’s.

In a weird way, the best way to imitate a truly original artist is to be truly original in your own way, and Moon made it clear to Taylor that he could be anarchic and crazy if it suited him. If anything, the anarchy and frenzy was heard in Taylor’s “dog-whistle” voice, completely confident in its abilities to create a new form of backing vocal.

As we said at the beginning of this piece, Queen were an incredibly gifted and unique band, clearly able to flit between beauty and muscle, often in the same track. The live shows were epic in their defiance, and they sounded brilliant during the 1980s, a decade Moon never lived to see. The band got to take over from where The Who left off, leaving them in the happy chance to create an entirely new style of live craft and sound performance. And it rocked.

Stream Keith Moon and Roger Taylor drumming in this video.