When you listen to a song, what part of it do you pay special attention to? Some music enthusiasts are captivated by the guitar licks or keyboard strokes, while others prefer to break down the singers’ vocals.
If you appreciate a good sense of rhythm or are a percussionist yourself, you may always keep an ear out for the drum solos in the music you love.
Drum solos are mesmerizing. They require a high degree of talent and musical expression to pull off adequately. They allow drummers to show off their skills and add unique elements of personality to any performance.
Here, we’ve created a guide showcasing seven songs with the best drum solos of all time. These songs span different genres, so you will likely find a good mix of familiar and obscure. After reading this list, you will probably find some new drum solos to love and a newfound appreciation of ones you’ve heard in the past.
1. “Moby Dick” – Led Zeppelin (John Bonham)
John Bonham, also known as Bonzo, was most well known for his role as the drummer in Led Zeppelin. The drum solo in the song “Moby Dick” was some of his most impressive work.
Released on the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, “Moby Dick” was an instrumental-only piece, so the drum solo manages to come alive.
Bonzo never seemed to play this drum solo the same way twice, and music lovers everywhere appreciate this. Every time he performed, he kept things interesting. In the single version of the song, the drum solo lasted for around two minutes. In the album version, the solo lasted for nearly four minutes. However, these versions are nothing compared to the live ones. In some live performances, Bonzo would take the stage on his own for as long as twenty minutes.
In “Moby Dick,” the famous drummer switched from snare to tom-tom triplets and even incorporated conga drums using his hands. This versatile playing style created a unique sound for Led Zeppelin fans.
If you’re looking for a way to experience the magic of Bonzo’s stage presence from a different perspective, you can look up his son Jason Bonham performing this song. Jason took the stage at Guitar Center’s 21st Annual Drum-Off in 2009 as a tribute to his father’s famous performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. During this tribute, he manages to match his predecessor’s energy and stage presence.
2. “Girls on Film” – Duran Duran (Roger Taylor)
Roger Taylor is the famous drummer of the English new wave band, Duran Duran. He is a legend in the industry, and his work in “Girls on Film” is a testimony to his greatness.
The drum solo kicks in just shy of the two-minute mark. For about half a minute, Taylor gets to showcase his talent. He rings out the various cymbals, toms, and snare regularly during this part of the song. Eventually, the music reintroduces the other band members with a definitive cymbal crash by Taylor.
Many Duran Duran fans believe that this drum solo is what carries “Girls on Film.” Even though the solo takes up a small section of the song, it ties the piece together. In just under half a minute, Taylor can show how adept he is at drumming.
3. “Soul Sacrifice – Santana (Michael Shrieve)
As one of the drummers of the 1960s American rock band Santana, Michael Shrieve really managed to establish himself on stage.
Shrieve has several notable performances of “Soul Sacrifice,” including those at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 and Tanglewood in 1970.
During these performances, he would captivate the audience with his intense playing style. The song starts on the congas rather than the drum set.
Shrieve initially holds back and lets the percussion lineup establish the groove and tempo. With little warning for the audience, he begins to roll on the snare with electrifying energy.
The dexterity he displays during this solo is admirable. The way he effortlessly rolls back and forth between his two toms and snare drum is something that all drummers aspire to.
4. “Por Ti Volare” – Will Ferrell and John C Reilly (John C Reilly)
We wanted to make this list as diverse as possible to expose you to drum solos in different genres. This one certainly makes the cut, as it may be initially unexpected.
Actors Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly perform the song “Por Ti Volare” at the end of the movie Step Brothers. Will Ferrell takes the vocals, while John C. Reilly surprises everyone in the audience (in the movie and real-life) as the drummer.
Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli originally performed this song. The original song had a much softer sound, but Reilly gives it new life with his upbeat performance.
Reilly’s ability to transform the original operatic, pop tune into something more heavy-metal was very impressive. He has been playing the drums since childhood, so his skill shines through in this movie. He is the perfect example of how improvisation can elevate a song from one genre to another.
How You Can Improve Your Drum Solos
Living up to the performances of any of the great musical artists we’re covering here is attainable, but it will require a lot of practice and commitment. If you want to break boundaries as John C. Reilly did, you’ll have to find your sense of rhythm and experiment with different sounds and beats.
Plus, having a well-built, complete drum kit will help you make the most of your time in the practice room and on stage. You should invest in the best cymbals, snare, toms, tambourines, cowbells, and any extensions you deem fit. As you develop your skills, feel free to build and add to your drum kit. This will help you hone your talent and discover your unique sound.
5. “Say Goodbye” – Dave Matthews Band (Carter Beauford)
Carter Beauford offers a unique sound to Dave Matthews Band. In the song “Say Goodbye,” he exhibits an excellent dynamic range and effective use of accents. These elements give the song a very distinct tribal-style vibe, which is very different from Dave Matthews Band’s typical style. Beauford’s use of splash cymbals also helps give the band a fresh sound.
It’s worth giving Beauford’s live performances a watch. You’ll always find him smiling as he plays, and his positive energy is contagious.
Plus, Beauford uses very unique open-handed and ambidextrous drumming styles. For example, he easily creates syncopated rhythms between the hi-hats and the ride cymbal with his left hand, which leaves his right hand open to hit the cowbells and toms. If you are interested in learning about different drumming styles, Beauford is the man to watch.
6. “Drums” – Grateful Dead (Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart)
“Drums” wasn’t a song in the traditional way we think about one. Instead, it began as a quick two-and-a-half minute transition into the song “Not Fade Away.” In the ’80s and ’90s, this song became a more extended demonstration of the band’s percussive skills.
Even though this drum “solo” has two performers, they both rocked it out on the drums to create unforgettable performances.
Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead performed this live several times. Their most well-known performance happened in 1989 at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Wisconsin.
This song captured the essence of drumming, as it was performed abstractly. The two drummers didn’t plan much ahead of time; instead, they used the “call-and-response” method to compose the song on the spot. Even though they took turns taking the lead and transitioning back to the supporting beat, they never stepped on each other’s toes.
7. “Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin (John Bonham)
We couldn’t finish this list without including another Led Zeppelin song. Bonzo was too iconic, and his work in “Rock and Roll” is particularly evident of his legendary status.
The song starts right away with Bonzo on the drums by himself. He’s heavy on the cymbals here, which gives the solo a very nuanced opening. Eventually, the other members join him to deliver the iconic song we still know and love today.
If you enjoyed the drum solo at the beginning, you’ll love the way this song comes to a close. The piece comes full circle as Bonzo once again gets his time to shine.
Even though “Rock and Roll” isn’t Led Zeppelin’s longest song, it’s something special. The song and drums end abruptly, which always leaves us looking for the replay button. This short and sweet song makes us appreciate every second of the drum solo.
And there you have it! This is our subjective list of the seven most excellent drum solos in history. They all have taught lessons, showcased unique drumming elements, or given amateur drummers something to aspire to.
Drumming is an intricate art, but it is nowhere near a precise one. There is a lot of room for interpretation and experimentation. Use these seven legendary songs as inspiration to begin or continue your path to learning the drums!