Don’t you just love a track that lets the drummer show off? There’s nothing quite like it when the music swells until the percussion delivers a euphoric moment. This list is going to give you the 21 best drum songs of all time.
1. In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Let’s get this one out of the way immediately. Look, there is no one on earth that doesn’t rock out when the acoustic beat drops. The drumming in this tune is so legendary even Iron Mike Tyson paused for a moment of zen before knocking out Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover. Of course, the song has been a staple of Phil Collins’ live show for decades. Check him out in the video above from his 1997 Live And Loose In Paris tour.
2. Come Together – The Beatles
Some people are not huge fans of The Beatles, but there are a handful of tunes that do land for them. Come Together do, and it’s primarily because of the percussion. The echo effect and the reverb in general are excellent. A total vibe on their own. So, while some people don’t think Ringo Starr is an overzealous player, he does produce the foundation for the tapestry that is this classic hit from one of the all-time great pop groups in history. Have a look at this modern animated video.
3. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
You might not think of this tune at first when it comes to drum songs because of how Steve Perry and Neal Shon deliver hook after hook of vocals and guitar, respectively, but you can’t deny how solid Steve Smith’s drumming is. His syncopated grooves are underrated backbeats in our opinion, and he provides accents for every impactful note from the harmony and melody players along the way. Plus, we rewatched The Sopranos recently, and you know…
4. We Will Rock You – Queen
You can not go to a stadium or ride a bus as a kid without crossing paths with this beat at some point. Two stomps and one clap. Everyone knows it, and everyone can do it, which was the point when the band wrote the song to give their massive audiences something to do at the concert and participate with the band. Is it flashy? No. Does it make every person in the room feel like the drummer in the band? Yes! That’s why it made the list.
5. Achilles Last Stand – Led Zeppelin
Right, this could have been about thirty different songs. John Bonham is a legend. Which one would you pick? So we made the choice to offer up a hidden gem that you might not have set your ears to in a while. Always love when the 5/4 riff kicks in with his machinegun snare work. Check them out in 1977 playing live in Los Angeles via the video above. Bonzo absolutely shreds during the fills—he gets nasty.
6. Tom Sawyer – Rush
We’ve always had a special place in our hearts for this song. Whether it is the namesake character’s panache or the absolute clinic the band puts on throughout the track doesn’t really matter—it’s a jam! Neil Peart shows up like a metronome at the beginning of the song, holding it down through the verses and guitar solo. Then he gets to rip fills through the end of the bridge before the lyrics come back in. The video above is their studio rendition from 1981’s Moving Pictures.
7. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
If you can’t air drum Dave Grohl’s work through the entirety of this song yet: get to work. From the moment he enters, he dominates what is the ultimate grunge anthem and is now an undisputed rock and roll classic. Obviously, he is a legend of rock who went on to great success fronting the Foo Fighters, but it’s important not to forget that he crushes drums.
8. No One Knows – Queens of the Stone Age
For a glorious moment in time, Dave Grohl sat back down behind the drums to back up Josh Homme’s songwriting. The pairing did not disappoint. The drum sound and playing are so tight it sounds like the snare could pop at any moment. This track rocks, and the steering wheel of people’s cars from those days were regularly punished by mimicking Grohl’s drumming. Later on, Jon Theodore would join the band on the drumkit, which brings us to our next band…
9. Wax Simulacra – The Mars Volta
Thomas Pridgen sat down at the drums after Jon Theodore parted ways with Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. As things would turn out, the band won a Grammy for this song—so maybe it was for the best? Pridgen’s playing is incredible, undeniably. He spares no moment from an utter onslaught of appendages, flailing arm and leg at skins and alloy. The flame that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast, they say. He only made one more record with the band.
10. Times Like These – Foo Fighters
Taylor Hawkins is perhaps best known for playing with the Foo Fighters, but he also helped establish the rhythm section and grooves for Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. He slams the drums. The reason we picked Times Like These is, again, because it is both popular and quirky for the ears. The main riff of the song is in 7/4 time. Try to count the feel starting at the downbeat.
11. Hot for Teacher – Van Halen
We do not want to get into an argument about Dave or Sam, alright? Let’s just get into how weird and awesome Alex Van Halen’s kick drum playing is at the opening of this song. We probably listened to this track a thousand times, and we still don’t really know what’s happening in there. We’re fine with it being a mystery to us until the end of time. We do think of all the education that we’ve missed doing the wrong homework. The video above is the official release by the band.
12. Laid to Rest – Lamb of God
Let’s get heavy for a minute. From the opening riff, Chris Adler is smashing the drums like a well-oiled machine while still swinging in the groove. Love everything about his workman attitude behind the kit while still keeping our heads bobbing. It was definitely a sad day when he left the band, but such is the way of things. You can still soak in his double-kick drum mayhem in their old videos though.
13. Schism – Tool
This is another one of those bands with a slew of songs that could make this list. The reason Schism was selected is because of how catchy and musically interesting it is. It is a challenge for every instrument at some point in the track. Danny Carey holds down a 6/4 beat for the majority of the song while the guitars create landscapes of interchanging staccato and washed-out passages. Really beautiful work on this one. Enjoy Adam Jones’ creative talent in videography as well.
14. Tonight, Tonight – The Smashing Pumpkins
Jimmy Chamberlain of The Smashing Pumpkins is perhaps an underrecognized talent. He has played with Billy Corgan on and off for over thirty years now, so it is hard to delineate the band’s success from his incredible chops and ability to respect the song. Watch him make Tonight, Tonight look like a walk in the park.
15. Roxanne – The Police
Is there anything left to say about how unique and impressive Stewart Copeland’s drumming is? Maybe, but we’re not going to attempt to do that here. Instead, take a look at the video. Notice he’s singing backup too? Yeah, a beast. Again, could have picked a slew of songs by The Police but opted for Roxanne because of how popular the song is while illustrating his prowess on the drums equally. Apparently, the band produced a video way back when for the track too, so that’s pretty cool.
16. One – Metallica
Lars Ulrich is a legend, perhaps at times for the wrong thing—who are we to say, really? One thing he was right about was laying down snappy backbeats all over …And Justice for All. A heralded record that notably lost the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental Grammy to Jethro Tull in 1989. Though One secured their first Grammy win the next year for Best Metal Performance. Also, the video was pretty dope back in the day because it was controversial.
17. Toxicity – System of a Down
This song is wonderful to play with a drummer that can manage the fills through the chorus section. The band really hit their stride with this album, solidifying the formula they had begun with their first release. Toxicity goes above and beyond its predecessor in terms of production and songcraft. System Of A Down was firing on all cylinders here, and John Dolmayan added serious horsepower from the drum throne. The track is a banger from the beginning to the end. Enjoy!
18. Bleed – Meshuggah
Here is one you might not have heard before but is probably critical to know. If you are not familiar with Meshuggah, Bleed will expand your vocabulary about Tomas Haake’s skills. It is over four minutes of pummeling and unrelenting heavy metal that is both brutal and dizzying harmonically as well as rhythmically before the bridge breaks things down. That short interlude is a short reprieve and their live performance is more of the same.
The music video is a dark and surreal combination of imagery from a really intense metal band, so consider that before making the endeavor if you have visual sensitivities (including strobe lights).
19. Take Five – Dave Brubeck
Let’s calm down with Dave Brubeck’s relaxing swing beats on Take Five. This jazz standard is a classic because it grooves while in odd meter. Count it off, the beat is in 5/4 time, hence the name. He gets a nice solo in the middle of this rendition, which you’ve probably heard a million times. But listen better this time and hone in on his drumming. The piano player even became the rhythm section for a while.
20. Money – Pink Floyd
Let’s stay with the odd meter for another song. Money by Pink Floyd has a main riff that is in 7/4 before working its way back to a traditional 4/4 blues rock feel for the bridge. Nick Mason might not make many virtuoso drummer lists, but he has had an amazingly creative career as a drummer and musician since the 1960s. We were not aware they had released an official video for this track at some point!
21. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
Yeah, this list has a bonus Bonzo track because he’s incredible. His drumming is so powerful and tastefully executed through the first half of the song, while the band expands into time and space. Later, during the fills, the phase effects can really be heard cleanly. This live video captures Led Zeppelin late in their tenure before John Bonham passed away at the age of 40. While that was an unfortunate loss, ultimately ending the band, we still have the music that he left behind with us.
What do you think are the best drum songs? There are probably a billion different ways to compile this list, not only different drummers but styles of music, eras, etc. Really, any categorization you can dream up could generate a whole new collection of favorites. Then we can start combining them to see what sort of interesting mashups we can explore. So where should we go next?
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.