The drum solo is where the dance of drama and timing take place. When all the other players give them space, the drummer can step into a place to express a truly novel form of musical expression through percussion.
But not all drum solos are created equal. That’s why we’ve chosen some of the most memorable drum solos we can remember so you can choose. Did your favorite make the list? Comment below!
1. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
This isn’t the flashiest or most complicated drum solo, but the sound of Collin’s drums were a defining force of the character of the 1980’s.
The drum sound in Collin’s “In the Air Tonight” helped shape the iconic synth drum sound that would form the identity of the 1980’s sound for the rest of the decade.
2. “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin
It’s hard to understand how John Bonham could keep up with the rest of Led Zeppelin at the power he did. His rhythms were played with an energy almost unmatched by anyone then and since.
His solo on “Moby Dick” allowed Bonham to, perhaps more than any other track, explore a broad landscape of percussive textures that have been studied for decades since.
3. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
Prog-rock greats Rush have astounded and inspired musicians from all backgrounds, but it’s Neil Peart’s drumming that was able to handle the depth of their compositions with precision and power.
The drum solo for “Tom Sawyer” is less a solo and more a freeform accompaniment for the guitar solo in the middle of the song. Peart’s ability to mix technical prowess with taste has been nearly un-matched in the realm of popular music.
4. “Wipe Out” by The Ventures
Mel Taylor was a drummer who helped define the surf rock sound of the 1960’s. The solo in “Wipe Out” helped define what a drum solo in surf rock should sound like.
Quick playing with small, fast flourishes made this solo incredibly danceable. Also, it’s one that almost every single person on Earth has heard at once point or another—when someone thinks “drum solo,” they most assuredly are thinking of Mel Taylor.
5. “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen
Undeniably one of the most memorable drum solos of all time was for this tune. Alex Van Halen is perhaps one of the only drummers who could keep up with the superlative playing of his brother Eddie for one of the greatest rock outfits of all time.
The drum solo for “Hot for Teacher” opens the song with a locomotive drone that many liken to a car engine. It’s that quality—where the drums don’t even sound like drums at all—that make this solo truly memorable.
6. “L’Via L’Viaquez” by The Mars Volta
Jon Theodore, the drummer for post-rock wizards The Mars Volta, taught us what it meant to drum with terrifying power. Keeping up with compositions that often sounded like nightmares can’t be any easy feat, but Theodore felt seemingly at home with this sound.
The solo for “L’Via L’Viaquez” rolls and tumbles right alongside Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s searing guitar solo, rife with flange that gives the drums a psychedelic, dreamy sound while also at once pulsing with pure, raw power.
7. “Fire” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Another drum solo intro, Mitch Mitchell brought a fiery energy to the Hendrix Experience sound. “Fire” is perhaps the best example of that.
The groovy riffing offered by Hendrix is given immediacy and drama with Mitchell behind the skins. Then, throughout the song Mitchell tosses some of the most tasteful fills throughout, almost solos in and of themselves.
8. “Aja” by Steely Dan
Steve Gadd has long been known as one of the greatest drummers of all time. Along with his extensive jazz career, he was a key member of the jazz rock outfit Steely Dan, for whom he recorded “Aja.”
The drum solo on Aja is considered one of the most nuanced and tasteful in all of popular music. Quick and decisive licks with expert work on the hi-hat and toms create textures that will take a couple of listens to decipher.
9. “Painkiller” by Judas Priest
Double bass factors in a major way with this drum solo from Scott Travis, who replaced former drummer Dave Holland for the album of the same name in 1990.
The song opens with this double-bass assault that sets the tone for insanely acrobatic guitar riffs with impossible speed and intensity. For anyone who practices the double-bass metal sound, this solo sets the example.
10. “Sing Sing Sing (A Song)” by Gene Krupa
A live solo on a recording of Benny Goodman’s 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, it was one of the first instances where a jazz drummer took center stage over the headliner.
In the recording, you can sense the power of Krupa’s playing because of the audience’s response—it’s pretty natural to assume that most were there to see Benny Goodman, so to hear a group of non-drummers losing their minds for Krupa’s tasteful delivery is testament enough to the enduring qualities of this solo.