Drum solos are where the dance of drama and timing take place. When given the space, the drummer can express a truly novel form of musical expression through percussion.
However, not all drum solos are created equal. That’s why we’ve chosen what we believe to be the most memorable drum solos. 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. Released in 1981, it would go on to influence the rest of the decade.
2. “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin
It’s hard to understand how Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham could keep up hs frenetic pace. His rhythms were played with an energy almost unmatched by anyone then or since.
Bonham’s solo on “Moby Dick”, perhaps more than any other track, allowed him to explore a broad landscape of percussive textures. These nuances have been studied for decades since it’s 1969 release.
3. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
Prog-rock greats Rush have astounded and inspired musicians from all backgrounds. However, 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” defined what a drum solo in surf rock should sound like.
Quick playing with small, fast flourishes made this solo incredibly danceable. 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
“Hot for Teacher” was undeniably one of the most memorable drum solos of all time. Alex Van Halen is one of the only drummers who could keep up with his brother Eddie’s superlative playing in one of the greatest rock outfits of all time.
This drum solo for 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. Regardless, 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. It’s rife with flange that gives the drums a psychedelic, dreamy sound while also pulsing with pure, raw power.
7. “Fire” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Mitch Mitchell’s drum solo intro 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, 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. Throughout his extensive jazz career he was a key member of the jazz rock outfit Steely Dan with 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 the double-bass assault setting 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
One of the first instances where a jazz drummer took center stage over the headliner was a solo on the recording of Benny Goodman’s 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall.
In the recording, you can sense the power of Krupa’s playing because of the audience’s response. It’s 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 his solo’s enduring quality.