By Reverb for Reverb
We recently asked 13 drummers one simple
What’s your all-time favorite recorded drum sound?
A uniquely huge and subtle sound is that of the Joe Morello drum solo in ‘Take Five’ with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Very rare that a drum solo takes you into a deep meditation rather than to frenzy. Maybe it’s the 5/4 rhythm, maybe it’s because it’s partly played with his bare hands that the feel of this sojourn is so mesmerizing and so powerful that it made me, at the tender age of seven, want to play drums.
My favorite recorded drum sound is on the Roy Haynes album Out of the Afternoon. It was recorded in 1962 at the famous Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey—and aside from Roy’s astonishing playing, the sound of the drums is impeccable, particularly the room sound. On the intro to ‘Snap Crackle’ I honestly feel like I am in the room. Bliss!
One of my favorite drum sounds is from Radiohead’s ‘High and Dry’ off The Bends. I generally prefer ambient drum sounds, because that’s what drums sound like when you’re sitting at them and playing them. With ‘High and Dry’ the drums sound as if you’re in the room listening to them being tracked, which is a pleasure to listen to, especially the bass drum.
You can also tell that since Phil Selway is laying back and playing fairly lightly to the song, so the room sound is doing a lot of the work, which is also one of my favorite aspects of drum sounds. Unless you’re going for a specific and tight sound, the drums as an instrument beg to have room and space to breath, and I love when that’s properly captured.
One of my all time favorite drum sounds is on Physical Graffiti. The sounds that John Bonham got on the songs that were performed for Physical Graffiti were some of the greatest tones that I’ve ever heard. It just sounded like a drum set set up in a big room with a few mics positioned the right way, not much EQ on it, a bit of a room sound, and just an honest-to-goodness drum sound.
The way he tuned the drums was perfect, the way he played the drums was perfect. Songs like ‘Kashmir,’ ‘Trampled Under Foot,’ and ‘In the Light’ to this day give me goosebumps when I hear them. It’s one of my favorite, favorite all-time drum sounds.
Everything about ‘The Three’ & ‘The Two’ sounds damn good. On September 10 and 14 of 1954, Shelly Manne chose to collaborate/record with reed player Jimmy Giuffre and trumpeter Shorty Rogers in a trio setting, and then duo with pianist Russ Freeman for side B. Making the choice to omit upright bass freed up the low-end so Shelly’s warm and booming bass drum could shine. There is also a lot of space in this music which allows the listener to clearly hear the wide sonic range of Shelly’s drums.
The recording, spearheaded by engineer John Palladino, beautifully captures Shelly’s clear articulation, big warm sound, dynamic variation, humor, textural explorations, blend and balance of the kit, and groove. His four toms cover a wide sonic range and the bass drum fills out the low-end perfectly. His cymbals are crisp, clear, and articulate, yet I can still feel the vibration and wash of each cymbal. There is just the right amount of room sound and reverb recorded to tape, pulling the listener directly into the tracking room.
When listening to this album on headphones I can almost feel the air pushing through the kit and out into the room. It is absolutely breathtaking.
I think it’d have to be some of my own work with my old band, Kids These Days. We did a project called Traphouse Rock with Jeff Tweedy and the sounds we got were amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever done. Specifically on the song ‘L’Afrique’. The tones were so—at the time for me—ahead of any drums I’d heard musically as far as tones go, and the parts were just recorded in such a cool way. Also I was using Glenn Kotche’s drums, so that helped a lot too.
Humble Pie’s Smokin’ is my go-to drum sound, especially “30 Days in the Hole”—I just love it. It sounds natural, present, right in your face. I always reference it when recording. It has the right blend of ambience and crack. Very easy to listen to. Big, but not too big—it just sounds right to me.
Drum sounds have changed so much over the years. From the ‘60s mono sounds, the ‘70s concert tom deadness, the giant ‘80s snare sound, etc… One drum sound that always remains timeless to me is from the song ‘Lonesome Day Blues’ off of Bob Dylan’s Love and Theftalbum.
Drummer David Kemper performs a masterful display of just about every type of shuffle there is throughout this six-minute track that speeds up ever so slightly every verse. The drum sounds include a fat kick and snare sound, a jazz-sounding rack tom, and a perfect use of a sizzle crash. Every time I listen to the song, I feel like I’m sitting behind the kit (wishing that I was).
Is this a trick question? The easy answer with not much thought would be ‘When The Levee Breaks’—real drums, natural balance in John Bonham’s playing, great natural room environment, great capture, and nice mix position… loud. Is this just the beginning or the end? John Bonham was a great drummer. That helps to get a good drum sound.
My all-time favorite drum sound is by Tony Williams on the Miles Davis record Miles Smiles. It is perfect! The characteristics of his cymbals—being dark and warm yet icy like lasers—is fully expressed in all of their beauty! The bass drum is full-sounding with a gorgeous tone, pitch, and punch all in one. The snare is snappy and crackin’ while still maintaining warmth and fullness, with snare sensitivity at all dynamic levels. The toms have incredible tone with warmth and projection.
You can hear the wood in all of the drums and they are all tuned impeccably! Tony’s drums sound like an amazing orchestration of glorious tones, textures, and color. Ahh… I could listen to that sound for an eternity! I love it!
I love the drums on the song “Hedron” by BadBadNotGood. I love how fat the snare is and how sonically authentically the drums are captured. The emotions of the drummer and the dynamics float really beautifully about the rest of the instrumentation while being the featured center. The drums serve almost as a main top line vocal, with swells, emotions, and growth, while being captured as if you were right there in the room at the moment of recording. It’s definitely something I always try to achieve for each of my own live drum takes I put into my own music.
The Meters! The Meters! The Meters! Their 1969 self-titled debut album is one of my favorite drum sounds of all time. Why? A cracking, tight, but still open snare. A punchy but not tacky kick tone. The smashing tape compression on the hi-hats gives the cymbals unmistakable character. They seem to occupy their own special place in a sparse mix. However, don’t get it twisted, most of that tone is in the hands, wrists, and sticks of Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. He plays assertively and accurately but with an inimitable looseness that is the holy grail to so many drummers.
I think my favorite era of drum sounds is the early to mid-’70s. Right after 16-track tape entered the fold. Late-’70s drums are still in the same category as long as they don’t have shitty reverb on them. Pink Floyd had some amazing drums. and so did Television and The Clash, but my selection is ‘No Way Out of Here’ by a band called Unicorn. I found it late at night deep into YouTube about seven years ago. David Gilmour produced it. I just love how articulate the drums are but also a bit too bright, and the kick is very upfront and modern-sounding but not too modern. Also ‘The Worst Band in the World’ [by 10cc]. J Dillasampled it on Donuts. That’s how I first heard it. Great mid-’70s drums.