Rock and Pop Songs Without Percussion

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Posted 2023-10-01 by Steven Gfollow
I have received some really nice feedback of late, and, as such, I will be doing some music columns based on reader requests. We are getting near the end of them; however, this is one of those.

This request comes from the start of this year, and it follows on from the Songs About Drums And Drumming list, as it was requested by the same person, again, with no explanation offered, just a request. I had exactly two songs ready to go! So, with a lot of listening and some reading…

Here are rock and pop songs without percussion!

Image by Zach from Pixabay

I had to be careful here, as there are a lot of classical and country songs that do not include any percussion, so I did narrow it down to rock and pop songs. And then I had to listen carefully a lot of the time because sometimes the percussion is really subtle in a piece. This might be as little as a tambourine or clicking or tapping something, but if there is percussion, it isn’t here.

This list took me quite a while to collate as I had to listen to a lot of music. I was helped by an article from an old music magazine (Q, I’m not sure of the year as I tore out the article a decade or more ago), but that only gave me two tracks that I used. The rest was just me listening very carefully.

So, I will say I have not included live tracks, especially those from the MTV Unplugged series. These are all studio recordings. Apart from that, normal rules apply. No percussion in the track, one song per artist, one version of each song, no live only tracks, I need to like the song. They are listed in chronological order, the date of first release, either as single or the home album. While these are not just charting singles, but songs from my collection that fulfil the requirement and that I like, I have really tried to go for the more popular songs.

Here are 10 songs without percussion from the worlds of rock and pop music!

The Times They Are A-Changin’’ by Bob Dylan (1964)

I’m not sure if this is a cheat, as it’s folk, though folk-pop, as it was popular and charted and is still regarded as a classic song from the great days of protest music. Still, I had to include a Dylan track and this is one of my favourites of his early output.

Yesterday’ by The Beatles (1965)

This was one of the first songs I thought of when it came to this list. According to the Guiness Book Of Records, this is the most-covered song in pop music, but nothing can beat the original with Paul McCartney’s sweet voice and that string ensemble behind him. Beautiful.

Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell (1970)

I had a lot of tracks by Joni to choose from, but this one, one of her best-known hits and a song that is still as relevant today as it was when it was written, was the one I could not resist putting up here. Covered by many, re-released in the 1990s with a pop sheen make-over, there is no version as good as this original. There is a version with over-dubbed bongoes from the same time, but the album version is just Joni and her guitar.

Going To California’ by Led Zeppelin (1971)

This is one of the songs I got from the Q article, as I just always assumed there were drums in everything Led Zeppelin did, despite Led Zeppelin IV being a personal favourite album. But, listening to it for this – no drums. Bit of an ode to being a hippy, this is different to the rest of the album, and now I understand why.

Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac (1975)

This surprised me (and is the second track from the Q article), as I thought, considering Mick Fleetwood is a drummer, that Fleetwood Mac would have something there in every song. But no, this beautiful track with Stevie Nicks singing so well and that lovely guitar playing is just that and is stunning for it.

O Superman’ by Laurie Anderson (1982)

Art-pop from Lou Reed’s life partner, this track is weird and created using only vocals and looping. Stunning piece of music, experimental, and I have no idea what it is about, and yet it is completely mesmerising.

Only You’ by The Flying Pickets (1983)

I might be pushing it here, as there is a drum-like sound at one stage near the start, but it was apparently just a vocal effect passed through the synthesiser of the time. So, you knew I had to include something a cappella here, and it would be very unfair to just include songs that I like from YouTube artists, so I have thrown in this one, which charted in the UK and Australia.

Caravan Of Love’ by The Housemartins (1986)

Another a cappella song, this one was a charting success as well, a remake of an R&B song that did better than the original chart-wise. It is a religious song, and yet does not go into gospel singing clichés. Fun fact: the band features Norman Cook, who would change his name to Fatboy Slim and become a popular DJ.

Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ by Green Day (1997)

Another track that I gravitated towards early on when collating this. Hard to imagine that the pop-punk band would release something like this with guitar and lush strings, but it is one of the band’s most beloved songs, and is a personal favourite.

Hurt’ by Johnny Cash (2002)

The percussion, for want of a better term, comes from striking the guitar and piano hard in this song that takes Nine Inch Nail’s wail; of desperation and turns it into a song of tragedy and looking back on a life. One of the greatest cover songs ever recorded.

What made collating this list so difficult was the sheer number of songs that might not have had drums, but did have drum machines or cymbals or bongoes or clapping or foot-stomping or finger-clicking in the under-track. Even a song like Presley’s ‘That’s All Right” which was recorded before a drummer joined him, has a percussive clicking at the base of the track. Percussion is ubiquitous in pop music, and so finding ten songs was a challenge, albeit a pleasant one. I hope you found something here to enjoy.


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