Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published June 8th 2020
Singing and drumming at the same time is hard
I've mentioned a few times here on WeekendNotes that I have been learning guitar for a few years. Not successfully, mind you, but I am learning. However, it is not my first instrument. Many years ago now, I learnt basic drums. I have even performed with drums in public. In front of an audience. Of real people.
Now, my drumming is strictly second-year music school level. I can keep a beat and do basic fills. I am no Ginger Baker, but I can keep time. Having said that, there is one way in which I am like Ginger Baker: Neither of us can sing well.
No, seriously, if you hear him talk, that's what his singing sounds like. Of course, that is the way of most drummers. Joke time! What's the last thing a drummer says in a band? "How about letting me sing a song?" (alternate answer: "How about playing a song I wrote?" – when you're a drummer, you hear them all.)
But the drummer is not hired to be the singer. He or she is used to give the sound its grounding, its beat, the basis upon which the song is built.
Now, after all that… there are some great drummers who can also sing really well. No, there are. And there are some great singers who also have decent chops on the drums. There are even a few who can do both really well.
And so we come to this column – drummers who can sing and so sing and so well.
Three rules! 1) I have to like their singing or at least a few of the songs they have sung;
2) They have to be able to drum well enough to be regarded as more than a "dabbler"; and 3) They can do both at the same time.
Now, unfortunately, there are some artists here for whom I couldn't find a video of them singing and playing drums, but that was a criterion, so you're going to have to take my word for it.
The list, in reverse alphabetical order. Why reverse? Because the one who is now last is currently my favourite on this list and for those who are not regular readers, it will probably be a surprise. Oh, and I'm not including Phil Wright, singer/drummer of Paper Lace because… well, it's Paper Lace. I might like a couple of their songs, but, no, they don't deserve to be here. I was also debating putting Paul McCartney on this list, as he played every instrument on his first few solo albums, plus drums on a couple of Beatles tracks ('The Ballad Of John And Yoko' is the most obvious example), and/or Prince, as he also played every instrument on his first few albums, and/or Mike Oldfield, because ditto, but they never played drums and sang at the same time, so I am reluctantly not including them.
Band: The Beach Boys
Track: 'Forever' (1970)
Wilson was not the best singer in the Beach Boys, and he rarely took on lead vocal duties, but when he did, he could be counted on to deliver a better than average performance. While I like some of his rockers, the track everyone mentions – and with good reason – is this love song which Wilson sings as if he really and truly means it. As a drummer, the song is not an elaborate work-out, but listen to some of the band's late-60s output to hear how good the man could really be.
Band: Queen/The Cross/solo
Track: 'Man On Fire' (1984)
In Queen, Taylor only rarely got an opportunity to sing ('I'm In Love With My Car' being an obvious example), but he was always allowed to drum like a madman. It was solo and with The Cross where he really got a chance to show his vocal chops, and he could really sing. His backing vocals and harmonies helped make Queen what they were, as well as his drumming. I like a lot of Taylor's non-Queen work, and 'Man On Fire' is my favourite solo track (I own the 12" single). Taylor was overshadowed by Freddie Mercury (as anyone would be), but he could drum and sing and do it awesomely.
Band: The Beatles/solo
Track: 'Photograph' (1973)
Starr only sang a couple of songs with the Beatles – mainly novelty songs – but he still did, and some of the songs he sang have become beloved, like 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Octopus' Garden', though my favourite is 'Act Naturally'. However, it is his first bunch of solo albums that showed how good he really was at both. This is my favourite of his solo songs, and he is drumming here, and, yes, I have mentioned it before but it deserves to be here.
Band: The Romantics
Track: 'What I Like About You' (1980)
A band that is all but forgotten now, except by 1980s music nerds like me, this band was one of the precursor bands to what became known as hair metal or poodle rock. They had their greatest success in the late 70s, early 80s, and any limited success they did have stopped pretty abruptly after Jimmy left the band. This song just has that sort of catchy early 1980s rock feel and includes a harmonica solo because of course it does. It has a pounding, driving drum beat and the punctuating "Yeah!"s just make you want to scream along. You probably know the song. You might know the band. Bet you didn't know the singing drummer.
Spiderbait are still one of my favourite Australian bands. I've seen them live a number of times, own most of their discography, 'Shazam' is one of the greatest Australian songs ever. And their singing drummer is Kram, who shares vocal duties with the other members, especially Janet English. And his solo album Mix-tape includes one awesome drum solo song in 'Thank-you Mr Ludwig' as a bonus download track. Sorry. He is one of the greatest drummers Australia has produced, and the fact he sings while playing like this is just amazing. This might be a cover song, but Spiderbait really do make it their own and Kram's drumming is phenomenal.
Band: The Eagles/solo
Track: 'Hotel California' (1977)
Like a few bands on this list, The Eagles had a number of people who shared lead singing duties, but Henley really made his name singing what is probably the greatest song the Eagles produced. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is one of the greatest rock songs ever. The fact that he continued to make great music after the break-up ('Boys Of Summer', anyone?) and still played drums indicates that this was not a one-off fluke. This was meant to be.
Band: The Band
Track: 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' (1969)
Another band with multiple singers, Helm sang quite a few of The Band's biggest hits. And, again like a few here, he could play many other instruments as well. But it is as The Band's singing drummer that he made his greatest impact upon music. His drumming could be flashy, though not necessarily so, as he could also adopt the southern musical style The Band often affected. An under-rated drummer and almost forgotten singer, he is really quite good.
Band: Nirvana, Foo Fighters… and more collaborations than you can shake a stick at
Track: 'This Is A Call' (1995)
Dave Grohl is the current generation's master of all instruments. Unlike McCartney, Prince and Oldfield, though, Grohl started his popular life as the drummer in Nirvana, then became a singer later. He rarely does the drumming and singing on the same recording any longer – he either guest drums (or plays other instruments – seriously, the guy is a legend), or he adds guest vocals. In Foo Fighters, he is currently lead guitarist and singer. However… the first Foo Fighters album (Foo Fighters, 1995) was basically a Dave Grohl solo project. And, by solo, I mean he played very single instrument (plus a few guests here and there). So that's where I got this song from. But as both singer and drummer, there is so much Grohl out there… take your pick!
Track: 'The Belle Of St. Mark' (1984)
A protégé of Prince, Sheila E. had a series of solo singles and albums in the 1980s, then became a sought-after session and live percussionist and backing singer. However, as a solo artist, in the early 80s, she was wonderful. I bought this track on 12" single, and played it to death. It does not showcase her drumming as well as some of her guest spots on other albums do, but it is still there and she sings really well. Oh, and ignore the video. Bad miming is all you get here, not reality.
Band: The Monkees
Track: 'Porpoise Song' (1968)
Despite Davey Jones being the face of the Monkees, a lot of the lead vocal duties went to Dolenz. Dolenz is an interesting character here. He started as a singer, and mimed playing the drums for the TV show. However, he pushed himself to learn them, so much so that by the time it came to their movie Head (one of the weirdest movies ever – the clip is from the film), he was actually playing drums, and has done so live ever since. So I chose a song from Head where he sings and drums on the record and that I like (like I said, weird film). But if you see a live Monkees' concert post-1968 and Dolenz is drumming and singing, he really is drumming and singing. He made sure he could live up to the TV image. Why doesn't that happen any longer with our celebrities?
Track: 'Don't You Let Me Down' (1978)
What is it with drummers singing slower songs? What… Okay, I know what it is. Playing a full-force drum fill while singing would lead to the requirement of an oxygen tank at the least. This song is from the solo album he released when all members of Kiss released solo albums (the 70s were strange). He did release some solo stuff after leaving Kiss, drumming and singing, but really, after Kiss, I was not a big fan of his work. Unlike Ace Frehley, leaving Kiss was not good for the man's creativity. Again, my opinion. Oh, and why not his classic '[I[Beth[/I]'? There's no drums in that song!
Track: 'Land Of Confusion' (1986)
Probably one of the best known of the singing drummers. His work with Genesis was stunning and when he took over the singing duties following the departure of Peter Gabriel, the band had its greatest commercial successes. Collins continued his singing/drumming combo for his first few solo albums (as well as piano-ing), but eventually Chester Thompson took on these duties, especially live. Though, as far as singing drummers go, Collins is hard to beat for sheer longevity.
And here's Phil and Chester playing a drum duet, showing awesomeness incarnate! (The third guy is Luis Conti, South American percussionist extraordinaire.)
Band: The Dave Clark Five (DC5)
Track: 'Glad All Over' (1963)
Dave Clark was the drummer, primary song-writer and back-up vocalist for the band that bore his name. Normally, organ player Mike Smith took on lead vocal duties, but in this 1963 classic track, they share it. Clark also sang lead a few other times, but ascertaining who sang what when is difficult because they clearly don't want people to know. However, here, there is no doubt – both of them are going hell for leather. This is such an awesome song.
Band: The Carpenters
Track: 'All I Can Do' (1969)
Karen Carpenter might not be the flashiest drummer out there, but she kept damn fine time and showed sparks of brilliance, all the while singing in her incredible voice. She started life as a jazz drummer (like Ginger Baker), which explains some of her precision and her flawless time-keeping. Most people consider her light-weight, but she demonstrated enough to win drummer of the year at some point in the mid-1970s. Much to the chagrin of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham. And, in my opinion, rightfully so. Still, Karen was good. And her voice was wonderful.
Track: 'Highway To Hell' (2016)
Regular readers knew this was coming after finding this while researching another column. Astley is not regarded as a drummer. He is not regarded as a rock singer, and here, live on stage, at his fiftieth birthday celebration, he does both superbly. Don't care if this is a cheat – this is awesome.
And there you have it, singing drummers! Would any of these make my list of top rock drummers of all time? Roger Taylor, yes. Maybe Phil Collins. But none of them would be in the bottom of said list, either.
If he'd sung more - beyond a few lines in Bohemian Rhapsody - he would have been number one!
This is a great article. There was a singing drummer in an Australian band called Sweetwater. I don't think it did much for their image! Thanks for the information about Mickey Dolenz. He was my favourite Monkee.