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Top 10 Best Drumming Performances of All Time

by Jonathan Blaauw
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

In the world of music, drummers seldom get the recognition they deserve. Vocalists and lead guitarists, front and center, usually steal the spotlight from their percussive partners—the poor, forgotten bassists and drummers. Yet these last two are crucial elements in musical composition, and their importance cannot be overlooked.

There have been some truly amazing drummers over the years, and this list aims to highlight the best of them. Some performances stand out because of their technical skill and speed, others for stealing the show with an all-too-rare drum solo. Either way, they’ve all rightfully earned their place on this list of the top 10 best drumming performances of all time.

Related: Top 10 Iconic Guitar Solos

10 “In the Air Tonight”–Phil Collins (1981)

Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight LIVE HD

Easing into it, we start with one of the most iconic musicians of his generation. Phil Collins. Unique on this list for being an entirely solo performance, Collins provides the vocals and the percussion in this well-known track. While the album version of “In the Air Tonight” might have made use of a drum machine for the explosive climax, Collins has since shown his incredible skills by getting behind the drum kit in his live performances.

While everyone knows and loves the way the drums explode to life in the final part of the song, the percussive genius here is present throughout. The track begins with only the drums before the guitar and keyboard come in, followed, of course, by the haunting vocals. As the song progresses, the drums keep a steady beat, serving as a steady platform from which the epic finale eventually launches, making this drumming performance truly memorable. [1

9 “War Pigs”–Black Sabbath (Bill Ward, 1970)

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Released back in 1970 on Sabbath’s second studio album, Paranoid, “War Pigs” laid the foundation for heavy metal tracks that would follow with its unique, complex structure and controversial subject matter. The drums, manned by the legendary Bill Ward, play a vital role in making this war protest song a truly epic piece of music.

It’s impossible to listen to this song and not want to get behind the drums and start banging away. After Ozzy nails the opening with his distinctive vocals, the drums come crashing in, ramping up the tempo and showing the world what metal truly is. The rhythm may not be overly complex or technically challenging, but Ward proves there’s elegance in simplicity. This is not only one of the most recognizable pieces of drum work around; it’s also a great place to start for drummers learning their craft.[2]

8 “Keep Yourself Alive”–Queen (Roger Taylor, 1973)

Queen – Keep Yourself Alive (Official Video)

Roger Taylor is one of the most famous musicians in the business, and his contributions went a long way to making Queen the musical powerhouse they were throughout the ’70s and ’80s. He helped write some of the band’s most memorable songs, contributed vocal harmonies, and was the man behind the drums as well.

Taylor’s unique percussion work can be found in every one of Queen’s hits, with his use of cymbals and incredible timing consistently standing out, but it’s in his drum solo in “Keep Yourself Alive” that his genius shines through. Sudden, unexpected, and powerful, the percussive explosion is a true exhibition of Taylor’s skill, speed, and precision. Beyond his amazing work with Queen, the legendary musician went on to establish a successful solo career later on as well, making him one of the most influential musicians we’ve ever seen.[3]

7 “Fire”–The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Mitch Mitchell, 1967)

Jimi Hendrix – Fire (studio version)

One of the most short-lived rock acts to ever grace the stage, Jimi Hendrix and his original band only recorded three full studio albums. Yet their influence on music in general lasts to this day. While Jimi’s vocals and mindblowing guitar skills usually take the main focus, Mitch Mitchell on the drums was a vital component of the band’s iconic sound.

Mitchell’s drumming skills come to the fore in “Fire,” where his jazz-inspired style can be heard most clearly. He keeps up a frantic pace throughout, maintaining the rhythm and inserting some eyeball-melting flourishes at the same time. For a track that lasts less than three minutes, there’s so much to marvel at here, with the crazy percussion front and center.[4]

6 “Disasterpiece”–Slipknot (Joey Jordison, 2001)

Slipknot – Joey Jordison Drum cam – Disasterpiece (Live at London 2002)

Now for something a little different from the previous entries on this list. Slipknot, with their terrifying masks and blend of screaming, rap, and nu-metal elements, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, there can be no denying Joey Jordison’s genius on the drums. As one of the founding members and main contributors to the band’s meteoric rise, Jordison continuously re-wrote the rulebook when it came to percussive speed and skill, and his best work can be heard on “Disasterpiece.”

Watching Jordison tear up the drum kit with his lightning speed and mesmerizing use of both cymbals and double bass, all while banging his head along with the rest of the band, is something to behold. Sadly, the iconic drummer recently passed away at only 46, but his spirit lives on in his vital contributions to metal music, most notably in “Disasterpiece.” [5]

5 “No One Knows”–Queens of the Stone Age (Dave Grohl, 2002)

Queens of The Stone Age – No One Knows

Dave Grohl is perhaps best known for being the lead singer and guitarist of The Foo Fighters, but before he started his band, he was, of course, the drummer for Nirvana and a key component of their well-known grunge sound. More than a decade after Nirvana broke up, he got back behind the drum kit with Queens of the Stone Age. On their epic track, “No One Knows,” Grohl gives a genuinely masterful demonstration of his skill.

For the studio version of the song, the drums and cymbals were recorded separately to achieve an aggressive yet deadened sound, and it works to great effect. You can hear Grohl’s energetic pounding throughout the song, giving it the energy kick it needs. As good as the recorded song is, it’s on the live version that one can witness firsthand the exceptional talent that is Mr. Grohl on the drums. Simply breathtaking.[6]

4 “YYZ”–Rush (Neil Peart, 1981)

Rush – YYZ – Neil Peart cam (dvd Rush in Rio)

Known as “The Professor,” Neil Peart, the drummer of Rush, is widely regarded as one of the best drummers ever to grace the music world. He was not only a technical genius, he was also a true innovator, which is incredible seeing as one wouldn’t commonly associate drum work with innovation. Peart redefined what it meant to be a drummer, and for proof, one need look no further than his work on “YYZ.”

Being a purely instrumental track, Peart’s drums immediately stand out. The musician is known for his blistering drum solos during live performances, which are as impressive as any you could hope to see. But on “YYZ,” you can hear how he contributes to and enhances the band’s overall sound and commanding stage presence. If you listen carefully, you can hear Peart’s signature ride cymbal groove, a technique he uses often and, in the style of most geniuses, he stumbled upon accidentally while experimenting.[7]

3 “Moby Dick”–Led Zeppelin (John Bonham, 1969)

Led Zeppelin – Moby Dick (Official Audio)

Being one of the most successful bands of all time, it’s no surprise that Led Zeppelin had a virtuoso behind the drums in John Bonham. The band’s discography is littered with examples of his brilliance, with tracks like “Whole Lotta Love” showing clearly how Bonham enhanced Led Zeppelin’s enduring sound. However, it’s when his bandmates step aside and give Bonham the stage in the instrumental track, “Moby Dick,” that one truly sees what the drummer is capable of.

The epic song doesn’t just feature a drum solo; it is a drum solo in its entirety, save for the guitar and bass in the intro and concluding part of the song. The rest is Bonham and Bonham alone, and boy does he deliver. Varying pace and volume effortlessly, all while building up to a crashing crescendo, the talented drummer puts on a blinding display in this whale of a song that quickly became a fan favorite during live performances and helped cement Bonham’s place as one of the best in the business.[8]

2 “Dance of Eternity”–Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy, 1999)

Dream Theater – The Dance Of Eternity [Breaking The Fourth Wall]

Progressive metal band Dream Theater is well known for their powerful compositions, where each instrument plays a crucial role. The desired effect would not be achieved without a great drummer, and in Mike Portnoy, they have one of the best percussionists in the world. With walls littered with awards and consistently topping greatest drummers ever lists, to call Portnoy great is an understatement. The man is simply incredible.

Portnoy’s skills can best be seen on “Dance of Eternity,” where he anchors the performance and showcases his brilliance with a blinding display of force and finesse. Surrounded by a formidable array of drums and cymbals, he deftly navigates the intricate melody in a performance for the ages, proving beyond doubt that he is one of the greatest percussionists on the planet.[9]

1 “Pneuma”–Tool (Danny Carey, 2019)

Danny Carey | “Pneuma” by Tool (LIVE IN CONCERT)

The world can be divided into two types of people—those who know and love Tool, and those who’ve never heard their music. It’s that simple. To experience Tool is to encounter musical genius. Known for waiting ages between album releases and leaving their diehard fan base in suspense, the band’s discography is relatively small, yet the effort they put into their music makes each track a masterpiece, thanks in no small part to Danny Carey’s brilliance on the drums.

Carey takes a unique approach to his work, using unusual time signatures, sudden tempo changes, and polyrhythms to merge his mathematical talents with his musical work. The result is drumming like you’ve never heard before. While Carey’s skill is evident on every Tool track, it shines through most strongly on “Pneuma.”

With his unusual snare placing, the drummer exhibits tight control initially before breaking out the polyrhythms and then exploding into awe-inspiring flourishes and breakouts as the song progresses in a marathon performance that seems like it just won’t end. Nothing more needs to be said; just watch Carey’s live performance drum cam video, and you’ll surely agree that this is undoubtedly the greatest drumming performance ever.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen