On John Bonham's 70th birthday, a playlist of the most powerful drumming in classic Led Zeppelin tracks
Let's dive into some Led Zeppelin tracks where John Bonham shines; even more than usual.
Editor's note: Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham was born 70 years ago on 31 May, 1948. We take a look at some of the best drumming by Bonham on classic Led Zeppelin songs.
Led Zeppelin is unarguably one of the greatest musical acts in the history of mankind for more than one reason. It wasn't just Jimmy Page's effortlessly psychedelic style of guitar playing, or Robert Plant's seductive and tempting voice that turned millions of people into fans of the band ever since their 1969 eponymous debut album. Bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham created a tense and alluring atmosphere on every Led Zeppelin track.
Bonham's drumming has been particularly influential. Often considered to be the greatest drummer in the history of rock music, Bonham is responsible for influencing some of the most important figures in modern rock and heavy metal. Bonham's time with Led Zeppelin has influenced drummers such as Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Joey Kramer (Aerosmith), Lee Kerslake (Uriah Heep), Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), and John Dolmayan (System of a Down) among others.
It is absolutely safe to say that heavy metal and rock music would not have evolved the way it has if not for John Bonham's drumming.
So, let's dive into some Led Zeppelin tracks where Bonzo (as John Bonham was affectionately called) shines; even more than usual.
1. 'Achilles Last Stand' from Presence
Running over 10 minutes in length, 'Achilles Last Stand' is one of Led Zeppelin's longest songs. Taken from the band's seventh studio album Presence, it is about Plant's travels throughout Morocco, Greece, and Spain. The music of the song was inspired by Flamenco and Moroccan traditions. On 'Achilles Last Stand', Bonham's drumming is prophetic. The song has a marvelous kick-drum pattern and the thunderous drum fills are close to inhuman.
Listen to 'Achilles Last Stand' here.
2. 'When the Levee Breaks' from Led Zeppelin IV
Featured on the band's fourth studio album, 'When the Levee Breaks' is a re-work of the 1929 blues song written and first recorded by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. The song, which is about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, was composed around Bonham's prodigious drumming. The sound of the drums on the track was achieved by having Bonzo record his part in a three-story stairwell with the microphones placed at the topmost level, giving the drums an echoing, muffled magic.
Listen to 'When the Levee Breaks' here.
3. 'Immigrant Song (Live)' from How The West Was Won
On the studio version of one of the most well-known Led Zeppelin song, Bonham took the back-seat and let Robert Plant take over. On the live version from How The West Was Won, Bonham does the opposite. The track stands out in an 18-song-long performance because of Bonham's colossal drumming. With every slam of the snare, Bonham propels the track forward in a way you've never experienced before.
Listen to 'Immigrant Song (Live)' here.
4. 'Poor Tom' from Coda
Taken from their ninth and final studio album Coda, 'Poor Tom' was actually composed in 1970 during the recording sessions for Led Zeppelin III. Initially, the song did not end up on a studio album, and was later included on Coda in 1982. Bonham's drumming has a country swing on this one and showcases his versatility as a drummer.
Listen to 'Poor Tom' here.
5. 'Trampled Under Foot' from Physical Graffiti
Here, we enter the territory of funk. Featured on Led Zeppelin's sixth studio album, 'Trampled Under Foot' carries a fast-forward funk beat and machine-gun drum rolls. Bonham's sense of funk was so on-point, he could have instantly joined any R&B group and fit right in. The fills featured on the track are tight as ever, and Bonham's sense of rhythm just as impeccable.
Listen to 'Trampled Under Foot' here.
6. 'No Quarter' from Houses of the Holy
One of Led Zeppelin's most dark and mysterious compositions, 'No Quarter' is all about the dynamic shared by the four band members. Bonham gets to the core of the song, continuously taking the volume of the drums up and down and creating an ethereal, mystical sound. Bonham's drumming on 'No Quarter' has been imitated ever since the track's release, but no drummer has quite been able to recapture it.
Listen to 'No Quarter' here.
7. 'Since I've Been Loving You' from Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin weren't anything if not a band that constantly experimented with various genres. On 'Since I've Been Loving You', a song about the hardships of relationships, Led Zeppelin intensify the unrelenting beauty of blues rock. The swing in the song is sad and beautiful, and the drumming is heart-breaking. The song has a distinct squeaking sound which, according to Jimmy Page, was due to Bonzo’s bass pedal not being properly oiled prior to recording.
Listen to 'Since I've Been Loving You' here.
8. 'The Wanton Song' from Physical Graffiti
Taken from Physical Graffiti, 'The Wanton Song' has one of the most well-known Led Zeppelin riffs. Accompanying Jimmy Page is John Bonham's drumming that whips up a strange atmosphere of psychedelic hues. The drum beat is wicked and playful and exhibits Bonham's talent as one of the best in the game ever.
Listen to 'The Wanton Song' here.
9. 'Moby Dick' from The Song Remains the Same
Has there ever been a drum solo as influential as the one on 'Moby Dick'? Probably not. The track was first featured on Led Zeppelin III, but the 1976 version on Zeppelin's first live album, The Song Remains the Same, is the one fans revisit the most. While drum solos aren't the most favorite thing for many fans of rock music, 'Moby Dick' is an exception. Bonham's sense of precision is unmatchable, so much so that the drummer would often play 'Moby Dick' for 30 minutes with bare, bloodied hands.
Listen to 'Moby Dick' here.
10. 'Fool in the Rain' from In Through the Out Door
Bonham displays that he's as proficient with swinging as he is with heaviness. The song's main section finds Bonham playing a perfectly poly-rhythmic groove in line with big-band era drumming. The fills here are roaring, and the song, which is about being stood-up by a date, has one of the best drum grooves of all time.
Listen to 'Fool in the Rain' here.
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