On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Our List of a Dozen Unbeatable Drumming Moments

For today’s “12 Drummers Drumming”-inspired story, NOWNESS considered the most indelible percussive occasions of the last few decades. It was hard to deny 2008’s Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, a flawlessly executed spectacle that landed our coveted No.1 slot, but our list honors many other demonstrations that could never be quietly forgotten.

1. Olympics Opening Ceremony, Beijing National Stadium, 2008

Featuring 2,008 fou drummers playing in metronomic coordination as the launch of a four-hour long extravaganza (that also included fireworks and weather modification technology to prevent rainfall), the performance was jaw-dropping in its ambition and grandeur. 

2. Boredoms present 77 Boadrum, 2007

On July 7, 2007, veteran Japanese noise band Boredoms gathered 77 drummers in Brooklyn’s Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park for an elaborate show: an army of percussionists spiraled around the band’s leader Yamantaka Eye. The concert marked the first time in history that a drum circle was considered cool—not a single hacky-sack was kicked.

3. Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” 1969

To a portion of suburban teenage boys who came of age between 1969 and 1980, Moby Dick has nothing to do with Melville, and everything to do with John Henry Bonham, the late Led Zeppelin drummer. Notorious in its excess, Bonham’s “Moby Dick” solo would stretch out to nearly half an hour in concert, with the drummer often concluding the number with his bare, bloodied hands.

4. Buddy Rich Vs. Animal, The Muppet Show, 1978

It was only a question of time until the artist known as Animal would meet his match. Buddy Rich, the virtuosic big-band artist once billed as “the world’s greatest drummer,” stopped by The Muppet Show and laid waste to the hairy upstart in a momentous and hilarious drum-off.

5. Tony Allen anchors Fela Kuti’s Band Africa 70, 1968-1979

When Tony Allen, the wildly funky (and still active) musician, joined forces with Kuti in 1968 he helped to lay the foundations for Afrobeat. Kuti likened 

his improbably busy playing 

to the work not of one man, but of four; Brian Eno dubbed the Nigerian musician “the greatest drummer who has ever lived.”

6. Dave Grohl joins Nirvana, 1990

Former Scream member Dave Grohl entered Nirvana in 1990, and while it was Cobain’s songs that cemented the trio’s place in history, the importance of the hard-hitting, idiosyncratic Grohl cannot be overstated—his dramatic entrance in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the sound of a generation springing to life. 

7. Fleetwood Mac and the USC Marching Band, Tusk, 1979

Fleetwood Mac brought the college group to Dodger Stadium to record the title track to their sprawling masterpiece. The percussion-driven hit left the charts years ago, but remains in the repertoire of marching bands everywhere.

8. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells, 2001

Jack White may have written the songs and produced the records, but it is the publicity-shy drummer Meg White who provides this duo’s soul. Those foolish enough to disparage her playing overlook its honesty and elegance.

9. Ringo Starr takes a solo on “The End,” 1969

It took Ringo Starr seven years and 11 albums before his bandmates could convince him to record his first drum solo, in the concluding minutes of the Beatles recording career on Abbey Road. The modest drummer’s 13-bar star-turn is lovely in its simplicity—and quite possibly the most famous drum solo of all time. 

10. This Is Spinal Tap, 1984

Director Rob Reiner’s inquiry into the fictional band’s catalog of deceased drummers trails only “It goes to 11,” as the favorite part of Spinal Tap lore. Every joke ever told about rock and roll drummers circles back here. 

11. The Who plays “My Generation” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 1967

Keith Moon was nearly as famous for demolishing his drum kit at the conclusion of each concert as for his ferocious playing. The wild-man’s magnum opus transpired on the Smothers Brothers' variety TV show, when he bribed a stage hand to load his kit with explosives. The ensuing turmoil precipitated guitarist Pete Townshend’s tinnitus, and is said to have caused fellow guest Bette Davis to faint.

12. “This drummer is at the wrong gig,” 2010

Steve Moore had served as drummer for Rick K. and the Allnighters for over a decade before a video of the shiny-jacketed cover band playing ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” at a Pennsylvania amusement park went viral in 2010. Labeled “this drummer is at the wrong gig,” the YouTube clip (viewed over eight million times) depicts Moore dramatically flailing his arms and tossing his sticks, while his more composed bandmates grind out the song.

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