Monday, April 30, 2012
Levon Helm: King of the Singing Drummers
A recent tribute to Levon Helm on rollingstone.com noted the interesting fact that Helm was not only a world-class hellraiser, but was also one of the first singing drummers in rock history.
I would add that while there have been many singing drummers since, Levon is the only one whose singing and drumming were both Hall of Fame-worthy.
Ringo Starr, of course, was a singing drummer, but his role was more of comic relief in a Beatles concert. But when you are in a band with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, pretty much anyone else is going to seem like a lightweight. Nevertheless, Ringo drove the beat and sang more or less in key, which is more than most of us can do.
Next up is Don Henley, who in addition to being one of the most self-important and humorless rock stars of all time, and one of the reasons why the invention of punk was necessary, was also the Eagles' drummer. He's a fine singer, but as a drummer, he holds down the beat and that's about it. There's plenty of room at the Hotel California, but not much in the way of drums.
Before he became known for singing the most syrupy ballads the world has ever heard, Phil Collins was known as one of prog-rock's ace drummers. In addition to his work with Genesis, Phil played on one of my all-time favorite records, Brian Eno's Another Green World. It was only after singer Peter Gabriel left Genesis that Collins began singing. Here's Phil singing and drumming to one of my favorite early-80s Genesis tunes, "Abacab," which I believe is named for the song's chord progression.
Peter Criss was hired to be in Kiss because he could sing in addition to playing drums. He even came out from behind the kit to sing the band's biggest hit, the power ballad "Beth," but to me he really kicks some ass here singing and playing "Black Diamond." More cowbell!
But the greatest singing drummer of all time might be Karen Carpenter, because she is surely the most unlikely. Who would guess that the woman with the one-in-a-million voice of melancholy would also rock the traps like Tommy Freaking Lee?
Who is your favorite singing drummer of all time? Vote in the RT Poll at the top of this page.