41. Let there be drums

Posted on 26/03/2017

41. Let there be drums

It’s a fair bet that songs based on drumming won’t have much in the way of lyrics. You can infer that those who want to listen to drums don’t want lyrics, and vice versa. Luckily the variety of music means that you can have both, if not in the same song.

My first crush on a drumming song was for Teen Beat by Sandy Nelson, which came out in the late 1950’s. All it features is drums and a bass:

I found its rhythm fascinating, and still like it now. A couple of years later Sandy nelson put out ‘Let there be drums’ which is the same basic idea but the bass is louder in the mix on this one. Although he recorded several albums of then current pop songs featuring this kind of treatment, none is memorable. He became a session musician after that. But his impact was considerable at the time: there were’nt many records around then, nor radio stations.

It is intriguing to listen to African tribal drumming: it is pretty close to what Sandy Nelson did on the West Coast of the USA:

There is more clever stuff with drum interaction in the tribal drumming than on Nelson’s tune, but no bass or other tune based element. It builds up quite a head of steam around 1.3 minutes in.

The following reggae track combines elements of both the previous types of drumming:

Plus some charming (Jamaican) patois at the start. Though they speak of Batter, I doubt if they had pancakes in mind. One of their more engaging linguistic usages is ‘I and I’ for we. It does carry a slightly different meaning. Like ‘long ago’ and ‘antedeluvian’. The latter refers to the Biblical flood as a world changing historical fact, which therefore predates Darwin and modern geological research which rather limits Mount Ararat and the biblical flood. But its a nice word, and much more interesting than the phrase ‘long ago’.

The following song features Buddy Rich, a famous big band drummer of World War II vintage, with his little daughter in the 1950’s on the vocals. The drumming gets more prominence towards the end. The lyrics are pretty vintage.

Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.Charleston was once the rage, uh huh.
History has turned that page, uh huh.
The miniskirt’s the current thing, uh huh.
Tennybopper is our newborn king, uh huh.And the beat goes on, the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.

I managed to get a few words in there in despite the oil and water nature of drums and lyrics. I will leave jazz drumming out of it, but simply mention the great Art Blakey for anyone who does not know his explosive style.

In more modern times samplling has meant that you can get any beat you want all the time, and so there are genres of music now that feature non-stop drumming for those who like it. As an example of one of the thousands of genres here is Amon Tobin’s ‘Four ton mantis’: they dont get much heavier than that without squashing the life out of your ears:

No problem with lyrics in the work of Mr Tobin, but his tunes, or perhaps more accurately rhythms, are very good. Well worth pursuing if you have iTunes handy: there are dozens more.



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