by Ryan Wasoba
In rock and roll, singers get the attention, guitarists get the glory and bass players usually just have to show up. It's the drummers of the world who often put in the most effort for the least return, lugging ten times the equipment and playing twenty times as hard as the rest of the band. Occasionally, these specimens partake in the questionable practice of the extended solo. More often than not, drummers' greater contributions to songcraft come in the form of brief fills. To celebrate the percussive martyrs of the world, here are the six best drum fills. As always, feel free to let us know what we forgot in the comments.
6. Green Day - "Basket Case" (0:37) Speed is a virtue. Green Day drummer Tre Cool understands this, but unlike his more famous and more proficient pop-punk cohort Travis Barker, Cool usually keeps his technical abilities in his back pocket in the name of taste. The entrance to "Basket Case" is his best instance of letting loose in Green Day's twenty year catalog. And it's absolutely effective, boosting the dynamic of the song as he interrupts Billie Joe Armstrong's palm muted intro. Toward the second half of the fill, he goes into Animal-from-Muppets mode. It's as if his hands have taken over and his brain is thinking "oh my god what am I doing I can't believe I'm playing this!" And then Cool crashes a cymbal and pushes forward into his signature midtempo beat, Earth's axis realigns, Pluto is a planet again and all is right in the universe.
5. Heart - "Magic Man" (4:06) After an intense prog-out, the drum fill that leads "Magic Man" back into becoming a rock song is not that special on its own. Within Heart's greatest recorded accomplishment, the simple snare and tom phrase is perfect. It descends alongside a melting synthesizer, and right where any other band would break out the chorus and call it a day, Heart walks us into a smoke filled room where angelic harmonies share a make-out couch with congas. The drum fill is the beaded curtain.
4. Black Sabbath - "Iron Man" (1:30) If this list was the drum edition of our "Six Best Bad Guitar Solos" list, "Iron Man" would take the top spot. Those who remember this song but haven't listened to it in the past few years likely recall a heavy rocker with the confidence of a suited-up Rodney. 'Tis not the case. Sabbath drummer Bill Ward could not be further from the solid drummers of metal today. Even the disciples in the stoner Black Mountain/the Sword/Boris schools have more chops. But Ward's relative inability in the Paranoid-era made Sabbath rock in the same way that Meg White is heavier than Lars Ulrich, the feeling where every fill makes you cross your fingers and hope he/she/it makes it out alive on the next measure. This vibe is best captured in "Iron Man" when the second of the song's few dozen guitar hooks end and Ward is allowed a few brief, frightening, and utterly transcendent moments to shine. 3. Queen - "Fat Bottomed Girls" (2:50) There are many reasons why this fill is one of the best. It reclaims a song that, like many of Queen's strongest, has been diminished to novelty and reminds us that Queen was a band of unquestioned merit. It is ten times louder than anything else in the song, implying it is the most important thing happening in the world in those three seconds. But most of all, it is one of those fills where you imagine a drummer surrounded by toms, rotating his stool all 360 degrees throughout its duration.
2. Violent Femmes - "Blister In The Sun" (0:03) Rarely is a drum fill as integral to the song as it is on Violent Femmes' "Blister In The Sun." The two sets of two snare hits have become more famous than the acoustic guitar intro that precedes it. If you ever need proof of this fill's importance, play the song in public. You'd have a better chance of yelling "Marco" and not hearing "Polo" than having your fellow humans not clap along or tap whatever item is in their hand along with that famous "tap tap, tap tap".
1. Phil Collins - "In The Air Tonight" (3:16) Could the best drum fill of all time really be anything else? Phil Collins has played drums in the progressive rock juggernaut, superseded Peter Gabriel, sat in with Brian Eno, and wrote the music for Disney's Tarzan, and he's still more famous for his drum fill on 1981's "In The Air Tonight." It was spoofed in an awesome gorilla-playing-drums viral video, and it led musicians over the next ten years to think that's what drums were supposed to sound like. It's fitting that it comes in at 3:16, the same numbers that grace John 3:16 signs held up at sporting events (usually by people wearing rainbow afro wigs, go figure). For Phil Collins so loved the world, he gave his totally awesome fill, that whosoever believes in rhythm will not perish but have everlasting fun air drumming along.