Help me rank rock drummers ...

I’m participating in an academic exercise on another board in which 20 drafters select one rock-&-roll drummer. At the end, I am to order the chosen drummer 1-20 and thusly assign points.

It’s obviously a totally subjective exercise, and I’ve applied my own ranking already. What I’m asking the SDMB Cafe Society folks to do is simply point out any way-off rankings – or to make any other thoughtful comments about overall quality of the rankings in general.

Keep in mind that any drummer NOT on this list cannot be added … glaring ommisions can’t be helped. I am tasked to rank these 20 only. So without further ado:

1 Neil Peart (Rush)
2 John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
3 Keith Moon (The Who)
4 Carl Palmer (ELP, Asia)
5 Ginger Baker (Cream)
6 Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, session man)
7 Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons)
8 Stewart Copeland (The Police)
9 Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson)
10 Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)
11 Dave Lombardo (Slayer)
12 Danny Carey (Tool)
13 Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
14 Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)
15 Manu Katché (Peter Gabriel, Sting)
16 Dave Grohl (Nirvana)
17 Tony Allen (Fela Kuti/Africa 70, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Zap Mama)
18 Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)
19 Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
20 Kenney Jones (The Who)
Thanks in advance for any comments.

If it helps lend context, here are the criteria I am charged to apply:

1 Neil Peart (Rush)
2 John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
3 Ginger Baker (Cream)
4 Keith Moon (The Who)

I’m not familiar enough with enough of the others to give meaningful rankings. I know most of the bands, but in most cases I either don’t listen to them regularly or just haven’t paid enough attention to the drumming. But there’s how I’d rank the top 4 for sure. No question about #1.

Sorry to be breaking the rules, but Jimmy Chamberlin is the greatest drummer I have ever seen, and as far as your 4 criteria are concerned blows away your Dave Grohls, Tommy Lees, Keith Moons, Lombardos, Bonhams, anyone on that list. And I don’t even like Pumpkins.

Despite giving him an initial ranking of 3rd, I have some questions about Moon’s virtuosity. For instance, I feel like the Pearts and Bozzios of this list just blow Moon out of the water here. Is that accurate?

  1. Keith Moon.

Then skip to five, since no one else comes close. Moon created a whole new and entirely different style of drumming that no one yet has been able to follow.

  1. Ginger Baker
    I’d also rank Charlie Watts higher, and Neal Peart near the bottom; Peart is totally uninteresting as a drummer (much like Rush is totally uninteresting as a music group). Bonham is also overrated here, but he does belong in the top ten.

And the number of drummers that were overlooked is astounding. No Michael Giles, no Jim Gordon, no Bernard Perdie?


Only 20 drafters … any list of 20 all-time drummers will have dozens of glaring ommisions.

I’m neither a Rolling Stones fan nor a percussion aficionado, so maybe someone who is can enlighten me on why Charlie Watts always seems to make best-ever lists. It’s not that I think he sucks or anything, it’s just that Stones tunes never strike me as being particularly complex or challenging in the percussion department. (“Sympathy for the Devil” may be a possible exception.) So, from my admittedly limited perspective, it seems that he might do well under the Timekeeping criterion (for which the bar is necessarily set pretty low at “Don’t screw up”), but not so much for the others.

That being the case, I’d rank him at the bottom of this particular list. (Yeah, I realize he’s already close to it.) I’m interested to hear what Charlie Watts defenders have to say and will certainly do so with an open mind.

I’m right there with you.

And really, it’s a given that NO ONE on this list sucks. They’ve all get major skins on the wall in their genres.

I think Moon was really good. Take a hard listen to Quadrophenia, he is like rolling thunder on that record.

Charlie Watts. Right place at the right time. Not that stellar.

I think Watts probably agrees with you about the simplicity of the work the Stones require of him… which may be why he plays a lot of big band jazz, on his own time.

I’d move Carl Palmer further down the list. Neil Peart, too. I love his playing but he’s overall too tight and controlled. He doesn’t have that wild hair up his butt that makes the others stand out. I like that a couple of my favorite Zappa drumers are in there. I might even put Bozzio behind Bonham and Moon, who are pretty much tied for 1st.

The thing about Moon is that he’s at the same time seemingly out of control and incredibly tasty. Violently thundering away yet tender and playful. He was a miracle bizzaro combination of totally over-playing everything and playing just the right thing. I know that sounds contradictory but that’s the way he was IMO. Absolutely one of a kind.

As a drummer, I have to add my voice to those saying there are way too many drummers better than the ones on this list that have been left off (Kenny Jones and Tommy Lee, for example, should in no way be included on a list of great drummers, and it’s way too heavy on classic rock artists). But, playing by the rules, I’d rank:

  1. Stewart Copeland
  2. Neil Peart
  3. Keith Moon
  4. Manu Katche
  5. Ringo Starr

Here’s my take - I can rank ten of them:

Mike Portnoy
Keith Moon
Bill Bruford
Stewart Copeland
Carl Palmer
Neil Peart
Terry Bozzio
Manu Katche
Vinnie Colaiuta
Bill Ward

John Bonham was pretty good, but overrated; I think it’s questionable whether or not he belongs on a “greatest” list.

Charlie Watts, Tommy Lee, Ringo Starr, and Kenney Jones don’t belong on the list at all.

The rest I’m not familiar with.

  1. Neil Peart (Rush)
  2. Stewart Copeland (The Police)
  3. Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)
  4. Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
  5. Ginger Baker (Cream)
  6. Carl Palmer (ELP, Asia)
  7. Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)
  8. Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson)
  9. Manu Katché (Peter Gabriel, Sting)
  10. Keith Moon (The Who)
  11. Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons)
  12. Dave Grohl (Nirvana)
  13. Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, session man)
  14. John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
  15. Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
  16. Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)
  17. Kenney Jones (The Who)
  18. Tony Allen (Fela Kuti/Africa 70, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Zap Mama)
  19. Danny Carey (Tool)
  20. Dave Lombardo (Slayer)

Peart is number one…there’s no doubt at all. You should be able to tell from this list that I like precision and discipline. It’s possible, eminently possible, to have both within a creative framework.

Copeland is #2 for me even though his style is wildly different from Pearts. I’m not a genre guy here. Copeland’s handling of minimalist playing when required, especially his hi-hat work, is astonishing to listen to on some of those earlier Police records.

I put Moon and Bonham down the list because what others here seem to value…the ‘wildness’ of it all…is to me a negative. A drummer should be able to fit into the texture of the song not use personality to overcome it. Leave the personality to the front guys (unless, like in Cowboy Mouth, the drummer IS the front man!).

In general - I think the best test of a drummer is when they play in a trio. It requires that they fill in a lot of space, without being overwhelming. And I think very few drummers can strike this balance well. Because of this, I moved some of the drummers up your list. By the same token, drummers in larger groups with big sound and simple rhythms, I moved down the list (I’m looking at you Charlie!!) Having said that, drummers at the top should include:

1 John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
2 Neil Peart (Rush)
3 Stewart Copeland (The Police)
4 Keith Moon (The Who)
5 Manu Katché (Peter Gabriel, Sting)
6 Dave Grohl (Nirvana)
7 Ginger Baker (Cream)

And drummers near the bottom should include:

18 Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
19 Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
20 Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)
The others, I’m not sure I could rank.

Thanks for the feedback so far, all.

Manu Katché is getting a lot of quiet appreciation in this thread.

No mention of the Trucks/Johanson and Hart/Kreutzman (of the Allman Brothers Band and Grateful Dead, respectively) double drummer lineups? I thought they had a great sound. And I’m an admirer of Charlie Watts precisely because of the simplicity of his drumming.

I know I’m breaking the rules, but how can any list of this sort not include Hal Blaine?

Then again, given his low profile, I can see how none of your drafters would have picked him as their “one” drummer. Still, given his impact–good Lord!

IANADrummer, but I think Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, late Jethro Tull, and many others) deserves to be high on this list.