When it comes to instruments that receive all the acclaim, it’s usually guitar first and maybe bass next. However, the best songs in the history of music wouldn’t exist without the inclusion of drums, especially the 25 tracks we’ve selected for you today.
The drum fills these songs are known for make them rather than break them. Join us as we take you on a supersonic journey across 25 iconic tunes beloved for their drum work.
1. “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin
Starting our list is the Led Zeppelin classic, “When the Levee Breaks,” released on the band’s hit album Led Zeppelin IV. The long instrumentation that leads this drawling, impassioned track wouldn’t have the same emotional impact without the steady percussion provided by John Bonham.
Even when vocalist Robert Plant adds lush harmonica atop the sonic soundscape of the seven-minute track, that unwavering drumbeat keeps the song tethered so it’s free to explore, something Zeppelin always excelled at doing.
Play along here with tabs. This song’s consistent beat will make you feel like a drum pro in no time.
2. “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris
Everyone knows the guitar riff of the Surfaris’ classic early ‘60s tune “Wipe Out,” but when you stop and think about it, it’s the drum rhythm that gives this song the pulsing, high-octane feel it’s so beloved for.
Those drums match the frenetic energy that one feels when riding the crest of a tall wave and then surfing it to completion. Or, you know, wiping out, hence the name of the song. At times, the drums take on a tribal feel with their pounding, relentless beat, mimicking the race of your heart as you listen along.
Here are the tabs so you can sharpen your skills on the sticks.
3. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
Don’t let the soft rock genre fool you. When “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins takes off, it truly takes off.
The slow, pulsing drum beat throughout most of the song acts as a subtle accompaniment, mostly unnoticeable, really. So then why did we place this song on our list of the greatest drum songs of all time?
It’s due to that iconic moment around the three-minute, 15-second mark where the drums fill your ears with pulsing, pounding drama. This song simply wouldn’t be the same without those heavy drums in the rest of the song, heightening the emotions and augmenting the listening experience.
Practice along with the tabs here.
4. “We Will Rock You” by Queen
In a similar vein to the Phil Collins smash hit “In the Air Tonight,” next on our list is Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” What both songs share is that without those drum fills, they wouldn’t be as impactful and fondly remembered as they are today.
While sure, you can clap the simple but effectual rhythm of “We Will Rock You” by hand, you can also sit behind the kit and bang it out. It feels a lot better and gives the song that much more oomph.
If you want to learn the drum part, check out this link. This song is pretty easy to learn considering everyone knows the main beat. It’s one of those songs that’s transcended generations.
5. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
|Genre/Style||Alternative rock, grunge|
Long before Dave Grohl led his own band, the Foo Fighters–who today fill arenas worldwide–he was Nirvana’s drummer. The band’s top hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is on this list not for that crunchy, filthy guitar riff but for Grohl’s astounding drum work.
The song wouldn’t have that heavy-hitting edge if not for the pounding drums that accompany the main riff and chorus. The drums back off during the verses to let the sludgy bassline shine, then pick right back up, appealing to the disaffected youth that Seattle’s early ‘90s music so richly attracted.
You can play along with the drum tab if you’re ready for a workout.
6. “Back in Black” by AC/DC
Would that leading guitar riff of “Back in Black” by AC/DC have grabbed listeners’ ears by the millions if it wasn’t backed by the drum work of Phil Rudd? Probably not, which is why we had to include this classic tune on our list.
Even as great as the guitar is, the drums sound so clean and distinct yet complement the other instruments so well. They never stop their relentless pounding, punctuating the high-energy verses and complementing the chorus.
Do you want to play like one of the greats? Try practicing with the tabs here.
7. “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin
It should come as no surprise to see more Led Zeppelin on this list, what with the unit being described by many as the greatest rock band of all time. This time, we’ll look at something slightly earlier from the band’s catalog, the 1969 song “Good Times Bad Times” from the eponymous album.
A short song by Zeppelin standards (it clocks in at under three minutes), it’s a hard-edged, moderate-paced song led by heavy drums from John Bonham.
If you really want to appreciate the extent of Bonham’s work on this Zeppelin tune, check out this video, as it features the drums isolated from the rest of the track. He truly was a drumming wizard.
Now that you’re in a playing mood, you can drum along to the tabs here.
8. “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen
Hard rock pioneers Van Halen have many hallmark songs, another of which we’ll look at a little bit later on this list. For now, let’s focus on “Hot for Teacher,” a fast-paced school anthem led by frenzied guitars and backed by a solid, heartbeat-mimicking drum beat by band co-founder Alex Van Halen.
But we can’t truly discuss this song without delving into the intro. It almost sounds like a motorcycle engine starting up, and you wouldn’t be remiss to think it’s some sort of sound effect, but nope! It’s drums.
You can learn how to play the intro (and the rest of the song) here.
9. “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith
|Genre/Style||Hard rock, rap-rock|
Whether you prefer the original Aerosmith version from 1975’s Toys in the Attic or you appreciate the cover version (with Aerosmith) from Run D.M.C. from the mid-1980s, one thing is for sure, “Walk This Way” is quite a powerhouse of a song!
It also helped bring back Aerosmith’s career, but of course, that’s not why we’re discussing it today. Fun fact: Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler came up with the heavy-hitting drum line, which rocks you the moment you press “play” on this track.
The drums keep the tune steady even though the guitar riff gets all the credit. You’ll be ready to play like an expert no time with these drum tabs.
10. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac
A softer, more emotive song, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is bolstered by the simple but powerful drums throughout. They sound like roaring thunder in the chorus, giving the echoing vocals more conviction.
The twang of the guitar bows down to this powerful drum beat, which maintains a consistent pace (making it easy to learn to play) but acts as the song’s backbone, in which without it, it wouldn’t be as good.
11. “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
Not every song with the greatest drums of all time necessarily needs to be rock or metal! The Stevie Wonder tune “Superstition” rightfully gets a place on this list because it’s so drum-heavy. The first thing you hear is a slick drum intro, follow by some Moog bass to give the tune its funky feel.
Although the song gains more instrumentation as it goes along, including the addition of a trumpet and a tenor saxophone, it’s the drums that carry this song through its tremendous conclusion.
Here’s a fun fact: Wonder played all the instruments himself save for the trumpet and tenor sax. He was quite the drummer, we’d say!
If you want to play like the greats, here’s the drum tab to “Superstition.”
12. “Fool in the Rain” by Led Zeppelin
“Fool in the Rain” from the 1979 Led Zeppelin album In Through the Out Door might not be one of the group’s most famous hits, but it is exceptionally memorable due to John Bonham’s trademark drum sound.
The upbeat-sounding riff is what most casual listeners hear, but if you pay more attention to the drum line, you’ll realize Bonham is hard at work throughout this entire tune.
That’s most evident at around the two-minute, 56-second mark when the instrumentation tacks on a new dimension, including awesome drum fills from Bonham.
13. “Rosanna” by Toto
Many music listeners know Toto for the group’s hit song “Africa,” but the tune “Rosanna”–named after actress Rosanna Arquette–deserves acclaim for its incredible drumming. It was also a hit in its own right!
The song’s drumming isn’t complicated, per se, but consistent and punchy. The lush sonic wall that builds up during this song’s chorus is reinforced by the strong drumming, and the synth solo gets to roam with the drums calling it back.
You can play along here.
14. “Come Together” by The Beatles
|Genre/Style||Rock, blues rock|
The Beatles have such a vast catalog, but when thinking of which tunes of their exemplify drum excellency, it has to be “Come Together.” This rock classic showcases the drum work of Ringo Starr fantastically well.
During the verses, the drums intertwine with the bass to create a strong sound. In the chorus, the drums support the twangy guitar that makes this song such a beloved tune more than 30 years after its original release.
The tabs to play the song are available here so you can show off your drumming chops!
15. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
There’s a reason that “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor has been the go-to track for every fight montage in film since it was released in 1982. It has that big fight feel! It’s impossible not to get amped up listening to this spirited track, and the drums definitely deserve their share of the limelight.
The drums add pressure to the piano, which wouldn’t come across nearly as tough without the drums pulsing with the bass. The drumming in the chorus also makes this song the masterpiece that it is.
Here are the tabs if you’re interested in adding this one to your repertoire.
16. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
|Genre/Style||Dance-pop, post-disco, R&B|
Although lots of covers have slowed down the pace, the original “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson is a speedy track in line with the rest of Jackson’s very danceable discography. The R&B stylings allow the drumming to shine.
The drums immediately establish the atmosphere of this song, which has happy-sounding music but depressive lyrics. They carry on throughout the song at a fast pace, always there even when the danceable beat becomes more prominent.
You can play along with the tabs here.
17. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson
Off the critically acclaimed album Thriller, “Beat It” might not be the biggest hit from that album, but it’s certainly one of the most popular tunes in Michael Jackson’s broad discography. After all, this is the song that made Jackson a pop icon!
The music video is about uniting rival gangs, but the song wouldn’t have that much ability, nor Jackson so much star power, if not for the strong drum line throughout. Just watch the video above featuring one of Jackson’s drummers, Jonathan Moffett, performing the tune. It’s not easy!
If you think you have what it takes to follow along, check out these drums tabs and get ready to sweat.
18. “Jump” by Van Halen
|Genre/Style||Glam metal, rock|
The second Van Halen single on our list is “Jump,” one of the band’s most-known tunes. The synth that dominates that unforgettable intro isn’t the only instrument worth talking about. You know where we’re going with this – the drums!
The guitar solo is where the drums get the most interesting. The next time you listen to this all-time great tune, give the drums your ear, and you’ll hear the immense talent of band namesake Alex Van Halen.
Then you’re ready to play along following these tabs.
19. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard the Bon Jovi mega-hit “Livin’ on a Prayer.” It’s a rock anthem all this time later, frequently sung along loud in sports arenas and bars.
When the song was first released on the album Slippery When Wet, it made an immediate splash. The drums drive forward the sense of urgency between the two lovers who are trying to get through their troubles with a little bit of love.
The drums punctuating Bon Jovi’s lyrics before the final chorus explodes is a moment that will give you goosebumps again and again. Recreate it by learning the tabs.
20. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
The incredible guitar work of Guns N’ Roses’ Slash can dominate your ears, and rightfully so, but there’s so much tonal depth to “Sweet Child O’ Mine that drummer Steven Adler deserves major credit.
It’s once the other instruments fill in the opulent guitar work of Slash is when this song really takes off. Although it sounds like it has a relaxed pace, the drumbeat reaches a crazy 144 beats per minute!
After the solo, when the song expands into its explosive finish, the beauty of the drum work is especially apparent. Recreate it for yourself with some drum tabs.
21. “Money” by Pink Floyd
|Genre/Style||Prog rock, hard rock|
Combining elements of hard rock, blues rock, and progressive rock, when the intro of “Money” by Pink Floyd really takes off, it’s the drums you have to thank for it. Nick Mason, the drummer, also contributes some to the tape effects that start the song.
The drums place nicely with the bass-driven riff, the sweet, smooth tenor saxophone played by Dick Parry, and the Wurlitzer electric piano. As the song changes tempos and time signatures several times across six and a half minutes, Mason keeps up effortlessly, delivering a piece of classic rock history.
You can learn to play like Mason courtesy of these tabs.
22. “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin
One of the most beloved Zeppelin tunes, “Kashmir” has cemented its place on this list without a doubt. The main riff receives augmentation from the drums, but what’s most impressive is that John Bonham never misses a beat despite that this song goes on for nearly nine minutes long.
The tune ebbs and flows, with the drums acting almost as a buoy, keeping the song anchored to itself. It’s no wonder that “Kashmir” has been declared the penultimate Led Zeppelin song, best encapsulating the band’s sound.
You can learn to play it with some drum tabs here.
23. “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin
About the same pace as “Kashmir” despite being released several years earlier is “The Ocean,” the last Zeppelin song on our list. The odd rhythm of this song from Jimmy Page’s guitar never feels out of sorts thanks to John Bonham’s reliably strong drumming.
This song feels like several in one, with a pause midway through before the song dramatically comes back. The unconventional pacing, transformative nature, and odd riffs in this song make it one of the best drum tracks we’ve ever heard!
If you need another Zeppelin song to add to your repertoire, here are the drum tabs.
24. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
Lee Kerslake is a god behind the kit on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” which gets that pulsating intro in part from the drums. That’s only the beginning. The verses and chorus of this song pick up the pace in a major way, with a top tempo of 160 BPM.
Drum fills between Osbourne’s vocals add to the frenzied emotion of the song, especially as it builds to its chorus. The unrelenting solo has pounding drum accompaniment to make “Crazy Train” one of the most popular songs in its genre, even to this day.
You can find the tabs to play the Ozzy song right here.
25. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
Why not end our list with one of the most difficult-to-play but awesome drum songs of all time, “Tom Sawyer” by Rush? It’s that the song is so challenging that it’s incredibly memorable.
This tune might sound easy to replicate, but you must remember that Rush’s members were all trained music experts, so they knew a thing or two about professional playing. They favored the 7/8 time signature in “Tom Sawyer” and other songs in the discog.
The drums race throughout the near-five-minute track, lending the spacy accompaniment a stuttering sound that fits just right. Here is the drum tab.