I’ve read so many “best of all time” musician lists online, and 90% of them are total bullshit. I’m sure you’ve run into a few yourself, where you’ve felt the same way. A word of advice: At the very least ignore anything originating from Rolling Stone magazine, as they don’t know their asses from their elbows.
I was watching an interesting new video a few days ago created by my amigo Elmo Karjalainen, in which he expresses his well-informed opinions regarding the “Top 10 Guitarists Ever” (included with his permission at the bottom of this post). Inspired by that, I decided to make a list of my own.
But, I used another approach, that being the most overrated.
I also instead chose drummers as my subject, since that’s been my primary instrument since 13 years of age. I would hope that qualifies me as a reliable source. Perhaps I belong on the list too, but I’m just some amateur off the street, not a drummer playing in a well-known professional band.
At any rate, this is basically off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more I’m forgetting that may be even more deserving.
Without further ado, and in no particular order…
Tommy Lee (Motley Crue)
Besides a few other choice names, I like to call him, “Mr. Gimmick”.
It seems what defines Lee are his on-stage antics, such as constantly twirling drumsticks like a cheerleader wielding a baton, spinning and roller coaster drum risers (including one which got stuck upside-down during their final show in 2016, necessitating a Roadie rescue), a 42″ bass drum, and plenty of pyro. Motley Crue fans ate it up, to the point where none of them really noticed or cared about his playing. His beats and fills are simplistic at best, so it’s too bad he didn’t spend nearly as much time working to master his chosen instrument as he did with all of that other horse shit.
Tommy also has what seems to be a rather large psychotic side to his personality. Putting the wife beatings and heavy drug use aside, here’s some classic proof of his mindlessness. In an open letter to his fans regarding them asking for selfies when they happened to run into him in public, he wrote:
“It irritates the fuck out of me when people say, ‘You owe it to your fans, they put you where you are.’ I certainly don’t owe anybody anything!'”
Just where the hell does this guy think he’d be without the fans of Motley Crue? Probably lying in a gutter somewhere, with a used syringe sticking out of his arm.
However, I did thoroughly enjoy his home video with Pamela Anderson. It was the highlight of his career, as far as I’m concerned.
Peter Criss (KISS)
This should be pretty obvious, but my main knock on Criss is simply that he played in KISS, who ironically are one of the most overrated bands of all time.
In all fairness, Gene Simmons (once again, unsurprisingly one of the most overrated bass players of all time) pretty much runs the band, so in Peter’s defense any sort of creativity which may have emerged from him as far as drums are concerned was quickly stifled under Simmon’s boot. They’re big ones too, with cool dragon heads, whee!
In the end, they fired him anyway.
One more thing: If I hear the song “Beth” just one more time, I’m going to puke all over my Reeboks.
Stewart Copeland (The Police, et al.)
Copeland is a hard hitter who breaks a lot of sticks (I can relate to that, me too), although he maintains good syncopation and fills. His melding of rock, jazz, reggae, and other genres are often viewed as unique, but that’s simply not so. Uncountable drummers had done the same thing long before he came on the scene.
This is what really gets me: Believe it or not, this guy is often placed among some of the best drummers who have ever walked the face of the earth, such as Gene Krupa, John Bonham, and Keith Moon, all of which actually did have truly unique styles of playing. I really can’t imagine why this is, because on my opinion he’s not even worthy of washing the aforementioned drummer’s BVD’s.
For God knows what reason, he’s even wandered into the realm of opera and ballet, but those efforts pretty much all wound up bombing. Have you ever even heard those productions? I didn’t think so, me either.
If you want a great example of a Rock drummer stepping out of his comfort zone and very successfully delving into a totally different music genre, just watch any of Neil Peart’s Big-Band Buddy Rich tribute concerts. They’re amazing.
I must confess, I suppose my opinion of Copeland was biased from the start, since personally I hate the fucking Police. So please, don’t stand, don’t stand, don’t stand so close to me.
Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac)
As if having to listen to Stevie Nicks sing like she’s got an entire box of Kleenex stuck up her nose isn’t bad enough, having to watch Mick’s Charles Manson facial imitations are enough to drive anyone to drink.
I do have to give him some credit for founding and holding the band together for a very long time, although that’s now history as well. Banging Lindsey Buckingham’s old lady (good ‘ol Stevie) must have certainly created more than a little friction regarding their break-up. But, I digress…
My thoughts are, the main reason Fleetwood Mac held together for so long with their final line-up was really due to the other awesome musicians, singers and songwriters in the band, especially Buckingham and Christine McVie.
Actually, there’s little at all to say about his ability as a drummer, except that he’s certainly not anything special. Nothing more to see here, move along…
Nick Mason (Pink Floyd)
Progressive Rock is absolutely my favorite genre of music, and there’s no doubt Pink Floyd are legendary in that musical category. However, anyone with 3 drum lessons could sit in for Nick, and no one would be the wiser.
Their “Live at Pompeii” movie is a wonderful example. Sloppy playing, dropping drumsticks (we’ve all done it, but it’s hilarious they left it in the production), and I suspect even overdubbing in spots as they don’t seem to match the action in the film.
Notice how David Gilmour almost immediately ditched Mason when he went solo? There has to be more than one reason for that, besides the fact that he’s mediocre at best.
Ginger Baker (Cream, et al.)
If you like triplets, you’ll be happy to listen to Baker all the live-long day, as apparently that’s about the only fill he’s capable of.
He’s sometimes credited with introducing the use of two bass drums, which is a pile of dung since Jazz players had originated that practice way back in the 1940’s.
As icing on the cake, he may just well be the biggest asshole in Rock (quite the achievement, since there’s so many). Granted, that doesn’t affect his ability as a drummer, or does it? His narcissism certainly runs very deeply, yet his performances are totally forgettable.
Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)
Hey, I absolutely love the Stones. In fact, they were my very favorite band in my younger days. I even played in a band that performed almost nothing but Stones covers back then.
The problem with Charlie is coordination. He can’t even play the snare and hi-hat in syncopation, but instead pauses the opposite hand while striking each. Just have a look at any live Stones performance, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s something that’s made me cringe for years, and I can hardly bear to watch it. Thankfully, I don’t have to when I’m listening to their studio recordings.
The claim is this “technique” (if you can even call it that) results in a more powerful hit to the snare drum. If you believe that, I’ve got a statue sitting in New York Harbor that I’ll sell you, really cheap.
Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
I’ll give Lars this, he sounds pretty good on studio recordings, although playing for speed and seemingly nothing else is completely soulless as far as I’m concerned.
Curiously, he can’t seem to even approach duplicating those performances in concert.
I suspect there’s more than a little studio recording trickery afoot there, like maybe eleventy seven takes, along with a shitload of comps. Good thing we don’t use tape anymore, because Ulrich probably roasted enough of them during overdubs in the past to potentially burn the entire fucking building down.
When it comes to Lars, my all-time favorite will always be his confrontation and lawsuit against Napster back in 2000, when the Internet was still in its fledgling stages. The following video explains all of that better than I ever could.
Phil Collins (Genesis, and solo)
I’ve seen quite a few drummers step out from behind their kit with egotistical fantasies about being “front men”, when they should have stayed right the fuck where they were. I guess I can relate to that a bit, as no one usually pays much attention to those of us who bang the skins, situated way back there on the stage.
Phil’s claim to fame is perhaps being 2nd only to Ringo as far as being overrated goes. The drums on his most popular solo song, “In the Air Tonight” are so boring, it’s actually hard to stay awake listening to the thing. Seriously, I suppose that’s what it feels like to swallow a handful of Valium 10’s.
Here’s a personal experience of mine that’s a good example of this phenomena: I once mixed live sound for a band who shall remain nameless, where a drummer-to-front-man tranformation occurred. The result: One of the shittiest singers I’ve ever heard in my life who couldn’t even remember lyrics to songs half the time, and tried to make up for it by frequently dressing in women’s clothing. Oh, almost forgot… He was replaced on drums by one of the shittiest drummers I’ve ever heard, to top the whole thing off. Needless to say, they’ve all been swept under the Rock and Roll rug, long ago.
Anyway, back to Phil. Genesis should have given him the boot long before he exited the band himself, and left percussion to the likes of Bill Bruford and other excellent drummers that were in the group at one time or another.
Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
It’s a complete mystery to me why some people feel Ringo is so good, but I suspect the answer is simply because he somehow managed to hook up with three geniuses to form a completely legendary band called The Beatles. The explanation I usually get is his precise timekeeping, but that alone certainly does not a great drummer make. It’s keep-the-beat, play almost no fills, and that’s about it.
A bit of trivia: John Lennon was supposedly asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world during an interview, to which he replied, “Ringo isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles”. This has been debunked as being written by Geoffrey Perkins as part of a spoof interview, but entertaining nonetheless.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not convinced that the statement itself is untrue. A few examples are Paul McCartney’s drumming on “Back in the USSR”, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, “Martha My Dear”, and others.
Then, there’s the claim by people close to the band and supposedly in the know, that Beatles assistant Mal Evans actually sat in on drums for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. Obviously, he wasn’t even in the band.
Ringo famously (and temporarily, as it turned out) quit the band during the recording of the White Album, which I consider their finest effort. Here’s what he had to say about that:
“While we were recording the ‘White’ album we ended up being more of a band again, and that’s what I always love. I love being in a band. Of course, I must have moments of turmoil, because I left the group for a while that summer. I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.”
He then flew to the Mediterranean, where he spent two weeks on Peter Sellers’ yacht. Nice.
It makes one wonder how many other occasions there were with Ringo in absentia. Judging from the songs I’ve pointed out, it seemed to become more prevalent in their later recordings.
Elmo’s video, the inspiration for this blog post.
So, like many others on the web, is my most overrated list bullshit too? Or, perhaps I’ve forgotten someone that’s more deserving?
Rather than getting pissed-off at what I’ve had to say in this rather long post, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. But, please don’t forget to back them up with the reasons for your opinions.
As always, thanks for reading!